March 16, 2015

My Holy Book Says That People Like You Should Be Killed

English: 11th Century North African Qur’an in ...
11th Century North African Qur’an in the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Suppose I told you that I considered a particular book to be holy and/or sacred. Suppose I told you that I considered it to be the inspired word of some sort of god(s). Now imagine that you were curious and decided to read this particular book. To your horror, you discovered that it contains passages that seem to instruct people to kill people like you. What would you think of such a book? And more importantly, what would you think of me for claiming that such a book is holy?

When you confront me with your discovery, I attempt to explain away the disturbing passages you found. "They aren't intended to be taken literally," I insist. Do you find that particularly comforting? After all, I've been telling you that this book is holy, sacred, etc. "These words were meant for a different people living in a different time," I say. But the words strike you as being very clear and unambiguous instructions. And once again, I'm the one who has been claiming that this book is something special, divinely inspired even. I've even gone so far as to claim that this book is a guide for how one should live one's life. "You are just taking it out of context," I exclaim. But you have read the words for yourself. You have seen the context around them and found their meaning to be obvious. "Oh, I just ignore that part," I explain. I selectively ignore parts of my own holy book? Isn't this the same book that I claim to be divinely inspired?

The book I claim to be holy, sacred, and/or divinely inspired contains unambiguous passages stating that people like you should be murdered. Maybe you don't believe in the right gods. Maybe you walked away from a particular faith tradition (i.e., apostasy). Maybe you are gay or lesbian. Whatever the case, my "sacred" book says you should be killed. Even if I try to reassure you that I don't aim to kill you and that I would not condone others killing you, how could you possibly not think less of me for promoting such a book? Remember, I've been claiming that this book is holy and/or sacred. How could you ever feel truly safe around me?

Now imagine how much worse things might seem to you if you were to learn that countless people had actually been killed by those using my book as justification, that this had been going on for centuries, and that it was still happening today. That is, people like you are still being killed because of this book and others like it. Even if you were persuaded by the suggestion that the only ones still doing this were "extremists" or "fanatics," I think we can agree that this would give you pause. And I think you might be justified in thinking less of me for extolling the virtues of such a book.

Fortunately, I am an atheist. I recognize that no books are holy or sacred. I am aware of no book that instructs me to kill people like you. And if I were to learn of such a book, I would certainly not go around claiming that it was holy, sacred, divinely inspired, or a perfect guide for how to live one's life.
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