IDEMA: The problem with Islam (and all religions)

Sep 26, 2012


There are many angles to look at recent events, but the perspective that is never mentioned is the psychology of religion.

Muslims (and many Christians and Jews, too) look at their Scriptures literally, believing that the Koran is the actual word of God (Allah is the Arabic word for God). Similarly, Christian fundamentalists look at the Bible and argue that it is literally true, and literally God's word, from beginning to end.

Muslims, however, make their claim for the Koran with an important exception. For Muslims, the Koran cannot be translated, so only the Arabic is God's literal word.

Few Christians read the Bible in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, so American Christians argue that God speaks to us in English.

There is a deep psychological need that believers bring to their Scriptures, and even more so for those who read these Scriptures literally. Fundamentalists, or literalists (a more accurate term), fear that if science and the academic study of these Scriptures show the contradictions, errors and cultural-bound nature of many of the claims in these texts, the authority of Scripture will fall down like a house of cards. This is not true, but remains a phobia.

Thus, people bring to their reading of Scriptures deep-seated needs, needs for security, for example, or needs to combat anxiety. The fear of death also intensifies our reading of texts, not to speak of our hope of consolation when we have lost a loved one. Put simply, the Scriptures of the great world religions act as a keel of our ship as we try to navigate through the storms stirred up by life.

The problem with all religions arises if their Scriptures are not read critically — using all the tools of science, history and the academic methods for studying texts, such as form criticism (which means looking, for instance, at the genre of a text; is it a story, history or a liturgical text, etc.). We can find consolation, guidance and truths in our Scriptures without having to read these texts literally. But that takes effort and critical thinking!

One of the great benefits of the Reformation in the Christian religion was the translation of the Bible into native languages, and then the study of those texts with eyes wide open instead of being closed shut. Islam never had such a Reformation, so the academic and scientific study of the Koran has not taken place. To question the literalism of the Koran for a Muslim puts him or her in great danger.

I find it a very dangerous situation in our world that many millions of people read ancient Scriptures literally. These texts were written exclusively by men who were part of cultures very different from ours. A person can use the Bible, for instance, to justify holy war, just as a Muslim can use the Koran to make a similar claim. Look how people have used Scriptures to slam homosexuals, or to criticize people who have gone through the pain of a divorce.

All people in all religions must bring the power of reason to bear upon their Scriptures. No Scriptures are literally God speaking to us like a TV talking head.

I do believe that God's Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture in a mysterious way, but not as if the men writing down the words in ancient languages were merely God's secretaries. The writers brought to the writing of these ancient texts their own personalities — not to speak of cultural influences, even prejudices. For instance, the Bible never questions slavery, which was accepted in biblical times. No Christian today advocates slavery, and most eat pork and wear clothes with blended fibers. We don't stone kids who talk back to us parents, as much as we might be tempted to at times.

My only hope in combating fundamentalists in all religions is education. We must learn to approach Scripture critically, and then sift its claims through the filters of reason, experience and our traditions.

Jesus said we must love God with our minds as well as our hearts. Powerful psychological and social forces work against that task. Many clergy and the institutions that they represent are threatened by the loss of their power if men and women exercise their powers of reason in approaching Scripture and religion in general.

I would argue, with the theologian Paul Tillich, that there is more faith in honest doubt than there is in blind faith — especially blind faith in the literal reading of Scripture.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist



One doesn't have to doubt scripture when it is read esoterically. All true scripture has its inner meaning, whether it has any literal truth in the historical sense. Grimm fairy tales are just as true as the bible esoterically. When one follows a religion and understands that is meant to guide the inner life primarily, critique is aimed at the self, and not at others. The bible (and koran, Gita, etc) are very useful tools, if understood. Unfortunately that is not the norm in this era.
Ignorant people with powerful tools will always be dangerous.


More people have died throughout history in the name of god than any other cause...Wars,torture,executions, WHY? beacause our god is better than your god....

Mr. Conservative

there is only one god


yes but many different ideals...get it?


sounds like islam to me!


apparently you're not schooled in world history...

Tri-cities realist

Finally a column by rev. Idema that focuses on his 2 areas of knowledge, psychology and religion, rather than politics. And he explains why when people say "we are fighting a war with people who haven't changed since the 7th century". Their way of thinking hasn't changed since then. Doesn't make it right by any means. Unfortunately until they choose to educate themselves and join the 21st century, we will need to deal with them in the only way they understand... The way of the sword. Compromise is not in their vocabulary. Sad but true.


...partly because of a film! I think not. This was and orchestrated terrorist attack in different areas of the middle east. RPG's were used and it was on Sept 11th. The media is mixing the cool-aid for you to drink on that. You don't just throw a group of people together with these types of weapons where they are usually chucking rocks at each other! Come on people, we are being attacked by these extremist. They are corrupting the religion to rally those in their culture. unfortunately as Tri-cities realist says they only understand the way of the sword. If this country was as dedicated to our ideals as they are to their twisted views, we would not be so gridlocked in our approach to worldly events. Our parents and grandparents generation would not have had such a pathetic response to events like this. This approach of appeasement we are using is only emboldening them. By the time we get around to some response, the people will not even understand the "why" as it will be twisted. We should have had a military response with 48 hours. Don't thread on the US. War is ugly but not over sooner when one side does not fight a determined enemy.



Sola Scriptura

"We must learn to approach Scripture critically, and then sift its claims through the filters of reason, experience and our traditions."

The reformers and the vast majority of orthodox Protestant Christianity would disagree with this
statement whole-heartedly.

We can know of the existence of God as revealed in nature but the only way we can KNOW God and his plan of salvation in Jesus Christ is through his holy Word. Jesus affirmed the authority of scripture many times. If we "sift" the bible through our own reason, experience and traditions we risk creating God in our own image.
I would argue, and I'm certain that the reformers would agree, that we instead need to sift our reason, experiences and traditions through
Gods holy, inerrant and sufficient Word.


Until people like you begin to ask real, honest, soul searching questions, you'll remain stuck at the level you're at. Maybe you're not ready to read this yet, but someone needs to present this to you. The sooner you begin to see your cage, the sooner you can be free of it.

Sola Scriptura

I fully disagree. I was in a cage before I came to know Jesus. My life was miserable and had no meaning. When I saw the truth that Jesus died for my sins to reconcile me to God I was free! I now live a life free from worry and with the knowledge that I will be with him forever in heaven. If you turn from your sin and trust Jesus you can also know this freedom! John 14:6


I'm glad you have made a way for your life to have meaning. That's what's important. The funny thing is that my story is the exact opposite of yours. Maybe someday you'll realize that your miserable life was only miserable because you made it so. If you would have become a mormon, converted to judaism, or done some other meaningless but significant act, you would feel the same as you do now. You'd also be just as narrow minded most likely, because that's why you love to feel the cage. Please be open to the fact that true freedom lies inside you and within your grasp regardless of your beliefs. Jesus truly never existed. That doesn't mean that he is meaningless. My life is unbelievably richer and more fulfilling now, and the internal dialogue is the same. This may be over your head at the moment, but someone needs to be a preacher to the preachers.

Sola Scriptura

You may have a feeling of peace now, but what you need to know is that God will be ready to judge you and I after we die. At that point the only thing that will matter is whether or not you have a relationship with Jesus. Those who've trusted in Christ will spend eternity with him in paradise. Those who haven't will spend eternity in torment. If you choose not to believe in Jesus and to trust yourself instead the word of God says that you will spend eternity in hell. Do you really want to risk that? I hope and pray that you turn to Jesus before you die. It's not worth it. Why not trust in Christ? What di you have to lose. This world doesn't make any sense without a creator God. If you choose to believe you gain everything. If you choose not to believe you gain nothing. Come to Jesus as you are. He will change you if you trust in him. I promise. The next 10 trillion years of your life hang on this decision to trust him or not. If you trust in Christ you will never, ever regret it.
You know in your heart that there is a God, everyone does. The bible says that everyone knows of God and will be held accountable. So you've encountered Hippocrites at Church?
Were all hippocrites and sinners. But we're saved by trusting in Jesus Christ.
Come join us, we welcome you.
-Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake


You didn't read my post. Re-read it. Although I think you're not ready, so you won't get it. When I say opposite, I mean it. Maybe a better word is reversed. Theological sparring would get nowhere, that's why I don't bring my 'knowledge' to bear. You will display your lack of knowledge proudly for all to see because you think it means something. What I have, you can't access because you don't allow yourself to. At death, you'll experience what your clouded mind projects. Much like your dreams. If you have erotic dreams now, that's what your death experience will be like. If you live at work in your dreams, that's your death. If you think you're dead when you're dead, you'll probably have visions of Jesus. Study near death experiences and you'll find they're nearly all identical. Reincarnation is a demonstrable fact as well. The head of pediatric psychology at the university of virginia has published a very nice study on the matter. Read if you dare: If you open your mind just a bit, you'll find you don't know so much!


Henry, the first line of your column is blatantly false. The riots in the Muslim world and the act of war on our embassy in Libya was NOT caused by an internet film.(has anyone seen this "so called" internet film?) It was cause by the overwhelming hatred of America by a majority of Muslims in the world and for retaliation against the US for eliminating our enemies & terriost leaders.(God Bless or Military) Where were the American Muslims demostrating in defense of America and waving our flag in solidarity? This attack was planned on the symbolic date of 9/11 and our President is giving the Muslim world cover by concocting this utter lie of an internet film depicting the mass murderer, rapist, and pedophile Mohammed in bad light. Regardless of your liberal views, you really do know the truth about the Muslim riots, but you still perpetuate this lie and blame America first.(albeit, subtly designed in your opening statements...another indoctrination strategy used by the Left) In addition, the Ten Commandments are pretty clear and I believe they are safe to take "literally" without your idiotic view that it must be interpeted "critcally". God makes the rules and as a believers, you are to follow them....they are not open for debate or interpetation. If you do not agree with God's word then, take it up with him. By way of correction, the Bible does not slam homosexuals, but does verify this behavior as immoral and wrong. Look around you Henry, when is the last time you saw two male squirrels or 8 point bucks engaged in penatration of each other? God provides examples everyday as well as Scripture direction to all of us, if you just open your eyes. Why is it, that you feel the need to defend immoral behavior and then, blame the Bible as if it is prejudice against an individual or group? Any two males engaged in the sodomizing of each other is indeed, disgusting and immoral. (Not so pretty when you call what it is, uh Henry?) Likewise, poor examples from heterosexuals are no better, but the foundation of a heterosexual relationship is moral and just according to the Bible and overwhelming people around the world. We don't need to read Scriptures critically as this leads to warp minded thinking and a distortion of the truth with God's word. It is amazing how the likes of yourself scream tolerance, but are so willing to throw the Bible and it's followers under the bus because they do not agree with your ideology. By reading the Bible literally it allows the fear of God to remain as a great neutralizer for individuals considering immoral or illegal behavior. As we review the past 50+ years, reading the Bible "literally" is exatly the roots this Nation needs to revert back to in an effort to save this country from the jaws of a complete and catastrophic collapse.


You should heal yourself from the sickness of your mind before you soil others with verbal vomit.


The posts on this comment board only serve to bolster the case made by the article (which I quite enjoyed).


Good article.


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