Friday, October 10, 2014

A motherlode of bad ideas

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.


Gary Berg-Cross said...

Another perspective was provided by Dale Hansen in HuffPo

which included:

Few would argue that the number of people committing acts of violence in the name of Islam is comparable with that of extremists in other religions, but the insistence that the faith -- not the people -- are to blame for this is where the divide really begins.

Bill for example has stated on multiple occasions that Muslims believe anyone who leaves the religion should be killed; however, that view is only really prevalent in a small number of countries. This perspective is almost non-existent in countries like Kazakhstan, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey and Bosnia. They also only represent a minor fraction of the views of Muslims in countries like Indonesia, Lebanon and Tunisia. Ironically, some countries like Pakistan can actually trace their severe religious laws back to British Christianity while six U.S. states still have blasphemy laws on the books.

Of course, it should be noted that even if a large portion of the believers of Islam support death for those who denounce their religion that doesn't prove that Islam as a religion is the mother lode of bad ideas. It simply means that a certain group of followers takes the Quran far too literally.

The article also points to old time Jewish religious views that influenced Christianity too...

Deuteronomy 13:6-9 states " "If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife [a]you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods'... you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people."

Hansen argues that the U.S. still operate under this type of Jewish-Christian doctrine.
" We pretend any acceptance of Islam will result in Sharia law taking over the country and attempt to limit the rights and reach of Muslims in America to stop this "threat". We are also still waging what amount to holy wars under the guise of spreading democracy, defending freedom, or fighting terrorism.

We use all of these politically acceptable terms to illegally fly drones over sovereign airspace. These drones indiscriminately murder Muslims who may or may not be enemy combatants. And we do this all while claiming to be a Christian nation. Maybe we don't call it a religious war but we are no doubt creating an air of terror almost exclusively in Muslim countries. Is killing in the name of democracy somehow more acceptable than killing in the name of Allah?

But the biggest problem with Bill's stance is that he seems content to shout into the wind. On issues like gun rights, climate change, and marriage equality Bill advocates for change and represents a position that can achieve this goal. His opposition to Islam has no direction. He just wants it known that of all the religions he feels Islam is the worst, even though few are arguing against that belief.

The reality is that if the U.S. focused all of the money and energy we currently direct at fighting and controlling Muslims and used it to promote education and a more inclusive view of women, extremist Muslim interpretations of their holy book would soon be replaced with a far less strident reading -- similar to the transformation Christianity has experienced over the years.

Anonymous said...

Your asked, (and i quote), "Is killing in the name of democracy somehow more acceptable than killing in the name of Allah?"

The answer is Yes.

Don Wharton said...

Gary, is there some reason why you posted this absurd nonsense from Dale Hansen? I don't see that any of the excuses provided by Hansen has sufficient merit to actually provide an excuse for Islam.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Don, sure, for the purposes of discussion which is infrequent on the blog.

Explicit Atheist said...

Religion is an influence not a determinant. Religion can embrace violence, intolerance, triumphalism, inequality, discrimination, etc., while the adherents can selectively choose to downplay those negatives. Conversely, religion can funnel the idealism of well-intentioned people into evil behavior.

Explicit Atheist said...

How is saying that "certain followers takes the Quran too literally" different from saying that "Islam as a religion is a motherlode of bad ideas"? The Quran claims to be an accurate communication from the God, so at what point is a follower taking the Quran "too seriously? No one can say what is "too literal", or not literal enough, because the Quran is not accompanied by any device to make such a measurement or determination.

Explicit Atheist said...

As Scalia recently said when talking about Holt v. Hobbs: Religion is not reasonable, it is categorical. God instructs and believers follow. So again, what is the difference between saying some followers take the a book claiming to reveal divine instruction "too seriously" and saying that the holy book is a motherlode of bad ideas? I see no significant difference as I see no way to define what interpretation of any holy book by a believer is wrong for being "too serious". The only way to non-arbitrarily avoid being "to serious" is to not be a believer.