By Khaled Diab
Monday 21 March 2016
Christianity, and especially the Bible-thumping variety, has been playing a starring role in the US presidential campaign among the Republican candidates. “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth,” Republican candidate Ted Cruz, a devout Southern Baptist, declared in no uncertain terms last month.
And despite being a self-styled bad boy who has appeared on the cover of Playboy, Donald Trump has been trumpeting his “Christian values” and has vowed that “Christianity will have power,” if he becomes president. The billionaire has even gone so far as to make the incredible claim that his taxes were being audited because he is a “strong Christian.”
Even though the property mogul and leading Republican presidential hopeful has claimed that “nobody reads the Bible more than me,” Trump has been hard pressed to name a favourite verse and has made numerous scripture-related gaffes.
The Republican frontrunners aren’t just affirming their Christian credentials, they are also expressing an alleged dichotomy and incompatibility between their Bible-bound religious beliefs and a ‘benighted’ Islam.
Though Trump admits his ignorance of the Quran, he nonetheless felt qualified enough to venture, in a 2011 interview, that “there’s something there [in the Quran] that teaches some very negative vibe… I mean things are happening, when you look at people blowing up all over the streets.”
Building on this view of Islam and Muslims as being intrinsically violent, Trump has vowed to keep foreign Muslims out of America because “our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Yet his proposed remedy to this violence is to go on a killing spree that would make a slasher horror movie look tame. Trump wants to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”, reintroduce water-boarding and “much worse” for suspected terrorists, and approves of the summary execution of Muslim fighters with bullets soaked in pig’s blood.
If Trump were actually to delve into the Bible, he may well be surprised by what he reads, and even mistake it for the much-maligned Quran. More to the point, he would perhaps begin to realise that making comprehensive declarations about an entire religion and all its followers based on a selective interpretation of some of its texts would make Christianity and Judaism appear just as intrinsically violent (if not more so), and capable of teaching just as ‘negative vibes’ as his characterisation of Islam.
This is exactly what happened in the Netherlands late last year, when a couple of pranksters disguised the Bible as the Quran and read out some shocking passages to unsuspecting passersby.
They included such choice quotations as Leviticus’ “If a man also lies with a man, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death,” and Deuteronomy 25:11-12 which prescribes the cutting off of a woman’s hand if she intervenes in a fight between her husband and another man.
Perhaps even more perplexing for Donald Trump’s hostile attitude towards Muslims would be the recent computer analysis which revealed his beloved Bible to be statistically more violent than the Quran.
While the New Testament was only marginally more violent than the Quran, the Old Testament was a whopping twice as bloody as the Islamic holy book. In it, God regularly destroys and smites unbelievers, and those believers who have wandered off the straight path, and empowers the “righteous” to commit divinely sanctioned mass murder.
A small example of this appears in Numbers 31 where God commands Moses to “take vengeance on the Midianites” by looting and burning their towns, killing all their men, including the boys, and taking the women and children into slavery, except those women who had slept with a man, for whom death was prescribed.
His preaching of universal love and peace notwithstanding, Jesus possessed a very Old Testament intolerance of sin and adultery, extending the concept to make it even a thought crime, as well as of divorced women and of children who disobey their parents, whose punishment should be death.
Early Christians may have been against war, partly due to their opposition to Rome, but many were not averse to using religious violence to intimidate and silence “pagans” and “heretics” – or even intellectuals whose thinking didn’t jibe with theirs. This was symbolically demonstrated by the gruesome and cruel murder of Hypatia of Alexandria, widely regarded as the last philosopher of classical antiquity, by an angry Christian mob.
Despite the view of Jesus Christ as some kind of ancient olive tree-hugging hippy who preached a new testament of love and forgiveness, he himself claimed otherwise.
Although Jesus imparted some beautifully peaceable notions during his famous Sermon on the Mount, informing his followers that “blessed are the meek… merciful… and peacemakers,” that they should “love thy enemies” and turn the other cheek, he also insisted that he had not come “to destroy the law, or the prophets” and recommended that believers pluck out their own eyes and cut off their own hands rather than commit sin.
Like Muhammad would do centuries later, Jesus preached both peace and violence. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth,” Christ briefed his disciples before sending them out to spread the gospel. “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
Many Christians interpret this “sword” of Christ as being figurative, a metaphor for how Jesus will divide the world into believers and unbelievers, but in the past, this passage, and others in the Old Testament, were used to justify “holy war”- a crusade, Mr Trump, is just a jihad in a Christian habit.
None of this is to suggest that Christianity and Judaism are somehow more violent than Islam, or that Islam is solely a religion of peace. Like its Abrahamic predecessors, Islam can be interpreted both as a spiritual vessel for war and for peace. After all, Muhammad, like ancient Biblical prophets, was both a spiritual and a military leader, and the Quran is replete with contradictory passages that call for forgiveness and vengeance, promote violence and non-violence.
Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, or any other religious tradition, is what its believers make it to be, and is interpreted differently according to time, place and group. The same event is also open to multiple interpretations. For instance, though most Americans view the invasion of Iraq in secular terms, “divinely guided” George W Bush saw it as a “mission from God,” like General Allenby earlier saw Britain’s conquest of Palestine as concluding the Crusades.
In these troubled times, where we have too many prophets and propagandists of doom and destruction, we need moderates who spread the peaceful interpretation of their faiths and expand their religions’ boundaries to embrace the other. That goes for Christianity and Judaism as much as for Islam – all three of which carry the seeds to be weapons of war or implements of peace.
As Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fight it out, the greatest enemy America faces today lives within its own boundaries, an unholy alliance between an unhinged billionaire TV star, millennialist evangelists and racists. If either candidate becomes leader of the most powerful nation on the planet, the world may learn that the fear mongering about the Quran pales into insignificance next to the self-righteous fury of a president touting Bible-thumping “Christian values.”
This is the extended version of an article which first appeared on Haaretz on 8 March 2016.