Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Contrasting Views of Sacred Text


I heard someone on the radio this morning summarizing an article about the difference between the Islamic view of the Koran and the Christian view of the Bible. I have googled and googled but can't come up with the article--of course I didn't catch the name of the author or the publication it was in, unfortunately, so I can't provide a link to it.

The thesis was that Muslims believe that the Koran contains the direct revelation of Allah to them and when they read it or recite it they are in touch with the actual words of God. Christians, on the other hand, believe that although the Bible was inspired by God it was written by man. Apparently the article concluded that Muslims therefore venerated the Koran in the same way that Christians venerate and worship Christ--as the revelation of God to man.

This was presented as the explanation for the violent reaction in the Muslim world to the Newsweek article (now discredited and recanted) reporting the "flushing" of the Koran down the toilet by American troops. While I think that the alleged incident was probably used by Islamic extremists for their own purposes, it did make me think about our attitudes toward the Bible.

A couple of years ago at a memorial service, the pastor leading the service mentioned that when he visits a family to plan a funeral service he will ask to see the Bible of the deceased to help the family find favorite passages of their loved one that could be used in the service. Often he is given a Bible in pristine condition, looking untouched by human hands. He will then ask for the "dog-eared" copy if he knows that the deceased was involved in Bible study. Then the underlined, highlighted, raggedy looking Bible is produced and the family and pastor can find the scripture that was meaningful for the service.

When I teach a new Bible study class, I encourage people to underline and highlight and write notes in their Bibles. The article that was referred to in the radio broadcast included the information that "infidels" were not allowed to touch the Koran, lest they desecrate it by their touch. In contrast, Christians want to place Bibles in the hands of unbelievers and encourage them to read it and make it their own--through translation into their own language, reading, study and yes, underlining and making notes and questions in the sacred text.

Certainly Christians would object to a Bible being burned, flushed down the toilet, or desecrated. And it has been--in the name of "art" and "free speech". But we wouldn't riot over it. Is that because we don't take the Bible seriously enough, or because we don't view it in the same way as the Muslims view the Koran?

8 comments:

SpookyRach said...

I had this same conversation with friends recently. We pretty much agreed that no book or symbol is worth the loss of human life. Do we take the Bible seriously enough - I don't know.

(I have a friend who's pastor did the same thing. He also prone to preaching on the proverbs 31 woman. My friend has made notes to him in her bible that if he uses that text at her funeral she will come back to haunt him.)

Songbird said...

That's a great story, spookyrach. I did use the passage recently, but it really suited this particular woman.
Off to make some more notes in the margins...

Quotidian Grace said...

I think I would be more receptive to sermons on the Proverbs 31 woman when preached by a woman, wouldn't you?

Songbird said...

I used it because she had been an underappreciated homemaker and mom of sons; the women in her life were totally in touch with her awesomeness, but the men were all pretty clueless. It gave me a platform to make a case for what she was and to push the men in the family to acknowledge how much she did with the little they gave her, materially, yes, but especially emotionally.
Coming from a man, I can imagine it would be a very patronizing text.

SpookyRach said...

I think my friend would agree with both of you. (I'll have to send her this link.)

rev-ed said...

As kids we are taught to take good care of our Bible and don't mess it up. (at least that's how it was in my family and my friends' families). The first time I underlined a verse my hand was shaking so much I actually crossed it out!

Certainly we need a high view of Scripture in Christianity, but we also need a good understanding of what is there. Instead of being a relic, the Bible is a living book. It's not the car behind velvet ropes, it's the car you drive to work every day.

will spotts said...

There was a time when desecrating a Bible would have drawn much the same reaction as this incident did. Though I'm convinced we understand better now -- a book or any material thing is not worth killing over. Writing in the margins, underlining, etc. are not quite the same thing, though. It is more the fact that we are hurt when what we care about is disrespected. There were, for example, reactions to the Last Temptation (movie more than book), because it was perceived as denigrating Christ. Similarly, the Da Vinci Code can be seen as very offensive. At work, I have become used to bad language -- so that it rarely bothers me with one exception, the use of Jesus Christ as an expletive sets my teeth on edge. I mention this because I can understand how profoundly offensive the reported desecration of the Koran would be to Muslims. But being offended doesn't ever justify being violent.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone! I love rev.ed's car analolgy and agree with all the comments on the senselessness of the violence.