Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amazed by the Qur'an

I've been keeping up with Robert Spencer's "Blogging the Qur'an" on a semi-regular basis.

As the weeks have gone by, and sura after sura has been considered, I have formed an overall reaction to the Qur'an as scripture:

The Qur'an is Amazingly Bad.

More specifically:

I am amazed at how shallow and ill-considered it is. I am amazed at how repetitive it is. I am amazed at how decidedly uninspired and uninspring it is. I am amazed that anyone could think it authored by God, and can only conclude it is through lack of imagination (or actual exposure) which would allow them to perceive how much higher the cognitive quality of genuine divine revelation would be.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that the Qur'an apparently changed over time and is not, in its current form, identical to its original form, I believe that the greatest argument against its divine authorship is in its content.

If the Qur'an were, as claimed by Muslims, the result of divine dictation, then apparently God had nothing better to say to man than:

(1.) You all lack free will, but I'll punish you for rejecting me anyway;

(2.) My followers should use force and connivance against all non-followers, with only a fig-leaf's worth of limitations;

(3.) I hereby endorse some of the sillier superstitions of the average 6th-century unlettered Arab tribesman; e.g., wash out your nose so the devil can't crawl up in there;

(4.) This book is perfect and you shouldn't question it;

(5.) Muhammad is the highest example of human behavior, and don't you dare question that;

(6.) Non-believers are icky and bad and merit only contempt and emnity;

(7.) Did I mention don't question this book? Or Muhammad?

(8.) Non-believers are really very icky;

(9.) So are women, but at least they aren't non-believers;

(10.) Don't forget: You can't question this book or Muhammad!

(11.) Correct moral behavior consists of mindless ritualism, so long as it is the particular ritualism described in this book;

(12.) Ain't this book great? (Don't question it!)

Muslim apologists offer the inimitability of the Qur'an as miraculous evidence of its divine authorship. The book itself endorses this view, challenging the reader to find anything comparable, any "sura like it."

Now that I see what it is actually like, my reaction to these challenges is: Who'd waste his time trying to generate an imitation of such a flawed and distasteful original? An art forger might copy a Monet, but he won't waste his time and skill copying a five-year-old's stick-figure.

Indeed all these challenges strike me as little more than the smack-talking that goes on in a rap competition or a game of "street hoops." Muhammad has depicted a God who busts out with, "I'm the biggest baddest m********** on the block, and you can't top my rhymes -- uh, that is, my suras -- so don't get all up in m'face, or I'll beat ya' down."

I will however qualify my judgment of the Qur'an with the following caveat: I cannot read Qur'anic Arabic. Muslim scholars put huge emphasis on the literary perfection of the Qur'an when rendered in the original Arabic. I will grant, therefore, that as regards poetic style, it may be exceptional.

But even then, I find it impossible to regard excellent literary qualities alone as a plausible argument for divine authorship. The Book of Kells, on the strength of its extraordinary artistry, was described by one observer as seemingly (if you didn't already know better) not the work of a man, but of an angel. But had the Book of Kells' actual meaning been as mind-numbing and insipid as that of the Qur'an, I gather this observation would have been made in an ironic tone instead of a reverent one.

If indeed the linguistic style of the Qur'an is superior, then, having learned more of its content, I can only say: What a waste of an artist's skill!

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