Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pierre Bayle: On Coercion and Conscience in Religion

Pierre Bayle
(Image from Christianity Today)

I've just read an article on Pierre Bayle titled "The Golden Rule of Toleration," in the magazine Christianity Today (5/07/2009), by Joseph Loconte, a senior research fellow at The King's College in New York City. The article spurred my thinking on today's blog entry.

Islamist views seem almost dominant in Islam as it is currently practiced. The Islamists, at any rate, intend to dominate. We see the Taliban flooding across Pakistan -- though the government there is currently fighting against that tide. We saw, only two or three weeks ago, a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley publicly flogged for leaving her home unaccompanied by a close male relative. In the video that appeared on You Tube, she could be heard screaming that she would obey the rules, which is precisely the submission that the Islamists desire.

Obviously, such obedience, such submission, is physically, forcefully coerced.

From Loconte, I learned that the Huguenot thinker Pierre Bayle had some appropriate remarks about coercion in religious matters:

[E]very one that fears God ought, with all his Authority, to prevent the Commission of Crimes; and what Crimes are there, which they ought to prevent with greater care, than religious Hypocrisys, Acts against the Instinct and Lights of Conscience? Now these the Maxims arising from the literal Sense do infallibly produce. Ordain Punishments for all who practise the Rites of any one Religion, and who refuse to practise those of another; expose 'em to the Violence of the Soldiery, buffet 'em, thrust 'em into noisom Dungeons, deprive 'em of Employments and Honors, condemn 'em to the Mines or Gallys, hang up those who are impertinent, load others with Favors and Rewards who renounce their Worship: you may depend upon't, a great many will change, as to the outward Profession, from the Religion they esteem the best, and make profession of that which they are convinc'd is false. Acts of Hypocrisy and High Treason against the Divine Majesty, which is never so directly affronted, as when Men draw near to his Worship in a way which their Consciences, I mean even the most erroneous Consciences, represent as dishonorable to him. So that a Prince who wou'd prevent, as much as in him lies, the Depravation of his Subjects, and their being guilty of that Sin, which of all Sins is the most provoking to Almighty God, and the most certainly Sin, shou'd take special care to purge his Dominions of all Christians of persecuting Principles. (Pierre Bayle, Chapter 5, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full', edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005)
Bayle's argument is that God hates hypocrisy more than any other sin. In fact, he hates whatever encourages hypocrisy. Religious persecution encourages hypocrisy. Therefore God hates religious persecution. Bayle thus counsels against coerced adherence to any religion.

Despite the Taliban and most other Islamist movements, Islam would seem -- at a first glance in the Qur'an -- to reject coercion in religious matters, for the Qur'an, in Sura 2:256 states:

"There is no compulsion in religion."
That would appear to settle the issue . . . except that other verses seem to justify compulsion. Many if not most early Muslim authorities seem to treat Sura 2:256 as abrogated by the so-called "Sword Verses," such as Sura 9:5:

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush."
I could cite other sword verses, but that would be tedious and unnecessary, for the tendency of Islamism today is toward ever greater intolerance . . . or seems to be. The problem appears to be that this contradiction in the Qur'an is resolved in favor of the "sword verses," which are taken to be later revelations, a method of resolving contradictions known as "abrogation." Later revelation can abrogate earlier revelation.

Presumably, there's some evidence that the "sword verses" came later, but is that certain? Be that as it may, I would think that Pierre Bayle's argument would apply to Islam as well . . . or are current-day Islamists mainly interested only in outward conformity, caring little that coercion breeds hypocrisy?

Labels: , , , ,


At 1:02 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

I find the wording of "those who join other gods with Allah" intriguing ("with" as opposed to "than"). Is this a particular injunction against polytheism? Are there other sections that imply Christianity and Judaism should be targeted? Or is intolerance blind?

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, there is a verse that notes that Christians call Jesus the son of God and that Jews call Ezra the son of God. I don't know where that latter idea comes from. Another verse claims that Mary is believed by Christians to be divine. Muslims have often criticized the concept of the "Trinity" to be a pagan one. And Al Qaeda refers to Christians as "worshippers of the cross."

All of these are considered "shirk," i.e., joining other 'gods' with Allah.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

There is no compulsion. You are free to submit, if you like - or, if you prefer, you may choose to be slain.

At 5:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The latter choice, of course, effectively frees one from everything -- freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose.

See, the Islamists truly do bring freedom in their wake. A wake for others...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Jay Kactuz said...

I love your blog! It is always interesting, always educational (Even if it is a challenge to slow people like myself).

Regarding the issue of 'shirk', I find it strange that we don't hear more about the issue of Mohammad as junior partner to Allah. If your read the Quran, there is a case to be made for the "duality" or "binity" of Allah (as opposed to the Christian trinity).

Any reading of the Quran supports this theory: Allah and Mohammad are partners. Note passages such as "he that obeys Mohammad, obeys Allah" and "When Allah and his messenger decide a matter" indicate equality and partnership. This would explain the extensive use of the plural "we" in the Quran.

Of course and again, there could be some discussion as to who is the senior partner since when there is a contraction between teachings in the Quran (Allah) and hadith (Mohammad), Muslims always choose to follow the instructions of their prophet over those of their god (ex: Qurans says to pray 3 times/day, Mohammad says 5 times or else, Mohammad wins; Allah says no compulsion in religion, Mohammad says to kill anybody that changes their religion, and so on...)

Actually, when reading the Quran, one has the impression that Mohammad didn't really understand basic Christian or Jewish theology. He gets confused; He was "winging" it.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jay Kactuz, thanks for an interesting comment. I'd never thought of Muhammad in this way, i.e., a partner with Allah. I wonder what a Muslim would say.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

"Actually, when reading the Quran, one has the impression that Mohammad didn't really understand basic Christian or Jewish theology. He gets confused; He was "winging" it."
But God wrote the Koran, no?

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nah, Malcolm, that was Allah, i.e., "The God." Or so I'm told...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Oy. Who can keep track? Especially when you can't even see 'em.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, I see what you mean.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Jay Kactuz said...

"I wonder what a Muslim would say"

It would be a very interesting discussion, but don't try it in Cairo, Teheran or Riyadh. They don't much appreciate that kind of philosophical debate.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right. Those societies don't easily pass Natan Sharansky's "town square test."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home