Concerning Connerney & Kidd

by Dr. Elias D. White

October 20, 2001

Dear Chuck,

I wanted to thank you for the two articles you emailed, but I've been frantically busy, even while intending to respond to part of a sentence in Connerney's "Islam: Religion of the Sword?" Connerney wrote that "Fundamentalism, as a literal and nonhistoric approach to religious scripture, exists in every tradition, but only in Islam does it go hand in hand with widespread violence."

To my mind, this happens to touch precisely on a major difference between Islam (and even more so, e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism) and Jewish or Christian orthodoxies or fundamentalisms: A great difference arises from the fact that the Bible itself is (certainly portrays itself to be) historic. In other words, the backbone of the Hebrew Bible is Genesis - II Kings (with maybe Ezra and Nehemiah added on), writings which tell, more or less chronologically, of happenings, especially over perhaps a 1500 year period, from Abraham to Nehemiah. Similarly, the backbone of the Gospels and Epistles (the misnamed "New Testament") is Matthew (or Luke or Mark) and Acts -- writings building on the Hebrew Bible which tell of selected events occurring during perhaps a thirty year period. The Qur'an, on the other hand, is mainly a series of theological or homiletic or hortatory outbursts. Any historical order to past events is only of incidental importance, and stories are told for purposes of illustration -- history becomes parable.

Regarding (Christian) "fundamentalism," however, it is hard to imagine a "nonhistoric approach" to the Bible, because, from its beginning, entering the Biblical narratives drives its readers to the world and to history (as well as to their creators and their Creator). (Perhaps some "Bible as literature courses" achieve a non-historic approach.) Respect for the spatio-temporal, physical, actual world that God created, and for the real past, as espoused in the biblical traditions, is one of the root causes for the rise of laboratory science and of Western civilization.

I imagine that Connerney meant that by "nonhistoric approach", as applicable to Christian fundamentalists, some sort of refusal to admit data arriving from any sources other than the Scriptures -- but that would be a difficult (and antibiblical) feat which I don't think has ever been really attempted. (Perhaps Connerney meant that Christian "fundamentalists" would reject the reliability of theories or data which he imagines to be reliable. Obviously there's a lot of ignorance in this world, but I don't think fundamentalists monopolize it.)

Anyway, I appreciated both your articles, and forwarded them to various acquaintances. I enjoyed Kidd's article and agree with the main drift of Connerney's article: that Islam has been and continues to be driven internally to rely on the sword. (Contrast the dynamics of Islamic Realpolitik with the Bible's divisions of powers e.g. between priests, Levites, Israelites, Gentiles; between prophets and kings and priests; between tribes and their elders; plus the prophets' and the Gospels' and Epistles' notions of the need for uncoerced turning to God.)

Your friend,