By Mathew Goldstein
Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health by Ron Hubbard is a motherlode of bad ideas. The Westboro Baptist church is a motherlode of bad ideas. Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy is a motherlode of bad ideas.
Anyone angry at me yet? Most of us do not want other people to be angry with us. We could avoid criticisms of all ideas, or confine our criticisms to generalities that no one self-identifies with. Then we would be more likely to get closer to our goal of having no one be angry at us. Yet that should not be our only goal. We also have good reason to share our thoughts for the purpose of improving our collective thinking, and some of our thoughts are likely going to be critical of some of the ideas that other people self-identify with.
Fortunately for me, Scientologists, Westboro Baptists, and Christian Scientists are few in number and they are not provoked to acts of violence by public criticisms of the bad ideas that they subscribe to. There will be no riots, I will receive no threats, and the people I interact with will not now become rude towards me. But what happens when we criticize ideas that many people self-identify with and that some of those same people think should be defended by force?
In at least five countries, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan, a majority of people think that anyone who is born into an Islamic family must profess Islam. They think there is no option to profess any competing belief and those that leave Islam are guilty of such a serious offense that they should be killed. This may also be true in Saudi Arabia, but no polls are allowed in that country, and it also true in the Palestinian territories, according to a 2013 Pew forum poll. Every Arab country that was polled had a majority that either supported a death penalty for apostasy, adultery, or both, except for Tunisia. Under Shari'a law a Muslim can testify in court against a kafir, but a kafir may not testify against a Muslim and, more generally, there is not equality before the law for non-Muslims. These are bad ideas and not moderate ideas. Even among those articulate, well groomed Muslims who are repeatedly cited by non-Muslims as being reassuring spokespeople for moderate Islam, there are those who endorse at least some of Islam's motherlode of bad, non-moderate ideas, like the notion that the entire contents of the deeply flawed Quran flawlessly communicates divine revelation.
There are apologists for religion who say bad behavior has nothing to with religion. They say religion is about peace, harmony, justice, and love only. They say Islamic State, and any other militants who claim they speak for Islam, actually have nothing to do with Islam. They say that all bad behavior is a product of poverty, imperialism, colonialism, injustice and never a result of religion. Do not believe them. Religion is surely not the only factor, but when a religion promotes bad ideas it also promotes bad outcomes. Religion sometimes does contribute to making things worse, even much worse, than they otherwise would be. Religiously motivated, violence prone, illiberal extremists sincerely take their religious beliefs seriously. They really believe that it is good to kill kafirs, and they are actually acting on their triumphalist religious belief when they behave badly.
More than a few liberals bend over backwards in an effort to convince the public that the threat from radical Islam is no more, or less, serious than the threat from radical Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, or even from "militant" atheists. Indeed, radicals are a potential threat no matter what their ideology. Yet not all ideologies are, at any given time in history, equally threatening. Currently, more people are killing in the name of Islam than in the name of any other religion. Currently, illiberal ideas are more popular among Islamic populations than among Christian or Jewish populations and these illiberal ideas function as fertilizer for radical Islam. If we as liberals really favor liberal ideas then we should be willing to criticize illiberalism wherever it appears. We fail to do that when we selectively hold different people to different standards.
So let's say it: The Hebrew Tanakh, the Christian Bible, and the Quran, are all motherlodes of bad ideas. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all motherlodes of bad ideas. Chris Hayes, Ben Affleck, and other such liberal apologists for religion can bang their heads against the wall and say that we are being gross, bigoted, racists. Their false ranting won't change the unpleasant facts and refusing to face the facts will not move us forward.