I didn’t make much of this in the article, but I did mention that the frequent references to God’s mercy and compassion seem like doubletalk when combined with all the resentment and vindictiveness. But maybe what I’m calling “doubletalk,” you’re being thankful for because those tensions or poetic inconsistencies allow for multiple interpretations of the text.

But I’m curious: Can you honestly say that the character of the Quran’s main speaker comes across as compassionate and merciful rather than resentful, petty, vindictive, and tyrannical? Maybe the Quran says somehow the compassion outweighs the vengeance, but you get a sense of what someone’s really like, when you give them the chance to talk a lot.

I remember I first learned that in English class when reading Paradise Lost, and the teacher said that this is the function of monologues. When Satan speaks in Milton’s poem, it doesn’t matter so much what he says here or there, since he may be an unreliable narrator. Nevertheless, he inadvertently gives away his true nature, the more he talks.

This is why in movies there’s that cliche of the bad guy giving away his plan by going off on a monologue instead of just killing the hero. He boasts about what a mastermind he is and how great his secret plan is; meanwhile, he just gave it all away and gives the hero a chance to win.

It’s the same with any character: the more they speak, the more they reveal what they’re really like. I find it very hard to believe that a reader could justify saying that God comes across more as loving and merciful than as petty and tyrannical over the course of the Quran. I mean, yes, it’s poetic, so you can interpret or emphasize whatever you like. But when I read the book, I kept waiting for other subject matters to pop up, but it was just the same thing over and over again.

So there’s an impasse here. It’s not obvious that one statement here or there in the Quran, saying that God’s compassion outweighs his anger is more revelatory than the Quran’s overwhelming emphasis on fear, resentment, punishment, vengeance, and megalomania. Again, when reading a monologue, we should beware self-serving passages, especially ones that conflict so palpably with lots of other things that are said, which makes for doubletalk or gaslighting (intentional confusion).

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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