I think my favorite kinds of Ethics Alarms comment are those in which commenters honestly, openly and sometimes painfully explore their conflicted feelings on complicated ethics issues clouded by unresolved, and perhaps unresolvable, gray areas. This, by Ethics Alarms newcomer valentine0486, is such a comment.
The topic is the fair treatment of Muslims, in light of the formal tenets of their religion. Obviously, this is much on everyone’s mind now. An increasingly threatening form of terrorism is emanating from Islam. One end of the political and ideological spectrum holds that the entire religion and all of its adherents, including U.S. citizens, are inherently untrustworthy, and must be presumed to be dangerous. The other end, unfortunately the end resided in by the President (and Hillary Clinton, until the polls dictate otherwise), persists in denying that there is reason to regard Islam as any different from any other religion, and most absurdly, pretending that ISIS isn’t even Islamic. There must be a reasonable, safe, fair, American way between these two extremes, but what is it? This comment doesn’t solve the conundrum, but it opens the window a bit wider to air the inquiry.
Here is valentine0486’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Fick Calls Loretta Lynch’s Bluff:
I have read both the Bible and the Quran. That doesn’t make me an expert, of course, but I do think some things should be said. The Bible (especially the New Testament) clearly delineates affirmative duties to treat other people with kindness and to follow the Golden Rule. The Quran seems to create affirmative duties such as “killing infidels.” Now, I know that the Bible’s messages have been corrupted for evil—-American slavery, the Holocaust, the Crusades just to name a few. But I truly believe that at its core the vast majority of the Bible (maybe all of it) is a book that asks the people who follow it to treat other people as they would wish to be treated. Of course, there are questionable passages, but in my view, Mathew 7:12 trumps all of them (that’s the obligation of the Golden Rule).
The Quran’s passages, on the other hand, clearly do not contemplate such a rule. and indeed the Prophet curses his own relative in one of the suras. It seems to me somewhat reasonable to question persons who would follow such doctrine. If you went to a retreat with a group of people and you found “kill all outsiders” in their bylaws, you might want to get up out of there. Now, if the Bible, which is good at its core, can be manipulated to evil, then I suppose the Quran, which to me seems to espouse evil at its core, could be manipulated for good. I am fully aware of that possibility. But something about human nature makes me question the likelihood of this.
This makes me seriously question the ethics of any Muslim, whether radical or moderate. That being said, I certainly disagree with the ex-Congressman wanting to kill all of them. Those who are actively engaging in terrorism, of course, should likely face death. However, those who merely support it should be persuaded not to support it, if possible. Unless, of course, he means financing when he says supporting, and then that’s a much closer issue.
My major point is that there are groups you cannot belong to and maintain an ethical life. The obvious example is the KKK. It seems to me that there is a pretty strong argument that being of the Muslim faith may put you into such a group. My much more liberal friends think my reasoning is ridiculous, and to be honest, I don’t love it either. It reeks of religious intolerance. But I don’t know how to escape it. What am I missing?
The only thing I can think is that perhaps, ironically, you cannot really look to the words of religious texts when trying to understand religious groups because the groups themselves don’t look to the texts overmuch. For instance, my grandmother is decidedly “more Catholic” than I am, and yet I am the only one who has read the Bible between the two of us. She believes that the value of human life is the most important value and the Bible says so. I’ve tried to tell her that it clearly doesn’t say so; in fact, it makes quite clear that it has little value on any given human life, and that it’s predominant value is on the Golden Rule-which makes us disagree strongly on right to die cases. (Grandma thinks doctors shouldn’t be able to assist in suicide because that right belongs to God alone. I believe that the Bible actually may create an affirmative obligation on the doctor to assist in suicide on some occasions). Thus, maybe it’s important to recognize that looking at the text is only a small part of the puzzle.
Furthermore, religion has a lot of cultural aspects and it often gets passed on word of mouth from one generation to the next, with very little attention to the original text. It’s like a great big game of generational telephone. All that being said, when we played telephone in school, I don’t recall the final message ever becoming kinder than the original. Thus, if the core of the thing (the Quran) is evil and knowing what I know of human nature, why should I think the things that stem from that should be other than evil?
All that being said, I certainly don’t need every moderate Muslim to tell me that they despise terrorism. I am going to assume they despise terrorism because I believe in believing in the best of people until they prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that I cannot believe in them. But if a Muslim came up to me and asked me if I thought there religious choice was an ethical choice, I would have to reluctantly say “No.” I’m going to draw an uncomfortable but possibly apt parallel. If someone who was in the KKK came up to me, and said: “I inherited these beliefs from my father who inherited from his father all the way back from my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. It’s part of our culture, and I’ve never known anything else. I’m personally peaceful. I’ve never hurt anyone. I don’t even march. I just belong to the KKK. I abhor when the KKK uses violence of any kind. That’s ethical, right?” My answer would be a resounding “No.”
Why should my answer be different vis-a-vis Muslims?