Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller claim that Islam is more violent than other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity.  To prove this, they argue that the Islamic holy book, the Islamic prophet, and the Islamic God are all uniquely violent–certainly more so than their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

We proved these claims completely bunk by showing the Bible to be far more violent than the Quran, the Biblical prophets to be far more violent than the Prophet Muhammad, and Yahweh of the Bible to be far more violent than Allah of the Quran.  (See parts 123456-i, 6-ii, 6-iii, 6-iv78, 9-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Instead of defending their initial claim (which they simply cannot), the Islamophobes quickly shift gears and rely on a fallback argument: they argue that “the Bible doesn’t actively exhort its believers to commit acts of violence, unlike the Quran.”  I refuted this argument in part 6 (see 6-i6-ii6-iii6-iv) in an article entitled The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels.

Once that argument goes to the wayside the Islamophobes then jump to their next fall back argument: “most Jews and Christians don’t take the Bible literally like Muslims do the Quran!”  I refuted this argument in part 7, showing that they do in fact understand the Bible very, very literally.

In a very predictable pattern, once this argument fails, the Islamophobes rely on yet another fall back argument, the famous cop-out “But That’s Just the Old Testament!”.  I’ve refuted this argument in part 8.

Once this fall back argument is refuted, Islamophobes once again do not defend it.  Instead, they move on to the next fall back argument:  they argue that “Jews and Christians simply don’t interpret their holy book in a violent manner, unlike Muslims.”  Writes Robert Spencer on p.31 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

This is Spencer’s preemptive parry to any counterattack whenever anyone (like myself) responds to his cherry-picking of Quranic verses by reciprocating and finding similar (and even worse) passages in the Bible. We are told that modern-day Jews and Christians simply don’t take those passages seriously any more, that they are merely symbolic or that they are dead letters.

Spencer et al. will then take a break from copying-and-pasting Quranic passages, and instead focus on “classical opinions” in the Islamic tradition, which they claim continue to be to this day the “orthodox, mainstream opinions according to the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence [madhaib].” By contrast, argues Spencer, classical and modern-day orthodox, mainstream interpretations of Judaism and Christianity have moved away from literal understandings of the Bible and opted for non-violent, peaceful understandings.

However, I will prove that this is not the case at all. The violent verses in the Bible helped formulate the “classical opinions” of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and continue to be held by “mainstream, orthodox” groups today.  In this article, we will examine the Jewish rabbinical tradition (both the “classical” and modern day situation); in a later article, we will grapple with the Christian side of things.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.” Stern’s balanced article noted that the anti-Muslim demonization of Islam (and Islamic law) “is disturbingly reminiscent” of “19th-century Europe” Anti-Semitism.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, published an irate letter from David Yerushalmi (who she describes as the “leading legal mind on sharia in America and my lawfare attorney”), who huffed (emphasis added):

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

This is the same argument raised by Robert Spencer: Jewish law is peaceful and certainly does not call to violence or war like Islamic law does.

I will absolutely nuke this argument into oblivion.  (In the words of one of our readers: “Danios doesn’t make the mistake of bringing a knife to a gun fight–he brings a nuclear bomb.”)

*  *  *  *  *

One of the fundamental differences between the Islamic canon (Quran and hadiths) and the Bible is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic texts explicitly, categorically, and emphatically command soldiers to fight combatants on the battlefield only, and totally forbid targeting and killing innocent civilians (women, children, the elderly, the decrepit, etc.). On the other hand, the Bible is replete with verses in which God Himself commands the believers to target and kill innocent civilians. In fact, the God of the Bible becomes very upset with those of his followers who fail to complete acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It is perhaps no big surprise then that one of the main ways in which the “classical” and so-called “orthodox, mainstream views” of the Islamic tradition differ from those in the Jewish tradition is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic tradition forbids its followers from targeting and killing civilians, whereas the Jewish counterpart permits it.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, convenor of the Orthodox Forum

Every year leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from around the world–including “rashei yeshivah [deans of Talmudical academies], rabbis, educators and academicians from America and Israel”–flock to The Orthodox Forum to discuss “a single topic affecting the Jewish world.”  In 2004, the topic of choice was “War and Peace,” which was chosen due to “the United States’ involvement in Iraq” and “Israel’s ongoing war with terrorism” (quotes from p.xiii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).

After these influential experts discussed the issues surrounding “war and peace,” they published their discussion in the fourteenth volume of “the Orthodox Forum Series” in a book entitled War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  As such, this book does not merely reflect the views of one or two Jewish authors.  Instead, it “brings together the thinking of a wide range of distinguished American and Israeli academicians and religious leaders from various disciplines, to shed light on the historical, philosophical, theological, legal and moral issues raised by military conflict and the search for peaceful resolution” (p.xi) with the goal of appreciating “the relevance of Jewish sources in approaching contemporary challenges” (p.xii).

[Note: Throughout this article series, readers should assume all emphasis is mine, unless otherwise indicated.  Also note that Rabbi is abbreviated to R., as is the accepted convention.]

Reading this very authoritative book, written by the brightest minds of Orthodox Judaism, I came to appreciate at least five major ways in which Halakha (Jewish law) permits shedding the blood of innocents–at least five major exceptions to the law of discrimination.

The reader should keep in mind that these five different exceptions have nothing to do with “collateral damage,” the incidental or unintended killing of civilians, which is generally accepted by international law (with some important caveats).  Instead, these five exceptions have to do with targeting and killing civilians.

I purposefully say “at least five different exceptions,” since there are most certainly more, which I shall discuss in future articles.  However, those other exceptions are debatable or held as minority opinions, such as the concept of targeted assassinations (debatable, I guess) and the idea that Palestinians should be exterminated because they are the modern-day Amalekites (a valid but minority “halakhic opinion”).  Instead, I will focus on views held by the majority of mainstream Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership.

*  *  *  *  *

In the United States, Judaism is split into three main sects: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  In Israel, however, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not exist in large numbers.  Instead, the battle lines are drawn between secular and Orthodox Jews.  According to The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 20% of Israeli Jews are secular, 25% are Orthodox (17% are Religious Zionists [Modern Orthodox Judaism] and 8% are Ultra-Orthodox [Haredi]), with the largest group of Israeli Jews (55%) falling under the rubric of “traditional.”

The views of “traditional Jews” towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to fall in between the two major ideological groups: secular and Orthodox Jews.  For example, whereas “only” 36% of secular Israelis support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians and a whopping majority of Orthodox Jews support such tactics (70% of Religious Zionists and 71% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews), just over half of traditional Jews (55%) condone terrorism against the Palestinians.

Orthodox Judaism is split between Modern Orthodox Judaism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism).  In Israel, Modern Orthodox Judaism is dominated by Religious Zionism (alternatively called “national-religious”).  This sect is widely considered to be the “mainstream” of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  It is this sect, therefore, that I will focus on in my article series.

One should not, however, be led to believe that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is much better in this regard.  Although Agudat Yisrael (the original major political party that represented Ultra-Orthodox Jews) initially opposed the Zionist enterprise, this changed after the creation of the state of Israel.  These Ultra-Orthodox Jews saw the Israeli state as a means for “state enforcement of religious laws” and wanted “increased state financial support for their schools and for religious institutions” (quotes taken from the Zionism & Israel Center‘s official website).

Today, “though still non-Zionist, [these Ultra-Orthodox Jews] tend to favor perpetuation of the occupation and vote with the right against peace moves or negotiations.” Their right-wing attitudes towards Palestinians are reflected in the earlier statistic I cited, which showed that an overwhelming majority (71%) of Ultra-Orthodox Jews support price tag terrorism against Palestinians, which is almost exactly the same percentage of Religious Zionists (70%) who do.  Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel has been heavily influenced by Zionism and Religious Zionism, especially in their hostile views towards the indigenous Palestinians.

However, because many Israelis feel that Ultra-Orthodox Jews are “extreme,” I will focus my discussion here on the more “mainstream” sect, Modern Orthodox Judaism.  (In a follow-up article, I will outline the Ultra-Orthodox view on such subjects in order to prove that there is an emerging “bipartisan” consensus on these issues within Orthodox Judaism in Israel.) For now, however, I will largely stick to the generally accepted views within Religious Zionism.

Therefore, in my article The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians–the title that will be used for the remaining article series–I will not focus on Yizhak Shapira’s book the King’s Torah.  Despite the fact that Modern Orthodox Judaism’s rabbis seemed to accept Shapira’s views “governing the killing of a non-Jew’ outlined in the book [as] a legitimate stance” and a valid “halachic opinion,” I will bypass all such discussion by focusing on majority views held by Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodox Judaism, not the more extreme Kahanist sect of Religious Zionism.

In so doing, I will show that these majority views are hardly less worrisome than Rabbi Shapira’s opinions expressed in the King’s Torah.  I will show that one need not look to settler rabbis, Kahanists, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews to find extremely warlike views.  The mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinical leadership will suffice.  Worse yet, Israeli Jews–deeply religious Jews–are leading the fight against the concept of distinction, the fundamental aspect of the just war theory.  They are applying pressure to change international law and to abrogate the regulations of the Geneva Conventions, which they believe are “archaic” and inapplicable today.  Could it be said, using the emotive language of our opponents, that Judaism is waging war against the principle of distinction?

The purpose of this is to prove that if there are problems within the house of Islam (which there certainly are), let it be known that the house of Judaism is no different in this regard.  It would behoove us to remind ourselves of this before we point the accusatory finger at The Other.  Extremist Zionist Islamophobes like Pamela Geller–and their Christian comrades-in-arms like Robert Spencer–should take note.

Disclaimer: Before we get into it, please read my disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, is the Problem. (This is in addition to my earlier disclaimer, which you should also read):

Update:

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians;#1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem

This is my disclaimer to the series entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Pro-Israeli pundits often argue that they have a problem with “Islamism,” which they define as the politicization of the religion of Islam.  Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland clarifies, for example, that he doesn’t have a problem with Islam but with “Islamism,” a religio-political ideology enjoining Muslims to reestablish the pan-Islamic Caliphate.

If pro-Israeli propagandists insist that “political Islam”–which they call Islamism–is the problem, then in a similar vein am I arguing that Religious Zionismnot Judaism, is the problem. It is the mixing of the political ideology Zionism with Judaism that I criticize.  I believe criticizing Judaism en toto would be Anti-Semitic.  Judaism, without the infusion of Zionism into it, is–in my opinion–a wonderful religion.  I believe it would be absolutely detestable to take my criticisms of Religious Zionism and use them to justify vilifying Judaism as a whole.

*  *  *  *  *

The dangers of falling into Anti-Semitism are very real.  Historically, Anti-Semitism has been a major problem, and it continues to be in some parts of the world today.  One of the primary ways in which Anti-Semites unfairly targeted Jews was to vilify Halakha, digging up intolerant views in the rabbinical tradition to smear Judaism with.

But herein lies an irony: many Zionist Jews are now joining Anti-Muslim Christians in vilifying the Islamic tradition in a very similar way.  Once Halakha was the target of bigots; today, it is Sharia.  Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has written an excellent article about this topic, entitled Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

*  *  *  *  *

This is not to say, however, that religion has nothing to do with the matter.  I am extremely critical of Religious Zionism, which has a very real and deleterious impact in world affairs.  Religious Zionists are now among the most influential voices in Israel’s hawkish right-wing, using religion to justify even more regressive policies towards the Palestinians.  Dr. Claudia Baumgart notes in Democracy, Diversity, and Conflict: Religious Zionism and Israeli Foreign Policy that Religious Zionism “started to play a major role” in Israeli foreign policy by the late 1960′s.  Today, its impact is absolutely pernicious.

Religious Zionism went even further than secular Zionism, declaring the settlement of Palestinian land–all of Palestine–a mitzvah, a religious obligation under Jewish law.  While it may be possible to convince secular Zionists of the need for a two-state solution, this is not possible with Religious Zionists who believe it is forbidden in their religion–nay, it is a blasphemy of the highest order and greatest magnitude–to cede even one inch of Eretz Israel to the Palestinians.  This is why Religious Zionism is a major impediment to peace in the region.

Much like how Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam is a problem (“Islamists” as some incorrectly say), so too is Religious Zionism a major problem.  I agree with Dr. Baumgart’s assessment that “religion is not an independent cause of conflict in and between states.  But it can be an important intervening variable…”  In other words, Religious Zionism did not independently and all by itself create the problem of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but it certainly is one important causative factor among a myriad of others.

This is of course not much different than my view of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam.  Some critics may assume that I do not think Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam are part of the problem–that only American and Israeli foreign policy are to blame.  This is incorrect: I believe that terrorism is the result of a myriad of factors, and although American and Israeli neo-colonialism certainly tops the list, Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam plays an important role as well.

Criticism of Religious Zionism should not tarnish Judaism as a whole no more than criticism of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam should tarnish Islam as a whole.  One should stay clear of the bigotry that would compel oneself to smear an entire faith for the actions of a particular strand of a religion.

*  *  *  *  *

My need to criticize Religious Zionism is also founded on the link between Zionism and Islamophobia. Pro-Israeli apologists are often anti-Muslim; conversely, anti-Muslim bigots are almost invariably pro-Israeli. In fact, Islamophobes fanatically support the state of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of the Crusader state in the heartland of the infidel Muslim world.  Meanwhile, Israelis see the Islamophobes as useful to their cause against their Muslim foes.  Often, however, there is no distinction between the two: Zionist Islamophobes form a large chunk of the anti-Muslim camp.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, is a case in point.  In light of this, it is important to hold Religious Zionism to the same standard that these Zionists/Islamophobes so mirthfully apply to Islam.

*  *  *  *  *

One may quite reasonably criticize my choice of title, “The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians:” after all, it does not make it clear that I am herein criticizing the Halakha of Religious Zionists, not of all Jews.  This is acceptable criticism, which I agree with in principle.

However, remember that this article series is a “thought exercise:” the entire purpose is to show how Judaism and Christianity could not possibly live up to the high standards anti-Muslim Jews and Christians insist on applying to Islam.  Our Islamophobic opponents certainly do not differentiate between different interpretations of Sharia.  They take Radical and/or Ultra-Conservative interpretations of Islamic law as The Sharia.  Likewise, I will take the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Halakha–as understood by “mainstream” Modern Orthodoxy–to be The Halakha.  Then, we will see how much anti-Muslim Jews and Christians like it.  How will Pamela Geller respond to holding her religious faith up to the same standards she insists upon for Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

Having said all of this, the primary reason I chose to speak about Halakha is that it is our opponents themselves who invoked the comparison between the supposedly peaceful Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and the supposedly warlike Islamic tradition on the other.  This argument–that the modern-day Judeo-Christian interpretations are overwhelmingly peaceful, whereas those of Islam are warlike–is raised by both the King and Queen of Islamophobia, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) invokes this comparison multiple times.  For example, he says on p.31:

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Islamophobia published a letter by David Yerushalmi which said:

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

Therefore, I am left no choice but to compare Islamic understandings of religious law to their Jewish counterparts.  This comparison was foisted upon me by my opponents.  There is no way to disabuse the King and Queen of Islamophobia (and their loyal subjects) of their claims except to respond in the way I am.

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

*  *  *  *  *

Update I:

It is true that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel is just as disquieting as Modern Orthodox Judaism (as I will show in a follow-up article). This is due to their unthinking acceptance of Zionist ideology.  On the other hand, those Ultra-Orthodox Jews who forcefully reject Zionism, such as the Neturei Karta, do not justify Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.  Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that Zionism, not just Religious Zionism, is the problem.  Once again, however, it should be stressed that it is the mixing of a racist political ideology with religion that is to be condemned, not the religion itself.

Update II:

A reader who posts under the user name “Just Stopping By” gave some valid criticism in the comments section, arguing that it would be too broad a generalization to categorize all Religious Zionism as one way–that dissenting opinions do exist.  Admittedly, this article series does deal in some generalizations, but these are acceptable, I think, in the context of this being a “thought exercise.”  One could, for example, hardly expect Islamophobes to recognize that even in Ultra-Conservative Islam there exists nuance.

Having said that, it is fair criticism–especially in an article intended to be a disclaimer and explanation of my viewpoints–that I should recognize the existence of a spectrum of views in Religious Zionism, instead of viewing it as one rigid monolith.  This I readily admit, even though I of course disagree with Religious Zionism as a whole, just as I do Ultra-Conservative Islam.

Update III:

Two additional points need to be addressed here: the first is my choice to use Carlos Latuff’s artwork.  I was unfamiliar with him until I started searching for images to use in my article series, and realized that I’ve used one of his images in the past (without properly accrediting him).  My use of some of his cartoons should not be seen as an endorsement of his political views, which are not very clear to me.  One can only speculate what a cartoonist’s political views are based on his comics.  The images I chose are very applicable to the article series, and that is why I used them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To give credit where credit is due, I do think Carlos Latuff is a very gifted artist and political cartoonist.

I have seen accusations against him by pro-Israeli apologists that he is an Anti-Semite.  These do not seem to be anything other than the typical Israeli tactic of accusing Israel’s critics of Anti-Semitism in order to vilify and silence them.  One critic claimed that Latuff uses images of “hook-nosed Jews.”  However, this seems baseless to me: notice the perfectly normal nose of the Israeli soldier below.  One could hardly expect a critic of Israel’s war crimes to portray IDF soldiers as anything but evil.  This hardly amounts to Anti-Semitism.  Would these pro-Israeli apologists desire political cartoonists to draw Israeli soldiers with roses coming out of their butts?

The second accusation I have seen against him is that his cartoons use the Star of David.  However, he explained to the Guardian:

Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism . . . But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.

The tactic of smearing critics of Israel with the “Anti-Semitic” slur is perfectly pictured by Latuff himself:

I do think some of Latuff’s comics may be over the top and are beyond my comfort level, such as this depiction of an Israeli soldier, which is not Anti-Semitic but just too hyperbolic for me.  One can understand that an artist might want to push the boundaries and invoke strong reactions from his work.  In any case, do I have to agree with every single one of a political cartoonist’s comics before I can reproduce any of them?

The other issue is my reliance on Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s work.  He is one of the world’s leading experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it thus seems obvious why I would draw on his writings.  Despite my deep respect for his scholarship and his person, I must however issue a clear disclaimer distancing myself from his equivocation in response to a question about Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  I categorically reject all attacks targeting civilians, no matter who does them.  After all, my entire article series is designed to point out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim Jews and Christians who condemn Muslims for what they themselves endorse (i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians).  If I would condone such terror attacks, this would be another layer of hypocrisy.

Along these lines, I might as well also state my views on Hamas and Hezbollah, since pro-Israeli apologists and Islamophobes use this as a sort of litmus test to silence opposition (DO YOU CONDEMN HAMAS?  DO YOU?).  Let it be known then that I condemn and reject Hamas and Hezbollah.  Although I recognize the right of the Palestinian people to defend their land and resist occupation (to deny them this right while accepting the right of the occupying power to “defend itself” is the height of colonialist mentality), under no circumstances–none whatsoever–is one allowed to target and kill civilians.  Even if Hamas and Hezbollah were to categorically renounce such tactics (and back up their words with actions), I would still not support these groups, which–like the Israeli and Jewish groups I will discuss–hold extremist religious views.

This does not mean that I do not “understand” why some occupied Palestinians would resort to such tactics.  (One cannot say the same for Israelis, who are the occupiers.)  “Understand” here is to be understood in the sense that one “understands” why a criminal was led to a life of crime due to an abused childhood.  This “understanding” does not equate to condoning, accepting, or justifying.

The desire to support Hamas and Hezbollah is born out of emotionalism, not principled ethics.  Many Muslims feel the need to side with “the Muslim side,” just as many Jews feel compelled to support “the Jewish state.”  I do not support groups or states, but rather ethics and principles.  Groups and states will always let you down; ethics and principles won’t.

Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem

This is my disclaimer to the series entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Pro-Israeli pundits often argue that they have a problem with “Islamism,” which they define as the politicization of the religion of Islam.  Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland clarifies, for example, that he doesn’t have a problem with Islam but with “Islamism,” a religio-political ideology enjoining Muslims to reestablish the pan-Islamic Caliphate.

If pro-Israeli propagandists insist that “political Islam”–which they call Islamism–is the problem, then in a similar vein am I arguing that Religious Zionismnot Judaism, is the problem. It is the mixing of the political ideology Zionism with Judaism that I criticize.  I believe criticizing Judaism en toto would be Anti-Semitic.  Judaism, without the infusion of Zionism into it, is–in my opinion–a wonderful religion.  I believe it would be absolutely detestable to take my criticisms of Religious Zionism and use them to justify vilifying Judaism as a whole.

*  *  *  *  *

The dangers of falling into Anti-Semitism are very real.  Historically, Anti-Semitism has been a major problem, and it continues to be in some parts of the world today.  One of the primary ways in which Anti-Semites unfairly targeted Jews was to vilify Halakha, digging up intolerant views in the rabbinical tradition to smear Judaism with.

But herein lies an irony: many Zionist Jews are now joining Anti-Muslim Christians in vilifying the Islamic tradition in a very similar way.  Once Halakha was the target of bigots; today, it is Sharia.  Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has written an excellent article about this topic, entitled Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

*  *  *  *  *

This is not to say, however, that religion has nothing to do with the matter.  I am extremely critical of Religious Zionism, which has a very real and deleterious impact in world affairs.  Religious Zionists are now among the most influential voices in Israel’s hawkish right-wing, using religion to justify even more regressive policies towards the Palestinians.  Dr. Claudia Baumgart notes in Democracy, Diversity, and Conflict: Religious Zionism and Israeli Foreign Policy that Religious Zionism “started to play a major role” in Israeli foreign policy by the late 1960′s.  Today, its impact is absolutely pernicious.

Religious Zionism went even further than secular Zionism, declaring the settlement of Palestinian land–all of Palestine–a mitzvah, a religious obligation under Jewish law.  While it may be possible to convince secular Zionists of the need for a two-state solution, this is not possible with Religious Zionists who believe it is forbidden in their religion–nay, it is a blasphemy of the highest order and greatest magnitude–to cede even one inch of Eretz Israel to the Palestinians.  This is why Religious Zionism is a major impediment to peace in the region.

Much like how Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam is a problem (“Islamists” as some incorrectly say), so too is Religious Zionism a major problem.  I agree with Dr. Baumgart’s assessment that “religion is not an independent cause of conflict in and between states.  But it can be an important intervening variable…”  In other words, Religious Zionism did not independently and all by itself create the problem of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but it certainly is one important causative factor among a myriad of others.

This is of course not much different than my view of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam.  Some critics may assume that I do not think Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam are part of the problem–that only American and Israeli foreign policy are to blame.  This is incorrect: I believe that terrorism is the result of a myriad of factors, and although American and Israeli neo-colonialism certainly tops the list, Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam plays an important role as well.

Criticism of Religious Zionism should not tarnish Judaism as a whole no more than criticism of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam should tarnish Islam as a whole.  One should stay clear of the bigotry that would compel oneself to smear an entire faith for the actions of a particular strand of a religion.

*  *  *  *  *

My need to criticize Religious Zionism is also founded on the link between Zionism and Islamophobia. Pro-Israeli apologists are often anti-Muslim; conversely, anti-Muslim bigots are almost invariably pro-Israeli. In fact, Islamophobes fanatically support the state of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of the Crusader state in the heartland of the infidel Muslim world.  Meanwhile, Israelis see the Islamophobes as useful to their cause against their Muslim foes.  Often, however, there is no distinction between the two: Zionist Islamophobes form a large chunk of the anti-Muslim camp.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, is a case in point.  In light of this, it is important to hold Religious Zionism to the same standard that these Zionists/Islamophobes so mirthfully apply to Islam.

*  *  *  *  *

One may quite reasonably criticize my choice of title, “The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians:” after all, it does not make it clear that I am herein criticizing the Halakha of Religious Zionists, not of all Jews.  This is acceptable criticism, which I agree with in principle.

However, remember that this article series is a “thought exercise:” the entire purpose is to show how Judaism and Christianity could not possibly live up to the high standards anti-Muslim Jews and Christians insist on applying to Islam.  Our Islamophobic opponents certainly do not differentiate between different interpretations of Sharia.  They take Radical and/or Ultra-Conservative interpretations of Islamic law as The Sharia.  Likewise, I will take the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Halakha–as understood by “mainstream” Modern Orthodoxy–to be The Halakha.  Then, we will see how much anti-Muslim Jews and Christians like it.  How will Pamela Geller respond to holding her religious faith up to the same standards she insists upon for Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

Having said all of this, the primary reason I chose to speak about Halakha is that it is our opponents themselves who invoked the comparison between the supposedly peaceful Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and the supposedly warlike Islamic tradition on the other.  This argument–that the modern-day Judeo-Christian interpretations are overwhelmingly peaceful, whereas those of Islam are warlike–is raised by both the King and Queen of Islamophobia, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) invokes this comparison multiple times.  For example, he says on p.31:

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Islamophobia published a letter by David Yerushalmi which said:

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

Therefore, I am left no choice but to compare Islamic understandings of religious law to their Jewish counterparts.  This comparison was foisted upon me by my opponents.  There is no way to disabuse the King and Queen of Islamophobia (and their loyal subjects) of their claims except to respond in the way I am.

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

*  *  *  *  *

Update I:

It is true that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel is just as disquieting as Modern Orthodox Judaism (as I will show in a follow-up article). This is due to their unthinking acceptance of Zionist ideology.  On the other hand, those Ultra-Orthodox Jews who forcefully reject Zionism, such as the Neturei Karta, do not justify Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.  Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that Zionism, not just Religious Zionism, is the problem.  Once again, however, it should be stressed that it is the mixing of a racist political ideology with religion that is to be condemned, not the religion itself.

Update II:

A reader who posts under the user name “Just Stopping By” gave some valid criticism in the comments section, arguing that it would be too broad a generalization to categorize all Religious Zionism as one way–that dissenting opinions do exist.  Admittedly, this article series does deal in some generalizations, but these are acceptable, I think, in the context of this being a “thought exercise.”  One could, for example, hardly expect Islamophobes to recognize that even in Ultra-Conservative Islam there exists nuance.

Having said that, it is fair criticism–especially in an article intended to be a disclaimer and explanation of my viewpoints–that I should recognize the existence of a spectrum of views in Religious Zionism, instead of viewing it as one rigid monolith.  This I readily admit, even though I of course disagree with Religious Zionism as a whole, just as I do Ultra-Conservative Islam.

Update III:

Two additional points need to be addressed here: the first is my choice to use Carlos Latuff’s artwork.  I was unfamiliar with him until I started searching for images to use in my article series, and realized that I’ve used one of his images in the past (without properly accrediting him).  My use of some of his cartoons should not be seen as an endorsement of his political views, which are not very clear to me.  One can only speculate what a cartoonist’s political views are based on his comics.  The images I chose are very applicable to the article series, and that is why I used them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To give credit where credit is due, I do think Carlos Latuff is a very gifted artist and political cartoonist.

I have seen accusations against him by pro-Israeli apologists that he is an Anti-Semite.  These do not seem to be anything other than the typical Israeli tactic of accusing Israel’s critics of Anti-Semitism in order to vilify and silence them.  One critic claimed that Latuff uses images of “hook-nosed Jews.”  However, this seems baseless to me: notice the perfectly normal nose of the Israeli soldier below.  One could hardly expect a critic of Israel’s war crimes to portray IDF soldiers as anything but evil.  This hardly amounts to Anti-Semitism.  Would these pro-Israeli apologists desire political cartoonists to draw Israeli soldiers with roses coming out of their butts?

The second accusation I have seen against him is that his cartoons use the Star of David.  However, he explained to the Guardian:

Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism . . . But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.

The tactic of smearing critics of Israel with the “Anti-Semitic” slur is perfectly pictured by Latuff himself:

I do think some of Latuff’s comics may be over the top and are beyond my comfort level, such as this depiction of an Israeli soldier, which is not Anti-Semitic but just too hyperbolic for me.  One can understand that an artist might want to push the boundaries and invoke strong reactions from his work.  In any case, do I have to agree with every single one of a political cartoonist’s comics before I can reproduce any of them?

The other issue is my reliance on Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s work.  He is one of the world’s leading experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it thus seems obvious why I would draw on his writings.  Despite my deep respect for his scholarship and his person, I must however issue a clear disclaimer distancing myself from his equivocation in response to a question about Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  I categorically reject all attacks targeting civilians, no matter who does them.  After all, my entire article series is designed to point out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim Jews and Christians who condemn Muslims for what they themselves endorse (i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians).  If I would condone such terror attacks, this would be another layer of hypocrisy.

Along these lines, I might as well also state my views on Hamas and Hezbollah, since pro-Israeli apologists and Islamophobes use this as a sort of litmus test to silence opposition (DO YOU CONDEMN HAMAS?  DO YOU?).  Let it be known then that I condemn and reject Hamas and Hezbollah.  Although I recognize the right of the Palestinian people to defend their land and resist occupation (to deny them this right while accepting the right of the occupying power to “defend itself” is the height of colonialist mentality), under no circumstances–none whatsoever–is one allowed to target and kill civilians.  Even if Hamas and Hezbollah were to categorically renounce such tactics (and back up their words with actions), I would still not support these groups, which–like the Israeli and Jewish groups I will discuss–hold extremist religious views.

This does not mean that I do not “understand” why some occupied Palestinians would resort to such tactics.  (One cannot say the same for Israelis, who are the occupiers.)  “Understand” here is to be understood in the sense that one “understands” why a criminal was led to a life of crime due to an abused childhood.  This “understanding” does not equate to condoning, accepting, or justifying.

The desire to support Hamas and Hezbollah is born out of emotionalism, not principled ethics.  Many Muslims feel the need to side with “the Muslim side,” just as many Jews feel compelled to support “the Jewish state.”  I do not support groups or states, but rather ethics and principles.  Groups and states will always let you down; ethics and principles won’t

My God is Better Than Yours (I): Christians Calling Muslims “Mohammedans” a Case of Pot Calling Kettle Black

This article is part 9 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

The anti-Muslim ideologues argue that the prophet of Islam was uniquely violent as compared to prophets of other religions, especially Judaism and Christianity; this is an argument furthered in chapter one of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Further, they argue that the holy book of Islam is uniquely warlike as compared to scriptures of other faiths, especially the Bible; Spencer argues this in chapter two of his book.

These claims are not well-founded, and we’ve thoroughly refuted them (see parts 1234567, and 8 of the Understanding Jihad Series).  Clearly, the Biblical prophets (MosesJoshuaSamson,SaulDavid, etc.) were more violent than the Prophet Muhammad; even Jesus, who promised to kill all his enemies, was no exception.  Similarly, the Bible is more violent than the Quran.

There is one specific manner in which the Biblical prophets and the Bible are to be considered more violent than Muhammad and the Quran: they sanction(ed) the killing of innocent civilians: women and children.  Worse yet, they sanction(ed) what can only be described as genocide.  Nowhere in the Quran is targeting the life of a non-combatant, especially a woman or child, permitted; in fact, the Prophet Muhammad strictly forbade such a thing.

For all the obfuscation that the anti-Muslim polemicists will provide in response to this Series, keep this point in mind which cannot be reiterated enough: the most significant difference, and why the Biblical prophets and the Bible are to be considered more warlike than the Islamic prophet and holy book, is that they permit(ted) the killing of non-combatants, including women and children–even to the point of allowing genocide. The Islamophobes can copy-and-paste Quranic verses until they go blue in the face (even with the help of those ever so helpful ellipses), but they can never find a single verse in the Quran like that.

Do Muslims Worship the Same God as Jews and Christians?

In addition to Islam’s prophet and holy book, anti-Muslim ideologues (most of whom come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds) absolutely despise the God of Islam: Allah.  Too ignorant to realize that the word Allah just means “God” in Arabic (or technically, The God) and that the Arabic version of the Bible uses the word “Allah” in it for the Judeo-Christian God–and too ignorant to realize that Jewish and Christian Arabs call their god “Allah”–the anti-Muslim ideologues unload all sorts of invective against Allah.

The anti-Muslim argument has two parts to it: (1) the God that Muslims worship is different than the God of the Jews and Christians; (2) this other, different pagan god is warlike, blood-thirsty, and brutal.  In order to debunk this argument, therefore, it is important to refute each individual part.  First, is the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims the same?  Second, what are the characteristics of the Muslim God as compared to the Jewish and Christian God?

Do Muslims Worship Muhammad?

The idea that Muslims don’t worship the same god as Jews and Christians dates back to at least the time of the Crusades: Crusader lore had it that the Muslims were “pagans” and that they worshiped the Prophet Muhammad instead of God.  In time, Muslims came to be known as Mahometans, and eventually Mohammedans. This misnomer was used by Orientalists, and continues to be employed by certain anti-Muslim elements today, including some Christians.

This is of course a fascinatingly ironic case of projection: by using this term, these anti-Muslim Christians are mocking Muslims for worshiping a man named Muhammad instead of God.  After all,who but a primitive pagan would worship a man-god? Yet, in actuality it is the Christian community that worships a “man-god”: Jesus Christ.

If Muslims are to be considered pagans for worshiping a man named Muhammad, should Christians be considered pagans for worshiping Jesus?  Even if Muhammad had claimed divinity, how would this have been any different from what Christians claim Jesus did?  Ironically, the pejorative term “Mohammedan” is to Muhammad what “Christian” is to Christ.

In any case, Muhammad never claimed divinity nor have Muslims ever believed such a thing.  In fact, the Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad:

Say to them (O Muhammad): “I am only a human being like you.  It is revealed to me that your God is One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord do good deeds and let him associate no one else in the worship of his Lord.” (Quran, 18:110)

The Quran categorically declared that “Muhammad is no more than an apostle” who can die or even be killed (Quran, 3:144).  Indeed, when the Prophet Muhammad died, his successor Abu Bakr famously proclaimed:

Whoever worshiped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead.  But whoever worshiped God (Allah), let him know that God (Allah) lives and does not die. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:333)

It has even been part of the Islamic tradition to prohibit all imagery of the Prophet in order to prevent Muhammad from being “idolized” as Jesus was by Christians.  This precaution was based on the Prophet Muhammad’s fear of suffering a similar “fate” as Jesus.  Not only does the Quran repeatedly criticize the Christians for deifying Jesus, but Muhammad explicitly warned his followers:

Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary (Jesus), for I am only a slave.  So, call me the slave of God (Allah) and His Messenger. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:654)

It seems that Christians ought to be the absolute last people on earth to mock Muslims for worshiping Muhammad or calling them “Mohammedans.”  But alas, we will see a recurring pattern here: Christians criticizing Muslims for something that is present even more so in their own religion.

In any case, the Quran repeatedly warns against worshiping anyone or anything besides God (Allah):

Say: “Truly my prayer and my worship, my life and my death are all for God (Allah) alone, the Lord of the worlds.” (Quran, 6:162)

It would be very difficult to construct a case that Muslims actively worship Muhammad.  Unbelievably, however, this Crusader-era canard remains alive and well among some segments of anti-Muslim Christians.  Sam Shamoun, an anti-Muslim Christian polemicist, insists that Muslims do in fact worship Muhammad.  Shamoun uses several very weak arguments to “prove” this claim.  Fortunately, his arguments have been refuted here by Muslim apologist Bassam Zawadi.

For our intents and purposes, whether Muslims worship Muhammad or not is largely a theological debate between Muslims and Christians, one which is hardly relevant to our website.  However, it isrelevant to us insofar as this claim is related to the “slur” of “Mohammedan”–an epithet which is used by many Islamophobes today.  It is a vestige of age-old Western confusion about and propaganda against Islam, whereby Muslims are “Other-ized”: Muslims are understood as followers of some alien and strange faith, one which worships a man named Muhammad instead of God.

Lastly, the “Muslims worship Muhammad” canard, which has been used by Christians against Muslims for hundreds of years, gives us the proper backdrop to understand the “Muslims worship the moon-god” conspiracy theory, which has become very popular among Islamophobes today.  The former Crusader-era canard has been repackaged in the form of the moon-god theory and is now being fed to the masses, once again serving to provide the propaganda needed to sustain our wars, our modern-day crusades against the Islamic world.

The Islamophobes “Other-ize” the god Muslims worship, comparing the “God of Love” supposedly found in the Judeo-Christian tradition with the “war and moon god” supposedly found in the religion of Islam.  The stealthy tacking on of the word “war” to “moon god” makes the moon-god theory directly relevant to the topic of jihad.  It is this “theory” that we turn our attention to next.

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out (II): How the Christian Right Interprets the Bible

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out (II): How the Christian Right Interprets the Bible

Refer to page I of this article.

Any and all violence in the Quran “counts”.  Nothing violent in the Bible ever “counts”.

This is the axiom closely adhered to by anti-Muslim pro-Christian elements.  We are told that the Old Testament, which is clearly far more violent and warlike than the Quran (see 1234, and 6), simply “doesn’t count”.  The double-standards used to single out the Quran–and exonerate the Bible–have been exposed on page I of this article.

We proved that the most straightforward, intuitive, and obvious reading of the Bible would support the enduring and even eternal applicability of the Old Testament’s violence.  This does not mean that peaceful interpretations do not exist.  They most certainly do.  But if the anti-Muslim pro-Christian bigots will apply a standard of “well, your text clearly says XYZ” to the Quran, then this applies even more so to the Bible.

Some critics reassured us that we simply did not understand Christian theology–that we are just too ignorant or too stupid to interpret the Bible.  What we have provided, however, is not simply our own interpretation: right-wing Christians themselves interpret the Bible in this way.  They look to the Old Testament for guidance when it comes to matters of war and peace, quite the opposite of what is claimed in debates with Muslims (i.e. “but that’s just the Old Testament” and “the Old Testament doesn’t count!”)

The Christian Right, which singles out the Quran as being “uniquely violent”, is the same group that most often looks to the wars of the Old Testament for inspiration.  Case in point: professional Islamophobe Dr. Robert Morey, a Christian theologian and pastor.  A self-proclaimed “professional apologist” Morey runs a right-wing Christian group called Faith Defenders.  He is a highly regarded figure amongst the religious right, and “is recognized internationally as a professional philosopher and theologian whose careful scholarship and apologetic abilities establish him as one of Christianity’s top defenders.” According to his bio, his works were included in the Christian Booksellers Association list of The Best of the Good Books and he won Christianity Today’s Significant Books of the Year.

Dr. Morey’s Islamophobic works include Islam Unveiled (1991), The Islamic Invasion (1992), andWinning the War Against Radical Islam (2002).  Morey is one of the most recognizable faces in the in Christian vs. Muslim debates.  The influential far right-wing website WorldNetDaily, which is aligned with the religious right and in fact founded by Christian Evangelist Joseph Farah, published a plea requesting $1.2 million to fund Morey’s “crusade” against Islam.  (Robert Spencer also writes forWorldNetDaily.)

Morey’s site, FaithDefenders.com, supports Act for America, the hate organization run by Bridget Gabriel and associated with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. Morey’s books are sold on Ali Sina’s website, the anti-Muslim Faith Freedom International, the same Ali Sina whose work is reproduced by Robert Spencer on JihadWatch.  Daniel Pipes, another one of their comrade-in-arms, also reviewed Morey’s book The Islamic Invasion.  The point is: Robert Morey is a well-known figure in anti-Muslim circles.

More importantly, Robert Morey’s book When Is It Right to Fight?–which has as its fundamental argument that wars of aggression are Biblically justified by the Old Testament–was met with acclaim by the religious right.  For example, John M. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, effusively praised When Is It Right to Fight? as “one of the best books on the subject.”  Church pastor and famous Christian broadcaster  (“Hall-of-Famer” at the National Religious Broadcasters) D. James Kennedy strongly recommended Morey’s book to “all who love and defend liberty” (if, on the other hand, you don’t love liberty, this book may not be for you).

The Dallas Theological Seminary, a notable Evangelical seminry, called Morey’s book “stimulating, thought provoking and helpful.”  The Biblical Evangelist, a bi-monthly Evangelist magazine, not only loved the book (boasting that “Morey totally annihilates the position of pacifism”) but in fact raved about his books and scholarship in general (“[we have] been extremely pleased with all of them” and “Morey is a very scholarly writer”).  [All quotes above appear on the back of Morey’s book.]

Robert Morey’s book When Is It Right to Fight? can be considered a compendium of the Christian Right’s justifications for waging wars.  In this book, Morey justifies America’s many wars of aggression using none other than the Bible.  He responds to Christian pacifists who claim that we shouldn’t base our lives on the Old Testament, saying:

The unity of the Scriptures should not be broken simply because we don’t like what they say.  The New Testament authors did not hesitate to derive doctrine and ethics from principles contained in the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17) (p.136)

Far from rejecting the wars and warlike prophets of the Old Testament, Morey claims that “the patriarchs and prophets” are “models for us to follow today”:

Throughout the Old Testament, the patriarchs and prophets are pictured as real people struggling with the same kinds of problems we face today.  This is why they are listed in Hebrews 11 as models for us to follow today. In this biblical spirit, let us examine their lives and history for answers to our questions. (p.12)

Morey goes on (emphasis is ours):

Perhaps the best place to begin is with the book of beginnings, Genesis…Genesis opens with the revelation that warfare is going on between God and Satan…This cosmic war between God and Satan now involves the inhabitants of the earth as well as those of heaven.  God is called the “Lord of Hosts”, i.e. “the Lord of armies.”  He is the Lord of the armies of the heaven and on earth.

Throughout Scripture, earthly wars, where the conflict is clearly between good and evil, are viewed as manifestations of the spiritual conflict taking place in heaven.  For example, in Job 1:6-17, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, as agents of Satan in his conflict with God, raided Job’s flocks and killed his servants.  The violence against Job was a reflection of the war between God and Satan.  Other Old Testament examples can be cited: 1 Chron. 21:1; 2 Kings 6:8-18; Dan. 10:7-14. (p.12)

Not only does Morey support using the Old Testament wars as “models for us to follow today” but notice also that he condones the concept of “holy war”: earthly wars are between “good and evil”, or more specifically, between the “agents of God” and the “agents of Satan”.  Assigning one side to God and the other to Satan almost ensures the idea of holy war.  Morey takes the concept to its logical conclusion, and permits the “agents of God” to use the same methods as God (“utter destruction”) against the “agents of Satan” on earth.

Morey says further:

The New Testament continues the tradition of depicting the course of human history as warfare between God and Satan, viewing it in terms of conflict between two kingdoms (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). (p.13)

Christian pacifists point out that Jesus will return to rid the world of wars.  Morey counters this by arguing that (1) Jesus will only accomplish this task through the use of force, conquering his opponents in war.  This, as we argued in a previous article in the Series, is a conquerer’s “peace”.  (2) The fact that Jesus said he will come back to end wars, instead of simply forbidding his followers from participating in the military or to wage wars, is an indication that wars will continue until the End Times.  Wars will end only after Jesus destroys the forces of evil altogether, and until then the “agents of God” must continue to wage war against the “agents of Satan” in order that the “tyranny of Satan” not reign supreme.  Says Morey (emphasis is ours):

Heavenly and earthly warfare will never be halted until Christ returns to earth to judge the wicked and establish his eternal kingdom (Isa. 65:17-25; Matt. 24:6-8)

The last battle which shall end wars will involve both heavenly and earthly armies(Rev. 12:7-9; 19:11-21).  This last battle is what the Bible calls Armageddon (Rev. 16:15, 16). (p.13)

This quote also refutes the earlier counter-argument raised by our opponents: when we argued that Jesus was not “peaceful” as portrayed by them and that he would wage brutal war when he returns to earth, they argued that during his Second Coming it would be “heavenly” and “celestial” beings that would do the killing–therefore, we couldn’t possibly use this example to compare to Muhammad’s wars which involved humans and “earthly” beings.  Yet, as Morey notes, the wars of Christ’s Second Coming will involve “both heavenly and earthly armies”, which the Bible itself attests to.  The killing will be inflicted by “celestial beings” and men.

Christian pacifists often cite Isaiah 2:4, in which it is said that Jesus will bring an end to wars.  Morey says:

But Isaiah is only saying that wars will cease after Christ returns and judges the wicked (Isa. 2:10-21).  Isaiah is describing the new earth where righteousness reigns (vs. 1-3).

In the New Testament, Jesus clearly indicated that wars will continue until the end of history (Matt. 24:6, 7) (p.13)

The argument goes: If Jesus will fight Evil when he returns, and we should follow his example, then shouldn’t we fight Evil as well?  Christian pacifists often ask “What Would Jesus Do?”, arguing that Jesus would love his enemies.  But in reality, he kills them.  Jesus will only stop fighting them when his enemies are killed or conquered.  So shouldn’t we kill or fight our enemies until they are dead or conquered?

Instead of merely indicating that he would bring an end to wars, why wouldn’t Jesus simply have forbidden war upon his followers?  Writes Morey:

In Matt. 24:6, Jesus clearly stated that wars would remain part of human experience until the end of the age.  If He were a pacifist, then this would have been a perfect opportunity to condemn all wars.  Jesus did not do so in this passage. (p.40)

Morey goes on:

God’s angelic armies do not use the techniques of nonresistance in their fight against Satan.  Instead, God’s army will forcefully cast them out of heaven at the final battle.  If pacifism does not work in heaven, neither will it work on earth. (pp.17-18)

The fact that Jesus promised to use force, violence, and war means that these cannot be viewed as something unchristianlike, for Jesus would never call for something unchristianlike.  Reasons Morey:

If the sinless Son of God is going to use force to destroy His enemies, then it is not possible to view the use of force as intrinsically wrong or immoral. (p.42)

Robert Morey argues:

If the Scriptures taught that the use of force is intrinsically wrong and immoral, how could it describe the return of Christ as Jesus waging a righteous war?

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war (Rev. 19:11, NASB).

The fact that Jesus will return to punish the wicked with flaming fire reveals that the use of force is not intrinsically incompatible with love, justice, righteousness, or truth.  As long as the war to end all wars is righteous and true, lesser wars fought for the same reasons will always be righteous and true.  Once the righteousness of Armageddon is accepted, the principle of the just war is established. (pp.20-21)

Morey uses the term “just war”, but be not mistaken: his version of “just war” does not restrict warfare to self-defense only.  Once again, he uses the Old Testament to prove his case and argues that restricting war to self-defense runs contrary to the Bible:

It is assumed by some that only wars fought in self-defense are just.  It would be immoral for one nation to attack another nation unless that nation was attacked first.

The problem with the above theory is that Abraham’s use of force was not in self-defense.  Chedorlaomer was not attacking him.  Abraham was initiating the conflict by pursuing and attacking a tyrannical enemy.

In this light, it is clear that wars of aggression in which one strikes the first blow against tyrants can sometimes be viewed as perfectly just and righteous. (p.22)

Morey’s frightening justification for “wars of aggression” gives religious legitimization to an extremely right-wing, neoconservative foreign policy.  He writes (emphasis is ours):

It can also be legitimately deduced from Abraham’s example that it is perfectly just for the Free World to use force when necessary and practical to deliver captive nations everywhere (Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, East Germany, Angola, Cuba, Central America, etc.). (pp.22-23)

Morey’s book was first published in 1985, near the end of the Cold War.  If it could be argued that it is justified for the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West) to attack any country under the sway of ungodly Communism, then it is even more justified to wage war against the even more evil moon-god religion of Islam.  Surely, a government under Sharia Law is worse than one under Communism.

Indeed, not only has Morey since republished his book, he has smoothly transfered his wrath from Communism to Islam (a good right-wing Christian needs something to hate).  Not only should Muslim countries be attacked and occupied, but the war “will not be won until we bomb the Kabah in Mecca” and other Islamic holy sites, as he writes on his website:

First, as I wrote in my book, How to Win the War Against Radical Islam, the war against the Muslim Jihadists will be long and costly and will not be won until we bomb the Kabah in Mecca.  Islam is based on a brick and mortar building that can be destroyed. They pray to that building five times a day, make a pilgrimage to it, run around it, kiss a black rock on the wall, then run between two hills and finally throw rocks at a pillar. What if that building, the Kabah, was destroyed? They could not pray to it or make a pilgrimage to it. The old pagan temple of the moon-god, al-ilah, is the Achilles’ heel of Islam. Destroy it and you destroy Islam’s soul.

In fact, Morey wants to nuke Mecca (and Medina?), which seems to be somewhat of a common fantasy for right-wing Christians and neoconservatives.  (He also supports nuking Iran.)  Posted onMorey’s blog site was this gem:

In the end, just as it happened with Japan (Hirohsima/Nagasaki), Muslim holy sites will have to be destroyed…The qur’an promises Muslims that Allah will never allow these sites to be destroyed by the infidels. Without Mecca, Muslims will not be able to hold their ritualistic prayers on Fridays or anytime for that matter.

It may surprise Robert Morey to know that the Kaaba has been severely damaged and even destroyed numerous times in history, even in the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself.  Muslims believe that the Kaaba was destroyed in the time of Noah and rebuilt by Abraham.  From the time of Abraham to the time of Muhammad, it is said that the Kaaba sustained significant wear-and-tear and damage, periodically being repaired and restored.  Thereafter, the Kaaba sustained fire damage, flooding, and was even completely destroyed during a time of civil war.

To Morey’s complete amazement no doubt, the Kaaba was even demolished by one of the disciples of the Prophet Muhammad himself, in order to be reconstructed and expanded.  And another Caliph after this demolished the Kaaba yet again, rebuilding it to his desire.

Is it not a bit dangerous to offer such a solution–nuking Mecca to destroy the Kaaba–without actuallyknowing the religious views of Muslims?  Robert Morey seems to be under the impression that Muslims will simply throw in the towel should the Kaaba be destroyed: “Ok you guys got us, we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.”  Contrary to what Morey posits, Muslims will most definitely still be able to pray the five ritualistic prayers.  Islam won’t come to an end if the Kaaba is destroyed: Muslims will just rebuild it.  Perhaps Morey, the self-proclaimed “scholar on Islam”, should do some basic research first?  Even Wikipedia would be a good enough place to start for him.

Going back to the subject at hand, Morey finds nothing in the Bible that contradicts the use of nuclear weaponry.  And why should he, when the damage from a nuclear weapon would result in no more deaths than the genocidal wars waged by Moses,  Joshua,  Samson,  SaulDavid, etc. found in the Old Testament of the Bible–in which men, women, children, babies, animals, and “all that breathed” were killed?

But what about the the issue of Mutually Assured Destruction?  Shouldn’t we avoid nuclear war if not for our enemies but for ourselves?  Won’t the enemy retaliate with nuclear bombs and then there would be no life left on earth?  Morey assures us:

Christians need to understand that there is not conclusive evidence that all life would be destroyed on this planet if nuclear war broke out…Many scientists believe that nuclear war is not only survivable but winnable. (pp.130-131)

Furthermore, we should throw caution and restraint to the wind, since God has promised us that we can’t kill all life on earth, no matter how hard we try.  Therefore, feel free to nuke and kill all you want.  Writes Morey:

Another vital point, God’s Word guarantees that humanity will not be annihilated by wars of its own making.  Jesus said that the earth would continue to experience wars until He returned to judge the wicked.  (Matt. 24:6) (pp.131-132)

One suspects that a similarly callous attitude towards global warming can be taken, based on the same reasoning.

In any case, after Morey approves of “wars of aggression” based on Abraham’s example, he says:

If the West could only follow Abraham’s godly example, the Communists would soon abandon their program for world conquest. (p.23)

So, the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West) is to wage a war “everywhere”, but it’s the Communists who have the “program for world conquest”.  It would be interesting to note the Soviet Union’s own “fear” that the United States and the “Free World” had a desire to spread their ideology worldwide (“world conquest”) and would thus have a similar justification to conquer the world first.

Naturally, Robert Morey feels the same way about Muslims, who according to him want to conquer the world and impose Sharia on everyone.  Therefore, it is imperative for the “Free World” (the Judeo-Christian West) to occupy the lands of Islam in order to stop this from happening.  World conquest to prevent world conquest.

In our article entitled Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All, we argued that the Bible merely prohibits “personal vengeance” by individual citizens and not war waged by governments against other nations.  We wrote then:

How then do we reconcile the seemingly peaceful and pacifist sayings of Jesus with the violent and warlike Second Coming of Christ?  There are numerous ways to do this, but perhaps the most convincing is that Jesus’ peaceful and pacifist sayings were directed towards a resident’s personal and local enemies–usually (but not always) referring to fellow co-religionists.  It did not refer to a government’s foreign adversaries, certainly not to heathen nations…

This is consistent with the ruling given by the Evangelical site GotQuestions.org, which permits governments to wage war whilst forbidding individuals from “personal vendettas”.

Morey agrees, saying:

The Scriptures recognize a fundamental difference between the use of just force and the exercise of personal violence. (p.24)

The peaceful verses in the New Testament are with regard to “personal violence” and have nothing to do with how governments behave, so argues Morey:

When the New Testament condemns acts of personal violence in such places as Rom. 12:19, it is merely quoting the Old Testament’s condemnation.  The Old Testament’s censure of personal violence in such places as Deut. 32:35 is not viewed as a condemnation of the just use of force elsewhere in the Old Testament.  It is clear that while acts of vindictive personal violence are never justified, the proper use of force [by governments] is justifiable. (p.25)

Robert Morey then moves from Genesis to Exodus, arguing that “If God wanted his people to be pacifists, this would have been an ideal time to establish this” (p.27). Instead, “Israel developed an army at God’s command” (p.27) and waged an aggressive war against the native inhabitants of Canaan.

From Numbers Morey goes to Joshua: “Joshua led his people to victory over the enemies of God and Israel” (p.28).  As we detailed in our article entitled Who was the Most Violent Prophet in History?, Joshua engaged in genocide and ethnic cleansing.  Far from seeing this as something despicable (“unlike Muslims who can never see anything wrong with Muhammad!”), Morey says that “Joshua’s leadership in military” matters is “a shining example” (p.28).

Morey then says that Joshua obtained peace through war: “peace was won and maintained by the use of force” (Josh. 21:44-45).  This is more proof that the Second Coming of Jesus will bring peace only in the sense that any conquerer brings “peace” once all resistance is put down.

Morey then discusses Judges, condoning the violent tactics of the Israelites (emphasis is ours):

These brave men and women used assassinations, terrorist acts, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and open revolt by armed resistance, all under the blessing of God.  At no point in Judges are these freedom fighters condemned because they used force to destroy tyranny.  Let it also be noted that the authors of the New Testament do not hesitate to hold up these freedom fighters as examples of faith and courage for modern-day Christians to follow (Heb. 11:32-40).

If the New Testament taught pacifism, as some imagine, the freedom fighters described in Judges would never have been praised by the New Testament writers as examples to follow today. (pp.28-29)

Not only should “modern-day Christians” use “terroristic acts”–which would be “under the blessing of God”–but so too is the art of assassination to be embraced:

It should also be noted that use of assassination to remove tyrants is viewed in Scripture as thoroughly just and commendatory. Ehud’s assassination of Eglon or the other assassinations committed by freedom fighters to overthrow tyrants throughout biblical history are always praised in Scripture as legitimate and just means of force.  If one takes the biblical record seriously, assassination to remove a tyrant is not murder. (p.31)

Robert Morey then condones assassination of all the Soviet leaders (p.31), and even says that “the same is true for the oppressed peoples in all captive nations” (p.32)–and as he notes elsewhere, “captive nations” means “everywhere” except the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West).  Certainly this applies to the lands of Islam today, which are ruled by the worst tyrants of all.  Thus does Morey give Biblical justification for Ann Coulter’s statement:

We should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Morey eventually transitions to the “imprecatory Psalms” [imprecatory: invoking evil upon].  Far from claiming “they are just songs!” as some of our opponents did, Morey uses them as a source for war doctrine.  He points out:

There is not a single psalm which teaches nonresistance to tyranny. (p.33)

Wrapping up his survey of the Old Testament, Robert Morey concludes:

In our survey of the Old Testament, we have found that from Genesis to Malachi, God views the use of force to deal with tyranny and crime as just, holy, and true. (p.34)

Morey reasons, quite reasonably, that the New Testament cannot view something (in this case, the “use of force”) as morally wrong if it was viewed as something morally right in the Old Testament.  He rhetorically asks:

Could the New Testament view something as morally wrong if it was viewed as morally right in the Old Testament? (pp.34-35)

Morey argues further that Jesus and his apostles almost never addressed the idea of war in the New Testament (p.37), and that the condemnations of violence here should be seen as only forbidding individuals from personal vengeance, not nation-states from going to war.  In fact, points out Morey (emphasis is ours):

At no point in Jesus’ ministry did He ever tell Israel or Rome that governments should disarm.  He never condemned the just use of force as taught in the Scriptures, nor did He ever condemn the police for using force to punish criminals.  Despite the clarity of the Old Testament in its divine approval of the use of force, Jesus never once preached against a nation having an army or the state maintaining a police force.

Logically, this can lead us to only one possible inference.  Jesus’ silence meant that He approved of and accepted Old Testament precedent of the valid use of force.  Whenever we study the Scriptures, a biblical and historical precedent stands until directly removed by divine revelation. (p.39)

The bolded part above is important: Morey is saying that it cannot be claimed that one part of the Bible “doesn’t count” unless another Biblical passage clearly proves this.  In the absence of a clear and unequivocal verse in the New Testament that condemns or at least abrogates the wars of the Old Testament, one simply cannot claim that these “don’t count”.  For example, circumcision is condoned in the Old Testament, but rejected in the New Testament.  Had the New Testament been silent on the issue of circumcision, no believer could say this is not necessary.  Morey argues:

The apostles sought to carry on the teaching of the law and the prophets as well as the teachings of Christ.  For them, the gospel was just as much an Old Testament truth as it was a New Testament revelation (Rom. 1:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:3, 4).  They looked to the Old Testament Scriptures for basic principles of doctrine and ethics.

The apostles were careful to point out when various aspects of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, for instance, were superseded by the finished work of Christ.  The book of Hebrews is a prime example of this.

Therefore, it is significant that nowhere in the Acts or the Epistles do the apostles ever deal with such issues as whether or not the state can maintain a military force or a national police force.  Why did the apostles never deal with such issues?

The Old Testament clearly taught that God leads armies and has established penal justice.  Christ never disapproved of that position in the Gospels.  If the apostles rejected the Old Testament position on war and now taught pacifism, this would have stirred as much controversy as the laying aside of circumcision. (p.51)

He goes on:

If the apostles had condemned the Old Testament teaching on the use of force, they would have generated a great deal of controversy with the Jews…The silence of the New Testament in this regard, coupled with the silence of the Mishnah and Talmud, clearly indicates that the apostolic church was not teaching pacifism in opposition to the teaching of the Old Testament.

When we survey the Epistles, we do not find a single place where the apostles exhorted Israel or Rome to disarm their military forces or where the apostles condemned war or a Christian’s participation in the military.  There is no indication that they taught anything different than what is found in the [Old Testament] law. (p.52)

Morey raises several arguments as to why it cannot be said that Jesus disapproved of the Old Testament war doctrine, including the fact that

when dealing with Roman or Jewish soldiers, Jesus never told them to leave the military or that it was morally wrong to be soldiers (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 6:15)…If He were a pacifist and opposed in principle any violence by anyone, He would not have failed to rebuke those who were in the military.  Jesus was not known for overlooking sin in the lives of those who sat under His teaching.  He denounced sin wherever and whomever He saw it. (p.40)

Morey is referring to several verses in the New Testament in which Christian soldiers are referred to, and there is no condemnation of them for being in the military profession.  This, even though the Roman Empire waged wars of aggression and imperial conquest.  This lends further credibility to the idea that nothing in the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament’s approval of wars of conquest.

Furthermore, the evidences used to prove the pacifism of Jesus are misinterpretations, reasons Robert Morey.  For example, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago…but I tell you…” was not a case of Jesus “rejecting the Old Testament, but the warped and twisted interpretation of the [Jewish] Pharisees…” (p.45)

Whenever Jesus is discussing peaceful coexistence, it is between neighbors, not nations:

Second, Jesus is clearly discussing personal ethics.  He is describing vital inner qualities of piety and the ways in which we should respond to our neighbors when they become sources of irritation.

That is why Jesus could talk about loving one’s neighbor, turning the other cheek and giving ones’ coat to someone.  At no point in the passage does Jesus discuss national or international ethics. (pp.45-46)

We dealt with the “turning the other cheek” issue in our earlier article:

As for the “turning the other cheek” passage, it is known that the slap on the cheek that was being referred to here was in that particular culture understood as an insult, not as assault.  The passage itself has to do with a person responding to a personal insult, and has nothing to do with pacifism.  In any case, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary clarifies:  “Of course, He applied this to personal insults, not to groups or nations.” [14]

Robert Morey agrees and points out that

the slap of the right cheek by the back of the left hand was a personal insult and not an act of violence done in the context of war…It was a personal insult, like spitting in someone’s face. (p.47)

As for the verse “blessed are the peacemakers”, Morey notes:

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (v 9).  The Greek word “peacemaker” was one of Caesar’s titles.  He was called “the peacemaker” because he won and maintained peace by the use of force.  The word does not mean “peaceable” or “pacifistic” or “peace at any price.”  The word meant “peace through strength.”  As such, it named the head of the Roman army without contradiction. (pp.47-48)

This, as we mentioned several times before in this Series, is the “peace” that the Bible speaks of: the conqueror’s “peace”.  It is the “peace” that Joshua brought: the Book of Joshua documents in great detail a lifetime of leading genocidal wars, and then–once the enemies are killed, run off, or subdued in the land–“the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23).  There was peace because nobody was left to fight.

The same is the case with Jesus during his Second Coming, as we noted before in Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All.  Indeed, Robert Morey concludes that Jesus “was not in any way uncomfortable with the Old Testament teaching in this regard [i.e. war]” (p.48).

* * * *

What we are trying to prove–and have succeeded in doing so–is that the Bible can certainly and quite easily be interpreted by Christians to affirm the violence in the Old Testament.  Robert Morey, one of the leading anti-Muslim pro-Christian theologians in the nation, does exactly that.  The Christian Right interprets the Bible in this violent and warlike way.  And this is the most straightforward, intuitive, and obvious meaning of the Bible.

This certainly does not mean that all Christians, or even a majority, read the Bible in this manner.  What is clear, however, is that just as Christians can point to violent texts in the Quran, so too can Muslims point to (even more) violent texts in the Bible.  When Christians say the Quran can be (or even must be) interpreted in a violent way, then using the exact same logic Muslims can say the same of the Bible.

Lastly, it should be noted again that Robert Morey’s understanding of “just war” does not at all conform to the Just War Theory, and the reason it doesn’t is that the Bible itself does not.  The Bible is thus flawed with regard to jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) as it sanctions the right to wage “wars of aggression” (as Morey says on p.22: “In this light, it is clear that wars of aggression in which one strikes the first blow against tyrants can sometimes be viewed as perfectly just and righteous”); it is also flawed with regard to jus in bello (conduct in war) for it permits the killing of non-combatants, even “utter destruction” (which is why Morey does not find nuking Mecca to be problematic).  As we shall see in a future part in the Series, proper principles with regard to jus ad bellum and jus in bello are much easier to find in the Quran.

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out

This article is part 8 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

We showcased violence in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in parts 1234, and 6 of this Series.  Even though this list of Biblical verses was hardly exhaustive, it was more than enough to refute the claim–made by Islamophobes like Robert Spencer (and unfortunately accepted as fact by the majority of Americans)–that the Quran is more violent than the Bible.

In response, many Christians rely on a “fall back” argument: they claim that this “doesn’t count” since “it’s just the Old Testament!” and supposedly Jesus Christ rejected the violent legacy of the OT.  It is of course of paramount importance to the anti-Muslim Christians–as well as to “culturally Christian” atheists and your run-of-the-mill Islamophobes who need to prove the “uniquely” violent nature of Islam’s holy book–to neutralize the Old Testament.  After all, if the Old Testament “counts”, then it would be a case of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) to attack the Quran for its alleged violence: the Old Testament is by far the more violent book.

There are numerous reasons the “But It’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense doesn’t do the trick:

1) There is no explicit  or categorical textual proof from the New Testament that supports the idea that the Old Testament (or the Law) “doesn’t count”.  For every verse cited to prove such a claim, there is another that can be cited for the opposite view.  In fact, it seems that the textual proof for the opposite view is greater, even overwhelming.  For example, Jesus says in the Gospels:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

And Jesus also said:

Luke 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for one dot of the Law to become void.

There are other verses that similarly seem to affirm the importance of keeping the Law.  On the other hand, the evidences used to counter this view are less explicit and less direct.

2)  Both the Old and New Testament are considered by all mainstream branches of Christianity to be“just as inspired as the New Testament.” The New Testament itself affirms the accuracy of the Old Testament:

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

3:17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

“All Scripture – This properly refers to the Old Testament…it includes the whole of the Old Testament, and is the solemn testimony of Paul that it was all inspired.” More importantly, as Catholic.com says (emphasis is ours): “Scripture — all of Scripture — is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that the Old Testament is just as inspired as the New Testament and thus an expression of the will of Christ.”

[Update I: A reader pointed out the following: Christians see Jesus as God. That means that he was also the God of the Old Testament. The same God who commanded all those killings and the author of all those violent and disgusting commands as listed in your previous articles. So the violence Jesus supports and predicts is not only evident in the New Testament, but he is supposedly also the author of said violent commands in the Old testament as well. Not only then is the Old Testament “an expression of the will of Christ”–it is Christ.]

Protestant Christianity, as seen on this popular Evangelical site, also agrees with this assessment:

Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father (John 10:30), so we cannot argue that war was only God’s will in the Old Testament. God does not change (Malachi 3:6James 1:17).

3)  On this note, Jesus Christ himself is depicted in the New Testament as being very violent during his Second Coming (see part 5).  Even if we completely sweep the Biblical prophets and the Old Testament under the rug (which is exactly what anti-Muslim Christians do in debates with Muslims), it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus in the New Testament is very violent: he promises to kill or subjugate all of his enemies, which includes those whose only crime is to refuse to believe in him.  So, even if we completely disregard the OT, this wouldn’t solve the “problem”.

More importantly, the fact that Jesus promised to kill his enemies (a promise he made during his First Coming)–even if he is yet to fulfill this promise–shows that Jesus did not reject the violent ways of the earlier Biblical prophets.  He simply was not in a position of authority or power to carry out these acts of unbridled violence.  He wouldn’t have promised violence if he truly rejected the OT’s violence.

When we published an article about the violent Second Coming of Christ, many critics cried “you can’t compare Jesus’ supposed violence in the future with what Muhammad actually already did!”  (How quickly anti-Muslim Christians can turn something they believe in with all their might and which they believe is central to their faith–the Second Coming of Christ–into a “supposed” event makes us wonder if this is not Christian taqiyya?)  Yet, it was during his First Coming that Jesus made the promise to kill all those who did not believe in him; the action–a violent threat to ruthlessly slaughter infidels (i.e. Luke 19:27)–has already been made.

4)  Christians not only routinely cite the Old Testament, but they specifically cite it with regard to Jesus.  Various prophecies in the OT are attributed to Jesus: these prophecies depict the Messiah as a violent conquering king who brutally vanquishes his enemies.  (Please read the section entitled “Christians Affirm Militant Old Testament Prophecies” in part 5 of the Understanding Jihad Series.)  This reinforces point #3 above: Jesus is seen as fulfilling, not rejecting, the violence of the Old Testament.  After all, the violence of the OT was “an expression of the will of Christ.”

5)  The official views of the Church itself do not endorse the idea of “tossing the Old Testament aside”: even when it comes to formulating a doctrine in regards to war, the OT must be taken into consideration.  It is argued that there is concordance, not dissonance, between the Old and New Testaments.  As the esteemed theologian Prof. Samuele R. Bacchiocchi concluded:

An attentive study shows that the NT complements, rather than contradicts the teachings of the OT regarding warfare…A balanced reading of the NT texts suggests that there is a basic agreement between the Old and New Testaments on their teaching on warfare.

The violent wars in the OT are reconciled by arguing that Biblical Israel was justified in its declarations of war and was only acting in self-defense: “At various times in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to defend their nation by force of arms.” Of course, this is not supported by the facts: the Israelites were clearly the aggressors, annihilating and/or running off the indigenous populations of a land that they believed was divinely given to them.  They were only “defending themselves” insofar as any aggressive occupier will “resist” those they occupy.

6) The fact of the matter is that all mainstream Christian groups affirm both the Old and New Testament as canon.  The Church fought off any attempts to “throw away the Old Testament”.  In the second century of Christianity, Marcion of Sinope rejected the Old Testament because of the violence, war atrocities, and genocide contained therein.  He was denounced by the Church, and his views towards the Old Testament were officially damned as heresy.  Tertullian, the Father of Western Christianity, issued a rebuttal against Marcion.

We read:

Marcionism. Marcionism owed its existence to Marcion, an individual who gained popularity in Rome in 140-144. His theology was influenced heavily by the Gnostics, and he denied the power of the God of the Old Testament. He promulgated the use of a limited form of the New Testament, including Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and many of the Pauline epistles, the former since Luke was a Gentile and the latter since he was sent to preach to the Gentiles. He found the God of the Old Testament contradictory and inhumane. The “orthodox” Christianity of the time rejected his argumentation, upheld the value of the Old Testament, and dutifully began the work of canonization of the Old and New Testaments. The specter of Marcion loomed large enough so as to merit refutation by Tertullian at the end of the second century; nevertheless, Marcion’s movement mostly died out or assimilated into other Gnostic groups.

Marcionism died out, thanks to the Church and its insistence of the Old Testament’s validity.  The Catholic Encyclopedia calls the Marcionist sect “perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known.”  Today, there are some modern-day believers, called New Testament Only Christians, who reject the Old Testament due to its inherent violence, war atrocities, and genocide.  This group is a very small minority, a “heretical” group that is at odds with the main body of Christianity.

So, unless you happen to be a New Testament Only Christian, the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense simply doesn’t apply to you.  The existence of the New Testament Only Christians, however, is actually indicative of just how violent the Bible is: it couldn’t be reconciled, so more than half of it had to be jettisoned.

* * * *

None of this is to say that Christians must interpret the Bible in a violent manner.  But what we aresaying is that a softer reading of the Bible requires textual acrobatics, convoluted argumentation, and theological mind-bending.  The reasons given why the Old Testament Law are no longer in effect are far more complex to grasp then the simple, straight-forward understanding one gets from reading Jesus’ seemingly simple, straight-forward statements, such as:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

This reinforces a point made in an earlier part of this Series:

Why is it that these anti-Muslim ideologues allow theological and textual acrobatics when it comes to the Bible, but meanwhile they forbid the contextualization of Quranic verses?  Certainly it is much easier to “constrain” the violent verses of the Quran than it is for the Bible, since the Quran itself almost always cushions these verses in between mitigating verses.  This contrasts quite considerably with the Bible, which has violent verses wrapped in violent passages.

Anti-Muslim Christians point to various verses of the Quran that they claim are intrinsically violent.  When it is pointed out to them that their own holy book is replete with violent passages, they respond by explaining why and how they interpret these Biblical passages in a peaceful manner.  In the same breath, however, they forbid Muslims from doing the same to the Quran.

Rejecting the Old Testament is a perfectly fine way for a Christian believer to theologically constrain the violence of the Bible, one that we wholeheartedly support.  But such a believer should know that his holy book requires such theological mechanisms to constrain its violence, and this should logically endow upon him some religious modesty when it comes to the holy books of others.

* * * *

7)  Perhaps the most important reason why the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense doesn’t work is that it doesn’t do a damned thing for Jewish followers of the Hebrew Bible.  Jews don’t believe in the New Testament or Jesus.  In fact, their most holiest of books is the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible to Jews).  These include Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–some of the most violent books of the entire Bible, replete with holy war and divinely ordained genocide.  To Jews, the Torah and the Hebrew Bible are 100% active and applicable, with no New Testament to overrule or abrogate them.

When we published articles showcasing the violence of the Bible–especially after our article about“the Bible’s prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandments to wage holy war and enslave infidels”–pro-Christian elements were quick to throw the Old Testament (and their Jewish comrades) under the bus: The God of the Old Testament was a god of war, whereas the New Testament is a god of love.

In order to prove their claim against Islam, the anti-Muslim ideologues must prove the “uniqueness” of the Quran’s violence.  Certainly, this is Robert Spencer’s clear-as-daylight argument on p.19 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

The Qur’an is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers.

Short of proving the uniqueness of the Quran’s violence, Spencer et al. have failed in what they set out to do.  If it can only be proved that the Quran is only as violent as the Tanakh (or the Torah)–or that Islam is just as violent as Judaism–then what big deal is this?  If Spencer wants to fear-monger about Islam, and if–using the same standards–it can be proven that Judaism is just as violent as Islam (nay, more violent)–then will Spencer also fear-monger about Judaism?  Can we expect aJewWatch.com website coming soon?

In fact, such a site already exists, and it looks like JihadWatch, just against Jews instead of Muslims.  Indeed, if the same conclusions about Islam were applied to Judaism, then all this would be exposed for what it really is: wholesale bigotry.  But it is much easier to get away with bigotry against Muslims than it is against Jews.

How can Robert Spencer hide behind the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense when his comrade-in-arms is Jewish?  Pamela Geller of the Atlas Shrugs blog is a partner in crime with Spencer and company.  Clearly, the anti-Muslim Christian right is linked at the hip with Zionist Jews in their shared hatred of Muslims.  Why is one side of this unholy alliance willing to throw the other under the bus, and why is the other side ominously quiet when they hear arguments such as “But That’s Just the Old Testament”?

Our argument has never been that the Quran has no violence in it.  Rather, our argument is: all holy books, including the Quran but also the Bible, have violence in them; in fact, the Bible is far more violent than the Quran. This is in response to the question that most Americans answered incorrectly: is Islam more likely than other religions to encourage violence? Most importantly, this argument of ours is a response to a claim made by Robert Spencer.

This argument of ours is also based in our deeply held conviction that religions and religious scriptures are just what their readers make of them, as stated in the introduction of this Series:

The reader should not think that I believe that a certain religion or another is violent.  Rather, there exist peaceful and violent interpretations of religion.  I reject the view held by religious orthodoxy that the human mind is simply an empty receptacle that unthinkingly “obeys” the divine plan.  Hundreds of years after their prophets have died, believers (of all faiths) are forced (by virtue of not having a divine interlocutor) to exert their own minds and ethics to give life to texts, to render 3D realities from 2D texts.  Such an elastic idea–that a religion is whatever its believers make it into–is certainly anathema to orthodox adherents who simply desire a step-by-step instruction manual to produce human automatons.  But the truth is that even these orthodox adherents necessarily inject into the religious texts their own backgrounds, beliefs, and biases.

One can see why I do not think that simply showing a Biblical verse here or there would prove that Judaism or Christianity are violent faiths. There is a long journey from what is on the page to what is understood and put into practice.  And once this reality is comprehended, it is hoped that Jews and Christians will gain a larger perspective when they approach Muslims and their religion.

Opponents have claimed that this Series so far has just been a case of tu quoque fallacy: yet, this is fundamentally misunderstanding the purpose of this Series, which is certainly not designed to convert the readers to Islam, but rather to refute the commonly held notion that Islam is somehow more violent than other faiths, a view that the majoritarian group can easily hold (and demagogues like Robert Spencer can reinforce) unless dissenters like ourselves challenge it.