So often when I see people criticizing Christianity or Islam in relation to certain statements in the bible or the qur’an, I can’t help but feel they suffer a sort of shortsightedness.
A lot of people have a problem with the way some persons read the bible/qur’an and practice christianity/islam. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into a critique of Christianity or Islam, or religion in general.
There is, empirically speaking, no such thing as Christianity or Islam, in the sense many assume. It’s ironic that the ones critiquing Christianity oftentimes share the same belief as many Christians, in an essence of Christianity. There are Christianities and Islams. Religion is something that is done, in diverse ways across time and space. The question isn’t “what is Christianity?”, but “how was/is it done in a certain context?”
And here’s where a lot of the critiques are shortsighted: one’s experience of Christianity or Islam, say where the bible or qur’an is taught as the verbatim word of god to be conformed to, is not the only way of teaching and doing Christianity or Islam. True, this is the way these religions are performed by many; but we can’t overlook the fact that, as a text, the bible or the qur’an is what it is as it is read by Christians or Muslims.
People have to stop essentialzing Islam or Christianity, or Muslims and Christians. This just perpetuates discrimination. Islamophobia is a problem in the West today.
Believers continue to develop new attitudes towards their religious texts– and secularists need to mature and gain new attitudes towards them too.
When Christians enroll in theological seminary what do you think they are taught in old and new testament studies? They are taught the various forms of criticism that analyse the bible as a text, written by human beings living in a particular historical and sociocultural context (and this is not incompatible with the idea of divine revelation, it just entails a more nuanced understanding of it).
Also, to treat Christianity as though all Christians believe a snake literally talked once, or think there’s nothing wrong with the story of a god who orders the mass slaughter of another people, or that the story of women’s origin as coming from the rib of man is a contender with evolutionary biology, is shortsighted. Christianity is global and diverse. Many Christians today have no problem calling the bible out where it needs to be called out.
And it’s not just Christians. There is a growing body of modern Islamic scholars who are bi-lingual and “bi-educated” in Arabic and English/French and Islamic and Western philosophy. Hasan Hanafi and Mohammed Arkoun, for example, were both educated at the Sorbonne, and both were Muslim intellectuals. Nasr Abu Zayd developed what he called a “humanist hermeneutics” of the qur’an, where he analysed the text in relation to its historical and sociocultural context and criticized certain passages. And these are just intellectuals. But many of them, such as those associated with the post-traditionalists in Indonesia, are public intellectuals. They have a following. And then there’s queer Muslims, for example. Remember, islam is done by Muslims. It isn’t a platonic form floating around somewhere.
I was recently as a religious studies conference and was talking to a scholar who made a good point: a lot of secularists are, quite frankly, religiously illiterate. We suffer a lack of information about religions. Too often persons are unable to develop a sense of the diversity among persons who identify as Christian or Muslim. Persons just label them and assume certain essential characteristics.