What Jesus Said

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Middle East, Religion

Consider this an update to the previous post, The Wisdom of Doubt IX. Karen Armstrong wrote an op ed for yesterday’s Guardian in which she argued that “An inability to tolerate Islam contradicts western values.” Here’s just a snip:

On both sides, however, there are double standards and the kind of contradiction evident in Khomeini’s violation of the essential principles of his mentor, Mulla Sadra. For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists’ depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others. Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice. When 255,000 members of the so-called “Christian community” signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who, as Seth Freedman pointed out in his Commentisfree piece, should be the first to protest against discrimination.

Naturally, the usual knee-jerk reactions commenced. Short version: Because there is Muslim terrorism, and because there are Muslims who commit unspeakable atrocities, we are justified in hating all Muslims and denying them the same degree of tolerance and respect we want them to give us.

From Marc at U.S.S. Neverdock:

Tell that to the Christians persecuted and murdered in Muslim countries. Tell that to the gays who are hung in Muslim lands. Tell that to Muslim women who are raped and killed in so called “honour” attacks. In their attempts to portray Muslims as victims, the left completely ignore Islam’s intolerance to Western values.

It’s always heartening when right-wingers embrace liberal values and express outrage at injustices perpetrated against religious minorities, gays, and women. However, I would like to point out that Jesus set a higher standard:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48, New International Version]

I looked around in Matthew for a qualifier — that it’s OK to hate and discriminate against all members of a group if some among them are really bad — but couldn’t find it. Maybe it’s in some other Gospel. Or else they’re confusing the Bible with the script of The Godfather, and they think the Golden Rule is what Sonny Corleone said: “They hit us so — we hit ’em back.”

I don’t think Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) necessarily means that a righteous person may not defend himself or others from physical assault. I think the “cheek” business is about not allowing hate to escalate. Just because someone hates you doesn’t mean you have to hate them back. You don’t even have to hate them if you must use force to defend yourself from them. Just defend yourself. Hate is superfluous and may even be a hindrance to self-defense. Any martial arts master will tell you the same thing.

What Jesus — and Karen Armstrong — are saying is that tit-for-tat hatred takes the haters down a very dark road. The righteous person, Jesus said, is the one who refuses to feed the hate cycle.

The Buddha said:

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who harbour such thoughts hatred is not appeased.

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased.

Hate is not overcome by hate; by Love (Metta) alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law. [Dhammapada 1:3-5)

I’m just sayin’ that when a couple of heavy hitters like Jesus and the Buddha agree on something, we would do well to pay attention.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Pablo  •  Jul 22, 2007 @10:51 am

    There’s an ocean of difference between “We need not respect of every point of view” and “we are justified in hating all Muslims”. Nice of you to completely and utterly mistake the one for the other, and doubly ironic that you manage it based on your intolerance and disrespect of other viewpoints.

  2. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @10:55 am

    Pablo — Yes, I am intolerant of intolerance. I make no excuses for that. And I also know hate when I see it. Nice of you to pretend hate is anything other than what it is.

  3. klrfz1  •  Jul 22, 2007 @10:55 am

    What a slur on Protein Wisdom. Way to emulate the Buddha, boddisatva. Whatever you are you’re not much of a Christian.

  4. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @10:59 am

    klrfzi — You are right. I’m not a Christian at all. I’m a Buddhist.

  5. klrfz1  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:02 am

    And the Buddha wants you to stir up trouble and tell lies? Thanks, now I finally understand Buddhism.

    When the Kennedy’s prevented placement of windmills off “their” Cape Cod coastline, was that proof that the Kennedys hate windmills?

  6. klrfz1  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:12 am

    I guess I should explain that when I wrote “now I finally understand Buddhism”, I was being sarcastic. And by explaining it I’m being patronizing.

    Calling you boddisatva was an insult. I apologize for that. I wrote that before I knew you were a Buddhist.

  7. Gerald  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:21 am

    Maha is correct. It is not incumbent on liberals to be tolerant of nationalistic or religious extremism of any kind. And how ironic that Protein Wisdom among others are constantly using liberal standards to measure what values the world should except. Humanitarian dribble from conservatives is at least has a dark sick humor about it. Along with the UFOish claims to Iraq having WMD was also the claim that they were saving the Iraqi people – tell that one to all the dead Iraqis or the millions of Iraqis that are now refugees. Sure there are plenty of Arab and Persian Muslims that could use some liberalizing, but putting conservatives in charge of that is like putting John Dilliger in charge of your bank. Then there is the fact that conservatives have no problem sending the second largest amount of foreign aid to Egypt that still practices many of the same cultural customs Republicans pretend to feel are repulsive. Bush depends on Jordan for much of his middle-east intelligence yet Jordan’s human rights record is not worthy of bragging rights – the same for Bandar Bush’s friends in Saudi Arabia. And if we’re going to reform some religions how about the Christian Identity movement of which Oklahoma City bomber and registered Republican Timothy McVeigh was a part of. How about the Catholic Church where so many have either been involved in the most abominable incidents of child abuse or have tried to cover it up. There is no such thing as a pristine wonderful perfect religious group on this planet. Every western religion whether they want to admit it or not has had their worse impulses at least to some degree lessened by reason and secularism – one of the major reasons for Jefferson’s “wall” between state and religion. .

  8. Pablo  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:21 am

    Yes, I am intolerant of intolerance.
    That should cause an autoimmune response that no ointment is going to fix.

    But let me guess, yours is a good intolerance. Because you said so. Because the objects of your intolerance aren’t a protected “other”.

    If you’re so tolerant of the other and respectful of their values, how do you feel about honor killings? Are you tolerant of that?

    And I also know hate when I see it.

    No, I don’t think you do. If you did, you’d notice that you’re soaking in it.

  9. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:27 am

    klrfz1, thanks for your apology. I did not feel insulted, actually. I’ve been called worse. 🙂

    When it comes to the pure moral teachings we all fall short, and I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of anythng. But, really, all Armstrong was saying is that it’s wrong to discriminate against Muslims just because they are Muslims. She didn’t say Muslims are innocent of wrongdoing. She pointed out that many Muslims are guilty of intolerance and hypocrisy. She’s saying that just because many Muslims are intolerant of us doesn’t mean it’s OK for us to be intolerant of Islam. I didn’t see anyone who disagreed with Armstrong address what she actually wrote. All I saw was knee-jerk, reflexive defense of discrimination.

    I’m an eyewitness to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, so I’m more than aware of what Muslim hatred of the West is capable of. Our mutual goal — as part of national security and the global war on terror — should be to reduce hatred and extremism, not foment more hatred and extremism. This is a point that few righties ever seem to grasp.

  10. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:29 am

    Pablo clearly is incapable of reasoned discourse, just name calling, and is henceforth dumped into the twit filter.

    Please see the Comment Policy. Thanks much.

  11. klrfz1  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:38 am

    So you agree that the Kennedys must hate windmills then. All windmills, everywhere and forever. Otherwise your insistence that Christians are haters is kind of over the top, nie?

    And actually, bash Christians all you want. I was just outraged that you so mischaracterized the posts at Protein Wisdom. Please add me to your twit filter, too.

  12. klrfz1  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:51 am

    Just checking to see if I’m in the twit filter yet.

    What’s the hold up?

  13. Mcgruder  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:51 am

    With respect, I am not sure precisely what your point is. Armstrong’s piece, as i read it, argued (in the last several grafs) that the Western cartoonists should have used what is broadly described as “prior restraint.”

    Coming as this does in the pages of The Guardian is logically baffling, given the often brutal (and occasionally necessary) treatment afforded traditionalist Jewish and Christian views, be they religious, political or cultural.

    I would argue that there is too often a double standard in addressing Islam–and Islamicist, more importantly–concerns and sensibilities. Some kitchens are hotter than others, naturally, but the tiresome and telling “Muslim rage” coming from their communities over “blasphemies” is all too telling.

    We can parse the book of Matthew all we wish; the fact is, Western socieities are inherently secular. Condemning the barbaric and inhumane treatment of women, gays and religious minorities in Islamic culture is both fair and just.

    One tries to love his fellows as best he can, through God’s agency. But recollect that his Son refused to hide his anger and bitterness over appalling and un Godly behavior on multiple occasions.

    with respect,
    McGruder

  14. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @11:59 am

    Otherwise your insistence that Christians are haters is kind of over the top, nie?

    I didn’t say Christians were haters. I’m saying specific right-wing bloggers and their followers are haters. And by indulging in hyperbole you reveal your own bigotry.

    I have a long-standing policy of defending Christians and Christianity, actually. The only Christians I criticize are faux Christians who make real Christians look bad.

    Your point about Kennedys and the windmills is actually good, although I’ll turn it around on you. The fact is that the Kennedys (as I understand it) didn’t want windmills in a specific place, because it would spoil the scenery or something. They aren’t really against all windmills, which I’m sure you know. This is making a distinction between some windmills versus discrimination against all windmills.

    There are all manner of things going on in the Middle East, committed by Muslims, that I consider to be atrocities. Honor killings do come to mind. However, I have a Muslim friend who is gentle as a bunny and would never do such a thing. Is discrimination against him justified because there are Muslim whackjobs who commit atrocities? I think not.

    My understanding is that the honor killing thing is an aspect of culture that crept into some sects of Islam. Cultural contamination is common in all religions, including Christianity and Buddhism. I do not tolerate atrocities, but I don’t judge atrocities by who does them but by what is done.

  15. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @12:14 pm

    McGruder — I saw the Danish cartoons. They were crude, hateful, and bigoted. If cartoons like that had been drawn ridiculing blacks or women, no self-respecting western newspaper or magazine would have published them. Western publications were correct to exercise “prior restraint” — something publications do all the time — and refuse to carry them. I explained my POV more fully in this post:

    http://www.mahablog.com/2006/02/03/a-free-speech-question/

    Coming as this does in the pages of The Guardian is logically baffling, given the often brutal (and occasionally necessary) treatment afforded traditionalist Jewish and Christian views, be they religious, political or cultural.

    The Guardian “comment is free” web site frequently posts arguments both for and against Christianity and Judaism. For example, it might post an anti-religion argument by an atheist a la Richard Dawkins, followed by a pro-religion response from someone else. The Guardian enables a free exchange of views, in other words, without taking sides. The notion that the Guardian has an anti-Christian editorial policy is just hyperbole and hysteria.

    We can parse the book of Matthew all we wish; the fact is, Western socieities are inherently secular. Condemning the barbaric and inhumane treatment of women, gays and religious minorities in Islamic culture is both fair and just.

    I agree completely. I suspect Karen Armstrong agrees also.

    Again, the point she was making, and the point I am making, is not that we must forgive and overlook atrocities committed by Muslims. The point is that it’s wrong to discriminate against all Muslims because of what some Muslims do. And “they hate us” is no excuse for hatred.

  16. QrazyQat  •  Jul 22, 2007 @1:04 pm

    Jesus was very clear that there are certain people who it’s okay for you to hate; in fact he said it’s required. Your family. He said you have to (not optional) hate your family to follow him.

    If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

  17. E. Nough  •  Jul 22, 2007 @1:11 pm

    Between Armstrong’s article and this post, there is so much question begging and conflation, it’s frankly difficult to know where to start unraveling the whole mess.

    Well, let’s begin with this idea that “right-wingers” who don’t embrace Muslim incursion into Western society “hate Muslims.” This use of the term “hate” is as trite as it is useless, except as leftist demagoguery. It reduces well-thought-out opposition to Islamic cultural imperialism to a “knee-jerk” emotional reaction. At that point, of course, it’s easy for the likes of Maha to dismiss it. Failing to embrace Islam, warts and all, is not motivated by “hate” any more than failing to embrace the Iraq War was motivated by “cowardice.”

    Armstrong’s claim that “free speech implies respect for the opinions of others” is nonsense, easily refuted by Maha’s own attitude to “right-wingers,” whose opinions she clearly holds little respect for. That’s not to say Maha is against free speech: she simply knows that Western notions of free speech require only a respect for the right of others to hold an opinion or religious belief. (Then again, maybe not: after all, she is “intolerant of intolerance”…)

    Armstrong also conflates two very different episodes of what she perceives as “Islamophobia”: the publication of Mohammed-mocking cartoons in Jyllands-Posten and the attempt to block the construction of a huge mosque in London. One was an exercise of free speech, which happened to be offensive to Muslims — which was the entire point, since the paper was protesting against existing pro-Islamist self-censorship in the Western press. The other was a more clear-cut case of restriction on Muslims in the West. Armstrong incorrectly — but quite deliberately — makes them out to be the same thing: to her, mocking a religion is the same as restricting religious worship. To call this “wrong” is the mother of all understatements: it’s anathema to the real liberal principles of Western Civilization. (And once again, we have “Islamophobia”: reducing well-founded opinions to irrational fear — an odious tactic that the Left seems to have embraced enthusiastically. Apparently, all opinions must be respected, except those that disagree with the Left’s dogma.)

    Finally, Maha begs the question that publishing the Mohammed cartoons, or even preventing the building of that humongous mosque in London, is “discrimination against all Muslims” in retribution for the wrongs some of them do. Yet again, this trivializes many people’s issues with large-scale Muslim presence in Western society, to mere childish tantrum. The presence of large numbers of Muslims in western society is not without consequences, as India, Persia, Malaysia — and now Thailand, Spain, the UK, and France are finding out. Surely it’s valid to ask how much of a footprint Islam should be leaving on one’s society, especially given its ingrained intolerance of principles we supposedly hold dear? (And no, it’s not just limited to “some” “small numbers” of Muslims, as a quick glance at Muslim societies would tell you.)

    Armstrong’s conflation of speech and oppression, and Maha’s “[intolerance] of intolerance” seek to prevent even the asking of the question. Funny how they still consider themselves “liberal.”

  18. Mcgruder  •  Jul 22, 2007 @1:17 pm

    I think we’ll disagree on the cartoons. I found then positively benign given the tenor of the times.

    Along similar lines, I acknowledge there is “a spirited” debate on religion on the Guardian’s (free) website, but i can’t see that the paper’s overall thrust is anything other than broadly disdainful of traditional Judeo-Christian social and cultural beliefs.

    watch your own hyperbole. I have read many right wing blogs–and while there is PLENTY of opinion i dont agree with, and comments that I strongly dissent from–this hate and hysteria you reference is illusory.

    Strongly condemning Muslim conduct and mores is entirely vaild. I see precious little discrimination against Muslims anywhere.

  19. Bonnie  •  Jul 22, 2007 @1:32 pm

    “Our mutual goal — as part of national security and the global war on terror — should be to reduce hatred and extremism, not foment more hatred and extremism. This is a point that few righties ever seem to grasp.”

    Can you imagine what progress we could have made regarding this goal if even half of what has been spent on the Iraq war had been spent on this worthy mission?

  20. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @3:04 pm

    Mcgruder:

    Armstrong makes a simple statement that singling out any people for discrimination is a betrayal of western values. Then the right-wingers go on their hate tirades about all the evil things Muslims do, so Armstrong is wrong. Wrong about what? Wrong about discriminating against Muslims. And I say that I agree that there are Muslims do terrible things, and I think it is good and just to speak out against those terrible things. But that doesn’t justify discrimination against all Muslims.

    As long as people abide by the law, it’s a betrayal of western values to discriminate. Those individuals who break the law or who are collaborating with terrorists certainly deserve to be introduced to the criminal justice system, but I’m talking about individuals, not the entire group, guilty or innocent.

    Strongly condemning Muslim conduct and mores is entirely vaild.

    Yes, when it’s deserved, that’s fine, but that’s not what people were doing. They were slamming all Muslims for being Muslim.

    I see precious little discrimination against Muslims anywhere.

    There isn’t much in the U.S. — yet — but that it not for want of trying on the part of some on the Right, who are determined to stir up hate against Muslims. However, Armstrong was writing from Britain, and they’re having a dicier time of it there.

  21. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @3:12 pm

    E.Nough: “Well-thought-out opposition to Islamic cultural imperialism”? Jeez, son, how much Kool-Aid did you drink this morning?

    There are some people who are so much up to their eyeballs in bullshit they can’t see it any more. I try to respond reasonably to reasonable people, but you’re too far gone for me to salvage.

    Go away.

  22. maha  •  Jul 22, 2007 @4:12 pm

    Folks: The rightie haters are showing up and being nasty; so I’m closing comments. To anyone whose comments I deleted: I’m sorry for you, but I’m not your therapist.



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