The government is loathe to enter into doctrinal disputes and is mostly concerned with the church following its own rules than trying to discern orthodoxy from heresy. But now we find ourselves in the strange circumstance in which our own President is trying to enter into a dispute within Islam and decide which version of Islam is right and which is wrong. Predictably, of course, the version practiced by ISIS or ISIL is seen as inauthentic and foreign, an intruder to the normally peaceful and tolerant Islam known more in moderate nations of the Middle East, in Europe, and on the streets of America. I am not sure that the President is correct and I am deeply suspect of the idea that the people who do not take their holy book literally or seriously are better adherents than those who read the language symbolically. But that is not why I write.
I am writing to note how uneasy I am over the whole idea that a government agency or elected leader or appointed judiciary would presume to decide what is authentic to the faith in question and what is not. In my own mind, this is dangerous ground. If the President and his representatives can interpret the Qur'an and decide what it says and what it means, we risk them doing exactly the same thing for the Bible and Christianity. Will the next step be the government interceding to decide whether Christianity prescribes gay marriage or not? Will the government get to decide if the pro-life position proceeds from the Scriptures and Christian faith or whether it is an aberrant understanding of the Word of God?
While I understand what the President is trying to do, I believe it is the wrong tack to take. It is not helpful in the long haul for outsiders to decide which version of Islam or Christianity is authentic and which is not. In the end, we wait for those within the Islamic community throughout the world to rise up and challenge the violent face of intolerance and hate that is promulgated by ISIS and its minions. All the pious expressions of the Presidential bully pulpit will not silence the voice of Islamicism. This is an internal struggle for the life and soul of this religion. The same is true for the conflict between liberal Christianity and orthodoxy. The government enjoys using religions for its own purposes, some of them even salutary, but it has no insight into the faith nor has it any standing to determine what is true and faithful and what is not. So I speak a voice of caution for those who would enter this debate without standing. This is not the best way to fight what most all the world agrees is a fearful and fearsome enemy.
That said, I am sympathetic more toward the point of view that the words of a church's sacred text should normally be presumed to speak honestly and truthfully. So when Christians read the Scriptures, we read with the idea that the literal reading is the first choice of interpretation unless the text itself directs us elsewhere. So when we read the Qur'an, I am more sympathetic to the idea that the literal reading is also the first choice of interpretation unless the text directs us elsewhere. Since I am not Islam, I await those who disagree with this to inform and challenge a group that does take its sacred text exactly as it is written. Either this is a problem with the text or with the people reading the text; unless the President is an imam, he has only a guess where the problem lies, just like me.