Why we are entitled to point a finger at Islam on oppression and bigotry

October 19, 2015

In his recent post at the Daily Dot titled 'Atheism has a Richard Dawkins Problem', Ben Branstetter criticises Dawkins's targeting of Islam and the Quran as sources of bigotry and oppression.

Branstetter writes:

Dawkins seems to be targeting the treatment of women in many Islamic countries—which use religion to justify stoning rape victims and criminalize homosexuality. Dawkins is wrong, however, to target the Quran as the source of these atrocities: Atheists shouldn’t hold an entire religious community responsible for the actions of governmnents and fundamentalist state religions. Instead, Dawkins and his followers should attack the structures that allow for the systematic oppression of women and LGBT people.

Branstetter follows Steve Neumann in supposing that the root cause of such oppression is a delight in exercising power over others, which is by no means peculiar to religion:

Dawkins and his defenders are likely aware of the many atrocities committed in the name of Christianity—from the Crusades and the slaughter of Native Americans up to the bombing of abortion clinics. Likewise, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung slaughtered tens of millions without a whiff of religious influence.

The problem with this argument is that to point out that Y often happens without X does not establish that X is not a major cause of Y. Plenty of people get cancer without smoking, but nevertheless smoking is a major cause of cancer.

Religion is a source of much bigotry and oppression. It is one of the main mechanisms of oppression of women, gays, and other minorities around the world. So it is entirely appropriate for Dawkins to point to religion per se as a cause of bigotry and oppression, just as it is appropriate for doctors to point a finger at smoking as a cause of cancer.

For many oppressors, religion is the fundamental justification for their oppression, much as it was for European anti-semitism. To focus only on other factors will, therefore, be to miss a key cause. Compare trying to combat historic European anti-semitism without mentioning or targeting the Christian religion, when Christianity was actually a root justification. That would not have been effective, given the deep religious roots of that bigotry.

Islam has a particularly bad problem with its treatment of women, gays, and apostates. To ignore this contributes to the problem and betrays those moderate Muslims who are themselves trying to deal with such religiously motivated bigotry.

It is not just religious governments and a handful of fundamentalists that hold highly oppressive and bigoted views, it is significant numbers of mainstream Muslims who point to their holy books and authorities for justification. So, for example, polls indicate that even in the UK, 36% of young Muslims think the appropriate penalty for apostates is death, a third of all UK Muslims think a wife should be forced to obey her husband, and 0% of UK Muslims think homosexuality is acceptable.

I'm not suggesting religion is the root of all intolerance. I am suggesting e.g. Christianity was a root cause of European anti-semitism for centuries, and that Islam is similarly a root cause of some significant contemporary bigotry and oppression. That's not to say all religious are bigots or that religions can't change or anything crass like that. Nor is it to deny that, say, Western actions across the Middle East have resulted in very serious injustices which also fuel certain hatreds and bigotries and that this needs addressing too.

But not to acknowledge the causes and justifications of bigotry and oppression lying deep in certain religious ideologies - to try to paper over them out of some misdirected sense of tolerance, etc. - is a bad idea.

If we can say that the Christian religion was a root cause of much European anti-semitic bigotry and oppression for many hundreds of years, which it was, then there is no principled reason for supposing Islam can't similarly be a root cause of much contemporary bigotry and oppression.

POSTSCRIPT

If you doubt Christianity was at the root of much European anti-semitism, and was indeed a root cause of the Holocaust, consider this brief extract from my bookHumanism: A Very Short Introduction.

The anti-Semitism was largely religiously rooted.

In1936, the Catholic Primate of Poland issued a letter, to be read from every Catholic pulpit, opposing violence against Jews. But read what he actually said:

It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free-thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion. It is a fact that the Jewish influence on morality is pernicious and that their publishing houses disseminate pornography. It is a fact that Jews deceive, levy interest, and are pimps. It is a fact that the religious and ethical influence of the Jewish young people on Polish young people is a negative one..

Anti-Semitism was also rampant in the Protestant Churches. Daniel Goldenhagen, in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, reports that one Protestant Church publication

…would, in the words of a contemporary observer, “again and again describe the Jews with great zeal as a foreign body of which the German people must rid itself, as a dangerous adversary against whom one must wage a struggle to the last extreme.”… Dissent was rare… One churchman recalls in his memoirs that anti-Semitism was so widespread in clerical circles that “explicit objection [to anti-Semitism] could not be ventured.”

Comments:

#1 Jonny Blamey (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 3:00am

I suppose what I resist is defining people in terms of the religious beliefs and then making generalizations about what else those people think and stating them as facts. I think this is something like the principle involved in finding it obvious that this is anti-semitic.
“It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free-thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion. It is a fact that the Jewish influence on morality is pernicious and that their publishing houses disseminate pornography. It is a fact that Jews deceive, levy interest, and are pimps. It is a fact that the religious and ethical influence of the Jewish young people on Polish young people is a negative one”
But then, although “facts” are replaced with “stats”, this quote falls foul of the same kind of generalization:
“So, for example, polls indicate that even in the UK, 36% of young Muslims think the appropriate penalty for apostates is death, a third of all UK Muslims think a wife should be forced to obey her husband, and 0% of UK Muslims think homosexuality is acceptable.”
To put that in 1930s language, “It is a fact that Muslims wife beating is good, are homophobic and want to kill converts to christianity and atheism.” This denies the right of individuals to insist upon textual evidence and theological grounds for assertions of the link between various social ills and various religious beliefs. All you have to do is gather statistics that show that there is a correlation between confession of a particular religion and agreement with an unpopular opinion. Opinion polls in any case are open to manipulation.

#2 Philip Rand (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 3:00am

If we can say that the Christian religion was a root cause of much European anti-semitic bigotry and oppression for many hundreds of years; we can also say that the Christian religion was a root cause of the re-creation of the state of Israel.

#3 Martin Phillips (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 3:37am

Indeed it probably was (Christianity a root cause of the re-creation of Israel).  Look where that’s got us.  We can ultimately say then that Christianity is the root cause of Zionism and the oppression of Palestinians.  Let’s go even further back and say that Judaism is the root of Christianity. Follow this where you will!

#4 Michael T. Bee (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 3:38am

It is a sad fact that most religions mirror human nature
and the human condition, and, _that_ is by nature bigoted,
mysogynist, murderous, and in many other ways tragically
flawed.

This carries over by the way into how humankind practices
_science_. The authors of the holocaust had many scientific
“proofs” of Aryan superiority.

We have met the enemy and “we is us”. And, yet, the same creatures are capable of altruism, generosity, self-critiscism, and
accompanying gifts in arts and in sciences. Whether you assign
that to deity or devil misses the point.

#5 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 4:07am

“Religion is a source of much bigotry and 0ppression. It is one of the main mechanisms of oppression of women, gays, and other minorities around the world. So it is entirely appropriate for Dawkins to point to religion per se as a cause of bigotry and oppression, just as it is appropriate for doctors to point a finger at smoking as a cause of cancer.”

You simply made that up. You want to believe it so you said it. This is the worst sort of lazy thinking. You’re only a half-step away from using ethnicity as a proxy for violent behavior.

You certainly don’t need to engage in fancy to find alternate reasons for an association between the style of killing and religion; maybe, just maybe, this is simply what oppressed people do when they have poor options for coping.

Supposing for a moment that you are wrong about Islam being the cause of violence, then not only is your target overly broad, your aim isn’t true. Were you to succeed in suppressing the religion, we would have every reason to expect that the same people would find a different institution—perhaps another religion or even a state—to codify their violence.

It is frustrating to no end that people like you and Dawkins, who are capable of elegant thinking, are so crude when it comes to anything associated with religion. You aren’t part of the solution, and I fear you are part of the problem.

#6 Mark Jones (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 7:49am

Worth Swearingen - “You simply made that up.”

I’m assuming by this you mean the line “[Religion] is one of the main mechanisms of oppression of women, gays, and other minorities around the world” is made up.

Islamic states legislate oppressively against women, gays and other minorities. It’s certainly true that without Islam there would be states that did that too (the UK used to, of course, often drive by the Bible), so the question is not so much what is the root cause (human nature, presumably) but what is the proximate cause that exploits human nature for sub-optimal outcomes. To that end, criticising religious doctrines that help to sustain prejudicial attitudes seems entirely appropriate, and, indeed, a moral duty. And this would include criticising Christianity for its role in perpetuating blood libel, for example.

Your comment suggests you think that religion either plays no part in sustaining prejudicial attitudes (correct me if I’m wrong), or, at least, is a minor mechanism. Perhaps the prejudiced would be prejudiced, doctrines or no? Well, perhaps, but then one might question how we come by our prejudices, and the answer there may be a complicated mix of environment, culture and education. And it seems far-fetched to me that the religious doctrines we are taught from infancy could have little bearing on our worldviews, prejudices included. Indeed, if that were so, the moral education of children would be largely a fool’s errand; I for one don’t think it is.

And the religions of the world seem to think that by educating children their doctrines can be a main driver of their worldviews, and on this I’m inclined to agree with them. I dare say that Dawkins and maybe Stephen Law agree with them on this point too! But presumably you disagree with those religious who want to teach their children their doctrines.

You talk about suppressing religion, but it’s not clear that Law or Dawkins (who both strike me as pretty liberal types) want to suppress it so much as alleviate its excesses. Just because a Conservative politician criticises left-wing views does not mean he would want socialism suppressed. Of course, he might, but that would not be consistent with living in a liberal democracy, and I’m not aware that Dawkins or Law have railed against the principles of liberal democracy (but please correct me if I’m wrong). Secularism is not about suppressing religion but about not endorsing one flavour. It’s like resisting Conservative values being built into every institution of the state. That doesn’t mean that Conservatism is suppressed.

So would it be rude to suggest that it is your characterisation of Law and Dawkins on religion (and they are not of one mind, surely) that is crude, rather than their thinking?

#7 Angra Mainyu on Monday October 19, 2015 at 9:39am

Hi Stephen,

Good points; I agree with you.

Just a brief comment:
Branstetter accuses Dawkins of targeting the Quran of the source of those atrocities. Is Branstetter right about what Dawkins did?
The main source of many of those atrocities isn’t the Quran, but the hadith. The Quran can be cited only as an indirect source to the extent it supports the hadith, or because of its influence on some moral assessments, but it’s not the main source (The Quran is pretty bad too, of course, and promotes bad behavior on its own, but that’s another matter; we’re talking about some specific atrocities). So, if Dawkins focused on the Quran as “the” source, Dawkins seems to be mistaken

On the other hand, if Dawkins targeted Islam (maybe Branstetter misinterpreted Dawkins?), then he wasn’t wrong. After all, nearly all Muslims adhere to a version of Islam that contains horrific hadith, and furthermore, some of those hadith seem to be the basis for several of their false moral beliefs.

#8 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 3:03pm

Mark Jones

“. . . criticising religious doctrines that help to sustain prejudicial attitudes seems entirely appropriate, and, indeed, a moral duty.”

I agree. However Dawkins’s defender Law goes further. Law suggests practicing Islam is to violence as smoking cigarettes is to cancer. If so, the means to eliminate some violence is obvious isn’t it? He doesn’t seem to see a “complicated mix of environment, culture and education” influencing behavior, at least to the extent that he can single Islam out as a cause.

When I called their reasoning crude, I mean that they propose a simple causal mechanism when the association is much more likely to be a complicated tangle. To say Islam is an instigator of evil is simply incorrect.

#9 Angra Mainyu on Monday October 19, 2015 at 5:53pm

I don’t know that Stephen makes that parallel as you interpret it, because: 

a. He uses the cancer example as a means to illustrate that the fact that Y often happens without X does not establish that X is not a major cause of Y. That’s a general point about an error in Branstetter’s reasoning, and not specifically tied to the extent to which each of them is a major cause. Not all major causes are equally major.
That said, he does consider religion to be a major facto in oppression and bigotry.

b. He identifies religion - but not only Islam, or “practicing Islam” - as a source of much bigotry and oppression.
While he does not say that it’s a “complicated mix of environment, culture and education”, he does not identify other causes in the case of smoking, either. Yet, there is never a single cause of complex things. Cancer is sometimes caused by smoking and many other factors. Absent those other factors, smoking sometimes does not result in cancer. For example, maybe a person who smokes 1 cigarrette every week during his youth is likely not to get cancer as a result. And many people who do smoke more than that (a lot) do not get cancer. But one can identify some major causes of things, like smoking in many instances of cancer, or religion (and specifically, Islam or Christianity) in the case of many instances of oppression. I do find the parallel more or less adequate.

That said, I think the other points you make are more important:

First, I don’t agree with the assessment that it’s incorrect to say Islam is an instigator of evil (unless “instigator” is construed in a very narrow way, that requires agency perhaps? Please clarify, but in such narrow senses, Stephen is not saying Islam is an instigator of evil. He’s saying it’s one of the causes - a major one - of some - many - instances of evil behavior).
In particular, if a text (the Quran, the hadith, the Bible) states that some very immoral behaviors are actually morally praiseworthy or morally obligatory, that promotes evil behavior. If people actually believe it, then it tends to cause evil behavior, because people are usually motivated by their moral beliefs. Of course, those texts - and their beliefs based on them - aren’t the only cause of their behavior, but in some cases - in many cases - they are a major cause.

Second, it’s even more important to address your other point, because you say that there is an obvious means to eliminate some violence.
I admit they’re not obvious to me - I do get from the tone and context that it’s definitely something omninous, like a ban on Islam, perhaps? If so, given Stephen’s points about Christianity, that would be a ban on Christianity as well, right?

But Stephen never suggested that, and it’s not in any way the case that a ban is the “obvious” or even an adequate course of action as a means of eliminating something that causes bad things (By the way, do you think that a blanket ban on smoking is a good idea?). In many cases, that would be even worse.
But let me try another example: would you not agree that the Catholic Church is a major cause of the ban on abortion in nearly all of Latin America?
It seems clear that it is - the Catholic Church keeps working both publicly and behind the scenes to keep abortion banned.
Yet, that does not suggest that an obvious means to eliminate that problem is to ban the Catholic Church.
Or do you think the Catholic Church is not a major cause of the bans on abortion, either?

Similarly, racist beliefs in the Southern US states are a major cause of racist behavior against Black people. Do you think that an obvious solution is to ban racist beliefs?

Still, even if you do believe that it’s obvious that one should ban any major cause of oppression, immoral behavior, or whatever, clearly Stephen does not believe that, so your suggestion that he’s suggesting a ban is mistaken.

#10 Angra Mainyu on Monday October 19, 2015 at 5:54pm

(the post above is a reply to Worth Swearingen’s immediately previous post).

#11 Arturis on Monday October 19, 2015 at 5:58pm

Worth Swearington: “When I called their reasoning crude, I mean that they propose a simple causal mechanism when the association is much more likely to be a complicated tangle. To say Islam is an instigator of evil is simply incorrect.”

Sunni and Shia Islam call for the murder/imprisonment of apostates. This is codified in law in several Muslim-majority countries. Do you think this ruling is fair? Do you think it is justified?
Can you name any other religion that currently calls for the murder of apostates?

#12 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 7:24pm

Arturis: You’ve missed my point. Please reread what I wrote, particularly my reply to Mark Jones in which I agree that at times you ought to criticize religious doctrine. Or read post #4 by Michael T. Bee, with which I concur.

Angra: I am saying that association <> causation. Smoking cigarettes causes cancer. It’s not the other way around. Religion has not been shown to be _a_ cause of violence. Were you to eliminate a religion, you would not necessarily reduce violence at all.

You may see my point more clearly if we consider a good associated with Islam. I’m not registered so I can’t post a link so you can search for the title, “Islamic scholars call on faithful to help fight climate change.” The article says that the scholars draw on Islamic teachings.

Did Islam cause these scholars to lead a fight to control climate change? Dawkins and probably Law would say, “No,” and I would agree with them. However, they are blinded by their loathing of religion to the blatant conflict in their analysis.

#13 Matt (Guest) on Monday October 19, 2015 at 7:36pm

Not a convincing argument. Stop being jerks.

#14 Arturis on Monday October 19, 2015 at 7:41pm

Worth Swearington: “You’ve missed my point. Please reread what I wrote”

You stated “To say Islam is an instigator of evil is simply incorrect”.

I asked those questions for a reason.

It is entirely reasonable to say that Islam is an instigator of evil, in this case the evil of killing innocent people like apostates. It is only because of this religion that people are murdered, imprisoned, or if they’re lucky, ‘merely’ cut off from their family and friends..simply because they reject the religion.
No other factors are at play in the ruling to kill these particular people.

#15 Angra Mainyu on Monday October 19, 2015 at 8:27pm

Worth Swearingen,

That reply does not address my questions. I asked them in order to try to persuade you, but if you don’t address them, I don’t know which part of my argumentations didn’t persuade you, so I don’t know which part I should focus next.
Could you at least address the following two questions:
1. Do you think Christianity, Islam, etc., are not the causes of the moral beliefs of many people? (e.g., the belief that men who have sex with men deserve to be executed and/or go to Hell, the belief that apostates deserve to be executed and go to Hell, etc.?).
2. Do you think that people don’t often act motivated by their moral beliefs, when it comes to supporting policies, political parties, etc.?

My point is that religions like Christianity and Islam have a major influence on several of the moral beliefs that a person holds, and those beliefs in turn influence their behavior, from their voting patterns to the beliefs they indoctrinate their children into.

Regarding the case of climate change, the answer is almost certainly “no”, I agree. But then again, there is nothing in their holy books that says anything about climate change, and while the books may well entail everything (they do if they’re contradictory, because a contradiction entails anything, and I’d say they’re contradictory though I’m not going to argue for that in this thread), it’s almost certain that those scholars wouldn’t have come up with the idea of fighting climate change from them - that’s not a major cause of their behavior.

But if a person supports - say - executing people for apostasy (to use Arturis’s example above), and cites a hadith in support of that, clearly that is Islam causing a lot of violence against innocent people. It’s not as if the person came up with the idea of executing people for abandoning Islam on their own.
Also, if they support to stone women to death for adultery and cite a hadith, the main cause is Islam. It’s not as if they would come up with that very specific idea on their own, even if they may on their own consider that some punishment is deserved.
If one of those people were to be persuaded that Islam is not true, they might remain supportive of the punishment for adultery (but not for apostasy; that one would be eliminated) if they still believed that that particular part is true, but that’s not to say that Islam was not the cause. Rather, the problem would be that they still keep that particular Islam-based belief (i.e., that women who commit adultery deserve to be stoned to death), if not others. But still, that is unusual. While there are no statistics on ex-Muslim beliefs as far as I know, if you actually take a look at the moral beliefs of ex-Muslims you can find, you will find overall a significant change for the better in that some of those very oppressive (towards women, gay people, apostates) are no longer present, or are present to a much lesser degree (but not the apostates part).

Similarly, the belief that abortion is immoral and as bad as murder (actually, a form of murder) clearly plays a role in supporting bans on abortion in the Americas, as do the calls from the pulpit by priests and pastors. Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity are some of the major causes of those bans in nearly all of Latin America, and the support that such bans enjoy in much of the US. There are other causes, but religion (in this case, Christianity, in some of its common versions) is clearly among them.

As in the case of Islam, someone who comes to realize that Christianity is false might still support a ban on abortion, though that’s far less likely. Usually, people who realize that Christianity is false no longer support bans on abortion, at least not at all stages in the pregnancy, certainly not in case the life of the woman is at risk, etc.

#16 Angra Mainyu on Monday October 19, 2015 at 8:31pm

@#13 Matt,

Could you please specify which argument is not convincing, and why? (also, whom are you calling “jerks”?)

#17 Mark Jones (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 2:55am

Worth Swearingen

Angra Mainyu makes some effective challenges, so some of my reply is really be reinforcement.

“When I called their reasoning crude, I mean that they propose a simple causal mechanism when the association is much more likely to be a complicated tangle.”

Pointing the finger at Islam for oppression and bigotry does not commit one to a simple causal mechanism behind it. This is like accusing your doctor of crude reasoning when she recommends you stop smoking because there isn’t a simple causal mechanism between smoking and cancer (“my grandad has been smoking for 60 years and is as fit as a fiddle”). That is simply not an effective counter to her advice; she is right to tell you to stop smoking whether the association is simple or a complicated tangle. Likewise, it would still be right to point the finger at Islam for oppression and bigotry, even if the association is a complicated tangle.

“Religion has not been shown to be _a_ cause of violence. Were you to eliminate a religion, you would not necessarily reduce violence at all.”

The second point would not show the first, which is Law’s point when he says:

“The problem with this argument is that to point out that Y often happens without X does not establish that X is not a major cause of Y. Plenty of people get cancer without smoking, but nevertheless smoking is a major cause of cancer.”

So, for example, eliminating smoking would not *necessarily* reduce cancer at all, because cancer has multifarious causes, and another one of those causes might increase cancer incidence.

In other words Dawkins and Law (and anyone) could agree with you about your second proposition without agreeing with you about the first.

But as I said in my first response, if you want to argue that religious beliefs, like death for homosexuals, or turning the other cheek, have no *practical* effect on believers, then I think you’re going to have to argue that point against most religious people, as well as atheists like Dawkins and Law. That is the thrust of Angra Mainyu’s questions.

#18 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 2:58am

Angra

I haven’t answered your questions because I’m not interested in a discussion about how institutions like a church influence human behavior (or how people influence the institutional dogma). I’m only interested in the attempt of some to isolate religion as a major cause of behavior. I’m suggesting that the relationship is far more complex and religion’s influence far more muted. I’m also suggesting that Dawkins’s attempt (as defended by Law) to tease the knot apart by starting with religion is colored by his negative view of religion.

#19 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 3:33am

“So, for example, eliminating smoking would not *necessarily* reduce cancer at all, because cancer has multifarious causes, and another one of those causes might increase cancer incidence.”

All other things being equal, stopping the practice of smoking reduces cancer in the population. Society recognizes this and in the U.S. the practice is discouraged. By analogy, stopping the practice of religion presumably reduces violence. Thus, we should require churches to post warnings about the tendency of religion to induce violence and require communicants to pay a steep tax for entering a sanctuary.

Law might agree that the analogy breaks when you extend it a little. But his use of it reflects his simplistic beliefs about the relationship between religion and violence. Simple beliefs lead to simple solutions.

#20 Mark Jones (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 3:46am

#18 Worth Swearingen

“I’m only interested in the attempt of some to isolate religion as a major cause of behavior.”

This looks like another example of you crudely characterising another’s views. If a conservative politician criticised a socialist for some political belief, no-one would accuse the conservative of attempting to *isolate* politics as a major cause of behaviour; it wouldn’t enter anyone’s head to go nuclear like that. But when religious beliefs are examined, suddenly these normally unacceptable responses become de rigueur.

“I’m also suggesting that Dawkins’s attempt (as defended by Law) to tease the knot apart by starting with religion is colored by his negative view of religion.”

It’s probably safe to say (!) that Dawkins has a negative view of religion, but that should not be used to argue against his criticism of religion. Because, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, most (all?) religious people recognise the role their beliefs play in motivating behaviour, and will criticise religion in exactly the same way Dawkins does. So you need to find counter-arguments to the points raised rather than tackle the man, because they are raised by people who aren’t coloured by negative views of religion.

#21 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 3:49am

Mark Jones

“if you want to argue that religious beliefs, like death for homosexuals, or turning the other cheek, have no *practical* effect on believers, then I think you’re going to have to argue that point against most religious people, as well as atheists like Dawkins and Law.”

I haven’t argued that.

BTW, anyone else resent the how the bot filter makes you search the website for answers. :-D

#22 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 4:09am

Mark Jones

Did you read the article?

“Religion is a source of much bigotry and oppression. It is one of the main mechanisms of oppression of women, gays, and other minorities around the world.”

“For many oppressors, religion is the fundamental justification for their oppression, much as it was for European anti-semitism. _To focus only on other factors will, therefore, be to miss a key cause._ Compare trying to combat historic European anti-semitism without mentioning or targeting the Christian religion, when Christianity was actually a root justification. That would not have been effective, given the deep religious roots of that bigotry.” (emphasis mine)

Law barely acknowledges that there are other factors before laying into religion as the cause we need to attack.

#23 Mark Jones (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 4:39am

#22 Worth Swearingen

Sorry, you’re going to have to explain what relevance this comment has to mine.

#24 Arturis on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 5:07am

Worth Swearington: Did you read comment #14?

#25 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 9:17am

Worth,

“I haven’t answered your questions because I’m not interested in a discussion about how institutions like a church influence human behavior (or how people influence the institutional dogma). I’m only interested in the attempt of some to isolate religion as a major cause of behavior. I’m suggesting that the relationship is far more complex and religion’s influence far more muted. I’m also suggesting that Dawkins’s attempt (as defended by Law) to tease the knot apart by starting with religion is colored by his negative view of religion.”
But you made a number of claims with which I disagree, and I was hoping there would be a way I could try to persuade you that your claims were mistaken. I gave arguments that you didn’t find persuasive, so I asked you questions that might help me figure out why you’re not being persuaded, and how to focus on those particular points. Given what you reply now, it seems to me I will not be able to convince you, though I can still try a little more (see below).

“All other things being equal, stopping the practice of smoking reduces cancer in the population. Society recognizes this and in the U.S. the practice is discouraged. By analogy, stopping the practice of religion presumably reduces violence. Thus, we should require churches to post warnings about the tendency of religion to induce violence and require communicants to pay a steep tax for entering a sanctuary.”

Let’s consider the following example: the belief that sex between people of the same sex is always immoral - regardless of whether it comes from religion or not.
Clearly, such belief is a major cause of unjust behavior towards gay people. Do you not agree? (could you please at least tell me whether you agree with that one? It seems obvious that the belief that gay sex is always immoral is a major cause of unjust behavior towards gay people)

One might mirror your argument in reply to Mark above, as follows: ‘All other things being equal, stopping the practice of smoking reduces cancer in the population. Society recognizes this and in the U.S. the practice is discouraged. By analogy, stopping the belief that sex between people of the same sex is always immoral presumably reduces unjust behavior. Thus, we should require people who promote [alternative: hold] the belief that gay sex is always immoral (whether churches or not) to post warnings about the tendency of the belief that same-sex sex is always immoral to induce unjust behavior, and require communicants to pay a steep tax for engaging in such promotion.’

But clearly, that is not a good analogy when it comes to policies. Smoking and the belief that gay sex is always immoral are analogous in the sense that the former is a major cause of cancer, and the latter is a major cause of unjust behavior towards gay people. But it does not follow that they are analogous in terms of the consequences of state/government coercive action forcing people to pay higher taxes and place warnings. They are not. Purely for example - there are many differences -, and leaving aside Constitutional limitations in the US, the latter kind of warning (i.e., in the gay case) would have a much greater impact in terms of restriction of the freedom of many people - not all forms of coercion are equally big a burden on the people being coerced, psychologically.

Similarly, smoking and, say, Catholicism are analogous in the sense that smoking is a major cause of cancer, and Catholicism a major cause of support for abortion bans - and, indeed, of abortion bans in Latin America. But that does not entail they’re analogous in terms of the consequences of using state/government force to coerce people into posting warnings. They are not, because - for example; there are plenty of other differences - the limitations to freedom of speech that would result from the warning in the case of Catholicism is much more severe than it is in the smoking case; moreover, social reaction to such attempts would be different and would likely result in greater evils - i.e., more conflict, violence, etc. -, and so on. Something similar applies to Shia and Sunni Islam, which are in the present worse sources of violence against innocent people than Catholicism is.

In general, the question of whether to use state/government force in order to coerce people to do something, in turn as a means to prevent some bad results, depends on many factors that need to be considered on a case by case basis. There is no one solution that fits all problems. Stephen’s comparison does not suggest he endorses the idea of forcing Christians and Muslims to post such warnings, so the accusation is not warranted (and if you take a look at other posts he makes, it’s clear that he would oppose that course of action).

#26 Gary (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 11:00am

Oppression has nothing to do with Quran? What is he smoking?
The entire 4th chapter of the Quran “Surat An-Nisa” is about how you’re supposed to treat women. How much clearer do you want to be?

#27 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 11:48am

Arturis: Yes. I don’t think what you said is true. There is no airtight seal to lock out more complex explanations for killing apostates. You want to make the scenario too neat. Otherwise, I don’t know enough about it to debate it and I suspect you don’t either.

Mark Jones: You said I crudely characterized Law’s views. I’m didn’t. Law calls religion a “main mechanism” and a “fundamental justification” for oppression. He says further we should focus on religion as a key cause. Is this rhetoric not an “attempt . . . to isolate religion as a major cause of behavior”?

#28 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 12:02pm

Angra: You’re making too much of my post. As I said, Law would probably recognize that the analogy fails when extended. Nonetheless, to identify Islam as a cause of evil, particularly when not simultaneously recognizing Islam as likewise a cause for good, begs for some action to be taken against it.

Gary: “What is he smoking?” Apparently something less potent than you when you dreamt I said, “Oppression has nothing to do with the Quran.”

#29 Arturis on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 4:56pm

Worth Swearingen: “Arturis: Yes. I don’t think what you said is true. There is no airtight seal to lock out more complex explanations for killing apostates. You want to make the scenario too neat.”

I don’t ‘want’ to make the scenario out to be anything other than what it is. I don’t >want< this to be the reality, but I’m also willing to face the uncomfortable facts.

“Otherwise, I don’t know enough about it to debate it and I suspect you don’t either.”

So you’re arguing against it even though you don’t know enough about it? I can only suggest that you do some research on the subject to give your opinion a solid basis.

I actually know quite a bit about the issue of apostasy in Islam. I’ve also spoken to a considerable number of Muslims and ex-Muslims about it.
The attempted justifications from Muslims for the ruling are always based on what the hadiths and the Qur’an say.
An oft-repeated defence is ‘look it’s not me saying this, it’s God, and I won’t argue with his ruling’.

There is no other religion on the planet (unless there’s some minor regional religion I’m unaware of) that currently calls for the murder of people who leave the religion. This is something that is specific to Islam.
ALL the main Sunni and Shia schools of jurisprudence agree that unrepentant apostates are to be murdered (or in the case of female apostates, ‘merely’ imprisoned and beaten until they repent according to certain fiqh).
As I’ve said, this ruling is codified in law & is active in several countries.
This ruling is primarily taken from specific Sahih (trusted) hadith like the following:

‘Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’

Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:260

‘Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”’

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17

Note that it does not explicitly mention in the Qur’an that apostates are to be murdered, but this hasn’t stopped the ruling from becoming accepted, practised and defended.
This ruling does not come from politics, from culture, or from anywhere else. It comes >>solely from Islam<<.

You are suggesting that Islam is not an instigator of evil under any circumstances.
Yet without Islam (Sunni and Shia Islam to be exact), there would be no ruling to murder, imprison or otherwise punish apostates. In this instance it really is as simple as that.

Now in the future if all Muslims permanently reject this apostasy ruling, it could then be said that Islam (as practised) would not be an instigator of this particular evil. In the present, it is.

#30 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 5:20pm

Arturis: I knew I shouldn’t have responded to you. You do not understand my point, nor do you really want to. You can quote whatever scripture you want. That does not establish that Islam causes violence.

#31 Arturis on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at 6:01pm

Worth Swearingen: “I knew I shouldn’t have responded to you. You do not understand my point, nor do you really want to. You can quote whatever scripture you want. That does not establish that Islam causes violence.”

I am addressing your specific point that ‘To say Islam is an instigator of evil is simply incorrect’.

I understood this point perfectly and posted my comments in opposition to it with evidence from hadiths as well as explaining that the apostasy ruling is codified in law & active in several countries. Do you not believe me? Then do some actual research on the subject yourself.
Scripture alone does not prove anything.
However when people are killed/imprisoned/fined etc. simply for being apostates due to laws in specific countries, that IS evidence that Islam is ‘an instigator of evil’.

You say you do not know enough about the issue of apostasy in Islam, yet you say that I am the one who does not understand. Frankly you are arguing from a position of ignorance on the issue.

#32 Mark Jones (Guest) on Wednesday October 21, 2015 at 4:02am

#27 Worth Swearingen

“You said I crudely characterized Law’s views. I’m didn’t. Law calls religion a “main mechanism” and a “fundamental justification” for oppression. He says further we should focus on religion as a key cause. Is this rhetoric not an “attempt . . . to isolate religion as a major cause of behavior”?”

Thanks, that makes your complaint clearer.

My concern with your phrase (and it’s only a passing concern after your previous comments) is that there’s no doubt that Law is arguing that religion plays a fundamental role in oppressive and bigoted practices, but your use of the verb ‘isolate’ here is unfair, because it implies Law wants to focus on religion to the *exclusion* of all other factors. In fact Law is arguing that religion should not be *excluded* from the list of causes, not that it should be considered the only cause:

“To focus only on other factors will, therefore, be to miss a key cause.”

And he adds:

“Nor is it to deny that, say, Western actions across the Middle East have resulted in very serious injustices which also fuel certain hatreds and bigotries and that this needs addressing too.”

So Law explicitly cites another factor.

Recall that in your second comment you said Law *singled* Islam out as a cause of violence and that Dawkins and Law propose a simple causal mechanism of behaviour, so this is a continuation of a narrative you assign to Dawkins and Law of simplistic thinking; only addressing the evils of Islam (or religion) whilst ignoring any other factors.

I’m suggesting that what they say doesn’t justify that accusation. Perhaps, instead, they want Islam (and religion) to be addressed if and when it does play a major role, because we know that for centuries some religions have managed to gain some measure of protection from criticism, through indoctrination and reactionary rules against daring to criticise them, and that needs to stop. Indeed, I went on to note that religious ideologies are often given a privileged position (often unwittingly) in public discourse, in a way that, for example, political ideologies are not, to illustrate this tendency.

So if they are just insisting that Islam’s (or religion’s) role is a major or fundamental one, then that wouldn’t commit them to a simplistic causal mechanism of behaviour, nor would it mean they blanket exclude other factors, which is what you have been saying and your language continues to imply. Hence I describe your characterisation as crude, not necessarily their thinking.

#33 AbuSulaiman (Guest) on Tuesday October 27, 2015 at 3:55pm

I’m a Saudi and I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that Islam can be dangerous, indeed. Many verses in the Quran and a lot of the Hadiths are inherently not compatible with the times we live in today .. take a look at my world to see why. Apologists will point fingers to the political or socioeconomic factors and claim that Islam was not “well” understood or practiced “right” .. well, it’s been around for 1400 years .. how many more years we need. I cannot say the preceding words in public (or in private for that matter) .. see how dangerous Islam can be.

Speaking of smoking, I think Religion can be dangerous to your health so consume moderately. It should be kept on leash as you have managed to do in the west over the years.

#34 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Tuesday October 27, 2015 at 8:59pm

AbuSulaiman

“Many verses in the Quran and a lot of the Hadiths are inherently not compatible with the times we live in today.”

Of that I have no doubt. I’m personally familiar with Christianity and the same is true of it. A giant man who decides to start a family without using his giant penis? That couldn’t possibly be. :-D But not that many religious people are so literal. Many of those who profess to believe the implausible don’t live their lives as if they do. Instead, they pick and choose that which is compatible with their worldview.

Being Saudi, can you explain how Islam causes violence there and not everywhere else?

#35 AbuSulaiman (Guest) on Wednesday October 28, 2015 at 3:04am

“ can you explain how Islam causes violence there and not everywhere else? ”

Before I answer that question let me point out few observations that might be helpful to understand what I will be saying ..

We in Saudi, don’t question our belief, we don’t reason with it, and we don’t even choose to. We just happened to be born into Islam in as much as we found ourselves born to our parents. While Religion is an intimate experience to many westerners, it is very public in Saudi. It cannot be, but public here.

We have great pride in our past, but have lost touch with the reality of today. We teach our children that listening to music is a sin yet we have the biggest market for songs in the region. The government sponsors thousands of young students to study abroad, but its clerics tell them that gender mixing in class is a sin. Such conflicting messages have led Saudis to suffer from an identity crisis, and the new generation today is at a crossroads. In a nutshell, our mentality is like a computer where the hardware is current and high-tech, but the software is obsolete and outdated.

Saudis suffer from a syndrome I call “Rent Your Mind To Others” or RYMTO. It is characterized by a lack of independent thought, whereby individualism gives way to collective control. While we may look different, we actually think and act in very similar ways. Our educational system is partly to be blamed for this syndrome, along with the society at large. In fact, Islam encourages conformity, and every Friday prayer the Imam calls for “being the same” and denounces any disparity from the communal thinking … “he who differs … will differ in hell fire.” .. see how many times I use “We” instead of “I” in this post.

Now going back to your question we have our own version of Islam -we call it Salafi, you call it Wahhabi-  it differs from that of .. say Egypt or Malaysia in the way we pick and choose .. we pick a lot of the “dangerous” verses. I listen to the daily dose of the fatwas issued by our “beloved” Ulema broadcasted by all sorts of internet media outlets and I can tell you it’s like a stand up comedy show to me. Very few saudis take them with a grain of salt .. far more take them seriously. Did you know that across Saudi, Imams on Friday prayer (like your Sunday mass) calls for the death and annihilation of the christians/jews/infidels and a host of other human beings just because they are non muslims .. this happens on every week of every month of every year for the last decades that I lived on this land (I’m over 50) .. it is no strange that some will become like time bombs. Actually the strange is that if none becomes like a time bob waiting to explode. In case you were wondering what the message of the Friday sermon (aka khutba) was about .. most probably about loving & merciful Islam !

I often wonder how come our young Saudis who study in the west and are taught to seek evidence and proof when in class but upon exiting their class rooms they leave their critical minds on the shelf when faced with the teachings of a clergyman.

sorry this is getting long .. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one

#36 Philip Rand (Guest) on Thursday October 29, 2015 at 9:30am

Hello AbuSulaiman

I was intrigued by your puzzle:

“I often wonder how come our young Saudis who study in the west and are taught to seek evidence and proof when in class but upon exiting their class rooms they leave their critical minds on the shelf when faced with the teachings of a clergyman.”

I believe the answer is that if one wishes to attain high grades all one has to do is to GIVE the teacher what he wants…ones own beliefs don’t enter the grading loop.

You also, bring up “critical minds”... here I take it you mean “critical thinking”.

And this is a big problem because from what I have seen and heard from teachers “Critical Thinking” is used as a synonym for “Independent Thinking”. 

However, the manner in which it is taught is not to teach it directly but to criticise pupils when they make errors, i.e. Stephen Law’s book “Believing Bullshit” is a good example.

Essentially, the error all teachers of “Critical Thinking” miss is the “belief” that “Thinking” that is free from logical errors is good thinking…but, that’s not necessarily the case.

Bad logic makes for bad thinking, but good logic makes for good thinking only if the starting perceptions are themselves appropriate. 

Logic is only a servicing device for perception, i.e. a process.

I see examples of this all the time…this is why I enjoy CFI [*o*]

#37 Worth Swearingen (Guest) on Thursday October 29, 2015 at 4:46pm

AbuSulaiman

Thank you for that. It is powerful and disturbing. It’s given me something to think about—to refine my thinking a bit. Thank you.

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