Sunday, October 10, 2010

The New York Times' Scripture Quiz

Mark Nanos posted a fun quiz on Facebook, The New York Times "Test Your Savvy on Religion", which has an eye on inflammatory scriptures and religious extremism. Go ahead and take it (reproduced below) before reading further. I scored 12/13.

I do have a slight problem with what The New York Times author is trying to put across. He correctly implies that all religious traditions have the scriptural arsenal to justify basically whatever they want, whether violence or peace, intolerance or kindness; and thus that all religions have the wherewithal to evolve positively. But he also seems to imply that our major religions -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism -- are about equally clean and dirty in doing this. The patronization of Islam is transparent.

The real question, to me, isn't so much what religious texts say, but how seriously they are taken, or to what degree they are subordinate to others. I don't know of many Jewish people who advocate #1 and #11 (the Old Testament injunctions to stone non-virgins and dash the heads of babies against rocks). On the other hand, there is massive agreement among the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence that jihadist warfare against unbelievers is obligatory for Muslims, and that Jews and Christians who refuse to convert to Islam should be subjugated as second-class citizens -- which means that practically speaking, #2 (the Koran's "let there be no compulsion in religion") may not be such a cause for comfort.

The Times author is right that we shouldn't rush to inflammatory conclusions about a religion based on cherry-picking texts, but nor should we hold back from underscoring inflammatory elements based on actual practices. It may not be the PC thing to do, but it's honest. Anyway, enjoy the quiz.

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?

a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?

a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?

a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:

a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?

a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:

a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”

a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?

a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?

a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?

a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?

a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?

a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?

a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad


1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.
3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.
4. c. Koran. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.
5. All of the above.
6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.
7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.
8. b. Amos 9:7
9. All of the above.
10. All of the above. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.
11. a. Psalm 137
12. a. Koran 4:34
13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.


Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

You make a very good point, Loren.
In fact, I'd say that the quiz seems to presuppose a fairly naive view of scripture that most of the respective practitioners would disagree with.

As for #1, I would like to add that in my research on marital customs in the Mishnah (second/third centuries CE), I noticed that the rabbis had already effectively abrogated that provision for stoning an non-bleeding bride.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you make a good point at all.

All these scriptures reflect the times and customs of the people who wrote them. They reflect a pre-scientific and barbaric past when people believed gods came to earth, when slavery was commen, when the state could execute people with impunity, when women were not equal, when people didn't know that diseases were caused by viruses and not demons, when they thought the sun revolved around the earth and so on.

None of these scriptures should be used today as a guide by which people should live their lives.

And the excesses of Islamic radicals may be more extreme, but the only thing keeping christianity less radical is our separation of church and state and the growing securlarity of the public.


Blogger Gary said...

Oh man, I love it when someone trots out the "barbarism" argument. Is there any sort of demonstration that we are now in a non-barbaric situation from which we could judge others?

More seriously, I'm with Stephen on the idea that the writer seems to not have a very good grasp of the Old Testament (can't argue with his NT quotes and I'm not competent to argue about Islam or Hinduism).

The OT as a whole would better be described as sympathetic to slaves rather than to "slavery". The Psalm 137 quote is hardly a commandment. It's the same type of revenge statement that someone might make today, just in somewhat different terms.

For instance, I recently read a letter from a WWII American soldier who was one of the camp liberators. He expressed the sentiment that the entire German race should be hunted down and killed since they had clearly stepped outside the bounds of any sort of humanity. We can condemn that sentiment ofter the fact, but it's really just a normal response to the situation he was.


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