There are many people who defend the morality of everything in the Bible and Quran, arguing that the ideas expressed in these books perfectly match up with their own modern liberal views.
But one of the simple ways to show how morally repugnant these verses are is to swap out the words pertaining to a behavior or group of people that the verse is condemning, with words that identify behaviors or groups of people who believe in that holy book. For example, replace “unbelievers” with “Muslims” (However, this cannot work with all verses, since many of them are fundamentally intertwined with religious concepts like God and rewards or punishments in the afterlife, and thus have no secular equivalent from which to make a secular version of the verse).
In other words, the test is to see how the verse sounds, morally speaking, when the subjects of the verse are swapped for valid equivalents in other behavior and beliefs.
Ali A. Rizvi demonstrated this in a recent article where he referenced the Quranic verses 8:55-56, shown below:
Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe – The ones with whom you made a treaty but then they break their pledge every time, and they do not fear Allah.
He simply swapped a few key terms in order to create a “secular version” of the verse and make it speak about Muslims in the same way that the Quran is speaking about non-Muslims:
The worst of beasts, in our view, are the followers of Allah—those who believe in Islam. They’re the ones you make treaties with, but they break those treaties every time because they have no fear of the law.
As you might expect, the people who apply a double standard to religious and secular statements and morality, and who defend religion no matter what it says, still try to excuse the religious verse without applying the same excuses to a secular one.
But like any argument that anyone have ever put forward, it will not convince everyone. In fact, it may not convince the vast majority of people at first. But I think this exercise in reversing the targets of condemnation in religious verses has value in that it can help reach the people who are unsure about these issues and need some clear examples to help them understand our perspective which is critical of the moral statements in religious texts.
So below are a series of statements directly based upon ones in the Bible and Quran. Do they sound morally acceptable to you? Would you criticize them if they were said by a secular person, but not by a religious person or religious book?
The fool says in his heart “God exists.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
– from Psalm 14:1
All who make crucifixes are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.
– from Isaiah 44:9
The woman or man who chooses to remain abstinent until marriage – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them, if you should believe in reason. And let a group of atheists witness their punishment.
– from Quran 24:2
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the State, and contrary to the law has worshiped the God of Abraham, bowing down to him, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in your country, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death.
– from Deuteronomy 17:2-5
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
– from Matthew 12:30-32 (this one actually needed no changes. It can be said by anyone, religious or not)
If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who are atheists – to believe in a god, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
– from Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:1-2 (It’s “just hyperbole” then that makes it OK, right? So what’s the problem?)
The wrath of atheists is being revealed against all the godliness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
– from Romans 1:18
Therefore the sinful desires of their hearts gave them over to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another… They gave themselves over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men.
– from Romans 1:24-27 (This one required little change. Just imagine if someone said something similar to this but you didn’t know it was based on this verse. Actually, that has happened – multiple times
Be not unequally yoked together with Christians: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?
– from 2 Corinthians 6:14
If anyone comes to you and doesn’t bring atheistic views, don’t take him into your home or even greet him. Whoever greets him shares the evil things he’s doing.
– from 2 John 1:9-11
Remember when we said to our people: “Why do you indulge in obscenities when you know it is evil? You lust after men in place of women. You are indeed an ignorant people.”
– from Quran 27:54-55
Persecution of atheists is worse than slaughter of Muslims.
– from Quran 2:191
And fight them until persecution is no more, and there is no more religion. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers. The Muslims – they are the wrongdoers. And whoever judges by religious belief instead of reason alone – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
– from Quran 2:193, Quran 2:254, and Quran 5:45 (This modified verse is a combination of the key related parts of several verses from the Quran)
Women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them.
– from Quran 2:228 (this part of verse 2:228 needs no changes to be able to appear secular)
As to those who reject atheism, they will be punished with terrible agony in this world, nor will they have anyone to help.
– from Quran 3:56
You who disbelieve in religion! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse.
– from Quran 3:118
Men are in charge of women by right of what nature has given one over the other. So good women are devoutly obedient, but those wives from whom you fear arrogance – first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally, strike them. But if they obey you once more, seek no means against them.
– from Quran 4:34
Those who disbelieve in religion fight in the way of reason; and those who do not, only fight for the powers of evil; so you should fight the allies of evil.
– from Quran 4:76
The punishment of those who wage war against the United States and Americans and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world.
– from Quran 5:33 (Wouldn’t this sound like an overly harsh, pro-war, anti-peace statement if said in a non-religious context?)
Whoever kills a person, unless in response to the killing of another person or for spreading corruption, it is as if he had slain all of mankind. Those who believe in God and avert others from atheism deserve punishment for what corruption they are causing. Or should we treat those who disbelieve and do righteous deeds like corrupters in the land? Or should we treat those who do not fear some imagined god like we treat the wicked?
– from Quran 5:35, Quran 16:88, Quran 38:28 (This modified verse is a combination of the key related parts of several verses from the Quran. Note how the language allows a person to murder those with whom you disagree ideologically, and implies a dichotomy where people who agree with you on religion are clearly good while all others are wicked)
Atheists, do not hold Jews and Muslims as your allies. They are allies of one another; and anyone who makes them his friends is surely one of them; and they are the unjust.
– from Quran 5:51
Fight those who believe in God and Judgment Day and who hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by their God and Muhammad and who follow Islam, until they pay a special tax with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.
– from Quran 9:29 (Applied in the same contexts, would you ever consider this a morally acceptable statement?)
These two (believers and unbelievers) are disputants, who contend about God. But they who believe deserve to be fitted out with garments of flames. They deserve to have boiling water poured down over their heads which will dissolve everything within their bellies, and their skins. There should be iron maces for them. As often as they try to escape from its anguish they would be put back into the fire, and taste the torment of burning.
– from Quran 22:19-22
Do you think that most Muslims hear or understand? They are nothing but as cattle; nay, they are straying farther off from the path.
– from Quran 25:44
No one denies secular conclusions except those who are unjust.
– from Quran 29:49
Those who guard their chastity, except with their wives and their slaves and captives, are not to be blamed for immorality.
– from Quran 70:28-31
Verily, those who believe in the religion of Islam, the Quran, and the prophet Muhammad are the worst of creatures.
– from Quran 98:4-6