Hard News by Russell Brown

Everybody must get stoned

Having now seen the part of the 60 Minutes interview that got Labour's Muslim MP Ashraf Choudhary into trouble this week, I have to sympathise with him. He was not asked whether homosexuals and adulterers should be stoned to death; he was invited to declare that the Koran was incorrect in saying so. That was how the question was asked. For a Muslim leader to say the Koran is incorrect is, I gather, beyond serious.

I, of course, am free to tell you that the Koran is incorrect - and even, in places, mad, bad and positively dangerous. I might also say the same about another text that prominent people hold to be the uncorrupted word of God - The Bible.

The Bible prescribes death - by stoning or otherwise - for blasphemy, straying near the Tabernacle, failing to observe the Sabbath, disobeying or cursing at parents, loss of virginity, disobeying church leaders and - hey! Waddaya know! - homosexuality and adultery.

Of course, even those in Western society who hold that the Bible is the infallible truth do not actually call for the enforcement of those laws, because they know, deep down, that what the Bible recommends in that respect is a grotesque affront to any human value. It's just that in the Muslim world, they're a little more consistent about cleaving to the brutal, irrelevant doctrines they purport to uphold. And, in a handful of countries, the dictates of those doctrines are - horrifyingly - carried out.

Eventually, Choudhary supplanted his original, unfortunate answer - yes, but not in New Zealand, of course - with a statement reiterating that the Koran was not incorrect, but that he personally abhorred the practice of stoning.

Choudhary seems to lack the wit for political life, but I do not for a moment believe he thinks homosexuals should be stoned to death - he voted for the Civil Union Bill, for goodness sake - and we would do well to look at what our own Good Book recommends.

You may care to note that the page I linked to above was posted by a Hindu organisation, seeking to highlight the unacceptable brutality of the doctrine of Christians.

(On the other hand, this page, from an American Baptist church, lists a bunch of other Biblical occasions for putting-to-death, including the killing of women who are raped but fail to cry out. It uses the examples to demonstrate that God is not at all averse to some killing (and thus supports the death penalty), but explains that "We live in America. This is not our law.")

The lesson would seem to be that good old humanism - so readily vilified by religious leaders of various stripes - actually provides a better moral and practical template for the conduct of human lives than either of these books do.

Anyway, that'll do for today. I'm already in the cart for missing a gig this morning, I have a radio show today and my Unlimited column is two days late and missing in action. If anyone from Unlimited happens to be reading, the Business Columnist of the Year is getting there. I just had to get down and write the first words of my next book yesterday. The words turned up, and if I had shown them the door, they might not have come back.

PS: You can now buy Great New Zealand Argument: Ideas about ourselves from our online store at Amplifier, wherever you live. I'm still keen to support those retailers who have stocked the book - and you'll save postage and packing by buying from them - but it seems that some people are having trouble getting it, either because it has sold out or hasn't been provided at some outlets of the big chains. So go ahead. You can buy some CDs while you're at it if you like. (By this time next week, I'll be able to offer an online deal on all three Public Address author books: GNZA, David Slack's Civil War and Other Optimistic Predictions and Graham Reid's Postcards from Elsewhere.)