In the Oct. 14 column “Politically correct isn’t always right,” Jeffrey Swindoll argues that the “politically correct narrative” of Islam as a peaceful religion promoted by our “incompetent … public figures” is in fact wrong, that in reality the vast majority of Muslims approve of violence because they take the Quran literally.
But the question “Do you take the Quran literally?” is not the same as “Do you approve of religious violence?” A response to one is not transferable to the other.
So what does the Pew Forum, Swindoll’s source, have to say about religious violence? They report that a significant majority (67 percent) of Muslims do not support religious violence of any kind. And what about us? Nearly 25 percent of Americans (data from our own Baylor Religion Survey) take the Bible literally, word for word. Do these biblical literalists then approve of religious violence simply because the Bible contains violent text?
I would suggest that American Christians are more willing to engage in religious violence than is comfortable to admit – many students may be too young to remember the thirst for revenge against Muslims that flooded the United States after Sept. 11, 2001; it was horrifying to watch. This was a violence conditioned by historical events, events we are not immune to.
The answers are just not easy. Those who “take the Bible literally,” for example, do not in fact do a great job of “literally” following the Bible, especially where the nonviolent bits are concerned. If they did, shouldn’t I be able to argue that 25 percent of Americans bend heaven and earth to love their enemies, sacrificing their own lives out of love for their neighbors?
All of us are selective about our beliefs and behaviors, and these are influenced by a myriad of factors, many of which we are not even aware of. Let’s not make the mistake of treating Muslims as if their own beliefs and behaviors about sacred texts are somehow less nuanced and conditional than ours.
– Bellingham, Wash., graduate student Blake Victor Kent
Sociology of Religion