You and I don't like sharia, while hundreds of millions love it. Chillingly, it's still making inroads in American society.
Who's right? Are we stuck in relativism? Worse, is the side with the strongest military right?
How do we break the deadlock? Any objective – timeless and transcultural – moral truths out there?
It's time to go deeper and figure out what's happening in us that makes us recoil at it.
ISIS and many Islamic nations believe, because original Islam teaches, the following:
Mosque and state are not separate. Apostasy, or leaving Islam, is outlawed up to the penalty of death. Speaking against Islam is outlawed up to the penalty of death. Jihad or qital (military war only) to force conversions or submit to a tax is allowed. Having sex with female prisoners of war is allowed. Drinkers and gamblers may be flogged. Adulterers and fornicators may be flogged (and adulterers may be stoned to death). Bearing false witness about sexual sin (a "crime" in Islam) can incur flogging. Homosexuals may be flogged or executed. A woman inherits half of what a man does. Domestic violence is allowed. A woman's testimony counts as half of a man's testimony. A man may divorce his wife by pronouncing three times "you are divorced" outside a court of law, and the divorce is legal and final.
It should be pointed out that sharia has laws that look like those of any other system (e.g., don't murder, steal, or traffic drugs).
And it is true that in seventeenth-century American society, the punishments were harsh, but we have worked hard to move away from the past.
America has improved on that list and the whole tone of sharia, like head coverings for women.
Specifically, our Constitution by itself eliminates most of those sharia laws. The First Amendment offers freedom of religion, without government intrusion, and free speech. The Eighth Amendmentprohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Our state laws also eliminate them. Domestic violence, for example, is illegal. A woman can inherit as much as a woman can, if the last will and testament says so. Her testimony counts equally to a man's. Divorce, though lax in some states, has to be done through a court.
Our military does not allow an army to attack people to "strongly encourage" conversion or impose a second-class citizen tax if the conquered foes don't convert.
Once again, I would still like to go a little deeper than these written laws to the uncodified moral law, or perhaps just to universal values.
The Declaration of Independence proclaims:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Let's put it in a simple (but not simplistic) formula, the arrow meaning "leads to" or "produces":
Self-evident means America didn't invent those universal and timeless values; she only discovered them.
Happiness at first glance appears completely subjective, but it is actually confined within limits, because it's different from pleasure.
Aristotle rightly teaches that happiness is achieved by living life in balance and in excellence. Extreme behavior like licentiousness on the one side and apathy on the other is a vice; temperance is in the middle or the Golden Mean between the two vices is a virtue. One lives in excellence when one has temperance (is not a party animal), and excellence leads to happiness.
That's for the individual.
Socially, life and liberty lead to happiness. You get to live in freedom, and now you can create your own version of happiness. But it must be done within individual limits – and individuals make up a nation.
On the Islamic side, religious law that suppresses liberty does not permit a life to develop, and thus, happiness is denied. This religious, legal system denies the freedom of conscience and movement and viewpoints, for example, and is oppressive.
Here is a variation on the formula, the arrows again meaning "leads to" or "produces."
To me, Islamic law and society look like this:
Extreme religious laws → Control → Oppression → Misery
The more restrictive and extreme Islamic laws are, the more controlling and oppressive they are, which leads to personal and social unhappiness.
It is difficult for Islamic clerics and legal scholars to see that their laws are extreme and therefore oppressive because they believe that the laws came down from Allah himself; if only humanity would follow them, it would be submissive to him and eventually be happy (if happiness is even a goal for them, so let's instead say "social harmony"). But they don't have a broad enough perspective.
By comparison, it is believed that the Law of Moses came down from God with its harsh punishments and severe restrictions, but the New Testament wrestles with religious law. The wisdom of the New Testament, which is also revealed by God (as Christians believe), teaches a new path that goes higher than the Law of Moses (go here, here, and here for the theology).
Suffice it to say, the New Covenant moves away from excessive religious law and toward freedom.
Nearly all of the eighteenth-century Founders were Protestants, so they were steeped, willingly or not, in the freedom of New Testament theology. They believed, for example, that people should have the freedom to worship one God, twenty gods, or no god. Let persuasion, not threats or coercion, bring them over to your point of view
It's hard to know how far we can get away from sharia without lurching over to anarchy, but if I can't figure it out precisely, I go right of center. And for sure I don't want a state-imposed mixture of religious and civil law.
The point: Liberty and the highest quality of life leading to happiness do not entail lawlessness or anarchy. We don't need the extremes to enjoy social harmony.
Where would you put the X?
Islam imposes extremely religious and oppressive laws that degrade society and hinder improvement in society and make people miserable, whether they realize it or not or are qualified to say so or not.
By contrast, it's those universal values embedded in us that make us recoil instinctively at sharia.
And I believe that those values are embedded deeply in all humans, even Muslims, but they just don't have the experience with liberty. If they did experience it, their quality of life and the happiness that naturally ensues would improve.
In any case, we have moved on from state-imposed, old, harsh religious laws mixed with civil law.
Life, liberty, and happiness are intrinsically better than sharia.