Now that is False Equivalency!!

When I discuss the reality that conservative Christians have certain disadvantages in our society I am sometimes accused of false equivalency. Yet at no point have I argued that the disadvantage of Christians is exactly the same as the disadvantage of non-Christians. To conduct a fair comparison of the Christian’s and non-Christian’s place in our society, we have to take seriously the fact that Christianity is at times an advantage and at other times a disadvantage in our society. I accept both facts in the above sentence while those arguing against me often only accept the former. In reality, the advantage of Christians in our society is tied to the lower numbers of individuals with animosity towards them than towards atheists. The conservative Christian disadvantage is that those with that animosity tend to come from a racially, educationally, economically powerful social position.

However, this week I came across an example of false equivalency that perfectly illustrates what this logical fallacy looks like. Here is a link to a video of Bill Maher’s show in which he dialogs with Michael Moore and Al Sharpton (warning: language – after all it is the Bill Maher show). It is about eight minutes long and if you do not want to invest that much time in watching it, I will quickly summarize it. Maher argues that Islamic terrorism is a special problem that has to be addressed while Moore and Sharpton basically argue that Christians are just as violent as the Muslim terrorists. Yeah, that is false equivalency and it is not even close.

It is silly to make overarching accusations about Muslims and violence, but it is clear that contemporary Christianity is not the violent threat that Islamic terrorism has presented to us. To make such an observation is not Islamophobia, but an acknowledgement of reality. One can make an argument that historically Christianity has been as violent as Islam. I would not agree with that argument but it is a logical assertion that can be adequately defended. There is no real logical argument that contemporary Christians are as violent as Muslim terrorists. Some will point to some isolated incidents where Christians engaged in violence. However, Christians who commit mass murder do so detached from overt support from their religious community; whereas, it is clear that many of the Islamic terrorists engage in their violence with the support of certain segments in their religious tradition. To argue that isolated Christian violence is the same as organized Islamic violence, which Moore and Sharpton appear to be doing, is a great example of false equivalency.

Here is another great example. When the subject of violence against women came up, Sharpton points out that many women get raped in our “Christian” counties. Those rapes are horrible, but when we find the rapist, we him in jail. In some Islamic countries women are not just raped but are treated as second class citizens in ways that are unthinkable in a contemporary Christian country. In those Christian countries women do not have to wear coverings, can go to school, and are allowed to drive. Equating the fact that we have not rid ourselves of rape to the gender based abuses that occur in some Islamic nations is a great example of false equivalency.

The problem is that while the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, there are certain sub-groups of Muslims who are terrorists and openly attempting to kill us. (Moore states that Christians want to kill non-Christians as well. He provides no evidence for this assertion but even if true, then where are the sub-groups of Christians engaging in terrorism today? Equating what people theoretically want to do with what others are actually doing is another great example of false equivalency.) What is the worst Christian group in the United States? My vote goes to the Westboro Baptist Church. They are despicable. But they are not violent nor is there any evidence that they are terrorists. I dearly would love for them to go away but comparing their rude, insensitive, but nonviolent protests is simply not the same thing as attempting to blow up those one disagrees with as we know certain Muslim terrorists do.

I would like to have a society whereby people are not punished socially, economically, or educationally for their religious belief or non-belief. But such a society requires a level of respect for those who differ from us, a respect that I often fail to see. I would welcome an honest discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of Christians and non-Christians in society. To have that discussion, individuals have to be open that religious out-group members sometimes suffer in ways that they do not suffer. I have personally observed the advantages of not being a Christian in academic circles and have done the systematic research documenting some of those advantages. But I also recognize advantages I have as a Christian in other areas of our society. Putting myself in the mind of the other allows me to be open to a more nuanced interpretation than some of my Christian brothers and sisters who only see Christians as a persecuted class. Likewise, I have dialoged with non-Christians who only see their disadvantages and are loath to acknowledged disadvantages conservative Christians sometimes operate under. Such individuals attempt to use the charges of false equivalency to argue that such disadvantages are unimportant before we can even get to the discussion of the nature of these disadvantages. But real false equivalency is stating things are alike when there is plenty of evidence that they are quite different. The discrimination Christians may face in our society is different than the type of discrimination those of other faiths may face, but it is not imaginary and pointing out that fact is not false equivalency. In reality, pointing out that fact allows us to seriously respect the disadvantage both Christians and non-Christians have in our society and helps us to comprehend sophisticated ways religion factors into how social stratification can operate in the United States.

  • Noah Smith

    I note your frustrations and I share them to a degree. But most of the social progress that we enjoy in the West are very recent.

    I think you’re wrong about the differences regarding rape in muslim and christian countries. There’s a recent story from Kenya in which gang rapists were sentenced to cut grass. The victim, because of her injuries, is sentenced to spend her life in a wheel chair. And that’s replicated all through Christian Africa and rest of the global south. Even in the West, the convictions for rape is pitifully low and there is still stigma attached to it. Muslim countries are hardily outliers when it comes to dropping the ball with sexual crimes.

    The question I have is what do you mean by contemporary Christianity? It wasn’t that long ago that African Americans were being lynched. And politicians voted down anti-lynching bills. And whilst there’s nothing Christian about violence, it’s clear that the human mind is capable of hanging a black man on Saturday and sitting in the pews on Sunday. Good ol’ Christian southern boys were terrorising Americans long before Islamists.

    Globally, who gassed millions of people in death camps? Not muslims but Europeans. The only use of atomic weapons? Americans (who thankfully got the technology before the Nazis). When viewed from the prism of history the violence and the dysfunction in the muslim world is merely business as usual. When it comes to megadeaths the West are the masters.

    • georgeyancey

      I do not know the stats on rape convictions in the US but the mere fact that we attempt to prosecute all rapists, even though we fail, is a big difference than what happens in some Islamic countries. But a bigger question is what is a Christian country today? Is that the US. I hate to open this can of worms but whether the US is a Christian country is a complicated question. But however one answers the question clearly we are not a Christian nation like Iran is a Muslem country. We are a country than has powerful secular and nonChristian influences. The same can be said about other European countries for most of the 20th century. Thus it seems inaccurate to link nuclear bomb or the Holocaust to Christianity. There are far too many other social influences that played into those actions. To have real equlivancey we need similar examples of directly religiously inspired terrorism in contemporary society done by Christians and I just do not see that.

      • Noah Smith

        Oh I didn’t mean to say that Christianity was to blame for the Holocaust or the atomic bomb. What I’m pointing out is that the disfunction in much of the Islamic world is business as usual, I don’t think it’s particularly notable. Much of the megadeaths and wars of the 20th century was secular and mostly occurred in non muslim countries.

        However like you I do think that the violence of Islamic terrorism has it roots in theology not just secular politics. Not least because that’s what the terrorists themselves repeatedly say. But liberals like Moore and Sharpton (and I say this as a liberal, albeit British) have selective hearing.

        • georgeyancey

          I think we are in agreement.

        • ahermit

          It would be too much to say that Christianity was fully to blame for the Holocaust, but we also can’t deny the Christian roots of the anti-semitism that made it possible. Read martin Luther’s opinions about the Jews, or the Catholic teachings that prevailed for centuries. Hatred of the Jews did not spring fully formed from Hitler’s pen. It has deep roots in European Christian traditions.

      • AshleyWB

        I’d argue your view of the way rape is treated in the US is far too rosy. We don’t even come close to attempt to prosecute all rapists. Police departments have tens of thousands of rape kits that have never been processed and prosecutors decline to take rape cases to court at much higher rates than other violent crimes. A large percentage of rapes are never reported due to the severe social stigma and level of doubt that victims face. Just in the last year we’ve seen multiple cases of young girls blamed by their communities for being raped to the point that their families were driven out of town. A teenager in Canada killed herself due to the doubt and ostracization she faced after she was attacked by a popular athlete.

        I also think you’re slicing things up a bit finely with respect to religion and violence. Your focus on terrorism excludes the vast majority of violent deaths over the past fifty years. Most of those deaths were the result of war and genocides. The civil war in Guatemala killed a quarter of a million people. The genocides in Burundi and Rwanda combined killed over a million. Tens of thousands died or were tortured during Argentina’s Dirty War. At least 5 million died in the DRC during the civil wars of the 90′s and early 2000′s.

        Coming back home, the USA has been at war for roughly twenty out of the last fifty years, during which over a million people have died, mostly Vietnamese and Iraqi civilians.

        Christians aren’t responsible for every one of those deaths, and you may not be able to link Christianity directly to all or any of them. But in every one of those cases, an overwhelmingly Christian nation was deeply involved and Christians did much if not most of the killing, which I think makes it pretty difficult to reasonably maintain an Islam-is-more-violent stance.

        • georgeyancey

          The fact that all rapes are not prosecuted is troublesome. The fact that women rapes openly brutalized in certain Islamic societies is horrific. The comparison is not even close. In one case we have not done enough to prosecute rapists although there is general agreement that rapists should be put in jail. In other cases women are brutalized and oppressed with full consent of society. Tell me which is worst?
          I really do not see how you can say that all of the death you cite is due to Christianity. First, are these nations where Christianity is the official religion as it is in many Muslim countries. Second, are these deaths done “in the name of Christianity”. When the Muslim terrorist blows something up it is clearly in the “name of Islam”. There really is no comparison. Saying that Christians did the killing is not that meaningful given what we know about social pressure and that as Christians become more religious they are less likely to engage in violence. This is why equating Muslim violence to Christian violence is false equivalency.

      • ahermit

        I do not know the stats on rape convictions in the US but the mere fact that we attempt to prosecute all rapists, even though we fail, is a big difference

        America is definitely better than some other places, but the idea that all, or even most, rapes get prosecuted is, well, naive to say the least…

        http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

        “The majority of sexual assault are not reported to the police (an
        average of 60% of assaults in the last five years were not reported).1
        Those rapists, of course, will never spend a day in prison. But even when the crime is reported, it is unlikely to lead to an arrest and prosecution. Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 3% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison.”

        And it’s not just in Muslim countries that rape is a problem; the use of “corrective rape” to attack lesbians in places like Uganda can be easily linked to the rapid homphobic preaching of Christian evangelists…and of course t was those same Christian militias that committed the slaughter at Srebrinica who set up “rape camps” elsewhere in Bosnia…

        • georgeyancey

          Notice I said attempt to and while we can find isolated cases it is hard for me to believe that people rape with impunity in the United States without someone trying to put them in jail. And the context of Shapton’s remark is the fact that we do not put all rapists in jail is the equivalent the mistreatment of women in Muslim counties. I call false equivalency on that one and do not see how your examples disprove that point.

          • ahermit

            In the great majority of cases no, we don’t even attempt to.

            And the equivalency you were arguing about is not between the US and other countries, it’s between Christianity and Islam; a comparison which is clearly addressed by the examples I gave. Please don’t move the goalposts.

          • georgeyancey

            I did not move the goalpost. The argument form the post was on the false equalvancy by Shapeton and Moore. I would dispute your claim that there is no attempt to even try to prosecute rape in a great majority of the time but that is not even the point. The point is that we cannot equal the fact that people do, at times, get away with rape in the U.S. with what is happening to women in certain Islamic nations. I did not make the claim that it is. Sharpeton did.

  • buddyglass23

    In my experience believers are not so much ‘punished’ for the sole fact of their Christian belief as they are for specific policy views they claim necessarily stem from an orthodox Christian faith. The pro-choice believer who views homosexuality as morally acceptable and supports a strong government safety net yet who nevertheless believes in heaven and hell probably won’t get the office atheist all up in arms.

    On the other hand we might consider a believer who is outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage. In the mind of the non-believing s.s.m. supporter, this Christian might as well be supporting anti-miscegenation laws. What’s supremely offensive isn’t the guy’s Christianity per se, but his other views that he claims to hold explicitly because of his Christian faith.

    Also I think tone really matters. You can give voice to your views in a humble, loving way, or you can be a real jackass about it.

    • georgeyancey

      Yet my research clearly shows that merely being identified as a Christian influences academics to reject potential job candidates. I actually use to think like you do in that it is the politics people associated with Christianity rather than the religion itself that academics had problems with. Two things changed my mind. First in my research Republicans experienced more acceptance than evangelicals or Christian fundamentalists. If this was a political effect then that should not be the case. Second, my qualitative work on the attitudes of cultural progressive activists reveals multiply stereotypes and prejudices that are anchored in religion rather than politics. So political attitudes do matter but it seems that religious attitudes matter even more.

      • buddyglass23

        Academia may be a special case. I was relating experience from working in technology roles in corporate America. In my experience, someone who identifies as a Christian but who generally tows the liberal line and belongs to an inoffensive denomination (say, the Episcopal Church) probably isn’t going to be hassled.

        To your point on Republicans being more warmly received than evangelicals: there are Republicans and then there are Republicans. Olympia Snowe vs. Jim DeMint. The person who is an evangelical or fundamentalist is almost surely going to be a culture warrior holding views that are will be highly offensive to a liberal academic. This isn’t the case for every Republican. So if I’m a liberal academic asked to estimate which one of two individuals’ views are likely to be anathema to my own and all I know is that one is an “evangelical fundamentalist” and other is “a Republican”, then I’m probably choosing the former. And not just because I’m biased against Christians; of the two, it’s the rational choice.

        More interesting might be to back off on the “evangelical fundamentalist” angle and ask about “generic” Christians vs. “generic” Republicans. Survey academics and ask these two questions:

        1. Which of the following best describes your political leanings: very conservative, somewhat conservative, middle-of-the-road, progressive, very progressive.

        2. All else being equal, which sort of colleague would you prefer to see hired into your department: one who is a Christian or one who is a Republican?

        I suspect that conservative academics (of which there are admittedly very few) would prefer the Republican over the Christian whereas the opposite might be true for liberal academics. This would be especially true if you gave more specific info than just “Christian”. For instance, if you said “Episcopal” or “Lutheran”. Or if you made the comparison, “an Anglican from the U.K.” vs. “a Republican from Texas”. Of course, in that case you’re indicating the least offensive version of “Christian” vs. the most offensive version of “Republican”.

        • georgeyancey

          The generic term Christian is not likely to whip up a lot of concern as it has very little meaning nowadays. That is why one has to consider conservative Christians as that seems to create the ire. If I did the research again I think I would have asked about tea party Republican so that we might deal with some of the effect you are talking about. But for me this is the biggest issue. It should not matter. What does being pro-life, anti SSM have to do with preforming academic duties. It doesn’t. What does not believing in God have to do with preforming one’s political duties. It doesn’t. Both are cases of unjustified religious prejudice. So while one may understand why some prejudice effects the opportunities of conservative Christians in academia and atheists in politics, that does not make such prejudice right.

          • buddyglass23

            I know it seems like I’m arguing just to be arguing, but please believe me when I say that isn’t the case.

            I’m not sure such prejudice is entirely unjustified from the p.o.v. of a liberal academic. You ask, “What does being pro-life, anti-ssm have to do with performing academic duties?” They don’t, unless they’re viewed as being proxies for other traits that may, in fact, have some bearing. For instance, if you’re someone who views opposition to s.s.m. as a proxy for general hatefulness, and if “general hatefulness” is a trait you want to avoid in members of your department, then there’s your rationale for passing on the anti-s.s.m. guy.

            Now, that proxy relationship may be entirely invalid. But that’s irrelevant. The question is whether the person doing the discriminating is doing so on the basis of “evangelical Christianity” per se, or on the ancillary views he mentally associates with “evangelical Christianity”. And that’s pretty hard to tease out. You’d have to ask respondents whether they would be more or less likely to hire someone who is vocally pro-life, vocally anti-s.s.m. and an evangelical Christian vs. someone who is vocally pro-life, vocally anti-s.s.m. but not especially religious.

          • georgeyancey

            I think that assumes that only those who oppose SSM are hateful. That is certainly not the case. So I would see that as an invalid proxy relationship.
            There is some research suggesting that cultural conservatives, those who are pro-life and anti-ssm are placed at jobs that are below their academic credentials which suggests that they are paying a price for their beliefs even though they are well-qualified. I do not have the citation at the top of my head but can look it up if you want me to. It seems wrong to me to punish someone occupationally simply because you disagree with them politically and/or religiously.

  • Phil

    Dr. Yancey,
    I appreciate that you push back against those who illogically try to equate Christian violence with Muslim violence in the contemporary world. I also appreciate that you acknowledge the advantages Christians have in some areas of society, as well as the sins of certain Christian groups. I think some believers do a disservice to Christianity by never admitting when we make mistakes or when we have advantages. I think it causes non-Christians to view us as dishonest and hypocritical when we do fall short. Augustine said “the truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it; set it free, it will defend itself.” I think when we set the truth free and honestly examine ourselves and admit our failings we are more authentically living as Christians. Christian and non-Christian dialogue often seems like bickering, but admitting our shortcomings in humility might be disarming and open up real dialogue. Then again, it might not. But I still think we should do it.

    • georgeyancey

      I agree Phil. A lot of my previous work has highlighted the shortcomings of the Christian church as it concerns racial issues. Also I fully acknowledged that Christians have a political advantage when running for office today. I am weird in this way. When I am around conservative Christians I tend to see their shortcomings and point out their excesses. When I am surrounded by progressive non-Christians I do the same thing. To me it seems that truth is somewhere in between both positions. I have by no means discovered that complete truth but I am trying. That sometimes leads me to saying stuff that angers people and I try to be tactful about that. Sometimes I fail in doing that. Thanks for you insightful comments.

  • Nemo

    I quite agree. I always roll my eyes when I hear the comparison being made. The difference between both groups is in the degree, which does matter. Screaming “you’re all going to Hell” on the street corner is simply not the same thing as threatening to fast track someone there. They both stem from the same belief, but the Christians are mostly harmless. The less sane sectors of Islam, by contrast, hold much influence and do play a part in shaping the modern world.

    • Noah Smith

      I’ve heard that there’s an Islamic version of the gospel where Jesus says about the adulteress ” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. So John the Baptist picks up a brick and bashes the woman’s brains out.

      So yeah, they’re differences between the two religions.

      • Nemo

        Having read quite a few Islamist rants quoted on FSTDT, I honestly can’t tell if you’re joking or not. Poe’s Law works on Islamists as well as Christian fundamentalists.

        • Noah Smith

          I’m not joking.

          • Nemo

            Could you get me the verse for that? I tried Googling it, but all I got was websites talking about the beheading of John the Baptist.

          • Noah Smith

            Hello. I haven’t looked further but I don’t believe its in the Koran or one of the Hadiths. I’m under the impression that the story is non-canonical. But I came across the story via Tom Holland’s twitter. He’s a classical scholar with an interest in the roots of Islam. He wrote a book “The Shadow of the Sword” which garnered a lot of praise and the inevitable death threat.

          • Nemo

            Then I’d be careful about telling it. The Koran happily portrays a God who could only be called “good” by applying liberal amounts of Divine Command Theory (I fully admit I’ve never touched a Koran and know only about what is quoted on the Internet by those against Islam), but there’s also parts talking about love, mercy, and forgiveness. For the story you mentioned, it sounds at first like it’s setting up the latter themes, so I’d take it with a grain of salt.

          • Noah Smith

            Maybe you should take that up with Tom Holland the classical scholar who spent decades researching Islam.

  • duhsciple

    Borrowing from Suzanne Ross’s excellent book, “The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things,” she outlines, very helpfully, the mythical point of view that is so tempting to us. She summarizes:

    “Evil is outside our community

    We have the right and responsibility to destroy it.

    Only then will we have peace.

    We know that we are good because they are evil

    There are two kinds of violence– Good Violence and Bad Violence.

    Sacrificial Formula: someone can be sacrificed for my good or the good of my community. The End justifies the Means.”
    When I consider humanity, there is just violence– present in all our histories (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist). What is happening on the “Politically Incorrect” show is a process of accusation, the blame game, “we are innocent”, “they are guilty”. It is easy to get caught up in this game. Again, Suzanne Ross:

    “Everyone is capable of being both good and evil.

    Evil hides by accusing innocent others of being evil.

    There is no Good Violence or Bad Violence. There is only violence.

    The means become the end.”

    For the Way one Rabbi taught to get out of the sacrificial system, see Luke 6:20-37.

  • RustbeltRick

    If we are quick to assert that Islamic rhetoric about “slaying the infidels” then leads to terrorism, I think it is valid to then ask if Christian rhetoric also might lead to violence. To take an example from a few days ago, a gunman killed a TSA worker at LAX, and he apparently possessed conspiracy literature and was talking about the threat of the “New World Order.” Are Christians claiming they have never engaged in conspiracy theories or produced fear-mongering books, tapes, and websites about the New World Order, Agenda 21, and so on?
    I agree that the comparisons of the threats from Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism lack perspective, simply based on the magnitude of Islam-motivated violence vs. Christian-motivated violence. At the same time, I will not defend the rhetoric of Christian fundamentalism as totally harmless and blameless. In fact, I think it’s getting worse, and we’re seeing the impact of people who are reading Right-fringe stuff and getting very violent.

    • georgeyancey

      You can find conspiracy theories within all ideologies, Christian, Muslim, leftist whatever. I do not think that conspiracy theories is a big cause of violence. Rather having a social institution supporting violence is the real problem we have to deal with.

  • ahermit

    . In some Islamic countries women are not just raped but are treated as
    second class citizens in ways that are unthinkable in a contemporary
    Christian country. In those Christian countries women do not have to
    wear coverings, can go to school, and are allowed to drive.

    I’m not sure it’s a question of Christian vs Muslim; we can find plenty of examples of violent, discriminatory Christianity around the world:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/world/europe/gay-rights-rally-is-attacked-in-georgia.html?_r=0

    http://www.thecontroversialfiles.net/2013/04/witches-burned-alive-in-kenya-africa.html

    where are the sub-groups of Christians engaging in terrorism today?

    Look around….
    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/terror-from-the-right

    Not all of these right wing extremist groups explicitly identify as christian, but many of them do.

    • georgeyancey

      The SPC’s definition of hate groups jumped the shark a while ago. I have
      an article coming out on that next year. And even they admit that they
      have groups on their hate groups list that are not violent. Saying
      hateful things and killing people are not equally bad. But I’ll play. At
      the 9-11 memorial they will list the nearly 5,000 people killed due to
      9-11. Clearly that is a case of deaths directly due to Islamic violence.Can you provide me a list of at least 1,000 deaths directly due to contemporary Christian violence. Remember this discussion is not about whether Christian ever do horrible things. There are some that do. But this is about whether Christian violence is the same as Islamic violence and my position is that it is not.

      • ahermit

        Can you provide me a list of at least 1,000 deaths directly due to contemporary Christian violence.

        Srebrenica, 1995. 7,000+ Muslim men and boys massacred by Serbian Orthodox Christian militia.
        Next question?

        • georgeyancey

          Nice try. But that was a war between two political entities. The fact that Christians are a majority in a country does not mean that this is due directly to Christian ideology like the deaths of 9-11 are due to Islamic ideology. By that reasoning then atheism is responsible for the 60 million massacred under Mao. The below Wikipedia link reveals the political, and not religious, nature of that massacre. I normally do not want to rely on Wikipedia but I would trust it more than some random anti-Christian website motivated to find a Christian orgin to the violence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srebrenica_massacre

          • ahermit

            Nice try yourself, but it’s naive to suppose that 9/11 wasn’t also largely political. And the violence in the former Yugoslavia was driven by a thousand years of ethnic strife, and the religious elements of that are undeniable. You had Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Bosnian Muslims all trying to kill each other.

            And no, I don;t want to play “body count” here; any ideology or belief can be and will be twisted to justify violence. Islam is not unique in this regard, and neither is Christianity.

            If you want to see mainstream Christian support for violence look no further than the Orthodox priests leading mobs to attack homosexuals in eastern Europe.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/world/europe/gay-rights-rally-is-attacked-in-georgia.html?_r=0

            Or the child killing Pentecostal ‘witch hunters” in Nigeria… http://dailypost.com.ng/2013/10/17/ibeno-police-rescues-two-children-from-witch-killers/

            And let’s not even think about Rwanda…http://faculty.vassar.edu/tilongma/Church&Genocide.html

          • Noah Smith

            Out of all those examples you cite I think the witch killings in Africa can most squarely be placed at Christianity’s door. That kind of nonsense, which mirrors the witch hunts in medieval Europe, wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for Exodus 22:18.

            The other examples, Rwanda, Bosnia and gay bashing in eastern Europe I think you maybe stretching a bit. Rwanda was ethnic strife caused by the political divide and conquer strategy of the old colonial masters, Bosnia , as both yourself and Mr Yancey point out, had its roots in over 400 years of ethnic and sectarian tension as well as memories of WW2. Whilst the gay bashing in Eastern Europe just continues the persecution by the communists regimes.

            But like you I’m sceptical of Mr Yancey’s claim that the Bosnian conflict was all political. Religion is political as well. Religious sectarian violence is both political and theological.

            So can Christianity lead to violence?. I think it can though rarely. But most importantly I think it, like all religions, can make conflicts bloodier and more protracted.

            One of the most bloodiest military conflicts in history was waged by Christians in China. The Taipai Rebellions was lead by a End Times cultist Hong Xiuquan. The war killed an estimated 120 million. Which is astonishing. I think WW2 claimed 80 million.

          • georgeyancey

            ahermit. You really do not make your case pointing out bad acts by Christians. The argument is about equivalency. There is not a well supported group of Christians today who are terrorizing individuals on a large scale basis and have as their major legalization tool their Christian faith. It just is not happening today. Religion can be part of a cultural climate that leads to violence at times and that can be the case with Christianity. The mistake you are making in bringing up Bosnia is that you have to argue that Christianity is the major justification for this and that is clearly not the case. As it concerned the 9-11 terrorists, they in their own words legitimated their actions through their understanding of Islam. That is why Islamic terrorist yell “God is Great” before engaging in terrorism. Are there other cultural factors involved? Yes. But in the mind of the terrorist the basic reason for engaging in terrorism is to do what God wants. There simply is no equal situation in Christianity today.
            I think I agree with most of what you said Noah. If I gave the impression that Christianity had absolutely nothing to do with what happen in Bosnia then I went too far. As stated in the previous paragraph it is part of the larger cultural background and so to say it had no impact would be misleading. But I would say that it is not religion that can make massacres worse but it is any ideologies that justifies oppression because it will not tolerate competitors. Religion can do that with a corrupt understanding of what it means to promote the ideals of the religion but of course this can happen with secular ideals (i.e. communism) as well.

          • Noah Smith

            George, you may be interested in reading “Shadow of the Sword” by Tom Holland. He’s a Classical historian with an interest in the early formation of Islam and Christianity esp of the theological differences. If you are on twitter then it’s worth following him as he engages quite a lot with muslim scholars. I’ve learned a lot.

          • georgeyancey

            I am on twitter and will probably connect with him. Sounds like an interesting book and I hope I can get to it. That history is of interest to me but it is not tangent to my research right now and so other “fun” reading has to take a backseat to the things I am studying. But thanks for pointing me in that direction.

          • Noah Smith

            No worries.

          • ahermit

            I wouldn’t necessarily disagree that the mix of violent political action and religion is currently a bigger problem in the Muslim world at this moment in time, but I disagree with the idea that this is something unique to Islam or something which hasn’t been seen in Christianity in the past, or couldn’t be in the future.

            Groups like the Phineas Priesthood or Christian Identity or the Tripura Liberation Front (responsible for bombings killings and forced mass conversions in Northern India) aren’t as big a problem as Al Qaeda today but I don’t think it’s a false equivalence to point out their existence and the similarity between them.

            I think you’re naively choosing to emphasize the religious aspects of 9/11 and downplay the political elements behind it while doing the reverse in the case of the Balkans which was a clash of ethnicities which are largely defined by religion.

          • georgeyancey

            I would suggest that the history of Christian legitimated violence is to far in the past to be a real threat now. Yeah we have some nutjobs like Christian Identity but I do not see another crusade coming. Violence motivated by Christian beliefs today is done by isolated deviant groups rather than a large scale Christian organization. As far as comparing Bosnia to 9-11 terrorist I will leave it to visitors of the blog as to whether their violence is equally based in religion. For me it is a no-brainer and that is why I argue that comparisons of Christians and Muslims in terms of religiously inspired violence is false equivalency.

          • ahermit

            The only difference I see is scale. Religiously motivated violence seems to be a bigger problem in the Muslim world, but for the victims of Joseph Kony or the Hindus in Tripura who faced Baptists with machine guns telling them to convert or die I’m sure that’s not so important. The equivalence there is very real…

          • georgeyancey

            I totally disagree that it is the same if people are killing in the name of a religion or if religious is merely part of the culture of the offending group. But even if it is only about scale that is the difference between a large supporting organization endorsing killing and the killing by one or a few rouge agents. I cannot see how this is equivalency.

          • ahermit

            What “large supporting organization” are you talking about? Most Muslims I know of absolutely deplore the Al Qaeda types as much as you and other Christians deplore Kony or the KKK. Are you suggesting that Muslims are more supportive of terrorism than non-Muslims? Because the data I’ve seen suggests the opposite is true..

            in fact, the part of the world where the idea that deliberately targeting civilians has the greatest degree of acceptance appears to be right here in North America…

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/149369/religion-not-color-views-violence.aspx

            Many of the world’s residents agree that military attacks that target civilians are never justified, with a clear majority in Asia and the MENA region finding military attacks against civilians unacceptable.
            This is not surprising considering the acute conflicts raging in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.
            Residents of the U.S. and Canada are the most likely population in the world to believe military attacks targeting civilians are sometimes justified, with nearly half (47%) sharing this sentiment.

            …When attacks are committed by a military, Americans and Canadians find them more acceptable (47% sometimes justified) than when they are committed by an individual (21% sometimes justified).
            Europeans, too, make a distinction, and are more likely to reject individual attacks than military attacks by eight percentage points.

            On the other hand, populations in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, former Soviet countries, and MENA are more likely to view violence targeting civilians as uniformly unacceptable….

            …Evidence refutes the argument that Islam encourages violence more than other religions.Residents of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states are slightly less likely than residents of non-member states to view military attacks on civilians as sometimes justified, and about as likely as those of non-member states to say the same about individual attacks…

            …Rather than look to religion to explain public acceptance of violence, Gallup’s analysis suggests that leaders should consider social and economic development and better governance. Gallup analysts tested correlations between the level at which populations say these attacks
            are “sometimes justified” and a number of independent indicators, and they found human development and societal stability measures are most strongly related.

            (emphasis added by me)

            This replicates earlier findings by the University of Maryland…

            http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0223/p09s01-coop.html

          • georgeyancey

            I never said most Muslims support terrorism but you need a large and well organized group to pull off something like 9-11. That clearly is not merely a bunch of hooligans. Furthermore it is known that while most Muslims deplore terrorism that groups like the Wahhabis offer important institutional support for terrorism. As far as the terrorism being tied purely to social and economic development the problems with that argument is that we do not see the same type of terrorism in poor countries where the inhabitants are mostly Christian or secular regardless of whether those nations are poor or not. It is like the argument that crime is created by poverty. Poverty provides an incentive for crime but there are plenty of poor who do not engage in crime and so it is not a cause. Certain types of Islam openly supports violence and so it is fair to make connections to those teachings and violence that is not the case in contemporary Christianity.

          • ahermit

            Here’s what you said:

            Christians who commit mass murder do so detached from overt support from their religious community; whereas, it is clear that many of the Islamic terrorists engage in their violence with the support of certain
            segments in their religious tradition.

            What you’re saying, it seems to me, is that there is more support for the killing of civilians among Muslims.

            But what the survey data tells us is that support for killing civilians is higher in America than it is in Muslim countries.

            You dismiss violence by Christians as “isolated” while characterizing similar acts of violence by Muslims as “organized.” But surely acts of terror by nominally Christian groups like Kony’s LRA or the Tripura rebels or mobs of Orthodox anti-gay rioters are also organized. Srebrenica was certainly organized.

            Wouldn’t it be fair to say that there are “certain segments” in Christianity which also support violence?

          • georgeyancey

            Key. Even you admit that they are “nominal” Christian groups while the groups I am talking about have at the center of their motivation religious reasons. Game set and match.

          • ahermit

            And Al Qaeda is a “nominally” Islamic group; ie they self identify as such. Groups like the LRA, the NLFT, Christian Identity and the Phineas Priesthood are no less religiously motivated.

          • georgeyancey

            And those groups are so influential that I have not heard of three of them. The one I do know is a bunch of yahoos who pontificate their racism but have no support whatsoever in their society. And if you think that Al Qaeda is “nominally” religious when the major expressed purpose of the group is to establish Islam in the world. If you are going to equate them with a bunch of unorganized minor group of thugs then it is clear that you are stretching things beyond belief. I have given you opportunities to show me groups that have as their basis religious ideology as the reason why they kill and that enjoy relative support from their religious community. Most Muslims may hate Al Qaeda but none of the groups you have mentioned are even known by Christians must less supported by them. At this point I have work to do and need to get off this merry-go-round. I will leave it up to visitors of the blog to decide if these groups are the equal of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood.

          • ahermit

            You haven’t heard of them because you don’t live in Central Africa or northern India. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t a terrible problem for people who do live in those places. These are organized, religiously motivated Christian entities which use extreme violence to push their religiously motivated political agenda. Exactly like Al Qaeda.

            That’s not a false equivalence, it’s an exact comparison.

            Those rebels in Tripura, by the way, have been supported by North American Baptists in the past. As was the former Pentecostal dictator of Liberia, as are the homophobic politicians in places like Uganda and Nigeria.

            Just because you personally haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they magically cease to exist…

          • georgeyancey

            We have gone around and around on this. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and to some extend the Muslim Brotherhood are large well supported organizations that directly use their religion to justify violence and have a good track record of carrying out that violence. They receive a lot more support among all Muslims than Christian Identity (which is rather puny in size and influence by comparison) does among Christians. Heck, I bet most Christians do not even know what Christian Identity is. You respond with environments where there are a lot of Christians and seem to be arguing that this is the same thing. it clearly is not. There is no Christian equivalent to those groups. This is about Muslim violence not Muslim in general. I think there are big methodological problems with surveys attempting to show that Muslims are less prone to support violence than other groups but I generally believe that they are no more likely to support violence. But the violence supported by groups that explicitly state as their major motivation religious beliefs for their violence is qualitatively different from violence that originates in societies with high numbers of adherents of a particular religion.

          • ahermit

            Again you’re arguing about scale and I’m arguing about principle. Yes, the problem seems to be larger in the Muslim world at this point in time, but it is not unique to that world and I think it’s naive to think that Christianity is immune to such attitudes.

            It’s also a matter of perspective; those Hindus in Tripura being threatened with religiously motivated violence by Baptist rebels aren’t likely to be impressed by your argument, are they? For them the big problem is Christians…

          • georgeyancey

            For any individual being killed they are only concerned with their killers that is true. But you keep missing the point that there are not the large scale Christian organizations that are the equal of the Taliban in that they directly use religion as the basis for their terrorism. Until you can produce those then your claims of equivalency just fall short.

          • ahermit

            Yes there are such organizations and I’ve given you several examples. That you don’t hear as much about them in the American press doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

          • ahermit

            Let me be clear; I don’t think any of those examples, except the witch killings, can be placed squarely on the shoulders of any religious belief. Nor can the so-called Islamist violence Yancey is talking about. The roots of such acts are more complicated than that and I don’t think we can really separate the religious from the political that easily. Religion’s role is more often a catalyst; a magnifier and a justification for violence that has other root causes.

  • AWats1

    The problem with the false equivalency is that it prevents any serious investigation into why this is such a problem now. It also means that we don’t look at how Islamic theories about just war are being used and abused. I’ve heard Bill Maher repeatedly make the point that this really is unique to Islam, and he’s right. (I say this as someone who works with large numbers of Muslims on a daily basis and has no fear of Islam in general.)


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