Sam Harris to Muslims: Edit your Sacred Texts!

Watch the CNN clip from November with Sam Harris and Dean Obeidallah arguing over what Ben Carson said about Muslims (–scroll down to “Never Stop Lying”).   It’s depressing. We’re wasting so much time getting worked up about the wrong thing, a point that Harris made very clearly.

The starting point was Carson’s comment that he could never support a Muslim presidential candidate if he or she did not reject Sharia law. Who can argue with that? We’ve all heard the horror stories of what sharia law entails: beheadings, stonings, wife beatings (and by the way, some of these same punishments are mandated in the Old Testament). Some Islamic scholars say that these kinds of punishments are controversial within the Muslim community, too–OK, fair enough, so let’s cut to the chase: everyone should ask themselves (and this goes for Christians too), which takes precedence:

A) what’s written in a sacred text, or

B) laws based on human rights

Would your statutes derive from ancient scriptures or modern sensibilities?

Obeidalla never answers this. He gets all caught up in his personal antagonism for Harris, when the point is, do you or do you not reject a literal interpretation of the Islamic holy texts? Nothing would help us more at this point than assigning a word to describe that section of the Muslim population who believe it’s morally acceptable to decapitate prisoners and sell young girls and women into sexual slavery.   Extremists, Literalists, Fundamentalists, Jihadists, Back-to-the-Dark-Agists, Delusionists—let’s just pick one so we’ll all know from here on in we’re not talking about the moderate Muslim population. Here’s an easy question to determine which side you’re on:  do you or do you not think that it’s wrong to stone a woman to death for adultery? If you do not, you are now an editor of your sacred text and have entered the modern world.  Get out the blue pencil and keep going through the verses. We can argue about details as we go along in a civilized way.

This reminds me of Mike Huckabee’s accusation a while back, the one where he suggested President Obama had a different Bible than the rest of Christendom.   There is a different Bible in 2015 from the one written centuries ago in Palestine. Our new Bible has been edited—by us. It recognizes that some of the chapters and verses have nothing to do with us today. It excises those horrific, inhuman passages about stoning adulterers, and fables of talking donkeys.   It’s a Bible that is based on what is consonant with the human heart, nowhere better expressed than in the Charter for Compassion movement of Karen Armstrong.

Nothing would serve the cause of world peace more than to have the Muslim community in America go through their holy texts and underscore those writings that especially define who they are and who they want their children to be. The result might shift the focus from the horror stories of torture and mutilation to the texts that enjoin us to have compassion and mercy for all.

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