Inter-faith dialogues, despite their pretty name, should be a case of pitting infallible and mutually exclusive ideas against each other: God says this vs God says that. It’s not, and that’s a good thing. Anyone who has watched an interfaith discussion in a university, on the TV or listened to one on the radio will know the discussion actually centres around central core ideas of peace, love, equality and justice. My interlocutor, xPrae, in the earlier debate wanted to focus on these elements of Christianity, and defended that by way of modern-Western-Christian-consensus. Such favour was not extended to Islam and Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims in the US (the home of my interlocutor) and the UK (my home) are clearly peaceful. Else, let’s be honest, we’d be dead. Modern-Western-Muslim-consensus on the nature of Islam was not xPrae’s criteria for evaluating Islam.
Whatever the cause of this disparity is, it is important. It colours our discussions of other religions which, in turn, affects foreign policy and politics. I linked a video that highlighted this problem; that although xPrae wanted to define Christianity in terms of a modern-Western-Christian consensus, people were not allowing the same favour to extend to Islam. Although that comment got some atheist support, it saw only a very poor response from my xPrae. The video shows a small TV crew reading passages from the Bible to people on the street, except the Bible had a cover on it to make it look like the Koran. The passages were intentionally selected to be provocative. I am sure Christians will rush to the defense of each passage, trying to put it into some socio-economic or religious context and justify the horror. They are welcome to do that, because not only do I find defending such horrors to be completely contrary to the Christian thesis of absolute morality and a good God, but because that was not my point. My point was that such support of the passages was not forthcoming when the listeners thought the passage was from the Koran: then it received unfiltered criticism.
xPrae’s response was to wholly abandon the modern-Western-Christian-consensus and appeal instead to what I called, somewhat sardonically, the ‘obvious’ truth of Christianity. I do not mean to suggest xPrae thought Christianity was obviously true, but that the moral message was obviously clear and that the provocative passages that had been read could obviously be ignored: there was a true way to understand the Bible. I don’t see that the Bible has a clear message or set of messages and I certainly do not see a way my interlocutor could evaluate his ‘obvious‘ interpretations and other’s interpretation in wholly Biblical terms to decide which is closest to the true meaning, if such a thing existed.
Our dialogue with and about Muslims at large, and extremists specifically, is coloured by this bias.
I argue that modern-Western-religious-consensus on the nature of religion is more nuanced and interesting than xPrae initially supposed. I argue that the consensus, firstly, doesn’t exist and, secondly, if it did exist, would be a good thing, and, thirdly, is very far from purely religious.
I argue that the consensus doesn’t exist, even within a given religion, because there is so much variation from its followers. Remember: we’re discussing consensus here, not the content. Within Christianity there are people who espouse the ethic of universal love and acceptance. But there are also people who picket funerals, advocate the murder of Muslims, hate homosexuals and want to suppress the role of women and transgender people and who murder prostitutes thinking God commanded it of them. It would be a mistake to assume all these people are on the fringes of Christianity; John Zande named a prominent Christian―Jerry Falwell―who has close ties with members of the Republican party as an example of someone inciting hatred. There are even people on both sides of the ambiguity of what it means to ‘apologise for the Inquisitions’: there’s those who offer apologies and renounce it, and there are those who offer apologetics to explain why it was the divine thing. There is no consensus. (I also argue that it is a Humanised Catholic Church that apologised for the Inquisition. I come to that later.)
However, themes of tolerance and love can be picked out of the haze. These are the ideas xPrae also managed to untangle from the haze, but managed to do so without the ambiguity I see. The ideas were also applied only to Christianity. But, if we run with them now, we can assume these form the basis of that consensus. Although cherry-picked from opinions at large, I am willing to play devil’s advocate and accept that without too much scrutiny for the sake of this discussion (that’s the true meaning of devil’s advocate). If true, it’s a good thing.
However, it’s not strictly religious. Using only the books themselves, we are not really able to tell whose views are more ‘right’. The homophobes do seem to have explicit passages in defence of their views. Yet, the support for embracing homosexuals is implicit in the words of Jesus. But Jesus came not to change one jot or tittle of the old law and I’m not sure the Bible explains how to weigh up implicit and explicit imperatives. This leaves believers with the question of how to cut through this knot. I argue they use the blade of Humanism. I’m sure there are discussions in pulpits and arguments in homes and the Enlightenment has been bashing free enquiry and criticism over religion for hundreds of years. Through this, societies―overwhelmingly, the developed ones―have created a framework or a lens through which they read their books and accept or reject passages. (It is the moderate Islam of Turkey that gives me hope for its economic prosperity, because that is a symptom of a freely enquiring culture.) That framework is not offered in the books themselves, but developed through a method much more at home under a name like “Humanism” over “Religion”.