A Conversation on Islam

Theophilus: “I heard the gunman was a recent convert to Islam.”

Lucretius: “That’s not Islam. Islam teaches peace. That’s some violent, fascist group.”

Theophilus: “Whatever religion it was is a real problem that needs to be addressed.”

Lucretius: “I don’t think it’s even a religion.”

Theophilus: “These people certainly think it’s a religion, and there’s a whole lot of them. In fact, they think it’s authentic Islam.”

Lucretius: “I think they are wrong about that.”

Theophilus: “And you’ve studied Islam? Do you know anything about it’s founder, it’s history, the Qur’an, or the Hadith?”

Lucretius: “Well, not really, but I do know that there are millions of peaceful Muslims.”

Theophilus: “That’s true, but there are also millions of ‘Christians’ who don’t believe most of the things in their own Scriptures.”

Lucretius: “But most of it *is* fiction.”

Theophilus: “You’re entitled to that opinion, which we can discuss another time, but the point is that there are those who take their Scriptures seriously and try to follow them faithfully, and there are those who are just connected to a religion culturally, or who are just kind of fond of those particular ‘myths.’ Which group do you think best defines a religion?”

Lucretius: “I think peaceful Islam is more legitimate.”

Theophilus: “I didn’t ask which you prefer; we all like the peaceful Muslims. Which category of persons best represents a religion as it was originally defined and practiced?”

Lucretius: “But religions are subject to change and adapting to the times. They can’t just be defined by the original myths.”

Theophilus: “You realize that’s a liberal view of religion, right? That’s more what non-believers think and most of the people who have a low view of the authority of their own Scriptures. There’s hardly a religion that originally taught such a thing.”

Lucretius: “Well, I think it’s the right view of religion.”

Theophilus: “I’m not asking for your religious philosophy, or which type of people least offends you.  I’m asking about religions as they define themselves and as practiced by their founders.”

Lucretius: “I don’t see how that’s relevant to today.”

Theophilus: “Not relevant? I think even the liberals of these religions don’t completely write off their origins. You may just as well say that the Constitution is not relevant to US law, or that Augustus is not relevant to the Roman Empire.”

Lucretius: “But those are defining things.”

Theophilus: “Exactly! It should be legitimate to look at a religion’s Scriptures, and it’s founder’s teachings and actions, to help us define what the religion actually is. If we can’t do this, then a religion is simply whatever you want it to be, and one man’s definition is as good as another’s. That means radical Islam is as ‘legitimate’ as peaceful Islam.”


Posted on October 27, 2014, in World Religions and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Excellent points. I’m more curious about the names. Are those two actual historical people or two names you used from history?

    • Names I used from history. These are names I’ve picked for dialogs such as these — this being the only one I’ve published thus far. One represents theism and the other secularism/skepticism/materialism.

  2. Apologize for the extra comment, but I just wanted to celebrate. I finished going through your blogspot, and finished reading all of the articles and all of the comments. Good gravy, man! Some of them were thick! (And I secretly admit I scanned two or three of them)

    One more question: why switch over to WordPress?

    • All, including comments!?! That’s quite a tolerance for pain you have there.

      I started this blog as a kind of fluke to deal with some problems I was having on another WordPress blog (see the first post). I then thought maybe I’d dedicate it to the issue of homosexuality, since I had some things pulling me to address that issue, and I haven’t explored all my thinking on the topic. That didn’t last long; I’m easily distracted.

      In any case, I find I like the WordPress blog and community space better, and it’s kind of nice to mix it up with a fresh audience.

  3. That is true, but compared to other blogs, you were blessed with an above average number of intelligent commenters. As I’ve read more, I find your comment sections to be especially rewarding, intellectually speaking.

    • You’re right, for the most part they were civil and thoughtful. A mixed blessing. On the one hand it leads to the further development of the ideas expressed in the original post and rational scrutiny by skeptical minds. On the other hand it takes time and energy to engage in these dialogs and to construct writings that you know in advance to be subject to such critique.

      I’ve often entertained the idea of shutting off comments so I could focus on writing articles at my leisure, but I’d be afraid of getting sloppy and losing touch with the actual state of people’s thinking on any given topic. For example, when I was first studying Christian apologetics I was led to believe that moral relativism was the prevailing view of atheists. But when I began dialoging with people I found that few of them would actually admit to that belief (even if they held it of logical necessity). The beliefs and dialog “on the street” is actually far more nuanced than the academics, radio shows, and books would lead you to believe. If I chose to shut off comments I’d definitely need to commit to spending time browsing other blog comments and messageboards to stay in touch with the thinking of modern skeptics.

  4. So, I’ve been reading quite a bit about the history of Muhammad, and I have to say, it’s some scary stuff. Breaking peace treaties, encouraging assassinations, and his general conduct. Combined that with the troubles happening over on the European continent, and I’m a bit wary of the EU’s future.

    • Yeah, this dialog was kind of open-ended, and intended for the next step to be a review of what Muhammad was personally all about. It’s not a pretty picture, and is more consistent with what people refer to as “radical” Islam than the practices of the moderate western Muslims. Of course, I’m judging proper religion and morality according to Jesus’ teachings and behavior. But that contrast is kind of the point, isn’t it?

  5. If the Atheists feel like they can judge us using relative morality, I don’t see why we can’t judge Islam by Christ’s standards.

    I’m always a little surprised whenever someone claiming to be a member of a religion say that they don’t care what the founding figure said or what the holy books claim. If you’re going to take the title, why throw out everything attached to it?

    • Mormonism is one religion that, in practice, has little regard for the teachings of its founder. They believe that God is continually giving revelation and prophecy to its top leadership, consequently whatever they say trumps any prior revelation. Consistency between the two doesn’t seem to bother them, as they have a more mutable view of God’s nature than classical Christians do.

      Islam, on the other hand, is very much bound to the teachings and revelation of its founder. Interestingly, it holds Jesus in very high regard (I’d argue that it paints a much more impressive portrait of Him than of Muhammad). For that reason, it seems reasonable to contrast Jesus and Muhammad. The problem is, they don’t accept any portrayal of Him outside of what is written in the Qur’an. They give no good reason, though, to believe that the writings of Jesus’ followers are fictitious; they just take it on faith that anything that contradicts Muhammad’s claims is necessarily corrupt.

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