Friday, July 07, 2017

Christianity, Islam, and Hermeneutics

How you go from texts to application is a big issue, and it was recognized in the Islamic tradition as early as the 8th Century. The violent texts seem to presuppose a context of open battle where Islamic soldiers are fighting against pagan soldiers, as in the Battle of Mecca.To use those text to justify attacking a standing target like the World Trade Centers is to take those texts out of context. 

In the Christian tradition, people who get different messages from the same Scripture are operating with different hermeneutics. Let's take "Women should be silent in church." Most conservative Christians realize that the contingencies of the time and situation led Paul to make that statement, and that it would be a mistake to apply it literally to the church in the present day. But some are literal about it. Both of them can read, but they use different principles of application. 

To take another example, it can easily be argued that given the way homosexuality was practiced in the Greco-Roman world, Paul had ample reason to condemn what he saw going on around him. But Christian differ as to whether these condemnations should be applied to homosexuality in general in the present day, or whether they are bound to their time and place. 

There were four different schools of thought in the Sunni tradition as to how you apply the Qur'an to a different situation. One school, the Hanbalite school, was very strict and literal, but there were three others. Muslims lived in different places than Arabia, and some saw rules made for Arabia that they thought might not straightforwardly apply in, say Baghdad. But others thought this this freedom of application led to loose morals, and different Muslim came down in different places on this. But they weren't just uneducated about what their texts said.

4 comments:

Stardusty Psyche said...

"How you go from texts to application is a big issue"
--For those who are motivated by an innate sense of altruism and empathy the big issue is how to devise a rationalization that somehow discards the vast amount of textual debauchery and manages to somehow turn a sow's ear into a illusory silk purse.

For example, it is often said that Islam teaches no compulsion in religion. Yet the punishment for apostasy is death! The passage about no compulsion comes from early texts written when Muhammad led just a small and relatively weak band of followers, in the Meccan period.

Later verses from the Quran and actions documented in the Hadith call for death to apostates, and fighting the unbelievers until they convert or pay extortion and live a life of subjugation.

The big issue is how to hide the truth of what Muhammad actually did and what he actually recited in his later years.

Those who hide the truth about Muhammad are relatively peaceful, those who learn the truth about Muhammad support Islamic jihad or leave Islam, those who live the truth about Muhammad join the IS or otherwise engage in violence in the name of their god.

Victor Reppert said...

I do have lots of problems with the character of Muhammad, and there is some pretty raunchy stuff in the Hadith. Still, I am not sure that every well-informed Muslim scholar is just ignorant of these things. I think they just have hermeneutical moves to avoid the problems. Still, I'd rather defend Christianity that Islam, to be sure.

Still, the murder rate in Islamic countries is well below world average. When you ask about the effect of religion on violence, everyone includes the killings done in the name of God, but no one subtracts the nonkillings by people who were deterred from killing someone because their religion said "Thou shalt not kill." True, we have social and legal motives for not killing, but these religions provide a religious motive that works on some people when the social and legal motives fail. Ever hear of David Wood? He hasn't tried to kill anyone since he has become a Christian, and he is a self-described psychopath.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

"Ever hear of David Wood? "
--I once wrote a short piece called
"Jesus is David's empathy insulin"

To his credit, he published on his site:
http://www.acts17.net/2015/01/searching-for-atheist-refutation-of.html


July 07, 2017 4:50 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" Still, the murder rate in Islamic countries is well below world average."
--I visited an old Soviet block communist country a few (ok many) years back. One of our guides told me "we don't have a problem with terrorists, we shoot them". Under totalitarian regimes one gets things like that, and like this "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." Yes, dictatorships can control crime better than free societies because people do not have rights, the government can conduct surveillance, arrest, indefinite detention, and just get rid of criminals.

No thanks.

July 07, 2017 4:50 PM