Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Religion of peace? Depends.

An often asked question today, especially in the wake of the near Ground Zero mosque, is whether Islam is a religion of peace. I don't think this question has a yes or no answer. The physicist Steven Weinberg explains it well:

Statements about what “Islam is” make little sense. Islam, like all other religions, was created by people, and there are potentially as many different versions of Islam as there are people who profess to be Muslims. I don’t know on what ground one can say that a peaceable well-intentioned person like Abdus Salam (Nobel Prize winning scientist) was any more a true Muslim than the murderous holy warriors of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, the clerics throughout the world of Islam who incite hatred and violence, and those Muslims who demonstrate against supposed insults to their faith, but not against the atrocities committed in its name.

To take a similiar, analogous question: Is Catholicism a religion of life? The Catholic Church's official position is that all human life is sacred—abortion and birth control are prohibited. Obviously, many Catholics, even very faithful ones, do not strictly follow this dogma. And there are other issues Catholics disagree on: the Pope in 2003 opposed the Iraq war on religious grounds, but many other Catholics supported the war. On capital punishment, most American Catholics opposed their leader's position. Obviously, it's impossible to really say what Catholicism is, and by implication it's impossible to say whether Islam is a religion of peace.

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