Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Missing the point

Someone has just brought this to my attention, and I feel that it cannot go un-commented on.

You may or may not have heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. If I said they are the group who proclaim that “God hates gays” and were involved in picketing funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq, then your memory may be jogged.

It seems that their brand of Christianity has made a transatlantic voyage, and they will begin their campaigns and pickets over here. This comes in response to a school theatre in Basingstoke hosting a production of The Laramie Project, a play that is perceived to have anti-homophobic connotations. The language of their group is frightening.

What is fundamentally damaging about the group is not, surprisingly, their opinions. They are, by all means, entitled to them. What is concerning is that they portray themselves in a light that is to Christianity what radical jihadist preachers are to Islam.

If the group gets lots of publicity, it would become very easy to take random verses of the Bible and create a video similar to Geert Wilders’ Fitna, shown in my previous post. The God they refer to hates people, and who commands his followers by a set of strict rules. Who, given the constraints put on the believer in such a God, would ever choose to become what these people understand to be a ‘Christian’?

Taking the Bible in context (something that is very often not done when considering these contentious issues), the God that is portrayed within is a God of immense power and holiness, but primarily is a God of love. What the Westboro Baptists seem to forget (or conveniently ignore) is that God, rather than being a tyrant bent on the destruction of evil humanity, is a God who reached out to us by His son Jesus.

Such is the love of God in the Bible that He sent His son to die so that we might be able to be in a relationship with God – no matter what we have done, God will accept us due to the totally sufficient sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.

That, in a nutshell, is the message of Christianity. What the Westboro Baptists seem to ignore is the love that covers all evil deeds of man. If they focused a little more on this and a little less on the apocalyptic, then people might start to pay the right kind of attention to them.


  1. Really interesting post, Peter. What always worries me about the straight Islam/ Christianity comparison, is that the Westboro Baptists are so obviously in contradction to the teachings of Christ.

    I'm not so sure the Islamist Jihadists really contradict Mohammed, who was in essence a fairly ruthless military leader.

    Jesus said "love your enemies" and preached forgiveness, and his example overrules the darkest passages of the Old Testament.

    Muhammed, as he conquered Arabia in an impressive display of military leadership, was a very different man - and this surely impacts on the two religions. What do you think?

  2. I see exactly what you mean, and I agree with you.

    When I said that “they portray themselves in the light that is to Christianity what radical jihadist preachers are to Islam,” what I meant was that their PERCEPTION by the outside world is probably no better than people have of radical Islamic preachers.

    Let me explain. When people look at the Westboro Baptists they see an intolerant group who publically abhor the practices that they detest. Similarly, when people see a crowd of Muslims burning a copy of the Satanic Verses and issuing fatwa’s against anyone who speaks out against them, they probably receive the same response OF PERCEPTION, in that people will view both groups as bigoted and to be avoided.

    My point about the quoting of verses still stands; that Westboro takes verses out of context and create the impression of an unloving and distinctly angry God. When the Jihadists take verses, I cannot say whether or not they take them out of context – I don’t know enough about the Q’ran to comment on that just yet. When Wilders makes reference to verses in the Q’ran, he certainly makes no reference to the context.

    Yes, I do believe that Westboro go directly against the teachings of Jesus, but I do not know whether or not radical Muslims go against the teachings of Muhammad, simply because of the nature of the structure of the Q’ran (as I understand it, the Q’ran is structured in length order, rather than chronologically. Feel free to tear me apart if that is wrong.)

    Thanks for your comment. I hope that clears things up a bit.

  3. I can help u there Peter. I havent seen Wilders work Fitna. But I can definitely explain some of the most common verses which are always taken out of context.

    'Kill all disbelievers where even u find them'. This was revealed to Muhammed when he was faced with the quraish tribe who has an army 10times the size of muhammeds and were marching to Muhammeds city Medina to try and eradicate Muhammed and his followers. This was a motive for the muslims to defend their land not go out killing everyone, and even in war they are not meant to kill everyone like priests, children women and non-fighters. Theres another verse which says 'he who kills a humanbeing whether muslim or non-muslim, its like he killed whole of humanity and he who has saved a humanbeing is like he save the whole of humanity.' So Islam clearly does not preach violence.

    Answering Will Heaven's point that the muslim extremists dont contradict muhammed is total falsehood. There was never a moment in his life that he attacked anyone, except when the quraish attacked him and he defended himself. Muhamedd did not conquer mecca militarily ur facts are wrong. Once he won mecca due to complete surrender of its people the people of Arabia willingly accepted Islam not under the sword.

    Will can I advice you that if you are going to make such an accusation please bring your facts.

  4. Peter I have to strongly agree with u. Many atheists like Ricard Dawkins claims that religion is the cause and bedrock of violence. This is an absurd statement to make.
    Human beings have flaws in them like hatred, jealousy, envy and violence therefore religion being a form of guidance deals with these issues and how to control them. As once professor Ramadhan said, 'To get rid of violence u have to get rid of human beings'.

    There are aspects of violence mentioned in all the religious scriptures from the Quran, Bible, Torah and Bagavatgeeta. The scriptures dont need reforming, but our understanding and our interpretation of the text needs reforming.

    For eg. "But now," he said, "take a duffle bag if you have one and your money. And if you don't have a sword, better sell your clothes and buy one...'(Luke 22:35-38, The Living Bible)

    If u read this piece of text in a dogmatic way, ull have to agree that tat it preaches violence. BUT if u read it in the light of the circumstance and conditions of it, it brings a whole new meaning. I didnt do justice to the verse by quoting a part of the verse. But the context of it correct me if I'm wrong. Jesus was talking to his disciples before his arrest and before he leaves to the mount of olives. He was afraid that his disciples might be attacked by roman soldiers or thieves so in the interest of his disciples he asked them to purchase swords only to defend themselves. Coz in another verse in the bible Jesus says ". . . for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52, NASB).

    Hence peoples interpreations are skewed and if we take this skewed interpretations as the teachings of these religious scriptures we are gravely mistaken.

  5. The question is not which religion is more harmful, the truth is that both the Bible and the Quran has ridiculous statements which we find immoral, homophobic, sexist, etc. They both joy in stories of genocide and ethnic cleansing, AND they both have great pearls of moral wisdom and ethical teachings.

    The truth is that these books are just really out of date and poor attempts to teach people how to live their lives.

    We have to realise that by making these books anything more that bronze age life guides, we justify anything that is written within them .

    By saying that the Bible is God's word, we allow people to justify atrocious acts by quoting from Deuteronomy 7,2:

    "And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them,and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them...thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their graven images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the Lord they God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all that are upon the face of the earth."

    Or any of the first five book of the Bible for that matter!

    Cant we just realise that these books are just bronze age scare tactics to get people to be good, and cant we just be good for goodness sake and NOT for God's sake.

  6. Amar, thanks for your comments.

    I’m afraid that you have, rather ironically, missed the point on several accounts.

    First of all, no-one was raising the question of which religion was more harmful. Extremist forms of both are harmful, and verses, when taken out of context, are harmful from both sacred books. No-one is disputing that.

    As I have said before, I do not know very much about the Q’ran’s structure or schools of thought on its application. The Bible does have passages that, when taken and directly quoted, as you have above, appear brutal and inhumane. The verses you have quoted are taken out of the context of the passage and the whole of the story of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land. God was giving them victory in battle for the land that He had promised to them, and in doing so was affirming His covenant with their forefathers.

    This does not mean that the passage is not brutal, but you cannot take it as you did and lay it open as an example of how the Bible teaches that you should live your life!

    If you want to take a passage that explains the heart of the Bible, then there are several options. As well as the two that I referenced in my post directly earlier, there are two great others (as you quoted from the King James Version, I shall as well):

    “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1.16)


    “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1.15)

    Don’t you see? The message of the Bible is not one of hatred or rampaging killings, but of love and compassion and unity (this is in the reference to Jew then Greek – in the context of the book of Romans, the readers would have classified all Gentiles as ‘Greeks’.)

    As for your comment on the bronze age life guides, please see that the role of the Bible is not to act as a rule book, but that Jesus came to set us free from the rules and regulations laid down in the Old Testament. This is exactly why the context of any given passage is so imperative to understanding the meaning and application of it. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to go and ethnically cleanse. Instead, we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to love our friends as Christ loved us – to the extent of laying down your life for another as He did for us.

    I would hardly call that moral scaremongering or see it as endorsing violence, would you?

    Again, thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.


  7. "Don’t you see? The message of the Bible is not one of hatred or rampaging killings, but of love and compassion and unity"

    Well, yes. A lot of it is wonderful, peaceful and surprisingly relevant. A good 2/3, however, is simply a bit mental.

    I don't think you can argue that there is a single, unifying 'message of the bible'. Your interpretation of the bible is a liberal one, and similar to my own, but there are millions who have a far stricter interpretation. And both interpretations are valid, with evidence to back them up.

    On a different note:

    The rise of Islamism is not to do with Islam per se, but down two much more mundane solvable factors: poverty and ignorance. Literacy rates in much of the Muslim world are really quite low. Pakistan's is barely 50%. Even richer states like Saudia Arabia, 1 in 4 are illiterate. Thus when you get a charismatic preacher taking quotes out of context for much of the population there's no way to question him.

    As for economic factors, I don't think it's a coincidence that the 7/7 bombers came from a pretty depressing council estate in Leeds. If you're relatively prosperous, you're far less likely to strap a bomb onto your back and march onto a bus.

    People are missing the point. Islamic terror often has little to do with Islam.

    P.s. Like this blog and like Nouse too. Did you guys win student paper of the year this year?