Some people claim that the sacred books of all religions can be interpreted in many different ways. They say that if you are a peaceful Muslim you will find your beliefs mirrored back at you in the peaceful passages in the Koran. And if you are violent by nature, then you will find justification for your violence in that same book. Christians do the same with their bible. People find in their holy books what they wish to find. On this view all religious texts can be infinitely interpreted and all are equally dangerous or innocuous.
I don’t believe this. Books are not infinitely interpretable. There is no way that Mein Kampf can be made to read like a love letter to the Jews. I certainly believe that most Muslims, like most Christians, ignore the violent passages in the Koran and thank goodness they do. However, the idea that all religions are equally dangerous is just a manifestation of the modern obsession that all things must be equal.
The religions of Jainism or Quakerism simply can’t be made to justify violence, no matter how you distort their sacred texts. Even Christianity, which has had a pretty bloody history, would surely have been a whole lot bloodier if Jesus had been more of a warrior and less of a milksop.
On the other hand the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was a warrior who bragged of his victories in battle and of beheading 800 Jews who refused to convert to his new religion. He married a girl of five and consummated the marriage when she was nine. He ordered the stoning of an adulteress. These are not the kind of things that Jesus would have done, and the difference between the personalities of the two men shows in the holy books they inspired. And he advised his supporters to follow his example.
I therefore find it strange that some people believe that two distinct religions, the one founded by a pacifist and the other founded by a warrior, would end up being equally liable to lead to violence. That any two belief systems, be they religious or not, should give rise to precisely equally violent behavior seems highly unlikely to me. Such a belief is almost certainly due to our modern-day obsession with equality than with reality.
In reading through the New Testament, I believe you would have to try quite hard to interpret Jesus’s message as a command to subdue the world, by force if necessary, until it submits to the dictates of Christianity. With Islam and the Koran, on the other hand, it seems to me that you really don’t have to try very hard at all. The supremacist, conquering nature of Mohammed’s personality is right there in the book he inspired.