American society has determined a causal relationship between terrorism and the Quran, but according to Philip Jenkins, the Quran isn’t the only holy text stained with blood.
Jenkins, co-director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion at Baylor University, spoke Monday from the Hall of Philosophy, kicking off Week Four’s interfaith theme of “The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion and Violence.” He spoke about another book that has led to thousands of years of bloodshed and violence — the Bible.
“If you compare the two texts, the Bible and the Quran, it is much easier to find more extreme, bloody and actively genocidal text in the Bible than in the Quran,” Jenkins said.
Instead of following the consensus that extremists perform violent actions because of their religion’s tenets, he said all religions have a bloody history, and certain passages are used after the fact of violence.
Pointing to biblical passages — in both the Old and New Testament — Jenkins said there is a long-standing history of Christian violence in the name of religion that began long before today’s trend of Islamic terrorism.
“There is a direct, lineal descent for some of those biblical passages to some of the worst crimes of human history,” Jenkins said. “So when people say there are bloody passages in the Quran, I say that there are also bloody passages in the Bible. Have both driven violence? Absolutely. Can I point to a major religion that has not been implicated in some way in major killings, wars or acts of genocide? No, I cannot.”
To the dismay of some in the crowd, Jenkins went as far as to call Muslims “latecomers” to terrorism after the likes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Benito Mussolini and Mao Zedong.
“If Islam directs terrorism, then why on earth were Muslims such latecomers after anarchists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, Christians?” he said. “Why was it when Muslims decided to take up suicide bombings, they used a tactic invented by Hindus?”
Furthering his point, Jenkins quoted the prominent French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
However, Jenkins said, there is a saving grace to the violent history of religions. Although most religious texts contain passages that some interpret as encouraging violence, those passages come from a different time and place and history. Likewise, they need to be judged from within their historical contexts.
As an example, Jenkins pointed to Judaism. He said there are passages in Jewish scripture that refer to what might be known today as genocide. If a Jew were to ask his or her rabbi about said text, the rabbi would say, although one excerpt of the Torah may urge violence, it’s antithetical to the rest of the religion.
“If you’re a learned, orthodox Jew, there is a flat-out contradiction between the text of the law, and the spirit of the law,” Jenkins said. “And obviously the spirit is going to win.”
Understanding the historical nuances of one’s own scripture, Jenkins said, must be a prerequisite before scolding anyone else’s scripture.
“When we fail to look at history, we don’t understand our own Bible,” Jenkins said. “And if we don’t understand our own Bible, how dare we criticize other people for failing to understand their scriptures?”
Closing his lecture, Jenkins bluntly called for more fairness in critiques of any scripture.
“Let’s keep the issue of religion separate from scripture,” Jenkins said.