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Friday, May 6, 2011

In-Group Mentality in Abrahamic Religions

Some strains of the Abrahamic religions through their respective holy texts present a narrative of the Other that fosters an us-them mentality. While passages about tolerance exist, there are also many passages on social prohibitions placed on the outside group. This includes marriage and friendship restrictions, divisiveness between family members, and warfare. Since these passages encourage an anti-pluralistic environment, they have profound importance when examining the manifestation holy war and apartied both in the past and present.
Prohibitions on marriage exist in the three Abrahamic religions that reflect an us-them mentality. In the Hebrew Bible, a law prohibits Jews from marrying with Ammonites and Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:3, NRSV). The Deuteronomy passage with this prohibition continues with an explanation outlining the crimes of impiety and wickedness (Deuteronomy 23:4-5, NRSV). While the Hebrew bible gives ethnic prohibitions, in the New Testament, Paul prohibits marriage with nonbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14, NRSV). His justification is that opposites should not mix, or in his words: “For what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common? What fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14, NRSV). The Quran likewise dictates that the faithful should not wed a pagan woman “until they believe,” claiming that even a believing slave is better than an idolatress (Haleem II:221). The Prohibition also applies to marrying off ones daughters to idolaters (Haleem II:221). The explanation for the prohibition is that these idol worshipers will lead you to other faiths (Haleem II:221). This prohibition helps to foster in the people of the Abrahamic deity a sense of identity while detailing the qualities of the “Other.”
            The Quran in particular has a plethora of prohibitions against friendship with nonbelievers. III:28 of the Quran states that believers should not make nonbelievers their allies because to do so would “isolate [them] completely from God” (Haleem). III:118 urges believers not to make intimate friendships with “such outsiders [for they] spare no effort to ruin [believers] and want to see [believers] suffer: their hatred is evident from their mouths, but what their hearts conceal is far worse” (Haleem).  This is similar to a passage in Hebrew Bible which states that atheists are fools, “they are corrupt, their deeds are vile” and none of them can do good (Psalms 14:1, NRSV). The Hebrew Bible also warns that the backs of fools will receive beatings (Proverbs 19:29, NRSV). This separation between believers and nonbeliever exists in the New Testament as well. Paul provides a quotation attributed to the god of Abraham in his second letter to the Corinthians urging believers to separate themselves from the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:17, NRSV).
            The Abrahmaic holy books also encourage divisiveness in families. In the Hebrew Bible, the faithful should kill family members who attempt to lead them to other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6, NRSV). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus reportedly said that believers ought not to think that he came to bring peace “but to bring a sword” (Matt 10:34, NRSV). The passage continues with an explanation of the animosity believers should have towards their family as proof that their love is for their god (Matt 35-39, NRSV). The Gospel of Luke contains a similar message, claiming Jesus said:
“‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’” (Luke 12:49-53, NRSV)
 The Quran has many verses on the subject as well. IX:23 of the Quran claims that those who ally with their disbelieving fathers and brothers are wrong-doers (Haleem). The Quran claims that disbelievers respect neither treaty nor ties of kinship because “their hearts are against [the believers] and most are lawbreakers” (Haleem IX:8). Disbelievers, according to the Quran, have “sold God message for a trifling gain, and barred others from [their god’s] path” (perhaps a reference to Judas) (Haleem IX:9).
            The Abrahamic holy texts have prohibitions against the certain people entering holy places. The Hebrew Bible claims that the arrogant will not stand in the presence of the Abrahamic god (Psalms 5:5, NRSV). A believer could understand that this means that the arrogant cannot enter the temple because that is god’s house (2 Samuel 7:13, NRSV). The unclean from entering holy places and this includes women during menstruation and men who have had wet dreams (Leviticus 15:1-19, NRSV). The Quran prohibits anyone but those who maintain the five pillars of Islam from “tending [god’s] places of worship” (Haleem IX:8-9). In the Quran, those who believe in the trinity are unclean, and the Quran urges believers to “not let [these believers in the trinity] … near the Sacred Mosque” (Haleem IX:28). These verses stress purity as well as separation.
            Some parts of the Abrahamic holy texts call their adherents to war against the other. The Hebrew bible claims that their god blesses those who dash the enemies’ children against the rocks (Psalms 137:9, NRSV). The Hebrew bible reports that Yahweh commanded the Israelites to kill all the males, even children and infants, and the women who have had sex because this particular tribe had wronged Yahweh and his people (Numbers 31:16-18, NRSV). Joshua makes an example of god’s treatment of the Hebrew’s enemies by having them step and crush the necks of five kings (Joshua 10:24, NRSV). Joshua tells them to neither fear nor let their circumstances dismay them but be strong and courageous because this is how the god of Abraham will treat anyone they fight (Joshua 10:25, NRSV).
According to the Quran, “believers fight for [their god’s] cause, while those who reject fight for an unjust cause” (Haleem IV:76). The verse continues commanding believers to “fight the allies of Satan” (Haleem IV:76).  Except during the four holy months, the Quran urges believers to kill, seize, besiege, and wait for idolaters at every outpost (Haleem IX:5). The Quran commands that they fight whether armed or unarmed, wealthy or poor, strong or weak (Haleem IX:41), and one likes it or not (Haleem II:216). If one does not fight, the Quran says that god will punish severely those who do not fight and replace them (Haleem IX:39). One should not even flee the battle field to save one’s own life (Haleem III:155-158). The god of Abraham, according to the Quran, commands for them to make war and deal harshly with the unbelievers and hypocrites (Haleem IX:73). The Quran even claims that the Abrahamic god requires prophets to first slaughter their enemy on the battlefield before taking any captives (Haleem VIII: 67). The Abrahamic god also rewards believers for their valor (Haleem IV:95, 100, 169).
During the crusades, the language influential Christians and Muslims utilized demonized their respective Other. One witness reported that Pope Urban referred to the Muslims as a vile race (The Crusades 40). Like in the quranic passages previously cited, Pope Urban the second calls for all, presumably male, Christians to aid in the destruction of their enemy regardless rank or wealth (The Crusades 40). Pop Urban II reportedly followed this up with a remission of sins for all acts committed before and during the crusade, making all forms of violence against the enemy and their women permissible (The Crusades 40). Another witness claims that Pope Urban referred to Christian’s enemy as an “accursed and foreign race” and as “enemies of God” (The Crusades 40). In Baha Ad-din’s Life of Saladin, Ad-din justifies fighting for the Abrahamic god’s cause by quoting the Quran and claiming that there are many verses “exhorting [Muslims] to fight for the faith” (The Crusades 150). According to Baha Ad-din, the veritable passion to wage war in his god’s name filled Saladin’s whole heart (The Crusades 150). The desire to fight even led, according to Ad-din, to Saladin leaving “his family, his children, his native land, the place of his abode, and all else in his land” (The Crusades 151).
While there are passages which encourage pluralism, it is naïve to ignore the existence of more intolerance, divisive, and violent passages. The Abrahamic religions are not all love and prosperity but also death to ones enemies. There is an underlying narrative about the people believers should fear and hate. This is the Other who through the biblical and quranic narratives becomes the quintessential evil. Believers who take these passages seriously may utilize them in order to justify violence and warfare. This is a legitimate danger that some strains of the Abrahamic religions raise.


Work Cited:
Abdel, Haleem M. A., trans. The Qurʼan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Coogan, Michael D., et al., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Oxford, 2007.
The Crusades: A Reader.

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