Religions Reflect Not Define

ReligionSome time ago, I wrote a glowing review of the videographer Logicked, Idiosyncratic Art From Logicked. He recently discovered the article and was well pleased with it. But he was less pleased with some of my comments, and we got into a discussion about what appears to be a big divide in the atheist community: the status of Islam as a particularly vile religion. I don’t want to put myself in the position of speaking for Logicked. You can see his comments at the link above. Here, I simply want to lay out some of my thoughts on the broader issue.

Let me start by noting that I have always felt like an outsider in the atheist movement. This is ironic since I have always been an atheist. But maybe it makes sense. I used to be a libertarian, so I’m ruthless with those poeple. I know religion only from the outside where it just seems silly — and mostly harmless. But I realize that them’s fightin’ words in the atheist community.

The most dangerous aspect of modern Christianity is its position on abortion. Yet there is not a word in the Bible about abortion. Thomas Aquinas didn’t think that fertilized eggs had souls. Protestants didn’t care at all about abortion until church leaders began to worry that they would have to integrate their schools. In other words, Christians use their religion to justify that they want to do anyway.

Are Muslims any different? I have yet to see any proof that they are. And everything I know about human nature indicates that they aren’t. People do all kinds of vile things and they have all kinds of reasons for doing them. In fact, they often have various justifications over time. Look at Ted Bundy, who found God and determined that it was pornography that caused him to murder three dozen women.

I’m more than willing to take people at their word. If they say they are Christians, they are Christians for all that means. One thing it doesn’t mean that they follow every word in their holy books or that they follow the teachings of the leaders of their churches. As I write about all the time, for the vast majority of people, religion is a cultural signifier. This is why we see the teachings of religions change over time and why we see them sliced and diced. Rare is the fundamentalist Christian who has a problem with eating shell fish, even though it is every bit as much against the “literal word of God” as having sex with people of the same gender.

Let’s turn our attention to Muslims. The fact that we have to use modifiers like “radical” to describe Muslim terrorists highlights this point. Most Muslims in the west are culturally Muslim in the same way that most Jews are culturally Jewish. In pre-1948 Israel, were the Jews committing acts of terrorism doing so because of their religion beliefs? That seems unlikely. But the same arguments made today about terrorism from the Muslim community could have been applied then to the Jewish community.

We also have the situation where the vast majority of Muslim violence is perpetrated against other Muslims. Who is the Islamic State killing? Almost exclusively other Muslims. So it isn’t “the book” that is the basis of the violence. There are Muslims who use their religion to justify violence, and others who use it to justify peace. It’s like in the antebellum era where there were Christians who used “the book” to justify slavery, and others who used it to justify abolition.

I’m interested in the old religious texts for what they say about the people they were written for. The Iliad and the Odyssey were stories that told the accident Greeks who they were. The same is true of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions, although hilariously, they are still believed. But again, it isn’t a question of the books defining the behavior.

16 thoughts on “Religions Reflect Not Define

  1. I don’t think you’ve really considered the implications of what you’re saying.

    “The most dangerous aspect of modern Christianity is its position on abortion.”

    I disagree. The most dangerous aspects of modern Christianity are its insistence on faith, its authoritarianism, and the redefinition of morality by some sects as primarily based on belief. Perhaps others, but at least those.

    “Yet there is not a word in the Bible about abortion….In other words, Christians use their religion to justify that they want to do anyway.”

    Is your claim that the professed beliefs of a particular religious sect are merely a conspiracy by the entire religious community to pretend that their arbitrary whims are actually a religious belief, so that the rest of society might think they look less bad? Are anti-abortion churches actually just clubs of anti-abortion people who get together on Sundays to pretend they believe it because of their religion? If people sincerely go to the church because they share the religion, and the particular sect’s religious beliefs doesn’t discourage abortion, then there is no reason for there to be consistency in the church on the issue of abortion, nor any reason to preach it from the pulpit. The alternative is that anti-abortion churches are just anti-abortion clubs not based on the religion, and that they preach it because…performance art? And are the churchgoers aware of how bad their position is, and so feel a need to justify it to themselves, which wouldn’t work unless they genuinely belief the religious justification, putting the fault squarely on the religion and making them unaware of how bad their position is (since their religion is good by definition), creating a paradox? Please explain how this “justification” thing is supposed to work, and how congregations can be united in anti-abortion beliefs that they all claim are based in their religious beliefs, when their religious beliefs do not include anti-abortion beliefs. And please provide the source of this information. You said that you only know religion from the outside, so I don’t think you have any insider knowledge about it. So how do you know that people who proclaim all the time that they oppose abortion because of their religion, and have it preached in their churches, are all just faking it? Do you have something, anything, that even begins to function as evidence for this enormous claim of yours? Polls of Christians who admit that they only pretend that their position on abortion is part of their religious belief system, for example? Somehow I don’t think you’ve managed to find anything of the sort. You’re just making things up because you don’t want to believe that people can actually hold bad ideas because of their religious beliefs (which are entirely independent of the words in the books, by the way – Religious beliefs need not match up in the slightest to the holy books. See the Aetherius Society, who believe in the Bible and that Jesus and Buddha were from Venus).

    “Are Muslims any different? I have yet to see any proof that they are.”

    I have yet to see any proof of this massive-scale conspiracy theory of yours, in which people’s claimed religiously-based beliefs never actually originate from religious teachings from the pulpit, the society, the scripture, or anywhere else, and they’re all just faking it and they know it.

    “People do all kinds of vile things and they have all kinds of reasons for doing them.”

    But none of them are religious, apparently. It seems that there is nobody in the world with genuinely awful religious beliefs. If they have awful beliefs, they automatically come from somewhere other than the religion. It’s all just a big goofy mask and they’re having a hearty laugh at the expense of us rubes who think they’re serious.

    “I’m more than willing to take people at their word.”

    Then why are you making up these incredibly implausible excuses, when taking them at their word until you have evidence that their word is false is so much more reasonable?

    “If they say they are Christians, they are Christians for all that means.”

    What, exactly, does it mean? Can they actually hold any religious beliefs that cause any sort of action? Or is religion just a label that they slap on themselves and that never impacts their behaviour in any way whatsoever?

    “One thing it doesn’t mean that they follow every word in their holy books or that they follow the teachings of the leaders of their churches.”

    Indeed not. That’s why most Christians are decent people. Same with Muslims. The ISIL ones tend to be the worst of the worst. Surely you acknowledge that a religion may have some people who do good as a result of the religion, and some who do bad as a result of the religion? And surely you acknowledge that the Qur’an is at least as bad as the Bible in terms of what it tells people to do, whether any particular individual follows it or not? Are you familiar with the history of the supposed prophet responsible for that book, by the way – the one that Muslims think was such a wonderful human being (and whom most, thankfully, fail utterly to emulate, and who would be reviled by a great many Muslims, in fact about as severely as ISIL is reviled, if he came around today)?

    “As I write about all the time, for the vast majority of people, religion is a cultural signifier. This is why we see the teachings of religions change over time and why we see them sliced and diced.”

    Yes. And ISIL wants to undo whatever positive change that’s happened since the days of Muhammad, and drag the world into the dark ages of unsliced, undiced Islam.

    “Rare is the fundamentalist Christian who has a problem with eating shell fish, even though it is every bit as much against the “literal word of God” as having sex with people of the same gender.”

    But if a Christian or a Jew tells you they avoid shellfish and homosexual sex because they think scripture tells them to, will you blame it on economics? After all, religion doesn’t cause people to do things.

    “The fact that we have to use modifiers like “radical” to describe Muslim terrorists highlights this point.”

    There are radicals and non-radicals in any belief system. I fail to see how this improves the Islam of ISIL or of the Qur’an, or makes ISIL’s motivation any less religious.

    “Most Muslims in the west are culturally Muslim in the same way that most Jews are culturally Jewish.”

    I challenge you to provide a source for this claim, because I think you simply made it up based on zero evidence. You want it to be true, but that doesn’t make it true. Maybe you’ve known a few Muslims who you thought were “culturally Muslim”, and extended that to an indefensible universal statement about most Muslims in the West. If that’s the case, you need to provide at least a poll with a much larger sample size.

    “In pre-1948 Israel, were the Jews committing acts of terrorism doing so because of their religion beliefs?”

    Did they proclaim their religious motivation, citing scripture? Did they publish sermons on why their god required this action of them? Did they murder, mutilate, tax, enslave, or otherwise punish anyone who failed to follow the laws of their religion, and make videos of these actions in which they dedicate them to the glory of their god? If so, then absolutely YES. There could be other motivations as well, such as political ones – but that does not diminish the role of the religion. The mere existence of other drivers does not automatically transform religion from a driver to a post-hoc rationalization.

    “That seems unlikely.”

    In the particular case of Irgun and the King David Hotel, maybe. Not sure. Either way, it doesn’t mean that Judaism or Islam cannot be a driver of terrorism, nor that they have never been.

    “But the same arguments made today about terrorism from the Muslim community could have been applied then to the Jewish community.”

    I vaguely recall hearing about some religiously-motivated violence from the more religious Jews. Judaism doesn’t get off the hook when it motivates atrocities, either. There’s a reason that the vast majority of 21st Century terrorism has been performed by Muslims, though, and it’s not because the tenets of that religion are all rainbows and roses, nor because only majority-Muslim countries are poor.

    “We also have the situation where the vast majority of Muslim violence is perpetrated against other Muslims. Who is the Islamic State killing?”

    The people they consider apostates and infidels. This includes Shia Muslims, people who don’t hold to their version of the Sharia, Christians, Yazidis, Jews…pretty much anyone who isn’t them, and especially the Kurds and other people, Muslim or not, who oppose their caliphate and the establishment of the universal dominion of their Islam and the corresponding Sharia law.

    “Almost exclusively other Muslims. So it isn’t “the book” that is the basis of the violence.”

    Of course it is. Just because not all Muslims believe the same thing about the Qur’an and the requirements of their religion does not mean that everyone who perform vile acts in the name of their religion are insincere. “Not all Muslims share ISIL’s Islam, therefore ISIL doesn’t do things based on Islam” is not a valid argument.

    “There are Muslims who use their religion to justify violence, and others who use it to justify peace.”

    And there are Muslims who sincerely believe that their religion requires them to do horrible things (and who consider those horrible things good because their religion requires them). There are some people in the world who really believe incredibly stupid things, you know. I understand that since you only know religion “from the outside” you probably consider religion too “silly” for people to kill and die for. But it’s not. There may be some people who in their minds are acting for purely political or economic reason and cynically using religion to justify it to others. In fact, there definitely are some. I’ve heard some people claim that al-Baghdadi himself is doing that, and twisting Islam to convince Muslims that Allah wants them in Syria. But that means that there are others whose religious beliefs are such that they work to justify such acts. How is it not a problem that some people believe religion is actually a valid justification, to either themselves or others, for extreme violence? Doesn’t that in itself put their religious beliefs at fault?

    “It’s like in the antebellum era where there were Christians who used “the book” to justify slavery, and others who used it to justify abolition.”

    Yes – And the fact that sincere Christians felt more firmly justified in keeping slaves because they thought it was allowed and encouraged by their holy book, and because their pastor told them God was fine with it, is a major problem with the religion. If the religion hadn’t existed, making that justification unavailable, slavery might have ended just a bit earlier. If not, that would mean the justification served exactly no purpose, which makes me question why they would have bothered putting on the cynical, insincere religious mask in the first place.

    “I’m interested in the old religious texts for what they say about the people they were written for. The Iliad and the Odyssey were stories that told the accident Greeks who they were. The same is true of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions, although hilariously, they are still believed. But again, it isn’t a question of the books defining the behavior.”

    It’s a question of the beliefs about the books defining the attitude toward the books, and the text of the books defining the behaviour of the people who have the attitude that the books are absolute truth. You admit it yourself: “they are still believed”. That means that, despite your protestations to the contrary, even you think some people actually believe that Muhammad was the messenger of God, and that the rules he and the future leaders laid down come from God. That means you should be open to believing that at least some people believe the Sharia and the caliphate are the will of God. And that’s the problem we’re talking about.

    • I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of this. My position is quite clear and I’ve considered its implications carefully. But in as much as you engage with it, you are misrepresenting and trivializing it. I’m not defending any religion at all. I could go point by point, but you’ve already got 2000 words there and I don’t have the time or inclination to knock them down — especially since it would just end in another 2000 words I would have to address. But let me look at two things quickly. You make broad assumptions about what I’m saying. When I brought up abortion, I was talking about practical matters in the US. If I were talking globally, I’d probably use birth control. You counter with faith and authoritarianism as though these things exist only because of religion. This is something I already mentioned: the tendency of atheists to think they are guided only based upon reason, even though neuroscience says the opposite. Similarly, nowhere did I say that people believe their holy books are absolute truth. I was comparing the folklore in them to that in the Iliad. I have known lots of people who claim to believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, but their actions show that they don’t actually believe it. All I see you doing is cramming what I’ve written into your preexisting framework. And then it is all details.

      There is something very pseudo-scientific about this kind argumentation. Some terrorists use Islam to justify their actions; some do not. Some Pisces are very loving; some are not. What does it say about a religion that it can be the “cause” of absolutely every possible behavior? Nothing. But this fact you dismiss when discussing abolitionists because you claim if it weren’t for religious people, slavery might have gone away earlier. Sure. Or later. The acceptance of slavery in the Old Testament is a reflection of the social norms of that time. And that is what I wrote about above. Religions reflect society, they do not define it. Thus, the idea that getting rid of religion is going to end or even diminish violence just doesn’t make sense.

      I’m very open to evolving on this issue. But it is mostly a matter of self-reflection, as can be seen in my article, The Subtlety of Monolithic Islam Bigotry — In Me. If you can convince me that humans are rational and come to conclusions based upon pure reason, we might make some progress. But otherwise, we are just talking past each other.

      • “You counter with faith and authoritarianism as though these things exist only because of religion.”
        Please quote me saying anything remotely like this. It’s absurd. It’s like if I quoted you saying:
        “The most dangerous aspect of modern Christianity is its position on abortion.”
        and then said that you said that opposition to abortion only exists because of Christianity. What are you doing, Frank?

        “This is something I already mentioned: the tendency of atheists to think they are guided only based upon reason, even though neuroscience says the opposite.”
        To think that who is guided only based upon reason? Atheists or religious people? Doesn’t matter – nobody is purely reason-based, and you don’t need neuroscience (source, by the way?) to realize that or to understand why it is the case. And the fact that nobody is purely reason-based is why you have people in the world who actually believe insane things.

        “Similarly, nowhere did I say that people believe their holy books are absolute truth. I was comparing the folklore in them to that in the Iliad.”
        Then is it your contention that nobody believes their holy books are absolute truth? Please clarify. Either way, you did say the books are believed: “The Iliad and the Odyssey were stories that told the accident Greeks who they were. The same is true of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions, although hilariously, they are still believed.”

        “I have known lots of people who claim to believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, but their actions show that they don’t actually believe it.”
        How? I’ve noticed something in your way of thinking, so my guess is “because it doesn’t match what the book says” – in other words, asserting the correctness of your personal interpretation over anyone else’s. You’ll probably also ignore the fact that not many people study the Bible closely. What they actually believe is what their religious group says the Bible says, typically. That’s ignorance, not insincere belief. Do you also not believe that people believe in gods and afterlives sincerely, or…? You see, you’re making an enormous leap of faith. You’re trying to psychologize every religious person in the world into your tidy little box where nobody actually believes crazy shit with absolute certainty. It doesn’t work that way in real life.

        “All I see you doing is cramming what I’ve written into your preexisting framework.”
        That’s all I see you doing, too. You want religious people to be purely reason-based and therefore not believe what they say they believe. So, instead of acknowledging my points supporting what should be the obvious fact that not everyone holds rational beliefs, you project your bias onto me.

        “There is something very pseudo-scientific about this kind argumentation.”
        This isn’t a scientific argument in the first place.

        “Some terrorists use Islam to justify their actions; some do not. Some Pisces are very loving; some are not. What does it say about a religion that it can be the “cause” of absolutely every possible behavior? Nothing.”
        Right, nothing at all, because people have different religious. You realize that ISIL’s Islam is not your “cultural Muslim” friend’s Islam, right? The beliefs of (read carefully) the individual determine the action of the individual. Individual. Individual. Individual. The Islam of Mohammad Emwazi was a major driving factor behind the actions of Mohammad Emwazi. Individual.

        “But this fact you dismiss when discussing abolitionists because you claim if it weren’t for religious people, slavery might have gone away earlier. Sure. Or later.”
        YES! “Or later”! The point is, maybe religion has a tangible effect on what people do in the real world – positive or negative or both. Maybe religion actually causes people to do something different than they otherwise might have done, making it a cause of what they do instead. Now you’re getting it.

        “The acceptance of slavery in the Old Testament is a reflection of the social norms of that time. And that is what I wrote about above. Religions reflect society, they do not define it.”
        Back to “no action any human has ever taken and no larger-scale events have ever been caused by religion”. You do realize that this requires the religious people to know they’re insincere in their beliefs, right? Because if they don’t know that, then they actually hold the belief. Again, the only possibility here is that every religious person is lying and knows it. It’s a conspiracy on a more ridiculous scale than 1000 “9/11 was an inside job”s.

        “Thus, the idea that getting rid of religion is going to end or even diminish violence just doesn’t make sense.”
        You’ve done nothing whatsoever to support that assertion. You’ve only dug yourself into a hole of truly outrageous claims which you have not provided any evidence for. If you want people to believe that religion has no effect in the world (even though you pretty much admitted that it does, since you said slavery might have been abolished at a different time if religion had not been in the mix), then you need some serious evidence on your side. So far, you have presented none. You didn’t even present the poll showing that most Muslims in the West are “culturally Muslim”, which surely you have if you are willing to assert it. And you haven’t explained why it is fine to accept non-religious motivations as causes for actions, but never religious ones.

      • Oh, I missed the last paragraph:
        “If you can convince me that humans are rational and come to conclusions based upon pure reason, we might make some progress.”
        I’m not trying to convince you of that. Where did you get this idea? I’m trying to convince you of the precise opposite: Some people come to conclusions based on extremely shoddy reasoning or no reasoning at all. For example, religiously.

        • The problem is that you miss my entire point. This all started with your claim that Islam was some great force for evil. I take the opposite position: evil finds a justification and it doesn’t matter what it is. Your arguments have gone very much off course because you are perpetually in attack mode. I don’t like my words twisted especially when I don’t have hours to go back and untwist them. I really am busy and you really are wasting my time.

          • I’m twisting your words? You can complain about that once you stop twisting mine. Did you even read my post? Did anything I said sink in?

            Short form, if you are going to ignore my other points: If evil actions cannot have religious motivations (which would make Islam a great force for evil if it motivated more than a few of these actions), you’re left with only a couple of options: Either religious motivations sometimes exist for actions, but only good or neutral ones and never bad ones; or, religious motivations never exist, making religious people who claim religious motivation for any good, neutral, or bad action liars who only pretend that they believe their religion demands it (for what end, who knows), or idiots who sincerely believe that they sincerely believe that their religion demands it but who actually don’t believe it (which seems like a contradiction). On behalf of religious people, I must say that whichever way you cut it, your mindset is incredibly insulting and bigoted.

            But if you aren’t going to address even that, can you at least tell me your source for “Most Muslims in the west are culturally Muslim in the same way that most Jews are culturally Jewish”?

              • And people wonder why I’m “perpetually in attack mode”…

                1: What makes Juan Cole (whoever that is) an authority?
                2: If he is your source, then why does Juan Cole not say “most Muslims in the West (or even in France) are only culturally Muslim”? What he actually says is: “French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world”. Why does Juan Cole actually say something radically different from what you say?
                3: Even if what Juan Cole wrote was somehow phrased so poorly that it actually was meant to make the same claim you did, what is his source? How was this result reached? Surely not by reaching where the sun doesn’t shine, because that would be irrational – and people can’t behave irrationally, right?

                • You don’t know who Juan Cole is? That’s interesting, because he is an expert in such matters. Personally, I think you are really closed minded about this stuff. I’m not at all clear what we’ve been talking about. My argument seems clear enough. You haven’t really made a counterargument. You’ve simply sniped at me sentence by sentence, and that doesn’t add up to a cogent argument. Based upon your over-the-top anger on this point, you simply want to believe that there is something especially wrong with Muslims. I am sorry if I was sloppy with some data. This is a blog, not an academic paper. Juan Cole does not say something radically different from what I said. What I said was that most Muslims in the west were culturally Muslim in the same way that most Jews were culturally Jewish. I provided data on that for one country. The fact that Cole says French Muslims may be the most secular is taken by you to mean that they are and all the rest are those dirty stinking terrorists and those who support them.

                  This last comment is a great example of your way of arguing. You grab onto one fact and flog it. You ignore the argument I was making. You seem to have no interest in the argument I was making. Why don’t you grab onto my claims about neuroscience? After all, I didn’t even provide links for them. The neuroscience claims are the basis of my argument. It doesn’t matter if the thinking is religious or political or whatever, people grab onto them because they work for them. People don’t set at home, see an ad from MoveOn, and run out and try to assassinate David Petraeus. But feel free to think that Islam has some special sauce of evil that does work this way. It goes against what science tells us about how the brain works. But what does that matter? Following science might actually help us improve the world, but it is oh so much more fun to feel superior in our “rationality.”

                  Or is all you’re saying that propaganda works? I yield the point! If that is all that you were trying to get across with your thousands of words of comments, then fine. We agree. End of argument. You just wasted a whole bunch of our lives ranting about the most boring topic in the world. But that’s all I can find in this. Either you just really hate Muslims and think that Islam is a more dangerous religion than any other, which I don’t accept mostly because it is far too broad, or that bad ideas can be used against properly primed people, which I do agree with.

                  • “Personally, I think you are really closed minded about this stuff.”
                    Right back atcha.

                    “I’m not at all clear what we’ve been talking about. My argument seems clear enough.”
                    Not in the slightest. I think you really need to carefully phrase your argument if it’s not the way I’ve described it, because I’m going solely based on what you’ve written.

                    “You haven’t really made a counterargument. You’ve simply sniped at me sentence by sentence, and that doesn’t add up to a cogent argument.”
                    In fact, it does. I’ve observed multitudinous flaws in your argument at every level. Instead of going through my arguments and making counterarguments, you simply ignored them and pretended it’s because you’re busy (so why are you wasting time writing this post complaining about my character, when you could be addressing my points and actually setting me straight?)

                    “Based upon your over-the-top anger on this point”
                    Zero anger. I’m attempting to have a rational discussion with someone who evidently does not enjoy having his views challenged by detail-by-detail breakdowns. This is a hobby for me. You’ve seen my videos. I’m having fun, not getting mad. Perhaps you’re projecting again.

                    “you simply want to believe that there is something especially wrong with Muslims.”
                    No. I want to believe there is something especially wrong with people who cut off people’s heads either because of a religious drive or with a religious justification. It’s not my fault that the majority of religion-based murderers happen to be Muslims in modern times. It’s a sad fact that would certainly be nice to change. I’d love to see more secular Muslims start to have more influence. Maajid Nawaz is the man. Lovely Muslim fellow.

                    “I am sorry if I was sloppy with some data. This is a blog, not an academic paper.”
                    I think it always behooves one to get the facts as right as possible, and not make extreme and unjustified extrapolations from limited (or unsourced) claims. But I’ll drop it.

                    “Juan Cole does not say something radically different from what I said.”
                    Yes. “French Muslims are more secular than Muslims in other Western countries” or “French Muslims are largely not interested in religion” does not equate to “French Muslims are mostly only culturally Muslim” and certainly not to “most Muslims in the West are culturally Muslim” (in fact, it would call the latter into question – How much less secular are the Muslims in all the other Western countries?)

                    “What I said was that most Muslims in the west were culturally Muslim in the same way that most Jews were culturally Jewish. I provided data on that for one country.”
                    You provided no data, you provided some other blogger making a claim which is not even the same as your claim. But you’re welcome to provide data if you have it.

                    “The fact that Cole says French Muslims may be the most secular is taken by you to mean that they are and all the rest are those dirty stinking terrorists and those who support them.”
                    See what I mean about you twisting my words? In fact, you didn’t even twist my words there, you just made up some new ones and shoved them in my mouth. Here is a simple fact of logical implication: IF French Muslims are MORE secular than ANY other Western country, THEN ALL other Muslim communities in ALL other Western countries are LESS secular than in France. That’s a direct implication of what Juan said, Frank. If you want to say that makes me a bigot, take it up with Juan.

                    “This last comment is a great example of your way of arguing. You grab onto one fact and flog it. You ignore the argument I was making.”
                    Dude, you ignored my argument completely. You even said you were going to ignore my argument because you didn’t want to deal with it. Who are you to complain when I concentrate on the worst of your points after you tell me directly that you will ignore all of my points?

                    “You seem to have no interest in the argument I was making. Why don’t you grab onto my claims about neuroscience?”
                    Because your claim about neuroscience was related to your assumption that I “think they are guided only based upon reason, even though neuroscience says the opposite”, when in fact I believe the opposite, and thus even if your neuroscience claim were correct, it would only agree with me. People are unreasonable and irrational by nature, at least sometimes. Why would I bother asking about the neuroscience source instead of just telling you that you had a misconception (which I told you multiple times, but you apparently didn’t read it)?

                    “It doesn’t matter if the thinking is religious or political or whatever, people grab onto them because they work for them.”
                    Yep. Duh.

                    “People don’t set at home, see an ad from MoveOn, and run out and try to assassinate David Petraeus.”
                    Nope. Duh.

                    “But feel free to think that Islam has some special sauce of evil that does work this way.”
                    I don’t. I keep telling you, you’re twisting my words and then bitching when you think I do the same. Maybe you should try reading what I actually wrote, carefully, word for word, sentence by sentence, instead of trying to infer something I never said.

                    “It goes against what science tells us about how the brain works.”
                    YES. For fuck’s sake, I’m aware. I already agreed with you on this in my first response about it.

                    “But what does that matter? Following science might actually help us improve the world, but it is oh so much more fun to feel superior in our “rationality.””
                    You know what would help us improve the world? You reading what I actually wrote, and not going off on tangents about stuff you’re pretending I wrote.

                    “Or is all you’re saying that propaganda works? I yield the point!”
                    I don’t think I mentioned anything about propaganda. Yes, propaganda is a useful tool that works, but it’s irrelevant to the discussion, which you would know if you read my comments.

                    “If that is all that you were trying to get across with your thousands of words of comments, then fine. We agree. End of argument. You just wasted a whole bunch of our lives ranting about the most boring topic in the world.”
                    No. I wasted precisely zero seconds writing about that. You’ve just wasted some, though. Congratulations.

                    “But that’s all I can find in this.”
                    Because you haven’t bothered to even try to comprehend what I said. I chose my words pretty carefully. Stop reading between the lines and read the actual lines.

                    “Either you just really hate Muslims”
                    No. If you want to dismiss me as a bigot, at least wait for me to say something bigoted.

                    “and think that Islam is a more dangerous religion than any other”
                    I want you to read this response in full before you get all puffed up with indignation again, and I want you to notice that I in no way attack Muslims in general or even really Islam in general.
                    In its modern incarnation in the radicalized groups, it is more dangerous. Attacks claimed by the attackers as directly religiously-motivated are extremely high in Islam and not nearly as high in other religions. I tend to believe that people actually believe in their religion, so barring evidence to the contrary, I will take them at their word. Present evidence to the contrary for a particular case and I will change my mind for that case. Present evidence that false proclamations of religious motivation are widespread and I’ll change my mind for the whole situation. But you can’t just assert it with nothing to back you up.
                    Now, is Islam inherently more dangerous than other religions, if we subtract the extremist forms and compare the tenets and dogmas as objectively as we can manage? Probably not. People are very good at rationalizing away bad things in the books. Jews don’t make a habit of stoning their kids even though the law should still apply. So in that sense, no.

                    “which I don’t accept mostly because it is far too broad, or that bad ideas can be used against properly primed people, which I do agree with.”
                    If you agree with the latter, you’re halfway to agreeing with me completely. All you need to do is accept that Islam can be and is one of those bad ideas that can be used against properly primed people and you’re 100% there. Will you do it, or would that make you a horrible bigot like Juan Cole and I?

                    • If that’s what you are arguing, I don’t know what the text was all about. I thought this all started because you said ISIS was a terrible group because it was Muslim. I have a few problems with that. One: Islam isn’t monolithic. Two: horrible groups manage to use other means of justification and inspiration. But if the argument is that people use Islam — with much justification — to act terribly, I agree. I’m just not sure where that takes us.

                      BTW: I don’t understand why people focus on beheadings. I am most bothered by burning people alive and that will always be the image that I have of ISIS. That level of cruelty is beyond my understanding.

                      But you are wrong about the Juan Cole quote. He says there are 5 million Muslims in France. He says less than 2 million consider themselves religious. Thus: most Muslims in France are not religious.

                      Yes, I believe ideas matter. But ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. There was a reason that the Nazis came to power in the 1930s because of depression and not in the 1920s because of hyperinflation. Certainly, Islam is part of the problem with ISIS. But a bigger part of the problem is that the Shia and Sunni don’t get along in Iraq, and that is not about theology; that’s about identity politics.

                      Now I’m very curious if we are in agreement. But regardless, I’m sorry for calling you a bigot (if I did).

                  • Replying here because I think we reached the indent limit and there was no Reply link on the reply I’m replying to.

                    “I thought this all started because you said ISIS was a terrible group because it was Muslim.”
                    No – I didn’t. You’re more than welcome to offer a quote showing the contrary, but you won’t find one.

                    “But if the argument is that people use Islam — with much justification — to act terribly, I agree.”
                    The argument isn’t that people use Islam to act terribly. It’s that people can use Islam to convince others or themselves to act terribly. When people act terribly in the name of Islam, I tend to believe them. I don’t begin by assuming that it has to be a cynical lie intended to make them look justified. So when I say “All you need to do is accept that Islam can be and is one of those bad ideas that can be used against properly primed people and you’re 100% there”, what I mean is that an individual can be drawn into doing horrible things sincerely because he or she thinks it is what his or her religion requires. If, as some have posited, al-Baghdadi is not terribly religious but is using religion to convince others to fight, then the fact that it works means that Islam can be a cause of violence and terror. That’s my position. What you said in this post basically amounted to excusing Islam from any causal link with violence, looking for other reasons and admitting that people can have many reasons, but not allowing Islam to be one of them, and I just won’t accept that as true without solid evidence, because reality seems to contradict it. That’s why I’m arguing with you.

                    “BTW: I don’t understand why people focus on beheadings. I am most bothered by burning people alive and that will always be the image that I have of ISIS. That level of cruelty is beyond my understanding.”
                    The beheadings are pretty brutal, man. Seeing someone go through it is rough. Granted, burnings may be worse. But the beheadings stick with me visually much more. Maybe they’re just more visceral, since someone has to physically do the work the whole time. They have to stay committed the entire way through.

                    “But you are wrong about the Juan Cole quote. He says there are 5 million Muslims in France. He says less than 2 million consider themselves religious.”
                    No, he doesn’t. He says they don’t care about religion. If I take the giant leap of faith and assume that this strange unsourced claim is true, it still just means that they don’t give a shit in the way that the average American Christian doesn’t give a shit. That doesn’t make them atheists or nonreligious. And I’d still have to see the phrasing of the question, if there is a real poll, to know that it was actually asked just that way. After all, he could be referring to something else he heard from someone else, just like you did; How far back does this game of telephone go? You need to be very careful to read exactly what people say, not what you want them to say. Our language is more precise than people give it credit for.

                    “Certainly, Islam is part of the problem with ISIS.”
                    Just to be clear: A major part? I don’t consider this just a little proximate cause. They are obsessed with religion. It’s nonstop, the chatter.

                    “But a bigger part of the problem is that the Shia and Sunni don’t get along in Iraq, and that is not about theology; that’s about identity politics.”
                    Of course it’s about theology. Identity politics too, I’m aware – It’s always been that. But don’t discount theological differences so lightly. It goes back to believing that people generally believe what they say they believe, especially when they heavily structure their lives around that belief.

                    “Now I’m very curious if we are in agreement. But regardless, I’m sorry for calling you a bigot (if I did).”
                    Generally I think we are. I certainly assign much more of the blame to Islam than you do. I really think that if you were willing to freely observe what goes on in the name of Islam and criticize it, at least in your own head, with all the heat it deserves (as all reasonable Muslims [and Christians, and Jews, and everyone else] should do as well), without sensing an illusory link between it and the criticism of Muslims, and if you accepted that people’s claimed religious beliefs and proclamations are generally sincere, you would agree that it’s a much more significant cause of modern violence and other negative effects than you right now think it is. But it’s a matter of degree, and if your mind is open enough to at least accept that we might agree at this point, my guess is that you will end up drifting more in my direction as time goes by. In any case, there are a lot of people who seem totally unwilling to accept Islam as a cause of violence to any degree whatsoever, because in their head calling a spade a spade is “racist” (as if Islam were a race – let’s all convert to being black and then deconvert again and see how well that works…) or equivalent to hating all Muslims simply for being Muslim. You mentioned propaganda, and this is the result: People who are so terrified of obvious truths about the modern world that they will make excuses for the inexcusable. Those “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam” people. You seemed very much like one of those at the start. I don’t think you really are, though. Once pressed, you seem at least willing to compromise and admit that Islam can be a causal factor, not just an arbitrary feature of people like the Islamic terrorists groups (“Yes, they scream all day about working in the name of Allah, but ignore that, these individuals implemented hardcore Sharia because of Western interference and economics…”). And this is something that, believe me, is next to impossible to get a lot of people to do. It’s incredibly frustrating, and scary as well, because people should not be making excuses for extreme fundamentalist Islam. They should be ridiculing and spitting on it.

                    • Yes, there is a limit of ten levels of threading. I’ve thought about getting rid of threading altogether. Most forums are getting rid of them because they don’t reflect the way that conversations actually work. That’s not an issue with a dialog however.

                      I don’t mean to say that you made that claim — only that that is the assumption I started from.

                      “It’s that people can use Islam to convince others or themselves to act terribly.” I don’t see that as particularly useful since the same thing can be said about just about anything. I don’t think that excuses Islam at all. And I don’t think my article says that.

                      I have seen only one beheading video and it was from Saudi Arabia. It was clean. I don’t know if ISIS does it differently. Are they doing some kind of sawing? A beheading properly done shouldn’t be painful. Burning alive is death by torture. I literally cannot think of anything worse. But if I’m wrong about the beheadings, tell me so, but please don’t give me any details. I already know too much about humankind’s long and creative history of killing people in the most painful ways possible.

                      I think we need to distinguish between theology and dogma. As for the Cole numbers, “not interested in religion” is what I consider to be the best kind of religious people: those who just don’t much care but might take a bit of solace from it as death nears. The US is roughly 75% Christian. But if those were true believers, we would have been lost long ago. Religion is mostly cultural signifier — and we are very lucky that it is.

                      My issue has never been that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It is rather that with the irrational nature of humans, pretty much any dogma will do. But I tend to focus on the Abrahamic religions because I know them reasonably well. But one doesn’t need them. Nazism wasn’t exactly a religion, although it had many of the same aspects — especially the obsession with purity. And it had no existing base; it had to be built from the ground up. And I think fascism continues to be an appealing ideology for huge numbers of people. This may be part of the appeal of Islam.

                      Anyway, have the last word. I can’t continue this thread; it has cost me far too much time. I’m behind here and I have two editors screaming at me. But I’ll read what you write.

                    • “I don’t mean to say that you made that claim — only that that is the assumption I started from.”
                      Why start with assumptions? You did that when you assumed I was a libertarian, too. Why not assume nothing and just ask?

                      “I don’t think that excuses Islam at all. And I don’t think my article says that.”
                      But it does: “Christians use their religion to justify that they want to do anyway. Are Muslims any different? I have yet to see any proof that they are.” This says that you don’t think religion can be the motivator; there is always some other motivator which is only hidden by a post-hoc religious justification.

                      “I don’t know if ISIS does it differently. Are they doing some kind of sawing? A beheading properly done shouldn’t be painful.”
                      They lay the people down and cut their heads off manually with small knives.

                      “Burning alive is death by torture. I literally cannot think of anything worse.”
                      I agree, it’s probably quite a bit worse than beheading. It just isn’t quite the same to watch.

                      “My issue has never been that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It is rather that with the irrational nature of humans, pretty much any dogma will do.”
                      If you took all the Muslim extremists and reversed the childhood indoctrination into believing that God exists and speaks to them or that some book contains his commands, do you really think they would continue to perform so much violence? I think that’s the key difference. They say they commit violence for God, and I understand that indoctrination really works, so I am perfectly willing to accept their claim that they really do it because of their religion, until someone shows me otherwise.

                      “Nazism wasn’t exactly a religion, although it had many of the same aspects — especially the obsession with purity. And it had no existing base; it had to be built from the ground up. And I think fascism continues to be an appealing ideology for huge numbers of people. This may be part of the appeal of Islam.”
                      Yes – And Nazism and fascism were the cause, not a post-hoc justification, for a lot of harm. That’s what I’m saying about Islam, and it’s what I think you contradicted in your article.

                      “Anyway, have the last word. I can’t continue this thread; it has cost me far too much time. I’m behind here and I have two editors screaming at me. But I’ll read what you write.”
                      Alrighty. Good talk, once we got it all sorted out. It’s been fun. I’ll check out the blog from time to time. By the way, watch my channel for a new Kent Hovind video – It’s gonna be weird.

              • Not to mention that “French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world” actually means all the Western Muslim populations are less secular, making your extrapolation yet less sensible.

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