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The Bible and the Quran – Equally Violent?

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A couple of people have asked me to comment on a recent viral video from the Netherlands called the Holy Quran Experiment, in which two guys read violent, scandalous passages from what they claim to be the Quran to people on the street and ask them to comment and compare it with the Bible. The respondents say that it’s horrible and that the Bible is much more peaceful, and then comes the reveal – the book they’ve read from is the Bible!

The video has become popular both among those who want to combat islamophobia and think that people are hypocritical to how they view their own religious heritage compared to others, and among people who think that all religions are stupid and inspire violence and bad values.

Now, as an apostolic Christian I’m the first to say that there are commands and descriptions of practices in the Bible that no one should follow today, such as the violent punishments in the Old Testament. And it is indeed the Old Testament that the Dutch guys read from, with one exception: Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:12 on how women shouldn’t teach, a command most Protestant churches today would say is culturally bound (women had hardly any access to education in ancient times, and most couldn’t read).

The Scripture quotations are completely taken out of context, which I guess is sort of the point since verses from the Quran also are often taken out of context by islamophobic people, but this is never explained in the video. The horrible description of eating the flesh of one’s children is quoted without the explanation that this is a consequence of leaving God’s way in Leviticus 26:29 due to the immorality it brings, not a command. Similarly, the video is edited so that we jump directly from the New Testament passage of women not being allowed to teach to “you shall cut off her hand” in Deut 25:12. The latter is the punishment for a woman who tries to crush the genitals of a man and is in line with the “eye for an eye” punishment system, where the balls are replaced with a hand due to the woman’s lack of such.

The good news is that Jesus abolished the “eye for an eye”-logic: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt 5:38-39) Jesus told us to not judge, to love our enemies and to forgive, which is why the early church was pacifist. When emperors Constantine and Theodosius married the chruch with the state and violent theology was developed by Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, this sadly changed, but throughout church history there has been a radical stream of apostolic saints and rebels who stay true to the Sermon on the Mount and refuse to use violence.

This is where Christianity and Islam differs on this issue. See, the Quran has no Old and New Testament; from Islam’s perspective, the Christian New Testament is a corrupted book and its teaching should not be followed if it conflicts with Muhammad’s message, while all of the Quran is relevant to Muslims. And Muhammad was not a pacifist, and the Quran contains some very violent passages such as Sura 2:191 and Sura 5:33. Throughout the history of the ummah, the Islamic community, violence and brutal punishment has been pretty standard, even though many exceptions exist.

Finally, it is important to evaluate why a certain practice or command is viewed as outrageous or immoral. The Dutch guys talk about how the Bible verses they quote are opposed to “Western values”. But where do these values come from, if not from the teachings of Jesus? Waldensians, Apostolic Brethren and Anabaptists were pioneers for freedom of religion, thought and speech, and apostolic Christians have argued for gender equality, liberation of slaves etc. both in ancient and modern times.

Atheism, on the other hand, leaves a black moral hole where no moral stance is objectively better than the other. This is why atheist regimes like Soviet and North Korea aren’t paradises, to put it mildly. Could it be that the very reason we view the violence of the Old Testament and the Quran as outrageous, is that our current morals are inspired not by atheism, but by Jesus?

By the way, keep your eyes open for Greg Boyd’s coming book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God where he will deal with how we view brutal Old Testament violence in the light of the cross. Coming maybe next year, I think. I don’t know, he’s a slow author.



  1. Florian says:

    Anotheg great book to read concerning this issue is Brad Jersak’s ‘A !ore Christlike God’-highly fecommended!

  2. SimonDaNinja says:

    “Atheism, on the other hand, leaves a black moral hole where no moral stance is objectively better than the other. This is why atheist regimes like Soviet and North Korea aren’t paradises, to put it mildly. Could it be that the very reason we view the violence of the Old Testament and the Quran as outrageous, is that our current morals are inspired not by atheism, but by Jesus?”

    I, as an atheist, take offense to this description of my moral philosophy. What you have to understand is that “atheist” is a label that doesn’t say anything about my moral philosophy or lack thereof. “Atheism” is not a belief system, but the rejection of one single belief – the only conclusion that should be drawn from my being an atheist is that I don’t believe in God. Saying that atheism leaves a black moral hole is like saying non-stamp collecting does – it doesn’t make sense, since the term “atheist” doesn’t even adress any relevant issue.
    Many of us atheists aren’t nihilists, nor are we moral relativists. Granted, some are, but nihilism doesn’t in principle follow from the lack of belief in a God, and some would, given arguments like Euthyphros dilemma, even say that whether God exists or not is entirely irrelevant to moral discussions.
    I, for one, hold an opinion much like that of Sam Harris; the most meaningful way of viewing ethics is in terms of well being. My actions objectively have certain consequences for myself and others, and the perception of suffering or well being that my actions produce, is either objectively taking place, or objectively not. This is by no means a matter of personal opinion. “Well it’s just your subjective opinion that ‘moral’ be defined in terms of well being!”, somebody might point out to me. This is true in the same sense that it is only my subjective opinion that triangle be defined as a polygon with three vertices – the utterer of this objection fails to realize that definitions aren’t claims, but clarifications of how one uses certain terms. If you say “no, the TRUE definition of goodness is ‘that which is in accordance with God’s nature'”, I will say, “well, if you really, really want to stick a flag in that particular arrangement of vowels and consonants, I guess you can have the word ‘good’. I can use some other word, what I really care about is the actuality I’m trying to describe with it, not the soundbite.”.

    • Hello Simon!

      I agree with you that atheism says nothing about one’s moral stance or lack thereof, that’s why it’s not possible to say that without religion bad ideas would be fewer and violence less prevalent. Atheism says nothing about morality and provides no ground for morality, whereas Christianity or other religions do.

      So I can say that I should treat others as we would have them treat me, seek their well-being as if they were me, on the basis of Jesus being my boss, God Himself who created me and has revealed himself to me. That’s the objective morals God brings. But can you honestly say that a person who only cares about his or her own well-being on the expense on others is acting objectively wrong? What objective basis for utilitarianism is there if God doesn’t exist? Either one has to say that I myself makes the rules, and then everyone aren’t truly equal, or that everybody makes the rules, and then we get contradictions and relativism.

      So my point isn’t that all atheists have a moral like Stalin, but that atheism isn’t a way to protect oneself from morals like the ones of Stalin. On the contrary, atheism doesn’t say anything about morals, which is why the existence of objective morals implies the existence of God.


  3. stevekimes says:

    People can read the Bible and act out hate. People can read the Quran and act out love and peace. People can be atheist and act out the teachings of Jesus.

    The only difference is that Jesus’ teaching of peace, compassion, sacrificial love and humility is commanded by a portion of the Bible. But that doesn’t seem to help anyone recognize it or follow it, by itself.

    Neither Atheism nor Islam are moral “black holes”. Because God created in all of us a sense of what is right, both equitable justice and compassion.

  4. stevekimes says:

    I am also in opposition to Sam Harris’ philosophy, who holds that religion leads to evil acts, and that isn’t accurate either. People are people. And religion by itself doesn’t seem to make much of a difference whether they are good or evil.

    • SimonDaNinja says:

      There is a quote by Steven Weinberg about religion that “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      I’d say there is some merit to this claim; a good and compassionate person can be convinced that divinity would have him kill apostates or condemn people because of homosexuality, and similar things. Where a non-religious person who’s conscience would go against such acts could just follow his conscience and compassion, this person would view the authority of divinity as more important than mere human conscience and compassion, and similar authoritative, totalitarian thoughts are far less common outside religion (although, of course it does exist in quasi-religions like stalinism or juche).
      To me, no principle and the word of no-one is beyond questioning, but to the relgious, if God says “love”, you’d better love, if he says “share”, you’d better share, and if he says “kill your son Isaac”, you’d better get ready to kill your son Isaac.

      • stevekimes says:

        The quote isn’t a bad one, but instead of “religion” I’d put “society.” Atheistic societies do the same thing as religious ones– force good people to do evil in the name of the society. The principle of non-questioning is trained into every kid in boot camp, without God.

        This is my main problem with Sam Harris. He takes human problems and puts them at the feet of religion. Religion, for the most part, is just a reflection of humanity.

        • SimonDaNinja says:

          Sam Harris has clarified several times that he does not blame all evil on religion. He merely states that without it, we’d probably see less evil.

          • PC says:

            And Harris’ problem is that he lumps all religions together as if they are all the same which they clearly are not. He refuses to see, for example, the myriad of good work done by Christian groups and charities throughout the world. I would argue without Christianity, we’d see more evil and its consequences.

  5. Agent X says:

    Great post! The video is fantastic, but I think there are multiple facets that the pop culture it feeds are not ready to handle well.

    Let me quote you here:

    Finally, it is important to evaluate why a certain practice or command is viewed as outrageous or immoral. The Dutch guys talk about how the Bible verses they quote are opposed to “Western values”. But where do these values come from[?]

    We need to remember that these “average joes & janes” as we might call them, did not recognize the Scriptures read to them. Shock is appropriate – especially if you are not familiar. But judgment is not – especially when you are not familiar.

    The video does a fantastic job of cutting the Quran slack in the court of public opinion, and that is no bad thing in and of itself. It also demonstrates a “log in the eye” of at least some very outspoken critics. As far as those things are concerned, it forms a fantastic segue to deeper discussion, but when it runs rampant through the pop culture as one more misguided judgment bandwagon where the unenlightened are invited to sit in judgment, then it is allowed merely do add to so much damage already being done…. I fear.

    Still, on a thoughtful blog like yours, I think that damage is mitigated. I really appreciate you for taking it on.

    Blessings from USA

  6. Allallt says:

    Why is it that certain denominations of Christianity preach things that today we call “Western values”? Because I think it’s hard to argue that there are strictly Biblical reasons. You can say it (and you do) but I don’t think you can argue for it.

    I think it is the Enlightenment–the values of open enquiry, challenge, and rational thought–that leads to moral development. Humans have a good track record of improvement, regardless of religious affiliation (unfortunately, with the exception of the Middle East now, which has dropped from being the intellectual capital of the world). Asia, with Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and host of other religions has made made progress. It is this human progress that underpins humanism, which I think is where moral development comes from.

    Whereas, The Congo (Republic and Democratic Republic), Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Central African republic, all highly Christian countries–as you word it–aren’t paradises.

    There are retrograde forces that make human progress a little bumpy. Fundamentalist religion, I think, is one of them. The nature of Islam over the last few centuries in the Middle East has been an example. (Ironically, despite Daesh, it’s actually improving. The Middle East is largely becoming less absolutist and violent in its interpretation of Islam.) The problem with fundamentalist religion is that it is a non-rational meme, which means its content protects itself from external criticism. Thus, change and progress is seen as heresy or apostasy and is shunned.

    • Hello Allallt!

      Again, democratic values weren’t invented during the enlightenment the values of freedom of religion, thought and speech were present in the early church as well as in restorationist churches like the Waldensians and Anabaptists. These were also pacifist, which is a value that sadly has not been so common among elightenment philosophers and so Western nations have continued to be quite violent.

      Obviously, Christians who rape women and kill children in DR Congo aren’t very good at following Jesus, one has then have to prove that Jesus was arguing for rape and murder, which of course is impossible since there is no indication of that. It’s not possible to say that Stalin or Kim Il Sung were bad atheists however, because atheism demands no morals in the first place.

      See, when you say that the values of the enlightenment are good, that’s either your subjective opinion or an objective truth that others should agree with. If the former is true, then you can’t really say that Daesh or Hitler do anything wrong. If the latter is true, which I definitely think it is because I agree with you on that moral stance, that’s a problem for atheism. Why would there be objective morals if God does not exist?


      • Allallt says:

        Democracy – invented by Roman and Greek philosophers, who shared the values of the enlightenment.
        Kim Il Sung – literally claims to be a God (that’s not atheism).
        Morality – any meaningful definition of morality that doesn’t just assume a God can find truth through discussion.

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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