Some 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.