Thursday, January 21, 2016
What happens when religions take literalistic and often punitive approaches to their holy writings? There is a horrific story out of Pakistan which reminds us of the illogical and brutal consequences of doing so. The Guardian reports the story this way:
A Muslim cleric has been arrested in Pakistan on terror charges after a teenage boy he accused of blasphemy responded by sawing off his own hand.Anwar Ali, 15, performed the act of self-amputation with a scythe after attending a religious gathering in his local mosque last Monday. Shabir Ahmed challenged anyone who did not love the prophet Muhammad, the most revered figure in Islam, to raise their hand. The boy misunderstood the question and put his hand up, prompting a chorus of shouts from those attending the Milad, a traditional event where songs and poems praising Muhammad are performed revered figure in Islam, to raise their hand. The boy misunderstood the question and put his hand up, prompting a chorus of shouts from those attending the Milad, a traditional event where songs and poems praising Muhammad are performed. Ahmed, the cleric at the mosque in the small Punjab town of Hujra Shah Muqeem, reportedly denounced the boy as a “blasphemer who was liable to be killed”. Nausher Ahmed, a police officer, said an emotional Ali rushed home and returned with his severed hand on a plate, which he presented to the mullah.
While we may be stunned by this, I have listened with limited patience to those who claim that they believe in the bible as the literal word of God, without error. I am inclined to ask them whether they observe Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) about plucking out an eye or severing an appendage. Often the individual will backtrack on this, insisting that Jesus meant to be provocative with these statements. I certainly agree, but as soon as they begin to interpret Jesus' words they prove that they don't take scripture literally.
And that's okay. After decades of ministry I am still moved by the power of scripture and the narrative of God's redeeming love I find there. There are portions of the bible I would readily expunge, or "archive" but I'm not alone in that. Martin Luther, the driving force of our Protestant tradition had books of the bible he would have gladly deleted, but this is the canon of scripture. So we ponder and wrestle and listen to the scriptures which lead us into love and acceptance, not away from them.