Garry Wills whitewashes the Qur’an

Garry Wills is one of those smart people—one of those prolific and thoughtful intellectuals—who baffles me because he’s an observant Catholic. I can never fully understand how people who are smart and reality-oriented, and whose lives are prosperous and well ordered, can nevertheless go to church and pray to a being for whom there’s no evidence. If he believes in the Transubstantiation and Resurrection, so much the worse.

In one way all religions occupy the same boat: that vessel floating on the sea of supernatural belief. And so it’s common for believers in one sect to defend those in others, even if those other sects fosters dangerous extremism.

And so we have scholar and author Garry Wills pulling a Karen Armstrong/Reza Aslan tactic: writing a book about the Qu’ran and telling us that we’ve all misunderstood it—that’s it’s not only not that bad, but actually a wonderful book about the love of God for humans, and about how humans should love each other.

The review notes that Wills claims that the Qu’ran is basicially a document of concordat, of love, and even of respect for women. And of course “jihad” doesn’t mean crusade, but something nice:

In fact, [Wills[ points out, jihad does not mean “holy war.” It means “striving” — as in striving to lead a moral life. The main point of the Quran’s discussion of violence is to establish limitations on its use, and to “abstain from violence to the degree that that is possible.” While a few endlessly cited verses have to do with violence, “the overall tenor is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.” This is what is striven for in the Quran, not war.

Well, I’ve read the Qur’an, and this is not the Quran I find—the one that’s filled with threats of hell and calls to smite unbelievers and apostates.  Yes, there is no explicit call in the Qur’an for women to cover their bodies, and yes, jihad has several meanings, but for some sects of Islam that doctrine has been turned even more violent through interpretation. This is the opposite of Christianity, in which secular morality has tamed the more violent behavior of its adherents. Islam has yet to undergo such a reformation, and is less likely to do so because because its words are taken more literally.

What Wills has done, apparently (and I will read his book to check) is construe the Qur’an in as favorable a light as possible, just as Karen Armstrong has done. Why? I can only guess that because he’s religious, he has a propensity to see only the good in other religions and in their gods. And you don’t make yourself popular by writing a book showing that the Qur’an is filled with threats, violence, and hatred.

I urge you to read the Qur’an for yourself (be sure to get a translation that is generally approved by scholars) and see if you can find the benignity, love, and peace that Wills sees. Judge for yourselves.

But I wonder how Wills would excuse the god of the Old Testament, who is explicitly genocidal, judgmental, and thoroughly nasty. And how does he deal with the fact that some branches of Islam, using the very words of the Qur’an, have used their faith to justify horrible acts. Does he know more about what it means than do the imams?

UPDATE: Oct. 6, 2018. Here’s an interesting discussion of the Qu’ran at the podcast site Made You Think. Go here to hear it.  Some topics:

  • The different writing styles of the Quran at the beginning and the end
  • Interpretation of Arabic and context at the time of Muhammad
  • Strategies to build and spread virally a set of beliefs
  • Changing views on sex, alcohol and women
  • The validity of 600 AD concepts on today’s world
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  1. Posted December 25, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I don’t care all that much about jihad. All I need to know is that Islam means “surrender,” surrender your life to others who then tell you how to behave and what to do. Gosh, who wouldn’t like that?

    Islam, like all of the other religions, is just a vast social control mechanism by which the elites suck off the efforts of the masses.

    • Craw
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      You may not be interested in holy war, but holy war is interested in you.

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      Christianity is about surrender as well. In fact, it’s the central preachment of the New Testament: give your life to Jesus and you will be saved.

      With atheism, there’s no god to take care of you and all we have is each other. I personally like that worldview better.

    • Mike
      Posted December 26, 2017 at 7:29 am | Permalink


  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    My guess is if Willis can buy all that stuff in the Catholic religion and all the pedophilia in the church, he can invent anything. Besides what he think the Quran says and what a billion and a half Muslims believe are not related. I guess all he has to do is get them to read his book and everything will be fine.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink


      • Craw
        Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        God turns brains to mush. I know really sharp, educated people whose brains have turned to goo in all the goddy parts.

  3. Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    If there is to be an “Islamic Reformation”, believers are going to have to start by not taking the Qur’an literally. Perhaps Wills and others like him are just trying to point the way with fingers crossed.

    Hey, it’s Christmas Day when we are supposed to look on the bright sides of things, right? Not that I believe in any of that religious stuff, of course.

  4. joanfaiola
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I’d rather take the word of Ibn Warraq and Ali Rizvi, two ex-muslims who have written books on why they left Islam: both say that the Quran is violent and misogynistic.

    • nicky
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      You do not have to take their word, it’s easy, read it yourself. The Qur’an is ‘nice’ in about a third of its body, the rest is hateful, misogynistic, genocidal, psychotic crap.

  5. Craw
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I strongly second reading a *complete* mainstream Koran.
    The Koran is not ordered by “date of presumed revelation”, which matters quite a lot as it turns out. There are several traditional orderings. One of those is used for a book I recommend as a supplement: A Simple Koran, available on Amazon.
    The Oxford Short Introduction to the Koran is also useful.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Garry Wills … baffles me because he’s an observant Catholic.

    Wills is very much an anti-clerical Catholic (which he wrote about at length in his book Papal Sins), and there’s been no harsher critic of the Church’s handling of the sexual-abuse scandal. Wills also has written a book-length apologia for his Catholicism. I have a copy, but haven’t read it yet, though I hope to eventually. I’ve read another of his books on religion — Head and Heart: American Christianities<, about the history of Christianity in the US — and found it fair and enlightening.

    Indeed, I've read quite a few of Wills's books on a variety of historical topics (the man is nothing if not über-prolific), and though he may be all wet about the Qur'an in his latest, I've always found him an insightful, articulate, and companionable guide.

    • Posted December 25, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      But does he believe in God, Jesus, the Resurrection, and so on? Yes, I know he’s liberal, but how much of the doctrine has he imbibed?

      Please let us know.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 25, 2017 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        I’ve no interest in defending the religious views of anyone, including Garry Wills (which may be why his Why I Am a Catholic keeps slipping behind his more recent releases on my reading list). I gave up that kind of mug’s game myself a couple weeks shy of my fifteenth birthday.

        And while Wills has moved substantially to the left over the course of his career, he still identifies as a conservative, as explained in his book Confessions of a Conservative.

  7. Historian
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    For those interested in Wills’ book, there are several videos in which he discusses it. They include:

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for posting these, Historian. Having watched them, I don’t think it’s accurate to say Wills has “whitewashed” the Qur’an, nor fair to compare him to the likes of Reza Aslan or Karen Armstrong. Wills is upfront in saying the Qur’an is in places “violent” and “misogynistic.”

      It may be, as Jerry’s piece seems to suppose, that Wills has written here a lawyer’s brief, rather than a judge’s evenhanded assessment — one that construes all available inferences in the light most favorable to the client (the client in this case being the Qur’an’s relative benignancy.)

      I’ve always found much to disagree with Wills about. Hell, he still describes himself as a conservative. But I’ve always been impressed with his intellectual honesty, and with his demonstrated capacity to change his mind and grow over the course of his career (as he did as to the Civil Rights and anti-War movements, from his early days as an acolyte of William F. Buckley, Jr.) To me, he’s an exemplar of what an American intellectual should be — both as to the “American” and the “intellectual” components.

  8. Charles Sawicki
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    This article by Wills is just nonsense. Either he hasn’t read Islam’s holy texts or he is just lying.
    Unlike Jesus, Mohammad was a real historical figure with a biography (the Sira) written about 150 years after his death. The many branches of Islam share two beliefs in common: (1) The Quran is the exact literal word of God. and 2) Mohammad, his messenger, was the perfect model of a human being and is to be emulated.
    Islam has three sets of holy documents; the Quran, the Sira and the Hadith. The Quran, as the literal word of God is most revered. You need familiarity with all three to have an understanding of Islam and its origins.
    The Quran (which is not in chorological order) is most usefully thought of as consisting two rather distinct parts. The part when Mohammad started out in Mecca, when Islam was small and weak and could have been easily wiped out by the followers of the tribal gods, relates to the early formation of Islam. This Meccan section contains the more tolerant parts such as the oft quoted “there shall be no compulsion in religion”.
    After he fled Mecca and moved to Medina and gained power and many followers, the Median part begins, and the Quran turns nasty and intolerant.
    In the Sira which mostly describes more than 40 battles fought while Mohammad was alive, all but three involve violent offensive (rather than defensive) Jihad.
    The Hadith (large collections of the pronouncements of the perfect man on many topics) describe a load of nasty stuff related to women and extreme intolerance and violence towards people who opposed him.
    With a perfect ruler who combined warlord, religious and government leader into one person it’s not surprising that democracy is essentially nonexistent in Muslim majority countries.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      What “article by Wills” are you referring to? The linked article (as you’ll know if you’ve read it) isn’t by Wills; it’s a review by Lesley Hazleton of Wills’s new book (which I assume you haven’t read either).

      It’s quite a reckless charge to accuse an author of Wills’s established reputation and integrity of either not having read, or outright lying about, the work he’s analyzing. Hope you’ve done more than skim a one-paragraph excerpt from a book review before making it.

      • Charles Sawicki
        Posted December 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I should have said “If this NYT article is correct, Wills is just spreading nonsense” It isn’t a “reckless charge” unless the NYT has totally misrepresented his views. I doubt that this true. Comments hold!

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I’m at a loss to see where you’re getting that from the NYT review, since the the reviewer, who’s written a biography of Muhammad herself, says that Wills “shines,” and calls his book “the best introduction to the Quran that I know of: elegant [and} insightful.”

          Nor is there anything in Jerry’s review of the review that supports your allegation that Wills is lying, either about the Qur’an’s contents or about having actually read it, since our host pays veracity the respect of withholding judgment until he reads the book for himself.

    • Craw
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      The sources for Muhammad are late and tendentious. The historicity Of each is comparable.

  9. FB
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The gist of the Quran is that God will torture for eternity those who reject him or his prophet, or oppose his plans. The same idea appears in the story of Moses. Both, the threat of eternal punishment and the story of Moses are repeated endlessly. I don’t know what’s wrong with people that don’t find the idea idea of eternal punishment repellent.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      I believe the Sunni’s are the strictest on the damnation of all non-Muslims. Shia Islam and Sufi Islam are much looser on this.

      Roughly one-third of the Koran is concerned with the Last Judgement, which is a much higher percentage than the New or Old Testament.

    • Posted December 27, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      If there were a God who promises those that do good, eternal good and those that do bad, eternal bad that’s His perogative. He’s God. He sets His rules. He’s sent prophets time and again to warn us of a Judgement Day and to guide us to His revealed way. “… And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning).” (Qur’an 17:15). Why would He do that unless He cared?
      Moreover he’s given us our minds and our will to make up our own minds, which is a bonus; they are aids to help us to that end. “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (Qur’an 67:2). The danger is we anthropormorphise God, which results in us thinking He’s a tyrant. But tyrants are men acting/pretending /thinking they’re like God. They’re not. “And none is comparable to Him.” (Qur’an 112:4) Only God has the right to act the way He does; that’s the definition of being God. And yet His guidance is good for us. “And this is a Book which We have revealed as a blessing: so follow it and be righteous, that ye may receive mercy.” (Qur’an, 6/155) and “The Qur’an as a guide to mankind also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong)…” (Qur’an, 2/185).

      • rickflick
        Posted December 27, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Of course that’s the weakness of trying to use the problem of evil to deny God exists. God can be defined with an arbitrary morality. Gods need not be good, kind, or even rational and understandable. The problem of evil only conflicts with those who insist that God must be good.

        • Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:23 am | Permalink

          Yes and no.

          Yes, it is a weakness to use the problem of evil to deny God exists. (But note ‘the problem of evil’ seems to be a hang-up with the Christian and Post-Christian notions of God; Muslims believe good and bad are both tests from God while simultaneously insisting that God is intrinsically good, because a) He tells us He is good (Qur’an 11:90) and b) How He tells us to live is good. I. E. Allah says, “Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah (charity) .” (Qur’an, 2:83)).

          No – in that to define God’s morality as arbitrary is ironic because in truth it is our human morality that is arbitrary. Humans cannot define good and bad except by falling into relativism. Ie one group of people’s good vs another vs another etc. 100 years ago racism in the West was good for some. Nowadays homosexuality is good for some. In 100 years time will pedophilia be good for some? If morality changes, there is no objective standard; there is no real good and real bad. But the idea of a judgement day that the Prophets keep warning us about, including the Last (Qur’an 33:40) Prophet “And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.” (2:281)

          “None shall be wronged, ” seems pretty fair and just and certainly not arbitrary.

          The problem with us humans is we worship the false god of ourselves:

          “Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] hawa [desire and opinion], and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah ? Then will you not be reminded?” (Qur’an 45:23)

          • rickflick
            Posted December 28, 2017 at 4:23 am | Permalink

            “God is intrinsically good, because a) He tells us He is good”

            Looks like you win the interwebs!

            • Posted December 29, 2017 at 2:29 am | Permalink

              This looks like a silly point (I get it) but – for the sake of comparison so you see its necessity – in the New Testament, for instance, JESUS (peace be upon him) never *explicitly* says: “I am god; worship me, ” which ties in with the Quranic point that he never said that (Qur’an 5: 116).

              Only God (ALLAH) is God.

              Christians use *implicit* verses back to back to support a point of view (utilised famously by St Paul) to present Jesus as son of god (see
     The point is in the Qur’an ALLAH means ‘The God’ (i.e. ‘The Only Ilah’ – which literally means ‘The Only One worthy of worship’) but to assist us to comprehend the nature of God, He informs us – *explicitly* – of his Divine Names and Attributes in the Qur’an. The one I referenced (above), that you responded to, says He is ‘al-Wadud’ (The Loving One, Affectionate) – that is to say He possesses that Attribute of goodness. Of course He has other Divine attributes (They are known as the 99 Beautiful Names of God that He has revealed to us about Him): a top down approach via authentic revelation. This is the only way to truly Know Him. Via Him (i.e His revelation – Qur’an and Sunnah). Of course we would also reflect on other evidences in life (world, reason, experience) to see if they confirm with His Words. And they do.

              Finally, this prevents us from conjecturing about Who He is and making up fancyful notions from ourselves (a bottom up approach) and thereby changing the religion to man’s interpretation of Him, which the Qur’an warns us against (Qur’an 2: 75-79). Hence the need for a Last Prophet and a Last Revelation that God Himself said He will protect (Qur’an 15:9).

              We can do this – to alter God’s religion, and our depictions of God – if we desire. And historically we have altered religions and our depictions of God. But they are no longer God’s way nor are those depictions the Truth about God. Rather they are our opinions of God. And we worship those fleeting, insubstantial opinions, desires and fancies (Qur’an 45:23). This differs from the Fact. How is the Qur’an more of an authentic revelation compared to all the other religious dispensations? See

              • rickflick
                Posted December 29, 2017 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                The problem you seem to be having is convincing anyone that the Qur’an is a reliable source of truth facts( or in fact that Allah exists). We know from long experience that science is a source of truth and knowledge, even though it is, as we say, provisional. So to argue from any religious text written in the dawn of civilization one must first establish the validity of the text as a source of knowledge. This task has been found impossible by all pretenders. Waste not your ink on speculations without a foundation.

              • Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                Hi Rickflick. A response was too long in coming. Apologies. But I decided to write a post on it, below, as you made some good points:

  10. Posted December 25, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    There is a squeak coming from over there, nevermind, let’s hope the rust seizes it before it gets annoying…

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    This is the 4th book by Wills entitled “What—-Meant” preceded by “What Jesus Meant”, “What Paul Meant” and “What the Gospels Meant”.

    I have not read these but did read a fair amount of his “Why I Am A Catholic”. He does not discuss transubstantiation, but he does defend the Catholic notion of Apostolic succession concerning which I think there is a definite historical case against it.

    It is one thing to gamble and guess about transcendental realities for which there is at best thin evidence that can only play out if approached with supernaturalist presuppositions.
    Smart people often believe these because they seem to ground their deepest moral and spiritual convictions (thinking along the lines of William James’ philosophy of fideism.)

    But it is something else to believe things about the observable natural world (historically or scientifically) for which there is a fair amount of counter-evidence to the contrary.
    The obvious example is creationism, but there is also pretty good counter-evidence against the standard account of the Exodus, at least some alleged miracles, etc. (There may have been a Spartacus-like slave rebellion against Egyptian overlords in Canaan but the Biblical exodus as literally written is almost surely false.)

    A good case can be made that the Catholic teaching of Apostolic Succession was developed in the 2nd century to suppress Marcionism. Wills seems to be aware that it is a late idea, but approves of it anyway.

  12. Davey
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
    The Egyptian parliament are making moves to make disbelief in God a crime.

    I’m sure it’s all a big misunderstanding.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted December 25, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s just a big misunderstanding. I read the article you linked to, and in the comments section I found this gem: “Oh dear, Egypt. You used to be so advanced when you had cat gods.”

  13. chris moffatt
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    It would seem that Wills’ copy of the koran was missing a few suras – two through nine specifically. He also is obviously not familiar with the koranic principle of abrogation by which all the earlier ‘ecumenical’ verses (written before Mo had large armies to defeat, kill and enslave non-muslim tribes) are automatically superseded and invalidated by the later bloodthirsty ones. He also seems to be unaware of the islamic principle of Taqqiya.

  14. Posted December 25, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Ah, “striving”. Not unlike “struggle”.

  15. netbuoy
    Posted December 25, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Invite all to the Way
    Of thy Lord with wisdom
    And beautiful preaching;
    And argue with them
    In ways that are best
    And most gracious:
    For thy Lord knows best,
    Who have strayed from His Path,
    And who receive guidance.
    And if ye do catch them out,
    Catch them out no worse
    Than they catch you out:
    But if ye show patience,
    That is indeed the best course
    For those who are patient.
    And do thou be patient,
    For thy patience is but
    From God; nor grieve over them:
    And distress not thyself
    Because of their plots.
    For God is with those
    Who restrain themselves,
    And those who do good.

    • netbuoy
      Posted December 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Surah 16
      An nahl – The Bee
      Q’uran (Tr. Yusuf Ali)

  16. William Bill Fish
    Posted December 26, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    The Quran is a great book except for the misogyny, violence etc. etc.
    Violence in Quran:
    Is Trump right about Muslim immigration? “Will migrants make the countries they move to a lot like the countries they came from?” Is there Sharah law in Muslim communities in the USA? I’d say yes!

    This video claims Muslims will take over the world and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. It will happen without violence.

    Muslim population expected to grow in USA.

    Quran on children:

  17. David Evans
    Posted December 26, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    “Does he know more about what it means than do the imams?”

    That’s an unfair way of putting it. He is siding with some imams against others.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted December 26, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      “Does he know more about what it means than do the imams?”

      As opposed to those of us who have read it and see what it plainly says? Remember the imams are all familiar with the principle of taqqiya.

      One of the greatest failings of the USA, as we now see, is that lawyers have been in charge of interpreting the Constitution to come up with readings that are diametrically opposed to what it plainly says (see 1st, 2nd, 4th & 5th amendments for starters). Just as the religious have frequently interpreted scripture to mean something quite different from what it plainly says. Tomaso di Aquino anyone?

      • Posted December 27, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Taqqiya is a Shia thing. 90% of Muslims are sunni. I didn’t know what taqqiya was until I learnt it from an islamophobe. #Ironic.

        • Posted January 28, 2018 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          I see taqqiya practised by Sunni Muslims all the time, they don’t seem to have problems fitting it into their theology.

          • Posted January 28, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

            I have two thoughts on this. First: where do you see this from (90% of) Sunni Muslims all the time?

  18. another fred
    Posted December 26, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    If one reads the Quran it cannot be understood as a Muslim understands it unless one knows about abrogation.

    According to this doctrine later words from Allah abrogate (repeal or do away with) the earlier verses where ever there is disagreement.

    The peaceful verses are early the violent ones (e.g. Sura 9, The Sword) come later after Mo had achieved secular power.

  19. friendlypig
    Posted December 27, 2017 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    If you want to know what the Qran meant to those who lived in it’s path a thousand years ago you could do worse than read Al-Ma’arri, born, blind, roughly where Aleppo stands today. He’s not exactly literature’s laughing boy but his work is interesting:

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,

    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:

    One, man intelligent without religion,

    The second, religious without intellect.



    Had they been left alone with reason,

    they would not have accepted a spoken lie;

    but the whips were raised to strike them.

    Traditions were brought to them,

    and they were ordered to say,

    “We have been told the truth”;

    If they refused, the sword was drenched with their blood.

    They were terrified by scabbards of calamities,

    and tempted by great bowls of food,

    Offered in a lofty and condescending manner.



    If criminals are fated,

    It’s wrong to punish crime.

    When God earth’s ores created,

    He knew that on a time

    They would become the sources

    For sword blades dripping blood

    To flash across the manes of horses

    Iron-curbed, iron-shod.



    The Prophets, too, among us come to teach,

    Are one with those who from the pulpit preach;

    They pray, and slay, and pass away, and yet

    Our ills are as the pebbles on the beach.

    Islam does not have a monopoly on truth:


  20. wanstronian
    Posted December 27, 2017 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    “jihad has several meanings”

    “Ambiguity is the devil’s volleyball.” – Emo Phillips

  21. Posted December 27, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    … jihad does not mean “holy war.” It means “striving”….

    Yes. And “Final Solution” just means ‘solving a problem.’

  22. JB
    Posted December 27, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    “This is the opposite of Christianity, in which secular morality has tamed the more violent behavior of its adherents.”

    This statement is a frequently repeated claim. I don’t believe it is supported theologically or historically when taking the long view. While secular influences do inform society about morality and are an important counterbalance to theocracy, it was countless Christian martyrs that spread the morality of Christianity by being unwilling to worship pagan gods and unwilling to engage in pagan practices; practices such as burning children alive for sacrifice, fraud, theft, torture of innocents, unlawfulness, infidelity (where the offspring were murdered), etc. It was, in tremendous proportion, the progressiveness of Christianity that firstly made the modern world possible.

    The Christians in Rome went about the towns rescuing the infants left out in the cold to die – one of the methods of post-birth abortion. The ancient Israelites had the year of Jubilee (every 7th year) in which all indentured servants were freed and all debts canceled nation-wide. “God Almighty has set before me two Great Objects: the supression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” ― William Wilberforce, who became Christian in 1875, leader of the Abolitionist movement in England.

    While Abolition was a secular movement also, it is not accurate to diminish the importance of Christians who derive their morality from the example of Jesus Christ.

    I am skeptical that secularists would be willing to martyr themselves, as did past devout Christians, in the service of moral advancement. There are some persons that would certainly, but there is no cohesive worldview that makes such a sacrifice imperative. And I suspect that, without Christianity, secularism by itself would be centrally involved in a decline in morality. I think that is at least partly demonstrated by the remarkable coincidence of the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 supporting totalitarianism ( Secularism does not have a living example by which to mediate the disagreements of future adherents — and if it did, it might be more worshipful than participants would be comforable with.

    While atheism is not an economic position, atheism by its nature is agnostic to the moral endorsement of individual worth: it hasn’t been true that Marxist atheists supported peace and freedom and elevation of the individual. In contrast, Christianity specifically elevates individuals as precious children of God. This view is unique to Christianity. It is a positive force for good which is importantly different than atheism and secularism (and every other belief system), and was foundational to the emergence of freedom in the Western world.

    Finally, violent acts by those calling themselves Christian have no basis in theology, being contrary to the example of Jesus Christ. Rather than making a case against Christianity as a belief system, according to theology: aggressive violence makes a case for individuals corrupted by sin. Genuine Christianity is arguably Christ-like following the New Testament, and thus, like Jesus Christ and the apostles, is non-aggressive.

    I think some balance in regards to the inestimable debt we owe our Judeo-Christian heritage is needed here and in general. I think secularism gives itself too much credit for modern morality, much of which is derived from Christian influence.

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

    ―- G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

    • Posted January 28, 2018 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      By “morality”, we mean the secular morality, not the morality of Christianity for which early Christian martyrs were dying. The latter morality turned early Christians into people whom nobody wanted around. Even today’s Christians stay away from people resembling the early Christians.

  23. CJColucci
    Posted December 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Anyone so inclined can cobble together either a perfectly nice or perfectly monstrous religion out of either the Bible or the Qu’ran, supported by plenty of reasonable scriptural arguments. And many people have been so inclined. There just is no such thing as the “real” meaning of those texts, which can be divined by staring at the verbiage. It is in the interest of those of use who are neither Muslim nor Christian not to get in the way of people who are trying to civilize their religious traditions.

  24. Posted January 28, 2018 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I think that people like Wills are convinced in the inevitable global domination of Islam and try their best to feel good about this future, and maybe to secure good treatment by the Muslim overlords if it happens in their lifetime.

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