If it is it doesn't matter

Sunday, February 26, 2006

MPwI 3 - The Qur'an and literalism/fundamentalism

(At last some meat, or at least a healthy-sized appetizer. I'll still wander a bit, but this will start getting to the point -- and no, for those who have spoken with me 'getting to the point is NOT against my religion,' it just takes me a while.)

About seven months ago, I had never had much discussion with Muslims, and I had only glanced at the copy of the Qur'an I owned -- the Palmer translation. I had assumed my problems with it was due to the age of the translation, and had put reading it on my "To Do -- Someday" list.

I had expected it, in my ignorance, to be much like the Bible, a collection of anecdotes, parables, stories, speeches, rules, etc. I certainly never expected to find anything in it that would challenge my atheism, any more than I did in the Testaments. But I expected, as I do with the Testaments, to find parts that were interesting, uplifting, morally wise, charming, even beautiful. If I did not expect divinity, I expected humanity. Some things I knew would repel me, or I would consider absurd, again as with the Testaments, but I expected these would be in the minority. And, at the least, I expected a 'good read.'

I also expected to find a spectrum among Muslims something similar to the one I found with Christians and Jews. There would be a small minority of 'literalist/fundamentalists,' who saw the book as the 'word of God,' unchangeable, every word meaningful and unquestionable. (For later reference, I'll number the groups. I)

There would a considerably larger group that accepted the book as the 'divinely inspired Word of God,' and accepted this in essence, accepted the existence of a divinity much like the one portrayed, but realized that the books were also the word of men, affected by their times, limited by their human abilities.(II)

A similar-sized group would accept the basic idea of a divinity as described in the book, would accept that the essence was accurate in religious terms, but would realize that many of the parts were questionable, contradictory, or simply wrong. (The most common Christian Phraseology is "The Bible is a book of Religion, it is not meant as a book of History or Science.")(III)

The next group would be more secular, who would accept, maybe in general terms that there was a God, for Christians, that Jesus was also divine, but didn't think that much about it. They'd accept parts of the Bible as having gotten it right, but realize that it was a work written by men, good, ethical men, men who believed, but who would give it only a little more weight than any other religious work, Augustine's CITY OF GOD, Theresa's mystical writings, Maimonedes and Hillel, maybe even the texts of Buddhism, seeing them as all attempts to find the 'right way to live.'(IV)

A smaller group would be totally secular, though maybe still performing the rituals of the religion for cultural, historical, or social reasons -- religion as a form of social binding. The type, in Christianity who might accept the Gospels, love things like the Sermon on the Mount, might weep at the Passion and Crucifixion, would probably never bother to spend much time with Paul, and who would consider the Apocalypse as the wild phantasmagoria it is, giving it little weight as anything but a collection of images.(V)

AQnd finally there would be those who were simply turned off by the nonsense in it, had no ability to accept the concept of a God, who might, as well, be turned off by the actions and history of the 'Men of God,' the preachers and teachers that used the book for power, or who were hypocrites, or whose puritanism or confusion of ritualism with ethics or denial of the wonder of human sexuality simply drove them from religion. (I am in this group, but my rejection was predominantly intellectual. I find the concept of a God an absurdity, backed by no evidence whatsoever, I am aware of the contradictions of the Testaments, the logical contradictions in the concept of a God.)(VI)

Anyway, that is the 'spectrum' of Christianity and Judaism, as I have witnessed it, and when my discussions in the Pakistani Forum and my own fascination with religion as a human activity caused me to look closer at Islam and the Qur'an, I didn't expect to find Islam that much different.

(I expected to find the Fundamentalist end a bit bigger than in the other groups, and the 'plain wacko' types like Bin Laden and the suicide bombers in Palestine to be a larger minority than the equivalent -- and I considered, at the time, that the 'suicide bombers' were innocents manipulated into political acts through the appeal to a twisted form of their religion. And I knew there were a higher proportion of Muslims who embraced some of the -- to me -- odder manifestations of their religion, the Hijab and Nijab, the praying five times a day facing Mecca. But I still expected the basic spectrum to be similar.)

Those of you who are Muslim will know that I found that few of my expectations were realized. I found a different type of book than I had expected, a different attitude towards it than I found in Christianity or Judaism, much higher claims for the Qur'an than the Testaments make, and a completely different spectrum.

But this post has gone on long enough, and the outside world is calling me. I hope to get the next post done later tonight, if not, then tomorrow evening -- I'll be busy during the day on that personal problem I've mentioned. I'll discuss what I did find when I looked into Islam and the Qur'an then.

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