Scottish Sceptic, David Hume, on the Subject of Mohammed, and Islam

A little something to go with that other bon mot from David Hume to which Hugh Fitzgerald has already drawn attention.


“But would we know, whether the pretended prophet (that is, Mohammed – CM) had really attained a just sentiment of morals?

“Let us attend to his narration; and we shall soon find, that he bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society.

“No steady rule of right seems there to be attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far only as it is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers (that is, the Muslims – CM).”  – David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste: Paragraph 4” (1757).



4 Responses

  1. You should try reading the Old Testament (unedited version) and you will find just the same.

  2. Hume wasn’t the only straight thinker back then; add in Thomas Jefferson, John Q. Adams, Churchill and many others. Somehow, the intelligentsia lost their grip on reality in the interim. Maybe minds are like civilizations, they can rise and fall.

  3. I observe that Jim Lincoln, above, has reflexively trotted out a feeble attempt at whataboutery.

    Unfortunately for him I am quite familiar with the TaNaKh, or “Old Testament”, and I know that it is in content, teaching and overall atmosphere quite different from the Quran (and the other canonical texts of Islam).

    Just a few important points of difference.

    The allah of Islam is the “best of deceivers” whereas the YHWH of Israel is a maker and keeper of covenants.

    allah is merciless (the rote reiteration of “the merciful and the compassionate” is, in light of everything the texts actually say, a euphemistic warding-off gesture) impersonal and utterly capricious; whereas YHWH is personal, calling people – and even the stars – by their names, and trustworthy.

    The defining characteristic of allah is raw Will unfettered; the 19th century scholar, Palgrave, summed up Islam’s concept of the deity as “a pantheism of Force”. The defining characteristic of YHWH is Word and Covenant.

    YHWH can be engaged with ‘face to face’, argued with, questioned, wrestled with (Jacob wrestling with the ‘angel’ of the presence of God), bargained with; there is nothing like this in the Islamic texts. YHWH is friend and father; allah is an impersonal despot and slavemaster.

    I will add that there is nothing in the texts of Islam that in any way resembles the passage known as the Ten Commandments, notably, the second table. Theft, murder, rape, false witness are all just fine in Islam, under a range of circumstances, if the victims are not Muslim; whereas the Ten Commandments provides no ‘let out’ clauses, no loopholes, no “buts”, no special circumstance under which covetousness or false witness or murder or theft or sex with someone else’s wife are permissible or laudable. When Mohammed has a man murdered and rapes his wife allah doesn’t utter a peep; when King David has a (non-Hebrew; Hittite) man killed and takes his wife, YHWH is *not* fine with it; yes, He forgives, but first, it is made abundantly clear that David has *sinned*, grievously, and David must repent. God did not command what David did and God did not approve of it.
    In Islam, Mohammed’s actions and words – all of them – establish what is permitted or not permitted; there is no external code or standard against which Mohammed is measured.
    In the Hebrew scriptures the prophets and kings – notably Moses and David – *are* judged from ‘outside’; it is *not* the case that whatever they do is good and right. They are great, but much they do is *not* held up as worthy of imitation for all time by everyone.

    The god described in the Islamic texts and the God worshipped by the ancient Hebrews are radically different in character – indeed antithetical to one another – and belief in those two different gods has produced, in time and space and history, very different kinds of people and very different societies. No intelligent person who knows anything at all about history could possibly claim that there was and is no difference between practising Jews and practising Muslims (shall we just casually mention the fact that by the time of Mohammed the Jews had *dropped* the punishment of stoning, a punishment that that well-brought-up Jew, Yeshua of Nazareth, had already nullified for his followers so effectively that no Christian community has ever taught or practised it?) One might also contrast the punishment for theft in the Torah – “return what you stole, plus a bit on top” – with the punishment for theft in Islam (cut off the hand, permanently crippling the thief such that even if he repented and wanted to pursue an honest occupation he would be unable). Or the fact that there is in the entire TanaKh no text even remotely similar to the text in Quran 4: 34 that commands a man to beat his wife if he fears ‘rebellion’; nor any historic story of a Hebrew patriarch or prophet beating his wife. Then there’s the awkward fact that that devout and fully-instructed first-century Jew Yeshua of Nazareth and the Jew Shaul/ Paul – both of whom were steeped in the Hebrew texts that Jim Lincoln wants us to see as no different from Islamic texts – impressed monogamy upon Judaism’s daughter faith, Christianity, so strongly that polygyny has never been an imaginable option for mainstream Christians Eastern or Western, and that Jews themselves despite their history containing records of polygynous kings and patriarchs, eventually anathematised polgyny; whereas, by contrast, Islam actively promotes, commands and approves of polygyny and concubinage and the taking of sex slaves as ‘possessions of the right hand”. These are not trivial differences and they produce huge knock-on consequences at the level of culture and politics.

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