MARCH 4, 2002
The Recurring "They" and the Truer "We"
-- Martin E. Marty
There are three related debate topics that just won't go away this winter: are "they" totally evil and "we" simply good; is "their" religion murderous and "ours" benign; is "their" Book a manual and license for war and "ours" a sourcebook for peace and peacemakers? That a terrorist who is a Muslim is evil is obvious. This is not a subject that requires much debate. Whether Islam and the Qur'an predispose believers to kill the infidel is a subject that comes up constantly, and is frequently, heatedly debated by the columnists and spokespersons whom Sightings monitors.
A case study is columnist Clarence Page's encounter in print with TV-man Pat Robertson, (Chicago Tribune, February 27). Millions, including Page, hear Pat saying that Islam is "not a peaceful religion." The broadcaster described Muslim immigrants simply as apologists for terrorists, who come to live in America "as missionaries, probably to spread the doctrine of Islam." He continues: "the Koran makes it very clear, if you see an infidel, you are to kill him. That's what it says." The TV-man got that not from a reading of the Qur'an but from an out-of-context and partial quote from Encyclopedia Britannica. Bin Laden, added Robertson, is "probably truer to Muhammad" than are the Muslims to whom the President is reaching out these seasons. Page countered: "I don't need to tell you the bloody, sorry history of Christian jihads. They happened. . . ." and they are described, sometimes prescribed in 'the Book" that non-Muslim American majorities call "ours."
Another case study presented itself during my noonday walk on the day I read Page's column. Earphoned, I chanced to hear (on the dial next to my NPR station) a straightforward reading of some chapters in First Samuel, by a national Bible reading group speaker. These chapters deal with David, who ranks with Abraham, and sometimes-killer and holy warrior Moses among the Testament's top heroes, also in the Christian world. Because many believe David wrote some beautiful and penitential Psalms, he gets off the hook. His stories, however, pose him as a man charged by God to be a killer of "infidels." First Samuel makes no bones about that.
Thus I heard chapter 27, in which David is an outlaw, not a king: "When David raided the country he left no one alive, man or woman. . . " Later: "Neither man nor woman did David bring back alive to Gath, for fear that they should denounce him and his men for what they had done. This was his practice. . . ." Psalm 78: "The Lord awoke as a sleeper awakes, like a warrior heated with wine; he struck his foes in the back parts . . . ."
My motive is not denigrate the Bible -- my Bible -- but rather to suggest that citing it honestly makes it sound more like Robertson's version of the Qur'an than the simple story of a peaceful God and "us," God's peaceful people.