Something decent in the Guardian

Every so often the Guardian publishes something I like:

I am an atheist. I imagine that the typical Cif belief reader may not think this is a particularly big deal, but it is for me, because I’m not just an atheist – I’m an apostate from Islam. Apparently there are people who would happily kill me for making such a statement. But I’m not expecting to be killed, or even threatened; despite what the BNP and certain elements of the press might want you to think, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not rabid fundamentalists who respond with violence to every perceived slight.

Comments are always revealing, and sometimes they are incomprehensible. Like this one:

As it says in the Qur’an, there is no compulsion in religion. Thanks and good luck.

Well, either the Qur’an I’ve been reading was translated by Sam Harris, or this commenter has an extremely flexible idea of what “compulsion in religion” is. There’s scarcely any content in the Qur’an which is not explicitly compulsive. If indeed it can be said that this book is “about” anything, that something is the compulsion to faith. Unbelievers are cordoned off to one side and proscribed from the believer’s worlview. They must be fought with zeal and gusto.

If you don’t believe me, read the book for yourself.

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6 thoughts on “Something decent in the Guardian

  1. When it comes to sacred texts believers always pick and choose. Even if they are the orthodox of the orthodox they are compelled to because of all the inconsistencies. I haven’t read the Koran yet but a little Googling revealed unto me that the commentator is quoting 2:256: “There is no compulsion in religion.” Perhaps you haven’t gotten to that verse yet. Anyway, more power to that Guardian reader for choosing to cite it when confronted with a Muslim apostate.

  2. That’s 2:255 in my copy and, yes, I’m way past that point. Of course I’ve pointed out that there are many pretty phrases in the Qur’an, but the overriding message is not, “Hey, weigh our argument for truth against all the other arguments. We (God & co.) bet you’ll choose our product.” It’s a compulsive message that there is one truth, it is Islam, and anyone who does not get the message will be dealt with accordingly. There are no alternatives in the Qur’anic worldview.

  3. I second Peter. While the believer who wrote the comment clearly interprets the Koran differently than you have, his comment was gracious. To look at that and think “you’re supposed to be more fundamentalist than that, look at your holy book” is a curious sort of response.

    1. I’d agree with you both, and laud the ability to block out the uncomfortable passages in both the Bible(s) and the Qur’an. I suppose my argument is, how do you choose what to adhere to and what to ignore? I suspect people pick and choose along the lines of their personal convictions. I know, because I remember doing this myself when I was still under the spell of Scripture. The problem is, when a book is “perfect” like the Qur’an, in the eyes of a believer, then everything in it is perfect. The “no compulsion” passage as well as the “kill them wherever you find them passage.” So, to live among other human beings, one must eventually choose which parts of the book best serve one’s needs. But then we fall into the trap of admitting that the books are indeed imperfect, subject to interpretation and even, perhaps, rejection. We are led into the territory of apostasy, because the more you actually think about what you read, the less it seems you are reading a “holy book” and the more you realize it’s an artifact cobbled together and pawned to the faithful as God’s word. I appreciate the effort of some believers to be soft on apostates. We need more of them.

  4. It should also be mentioned too that a great number of people in each religion, probably the majority, don’t actually spend much or any time reading their religion’s holy text. I was raised Catholic, and I have read much, but probably not all, of the Octopus Illustrated Children’s Bible. Meanwhile, you weren’t raised Christian, and have read the genuine article. So that’s another reason that this reconciliation of modern values and dogma is not hard for those raised to identify with a religious faith to pull off. The larger reason is that people make these kind of ideological compromises all the time, not just in matters of religious faith, and that includes many people who actually have read their holy book cover to cover.

    1. Certainly this is true. But in no other religion today does the word “apostate” carry any meaning outside perhaps a small, insular group of the faithful. The author of that article knows well he may be murdered for his “crime.” Once upon a time this was true in Catholic Europe. Knowing this, I felt it was a bit rich for the commenter to cherry-pick “there’s no compulsion” out of the Qur’an. Though I appreciate his effort.

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