Monday, July 28, 2008

Islam Similar to O.T.?

How should we view and understand old testament laws, specifically the ones that seem very similar to the laws enforced by Islamic clerics? I read today in an article that aproximately 29 people were hung in Iran, for offenses ranging from murder to adultery- engaging in relationships outside of marriage. This reminds me of the OT law that those who committed adultery were to be stoned. What's the difference, and how should we understand and articulate the difference?
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Daniel Kim said...

Please comment on this, rather than 1-on-1 Q&A, I would like to make this into a discussion, which is a much better learning forum for things like this.

T said...

I think the O.T. law was somewhat like a "quick-and-dirty" guide for a "quick-and-dirty" world. As we saw exemplified by the Pharisees, these well-intended laws easily degenerate into a twisted legalism, where the letter of the law (applied wrongly) trumps the spirit of the law.

The law of Jesus/law of love showed people the spirit of the law, revealing the true form of O.T. law. In my opinion, the harsh legalism of Islam and their view of God as a harsh, legalistic judge is a legalistic corruption similar to that of the Pharisees, with no Jesus to set them right. Most recently I remember a story about an Iraqi man who murdered his daughter, with the help of his sons. The murder, and the fact that he got off with nothing, reflect to me how twisted that legalism can become.

-Michael Tsai

Daniel Kim said...

I think Michael is right in that OT laws were like a "quick-and-dirty" guide. We have a hard time understanding the OT laws, because we have a hard time conceiving of the Ancient Near East life.

For example, we don't understand that the "eye for eye" law would have been considered by the Ancient Near East cultures as a law of mercy - because during the days of blood feuds, if someone takes an eye, you take out the eyes of every single family member of the opponent, etc. That was expected, and that was just how "justice" was accomplished in that culture. So for the people of that culture, eye for eye would be a great restraint, but today, eye for eye seems to be pretty cruel.

One can observe that at different stages of a person's life, depending on the maturity of the person and the level of understanding, we instinctively give different types of punishments. When my 6-year-old daughter lies, I give her a spanking or give her a major time-out. I would say that that's the right thing for a parent to do. When she is 40 and she lies, and I spank her or give her a time-out, I would say that's wrong thing for a father to do. Two exact same sin, yet depending on the maturity of the person that I'm talking to, two very different responses is appropriate.

Perhaps OT is something of a "shaper" of a culture which was being molded in the context of a quick-and-dirty world of Ancient Near East.

I think the fact that God is mindful of where humanity's culture is in its maturity when giving out commandments is something that we can appreciate (and Jesus himself talked about it in regards to OT divorce). So perhaps the questions to be asked is: were the OT laws appropriate given the culture that Israelites were living in? What role did the OT laws play in shaping the culture of Israel to set them apart from the surrounding cultures, where sexual sins were so rampant that it was normalized into religious practices, where child sacrifices were accepted, etc.? What would have been long-term ramification of NOT having these drastic OT punishments in an environment like that?

When comparing this to Islamic laws, I am not sure. I guess if I were to follow the logic above, I would have to say that Islamic laws are also a quick-and-dirty guide to a quick-and-dirty world. It's just that the world has matured and is not so quick-and-dirty anymore - and therefore it seems to us that they are spanking a 40-year-old.

I am a bit reluctant to call Islamic laws "evil" or anything like that - because to me, it's like this (sorry for being so simplistic, but maybe it helps to think about it this way): God has been maturing humanity and giving humanity appropriate laws in the Old Testament.. when trying to guide someone, it's a give-and-take dance, as any parent or mentor would tell you. But Mohammed, enamored with the Old Testament monotheism, has taken a snapshot of the Old Testament and set it in stone. In a way, it's like someone who takes a snapshot of a parent giving a spanking to a 6-year-old, and then sets that in stone as the "way to do it". So whereas the New Testament reveals the purpose of the law and exhorts us to relate to God personally (very much like how a child would grow up to relate to his parent beyond the do's and dont's), Islam is devoid of that understanding of the purpose of the law.

And because Islam is devoid of the true Living God who interacts with humanity, the laws therefore don't do a give-and-take dance anymore. They are simply laws, and therefore they fall into the downward spiral of legalism, which is what we see, as Michael commented.

Well, hope that made some sense. This discussion is something that is especially relevant today.

JeannePhung said...

Thank you! Your comments and answers helped me wrap my mind around this issue...(the one who asked the question)