It’s all Dutch to me

You may have read these startling words a few days ago:

“profit from making misery out of the lives of others”

“Australians are harming themselves and others”

These statements were among others released last week, raising suspicions as to what pernicious if not terrorist plans are being mounted in Australia.

Why are they calling for people to take advantage of those in desperate circumstances? How are Australians harming others, and who are these others? Syrians? Iraqis?

Far from belonging to a foiled terror plot, all three sentences were in fact spoken by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, as part of a speech he gave last week at St Vincent’s hospital, Sydney. He was announcing the release of a report looking into the terrible trauma that the drug ice is inflicting on our society.

Without context, each of these lines could be interpreted in a range of ways, including a worst case scenario.


You may be one of the million or more people who have now watched on youtube, ‘The Holy Quran Experiment’. Last week, two Dutch filmmakers, Sacha Harland and Alexander Spoor, had the bright idea of taking a Bible and disguising its cover to  look like a copy of the Koran. They then walked the streets asking people for their reactions to certain ‘shocking’ verses that were read to them from the “Koran”. The Koran  of course was never cited, only Bible passages were read, such as from Leviticus ch.20 and ch.26 and from 1 Timothy ch.2.

People were genuinely convinced that the Bible verses being read to them where sayings from the Koran, and they offered comments such as,

“To me this sounds like they want to oppress you and force you to believe what they believe.”

“If you’ve been raised with this book and these kinds of thoughts, it’s going to influence the way you think.”

At the start of the video, Harland and Spoor offer this explanation for the experiment, “Muslims have been accused of following a faith that has no place in our Western culture. What about Christianity? A religion that has influenced our culture greatly”.

This “comic” Bible-Koran experiment might possibly reveal something about Dutch attitudes toward Islam, but what it really proves is sadly how illiterate people are when it comes to knowing the Bible (and also the Koran).

If the intent was, as the video suggests, to demonstrate how Christianity contains awful ideas and practices, they haven’t done a particularly stellar job. Ripping Bible verses out of their context says no more about Christianity than what you learnt about Malcolm Turnbull when I cut and pasted from his speech on fighting drugs. Phrases and sentences have historic and literary contexts, without which, they lose the meaning given to them, and thus we end up reaching all kinds of strange conclusions that were never intended. That is not to say that the Bible doesn’t describe some pretty shocking events or contain ideas that challenge our modern sensibilities, but reciting words without their context helps no one to understand either the Bible or Islam. If anything, these Dutch comedians haven’t mocked the Bible, they’ve  made a bad joke about their own methodology.

I wonder if Australians are as biblically illiterate as the Dutch? I hope not, but I suspect so. Perhaps there is a lesson here though, read the Bible more not less!