When I hear informed and critical individuals that I respect rail against Islam - the religion of a fifth of the human population -- if I didn't know better, I might be led to believe that I was hearing some Bible-thumping fundie preacher assailing "that gutter religion." We have come to expect such conduct from bloviators on the right, typified by FOX News panels. But not from such educated, intelligent and sophisticated individuals as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher who, in their assault against Islam, have allowed their indignation to overwhelm their judgment.
Let me be clear: I condemn unequivocally the barbarism and brutality of Islamic radicals such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Likewise the brutality of the Crusades and the Inquisition, and the brutality of the indiscriminate shelling of Gaza. But none of these atrocities suffice, by themselves, as adequate reason to condemn, respectively, all of Islam, Christianity or Judaism.
There is much more to Islam than beheadings, genital mutilation and holy wars.
Harris, Dawkins, Maher, Hitchens, et al., seem to believe that from some verses in the Qur'an, we can deduce the behavior of most of that fifth of the human population that identifies themselves as "Moslem." This, of course, is plain nonsense.
Consider: I move into a new home. A realtor tells me, "this is a diverse neighborhood. The home on the left belongs to a Moslem. Across the street lives a Jew. To your right is a house formerly owned by a Christian, but he's gone now."
So from this, should I conclude that the guy on the left has four wives whom you will never see because they wear "bee-keeper suits?" That his daughters have been genetically mutilated, and that his son builds suicide vests in the basement? And that the fellow across the street once had a son, but because the kid was disobedient he was turned over to the elders and stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), and when his debts piled up he sold his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7) -- all according to Holy law of the Torah? And the Christian? Should I assume that, following the Biblical instruction of his Lord and Savior, he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor (Matthew 19:21)? Presumably he had no pension or savings because he was told in the Bible to "give no thought to the morrow." (Matthew 6:34)
The Islamaphobes' moral condemnation of a billion and a half of their fellow human beings, on the basis of some verses found in the Qur'an, is equally ridiculous.
In fact, if I am told that my neighbors are Moslem, Jewish or Christian, I will know virtually nothing more about them until I become personally acquainted with them. Is the Moslem a Sunni, a Shiite, or neither, or is he a non-believing "ethnic Moslem." Is the Jew Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, or maybe even an atheist? Is the Christian a devout Catholic, an evangelical, or a Unitarian?
Recently a guest on Bill Maher's show identified himself as a "secular Moslem." I confess that at first I was puzzled. Isn't "secular Moslem" an oxymoron -- like a "married bachelor"? But then, as I reflected on it, it made perfectly good sense.
I am personally acquainted with many "secular Jews" and "secular Christians." In fact, I suppose that I qualify as one of the latter. I totally reject traditional Christian theology preferring to accept the scientific view of the universe and the inviolability of physical laws. I firmly believe that "God" (whatever that word might mean) had nothing to do with the ancient anthology known as "The Holy Bible." I am "Christian" in the sense that I accept,critically, most of the moral teachings attributed to Jesus (who may or may not have actually existed). I do so, not because "Jesus said so" or "the Bible tells me so," but rather because, after decades of studying, teaching and writing works in moral philosophy, I have concluded that much of moral message attributed to Jesus makes sense -- in a word, it is reasonable, on grounds independent of alleged Divine instruction.
But not all Christian morality makes moral sense to me. I have no use for what David Hume called "the monkish virtues" such as celibacy, fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial, solitude, and least of all, blind faith. I reject these because they are unreasonable and they violate my moral sense. And as I look at human history, I find that these "monkish virtues" are the source of untold human misery.
So am I "really" a Christian? Evangelical Christians would say "no" because I have not accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and I do not accept without reservation and critical scrutiny, the moral teachings attributed to Jesus. And yet, when the Mormon Church claims that there are more than eleven million "Mormons," they include me, regardless of the fact that I effectively left that religion in my teens, and since then have entered a Mormon church just twice -- in each case for funeral services for my parents.
So just who is, or is not, a "Moslem"? Is a "secular Moslem" really a Moslem if he does not pray five times a day, does not believe that "there is no God by Allah and Mohammad is his prophet," enjoys without a qualm a good ham sandwich with a beer, and selectively endorses some moral teachings of the Islamic tradition, while rejecting others? He presumably calls himself a "Moslem" because he was born of Moslem parents, raised in a Moslem community, and identifies himself with the culture and traditions of Islam, all the while rejecting the theological world-view of the religion of Islam. And when some educated bigots on the opposite side of the Earth, disparage his traditions, he will defend those traditions.
Recently I searched Google to find out what portion of the Russian population was Moslem. The answer? About twenty million (13%). Of these twenty million, I learned, about thirty percent were "orthodox" and the remainder "ethnic." Presumably, very few of those "ethnic Moslems" are inclined to join ISIS or Al Qaeda, strap on suicide vests, or slice off the heads of "infidel" Christians and Jews.
Yet that "orthodox/ethnic" distinction seems to be lost on the islamaphobes. "Call yourself a 'Muslim,' and we will conclude that you are a fanatic. After all, it's all in the Qur'an."