You don’t seriously expect me to believe in a deity, who, through the voice of His prophet Amos (8:11), promises to inflict on His people a triple famine – of food, water and most surprisingly, truth (equated, in some translations, as simply “the word of God”) ? (I would have thought that, as far as truth is concerned, fascists and religious zealots are quite capable of creating such a famine, without any divine intervention.)
The good news is that most Jewish and Christian believers today do not believe in such a deity either. Times were, and not so long ago, when believers of previous generations did believe, as some benighted members of the faithful in some synagogues and certain Christian churches still do, that God is the real cause behind the sickness, misery and sundry catastrophes, like Aids, earthquakes and tsunamis, which He inflicts on the wayward as punishment (though, as with poor old Job, such divine interventions are supposedly “sent to try us”).
Believers cannot really expect me to take seriously the divine decrees like those found, passim, in the Old Testament, concerning, for example, the approval of selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21 : 7), that working on the Sabbath deserves death (Exodus 35 : 2) or that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean (Leviticus 11 : 7-8), or that one must not plant two different crops in the same field (Leviticus 19 : 19), or that the whole town should be assembled to stone the offenders (Leviticus 24 : 10-16), or that people who sleep with their in-laws should be burnt to death (Leviticus 20 : 14).
Jews and Christians, for the most part, recognize all this as expressions of the naïveté and ignorance of a distant, primitive, unenlightened past. They have moved beyond such aberrations, and though somewhat embarrassed that such texts are still part of their Sacred Scriptures, congratulate themselves that they have abandoned what can only be called, logically, blasphemous contradictions of a God they say, optimistically, hopefully, desperately, is a God of love.
But what of Islam, the third and most recent (7th century A.D.) “religion of the Book” ? There, for their fellow monotheists, Jews and Christians – both identified in the Koran as infidels – is the rub. For the faithful followers of the Prophet, the Koran was not written by Mahomet. They are absolutely right there, and Jews and Christians are absolutely wrong to affirm the contrary. Mahomet preached his message; his disciples later committed it to writing, first on the dried shoulder-blades of camels and then on strips of leather. It is not even certain that the Prophet could write. He was, professionally, what Australians call a “garbo”, a garbage man. But he spoke, as few before him had spoken (Frank Hardy would have been proud of him). But Islamic believers believe that his words were not his own. He was but the mouthpiece of God. The Koran records divine dictation (in past ages, Jews believed the same of their Prophets, as Christians did of their Evangelists), so that any criticism of the sacred text is, by definition, blasphemy.
Too many Christians in Western countries talk about Islam, and glibly claim that only extremists and terrorists take literally statements like the following :
“Combat on the path of God those who fight against you . . . Kill them wherever you find them. If they fight you, kill them; such is the retribution of the unbelievers” (2, 190-191) ;
“Your wives are for you a field to plow” (2, 223) ;
“If the people of the Book believed, it would be better for them. Among them there are believers, but the majority of them are perverse” (3, 110) ;
“God has fulfilled His promise towards you, when with His permission you wipe out your enemies” 3, 152) ;
“Unbelievers are your declared enemies” (4, 101).
Undisturbed by the fact that they have never opened the Koran, many believers in other religions proclaim with a confidence born of good, ecumenical intentions but also of total ignorance, that modern, “moderate” Muslims do not interpret such texts literally, any more than they do themselves many embarrassing texts of the Old, and even of the New, Testament (concerning, notably, the threat of excruciating suffering in Hell).
They are unaware of the awkward fact that the followers of Islam, and not just “Islamists” – those nasty, ignorant, fundamentalist, terrorist extremists – believe that the Koran, as is (as you know, my dear Aziz), is the very word of God, immutable : the Raw Truth, to be taken literally; there is no room for interpretation. Moderates, for obvious reasons, do not beat a drum about this; they would be heretics if they dared proclaim, or even thought, otherwise.
We Westerners naïvely suppose that, like us, they have moved beyond the literal understanding of their sacred texts. The fact is that orthodox Islamic faith centers on a God who decrees total acceptance (“Islam” means “submission”) of the Koran and its precepts.
To propose that, like the other two religions of the Book, Islam reexamine the disastrous image of a God and of a religion that belong to a past age, is, for Muslims, a damnable, intolerable scandal. They do not need, or want, a Renaissance, an Enlightenment or even a Reformation. God, Allah, spoke through His Prophet back in the seventh century. The truth has already been revealed. Enough said. THE END .
All three of these major world religions, whatever the degree of their evolution, continue to proclaim belief in a God, variously depicted as a merciful, kind, compassionate, great, adorable, loving, divine Protector – or as a blood-thirsty judge, cruel demander of sacrifice, divine banker demanding payment for our crimes, sins and lèse-majesté, including redemption through the death of His own divine-human Son, born to suffer and die to settle the debt we ran up since Eden. “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given”, the perfect sacrifice. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Which of these Gods do you believe in ?
Sincere believers of all three monotheisms will reject this Reflection. But instead of outright condemnation, can we not at least try to see why all this has become a dialogue of the deaf ? If only we could tell the truth, explain what we believe, why we believe or refuse to believe, and listen to each other, live and let live as believers and unbelievers, in mutual tolerance. You are free to believe in any sort of God you like. Allow me to believe in no God at all.