Shock and Grief

April 19, 2013

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  

I am reading the news this morning with my jaw hanging open, as I imagine many of you are (I mean, a freaking grenade fight???). At the time of my writing, we know that the suspects are Chechen, that they are white (literally Caucasians), that one was killed in the firefight with police, and another is possibly surrounded in a house in Watertown. It's almost unbelievable. 

For the purposes of this blog, I thought it might be useful to lend some clarity to the role religion might be playing in the suspects' motives. According to this 2004 interview at BeliefNet with Brian Glynn Williams, an Islamic historian, Chechen Islam, even when radicalized, is not the kind of stereotypical motivation for violence we often default to in our imaginations. Says Williams:

Islam is not the driving machine behind the Chechen resistance; it is merely a part of Chechen identity. Chechen Islamic identity was forged over hundreds of years of gradual Islamification, but it retains ancient pre-Islamic traditions. . . . Now, their form of Islam has been radicalized by recent events. In their first war with Russia (1994-96), their capital, Grozny, a city of 400,000 people, was in essence wiped off the planet. Tens of thousands of innocent Chechens were killed; hundreds of thousands fled for their lives; half the Chechen nation has scattered; every city in Chechnya has been eradicated; the land is unarable because it's been mined by the Russians; the country has been blasted back to the Stone Age. And nobody in the Christian West, whom they turned to for help, came to their aid as was the case in, say, Kosovo.

Does this mean that there's no -- or little -- religious motivation behind the Boston bombings? Of course, it's far too soon to know. Indeed, there are posts going up everywhere about what the suspects have posted on various social media sites and what it says about their beliefs, and who knows what may be the fuel for these particular actions. But it's good to know that this brand of Islam is different in many ways from the kind that, say, inspires Al Qaeda, and that may or may not be the case for the suspects. We just have to wait and see what we learn.

We're already seeing a lot of positive momentum for the worldwide protests for free expression in Bangladesh announced yesterday. Says Hemant:

We all support free speech, and criticism of religion, especially in countries with oppressive regimes, is often the first to be condemned. These bloggers deserve our support. 

CFI's suit to allow secular celebrants to solemnize marriages in Indiana will be heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today, and oral arguments will be available on the web later this afternoon here, case number 12-3751.

Edzard Ernst points to a new study that shows that not only does alt-med not help cancer patients, it actually may shorten their lives.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has found two planets really, really similar to Earth, and people's minds are being blown. NYT also has a really cool infographic of the planets Kepler has found so far.

Discovery News rounds up some Boston conspiracy tweets, and checks in with Ben Radford for some clarity. 

The guy who sent the president and other politicians Ricin-laced letters seemed to believe they were all in on a conspiracy involving dismembered body parts

Rock-dropping former senator Mike Gravel of Alaska will join the fake non-congressional hearing on UFOs. 

You know what else Ben knows about? Goat sacrifice.

CFI On Campus's affiliate group of the week is Occam’s Razors at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. 

Louisiana state rep introduces a bill to allow voluntary recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools, and a mess of other things about "the pilgrim fathers (sic) and the flag." 

Are you ready to strut your stuff as the Great Agnostic? June 30 in DC is the Robert G. Ingersoll Oratory Contest!

Andrew Zak Williams defends Sam Harris in the New Statesman:

Surely, rational discourse should be permitted to tiptoe cautiously along the hallowed corridors of the house of Islam without the guards frogmarching it out, bellowing allegations of racism and bigotry. Cannot we not agree that the real issue is whether the critiques of Islam proffered by today’s prominent atheists are correct?  

Communities with city councils who aim to keep a-prayin' at meetings this morning: Greenville, PA and Rapid City, SD. I'm sure there are others.

The Economist worries over the implications of the blasphemy conviction of Fazil Say in Turkey. 

Bummer for Vatican employees. Usually when there's a new pope, they get a bonus. This time, Francis says the bonus has to go to charity.  

I don't understand this, but it sounds neat. From Texas A&M University Science:

Quantum physicist M. Suhail Zubairy, along with a post-doctoral fellow and Saudi researchers, have discovered a form of "almost psychic communication" in which information can be exchanged between two parties without any physical particles traveling between them. 

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has guns and Jesus on his side:

Not only did Jesus tolerate weapons, he instructed His disciples to buy them! 

Well this is good to know: Psychic says the reunion of Friends will still happen.  

Quotes of the Day: 

Greg Epstein strikes a nerve as he notes the exclusion of nonbelievers from the official grieving over Boston:

So I don’t relish the opportunity — or the need — to say that right now, our community is grieving too, just like any other Boston-area congregation. Boston, in fact, is home to one of the biggest secular/Humanist/atheist/nonreligious communities in the world.  . . . And when political leaders like Gov. Deval Patrick or President Obama try to make sense of these moments by assembling interfaith services, it is admirable — far better for a politician to bring different religions together than to only recognize one religion’s view of loss as valid. But for goodness' sake, must the nonreligious continue to be excluded from such gatherings? I’ve seen Humanists knock on the door recently at the interfaith celebrations of political conventions, or after tragedies like Hurricane Sandy or Newtown. We wanted to help and were turned away. I hope this is where people realize: We are part of the community too. We care and want to offer our support just as much as anyone. We, too, are in shock and grief.

Add-on from James Croft (emphasis his):

[S]omebody in the Governor’s Office of Massachusetts chose to prevent the participation of nonreligious people and their representatives in the very event which should have sought to help them heal. . . . And I’m sick of our community having to beg for participation in events like this, as if we don’t matter enough for someone to think of our needs before we bring them to the attention of the powerful. I’m furious - furious. And I’m not letting this go. 

* * *  

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is. 

Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry 

Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)! 

The Morning Heresy: "I actually read it." - Hemant Mehta