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Monday, March 09, 2009

Which is more violent?

Philip Jenkins of Penn State covered the basics of violent scripture in the Sunday Boston Globe:

Dark passages
Does the harsh language in the Koran explain Islamic violence? Don't answer till you've taken a look inside the Bible
By Philip Jenkins | March 8, 2009
WE HAVE A good idea what was passing through the minds of the Sept. 11 hijackers as they made their way to the airports.

Their Al Qaeda handlers had instructed them to meditate on al-Tawba and Anfal, two lengthy suras from the Koran, the holy scripture of Islam. The passages make for harrowing reading. God promises to "cast terror into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth; strike, then, their necks!" (Koran 8.12). God instructs his Muslim followers to kill unbelievers, to capture them, to ambush them (Koran 9.5). Everything contributes to advancing the holy goal: "Strike terror into God's enemies, and your enemies" (Koran 8.60). Perhaps in their final moments, the hijackers took refuge in these words, in which God lauds acts of terror and massacre.
But have you met the Christian Bible?
The richest harvest of gore comes from the books that tell the story of the Children of Israel after their escape from Egypt, as they take over their new land in Canaan. ... the full orgy of militarism, enslavement, and race war [is] in the Books of Joshua and Judges. Moses himself reputedly authorized this campaign when he told his followers that, once they reached Canaan, they must annihilate all the peoples they find in the cities specially reserved for them (Deut. 20: 16-18).

Joshua, Moses's successor, proves an apt pupil. When he conquers the city of Ai, God commands that he take away the livestock and the loot, while altogether exterminating the inhabitants, and he duly does this (Joshua 8). When he defeats and captures five kings, he murders his prisoners of war, either by hanging or crucifixion. (Joshua 10). Nor is there any suggestion that the Canaanites and their kin were targeted for destruction because they were uniquely evil or treacherous: They happened to be on the wrong land at the wrong time. And Joshua himself was by no means alone. In Judges again, other stories tell of the complete extermination of tribes with the deliberate goal of ending their genetic lines.

In modern times, we would call this genocide...
After reading this, I poked around some of the plethora of anti-Islam sites. You can find these on your own. Sure, they have an answer for why Islam really is more violent today. If a commentator does understand the violent passages of the Old Testament, the argument usually goes that Christianity has evolved from these specific events of the past, while the Koran places violence at the core of Islam for all time.

We can argue about what the words mean for today, but personally, I can't see the distinction. Jenkins wants us keep perspective.
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions . . . all are in the Bible, and occur with a far greater frequency than in the Koran. At every stage, we can argue what the passages in question mean, and certainly whether they should have any relevance for later ages. But the fact remains that the words are there, and their inclusion in the scripture means that they are, literally, canonized, no less than in the Muslim scripture.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mathematics and the Gospel

I've always had a fascination with the mysticism in the Gospel stories of what happens after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus appears to various people and they have trouble recognizing him. Look it up, it's interesting how the stories in Matthew, Mark, and Luke vary.

John includes an episode not present in the other books after the resurrection (Luke has it before), the "Catch of 153 fish." Here's the relevant passage from John 21:1–13 (King James version),
1After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

2There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

6And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

11Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
Jesus shows them where to fish, and they land a great many, exactly 153. Why 153? Then they know he is really the guy.

The Wikipedia entry giving theories on this is truly fascinating. The fraction 265/153 was known in the ancient world as "the measure of the fish," a fraction close to the true value of root 3. The diagram above produced this ratio geometrically.

The further surprise is that the number 153 is equal to the sums of the cubes of its digits: 1 + 125 + 27! Fascinating. Read the details at this great wiki entry

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Let's propose that Amendment!

Via Atrios and over to Lawyers, Guns and Money, is a Huckabee doozy from a campaign speech in Warren, Michigan:
Huckabee:I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.
View the video from Scarborough's show here:

Farley, naturally, cannot say exactly what Huckabee means, "it's a bit unclear to me what amending the Constitution to 'God's standards' would require..."

I don't know either. But it strikes me that we should not decry Huckabee for being a nut job. Let's take him seriously and try to figure out just exactly how we would make the US Constitution friendly for the Christian God. Then we can have a debate with a real proposal for changing the essential basis of America on the table.

It's a teachable moment. People would have to consider these changes and figure out what they would mean, and whether or not we should support them. My first swipe at a proposed amendment is below...

Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm normally no fan of the usually-truculent warmonger Charles Krauthammer. But a friend over at the email list (Mailman system, all Maine Owl readers are welcome to check it out and self-register if you wish to be on it) recommended his truly-sane Friday column called "An Overdose of Public Piety."
KRAUTHAMMER: This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher. In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race -- changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next -- so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American.
Right on, Charles.