Friday, January 30, 2015

Allah's QC 1.1: Hell

Does the Qur'an promote peace?

Detractors usually refer to its explicit endorsements of violence. However, recent centuries have seen astonishing advances in techniques of interpretation, enabling the superstitious to explain away many of the embarrassments in their superstitions. But a definitive answer, one that won't boil away in the interpretive crock pot, requires that we ask a deeper question.

Does the Qur'an encourage us to respect the lives of our fellow human beings? No. As Muhammad points out quite often, eternity makes human life here on Earth irrelevant. But this is only a partial answer. We must focus the question further and ask whether the Qur'an promotes a respect for suffering; that is, does it promote compassion?

It is said that Muhammad is a model to be emulated by all virtuous people. So if Muhammad himself has no regard for suffering, or worse, lecherously celebrates it, then hateful fanatics can justify any sort of brutality, even without overt encouragement. Our revised question can easily be answered with a quick tour of Muhammad's hell.

Hell is a raging fire that spares nothing, a roaring, crackling, boiling place of scorching wind, scalding water, shadow and smoke. A place of wailing and abandonment. A gated dungeon guarded by angels.

You, infidels, will be driven to hell in hordes, goaded by iron rods with hooks. Chained together, in collars, manacles, fetters, clothed in burning tar. As you arrive, the people already there will blame you for their plight and call on God to double your punishment, but God has already decided that everyone in hell will receive double punishment.

Of course, fire is the primary source of your torment: an awning of fire above and a floor of fire below; a bed, a covering, a tent of fire that encloses you on all sides. Your skin will be burned away, but God will forever make more skin for you, to maintain your agony. You will never get any relief, and of course, you'll never die.

You'll be forced to eat fire, as well as a kind of fruit called Zaqqum, which will choke you, then turn to molten brass in your stomach. As a bonus, these torments will serve to remind you of your terrible hunger. As for your terrible thirst, you'll be forced to drink from a boiling spring, festering water that will tear your bowels.

You'll be relentlessly mocked by unknown voices, relentlessly mocked by God himself. If you try to escape, you will be dragged back into the fire and mocked again.

God especially dislikes your face. You'll be thrown into fire, face-first. You'll be dragged on your face through boiling water, punched in the face by angels. Your face will be blackened, scorched, burned, covered with fire.

This is God's attitude toward suffering. But perhaps the people of God understand basic decency; perhaps they are better than God. Perhaps they will recoil, horrified, and beg God to release you. No, they will join God in mocking you while you suffer unspeakably. Whatever you do, don't cry out to them for help, unless you want them to pour boiling water on...you guessed it--your face.

The Qur'an really does say every word of this, and actually much more, over and over, in 80 of the 114 suras. You might think Muhammad was exceptionally ill, coming up with such lurid fantasies. But he was merely adding a new layer to an already towering edifice, six centuries of tradition built up by Christian theologians such as Ignatius, Tertullian, and Augustine. Clearly, Yahweh is a magnet for psychos.

To endorse a god that will preside over such obscenities, one must harbor a deep-seated, viciously aggressive hatred for one's fellow humans. In a religion that actively encourages this hatred, there is no particular need for explicit calls to violence.

That's 1.1. Thanks for watching.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Allah's QC 1.0: Je Suis Charlie

When fanatics of any faith engage in hateful activities in the name of their religion, observers everywhere foolishly assert that the fanatics are misinterpreting their holy books. There is an obvious fact that goes unnoticed: these are books of holy savagery; to get a moderate, liberal message from them, it is absolutely essential to discard the simple face value of the words in the books. In this series I will talk about the words in the Qur'an. We will see where it lies on the continuum between the foundation for a religion of peace, and a tool to be used by hateful people to justify their hatefulness. In this video, a brief introduction to Muhammad and the Qur'an.

Muhammad was born in the latter half of the sixth century, that is, about 500 years after the Christian Gospels were written. He was orphaned while still a kid, and was raised by a relative. When he was about 40 years old, he started claiming that the angel Gabriel was delivering messages from God, which Muhammad was commanded to recite to his fellows. In Muhammad's mind, this is the same god as is worshiped by Jews and Christians--referred to as Allah, but Allah is a title, similar to the English word God, not an actual name. Muhammad appropriates the books of Moses, the Jewish prophets, and the Gospels as part of his religious heritage, liberally embellishing them with the mythology of his own culture.

Muhammad never learned to read or write, so the holy books of Islam were written by his followers.
His sayings have been divided into two categories. The first category includes all the sayings that were delivered by the angel, God's words recited verbatim. These make up the Qur'an. The second category includes both Muhammad's inspired paraphrases of God's message, and his other sayings that weren't inspired but were still considered edifying. This second category is the basis for the writings known as the Hadith. I'll address the Hadith in a future series.

The Qur'an is organized into 114 chapters, called suras. Some of these are lengthy stories; others are short poems. Strangely, the suras are not in chronological order, but instead are ordered from the longest to the shortest. Or perhaps not so strangely: the Christian New Testament is also not in chronological order. From a doctrinal standpoint, the order of the New Testament is irrelevant. The order of the Qur'an is very important: in sura #2, the 87th sura to come down from heaven, God introduces the idea of abrogation, which basically means that he reserves the right to change his mind. So doctrine set down in later sayings overrides any contradictory doctrine in earlier sayings.

There is very little in the Qur'an to provide instruction on how we should live our lives. To Muhammad's credit, he mentions charity quite often, and it's no surprise that his God has a soft spot for orphans. The primary message of the Qur'an is that Muhammad is God's mouthpiece, and by the way, you should obey God (which is almost always equated with obeying Muhammad). If you don't believe that Muhammad's message comes from God, you will go to hell. Muhammad's constant whining about people who won't believe that he's tight with God is a dominant theme.

When I first read the Qur'an, I was struck by how human Muhammad seems as compared to Jesus. Jesus is just a psycho with almost no personality, exactly the kind of character one would expect from a bunch of different oral traditions being mashed together. Muhammad is a psycho, but he is also recognizably a human being: hedonistic, hypocritical, shortsighted and small-minded, laughably thin-skinned and petty, a goofy Homer Simpson type whose renown serves as a reminder that in the world of humans, personal charisma counts for far more than substance. Now he is revered by many, just as Jesus is revered: either by people who have never read the material, or who ignore its face value in favor of interpretations more palatable to modern sensibilities.

Or bigots seeking justification for their hatred.

That's 1.0. Thanks for watching.