Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Historical Truth is Painful for Fundamentalist Believers

In “Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code” Spengler, on the Asia Times site, does one of his tour de force essays, bringing together important commentary on a particular subject. This time, he explores the evolution of the Koran as a written document:

The Holy BookNo one is going to produce proof that Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave three days after the Crucifixion, of course. Humankind will choose to believe or not that God revealed Himself in this fashion. But Islam stands at risk of a Da Vinci Code effect, for in Islam, God’s self-revelation took the form not of the Exodus, nor the revelation at Mount Sinai, nor the Resurrection, but rather a book, namely the Koran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1982) observes, “The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ.” The Koran alone is the revelatory event in Islam.

What if scholars can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Koran was not dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad during the 7th century, but rather was redacted by later writers drawing on a variety of extant Christian and Jewish sources? That would be the precise equivalent of proving that the Jesus Christ of the Gospels really was a composite of several individuals, some of whom lived a century or two apart.

It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa’na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

Islam is a fundamentalist, literal religion, much like some of the variants in Christianity which claim inerrancy for their scripture. Eventually this Koranic scholarship will do to Islam what the “higher criticism” of the Tubingen School in Germany (following Hegel’s ideas) did for the study of Christian scripture: first there will be anger and turmoil, and then after the crucible of attention has died out, Koranic scholars will retrieve what remains and make a sounder theology than mere fundamentalist credulism could ever do:
- - - - - - - - -
Scholars try to understand whether the author is an eyewitness, or whether he is basing his work on primary or even secondary sources. They also try to understand the bias of the writer, which will give us hints to why he focuses on one subject but omits another. Higher criticism is divided up into sub-categories, including primarily source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism.

An example of higher (source) criticism at work would be the study of the Synoptic problem. Higher critics noticed that the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were very similar, indeed, at times identical. The dominant theory to account for the duplication is called the two-source hypothesis. This suggests that Mark was the first gospel to be written, and that it was probably based on a combination of early oral and written material. Matthew and Luke were written at a later time, and relied primarily on two different sources: Mark and a written collection of Jesus’ sayings, which has been given the name Q by scholars . This latter document has now been lost, but at least some of its material can be deduced indirectly, namely through the material that is common in Mathew and Luke but absent in Mark. In addition to Mark and Q, the writers of Mathew and Luke made some use of additional sources, which would account for the material that is unique to each of them.

And that doesn’t even begin to get into the quarrels over the book of John. Johannine scholarship has always been in turmoil, as this wiki entry shows.

Having studied the turmoil created by German biblical/critical scholarship — and if someone can remember the German term for this long war, I’d be grateful — I can more or less plot the drama such historical revelations regarding the Koran will follow. Only it will be bloodier, because the rigidity of Islam’s scripture is much more ingrained than it ever was in Christianity. For example, Saint Augustine, a doctor of the early church, had his questions. On the other hand, Martin Luther (ironically an Augustinian priest) insisted on the inerrancy of Christian Scripture.

Read the whole thing. As Spengler says,

Islam watchers blogged all weekend about news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression. Andrew Higgins’ Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, reads like a conflation of the Da Vinci Code with Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.


This conflation alone is enough to start a Holy War.

Hat tip: Gold Book


Frank said...

I dunno if it'll start a Holy war, but it's certainly enough to revive the new car industry in Europe.

1389 said...


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Thanks very much!


X said...

One difference that immediately springs to mind is the attitude toward the scriptures themselves. The Jewish and Christian faiths generally insist that their scriptures are "inspired" by God, whereas islam insists that they were written by god. It makes a lot of difference.

I believe, if it could be proven beyond all doubt that Jesus was an amalgam of several historical characters, that Christianity would persist in a much adapted form, possibly as a much more philosophical faith. Look at its history and it becomes obvious that Christianity is a highly adaptive faith. (Of course I don't believe such an outcome is likely, personally. The detail of contemporary judean life within the gospels and the NT is too rich and too accurate to be written after the fact.)

Would Islam survive without uncle Mo?

PRCalDude said...

Most strains of Christianity believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, even the Roman Catholic church, except that it affirms both the inerrancy of Scripture and church tradition.

Without the inerrancy of Scripture, you run into the logical problem of making errant man the ultimate judge of the truth/falsehood of Scripture. Something crooked can't be the judge of straightness, whether it's an academic community or an individual.

In the case of the Qur'an, it is obviously false because of the logical contradictions found in it. In the case of teh Bible, I think one can demonstrate that it logically hangs together.

Profitsbeard said...

Plus, the Hadith argument against the Koran:


Dymphna said...


This is more or less what I said to a reader who sent an email about the Bible:

The German scholars had a profound effect on Catholic theology, even though it was in sharp disagreement in many places.
Hans Kung, the German Catholic theologian, was silenced for his views, though he was permitted to continue teaching. He and Benedict have had a recent rapproachment -- I think they studied together or taught together at one time.

The current Pope studied in the midst of that ferment in Bavaria, so he is quite conversant with it. If you look at the current cathechism, it is quite tolerant of all the fuss and furor and carefully grants to scriptural "criticism" its place.

For example, I learned in my (Catholic) theology/New Testament studies that Paul's letters were written first (circa 55 AD), followed by Mark (who was
writing to the Romans), then Matthew, writing to the Jewish community, and then Luke, who wrote Acts as the second part of his gospel.

John came much later. The story says from the island of Patmos, but that's in dispute, too.

The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD largely made Christianity's future path Hellenic, since the original apostles scattered after that. However, preceding that catastrophe, Paul and the Jerusalem Church had some tensions they never resolved. If you want to see how they compare, read Galatians 2 and compare it
to Luke's Acts of the Apostles, ch 15. These two describe the same incident, but from opposite points of view. Paul claims he *went* to Jerusalem; Luke more or less says he was *ordered* there.

Hard to keep someone like Paul in line.

And there was much disagreement on whether one had to enter Christ's
"church" via Judaism. Many believers were thus circumcised, much to Paul's annoyance.

And, unfortunately, one of the things the Tubingen School did was to question the Resurrection as a "post-Calvary" story of the early Church...that's where
Roman Catholicism parted company. It's also where those who adhered to this became more and more irrelevant to Christian doctrine...

The point I wanted to emphasize in the post was that the Muslims have a hard road ahead of them, using the experience of Christians with the claim of ahistorical inerrancy. The NT wasn't finally
codified until Christ had been dead for centuries. Same for Islam, but they deny it.

German has two words for "history" and it's been too many years since I had to memorize them to differentiate between history as fact and history as received
wisdom. As one of my theology professors said "the Bible doesn't teach you how the heavens go, it teaches you how to go to Heaven." In other words, it's not
an historical narrative in our Western sense of the word. Such narratives didn't appear until the 4th century.

What is interesting about the ruckus raised by the Tubingen School is that it was all a part of the changing view of physics. It's a truism that where physics goes, so goes theology and psychology. As far as I can see, it remains true. That's why so many physicists are deeply spiritual.

It's also why any Scripture is an organic thing...our understanding of it is always shaded by our cosmology. Just ask Teilhard de Chardin.

ColtsFan said...

Former liberal German scholar Eta Linnemann noted that theological liberalism reflected more of a commitment to unbelief, instead of a commitment to truth.

I think Eta Linnemann was right.

Hodge said...

Well, German Higher Criticism made the same mistake that seems to be repeated over and over again: Lack of separation between evidence and worldview.
I don't believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch. I believe in the two-source theory for the Gospels. I believe a bit of the Documentary Hypothesis, I don't believe every word is literal, etc. etc. AND I am an inerrantist.

If Christianity is without an inerrant Scripture, then it's either false or there is no way to know whether it's true. It's about as worth believing in as Krishna or my chair.
I'd like to see the quote from Augustine directly. The statement that inerrancy is ahistorical is ahistorical itself. Here is what Augustine actually believed:

"The most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books....If you [even] once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement, there will not be left a single sentence of those books, which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away as a statement, in which intentionally, the author declared what was not true." Epistula, p. 28.

The problem of the Koran is night and day to the Bible. The Koran supposedly uses God's language having been written by him. The Bible uses the languages (and therefore imagery, concepts, phenomenological references, etc.)of particular men in a particular culture in order to communicate with man.
I believe the Bible is organic as well, but not as an excuse to contradict it. The Bible develops in the culture in which it invades. What you have seem to indicate here is that the culture invades the Bible until Christianity is nothing more than Modernity. What, may I ask, was Christian part ever for then?

Henrik R Clausen said...

"Would Islam survive without uncle Mo?"

No, absolutely it would not. Everything in Islam is taken on his authority, including the idea of the Quran being 'holy' and himself being a good example.

Early Muslims even used to worshop Mo.

This is the real reason the Motoons were so dangerous. They undermined his authority and were a serious threat to Islam itself. Something the editors at Jyllands-Posten probably didn't think of, it was just a lucky shot.

Destroying the authority of Mo leads to the destruction of Islam.

X said...

More cartoons, then!

On the subject of John, one of the reasons for the recent rise of christian apocalyptic thought stems from the refusal to accept an earlier writing date for the books of John and Revelation. Regardless of whether you call it prophecy or acute geopolitical awareness on the part of John and Jesus, the placement of John and Revelation in a timeframe of around Ad 50 to 60 would bring nearly all of the prophecies within the books (the beast, the fall of the temple and so on) into a contemporary setting, removing the need to try and stretch them out to some distant future point. The entire New Testament canon becomes much more logical when its prophetic observations can be applied to the period immediately surrounding the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. The "abomination that causes desolation" becomes either the roman desecration or the earlier desecration of the inner sanctum by John Gischal, who convinced large numbers of jews to remain in Jerusalem with a promise that God would strike the romans down from heaven. The scriptures clearly imply that the Roman seige of Jerusalem was retribution on the city for killing Jesus (also, incidentally, removing the general blood libel against all jews in the process - it was that generation and their children that suffered according to this interpretation of scripture, exactly as the priests declared).

Placement of the books in AD 90 also causes the problem of the age of the author. John is clearly the disciple John, who would have been about the same age as Jesus. To have him write revelation in AD 90 would require him to be near 120 years old. Placing the book that late forces an illogical interpretation of scripture and necessitates all sorts silly ideas to try and compensate for it. The main reason for the late authorship argument is that the book is prophetic and did indeed predict the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecution of Christians by Nero and a few other geopolitical events in that period. It makes more sense to argue that John was very observant of political trends than to try and claim he wrote the books at the end of his life.

Logical, you see. Illogic produced the necessity to try and create a prophetic canon at an indeterminate point in the future and it allows Christians to get away with lamenting the state of the world without doing anything to improve it, as we are commanded to do on several occasions. It makes us lazy and hypocritical to boot.

X said...

This should have had an extra sentence on it:

The main reason for the late authorship argument is that the book is prophetic and did indeed predict the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecution of Christians by Nero and a few other geopolitical events in that period. A "prophetic" book that was actually successful is not something that the liberal theologians of the late 19th century particularly wanted to contemplate. Prior to that point the argument over the authorship had been muted, but by placing Revelation at a late date it was possible to discredit John as a madman predicting a far distant future that never came to pass.

Holger said...

It'd be wonderful if that micro film was posted online so everyone can read it and begin doing research.

heroyalwhyness said...

These links were posted in a comment over at Jihadwatch.org yesterday. It is a BBC production about the Mo Cartoons.

BBC Why Democracy - Bloody Cartoons

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Dymphna said...

Thanks, everyone, for a lively discussion. Somehow I thought this post would go unremarked...

1. Archonix-- Theologians and just regular old believers have always distinguised between the historical Jesus and the Risen Christ...if for no other reason than that no one recognized him after the Resurrection.

As for the 'authorship' of John, it's rather like some of the Epistles that are attributed to Peter, etc. --i.e., as a signal of honor rather than being Peter's actual, historical penning of any missives to the faithful. He was a fisherman: do we even know he was literate?

What I learned is that John was written by a group of his disciples after the fact. During his life (and he is thought to be quite a bit younger than the rest) he had a following and it was this first generation of John's disciples on Patmos that may have authored his Gospel. As such, it would not be considered inauthentic to assign it to him since it was a compilation of his thought and the influence Christ had on him...and secondarily on those who came to live with or learn from John.

At any rate, that's why his work doesn't "fit" with the Synoptic Gospels; it's both much more mystical and Hellenic -- even "cosmic"e.g., "In the beginning was the Word..."

Quite a leap from the infancy narratives, no?

As for the prophecy in Revelations, it has long been presumed that it followed in the tradition of the prophecies in the Old Testament: written in apocalyptic language with the symbolism specifically chosen for that style. That one has always made the most sense to me, especially when you compare it to II Isaiah, for example, or Hosea. The latter was written metaphorically to cast the faithless Jewish people to a whore and was a call for them to return to the fidelity of their vows.

Both books of our Scripture are group efforts. In the Pentateuch, the final codification took many, many generations to set down. The northern Kingdom and the Southern one --the followers of Elohim and those of Yaweh -- had to have their traditions melded. That is why, for example, there are *two* stories of Creation in Genesis. In fact, that repetition recurs throughout those books, trying to keep everyone happy: first one version, then another. I can't remember all the strands anymore; it's been too long. But there is the J(Jehovah or Yahweh), the P,
(Priestly document)...not to mention Deuteronomy...

For an interesting discussion see
The Religion of the Patriarchs

The Old Testament is not only thousands of years old, it took thousands of years to hammer out its final codification. And you will notice that as the OT moves on thru the history of the Jews, Yahweh's direct voice disappears...they are left to figure it out for themselves.

The NT,otoh, was only several hundred years in the making.

Bryan's conclusion is the paradox of faith: I believe in the two-source theory for the Gospels. I believe a bit of the Documentary Hypothesis, I don't believe every word is literal, etc. etc. AND I am an inerrantist.

bernie said...

When I studied in Israel I learned how to discern the 4 different authors of the Torah simply by the way they used the word God and Lord. But this obvious refutation of Moses' authorship has not led to any diminution in the belief of the the inerrancy in those 5 books among the faithful.

Equally, it is well-known among those who study Christianity in any comprehensive way, that there is absolutely no conterminous documentary evidence of his existence; even in fact, Christian theologists who have seen the proof of the Josephus alterations still have no problem in believing in Christ.

Sadly, even if we had a time-machine video-tape of the illiterate Mohammed sitting around with a bunch of hired Jewish scribes telling them to put something together, the Islamic faithful would ignore their lying eyes and continue to believe.

It happened in our lifetime, we only need to recall the trial of OJ Simpson to know that people will believe what they want to believe and will clutch at the smallest bit of evidence to maintain their belief (if the glove don't fit - you gotta acquit!) and completely ignore the mountain staring right in front of them.

PRCalDude said...


I think the Bible supports most of the conclusions in the link above. I think the authors are misunderstanding the nature of progressive revelation in the Bible, which leads to some rather strange conclusions about the nature of Hebrew religion. The authors believe that because the name of God changes, the actual god is different, but this is not the case. The different names of God progressively reveal his attributes. RC Sproul has a good video series on the names of God and their doctrinal implications, btw.

Also, the exclusivity and holiness of God didn't change or increase with the addition of the demands of the Mosaic covenant. God flooded the earth for the idolatry and wickedness of the people at the time of Noah. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for the same reasons. But at the same time, it mentions in Genesis how people "began to call on the name of the Lord," meaning there was a specific, exclusive God they were worshiping rather than many, as is evidenced by the accounts of God interaction with the Patriarchs and the sacrifices offered by Job and Melchizedek. The same exclusive God is evident in the covenant at Mt. Sinai, but in that case, he adds a priestly tribe and various temple rituals and so forth. Christians have always viewed this (as discussed in the book of Hebrews) as having a typological significance. The temple was an earthly model of heaven. The land of Canaan was typological of the new heavens and earth. The name "YHWH" further reveals God's nature and character. The nature of Israel's passage out of Egypt and through the wilderness find their fulfillment in Christ's early life prior to his ministry. Later, the Davidic covenant points ahead to the coming Davidic King, etc.

For archaeologists and critical scholars to argue that these progressive revelations are really just evidence that different Semitic tribes worshipped different gods, or something to that effect, is to read into the Bible something different than the Bible says about itself, which is a matter of wanting (needing) the Bible not to be true to justify unbelief. It's a presuppositional matter, as the author said:
And last but not least, the theological convictions of those who study Genesis affect their conclusions. Jews and Christians who regard Abraham as the father of the faithful are reluctant to accept that he was a polytheist who served strange gods. On the other hand, scholars who hold that religion is essentially a human creation are hardly likely to suppose that the patriarchs were pure monotheists.

These briefly are the main problems that confront a would-be historian of Old Testament religion in describing the beliefs and religious practices of the patriarchs. To arrive at the pure historical truth one needs to be able to shed one's own presuppositions, and distinguish between the interpretations of Genesis and the underlying facts. Such a programme is regrettably impossible. My aims are more modest. In this essay I shall first of all set out the statements of Genesis about patriarchal religion. These raw statements will enable us to grasp how the final editor of Genesis viewed patriarchal religion.

No one can simply just "shed their presuppositions" and conduct scientific research. The laws of logic presuppose a logical creator God and knowledge. Science can't be religiously neutral, therefore the conclusions of these archaeologists are determined before they even begin to dig.

When I studied in Israel I learned how to discern the 4 different authors of the Torah simply by the way they used the word God and Lord. But this obvious refutation of Moses' authorship has not led to any diminution in the belief of the the inerrancy in those 5 books among the faithful.

How do different uses of the word 'God' and 'Lord' logically demand different authorship? Have you read MG Kline's defense of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/16/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Hodge said...

Calling it the paradox of faith and Bernie referring to evidence that Christians ignore is actually my point I made about Higher Criticism in the Enlightenment. I guarantee there is no paradox whatsoever. It's just that moderns cannot understand the evidence apart from the worldview in which they have constantly heard and studied it.
I believe God uses language and historical concepts and ideas of cosmos etc. are a part of that. Christianity has never believed that the Bible dropped out of the sky, but that it was put together. The way in which it was put together and the length of time is irrelevant to any discussion of errancy or inerrancy. That's the amazing thing about this age old feud. The two parties are arguing worldviews they hold, not evidence. The evidence is consistent with both because both are interpreting it. To say then that Christians are holding a paradox of faith or that they are ignoring the evidence is to be ignorant of how one comes to those conclusions. Now, if the Bible said it dropped out of the sky and was written by God in His language, then we would have a problem. But there is no such animal in Christianity.

PRCalDude said...

Bryan is making my point as well: the primary issue in the debate over errancy/inerrancy is presuppostions. The Bible is very much a product of its time. The entire book of Deuteronomy, for example, is structured like an ANE suzerain-vassal treaty. Various other oath-rituals and royal grants are found in Genesis and later in the period of the monarchy. The New Testament borrows concepts from its time period (i.e. John's conception of Logos) and redefines them. But that doesn't logically mean that the Bible is simply an outgrowth of various non-Jewish and pagan ideologies. It just means that the Bible is communicating to an audience at a certain time period.

Anonymous said...

An interesting site is Hermann Detering's pages (do a Google for his name). Much is in German, but if you click on the English page it will take you to quite a few articles. If you go to the tab called "Buecher" there is an English pdf translation of Der Gafalschte Paulus which reads like a detective story and a personal journey in historical archaeology. It is under the "upload here...1600KB!" link.

Zenster said...

Henrik: Something the editors at Jyllands-Posten probably didn't think of, it was just a lucky shot.

I think a bit more than just "luck" was involved. There is inherent in the West's personal liberties an element of individualism that is wholly alien to totalitarian cultures like those of the MME (Muslim Middle East). When such individuality rises up and freely expresses itself—as we saw with the Motoons—it is a nearly automatic thumb in the eye for such intolerant entities as Islam.

So, maybe it wasn't just "luck" but a natural outgrowth of properly unrestricted expression that is so alien to Muslims in general. The ensuing cartoonifada—and the way a vast majority of its damage happened to Islamic interests—was a direct reflection of how much inner turmoil such freedom creates in the Muslim mind.

As I have always said and Archonix noted as well, "More cartoons, then." Lots more, I say. Let's hold monthly competitions with huge prizes until agitated Muslims burst so many blood vessels that it sounds like strings of firecrackers going off.

Christopher R Taylor said...

Breifly: German higher criticism did nothing to change the Bible or Christian faith, but it did do a lot to show what a mockery the entire attempt was.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Taylor said...
"Breifly: German higher criticism did nothing to change the Bible or Christian faith, but it did do a lot to show what a mockery the entire attempt was."

Think about what you are saying. First, there was no attempt to "change" the Bible. It is what it is. But what it is may not be what it is taken to be. At least in its popular form. That was the thrust behind the Germans, and the so-called Dutch Radical critique. It is no different with "the faith". On the other hand, it certainly could be considered "mockery" by some. But this would be a wrong way of thinking. The attempt was not to mock, just to understand.

Zenster said...

Thank you for posting the links to that BBC program, HerRoyalWhyness. Everyone please note how such short shrift was given to the totally false and fabricated cartoon entries that were inserted by Danish Imam Ahmad Abu Laban. They were amongst the most incendiary of all and specifically intended to cause the most trouble. Also note how Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries), went totally ballistic when the interviewer asked whether he had any responsibility for the violence that had arisen from the cartoons being published. His letter issued after the January 28,2006 OIC meeting in Jedda makes repeated justifications of Muslim outrage:

The General Secretariat notes that there was far and wide condemnation in the member states through official and individual reaction, condemnation by international organizations and non governmental organizations and rightly an outcry and anger of the Muslims whose most important religious symbol in the person of the Prophet was targeted and ridiculed. The obnoxious and distasteful act whose gravity is of un-proportional magnitude requires to be explained to the international community so that the protest may be understood in the correct perspective. It is with this aim in view that H.E Prof Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu Secretary General of the OIC has issued the following statement on the incident along with the briefing paper.

The Secretary General notes with a deep sense of disappointment the lack of empathy and rejoinder by the Danish authorities on the publication of blasphemous and sacrilegious cartoons printed in Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten. The response was highly unsatisfactory, it was issued after procrastination of over three months and was unable to reach the underlying reasons on which the Muslims were anguished.

[emphasis added]

Note the inflammatory language in his letter. Also note how he whines about Jyllands Posten's "procrastination of over three months" regarding the cartoons that were published on September 30, 2005 even as his own OIC letter was published some FOUR MONTHS (January 28,2006) after the cartoons first appeared. Worst of all is how the prominent Islamic scholar, Yusuf Qaradawi, specifically incites Muslims to violence and then shrugs off the embassy arsons as something that he could not possibly have prevented. This is a classic case of the "good cop / bad cop" taurine fecal matter that Islam spews on a daily basis.