Keep Trying and Never Give Up

If there’s anything that new-age Christians and “liberal” religious people do, it is that they keep trying and they never give up.

I’m writing this somewhat in response to the graduate advisor for the UChicago Secular Student Alliance. He writes a blog called Sleeping in Sundays, and apparently this Sunday, he couldn’t find a better example of ignorance and dishonesty than from a post by Sam Harris, who, after citing a myriad of verses from it, merely concluded that the Quran gives “a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred” and that Muslims who deny this are being dishonest.

Note that this in no way obstructs what Muslims in particular and religious people in general want to do anyways: interpret and metaphorize every verse that conflicts with 21st century morals. There’s no denying that this is what religious people do. But should this impress us?

The usual argument goes like this:

The reason that we have so many crazies (creationists, genital mutilators, suicide bombers, etc.) and backwards societies (theocracies, religious laws, religious education, etc.) is that there are a few fundamentalists. Why do millions and millions of people take to the streets to call for governments to shut down newspapers? Why do religious societies treat women so horribly? Why do we open therapy camps in this country to treat homosexuality? It’s the fundamentalists. They ruin it for everyone else. Simple as that.

How do they ruin it for everyone else? Fundamentalists: they aren’t as fancy and sophisticated as us. They don’t think about the text. They don’t look at context. They don’t look at history. And most important of all: they don’t “struggle” and “wrestle” with the text. They just give up.

The solution? Let’s have the determination to wrestle with the text. When there’s something in the Bible that is outrageous, you must be reading it wrong. When there are entire stories in the Quran that show the overwhelming superiority of Muslims over atheists, you must be ignoring history. Indeed, if you ever ever have an interpretation of a Holy Book that is upsetting, you just aren’t trying hard enough to contextualize it. The solution to all these social ills is to keep trying, to never ever give up.

When countless societies and millions and millions of religious people fail again and again and again at reaching the “correct” interpretation (one in line with secular humanistic values), let’s keep trying again and again and again to fix it, by wrestling with the text.

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Posted on March 20, 2011, in History, Humanism, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hey Mike,

    I hope you got to read my response to your comment on my post. I think you make a good point–we can’t leave Scriptures up to anyone’s opinion. They do say something (they are texts with words, right?), and we can’t just say “they mean what you want them to mean.” That’d be disingenuous to their nature as texts.

    But I really do think there’s a right way to work with text, and there’s a wrong way. The right way is to cite context, look at historical interpretations, learn about how communities today read that text, refute or explain rival/conflicting interpretations, and then make conclusions. Harris gives an opinion, cites a wall of text, but leaves so much of that scholarly work behind. So the wider public will read his post and, if they don’t have any background on Islam, will think he’s making informed statements. Yet many in the scholarly community would take issue with his claims.

    Is that as problematic to you as it is to me?

    Thanks again for the conversation.

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