Sam Harris Explains the ‘Most Terrifying and Depressing Phenomenon on Earth’

In “No Ordinary Violence,” a new article on his site, Sam Harris tries to classify people who commit mayhem and murder.

His attempt was inspired by a media question:

After the Boston Marathon bombing, a journalist asked me, “Why is it always angry young men who do these terrible things?” She then sought to connect the behavior of the Tsarnaev brothers with that of Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza. Like many people, she believed that similar actions must have similar causes. But there are many sources of human evil.

Harris sees four main groups of perpetrators (though he readily admits that one perp can have more than one psychological “driver”). The categories are — and I’m paraphrasing –

  • Killers who are outright irrational and/or delusional, à la Aaron Alexis or Jared Loughner.
  • Prototypically evil sociopaths, such as (let’s say) Ariel Castro or Ted Bundy.
  • “Normal” people for whom ordinary selfishness and fear are “magnified” to the point that they rationalize their violent deeds. “Think of a boy growing up in the inner city who joins a gang for protection, says Harris, “only to perpetuate the very cycle of violence that makes gang membership a necessity.”
  • Finally, ideologues who kill for purity, to rid the world of those who violate political or religious orthodoxy. Examples include Anders Breivik and Mohammad Atta.

Regarding that last group, Harris writes,

Some of these belief systems are merely political, or otherwise secular, in that their aim is to bring about specific changes in this world. But the worst of these doctrines are religious  — whether or not they are attached to a mainstream religion — in that they are informed by ideas about otherworldly rewards and punishments, prophecies, magic, and so forth, which are especially conducive to fanaticism and self-sacrifice.

Ever since he waded into the debate about Islam and violence, Harris has had more than his fair share of detractors.

Whenever I point out the role that religious ideology plays in atrocities of this kind — specifically the Islamic doctrines related to jihad, martyrdom, apostasy, and so forth — I am met with some version of the following: “Bad people will always do these things. Religion is nothing more than a pretext.” This is an increasingly dangerous misconception to have about the human mind.

Here is my pick for the most terrifying and depressing phenomenon on earth: A smart, capable, compassionate, and honorable person grows infected with ludicrous ideas about a holy book and a waiting paradise, and then becomes capable of murdering innocent people — even children — while in a state of religious ecstasy. Needless to say, this problem is rendered all the more terrifying and depressing because so many of us deny that it even exists.

I like that analysis. And I like this just as much:

There is no clear line between what members of the Taliban, al Qaeda, and al Shabab believe about Islam and the “true” Islam. In fact, these groups have as good a claim as any to being impeccable Muslims.

On this site, it’s pretty uncontroversial to say the very same thing about Christian factions. In fact, we see this in the Friendly Atheist comments so often, it’s almost boilerplate: the rejection of someone’s assertion that “the guy who did [fill in an evil deed] isn’t a real Christian,” or that he doesn’t represent “true” Christianity.

If you agree that this “No True Scotsman” (or “No True Christian”) fallacy is logically illegitimate and a transparent blame-deflecting device, you’ll also call bullshit on the 100% similar “No True Muslim” fallacy, right? You’d have to concede Harris’s point, wouldn’t you?

Harris resumes:

This presents an enormous threat to civil society, which apologists for Islam and secular liberals can now be counted upon to obfuscate. A tsunami of stupidity and violence is breaking simultaneously on a hundred shores, and people like Karen Armstrong, Reza Aslan, Juan Cole, John Esposito, and Glenn Greenwald insist that it’s a beautiful day at the beach. Their determination that “moderate” Islam not be blamed for the acts of “extremists” causes them to deny that genuine (and theologically justifiable) religious beliefs can inspire psychologically normal people to commit horrific acts of violence.

Regular readers know I have no love for Christianity; I dislike all poppycock and superstition. But while the religious fervor of Christianity hasn’t precisely burned out (which is why it’s good to always keep a watchful eye on it), the fire is in its glowing-embers stage. After roughly a millennium and a half of crusades and inquisitions and indiscriminate heretic-killing, such appalling conflagrations have been robbed of oxygen by modernity and the Enlightenment.

By contrast, Islam today is where Christianity was some six hundred years ago. In large part, it’s a cauldron of blind zeal and bloodthirsty fanaticism. Of course, most Muslims don’t want to take part in the bloodshed. Many condemn it. All the same, hundreds of millions who may have no explicit hankering to slit a non-believer’s throat possess a remarkable degree of sympathy for those who performed the following handiwork (it’s an incomplete list, and not just because it only focuses on the past 20, 25 years):

  • Flew airliners into Manhattan office towers.
  • Blew up subway cars (and the innocent passengers in them) in London.
  • Bombed a night club in Bali (killing hundreds).
  • Created a huge bloodbath by setting off ten bombs aboard trains in Madrid.
  • Kidnapped and beheaded the journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
  • Laid siege to the heart of Mumbai with bombs and guns for three days, piling up the corpses.
  • Murdered hundreds of children and teachers in a school in Beslan, Russia.
  • Bombed the Paris metro.
  • Took and executed foreign hostages at an oil refinery in Algeria.
  • Attempted to detonate a car full of explosives in Times Square, New York.
  • Stabbed and shot several of Salman Rushdie’s translators and publishers in Italy, Norway, and Japan.
  • Set fire to a hotel in Turkey to protest Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, killing dozens.
  • Firebombed a British publishing house for publishing a historical novel about Mohammad.
  • Firebombed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for putting a cartoon of Mohammad on its cover.
  • Tried to blow up cargo planes and their crews in England and Dubai, with explosives packed in printer cartridges.
  • Shot and killed people on the Fort Hood military base.
  • Slaughtered the filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam.
  • Made multiple attempts on the lives of Scandinavian cartoonists who’d drawn pictures of Mohammad.
  • Shot and killed innocent people in the Washington DC area with a sniper rifle.
  • Tried to bring down a passenger plane with explosives hidden in the heel of a shoe.
  • Tried to bring down another passenger plane with an incendiary device hidden in the bomber’s underwear.
  • Shot little Jewish kids through the head in a schoolyard in Toulouse.
  • Tortured and killed upwards of 60 shoppers, including children, in a shopping mall in Kenya.
  • Indiscriminately killed and maimed bystanders and runners with bombs at the Boston marathon.

How do we know that hundreds of millions of Muslim support these atrocities? That’s a key fact from the major international Pew Research study that came out half a year ago. The PDF of the full report is here, but here’s one eye-popping finding:

The survey found the global median for Muslims opposed to violence in the name of Islam was 72 percent.

So a solid majority of Muslims do not openly engage in (nor openly support) killing for Allah. 72 percent! Terrific!

Except… well, what about the other 28 percent? There are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims on this planet. If 28 percent of them support violent jihad, that’s 364 million Muslims who condone, at least in some instances, the murder of apostates, blasphemers, gay people, cartoonists, loose women, and possibly everyone godless enough to attend a marathon.

In the United States, the picture is only marginally better. Eight out of ten U.S. Muslims say it’s not cool to strap a bomb to your chest and kill a bunch of kuffar. But nearly two out of ten say that’s dandy… at least in some instances. There are 2.6 million Muslims living in the U.S.… x 19 percent… yep, almost half a million American Muslims give suicide bombers and child-murderers-for-Allah two big thumbs up when they feel the violence is somehow justified.

Is there any other religious group that can “boast” this kind of enthusiasm for grotesque and appalling slaughter? Me, I’m not the slightest bit worried that scores of scheming Christians, Jews, or Buddhists are going to want to blow marathon spectators to smithereens, or butcher atheists and gay people, or fly Boeings into skyscrapers.

Harris writes that

The fact that otherwise normal people can be infected by destructive religious beliefs is crucial to understand — because beliefs spread.

Beliefs spread. Outrageous and damaging and often fatal ones. I don’t know about you, but this, more than anything, is why I’m a “New Atheist” — and why I’m especially wary of Islam.

Harris deserves the last word here:

Until moderate Muslims and secular liberals stop misplacing the blame for this [violent] evil, they will remain part of the problem.

 

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • L.Long

    There are NO moderate religious delusional idiots!
    The poll says they don’t believe that you should do violence. Well I call BS on that poll! WLC says genocide is OK cuz they were evil and gawd said to do it, and he would be one to say ‘don’t kill’, but still believes its OK when gawd says it is just cuz. WTF! talk about silly circular reasoning that leads some to violence.
    When a group of so called moderates opens the buyBull and puts big red ‘X’s thru the violent texts and explain these are fairy tales of psychos who heard voices in their heads, is when I will believe there are moderate (insert what ever).

  • http://awesomethingoftheday.tumblr.com/ Remy Porter

    There’s nothing inherent to Islam, or any other religious belief system, which leads to violence. Of course, there’s nothing inherent in religions to prevent violence, either. Since it’s all made up, since it can’t be tested against reality for truth, religious beliefs are something Humpty Dumpty might enjoy: “They mean exactly what I want them to mean.”

    Since religion is a powerful organizing principle, and since human beings are easily moved to xenophobia and violence, it’s not uncommon for religion to lead to violence.

    • Travis Myers

      “There’s nothing inherent to Islam, or any other religious belief system, which leads to violence.”

      Really? So there’s nothing inherent in the belief system that suicide bombers will go to paradise that could lead to violence? Or is the belief system that suicide bombers will go to paradise not a True Religious Belief System?

      • ctcss

        It would be one thing if the suicide bombers were on a battlefield and their proposed targets were enemy soldiers (i.e. a Kamikaze type of attack.) It’s another thing altogether when bombers board buses or go to mosques or schoolyards or markets and blow themselves up there. Islam, as far as I knew, prohibits killing of the innocent. If you kill the innocent, there is no reward for you, and I believe you would be destined for punishment instead. Thus, any leader that callously and cruelly manipulates his followers to engage in suicide attacks on the innocent is completely misleading them. That leader is simply carrying out his own twisted fantasies, and cowardly using others to accomplish them.

        Somehow, I don’t see the fingerprint of Islam on such actions, just the bloody fingerprint of the human animal at it’s worst.

        • exoraluna

          ctcss: I am inclined to agree with you and would like to add this to: Travis Myers.

          All is fair in love and war. Jihad is war against people who do not convert to Islam. This is the understanding of SOME of the people of Islam. Jihad is war, anywhere is the battlefield.

          I think to be a warrior in any war would mentally prepare for killing in a battle. Killing for a religious ideology (such as Islam), the preparation would be different than killing on a battlefield.

          Let’s say it would be similar to this:

          1. Constant, non stop praying in preparation
          2. Fasting for several days at a time
          3. Isolation

          Those factors right there can put a person into a hyper-religious mode. The longer this practice takes, the closer the individual would come to hitting the God-spot in the brain. Delusions would take over the person. If that person is already prone to some some of psychotic break, this will send them over the line.

          That would be about the only way I can imagine that a reasonable, well adjusted person could do this type of act. Because Jihad is taught openly in many states, that will speed up the process of getting into killing mode.

          That is how Islam puts the fingerprint on these killings.

          If leaders of Islam and in the Mosques openly and actively told the followers of Islam that Jihad is not in any way part of Islam, then we would be having different discussions here.

          You might remember the Christian Crusaders did the very same thing 600 Y ago, as mentioned in another comment.

          If there is anything that is inherent in religious murders, it is that humans are prone to violence and murder. That is the way that we have survived and become civilized to be better that animals.

      • http://awesomethingoftheday.tumblr.com/ Remy Porter

        No, because religion is entirely made up. There’s nothing inherent in religion aside from one consistent factor: it’s fiction.

        Is an image of your face inherent in a mirror? No- the mirror only reflects your face when you shove it into view.

        • Travis Myers

          ???

    • C Peterson

      There’s nothing inherent to Islam, or any other religious belief system, which leads to violence.

      While I get where that is coming from, and think it is partially true, I also think it overlooks an important facet of human nature. History would suggest that any dogmatic belief system- one which asserts absolute truths without allowing for change of consideration- ultimately breeds violence. By far and away, religions form the bulk of such belief systems. But political philosophies can do this (Soviet-style communism, American Tea Party) and probably other things as well.

      Any belief system that closes the door to discussion and accommodation tends to result in a buildup of polarization, and in humans, that usually ends up with violence.

      Of course, a belief system like Islam or Christianity that actually codifies and glorifies violence just makes things all that much easier.

      • http://awesomethingoftheday.tumblr.com/ Remy Porter

        But is this a feature of religion, or a feature of the people who invent the religions? Certainly, religions excel at being used this way, but it’s a function of the application of religion.

        As an atheist, the only difference between religion and any other fiction is that some people take religion far more seriously.

        • Pseudonym

          Based on what we know about them, it’d be hard to argue that Jesus or Paul or Augustine (or Siddhārtha Gautama for that matter) “codified and glorified violence”, so in that sense it’s not “the people who invent the religion[s]“. Any organised religion of any size is the product of a great many people, some of whom were good people and some of whom were not.

          I think it’s a feature of organisation around ideology, that inevitably for some, the ideology is placed above everything else. Whether the organisation is religious, nationalistic, political, philosophical, or what have you, that tendency is always there.

          Having said that, I think that a necessary condition is a threat, whether real or imagined. In the case of Islamism, the threat was partly imagined (Qutb seeing Western decadence as a threat to morality) and partly real (superpower meddling during the Cold War actually did kill a lot of people).

          • C Peterson

            Jesus didn’t exist. The people who made up his words didn’t codify violence, but they codified intolerance, which is the first step to violence. Then the thousands of religious sects that have formed over the years- many of which draw more heavily on the OT than the NT- formalized all sorts of violence.

            • Pseudonym

              Jesus didn’t exist.

              I love the air of confidence with which you make this dubious and unsubstantiated claim. It’s worthy of creationists.

              • C Peterson

                Well, as a rational person I don’t believe in that for which there is no evidence. Given that there is no credible evidence that Jesus existed as an actual person, and that we would expect such evidence, the reasonable position is to simply consider the character fictional. If evidence presents itself in the future, I’ll change my view on that.

                It’s beside the point, anyway. Even if such a person existed, it’s extremely unlikely (looking at the authorship of the NT) that there is much if any connection between him and any words credited to him.

                • Pseudonym

                  I’m not going to argue with you for the same reason why I’m not going to argue with a creationist. I will simply note that with one or two exceptions (who would be entirely non-notable if it wasn’t for atheist blogs), every secular historian of the Ancient Near East believes that there is good reason to think that Jesus existed and no reason to think that he didn’t.

                  BTW, you could have just asked me “were you there?” and it would have amounted to the same thing.

            • 3lemenope

              …but they codified intolerance, which is the first step to violence.

              This is an airy and ambiguous claim without some sense of what intolerance you’re claiming is being taught. Intolerance of morally irrelevant distinctions between people generally does lead to violence. Intolerance of wrongdoing generally does not.

              All the categories of things disapproved of from Jesus’ alleged mouth, to my recollection, were things that at the time they were written were understood to be consciously chosen behaviors of a morally relevant nature. And while our sense of moral relevance has changed both with improved understanding of what is intrinsic and what is chosen (a good thing) and with a change of focus away from the agent and towards the action (a change of which I am far more ambivalent), it is very difficult to characterize this sort of “intolerance” as similar to the sort of intolerance that the modern usage generally conjures to mind.

              • C Peterson

                Intolerance of morally irrelevant distinctions between people generally does lead to violence. Intolerance of wrongdoing generally does not.

                Since the discussion here is regarding the NT, it should be pretty obvious that the first meaning is what I’m talking about. There is little discussion in the NT of wrongdoing outside of morally irrelevant cases.

                • 3lemenope

                  There is little discussion in the NT of wrongdoing outside of morally irrelevant cases.

                  That is flat-out laughable. You’re saying that greed is morally irrelevant? Disloyalty to a spouse? Violence? Envy? Profligacy?

                  Just what NT have you been reading, exactly? And what the hell is your standard of moral relevance?

                • C Peterson

                  I do say that greed, envy, spousal disloyalty, and profligacy are morally arbitrary. They are values chosen as negative in the NT. They need not be. Even violence is morally ambiguous. There are plenty of acceptable modes of violence supported by the NT.

                  This is all complicated by the fact that Christians also follow the OT, which is one of the most violent, intolerant, bloodthirsty books ever written.

        • AxeGrrl

          But is this a feature of religion, or a feature of the people who invent the religions?

          This question seems to suggest that there’s some essential difference between those 2 things.

          Religion is ‘invented’ by human beings ~ it comes from human beings, is modified by human beings, and codified by human beings…….

          given all of that, on what basis could one separate religion from the human beings who invent it?

          • Pseudonym

            on what basis could one separate religion from the human beings who invent it?

            By reinventing it.

            Just look at what happened to the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1970s for an extremely recent example.

            • AxeGrrl

              But how does ‘reinventing’ it separate it from human beings?

              (the ones, presumably, who are doing the ‘reinventing’).

              Someone who reinvents it is separating themselves from the older form, but at the same time, they’re binding themselves to the reinvented version…..

              whatever religion exists, it’s not separate from the human beings who ‘invented’ or ‘reinvented’ it ~ it doesn’t exist as some kind of objective thing that exists outside of us.

              • Pseudonym

                Oh, I see what you’re saying. Sorry, I misunderstood.

                I thought you were asking how it’s possible to separate a religion from its founders specifically, as opposed to its adherents in general.

                • AxeGrrl

                  I think you’ve just touched upon a very relevant issue there Pseudonym (the separation of a current ‘form’ of a religion from its founders)…….it’s an issue that, imo, causes lots of misunderstandings/presumptions, etc (ie the question of what a ‘true Christian’ or ‘true Muslim’ is)

                  but honestly, as long as there are holy books that have some horrendous things in them, the people who say they ‘follow’ them will have much ‘splaining to do.

          • exoraluna

            Christianity is a reinvention of Judaism. As is Islam. Mohammad’s followers were admirers of Jesus.

            When religions are created by humans, they follow former religions whether intentional or not. JS might say his religion is original (LDS), but “borrows” from many religions and secret societies.

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      “There’s nothing inherent to Islam, or any other religious belief system, which leads to violence.”

      Since human nature is inherent to religion (humans created religion), this statement is as false as claiming that violence is not inherent to human nature. You just need to take a cursory glance at human history to see how obvious this is.

      • http://awesomethingoftheday.tumblr.com/ Remy Porter

        I say there is nothing inherent in religion. You say it’s inherent in human nature, hence it is inherent in religion.

        By your logic, violence is inherent in juggling, since juggling arises from human nature.

        • Jeffrey G. Johnson

          If there were nothing inherent in religion, religions would be arbitrary and have nothing in common, except by chance. But there is a great deal in common between various religions. They all seem to be invested with various human moral aspirations that are universal to human nature. Religions appear to be created with a purpose by humans, and that purpose is much more than a simple amusing exercise of manual dexterity during idle hours, as juggling is.

          You are correct that violence is not logically necessarily inherent in everything that humans create. But there is a difference between saying violence inheres in anything humans create, and that violence inheres in something that humans designed to comprehensively reflect their nature, and especially their moral nature. I also appealed to observations of history to add context.

          Your juggling analogy is a straw-man over-simplified schematic of what I actually said.

    • Grotoff

      Absolute nonsense. There are many doctrines in the Qu’ran and in the Hadiths that endorse violence. The same is true of Christianity, though not the same extent.

      What you mean to say is that it is possible to be a Muslim and totally focus on the parts that reject violence. Sure. Who cares? The point isn’t that peaceful Islam is possible; it’s that the evil beliefs of the Qu’ran are still there and drive people to violence.

  • LDavidH

    The main difference between “Christian terrorists” (crusaders etc) and Muslim equivalents is that there is no biblical justification for crusades (since all agree that specific commands to Old Testament Israel are not eternally valid or transferable to the Christian church) whereas the Quran can be seen as encouraging literal warfare on non-believers, in any age.
    And it’s sad that all the weird stuff done in the name of “religion” means people don’t realise God isn’t particularly interested in religion…

    • Lukas

      I don’t think that’s true. There’s plenty of stuff in the bible — both new and old testament — that can be used to justify war. Jesus himself said “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus basically advocated war against unbelievers (e.g. Roman non-Jews).

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        There are lots of passages in the NT that believers will naively or dishonestly try to defend by claiming that they’re metaphor, but “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” is a clear example of a legitimate metaphor. Better by far to criticize him for his declared intention to break up families with arguments.

        • FTP_LTR

          “Sword” is clearly a metaphor for any sharp implement, or indeed a suitable blunt implement: a dagger, knife, club, bill-hook, stave, mace, etc.

      • LDavidH

        In the Old, yes – which is why I said that those specific commands to Israel are not transferable to the Christian church, which all churches would agree with (and which is where the Crusaders got it all horribly wrong).
        In the New, I’m baffled that you think Jesus advocated war against unbelievers. What about “turn the other cheek”, “pray for your enemies”, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”? And Matt 10:34-36 is a prediction, not a command: when people decide to follow Jesus, they will encounter hostility even from within their own families. Nothing about fighting them, only a warning to be prepared.
        Please find me anything in the NT that justifies literal war against unbelievers, and I shall immediately come around and put it into practice… :-)

    • C Peterson

      The Old Testament in particular is substantially a guidebook for genocide. If there’s any one theme to be found, that is it. Kill for your beliefs, kill for your god, kill, kill, kill. And while the New Testament isn’t so blatant in its violence, it nevertheless carries a strong message of intolerance.

      In terms of scripture alone, I think that Christianity is probably better at justifying violence than Islam. But in the end, all of the Abrahamic religions derive from a culture of violence and intolerance towards any with different beliefs.

      • Pseudonym

        The Old Testament in particular is substantially a guidebook for genocide.

        “Substantially”? Exactly what proportion are we talking about?

        • C Peterson

          Just take the theme of the book. It is about killing people who are different, people whose land you want, people who worship different gods, your own people when they don’t follow any of hundreds of silly rules. It’s about killing.

          • 3lemenope

            Yeah, it’s actually several books, and nearly none of the “prophet” and “wisdom” books (which represent both the bulk of the text and the majority of books) are about killing at all.

            • C Peterson

              Are you sure about that?

              But I don’t judge the book by page count, I judge it by its overall theme. And that is the history of the Jews, defined by their repeated genocide in the name of their god.

              • Pseudonym

                That’s not even the history of the Ancient Hebrews, let alone the Jews. Most of the history of the Ancient Hebrews is time spent getting their posteriors kicked by world powers, and then retreating to lick their wounds.

                I can’t say I blame you for stopping reading after Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy is pretty bad), but honestly, that’s not the “overall theme”.

              • 3lemenope

                Are you sure about that?

                Yes.

                But I don’t judge the book by page count, I judge it by its overall theme. And that is the history of the Jews, defined by their repeated genocide in the name of their god.

                That’s the overall theme? You keep saying that, but I don’t think if you asked, well, pretty much anyone else who has read those books that that is the best pick for “overall theme”. Or even a top contender. You mention “the history of the Jews” and conflate it with repeated genocide, as though that weren’t actually in a temporal sense a very small part of the story.

                Much of the actual material in the Bible deals with the Jews losing wars, getting conquered, scattered, genocided themselves. How they understand their relationship with a God that allows such things to happen to his own Chosen people is far more of a theme than the conquests that led up to there being a people with a nation in the first place.

                • C Peterson

                  The OT consists of: a bit of creationist myth, a largely invented history of the Jewish people, replete with violence and killing at the behest of a deity, and a bunch of scattered, mainly silly stories cobbled together out of some sort of oral tradition- stories that are unconnected and arbitrary, and fit no theme or broad narrative idea at all.

                  Overall, the only common theme of the OT is that a people are commanded by their god to become its chosen people by observing questionable laws and killing everybody who stands in their way, with the full blessing of that god.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  I honestly don’t see a problem with either interpretation, but I always enjoy the arguments you two put forth.

                • C Peterson

                  The main reason I participate in this forum is to have my ideas challenged. It’s the only way I know to further develop them, or to sometimes change them. 3lemenope is one of those who sometimes disagrees with me (and I with him), but is also one who generally presents educated, thoughtful, and civil arguments. So useful, and so much better than some of the stuff we run into here, with silly or outright stupid, unsupportable pablum being offered as if it were rational discussion.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  silly or outright stupid, unsupportable pablum being offered as if it were rational discussion.

                  Hey! I resemble that remark!

                  /Curly

                • 3lemenope

                  Overall, the only common theme of the OT is that a people are commanded by their god to become its chosen people by observing questionable laws and killing everybody who stands in their way, with the full blessing of that god.

                  Please find your “overall” theme in any of the latter history books (Ezra/Nehemiah/Esther). Or Job or Ecclesiastes or Proverbs. Or any of the prophets. Heck, Psalms includes poems on a wide variety of themes, only a sparing few of which have anything to do with warfare or conquest.

                  See, the problem with your “overall” theme is that the lion’s share of the story concerns the Jewish people coming to reconcile that God has their back with the fact that they got their ass kicked by Babylon. All the later books are about making peace with those enemies, returning to their homeland, and rebuilding. They stop blaming their neighbors for the bad things that happened to them, and start blaming themselves, the major theological theme of the latter histories and all the prophets being that the Jews, through their behavior, have pissed God off by breaking the rules they had agreed to follow.

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      “all agree that specific commands to Old Testament Israel are not eternally valid or transferable to the Christian church”

      I’m not sure what you base this rather large claim on. It sounds like self-justifying rationalization or wishful thinking, the need for which at least proves you acknowledge the existence of violent horrors in the Old Testament. Why is the specific command that homosexuality is an abomination transferable to the Christian church then? And why not pork and shellfish? Your selectivity is a form of denial.

      The gospels read like a smorgasbord of Old Testament events and prophesies that were specific to Israel, but were lifted out and dropped into the gospels, with various creative embellishments that are mutually exclusive contradictions, which were calculated to confer the legitimacy and authority of the Old Testament on the Jesus stories. If you really want to play it that way, distancing yourself from the Old Testament, you need to disown a substantial portion of the key stories in the gospels. Try “Gospel Fictions” by Randel Helms.

      • LDavidH

        Commands to kill are not transferred to the Christian church; but the moral / ethical position that homosexuality is a violation of God’s created order stands – as it is specifically repeated in the NT. We also don’t kill adulterers but insist adultery is wrong; we don’t kill non-believers (and doing it – as happened in the past – can never be justified from the NT, only by misappropriating the OT).
        As for shellfish etc, the NT makes it clear that those laws do not apply to Gentile Christians.

        And as for the moral indignation against “genocide” in the OT, what about the fact that every year, hundreds of thousands of innocent babies are killed in the womb? More babies are aborted around the world every year than all the Canaanites killed by the people of Israel throughout the entire Old Testament…

        • DavidMHart

          Well, if you can give us some good reason to think that killing a non-sentient embryo, or a foetus whose level of sentience is less than that of many animals that we routinely use for meat, is morally equivalent to killing a fully sentient child or adult, then you would have a point. Until you can do that, the only reasonable position to take is that the unethicalness of killing something scales with the suffering caused by that killing – and that killing an embryo that has not yet developed the capacity for suffering is not remotely comparable to killing a sentient child or adult who may experience considerable trauma as they die, and whose death will also cause considerable trauma to their friends and family.

          And that’s before you even add in the suffering caused to women who did not want to be pregnant or to raise a (-nother) child, if you force them to do so.

          • LDavidH

            I can, but you won’t accept it: unlike animals, human beings are created in the image of God, and have intrinsic value as such, regardless of ability to feel pain. And why should the level of pain experienced have any bearing on whether execution is morally right, anyway? Take that to extremes (which I’m sure you wouldn’t), and every person whose life is difficult and painful should be painlessly “put to sleep”. But pain isn’t the worst thing in life, and human life is valuable as such, because tha’s how we’re created.

            Which highlights a major problem in most of these debates: the unwillingness (on both sides!) to accept that we have different world views. Everything I say, every serious opinion I hold, is based on my relationship with God through Jesus. In order to understand Christians, you have to accept that God’s existence and authority is a basic foundation stone in our way of life. You may disagree with me (and I won’t try and kill you for doing so), but you can’t analyse my position as if God was just a minor side issue.

            (I also wish more Christians would realise that telling non-Christians that “The Bible says…” isn’t going to get them anywhere…)

            • DavidMHart

              …unlike animals, human beings are created in the image of God…

              Well, all you would need to do for that claim to be worth taking seriously is come up with good evidence that
              a) a god exists,
              b) we humans are made in his image (you will also need to explain precisely what you mean by that phrase), and
              c) no other animals are made in his image.

              Until you can do that, the reasonabe default position is that the differences between us and other animals in terms of capacity for suffering are quantitative, not absolute qualitative ones (were Neandethals ‘made in the image of God’? Were Homo habilis or Homo Erectus? What about the australopithecines? Given that we got to be the way we are today by gradual evolution from earlier animals, what percentage of the image of God did our common ancestor with chimps have, and how long did it take to get from zero percent to 100%? And most importantly, on what evidence do you base your calculations?)

              Also, do you really believe that someone whose life has become unbearable due to chronic pain from an incurable disease should be forced to suffer for as long as possible rather than take the least worst way out, just because you believe in a god? I hope that’s not really what you mean, but if it is, then I posit that your religion has badly warped your sense of compassion. If suffering (defined sufficiently broadly) isn’t the worst thing in life, then what exactly is?

              • LDavidH

                I believe there is good evidence for God, notably a) the fact that anything exists, b) the empty tomb of Jesus, c) the many lives that have been radically, if not miraculously changed by Jesus, d) my own personal experience of his presence and power. But until you decide to give him a try, none of those is likely to convince you (although you should at least check out nr 2, since a strong case can be made for Jesus’ resurrection even without an initial belief in God).

                But, as I said, we don’t share the same presuppositions, and until we do, we’re not going to get any further. I claim humans are created in the image of God because the Bible tells me so (and I believe objective observation will confirm that there is a difference); you understandably can’t accept that argument. I claim that living a good life separated from God now and in eternity is worse than suffering physical pain; obviously you’re not going to accept that. But as you well know, Christians are “famous” for building hospitals, hospices, refugee camps etc in order to alleviate suffering whenever possible.

                If humans are just evolved animals, not created in God’s image and thus not having any intrinsic value, what determines our value? Why is genocide wrong, if all it means is killing a number of highly evolved primates who happen to stand in the way of my ambitions and my country? I don’t see how an atheist can be upset with religious / nationalistic / economic violence and oppression anywhere; it’s all part of the survival of the fittest, and making sure my nation, my family, my genes survive…

                • b s

                  “I believe there is good evidence for God, notably… b) the empty tomb of Jesus… ”

                  And oddly enough, this tomb would be just as empty if god did not exist.

                • Brian Odeen

                  Assuming that the tomb and the missing/non-missing body every existed.

        • Jeffrey G. Johnson

          You are conveniently cherry-picking the facts that you like and rejecting those you don’t like. If you dismiss the negative aspects of the Old Testament, don’t you see how that undermines any authoritative claim to truth of the entire book?

          If you want to appeal to “God’s Order” regarding homosexuality, you need to at least acknowledge that homosexuality is prevalent among at least a thousand different species. God’s order seems pretty good at violating itself, as you define it. What is more reasonable to believe is that sexual desire is and evolved trait that increases the liklihood of procreation. But biology is messy and diverse, and reproduction produces widely varying traits in people, including height, coloration, physical abilities, intelligence, strength, emotional tendencies, and yes, variations in how sexual attraction is wired. This is the nature of “God’s Order”, that it naturally produces organisms whose reproductive urges are oriented toward the same sex.

          And appealing to God’ Order requires that you answer this question: why was it designed so that over 50% of fertilized embryos are spontaneously aborted? If life begins at conception, that is a lot of slaughter being performed by God himself. Why would a perfect being designing the order to reflect his glory create human reproduction in that way? It makes no sense in the model you are trying to impose upon nature.

          Again, in nature as with the Old Testament, you are cherry-picking your facts to confirm your pre-existing notions, while ignoring everything that is inconvenient to the story you want to believe.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals

          • LDavidH

            Just a few quick comments, as I’ve got work to do – but please as you don’t share my faith, you’re not going to accept my arguments. Please just remember that we’re operating on completely different foundations!

            Yes, nature is currently in violation of many of God’s plans – we were never meant to kill and eat animals, and neither were the animals. Death wasn’t part of God’s original creation. Neither was homosexuality.

            I don’t have a good answer to the “spontaneous abortion”, other than that death is now part of life on earth. why tsunamis? why earthquakes and devatasting forest fires? Because creation is not currently under God’s complete authority. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to increase the non-compliance – neither by causing tsunamis or fires, or abortion and same-sex marriages.

            As for “cherry-picking your facts to confirm your pre-existing notions, while ignoring everything that is inconvenient to the story you want to believe” – well, people on both sides of the debate are quite good at doing that.
            I try not to ignore any facts (that’s facts, not interpretation of facts), and I strongly believe in the quest for truth and understanding. That’s why I get involved in these forums: to help me understand where you’re coming from, and to help non-believers understand us believers a bit better.

            And as I think we’ve got as far as we can, I’m stopping here (for this time). Thanks for your input!

            • Jeffrey G. Johnson

              Yes, our thinking rests on entirely different foundations. I look at natural reality, and everything we can observe about it, and base my conclusions about what is real on that.

              You use a book that is over 3000 years old, written by humans that were entirely ignorant about microbes, the solar system, the galaxies, the sun, chemistry, physics, biology, geology, atmospheric science, to name just a few things. Major portions of this book you reject because they don’t please you, and other portions of which you accept as unquestionably truthful foundations for opinions such as this: “nature is currently in violation of many of God’s plans – we were never meant to kill and eat animals, and neither were the animals. Death wasn’t part of God’s original creation. Neither was homosexuality.”

              How do you prevent yourself from noticing how arbitrary and imaginative your inventions are? How do you stop yourself from realizing that nature as we observe it has no evidence for the claims you are making?

              • LDavidH

                Can’t leave that unanswered…
                1) Please realise that I’m not alone; I represent the majority of ordinary Christians in the world. If we’re mad or deceived, it’s obviously a very strong power that can delude so many in such different circumstances…
                2) I also look at natural reality, which doesn’t answer questions like “where did it all come from”, “what happens when we die”, “why do we die”, “why is there suffering”, “why do people do nasty things to each other when most of us agree on what is nasty”, “where does altruism and love come from?” etc. This tells me that just observing natural reality isn’t the only source of knowledge there is; or at least, it doesn’t tell us everything there is to know. So there might be more to understanding the world than what we can see and taste and measure.
                3) I then hear about a man who claimed to know more about it than the rest of us; read that he was executed but came back to life (having already predicted both events); and find that an awful lot of people during the last 2000 years claim to have got to know this man and the God he was representing. Using logic, eye-witness accounts and verifiable textual science, I conclude that the most believable explanation is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.
                4) If that is so, then it’s clear that your naturalistic world-view is mistaken; there is a God, and Jesus seems to be the best person to tell me more about him.
                5) Everything else flows from that, really, including my use of the Old Testament which is the majority understanding of how the OT should be used by the Christian church. I don’t reject bits just because I don’t like them; I use the New Testament to understand what parts of the Old are still valid (and it’s actually not much, in terms of law and commands). The only people who really can use the Bible to justify stoning adulterers etc are orthodox Jews, since they haven’t transitioned from the old covenant into the new.

                I don’t believe Christian faith is any more arbitrary than assuming that the human mind is going to be able to reason everything out by itself; how do you know that your sensory input is trustworthy? Maybe we’re both crazy?

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  I also look at natural reality, which doesn’t answer questions like “where did it all come from”, “what happens when we die”, “why do we die”, “why is there suffering”, “why do people do nasty things to each other when most of us agree on what is nasty”, “where does altruism and love come from?” etc.

                  Actually natural reality provides better, more detailed, and more satisfying answers to all of these questions. You just haven’t studied it well enough.

                  read that he was executed but came back to life (having already predicted both events);

                  He predicted that he would return and usher in the kingdom of heaven during the lives of some of the people listening to him. Quite a failure on that one. You have never read this book critically. Only from an accepting stance in service of wishful thinking. I understand that the religious narratives draw good people to them, and they are appealing. But they don’t hold up as factually true under careful scrutiny.

                  4) If that is so

                  If this premise were true, your conclusion could be sound. I’m open to real evidence of that, but everything I’ve ever learned contradicts it.

                  You need to also consider “If that is not so” if you want to carefully and honestly approach this subject.

                  Please realise that I’m not alone; I represent the majority of ordinary Christians in the world.

                  and

                  my use of the Old Testament which is the majority understanding of how the OT should be used by the Christian church.

                  A majority does not guarantee correctness. What in the New Testament affirms that eating shellfish is okay, that slavery is not okay, and that homosexuality is not okay?

                  If we’re mad or deceived, it’s obviously a very strong power that can delude so many in such different circumstances…

                  Yes, human social instincts are very strong, and there are abundant examples of mass delusions capturing people’s beliefs despite evidence to the contrary, or as a result of lack of evidence at the time that surfaces later to dispel the delusion.

                  how do you know that your sensory input is trustworthy?

                  Actually, we know that sensory input is not absolutely trustworthy. But we know that a certain consistency exists, both for an individual person from instance to instance, and from individual to individual. This allows us to weed out errors. That’s why we use carefully designed instruments that use physical phenomena to interact with and detect physical phenomena. How do you think we know about atoms, X-rays, molecules, microbes, and thousands of other phenomena that our senses can not detect?

                  The things that are invisible, if they actuall have any effect on the natural material world at all, can be detected by instruments made of the stuff those invisible forces interact with and have an effect on.

                • LDavidH

                  “You need to also consider “If that is not so” if you want to carefully and honestly approach this subject.”

                  What makes you think I haven’t, or I don’t? My mother is an atheist, my sister is very negative to all things church, and I live in a society (southern England) where most people live as practical atheists. My children study evolution at school, and most of their teachers (or their friends) are not Christians. Popular culture around me is all quite unreligious as well. So whatever my faith is based on, it’s not cultural pressure or sloppy “going with the flow”!

                  “A majority does not guarantee correctness.”

                  True, I was just trying to say that these aren’t just my opinions, but those of a large number of people – although sadly (!), not a majority in this country.

                  “What in the New Testament affirms that eating shellfish is okay, that slavery is not okay, and that homosexuality is not okay?”

                  Food: Mark 7:19 (“In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean”.
                  Homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27
                  Slavery: the NT doesn’t say it’s wrong, only that masters shouldn’t ill-treat their slaves, and that in Christ slaves and slave-owners are brothers, equal before God (which eventually led people to conclude that slavery was unacceptable).

                  Now I really will stop!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  Okay, I’ll give you a break until later so you don’t feel tempted to respond. ;)

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  I don’t know to what extent you have considered that the Christian assumptions you embrace could be wrong. I was just pointing out the importance of doing that. Based on your description of your situation, your acceptance of certain Christian premises could reflect a rebellion against family members or dominant cultural trends, rather than a detailed thoughtful informed examination of the issues and evidence. This latter approach is what atheists born into Christianity and steeped in its traditions must go through. It doesn’t sound like you ever needed to do that, so even with you filling me in with more information about your history, I can still suspect you have not seriously questioned Christianity. I could be wrong, of course.

                  Food: Mark 7:19 (“In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean”.

                  There seems to be a translation problem with Mark 7:19. Compare the King James Version with the modern translations. The parenthetical clause “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” is editorial, and only seems to be written as “purging all meats” in the King James. This seems to me to just mean that what is flesh enters the body, and then leaves the body. So he is saying real corruption comes from the heart, and that it is what one says and does that really defiles them. This falls just short of declaring all foods to be clean. For example, eating some shellfish in some seasons can poison the body pretty severely and cause death by neurotoxins.

                  Just for fun, here is a Jewish perspective: http://messianicpublications.com/robert-roy/did-jesus-declare-all-foods-clean/

                  Note that the section “Reason #3″ calls the translation of modern english bibles into question.

                  Re: romans 1:26-27. I read this as Paul expressing a particular viewpoint about what God wants. But why is it that Paul must say this? Because evidently homosexuality was commonly practiced, which is a strong argument in favor of the idea that it is natural. I realize you won’t buy that argument, since for you sin is natural. But if you read on through Romans 1:30, you see that Paul is talking about more than just sexual lust, but every way of turning away from God. So he wasn’t singling out homosexuality as much as adding it to a more general list of the things Paul considered at that time as violations of God’s expectations. Let’s not forget, we know Paul was a man living and writing at a particular historical time, complete with the cultural opinions that would be marks of that time. You can say he was divinely inspired, but would you grant him perfection and infallibility?

                  Would you grant Paul the same authority as Jesus? Because where did Jesus forbid this? And if he didn’t, why didn’t he? And why did the ten commandments call out adultery, theft, covetousness, false witness, together with various acts of impiety, but did not mention homosexuality?

                  Is the supposed impurity of homosexual congress really so different than what Jesus talks of in Mark 1:17? It is not so much what goes in or comes out of the body as what is in the heart that defiles a person. Why then can’t gay or lesbian love be morally far superior to that of the adulterous heterosexual, for example? And we certainly don’t have organized movements of Christians trying to outlaw adultery, even though it is explicitly called out in the ten commandments.

                  We still hear apologists for slavery today (see Iowa caucus, 2012) talking about the Christian love between the slaves and their southern white masters, in an attempt to claim that slavery wasn’t as bad as people make it seem. Here’s a reference to a conservative christian group’s “marriage vow” which tried to make it seems blacks were better off under slavery than under the first black President.

                  http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2011/07/rainbow-anger-over-michele-bachmanns-marriage-vow/39748/

                  Some Christians went so far as to defend this by citing the Christian love between masters and their slaves.

                  Don’t you think there is hypocritical self-justification for wanton greed and self-interest involved here in talking about the brotherhood between master and slave? How is it possible that enlightenment rational philosophers were so far ahead of the supposed source of moral authority on this important moral question?

                  I predict there will come a time when Christians will feel the same way about homosexuality that they do now about slavery. They will see that their scriptures blinded them about human nature, about the biology of sexual attraction, and about the ability of human love to transcend mere physical bodily attributes.

                • LDavidH

                  Wow, that’s one long post! I’ll try and reply to some of the things you mention, although there are books and websites that do that better than me…

                  As I said, my mother & sister are atheists, whereas my dad & stepmum converted to Christianity in their 30s. They are now Catholics, whereas I am European Baptist. Born in Sweden, where the school system is entirely secular, there was no way faith of any kind would go unchallenged. I have also read Dawkins’ God Delusion and Greatest Show on Earth. I also read The Friendly Atheist and engage in debates with you and others, so I think I do engage in thoughtful examination of the issues…

                  Mark 7:19 The Greek word broma (like meat in old English) means simply “food”, and Mark is clarifying to his Gentile readers what Jesus words meant – which you seem to have understood – and the implication: that all food is pure. And since the OT food laws were concerned with ritual purity, not the specific cases of seasonal poison levels, that is what matters. “Food” means “what can be eaten” – it doesn’t mean you can go munching toadstools for lunch!

                  Romans 1:26-27. “Paul is talking about more than just sexual lust” – yes, and sometimes I think we Christians have exaggerated the seriousness of sexual sins and ignored the equally strong warnings against greed and selfishness. But it’s still there, and here’s why I believe it still counts:

                  Jesus didn’t say anything about it, because he taught in a Jewish context where homosexuality was unacceptable. He freely challenged those aspects of Judaism that he disagreed with; so presumably he didn’t see the need to “correct” their disapproval of same-sex relations.

                  He also knew that the Gospel would spread to Gentiles, and that he couldn’t leave a complete set of teachings for that new situation. Thus, he promised that the Holy Spirit would come and guide the disciples into all truth (John 16:13). He called Paul to be the primary apostle to the Gentiles; thus, we believe that he also kept his promise and that the Holy Spirit is indeed speaking through Paul to all Gentile Christians (i.e. most of us today) – which gives him the same authority as Jesus’ words in the gospels.

                  I agree that heterosexual promiscuity is just as bad as homosexual ditto; and adultery is illegal in some countries (including a number of US states, apparently). OTOH, most of the 10 commandments are not legally enforced; and Western capitalist economies depend on most people violating the 10th (if not coveting the very thing, at least wanting something similar or better).

                  The problem with same-sex love affecting only the body is that it isn’t true: sex affects and involves your whole being, not just your genitals. And ultimately, the NT is clear: eating shellfish is OK for Christians, same-sex relations are not.

                  The issue of making Christian ethics binding on a largely non-Christian population continues to be a matter of debate (even though already C.S. Lewis said that Britain is no longer a Christian country – and that was 70 years ago!). As a European, I think US Christians sometimes assume more influence than they can rightly claim; but again, if we believe something is detrimental to the country as a whole, shouldn’t we speak up, as good citizens? It’s a tricky decision!

                  “We still hear apologists for slavery today”. Seriously?? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t agree, as you might have guessed; but although in ancient Rome, it was probably better to be a slave than to be a beggar or a gladiator. But AFAIK, 18th – 19th century slavery was not comparable to ancient Rome, where slaves were part of the family and could reach quite high positions in society.

                  “Don’t you think there is hypocritical self-justification for wanton greed and self-interest involved here” Oh yes, definitely – Christians have often been greedy and self-seeking, and I realise that that’s not a good PR line… but then, I never point to the church or to other humans when I try and explain my faith; I point to Jesus who died for all the greedy and self-seeking sinners in the world. (Having said that, don’t forget that Wilberforce and others who were at the forefront in the fight against slavery were active Christians…)

                  “I predict there will come a time when Christians will feel the same way about homosexuality that they do now about slavery.” Some already do – there are quite a few Christians in Europe who are fully supportive of same-sex marriage, and slavery is often used as a parallel. I’m not one of them; if you start removing bits of the Bible just because you don’t like them or because they clash with current societal norms, where do you draw the line? The NT shows us we shouldn’t try and apply the OT to the Christian church; but the NT is the final word from Jesus, so we can’t treat it the same way. I understand that you don’t agree with that; but I’ve tried to show that my position is internally logical, so that you (and others, if anybody else is still following this thread) will realise that our position makes sense to us, based on our Jesus-centred presuppositions.

                  Thanks for giving me some food for thought and a chance to summarise my position in a relatively brief space – hope it makes sense, even if you disagree with the basic
                  premises!

                • Baby_Raptor

                  Your argument ignores several pertinent facts: 1) The word that Paul used in the clobber verses against homosexuality was not originally translated as same-sex sexual relations. It’s believed that Paul was addressing men forcing themselves on children. This isn’t homosexuality, it’s pedophilia. And the two aren’t connected. 2) Paul had no concept of the kind of loving, equal relationship LGBTs have today. How could he condemn something he didn’t know existed?

                  RE promiscuity being “bad” and sex not just affecting the body…These are your personal opinions, not facts. Please refrain from stating your personal opinions as facts, no matter what kind of power you think gave you these opinions.

                  “but again, if we believe something is detrimental to the country as a whole, shouldn’t we speak up, as good citizens? It’s a tricky decision!” Sure…If you can base those beliefs on actual facts. There are no facts supporting the vast majority of the things that Christians decry as “bad.” The fact that your personal interpretation of the bible claims that X thing is bad does not make “X thing is bad” a fact for anyone but you; and claiming that it does is wrong and immoral on a number of levels.

                • LDavidH

                  1) Rom 1:26-27 consistently talks about men having sex with men or women with women; no word in the text implies that children are involved.
                  2) Yet again, we face the old chestnut “I don’t believe in X, therefore X is not factual.” From my point of view, God’s existence IS a fact, thus the divine inspiration of the Bible IS a fact. It’s God’s personal opinion, not mine, that promiscuity is bad; I have no personal reason to condemn homosexuality, and when I was younger I would quite happily have condoned (and indulged in) promiscuity – but the fact that God disapproves of it stopped me!

                  I’m sorry that so many people on either side of this divide refuse to understand that both sides are equally convinced of the factuality of their position. We may not agree, but let’s at least be courteous enough to accept that we have different world views, and try and understand the other side!

                • Baby_Raptor

                  1) Yes, nowadays those verses consistently talk about heterosexual sex. You *are* aware that the bible wasn’t written in American English as we see it today, and has been changed, translated and affected by bias hundreds of times?

                  2) Facts are provable things. You cannot prove that god exists anymore than I can prove that he doesn’t. This makes using “god said X, therefore fact” wrong for any situation outside your own life. Your god may well disapprove of promiscuity, but this does not change the provable, verified fact that safe, consensual sex with whomever one wants does not cause harm. Yes, there are risks, and those risks have to be taken into consideration. But harm? Not any. The bible doesn’t even list any; it just can be interpreted as saying anything Not Monogamy is bad.

                  Why should I “try to understand” and “respect” a view that says I’m a horrible abomination and wants to treat me as a second-class citizen? Would you be saying this if Christianity were the minority, and people were out there slandering you and attempting to kill you, deprive you of your rights and steer public opinion to where you’re hated?

                  Lastly, your personal views on what other people do with their own bodies in ways that affect you not at all is not a “world view.” Really, you shouldn’t even have a view on it at all, given that it has nothing to do with you. But the last thing you should be calling it is a “world view.” You being against the fact that I don’t limit myself to one sexual partner, or that not all my partners have the opposing plumbing, does not in any way shape how you view the world you live in. If it does, then you should get off the internet and seek a therapist. You are *way* too obsessed with complete strangers’ lives.

                • LDavidH

                  1) You *are* aware that the Greek text of the NT is scientifically secured, with very minor uncertainties in a few places? We know – fact! – that the Greek text we use for modern translations has not been changed.
                  2) I don’t care what you do with your body; but I believe God does. “No (wo)man is an island”, and if there is a God, how you choose to live your life might affect your relation to him.
                  Thanks for your input!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  You are making sense based on the premises you assume to start with. Of course we differ greatly on the premises. I think the Bible is just a book written by people with fallible human interests and the limitations of the humand mind and the limitations of the primitive state of knowledge at the time. I don’t doubt the overall good intentions, or that these books contain some of what qualified as the best wisdom of those times, and that some of it is timeless wisdom. But I don’t grant these books any sacred or holy authority. I just read them as I would any other book, keeping in mind the historical context and the interests of the authors.

                  You make a good point about Jesus teaching within a set of cultural assumptions that mean he doesn’t need to condemn what is obvious. It’s a plausible explanation. One could make the same argument for why homosexuality is not called out in the ten commandments.

                  But I still think there is a deeper truth in how Mark 7:19 distinguishes the physical food from what is in the heart and mind. What applies to food in this case should apply to sex, as I see it, or rather, more importantly, that the role of intentions, thoughts, and actions, what is in the heart and mind, is primary so that mere food does not corrupt it.

                  So for example sex for pure lust is different than sex within the bonds of love, and that this distinction applies to homosexuals as much as it does to heterosexuals. Our understanding of biology makes it hard to refute the claim that gender and sexuality are somewhat fluid in the human body. The process of sexual differentiation that occurs in the development from zygote to fetus involves a very complex set of changes, and the possibilities of variations is large. That some people are born naturally homosexual and some naturally bisexual just isn’t very controversial unless you have a pre-existing ideological commitment to reject the evidence available. But that just amounts to closing one’s eyes and refusing to accept evident truth.

                  But assuming for now that homosexuality is innate and not a choice, could you really condemn people who have been in love their entire lives, living together and sharing every aspect of life on a daily basis for decade after decade, to be unable to visit their dying loved one in the hospital because they are not family? To be unable to inherit the home they have shared? To be unable to have the legal protections, which come from the secular human authority of the state, because of a religious objection to male on male or female on female sexual contact? Is that really any better than ostracizing people because they eat shrimp or pork?

                  I can understand having a philosophical position that makes one believe homosexuality is in some way spiritually harmful to an individual, and by all means such people are free to explain and advocate their ideas, albeit they are offensive to me. But to lobby to use the binding force of law to punish such people for their way of expressing love in ways that other people are not punished by the law? That goes too far and is intolerable.

                  The fear that homosexuality is bad for society seems like it must rely on the assumption that homosexuality could spread rampantly and come to numerically dominate, or else on the assumption that God will punish everyone for tolerating homosexuality. These both seem like irrational feers to me. The first because biologically it isn’t plausible, and the second because if I read the teachings of Jesus as a moral philosopher, it seems to me that the love and compassion he emphasizes over the details and particulars of inherited law would entail an acceptence of any human who is a good citizen in a loving bond of mutual trust with another human.

                • LDavidH

                  A well stated case! We’ve basically made our positions clear; just a brief addition:
                  Christians believe same-sex marriage is bad for society because society is built on the family unit, a man and a woman who give rise to offspring. That’s why we opposed the recent redefinition of marriage here in the UK. It’s a conviction based partly on sociology, partly on doctrine; I’m sure you can find good explanations on the web.
                  We also believe same-sex activities are bad for people simply because they are sinful; I’m sorry, but that’s the long and the short of it. As I said, I think the church has over-emphasized sexual issues and forgotten about social injustice and greed; but the texts are still there.
                  As for imposing this view on a secular society, I think the time has maybe come for the church to accept that most people in the West aren’t Christians, and can’t be expected to live as such. I’m not sure where that leaves the marriage issue, as that concerns the well-being of the whole nation…
                  Anyway, let me say that I think you have understood Jesus quite well, and we would do well to follow his example of loving sinners, not condemning them. Many Christians would include accepting same-sex relations in that love; I’m not sure I can go that far, especially as Jesus did also call people to stop sinful behaviour – but I can hopefully love people I disagree with (sadly, not all Christians seem to be able to do that – I’m sorry about that!) and point them to Jesus; the rest is up to Him!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  Once upon a time lots of Christians could not extend their idea of Christian love far enough to accept a black man and a white woman having sex and marrying, or a white man and a black woman.

                  Regarding the family unit as the foundation of society, secular liberals agree with that as well. Their idea is not founded on the notion of any divine command, but based on biology, based on psychology, based on economics, and other sociological and anthropological foundations. But secular liberal humanists also understand that a population with some percentage of single individuals is not doomed, Human societies are resilient enough to survive and thrive if a majority of humans are in stable family units. There is no need to insist on absolute uniformity in society conforming to this ideal. And there are practical arguments to be made against a 100% absolute conformance with the ideal of the nuclear family.

                  So if Christians are concerned about the family unit, you would think they would be up in arms about divorce and other factors that lead to single parenthood in heterosexual parents. Numerically heterosexuals are by far more responsible for breaking up family units than the entire world population of homosexuals could ever be. If a homosexual couple marries, it has absolutely no impact on my heterosexual family unit, no impact on my marriage to my wife, no impact on our relationship whatsoever.

                  If you try to use reason, there is no fear that marriage equality threatens the family unit. Divorce on the other hand is an enormous threat to it. So clearly the Christian objection is not based on reason, but rather on emotion, ideology, and dogma, just as the objection to inter-racial marriage was.

                • LDavidH

                  Christians are opposed to divorce, it’s just that we lost that battle ages ago… And as for the marriage, I still think that calling a same-sex partnership “marriage” adds to the erosion of the concept of life-long monogamous marriage commitment that cohabiting and divorce have already started.

                  We’ve lost that battle too, anyway (at least here in Europe). It now remains to see what actually happens next: will there be calls for number-neutral marriages next? If so, the word “marriage” will basically have lost any specific meaning.

                  You’re right that our conviction is partially based on doctrine; but I think that’s true for you as well, it’s just a different doctrine! Everybody has a world view with certain premises; these discussions hopefully help us see our own and understand others’ a little bit better.

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  The tangible benefits in terms of legal and financial consequences that married couples enjoy are granted by the state, not the church. The church may continue to own and define whatever spiritual concepts of marriage they like. From my standpoint these are entirely without consequence.

                  The churches do not own human languages, and so they don’t have any rights to limit the way people use language. The churches also have no right or power to define what kinds of benefits states offer to married couples, or what the state wishes to define as a marriage for its purposes.

                  If you try to extrapolate the rigts and privileges that married couples enjoy to three or more, it introduces legal complexity and becomes more expensive economically. I think states will continue to restrict matrimony to couples for very pragmatic secular reasons.

                  The slippery slope arguments often made by Christians regarding polygamy and bestiality have little merit. They are paranoid alarmist propaganda. You may as well argue that a car heading south in England is in danger of driving into the English Channel, and therefore nobody should ever point their automobile toward the south. Obviously absurd, divorced from any realistic perspective.

                  You may call my understanding of reality “doctrine”, yet my understanding is subject to change any time I discover it is out of sync with its source of truth, which is empirical reality. Your doctrine truly is constrained by the contents of a book, though you obviously reserve the right to selectively reject parts of it.

                  A book is inherently subject to error, just like a road map is subject to error, and also because it is limited to the knowledge possessed by its authors at the time of writing. It is an abstract object that purports to represent reality. In order for a book to truly represent reality it would need to expand to vast proportions, just as any map striving to be absolutly true to topography must expand to the proportions of the topography itself. Of course at that point it becomes useless, which necessitates the compromise that we build usable models to represent reality, and accept that they involve errors. The intelligent approach here is to constantly strive to improve your models to continually reduce error as far as possible. My “doctrine” is that putting a stake in the ground a few thousand years ago, and insisting for all time that it must be accepted as uncontrovertible received truth, is folly. One must upgrade one’s models to fit observed facts. That is my evolving doctrine, committed to truth and accuracy.

                • LDavidH

                  Fair enough; I am also open to re-evaluate my convictions and yes, I could be wrong; but so could everybody, which is why I still hold on the Bible as a basis. On the premise that God exists and that Jesus is the way to God, of course; otherwise the Bible would be much worse than just a human book, it’d be one huge fraud! The only reason I defend Christian faith is that I’m convinced Jesus rose from the dead – if he didn’t, Christianity should be eradicated ASAP!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  No offense intended, but I’m sure you realize that I think the empirical claims of Christianity are false: the virgin birth, the resurrection, the divinity of Christ, the existence of God, the existence of the soul and the afterlife.

                  But I do agree with many things Jesus taught from a practical moral standpoint, and I would not say that Christianity is without value. I think people are attracted to religion because they are good people with excellent intentions. Religion does encode many admirable and virtuous human values. This is how people benefit from it, even if the belief they bring to it is a product of human imagination. Beliefs have power, even if they are false. If a reliable source I trust tells me that I’ve won the lottery and I can expect a visit from the awards committee today, then the belief thus formed will make me feel a certain way emotionally when I hear a knock on the door. If on the other hand I receive reliable information that the police are coming to arrest me, or a homicidal maniac is at large in my neighborhood, the beliefs thus formed will cause me to have an entirely different emotional reaction when I hear a knock at the door. Same concrete experience, different beliefs, and extremely different emotional states result. This is the power of belief, and it’s how religion works. It’s purely psychological.

                  I see Christianity as a cultural repository, not as an ultimate original source of natural truth. It lives in the domain of the human mind, not the natural world, just as any book does. It simply way oversells itself. Way way way oversells itself. It originated at a time when it gathered together in one place what were considered the best practices of an ancient society for diet, economy, history, science (description of nature), ethics, social organization and ritual, psychology, literature, and many other practical and theoretical aspects of daily life at that historical moment. But most of this has been vastly improved upon over a few thousand years, so for me the Bible has a quaint antique quality to it; full of excellent literature and good stories, historical information about a culture, practical advice in some instances, emotional consolation, and many outdated notions and beliefs.

                  How do you address the inconsistencies and contradictions between the four gospels regarding Jesus’ birth and death? Paul was written prior to Mark, and later came Matthew and Luke/Acts, and finally John. Why would Paul not include a literal resurrection story? Could he have not known the details, or thought them unimportant? The time sequence allows one to compare the changes to the stories over time. Mark did not know or anticipate what John would write in many respects. Ditto for Matthew and Luke.

                  If you want to genuinely challenge your beliefs, I highly recommend reading the short book “Gospel Fictions” by Randel Helms. A warning though: if you challenge yourself in this way, you may never look at the scriptures the same again. But deeper understanding and a firmer grasp of truth can’t hurt, can it?

                • LDavidH

                  I wasn’t going to continue this thread, but it’s too interesting to quit…

                  1) I’m not a Christian because I like “religion” (a lot of it is boring and irrelevant), but because I’ve become convinced of the truth it proclaims. Until you make the same discovery, it’s not going to appeal to you!

                  2) There are plenty of sources that deal with the so-called inconsistencies; most of them simply don’t exist, and many of the rest result from different eye-witnesses remembering things slightly differently. If anything, that supports the reliability of the accounts; if they were all exactly the same, you’d suspect previous collusion on the part of the authors, but as it is, they obviously reflect different people relating the same event in their own words.

                  Having said that, there are one or two things that I can’t quite work out; that’s not a problem, once you realise that my faith is in Jesus, not just in the book about him.

                  3) I’d like to read “Gospel Fictions”, but it seems quite uninformed and easy to refute (see for example this website: http://www.tektonics.org/gk/helmsr01.html). I’m planning on reading Hitchins’ “God Is Not Great” once I’ve got through a number of other books on my reading list; somebody said he’s a lot harsher than Dawkins which intrigued me… And I’m curious about this new idea that the Roman emperor invented Jesus to keep the Jews quiet… It’s amazing what people come up with in order to escape Jesus’ call to repent and believe!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  I’m glad you find it interesting. So do I. At some point we probably just agree to irreconcilable differences, but as long as we consider what each says and respond with something thought provoking, there is value in it.

                  1. I was a Christian for many years, and was convinced of the truth of resurrection. Later I remained a Christian, but viewed the resurrection as a metaphor. But I’m inquisitive and naturally led to work my brain to understand things better and better. If there are unanswered questions, I like to ask them even if the answers might be inconvenient. As I worked to get a deeper understanding of what God was, and what miracles were, and what the stories meant, and all the other questions one can ask from either a position of faith or doubt, I gradually found that my belief was a self-deception based on wishful thinking. I had to finally conclude that pretending to believe involved lying to myself. When something sounds so appealing, we fervently wish to believe it, and that leads us, via the natural reactions of the mind to cognitive dissonance, to selectively filter facts in order to reinforce what we want to believe a priori.

                  2. There are inconsistencies that can be dismissed as easily as you dismiss them. Others can not be, such as whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth, whether he and Mary went into Egypt or not, who was Emperor in which years, whether or not a census was ordered, etc. There are certain empirical facts one could expect to confirm from external sources. The contrived genealogies with transparent motives that are inconsistant, could not be known to the authors, and do not match known biological facts are suspicious and not just matters of opinion. The blatant differences regarding the meeting with John the Baptist, the events leading up to the crucifixion, such as what day it was, what was said in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who did what when are too much too swallow unless one is hell-bent to believe no matter what contradictory information challenges those beliefs. The differences in the various miracle stories and the differences in what is and is not included in the crucifixion and resurrection stories throws historical authenticity into doubt. I for one think the authors would have tried harder to get the facts straight if they were telling a well established factual story. Instead they appear to have intentionally altered details in order to conform to theological and ideological requirements.

                  3. Any text is composed of language, the meaning of which is inherently ambiguous and subjective. Thus any text, including the Bible and “Gospel Fictions” can be read in a way that focuses on trying to pick out ambiguities. One can then use various means to try to tease out what the actual or intended meaning might have been. Anybody can decide in advance that they wish to discredit a text, they can then intentionally focus on the ambiguities, call out alternative interpretations, compile a long list of such interpretations, and then claim that the book is therefore valueless, false, or not worth reading. However, such analysis generally ignores major points that can not be subjected to such dismissive techniques, and these are what one will miss if they only read the hit pieces and fail to read the original.

                  Your link is corrupted; there is a right parenthesis at the end of the URL. Here is a corrected link.

                  For me reading Hitchens’ book was a real pleasure. For you it may be a real challenge because it will probably be emotionally painful or even enraging in parts. He isn’t really writing to persuade true believers that they should abandon their faith as much as he is writing to convince those who already don’t believe or who are on the fence that they should stop giving religion a free pass, that religion must be called to account for its claims and assertions of privilege. He does make many arguments I would say bring a certain stark clarity to the absurdities of belief in angels, demons, heaven, and Gods in this day and age, challenges the moral authority of the church, and even calls into serious question the idea that religion is a desirable thing to participate and believe in even if one begins by acknowledging that it isn’t metaphysically true but meets social, cultural, or psychological needs.

                  Gospel Fictions, while it challenges the literal accuracy of the Gospels, is much friendlier toward religion. There is at least a presumption that there is something worthwhile in these stories, or that the motives in fictionalizing these stories were not merely to deceive, but to construct narratives that better illustrated what the authors considered honestly to be a higher truth or a higher purpose. They did not have the same distinction then as we have between history and fiction. Then the idea that stories were meant to teach and educate trumped any notion that stories were meant to literally be true in the sense that they accurately reflect what really happened.

                  I doubt any Roman emperor invented Jesus. Stories of resurrection and miracle workers were a dime a dozen in those days. One does not need to go to such lengths to discredit the historical veracity of the Gospels. But it is well established that a Roman emperor, Constantine, did confer legitimacy on Christianity, without which it is unlikely that Christianity would even be remembered today, except perhaps by historians well versed in the arcane details of ancient Mediterranean societies and Roman dissenters.

                • LDavidH

                  Thanks for sharing that – and sorry about the broken link…
                  I became a Christian at age 6, then nearly fell away as a teenager until I had a personal encounter with God, which has been reinforced at various points in my life. I have also studied theology at a not-too-evangelical Bible college, and read quite a lot (incl. Dawkins). I don’t think there’s any wishful thinking involved, especially not as a youngster!

                  As for some of your points: both Matthew & Luke name Bethlehem as Jesus’ birth place; AFAIK, nobody claims it was Nazareth (Matthew could be read as saying they lived in Bethlehem until after birth, but that’s just selective retelling, not an error).
                  And as I said, i don’t think the small differences in the resurrection stories are a problem; they simply emphasize that the authors used different eye-witnesses, which seems to strengthen the case: they all state the women found an empty tomb, and that Jesus appeared to various people afterwards. If they give different numbers of women doesn’t really affect the veracity of the plot; remember that they had neither phones nor the Internet to quickly send off an email to check on the details with somebody else…
                  The meeting with John the Baptist? Where’s the blatant difference? John’s gospel doesn’t relate the actual baptism at all, since the other three already had – that’s surely not a problem?

                  In the end, I’m not too worried about a few issues that I don’t understand; I know I’ve met God, and I know the tomb was empty. I’m happy to try and understand the rest as well, but my faith = trust is in Jesus, not in whether I can explain every single “problem” (I would be a bit worried if there really were as many as some opponents say, but I fail to see most of them at all. The only real contradiction I don’t have a good answer to is Judas’ death…)
                  And as for Christianity needing imperial protction to survive, it had been doing quite well before Constantine, which is why he decided to grant it official status.
                  That, BTW, was one of the most tragic and disastrous things ever to happen to the Christian church. So many horrible mistakes could have been avoided (the Crusades, for example), if the church had only resisted the union with the empire. But sadly the church did become the state religion of Rome, and we’re still suffering the consequences.

                  Now I won’t receive emails from this thread again until Sunday morning (when I won’t have time to reply), so you might have to wait till Monday for any further thoughts. God bless! :-)

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  If you want detailed answers to how the narratives differ on the annunciation, the nativity, the baptism, and the resurrection you’ll need to read the book. I can’t do them justice here. Anybody interested in the Bible should find it an interesting read.

                  I’ll mention a few things about the birth. Mark, who wrote first, felt it entirely unnecessary to mention the virgin birth or the birthplace of Jesus. That alone is a very curious and suggestive fact. Why leave out such a crucial detail as the virgin birth, unless it had not been invented yet? Only the later gospels of Luke and Matthew tell these stories. Jesus was a Galilean of Nazareth. It seems apparent that Luke and Matthew felt the need to fulfill Jewish demand for a Davidic Messiah. Old Testament scripture required the Messiah to be descended of the Judean David, and to be born in Bethlehem. So the Nazarene Joseph and Mary had to somehow end up in Bethlehem to give birth to the Messiah. What reason of their own, as opposed to authorial motives, led them to travel so far during Mary’s pregnancy? A reason was invented, an implausible census for which there is no historical corroborating evidence among the detailed Roman records, and which even if the census had been taken at that time would not have necessitated the trip anyway.

                  This is just a taste of the kinds of questions raised if chronology, history, and context are taken into account in a critical reading. If one bases one’s faith on the books, and does not have the courage to read them closely, carefully, and critically with painstaking attention to detail, isn’t that a sign of doubt, of fearing what may be found?

                • LDavidH

                  The thing is, there are lots of Christian theologians and lay authors who do look into these things, and also write books about them. Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” is just one example (and he started off as an atheist); Josh McDowell another. Edgar Andrews “Who Made God?” is an excellent scientifically-written defence of faith. (Travelling to one’s place of birth for a census is actually attested in other sources; not required by the Romans, but by the Jewish authorities who did most of the actual counting.)

                  We don’t ignore difficult questions (well, some of us do but I agree that’s not good); but when you study the Gospels in order to see what they’re trying to say (rather than to find any possible discrepancy so that you have an excuse for not investigating further), you’ll find that they are remarkably cohesive and make sense.

                  And the main points remain: if there is a God, if Jesus rose from the dead, you can’t afford to just ignore the issue, based on a few unexplained details …

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  I think these books are only cohesive if you are willing to make lots of assumptions and cut them a lot of slack. You have to believe first and be committed to belief for whatever personal reasons you choose, and then human psychological mechanisms to reduce cognitive dissonance take over. People can believe almost anything if they are sufficiently motivated despite all contravening information that would contradict those beliefs.

                  I really can’t see how, if we take the virgin birth as an example, the fact that Paul and Mark never mention it doesn’t give you reason to doubt that it was a real event. Why would something so important be passed over by the two earliest authors?

                  And this is only calling into question the veracity and authority of the textual sources. There are so many other better reasons to doubt the historical truth of these stories. If we look at biological evidence it’s no wonder that this is just a story invented in order to hold people in awe, something quite useful if you are trying to persuade them to follow you. To me it all seems too normal and natural, too human, that it is a lie, and too incredible to believe that it could be true. No matter how pure the motives of these lies, the perpetrators still occupy the place of confidence tricksters in my mind, and believers their gullible victims, no matter how sweet and innocent their motives are.

                  I think that David Hume’s approach to miracles is much more persuasive and cohesive than anything in the Bible.

                  I recognize Pascal’s Wager when I see it. Really, do you think that is persuasive? Is that what your faith is based on, that the consequences of not believing and being wrong are too devastating, so you are cowed into belief? I hope not.

                  This same argument can be made to ask why you are not a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Jain, a Pagan, or a worshiper of Norse deities. What if you are wrong? I wouldn’t want to suffer the eternal wrath of Zeus or Thor. Sound convincing to you?

                  You disbelieve in all these other Gods as easily as I disbelieve in the entire concept of God. The idea of God is for me too obviously a contrived human-centric notion, one that fills the void our small minds are unable to imagine, that paradox of origins in which one must imagine either that being always existed, or else had some beginning. In the cosmological argument I’m simply not moved by the axiomatic assertion of a first cause. If God created everything, how did God come into being? If he always existed, then why didn’t all of existence always exist? Why is the idea of a sentient intentional creator, who just happens to possess many human like qualities and emotions according to your sacred books, a more compelling one than the idea that some pure form of energy has always existed, and is the natural seed-like kernel from which ever more complexity evolved according to natural unconscious, unintelligent, and unintentional processes? Grasping the idea of such a source of all we know, and considering the vastness and variety of existence that we have discovered, commands every bit as much awe and reverence as I ever felt for God in my younger days. I simply am unable to take seriously the rather fairy book like tales of religious texts. The only true and accurate point of access into this endless grandeur of natural existence is science. Religion simply has nothing interesting to say about it. Religions ideas are basically a deferral of knowledge, and acceptance of mystery, and an invention of an abstract placeholder to “explain” everything that mankind was totally ignorant of thousands of years ago. This “explanation” called God is really an impediment to learning, a pretense of knowledge that arrests inquiry, and it is totally unsatisfying to anyone who has ventured into a fuller and more complete understanding of the universe we live in.

                  When I look at the regularity of the physical laws of nature, and consider what we know of genetics and evolution, and of cosmology, I can’t help but realize how factually impoverished ancient religious texts are with respect to the truth of nature and life. It becomes overwhelmingly clear they are the products of human minds challenged by the relative ignorance of their historical times, not profound and timeless truths that should dictate how we live our lives. Nothing could seem more foolish to me.

                  We should clearly live our lives according to the best available knowledge. Nothing spells this out more clearly than the fact that when it comes to illness and disease people do not have faith in the healing power of religion. If they truly did, then they would not use doctors and hospitals, something that a few nuts are foolish enough to do, and we charge them with crimes when their children die horribly painful deaths from preventable and treatable ailments. Instead, people vote with their feet and prove that they actually place their belief in modern scientific medicine. They fall back on religious appeals to God and prayer only as an emotional comfort, one that has no practical impact on the patient’s prognosis, one whose domain is not the vast universe we have discovered, but merely the smaller but no less interesting subjective world of human consciousness, a world that is entirely dependent upon the functioning of the human biological brain.

                • LDavidH

                  I definitely didn’t intend to use Pascal’s wager as an argument – it’s obviously invalid, as what we’re interested in is the truth! I meant it as a plea from my perspective: if it’s true, as I believe it is, you can’t hide behind perceived inconsistencies to avoid the logical conclusion.

                  I would say God is that pure eternal form of energy; but the fact that the world exists and contains love, emotion and free will suggests that it’s sentient as well.

                  Mark was writing mainly to Gentile readers, who a) didn’t have the OT prophecies and b) had weird myths about virgin births and even stranger events, which might have derailed readers into equating Jesus with Zeus. It might not have served his purpose to start with the birth narratives. That is no argument against it being factual. Paul never writes much about Jesus’ earthly life, it wasn’t relevant to his preaching. Remember, the virgin birth isn’t proof of who Jesus is unless you already accept God’s existence and the authority of the Old Testament. I would never try and convert anybody by defending the virgin birth! It’s the resurrection that is the pivotal event that everything hinges on.

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  Your last paragraph did closely resemble Pascal’s Wager. From my perspective you are counting on some very large “ifs”, and all the information available, in my reckoning, makes those “ifs” extraordinarily improbable to the degree that it requires active self-deception to believe in them. I don’t see any reason to accept the Christian claims of ultimate truth over the Muslim claims, the Buddhist claims, or the Hindu claims, or any other pantheon or theological system invented by humans. I can see value in these religions with respect to ordering society, controlling the masses, structuring personal lives in a harmonious manner that encourages virtue, etc. But I don’t see ultimate authority in any of them. They are competing artifacts of human culture. These are purely psychological, social, economic, and moral factors that are entirely human subjective qualities, and do not connect to any deep metaphysical truth that sees beyond what we understand about existence and reality through science. Certainly science has little to say about much of human subjectivity, but human subjectivity, in my view, is based on the activities of the neurons in an evolved organ that implements intelligence. This is fairly well settled by modern physics, neurobiology, and cognitive neurosciences. There are no hidden spooky forces we don’t know about that can effect the brain, or that can manifest consciousness separate from the brain and body. If there were, physics tells us that we could detect their existence.

                  Reply in: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/13/sam-harris-explains-the-most-terrifying-and-depressing-phenomenon-on-earth/#comment-1090669943

                  I remember what having emotional attachments to the idea of God was like. In those days I was myself involved in active self-deception in order to preserve something I cherished. That emotional attachment was stronger than my commitment to truth, and it enabled me to tell myself that truth was as I imagined it to be, or what I wanted it to be, rather than what agreed with reality as lived, experienced, and observed. It took a fundamental change in intellectual orientation to decide that I no longer could rely on truth being what felt best emotionally, but needed to be based on more rigorously objective tests.

                  I’m sure there is always a way to rationalize every inconsistency in the ancient texts. But in my view it seems incredible that Mark or Paul, knowing this ostensible fact of the Virgin Birth, would simply omit it. It is an essential part of the claim of divinity for Jesus, which seems to be an important aspect of the whole Trinitarian view. Christians generally bridle at the suggestion that Jesus, if he existed at all, was a human being rather than the literal Son of God.

                  And you seem to be completely accepting of the idea that Mark and Paul made content choices not based on what was true, but based on what communicated most effectively to their audience. They were engaged in marketing, in other words. You accept this kind of editing with respect to omitting “truths”, but apparently not with respect to inventing “truths” they found convenient. So you are really having your cake and eat it too.

                  Another key part of the Resurrection, as I understand it, is the forgiveness of all human sins because of that sacrifice. This in turn depends on the idea of Original Sin, which is inherited from Adam and Eve. But the whole notion that Adam and Eve ever existed is totally discredited by modern genetics and knowledge of human reproduction and development. Furthermore, the idea of Original Sin is not unambiguously and inherently embedded in the Adam and Eve story. This inheritance of Original Sin is not part of Jewish readings of the Torah, as I understand it. It was an add-on that Christian theologians found convenient. Again we have modification of theology to fit the current marketing needs of church authorities. In my reading, the entire scripture reeks of this kind of motivated invention. Add to that the fact that there is no known method or mechanism to the idea of revelation, and no way to verify any individual’s claim of personal revelation, so the whole enterprise is rendered dubious in my view. How willing are you to respect the personal revelations of John Smith, the American Mormon prophet? Aren’t his claims to revelation as valid as Paul’s claims to revelation? You have no way to authenticate or test these competing claims other than your gut feeling, and using the circular logic of accepting certain axiomatic truths based on scripture that is itself nothing but a claim of personal revelation.

                  I’ll stick to the hard facts of science when it comes to forming my views of what is real and true.

                  I would say God is that pure eternal form of energy; but the fact that the world exists and contains love, emotion and free will suggests that it’s sentient as well.

                  Sure, but such a God bears no relationship to a theological God that has a plan for humanity, that loves you, that sends his Son in the flesh, that listens to prayer and intercedes on the behalf of individuals, or that has an interest in perpetually maintaining a playground to gratify the longing of humans to avoid death. This notion of “God as energy” bears no relationship to any theism, but at best conforms to the idea of deism. But even that is a stretch because deism requires conscious intentional creative impulse. You have to invent a whole lot of stuff to get from such an abstract notion of God to one that has creative intentions and personal relationships with humans. A God whose form is pure eternal energy resembles the concept referred to by Einstein or Spinoza when using the word “God”, which is pantheism. Pantheism is very hard to distinguish from naturalism, the idea that nothing “spiritual” exists, and that only a material universe following the laws of physics exists, which in pantheistic terms qualifies as the whole body and nature of God.

                  And there is no way to say that “love”, emotion, or free will exist outside of and independent of the subjective properties of the evolved mammalian brain. Do stars love? Stones? Is love a ray beaming across space? Everything we know says no, it is something biochemical and neurological that occurs in mammalian brains, and it is something mammals experience as an essential mechanism of social and family bonding behaviors. This in no way makes it unreal or cheapens it. It makes it more human and real, it makes it an integral part of our biology, which is every bit as beautiful as any eternal angellic spiritual vision of love, and it has the advantage of being real rather than imagined.

                • LDavidH

                  We’re not going to convince each other, so I’ll just give a few quick replies to some of what you wrote:
                  1) The “ifs” are for your benefit, not mine. I’m convinced Jesus rose from the dead, and am not trying to hedge my bets.
                  2) Omitting details for the sake of clarity or brevity – well, we all do that all the time, don’t we? I tend to talk about my dad and step-mum as my parents, even though there’s a birth mother involved as well. That’s nothing like inventing untrue details to score a point.
                  3) And why would anybody invent such a story anyway? The only thing they got was persecution and execution! There was no gain for Paul or any of the early church fathers in preaching the gospel, so why bother?
                  4) Why couldn’t a pure-energy God also have emotions, a will and a purpose? Since we have no idea what it would be like to be pure energy, it’s guesswork either way…

                  The rest is standard fare in these debates and has been dealt with many times in many places, so I’ll leave you with this. Thanks for engaging me in debate, and just to let you know: I have just ordered C Hitchins’ “God Is Not Great” – should be an interesting read!

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  1. We have no way of knowing that Jesus rose from the dead. You can choose to believe, but you can’t know. To avoid errors, the beliefs we choose should not be impervious to facts and to new ways of seeing and understanding. We need to accept that our beliefs will change if we learn things that suggest they are mistaken.

                  But Christianity teaches you to do the opposite. It teaches you to cling to faith in the face of every doubt. It teaches you to hold on to faith tenaciously in response to any challenge, and it teaches you to doubt what you see with your own eyes in order to preserve your faith. If I were designing a cult to control people for some political purpose or for personal gain, I suppose such an approach would be an effective way to do so. Buddhism on the other hand teaches you to doubt, to test, to disbelieve what you are taught until you confirm it. It asks you to try meditating, to try letting go of attachments and see if it leads to peace and happiness. Do not believe, test. The practices and results do not depend on the grace of a capricious all powerful entity in the sky who will jealously punish you for being unfaithful. It depends on what is inside of you, and how you practice it.

                  2. The point I was making is that you can’t be sure that Paul and Mark omitted what they knew about. It could also be that Luke and Matthew included a story invented later, which would explain why it was unknown to Paul and Mark. Yet you, rather than acknowledge uncertainty, are convinced it must be one way and not the other, even though you have no reliable way to know (taking care to not confuse knowledge with belief). You are selecting not from plausibility and reason, but from the emotional imperative of preserving your faith at all costs. I also have no way to know, but with the accumulation of uncertainty that comes from hundreds and thousands of inconsistencies and implausibilities, and given my experience of the natural motives and tendencies people have to exaggerate and lie when they are strongly advocating something for whatever reason, and given the long history humans have of representing ideas as narrative in ways that do not match our modern notion of factual and verifiable history, but seem rather to uniformly be closer to the poetry and fiction of mythology, Occam’s Razor leads me to resolve this uncertainty with doubt until some persuasive evidence can be presented. I take this same stand toward every other God, the thousands of which you have no trouble doubting as the imaginative fancy of ignorant people. And note I mean ignorant in its correct sense of not knowing, not in the common insulting way people use it to mean stupid. The authors of the ancient scriptures were quite clearly literally ignorant of much about natural reality and natural existence.

                  3. It’s a very good question. You have to ask the same about Mohammad flying to Jerusalem on a horse, and all of the Egyptian stories and Greek stories and Hindu stories and the thousands of other gods and their narratives and rituals. Why did the Aztecs cut hearts out of live sacrifices daily? Surely this involved much pain and suffering. Why would anyone invent such stories? Crazy, isn’t it?

                  A book I enjoyed a lot is Robert Wright’s “The Evolution of God”, which discusses, among other things, the phenomenon of competing societies having competing Gods, which leads to a kind of arms race in which Gods are successively magnified over time for greater effect. This phenomenon is detectable by chronologically examining Hebrew texts, and led over time to Yaweh first becoming the greatest among Gods in the region, and later to monotheism, the ultimate snub to neighboring Gods being to deny their existence. There are clearly many reasons related to social cohesion, political power, and political organizing that explain why such inventions are useful to those who wish to challenge the power of rivals such as the dominant Romans.

                  4. We know a great deal about energy. Actually you and I are both pure energy, and so is a stone, so is water, so is light. There are tests for sentience, and stones and wood and soil and light fail them. Do you worry about treading on stones and wood and soil? What does it think when you do so?

                  We have a long way to go before the mystery of consciousness is cracked, but as best we can tell, based on innumerable cases of how consciousness changes as a result of brain changes such as illness, injury, chemical inducements, sleep, coma, etc., consciousness and intelligence require the brain and its way of structuring energy and matter. You can poetically imagine waterfalls and stars to do what they do by intention, but as far as we can tell they simply do what they do because it is the only possibility for them. The reliable consistent inevitable way in which they behave as they do give us great confidence in this assumption. They are just acting according to the regular laws of physics. If there were intention and choice involved we would observe varying behaviors that defied the mathematical models of pure energy and matter behaving as it must.

                  If we define the word “God” (or any other word you choose) to mean that which simply is, before all other things we know came into being, then what if the laws of physics are identical to “God”? Then he is nothing like theists imagine him to be, and has none of the human mental qualities usually ascribed to him. On the other hand, if “God” thinks, intends, wills, and creates, then he must operate within some framework that orders actions and materials, and determines causes and effects, that he depends on in order to create. How otherwise would anything other than chaos result? He would have no system or method by which to know a creative action or impulse would have a predictable result. And now, given that creation seems to require a predictable framework of natural laws, that puts “God” in exactly the same position as us, wondering about the origins of the ordered framework within which he exists and creates. Which leaves us, if you continue to apply the model of origins used by monotheists, in an unsatisfying and likely impossible situation of infinite regress, in which each God wonders who created him, ad infinitum. To posit the spontaneous springing into existence of absolute power and omniscience from nothing, as monotheists do, is far more preposterous than to imagine that matter and energy grew into existence by gradually evolving from nothing, or else always existed by some means that can not be imagined. There is clearly mystery and always will be, but this mystery does not suggest in any way that the invention of a thinking, willing, creating God is the answer to that mystery. Nothing at all suggests that, other than that humans’ limited imagination and the limited knowledge they had in the primitive times when they invented such explanations made it hard for them to imagine anything else.

                  Enjoy Hitchens. Agree or disagree, he is a great writer with a great mind.

                  I realize this exchange may be getting exhausting. I enjoy the writing and thinking, the formulating of argments and counter arguments. You are right we won’t likely convince one another of anything. As long as you raise any issue or points I will probably continue to rebut. It’s my nature. If you’d like to gracefully exit this back and forth we can simply agree to disagree and wish one another well. Or if you are still interested, so am I to hear what you have to say in response.

                • LDavidH

                  “The practices and results do not depend on the grace of a capricious all
                  powerful entity in the sky who will jealously punish you for being unfaithful” – thank goodness that entity doesn’t exist! I’m sure yo know that that is a caricature of the God who revealed himself in Jesus… but to have to rely on what’s inside me – laziness, lust, selfishness – no thank you. I’d rather depend on someone bigger and better than that!

                  As for Muhammed, Aztecs etc inventing legends, they didn’t suffer themselves for what they invented (and I’m not sure Muhammad “invented”; he probably genuinely believed his revelations). The victims of the Aztecs didn’t themselves insist on being sacrificed; whereas the apostles were themselves persecuted etc for the new faith they preached. So it’s a good question, which still stands.

                  I also say, try! The Bible itself says “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. I never encourage anybody to just take my word for it; and any genuine conversion has to be outside of my control, otherwise how can it be genuine? Those who seek find!

                  “To posit the spontaneous springing into existence of absolute power and omniscience from nothing” is bizarre; nobody posits that. One of aspects of “God” is eternal existence; I know you can’t accept that, but that’s the Christian position. Either God has always existed, or matter/energy has always existed (and if so, matter/energy is divine). If you have absolute nothingness, that’s all you’ll ever have. The “infinite regress” idea is just silly. Don’t waste your energy opposing what nobody believes!

                  And why is it OK for you to say there’s mystery, but it’s a cop-out when Christians use it (which we don’t do anywhere as often as non-Christians think)? I don’t use “mystery” as an argument for God’s existence, but the fact is that God’s existence helps explain a number of “mysteries”. That in itself can’t possibly disqualify the argument for God’s existence!

                  I don’t mind carrying on, I just can’t promise that I’ll have time to get as deep as the discussion warrants. ..

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  Yeah, yeah, we’ve “tasted” and found your “lord” to be neither nutritious OR delicious.

                • Jeffrey G. Johnson

                  “thank goodness that entity doesn’t exist!”

                  It’s the one that appears in the Bible. If you have some modern liberal conception of God, an abstracted sophisticated theological conception of God that has all of the anthropomorphic aspects of scripture stripped away, it very quickly departs from one who is concerned with human dress, diet, speech, action, family matters, sexual preferences, designating a chosen people, or maintaining a narrowly exclusive and special form of access through one man designated to be his son. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Jesus and the Bible are your authority, then you believe in the God I described. If you imagine another God, then the Bible can not be taken seriously and literally at all, which throws the Resurrection and everything else into doubt.

                  “but to have to rely on what’s inside me – laziness, lust, selfishness – no thank you.”

                  We have much more inside of us than that. Otherwise there is no way we could a) find religion appealing, or b) have invented religions.

                  “[Mohammed] probably genuinely believed his revelations”

                  So are you claiming that Mohammed’s revelations were authentically from God, or that he was self-deluded and believed in inauthentic false revelations? You are either in the position of the atheist, realizing that even if he truly believed them, they were false products of his own mind, or else you are admitting the authenticity of his revelations, and thus you are at the very least weakening Christianity and Jesus’ claim to exclusive authority.

                  “Either God has always existed, or matter/energy has always existed (and if so, matter/energy is divine).”

                  Actually the cosmological argument, championed by many theologians over the centuries, and notably recently by William Lane Craig, implies that God was uncaused, and was the first cause, the prime mover. I touched on this in my last post, but you either have to suppose that this infinite divine goodness and power materialized suddenly from nothing in order to cause existence, or else you have to believe that some infinite amount of time existed prior to God creating this Universe. Also, that once it was created, he sat idly by for hundreds of thousands of years before giving even the slightest bit of aid and comfort to humanity. These things stretch credibility to the breaking point for me.

                  For me it is easier to conceive of matter and energy in some form that is unlikely to have conscious intention or human-like emotions such as love or anger. Obviously in thinking about such things we are speculating about what is unknown and possibly unknowable to the human mind. But when you call it divine, I no longer know what you mean, and it feels like you are wishfully projecting human desire and expectation onto physical existence. Personally, I think the word “divine” is meaningless unless you are hypothesizing an intentional theistic God, the one who appears in the Bible, the one who has personal relationships with humans, and is interested in intervening in the fates of humans for some reason. If we are talking about matter and energy in whatever form, I no longer understand what the concept of divine even means.

                  If there is something called spirit or divine energy or whatever, then one of two things must be true: 1. Either it has no interaction with and no effect on physical matter, so that it is completely irrelevant to our existence, or 2. It interacts with and affects matter and physical energy, so that we could detect its presence at least indirectly, just as we detect gravity.

                  Since #1 renders “spiritual nature” irrelevant, and #2 has never yielded any evidence of the existence of spirit that interacts with matter, and we know we could detect it if it were exerting any conscious intent on reality, I have to conclude that it doesn’t exist, or else #1 is true in which case it simply doesn’t matter to us.

                  Regarding the infinite regress idea, it’s not what people believe. It reveals the absurdity of what many people do believe and have believed, that God was an uncaused first cause, therefore at some time God did not exist. It’s not a waste of time at all to clarify people’s fuzzy and incomplete thinking about the very human idea of “God”.

                  “And why is it OK for you to say there’s mystery, but it’s a cop-out when Christians use it”

                  Because existence of mystery is not proof of the existence of the answer you wish to be true. It is proof that we don’t know. Given that we don’t know, it is not plausible to leap to the conclusion that the solution to the mystery must be a benevolent all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful father figure. That last step is the one that is the cop-out. The admission of mystery and the unknown is not a cop-out. Our only guide to the nature of this mystery is our scientific observation and testing, not our psychological needs and wishes.

                  It is perfectly predictable that humans, based on the psychology of children growing up in a family with parents that protect and guard them, would still wish for this kind of comfort even after they graduate to adulthood and are on their own facing an intimidating world unaided. Again it stretches credibility to the breaking point that the void of unknown mystery would happen to be filled by the kind of parent figure humans would wish for, as opposed to the nearly infinite range of other possibilities.

                  To say that God’s existence “explains” several mysteries is an understatement in one sense, and an absurd statement in another sense. It actually can explain everything, and it does so precisely because it is a completely undefined, non-testable, non-falsifiable, single catch-all that pretends to explain everything while teaching us absolutely no details.

                  We could also “explain” everything by hypothesizing that the Universe is a hive of tiny workers, like ants or bees but too small to see, that build everything and order and drive everything we observe. These tiny workers don’t need any consciousness of the whole, but just as bees each know their designated role, they follow their nature and their sum effort creates all that we see. We could also explain everything by proposing that everything is a simulation inside of a giant computer that is a tool in use by a very smart and gigantic being who is only one member of a whole society full of similar beings.

                  There are other “explanations” we can dream up. But an explanation is useless unless it can be tested, unless it teaches us something about the details of how things work, unless it allows us to make predictions about something we didn’t understand without the explanation. Positing a giant father and just saying “it works in mysterious ways” tells us nothing, allows us to make no predictions, does not give us any understanding or control over natural processes. In fact such an “explanation” as “God wills it” really explains nothing at all because it tells us precisely nothing about how God’s will does what is claimed of it, what the mechanisms are, what the details are, etc. Attributing things to God’s will is not an explanation, it is a soothing placating comfort, creating the impression that we can trust everything will be fine without us needing to take any care or responsibility whatsoever. In other words, it is a huge cop out, an evasion of responsibility, a childlike surrender that normal adults can’t indulge in because they really do need to take responsibility.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  “I still think that calling a same-sex partnership “marriage” adds to the erosion of the concept of life-long monogamous marriage commitment”

                  So. You’re saying that people who want to get married and have a life-long monogamous commitment are… eroding the concept of a life-long monogamous commitment?

                  What.

  • Julien

    Terry, thanks for the article. Definitely an eye-opener.

    However, I gotta call you on the bit where you say:

    Me, I’m not the slightest bit worried that scores of scheming
    Christians, Jews, or Buddhists are going to want to blow marathon
    spectators to smithereens, or butcher atheists and gay people, or fly
    Boeings into skyscrapers.

    This is an American perspective, where our current bogeyman happens to be Muslims. If you read international newspapers, you will see absolutely horrific violence in the name of Christianity and Buddhism as well, along with Hinduism and a number of other religions. The only reason you don’t see it with Judaism to the same extent is that it’s a tiny religion, relatively.

    Just look at the ongoing Buddhist / Islamic / Hindu back-and-forth violence in Southeast Asia. You’ll see mass slaughters, temple bombings, riots, and rape terrorism. Christianity certainly doesn’t get a pass either – look at the religious influence on anti-gay mob violence in Russia, or Christian witch-burning, gay killing, and militia resistance in Africa.

    This article has an increasingly anti-Muslim slant as it goes along. I wholeheartedly agree that religious violence is prevalent and awful, and Islam is one of the worst for it right now, and having read it the Muslim holy book is awfully violent. However, the facts on the ground just don’t justify singling Islam out as ‘unique’ to quite the extent you do.

    The correlation between violence and a particular religion isn’t at all clear-cut. You have to look at additional factors – the correlation between violence and religion + poverty gets us a bit closer, but there’s still much more to it than that. If Islam is the worst, at least some (and perhaps most) of it is due to where Islam is found, and how many members it counts among the faithful, and the violent history of its member nations.

    • Artor

      I was going to comment on that line too. While everything the post says about Islam is spot-on, I can easily refute that point with a list of names; Breivik, McVeigh, Roeder, Rudolph, Army of God, the Lord’s Resistance Army, KKK, Hutaree, etc. That’s just the Xians. I didn’t even go into the bloodthirsty factions of Jews or Buddhists.

      • Terry Firma

        I run a blog dedicated to chronicling religious misdeeds and atrocities; please pay it a visit at http://www.moralcompassblog.com. If you read a few pages there, it would be hard to argue, I think, that I give other religions a pass.

        But currently, and for decades now, when it comes to mindless slaughter and grotesque violence by religionists, Islam is number one. With a bullet. No question.

        I reject precisely this false equivalence — “other religions do bad stuff too.” Yeah, that they do. But not nearly on the same scale and with the same frequency, compared to Islam.

        • Pseudonym

          Currently, and for decades now, when it comes to mindless slaughter and grotesque violence by religionists, Islam is number one.

          The “by religionists” is a rather important qualification, of course.

          When it comes to mindless slaughter, Islamists have nothing on Mexican drug cartels, which in turn are pacifists compared to governments.

          (The other thing to keep in mind, of course, is that if you are killed by an Islamist terrorist, you are overwhelmingly likely to be Muslim yourself, by a factor of about 8-to-1 at last count.)

          • Terry Firma

            I don’t know any Mexican drug gangsters, so I could be wrong, but I don’t think they go around presenting their violence as a triumph of morality. That’s the aspect of Islamic violence that truly sets my teeth on edge: these fundies kill out of what they present as piety and virtue.

            • Pseudonym

              For the record, I fully concede that what you’re saying may well be true given the qualification that it’s violence by religionists. My point is merely that violence by religionists is a small minority of the violence going on in the world.

            • WVHeisenberg

              Actually, there’s an entire mythical culture sprung up around the cartels, some of whom are praised as Robin Hood/Jesse James style outlaws who are in the game to benefit the poor. See, for example, Narcocorrido.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      It also ignore Oklahoma City. And many many acts of violence against black churches, abortion clinics etc. Sorry but there are plenty of Christians prone to violence. Buddhists don’t seem to be a problem in the US at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some faction that could be potentially. I don’t think there’s anything particularly more violent about Islam that isn’t also true of most other religions at some point in time and place.

      • Will

        Seriously, this. If you don’t think that Christians aren’t committing acts of violence against atheists, LGBT people, and others they disagree with in this country, you’re not fucking paying attention.

        • Terry Firma

          You apparently read neither my article here, nor my Moral Compass blog. No matter, but I was hoping you’d have read Sam Harris’s piece, at least, before you commented. I don’t know what else I should say, or Harris should say, to short-circuit this kind of kneejerk reaction.

          Read cyb pauli’s response, below. That’s exactly how I feel.

    • Pseudonym

      If you read international newspapers, you will see absolutely horrific violence in the name of Christianity and Buddhism as well, along with Hinduism and a number of other religions.

      If you read international newspapers, you will see absolutely horrific violence in the name of America.

      • WVHeisenberg

        Hell, there have been wars fought in the name of the United Fruit Company.

    • DeadInHell

      People who make these kinds of arguments are missing the point. First of all, if I was a Buddhist and Muslims moved into my country and started butchering my people indiscriminately for having the “wrong” religion, I can only imagine that I would be compelled to fight back as well. There is a difference between the kind of ideological slaughter that Muslims commit apropos of nothing and the retaliations of other groups who are merely trying to protect their villages from marauding religious crusaders.

      Second, violence on behalf of Christianity, etc. does of course exist. However, it simply does not compare to Islam in the modern day. It’s absurd to claim otherwise and entirely contrary to reality. Especially considering that you all keep bringing up “anti-gay” violence/legislation/sentiment. Do you think that Christians have a monopoly on this? Or that they are even the worst religion worldwide in this area? Absolutely not.

    • xsd

      those Buddhists who executed rohingyas knew what they done is atrocities and a contrary to what their religion teach.

    • Grotoff

      You are too willing to look past Islam’s specific doctrinal justification of violence. In-group vs out-group violence is unfortunately common among humans of all persuasions, but specific beliefs matter. You don’t hear about radical Jains blowing up Muslims in India because being a radical Jain means a fanatical and unhealthy pacifism. You can criticize it, but you can’t equate it to Jihadis. Or the worshipers of Kali, Thuggees, etc.

  • Pluto Animus

    “If 28 percent of them support violent jihad, that’s 364 million Muslims
    who condone, at least in some instances, the murder of apostates,
    blasphemers, gay people…”

    By pointing out such an undeniable truth, you are showing that not only are you a racist bigot, but also that arithmetic is also anti-Islam.

    • Tim Mena

      Islam is NOT a fucking race.

      • Andrew B.

        Uh…sarcasm. Ever hear of it?

        • Linda Lee

          But cyb’s post is so like what religious defenders say that it’s hard to tell if it’s sarcastic or not!

          • Linda Lee

            Oops I meant Pluto’s.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            Poe’s Law.

            “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake it for the genuine article.”

            • Bdole

              I’ve run into this a few times. The problem with using emoticons is that I feel like I’m nudging the reader, saying, “get it? get it? ha ha” I hate it when people do that in real life. “YES! I GET it!”
              Know what I mean?
              *slaps self*

              • Bdole

                What a strange thing to downvote.

              • JSC_ltd

                Maybe, in an online context versus meatworld, leaving an emoticon fills the gaps left by the absence of inflection or body language.

                • Bdole

                  I’m not anti-emoticon in general. I just hate to beat people over the head telling them I’m being sarcastic with the winky one. I feel like I’m insulting their intelligence.

    • cyb pauli

      You didn’t know statistics are Islamophobic? I thought everyone knew that…

    • VladChituc

      Actually, the problem is that it ignores any and all relevant context to irrationally and prejudicially paint Islam in a negative light.

      Yeah, 28 percent say violence against civilians is sometimes justified (hardly “supporting violent jihad,” but why quibble over things like “facts”) and thats bad on its face, but lets put those stats in context.

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/148763/Muslim-Americans-No-Justification-Violence.aspx

      when asked whether it was okay for the military to target and kill civilians, 78 percent of American muslims said that it was never okay, while 21 percent said it was sometimes justifiable. How did protestants answer? 58% say sometimes justified. No religion/atheists? 43%

      So in context, seculars in America are more okay with killing civilians than global Muslims are. Suddenly, Islam doesn’t quite look so bad.

      So yeah, I’d say taking statistics out of context to falsely paint Muslims as uniquely blood thirsty is pretty Islamophobic.

      • james

        You can’t compare an organized offshoot of the Federal Government to terror groups structured on a shared ideology like: the Taliban,Al Qaeda,al shabaab etc

        • 3lemenope

          Why not?

        • VladChituc

          I’m not comparing the federal government and terrorists. I’m compared how people feel about the deaths of civilians. I don’t see how saying “civilian deaths are bad, except when the us government does it” somehow helps your case that muslims are apparently uniquely callous towards the death of civilians

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          If the shoe fits…

      • Grotoff

        Targeting and killing civilians in a military operation is sometimes necessary and correct. In a real war, the entire nation is at war. It’s preposterous to only shoot Germans on the front line and not destroy their infrastructure, killing civilians, or target their political leadership, killing civilians.

    • james

      Muslims isn’t an ethnicity!

    • Guest

      Muslim isn’t an ethnicity!

    • Sven2547

      28% is right around the “crazification factor” threshold…

      Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

      Source link

      Conduct a similar survey of Christians in Mississippi and Alabama and I bet you find a similar result.

  • C Peterson

    There is such a thing as a true Scotsman. There is no such thing as a true Christian or a true Muslim, so the comparison gets pretty strained.

    Islam is no more inherently violent than Christianity. As with any system of dogma, especially those based on ancient scripture, virtually any sort of behavior system can be cherry picked.

    While religion is always harmful, and being religious is always negative, the real problem with Islam today has nothing to do with the religion itself. The problem is that the religion is being used as a tool of control by a small number of people with violent intent- supported in large part by theocracies. I have no doubt that the same thing would happen if we still had Christian theocracies. When religious leaders have political power, they always become corrupt, they always become abusive, they always become violent. It doesn’t matter what the religion is, although the Abrahamic religions are the major offenders, having the most intrinsically violent, paranoid, and incoherent underlying dogma.

    • the moother

      What if there were no justification left for their mendacious plotting? Let us take away their little toy that they are using to poke everyone in the eye.

      • C Peterson

        Let us take away their little toy that they are using to poke everyone in the eye.

        Tell us how!

        • the moother

          Take it away from the moderates first. Oh, and emancipate women.

          • WVHeisenberg

            The Soviet Union liberated women and built their entire government structure on an atheist basis. Guess what? They were still violent.

            That’s because humans are innately violent and use religion and other ideologies as a convenient excuse to murder. If all the world rejected religion …. guess what? We’d still find excuses to kill each other.

            • the moother

              Would we invent more excuses to kill each other? And, even if we did, we’ll be a lot better off without the current exceuses.

              • WVHeisenberg

                “Would we invent more excuses to kill each other?”

                If history is any guide, yes.

                Hell, most murders aren’t committed in the name of religion. They’re committed by close friends and relatives based on personal arguments. Or they’re committed in the course of committing other crimes like burglary or robbery.

                And wars are fought much more for reasons of economics and natural resources than they are for some vague religious pretext. Religion is more a part of the marketing than it is about the cause.

                • C Peterson

                  Murders would continue. But murders represent only a small fraction of all the people killed by religiously motivated governments and wars.

                  Nothing in history suggests that removing any particular motivation for killing results in new motivations springing up to fill its place.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “But murders represent only a small fraction of all the people killed by religiously motivated governments and wars.”

                  Religion isn’t anywhere close to being the biggest motivator for war. World Wars I and II weren’t religiously motivated. The Mongols conquests in Eurasia weren’t religiously motivated. The American Civil War wasn’t religiously motivated. The Napoleonic Wars weren’t religiously motivated.

                  In fact, nearly all of the biggest wars in human history – judged by number of countries participating and total body count – were motivated by secular, political, and economic motivations. Not religious ones.

                • Pofarmer

                  THe anti semitism at the base of the Nazi movement was certainly religious. Read some Martin Luther. And, while Japan may not have been waging a purely religious war, they certainly used a huge dose of religion to motivate their soldiers.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Germany’s anti-semitism was unquestionably rooted in religion. But the WAR wasn’t. The war was driven by Hitler’s ethnic nationalism and drive for conquest. Japan’s war of expansion was driven by a need for conquest as well as an attempt to wrest natural resources away from other countries.

                • Pofarmer

                  That may be, but in the popular culture, they were very much rooted in religious vernacular.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Using religion as a tool for propaganda to support a war is not the same thing as a war being religiously motivated.

                  The Crusades were religiously motivated. World War II was driven by the Axis powers desire to expand their territories by conquest. To help get their countries on board with this, they used some religious imagery. Two very different things.

                • Pofarmer

                  While the wars may not have been completely religiously motivated, many of the participants certainly were. Was the westward expansion of the US religiously motivared given the idea of “manifest destiny”?

            • C Peterson

              The Soviet system wasn’t remotely built on a “atheist basis”. That was a trivial aspect of their system, and wasn’t so much to do with supporting atheism as it was eliminating all competition from religions.

              Humans have a streak of violence, true enough. But it isn’t some zero-sum game. Without religion, vastly fewer people would die from violence.

              • WVHeisenberg

                “The Soviet system wasn’t remotely built on a “atheist basis”. That was a trivial aspect of their system”

                That’s complete bull. Do you know anything about Communism at all? Atheism is a key tenet of Marxism, because materialism was the core of Marx’s understanding of human nature. He was wrong, in a lot of ways, but atheism wasn’t incidental. It is fundamental to understanding Marx’s theory of history.

                • C Peterson

                  Atheism wasn’t important to Soviet communism, except as a way of getting rid of religion. Soviet communism didn’t look a whole lot like Marxism, in any case.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Atheism was vital to Soviet Communism, according to Lenin himself, who wrote:

                  “Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward.”

                  Lenin was deep critical of religion and religious institutions and a militant atheist. Communist Party members were required to be atheist.

                  What’s more, as both Marx and Lenin noted – if religious beliefs were true, and materialism was not, there was accordingly no metaphysical basis for Communism.

                  Marx wrote, for example, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

                  Religion is baked into the entire Communist philosophy. It wasn’t incidental. It was at its core.

                • C Peterson

                  Thank you for making my point. Atheism wasn’t important. Eliminating religion was.

                  Those aren’t the same things.

                  Not that it matters. Even the Soviets never used atheism as a justification for violence. Nobody has. The very concept makes no sense.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  They eliminated religion because they thought religion was bad and kept people from being liberated and happy. How is that not an atheist motivation?

                • C Peterson

                  They eliminated religion because it competed with their own dogmatic approach to controlling people. The reasoning had nothing to do with the philosophy of religion or theism. It was just the practical thing for this particular despotic regime to do.

                  Despotic regimes can go two ways: they either become theocracies and use religion to control, or they become atheistic and eliminate religion from the control of others.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  You seriously need to read Marx and Lenin. They were ardently anti-religious as a consequence of their atheism. And when Marxists came to power, they explicity persecuted the religious.

                  In this, they mirrored the French revolutionaries who murdered priests, persecuted Catholicism, and started their own “Cult de la Raison.”

                • smrnda

                  Materialism is also (more or less) a core belief in science, and I’d argue that you can get any number of moral or political philosophies that all depend on materialism and atheism as a starting point. I don’t think you can have a modern political philosophy that isn’t in some sense built on materialism.

                  On being wrong, I think Marx’s biggest errors was assuming that industrialization and urbanization always go hand in hand, but he was European writing in the relatively small UK.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      There is no true measure of “true”.

      • C Peterson

        So true!

        • Castilliano

          Maybe…

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          *blink blink*

          …wait.

        • closetatheist

          *universe implodes*

    • WVHeisenberg

      “While religion is always harmful, and being religious is always negative”

      Always? Who’s the dogmatist now?

      • C Peterson

        I’ve seen nothing that offers a uniquely positive thing provided by religion. It is either harmful (most of the time), or what it offers can be provided at least as well by other mechanisms.

        That is an evidence-based assertion, not dogma.

        • Pseudonym

          WVHeisenberg made no such claim, and you know it.

          The assertion that “religion is always harmful, and being religious is always negative” may be refuted by a single counter-example.

          Saying that religion doesn’t provide anything uniquely positive is a completely different claim. I do note that you haven’t made the claim that anything positive provided by religion is provided by other means, merely that it can be. If that highly-scaled-back statement is your claim, then I suspect that most people here would agree with you.

          • C Peterson

            Yes, my original statement was a bit too terse. Thus the clarification of the followup.

            I do make the claim that religion provides nothing positive that isn’t provided by other means, and that without the massive harm that always accompanies religion.

            • Pseudonym

              Once again, “always” is easily refuted with a single counter-example. If you’d like to state your claim in a testable manner, I or someone else will be more than happy to provide you with the counter-example.

              • C Peterson

                A counterexample that you have failed to provide, I see.

                • Pseudonym

                  I did ask for the claim stated in a testable manner. I need something a bit more specific than “harmful”, since that by itself is an untestable value judgement.

                  (Incidentally, this is the same problem that the JREF has with the million dollar prize. It’s up to the person with a claim to make that claim in a way that’s actually testable. That’s what trips up most claimants.)

                • C Peterson

                  Nonsense. You can’t come up with a single example of a value that religion can offer that can’t be offered at least as well by some secular entity?

                • Pseudonym

                  If you look back to what I said, I agreed with that part of the highly scaled-back claim. Or I might have said that you’d find few disagreements here.

                  We’re now dealing with the claim that “massive harm [...] always accompanies religion”. I do note that you have defined atheistic forms of Buddhism to be “not religion”, contrary to the definitions of “religion” used by mainstream academics who study the phenomenon of religion. If you are defining “religion” as “that which is always accompanied by a certain type of massive harm”, then I guess your “claim” is a tautology.

                • C Peterson

                  Religion destroys reason. That is a given, since it requires accepting as truth that which is utterly without evidence. When too many people in a society act without reason, the society fails. We see it today.

                • Pseudonym

                  OK, this is something we can work with to try to establish a claim that’s testable.

                  What do you mean by “religion”? (We need to establish this before we can look at what religion requires.)

                  What does it mean for reason to be destroyed?

            • WVHeisenberg

              What specific, massive harm “always accompanies religion”?

              • C Peterson

                The number one harm is that religion requires irrational thinking (the belief in a god, of course, as well as a large amount of obviously false information). When people are encouraged to be irrational, that mode of thinking spills over into all aspects of their thinking. The result is a population with weak thinking skills, and we see the results of that every day in our social policy.

                Some religions, such as Christianity, encourage fundamentally unethical behavior. But all religions, by defining ethical absolutes (many at odds with natural human behavior) create ethical dilemmas that themselves encourage bad behavior.

                Religions are generally given special treatment by government, with the result that they consume services at the public expense but return no value in the form of taxes or fees. So they represent a financial drain.

                Religion is used as a tool by the unscrupulous to prey on the weak (as we see with many megachurches and televangelists), and as a tool by theocracies to control their populations, even to the point of driving them to commit violent deeds.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “The number one harm is that religion requires irrational thinking”

                  Do all religions require irrational thinking? Aquinas, Averroes, and a number of Hindu philosophers worked diligently to reconcile reason and religion. Those arguments may have been flawed, but making a flawed argument is not the same thing as being irrational.

                  “But all religions, by defining ethical absolutes … create ethical dilemmas that themselves encourage bad behavior.”

                  Are you making the claim that there are no ethical absolutes? If so, how can you simultaneously claim that religion encourages bad behavior? If there are no ethical absolutes, then there is no such thing as objectively bad behavior – only behavior you disagree with.

                  “Religions are generally given special treatment by government, with the result that they consume services at the public expense but return no value in the form of taxes or fees. So they represent a financial drain.”

                  In some societies. But all non-profit organizations do so as well. As do many poor people. Is the receipt of services without paying taxes always a bad thing?

                  “Religion is used as a tool by the unscrupulous to prey on the weak (as we see with many megachurches and televangelists), and as a tool by theocracies to control their populations, even to the point of driving them to commit violent deeds.”

                  Sure, but atheistic philosophies have also been used to prey on unscrupulous people. See, for example, the Ayn Rand Institute.

                  And tyrannical governments have used atheism in ways that have driven the population to commit violence. See, for example, the “Cult of Reason” in Revolutionary France.

                  Plus, religious people have done plenty of good, as well. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. conducted their non-violent campaigns using the principles of their religion. Hundreds of priests and nuns were killed for opposing fascist governments in Latin America.

                  There are good people. There are bad people. There are good ideas. There are bad ideas. Good religious ideas have driven people to do amazing things. Bad people have used religious ideas as a pretext for violence. There are positive atheist philosophies like the humanist movement. There are terrible atheist philosophies like Communism and Objectivism.

                  By making your overly broad claims about religion, I’d submit you’re committing the logical fallacy of the hasty generalization.

                • C Peterson

                  Religions require a belief in a deity, and almost always a belief in obviously false things (Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark…) In today’s world, those beliefs are manifestly irrational.

                  Aquinas was an absolute idiot. I’ve seen nothing that remotely reconciles religion with reason. They are completely non-overlapping.

                  I don’t believe there are any ethical absolutes. Why should you think that means I don’t recognize behaviors as more or less moral? You don’t need an absolute moral system in order to have a moral system. Indeed, it is my belief that imposed absolute moral systems lead to behaviors that are damaging to both individuals and societies, and which I therefore see as ethically poor.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “Religions require a belief in a deity”

                  Buddhists would be very surprised to learn this. As would a lot of Unitarian Universalists.

                  “Indeed, it is my belief that imposed absolute moral systems lead to behaviors that are damaging to both individuals and societies, and which I therefore see as ethically poor.”

                  By what standard do we judge what’s ethical? Your personal opinion?

                • C Peterson

                  Many Buddhists believe in all sorts of supernatural entities. Atheistic Buddhism is not a religion, merely a philosophy.

                  I judge my personal ethical code by my personal opinion. I judge the ethical code of societies by how well they work for those societies.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “I judge the ethical code of societies by how well they work for those societies.”

                  Without an objective standard, how do you make a judgement about whether something “works”?

                • C Peterson

                  By how well the society thrives. By its strength and longevity compared with other societies. By its productivity. There are countless objective standards by which societal success can be measured.

    • Grotoff

      Nonsense. There is only one Muslim theocracy and they have little patience for jihadis. The Iranians are busily killing them in Syria.

      Beliefs matter. Salafist beliefs lead to murder and terror. Full stop.

  • Atheist for human rights

    New Atheists like Mehta and Harris are so dense it would be comical if it wasn’t so sad. They may someone like Malala Yousaf their poster child when they are totally unaware or willfully ignore she blames the terrorism in large part on the constant Western bombing of Muslim countries – not Islam.

    http://gawker.com/malala-yousafzai-meets-president-obama-asks-him-to-sto-1444350645

    Essentially, as Malala said ,we bomb all of these countries, and people like Mehta are so flummoxed as to why all these people are so extreme.

    While religion gives cover to extremism – it is not the root cause. Why was Christianity in the same boat 1,000 years ago as Mehta mentioned? Because they were poor and underdeveloped. Whereas the Muslim world at that time was economically successful and devoloped relative to the rest of the world at the time. Socio-economic status is by the main reason why one religious group is more extreme than the other.

    Furthermore, I totally disagree that Islam has necessarily caused more harm to the world. Priests, aided and abetted by leaders in the Catholic Church, have raped and tortured hundreds of thousand of children. Is that really not so bad compared to terrorism? And what about all the ignorance the Church has spread in Africa regarding contraception and AIDS. How many people has that killed?

    Mehta and Harris are sitting comfy at home looking down their nose at the impoverished Islamic culture, while willfully ignoring that our people (the West) have contributed in large part to their extremism through the constant bombing, and willfully ignoring the largest religion in the West, Catholicism, is just as dangerous if not even more dangerous. I guess when you are a New Atheist bigot you are blind to these sort of things.

    • indorri

      For reference, this article was written by Terry, not Hemant.

    • C Peterson

      I agree, religion is seldom the root cause of violence (although it is the root cause often enough to be of concern). But it is the most effective tool for violence that extremists have at their disposal. Those raised with religion are walking time bombs if they come under the influence of those skilled at psychological exploitation. Stirring up fanatical violence in the non-religious is much more difficult.

      • WVHeisenberg

        “Stirring up fanatical violence in the non-religious is much more difficult.”

        People murdered by Communists in Asia and Eastern Europe beg to differ.

        • C Peterson

          I already pointed out that there are non-religious dogmatic systems. But religions far outnumber them.

          • WVHeisenberg

            Add up the numbers of people killed by atheist governments vs non-atheist governments in the 20th century and the atheist governments win by a long shot. Atheism is no guarantee of non-violence.

            Indeed, the two largest, most politically successful non-violent social reforms of the 20th Century – Indian’s independence movement and America’s Civil Rights movements – were both led by religious leaders (Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.) and their ideals toward non-violence were strongly religious.

            I’m an atheist, but I refuse to buy into this “religion causes more violence” nonsense.

            The reduction of violence comes with the adoption of secular governments with strong democratic norms and protection of freedom of speech and freedom of religion/philosophy/ideology.

            And even that’s no guarantee – the United States and its European powers are among the most violent on Earth.

            • C Peterson

              Nobody is suggesting that atheism is a guarantee of non-violence. The point is, religion is a guarantee of violence.

              Atheism does not create violence. Nobody has died for atheism, in the name of atheism, or anything like that. It doesn’t happen, and it can’t.

              Billions have probably died because of religious intolerance and violence. Those are deaths directly inspired by religion.

              When religion is replaced by atheism, lives are saved.

              • WVHeisenberg

                “Nobody is suggesting that atheism is a guarantee of non-violence. The point is, religion is a guarantee of violence.”

                Living in a human society is a guarantee of violence. Neither atheism nor religion is a guarantor of either violence or non violence.

                “Atheism does not create violence.”

                Despite your lack of belief in this, the fact remains that tens if not hundreds of murdered by Communists, and Communism is, at its core, an explicitly pro-atheist, anti-theist ideology.

                We do ourselves a disservice as an atheist community by not acknowledging this.

                • C Peterson

                  It doesn’t matter if the regime was officially atheist. Nobody was ever killed in the name of atheism. Just because an atheist kills somebody, you can’t claim that atheism was responsible, any more than you can claim that Christianity is responsible when a Christian kills somebody.

                  The difference, of course, being that many Christians have killed specifically in the name of their religion. I don’t know of any atheists who have killed in the name of a lack of belief in deities. I don’t even know how that would work.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Communism is an explicitly atheist, explicitly anti-religious philosophy. When people were killed in the name of Communism for being religious, it was in the service of that explicitly atheist, explicitly anti-religious aspect of Communist philosophy.

                • C Peterson

                  That’s just crazy and ignorant.

                  It isn’t possible to kill in the name of a lack of belief.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Religious people were killed in the name of Communism. Communism is an explicitly atheist, explicitly anti-religious philosophy.

                  If you want to get even MORE specific, the 1976 Constitution of Albania stated explicitly that “The state recognizes no religion whatever and supports atheist propaganda for the purpose of inculcating the scientific materialist world outlook in people.”

                  This was accompanied by the violent persecution of religion. People were killed, and practicing religion was a criminal offense for which one could serve time in prison.

                  (Albanian Constitution here: http://bit.ly/1gDBNb2)

                • C Peterson

                  Sorry, it isn’t possible to have a rational discussion with somebody who can’t construct a logical argument.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  When people are persecuted by an explicitly atheist government, and the government claims that they are persecuting the religious because they find religion harmful and propagandize for atheism, how is that not violence in the name of atheism?

                  Enlighten me.

                • C Peterson

                  Your problem is that you confuse atheism with anti-theism and anti-religion. They are entirely different things. The Soviet regime was anti-religion. They operated no differently than Christian theocracies that killed Muslims, or modern Muslim theocracies that kill Christians and Jews. The only difference was that they had no official religion themselves.

                  They most certainly were not doing anything in the name or cause of atheism.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “They most certainly were not doing anything in the name or cause of atheism.”

                  So your argument is that anti-theism doesn’t fall under the category of atheism? Not being snarky. I’m genuinely curious as to how you make the distinction, because from my perspective it looks like you’re travelling pretty close to “No True Scotsman” territory.

                • C Peterson

                  There is absolutely nothing in common between atheism and anti-theism or anti-religion (the latter two are different things, as well).

                  An atheist doesn’t believe in gods. That’s all. That can no more inspire action than a lack of belief in leprechauns. You can’t do something in the name of atheism (well, I suppose a clinically insane person could, but that’s it). Atheism isn’t an active belief system at all.

                  An anti-theist does maintain an active belief system, that theism is harmful. An anti-religionist does maintain an active belief system, that religion is harmful. Most atheists are neither. Many anti-religionists (most, in fact) are not atheists at all, they are merely opposed to some or all religions other than their own.

                  There is nothing inherently wrong or harmful about either anti-theism or anti-religion. These beliefs, like most, can be expressed productively or negatively. I am both (which is unrelated to my atheism), but I express these beliefs by arguing against theism and religion, by using persuasion to try changing society. That is productive. The Soviets expressed their anti-religion beliefs by persecution and oppression of those who had different beliefs. Again, though, that persecution was not the result of atheism.

                • joey_in_NC

                  It isn’t possible to kill in the name of a lack of belief.

                  What the heck does “in the name of” mean?

                  No, people kill because of a belief. Likewise, they can also kill because of a disbelief. It can be both at the same time, but it’s predominantly the latter.

                • C Peterson

                  I can’t think of an example of anybody killing because of a lack of belief in anything.

          • Pseudonym

            By number of systems, yes. By body count, not even close.

            • C Peterson

              That is unclear. But in any case, that’s only because Christian theocracies were taken down before the technology of mass killing had fully developed.

              • 3lemenope

                But in any case, that’s only because Christian theocracies were taken down before the technology of mass killing had fully developed.

                Oh, I dunno. Ghenghis Khan seemed to rack up a decent body count without the advantages of “the technology of mass killing”.

                Those technologies tend to matter most in actual warfare; the body counts associated with malevolent regimes do not depend upon the method of killing because the person is already under their physical control. If you have a person in chains, you can kill them with an olive fork.

              • Pseudonym

                Nice try, but no.

                The Mongol conquests killed 50 million people, about 17% of the world’s population, using only 13th century technology. The Mongol Empire was extremely pluralistic and inclusive of all religions. To this day, only WW2 beats it in terms of body count.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      You’d have more credibility if you could tell one writer from another, Captain Doesn’t-Know-The-Definition-Of-The-Word-Bigot.

      • Atheist for human rights

        As I have said in a previous post, Mehta is the editor of this site, and if continues to post these bigoted screeds on his site I will continue to attribute every word directly to him. You don’t see religious bigotry being posted on this site, only New Atheist bigotry. That is a deliberate decision Mehta makes.

        • Bdole

          You can’t tell on the basis of Terry’s posting here whether Hemant actually agrees with Terry or he just feels that Terry has a point of view worth discussing.

        • Buckley

          I think what you could do for us is produce a list of people killed directly at the hands of Christian Extremists for their express purpose of killing to uphold their religion in the last 20 years. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m suggesting that it doesn’t happen in the frequency that Islamic inspired violence does. Being a Christian and then killing someone doesn’t constitute killing for your religion.

          • TnkAgn

            The guys who murdered Matthew Shepard never claimed that their religious upbringing drove them to do such a thing. And yet we can extrapolate that it may have.

            • Atheist for human rights

              It’s interesting how New Atheist bigots such as yourself always give western religions the benefit of the doubt but when a dirty mooslem does it it is because they are inherently more evil. Also it’s Interesting how Malala would likewise say islamic terrorism is committed in large part because western nations are bombing her people, yet new atheists like Harris and Mehta idiotically hold her up as a poster child with caring for what she actually believes

              • TnkAgn

                You misunderstand me.

                I have no more love for western religious nonsense, superstition or the perverse notion that these nonsensical superstitions should be acted upon.

                • A. F. H. R.

                  My apologies

              • Carmelita Spats

                I don’t give any superstition the benefit of the doubt. I
                don’t care if the superstition is coated in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mexican hueseras, tarot card readings, psychic hotlines, faith healers, snake handlers, Christian Mingle dot com, Creationists, Raelians, Scientologists or professed by a half-wit with a beaming smile
                who can look at you straight in the eye and tell you that humans arrived on Earth in a spaceship piloted by talking, lava-eating, sea clams. I find them ALL incredibly funny and worthy of creative mockery.

                I love the arts and I’ve seen my share of blasphemy: Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Christ, the works of Andres Serrano (Piss Christ), Jesusa
                Rodriguez’s plays, the Book of Mormon etc, etc., etc.. I am just waiting for the day when Islam grows the hell up to find itself undergoing scathing satire and no one has to read a creepy sign stating “Behead those who insult Islam” unless it is part of the satire because there is no “insult”; only a theater full of eager readers of satire. The Book of Islam on Broadway? Justin Bieber playing Mohammed? Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) playing a sexy buraq? Mohammed and nine-year-old Aisha’s wedding with campy songs by Neil Diamond, Justin Bieber’s “Baby-Baby” and (maybe) some Wayne Newton? Mohammed having to wait in line to register as a sex offender and Taylor Swift escorting him to his cell, smacking him across his rear, while she sings the “Bully” song? The mind reels!

                The problem with superstitions that are pompous and grave is that so much, too much, depends on them. The pleasure of playfulness is that it does not matter. Once you play for stakes of any amount, the game becomes
                a war game or compulsive gambling. The Abrahamic religions have been a game for life, for questionable love, for desperate and dishonest sexuality, and without the choice to play by alien rules. No choice, no free will; no levity, no real game. It’s time to be inclusive and clue Islam into the punchline just like everyone else.

          • Atheist for human rights

            How about a list of children raped and tortured by catholic clerics with the aid of the leaders in the church?

            • smrnda

              I will note that this issue has been raised a number of times on this blog.

    • Glasofruix

      New atheists? What are those?

    • Anathema

      New Atheists like Mehta and Harris are so dense it would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.

      I don’t know why you are attacking Hemant Mehta here. He didn’t write this article.

      Essentially, as Malala said ,we bomb all of these countries, and people like Mehta are so flummoxed as to why all these people are so extreme.

      Wait, so are people like Sam Harris wrongly blaming Islam for terrorist attacks made by Islamic extremists, or are they flummoxed as to why such attacks happen in the first place?

      While religion gives cover to extremism – it is not the root cause.

      Meh. It probably depends on the situation. There’s no one root cause of all extremism. But religion is certainly an important factor in some instances of extremism. Religion is not unique in this regard. For instance, the same could be said of politics. Politics is an important factor in some instances of extremism, but it’s not the root cause of all extremism.

      Why was Christianity in the same boat 1,000 years ago as Mehta mentioned? Because they were poor and underdeveloped. Whereas the Muslim world at that time was economically successful and devoloped relative to the rest of the world at the time. Socio-economic status is by the main reason why one religious group is more extreme than the other.

      I agree that socio-economic factors are extremely important here, but I don’t think that the example that you just gave really backs up the idea that they are the most important factor. For one thing, it’s not as if economically successful and developed Islamic world was all that peaceful during the Middle Ages. The Islamic world expanded during the Middle Ages largely due to wars of conquest.

      Another problem with this example is that it would lead us to expect that violence in the West would decrease with the end of the Middle Ages. But that’s not really the case. The Renaissance did not lead to an end to religious violence in the West. If anything, the Renaissance set the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation, which led to Europe’s wars of religion.

      Terry Firma mentioned the inquisitions in his article. The first inquisition was formed at the end of the Middle Ages, a time when, by your logic, religious violence in Europe ought to have been decreasing. The Spanish Inquisition began in the 15th century, while the Roman Inquisition began in the 16th century. Likewise, witch-hunts didn’t really catch on in Europe until the 15th and 16th centuries.

      Mehta and Harris are sitting comfy at home looking down their nose at the impoverished Islamic culture, while willfully ignoring that our people (the West) have contributed in large part to their extremism through the constant bombing, and willfully ignoring the largest religion in the West, Catholicism, is just as dangerous if not even more dangerous.

      I agree with the basic point that you are trying to make about how we cannot ignore the role of Western imperialism in the creation of modern Islamist terrorism. I also agree that it’s wrong to demonize Islam as being particularly bad, as, in the larger scheme of things, it’s quite likely that there’s been more harm done in the name of Christianity.

      And that’s why I find found the poorly constructed arguments in this comment so frustrating. You are making it all that much easier for others to dismiss the position that you are arguing for.

    • Grotoff

      Yes, point to the child with the religious equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. That proves that there’s nothing violent about Islamic dogma.

  • cyb pauli

    I love how people are commenting basically what Sam Harris said they would:

    Whenever I point out the role that religious ideology plays in atrocities of this kind — specifically the Islamic doctrines related to jihad, martyrdom, apostasy, and so forth — I am met with some version of the following: “Bad people will always do these things. Religion is nothing more than a pretext.”

    It’s almost as if they didn’t read it.

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      There is something very true in the argument that “bad people will do bad things”. And for this reason the atheist critique that religion causes wars and killing and violence is easy to counter with “Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.”. I leave out Hitler, since the Nazi movement was very strongly based on the practical use of religion to accomplish its goals, and it’s quite false to claim they were atheists. So there is clearly something more than religion at work here. It is religious-like dogmatism. The commonality between religious violence and totalitarian violence is the infection by a mental parasite that distorts thought, reason, and morality. Yes, it can spread without religion.

      Harris argues more than the simple fact that “bad people do bad things”, which is what I think you are pointing out. He argues that religion can make good people do bad things, a point also frequently made by the late Christopher Hitchens.

      But I think Harris needs to expand the point to include any totalitarian ideology, such as those of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung. It is the totalitarian mindset of absolute correctness and that drive to eradicate all “impurity” and “corruption” of the “absolute truth” that leads to such violence. So those religious believers who are not captured by this totalitarian mindset are the ones unlikely to support religious violence, and atheists who are good people captured by this totalitarian mindset can also commit violence in the name of their ideology without any religion.

      • brad mckay

        I absolutely agree on the point that it’s dogma that causes people to do bad things and that it isn’t JUST religious dogma that can cause this. Religion just happens to be the most current form of dogmatic practices and belief in irrationality, and belief in the idea that faith is not only considered a viable option for depending on things, but that it is a VIRTUE.

        • Jeffrey G. Johnson

          But the critique that religion is uniquely dogmatic and uniquely violent is easily countered. These are human traits that can be exploited independent of religion’s false metaphysical claims.

          Pointing out religion’s false claim to a monopoly on morality is more accurate and harder to argue against.

          • S Cruise

            I think religion is very good at making, and attracting those who feel disempowered – probably because religion was invented by people of a similar disposition. Almost paradoxically, religion also acts to empower those who feel disempowered; it gives them a sense of control. To maintain that, some become extremely aggressive, intolerant or violent towards anything that differs or causes them angst.

            As you’ve pretty much pointed out, atheists can also be prone to that mindset; although I would add that it seems, and to their credit, few – no matter how much religion and other woo may disempower them – resort to the extremes the religious often go to.

            • Jeffrey G. Johnson

              You’ve made some very astute comments on some of the psychological appeal and power of religion. I think what gives it power that politics may lack is that its adherents wrongly believe they represent a transcendent source of ultimate power and authority over all existence, something that it is presumed simply can not be called into question. This cognitive error is the source of religion’s extra potency.

              And like political totalitarian ideologies, religion is not uniformly evil by any stretch of the imagination. If one is honest, communism had some noble humanitarian goals. My wife was born and grew up to adulthood in communist Mongolia. From the insiders perspective, the days of communism have a lot of appeal. Capitalism has badly corrupted the Mongolian attempts at democracy, and cruel inequalities and injustices have been introduced into their society that did not exist prior to 1991. Over the long run democracy still has the potential to right the wrongs of the greed and self-justifying economic disparities caused by capitalism running roughshod over a weak democracy.

              Religion also appeals to many noble aspirations of humans, not only to their weaknesses. This seems to be a major reason people can overlook religion’s faults. But once one realizes that religion’s claims to unique knowledge or unique moral authority are empty, it’s impossible to overlook the faults any longer.

              So yes, religion has a stronger hold on people than political ideology, and its moral intent seems to often fail to stop immoral acts in the name of religion. But despite religion’s extra potency, it is a logical error to argue that religion is unique in making good people do bad things, or justifying bad people doing bad things.

      • Grotoff

        It isn’t absolutism that causes people to commit violence. That’s nonsense. Gandhi was quite absolutist about the British needing to leave India. King was quite absolutist against racism. It’s about specific beliefs. Hitler was evil because his beliefs about the inherent superiority of Aryans and the necessary eradication of non-Aryans was evil.

        Being a partial moderate supporter of the eradication of Jews doesn’t make you good!

      • MattG

        Yes, to focus exclusively on religious belief misses the point. Politics offers endless irrational, dogmatic ideologies too. We are not atheists first and rationalists second, rather the other way around.

      • Shibtastic

        The biggest and most powerful point to be made is that religion is very very successful at getting sane people to do crazy things. Yes religion can help people and brings people together BUT if you want to help people – Go and help people! If you want to donate to charity – dont do it through the church where they take a cut, do it through a not-for-profit charity! If you like the gathering of people – Join a sports team, make some friends, get fit while you do it or get into some sort of group hobby. Dont sit around listening to nonsense that doesnt improve your life one tiny little bit! If you dare bring up the argument of morality – perhaps your morality is at question, morals do not come from religious scripture and if that is where you get your morals you will have most certainly committed heinous crimes and belong in jail!

        There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wishful thinking.

        - Christopher Hitchens

    • Eli

      It’s not that we didn’t read it, but that some of us just disagree. The more we learn about the world, the more apparent it is that religion is inherently irrational, so I’m having a hard time seeing a difference between the first and fourth of Harris’s categories other than degree of irrationality. I do think religion gives an easy direction for even lesser irrationality to develop into violence, I think it’s more than just “a pretext” and instead a significant contributing factor that can make things much worse, but human irrationality, tribalism, and valuing blind faith above reason I think is the ultimate cause more than specifically what the religion says. After all, look how many people believe in their holy texts that encourage violence, yet still reject those parts. People pick and choose what they like and what to follow into extremes.

      To me, religion is a particularly bad contributing factor, but “faith” and the human tendency to accept things without proof is the cause. Religion – ideas created by people – don’t have some kind of supernatural power over us and I really don’t see how the existence of an idea can “make” anyone do anything. It’s our own flawed reasoning and ignorance that makes us take those ideas to extremes, believe things that are harmful, selectively choose what to believe and what to not believe even within the same set of ideas. Now maybe this is what Harris means; I’ve only read a little of what he’s said on this. Maybe he means that religious ideas, which center around concepts of how people are “supposed” to exist in the world, exploit human fears, desires, and vulnerabilities to believing things without cause. But he seems to be putting it in the same categories as things that *are* ultimate internal causes that exist within human behavior…irrationality, sociopathy, fear and self-protection. I think religion needs to be looked at as something different from those.

      • cyb pauli

        Maybe I just don’t have the tenacity to repeat an argument that has already been addressed. If it was like this “I know you’re going to say ‘But chickens only have 7,000 feathers.’ Well some chickens do, but others have as few as seven. Still others have up to 7 million. (Ad nauseum)” I would feel pretty foolish scrolling down and typing: “Well the author doesn’t seem to understand that chickens only have 7,000 feathers.”

        • Eli

          I admit, I don’t understand that analogy. And I also admitted I haven’t read a whole lot of what Harris has said on this, even though I know that this is one of the issues he’s well-known for. If you want to just tell me to go read more, that’s fine, I don’t expect you to make his arguments for him.

          Also, I feel like the other replies to you are saying things similar to what I was trying to get at, so maybe I just haven’t well-explained what I meant. Or maybe you just haven’t had time to be weirdly sarcastic with them too yet.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I think that religion is more than a pretext. I think for some people that’s true. For the people who are behind some of these violent groups I think they use religion to recruit and get people to execute these acts. I don’t think they could get people to do such horrible things otherwise. But motivations are often complex and not attributable to a single cause.

      • Pseudonym

        I agree that it’s more than a pretext, but it’s demonstrably not true that without religion you can’t get people to do horrible things. We have hard evidence of this thanks to Stanley Milgram.

        Consider for a moment the people who work for US intelligence agencies who are responsible for wholesale spying on Americans.

        Pretty much everyone here (I would think) agrees that what they are doing is evil.

        Nobody doubts that they are sincerely doing so in the name of “freedom” and “security”. Their motives are sincere and noble, and they are motivated by a genuine desire to do the right thing by America and its ideals.

        Nobody doubts that they are Americans, and have just as much a legitimate right to be called “American” as anyone else in America. In that sense, there the “No True American” fallacy doesn’t enter into it..

        Nonetheless, what they are doing is, in a real sense, against America and its ideals.

        Why is this so hard to understand?

        Could it be that that it’s uncomfortable for Americans to think that their own government isn’t so far away from Islamist terrorists, psychologically speaking? Is the thought that I and Islamist terrorists are the same species, and subject to the same dynamics, so unthinkable that it can’t possibly be true?

        Only “they” are capable of such great evil. “We” are not.

        Bullshit. This is not a religion problem, it is a human problem. The sooner we wake up to this fact, the sooner we can rationally do something about it.

        • Terry Firma

          I would not quote Stanley Milgram without noting that his most famous research was fraudulent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Manipulated_results

          • Pseudonym

            Fair enough. However, the experiment and variations thereof have been replicated enough times that we can be as certain as it’s possible to be that religion is not a necessary condition for good people to commit evil.

            Stephen Weinberg didn’t even try testing his claim.

          • asifis

            This is a great example of smear by link. Follow it and decide for yourself. It doesn’t seem any more fraudulent than almost any experiments in social psychology.

    • Pseudonym

      I read it, and I still think that Harris doesn’t understand about half of what he’s talking about, and it bugs the hell out of me that FA gives his irrational nonsense any publicity.

  • Dan Jones

    You give Harris the final word, saying “Until moderate Muslims and secular liberals stop misplacing the blame for this [violent] evil, they will remain part of the problem”. But what about the case of Malala Yousafzai? Isn’t she a moderate Muslim? So isn’t she, and people like her, a part of the problem? If so, why does Harris think that she should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? Likewise, Richard Dawkins, speaking at a Reason rally in Washington, DC, a while back said that when you meet religious people, you should “mock them, ridicule them in public” about their theological beliefs, adding that they need to be “ridiculed with contempt”. Is this what he would do if he met Malala? Of course not. He’d praise her, as many New Atheists do because she’s a great poster girl for the barbarity and Medieval stupidly of the Taliban. But on the Harris/Dawkins line of thought, why shouldn’t she be held in contempt for holding silly Islamic beliefs? It’s no good saying, “Oh, but this is different! She’s one of the GOOD Muslims!”. The point Harris and Dawkins and others want to convince you of is that ALL people who hold religious beliefs, including the moderates, are part of the problem.

    Next, it’s worth considering Harris’s statement that “[R]eligious beliefs can inspire psychologically normal people to commit horrific acts of violence”. The key word here is “can”. Harris doesn’t say “does”, because there are clearly lots of people with religious beliefs do not commit horrific acts of violence. In fact, these non-violent religionists are in the overwhelming majority.

    Imagine I said, “This newly discovered virus CAN cause a certain kind of cancer. Scientists have found that 0.01% of people infected develop this cancer”. You’d probably think, “Well, that doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong effect of the virus on the chances of getting cancer.”. Suppose I added that ONLY people carrying this virus get this particular cancer. That might make the link seem a little stronger, but it would still be a weak link. Surely we’d want to know why a tiny minority of carriers develop this cancer, and why most don’t. Even if we accepted that this virus does indeed play a causal role in the development of this cancer, it would be premature to only focus on this virus as the causative agent in these cancers, and we would look for modifying variables that affect the chances of developing the cancer (maybe you have to have the virus in addition to taking a rare medication or something). Then, when we came to answer the question, “What causes this cancer?”, we wouldn’t simply say “This virus”. Instead, we’d tell a multi-factorial story that brings in various casual elements.

    Now, apply this to the case of religiously inspired violence — and we can just focus on violence inspired by Islam, as that’s the topic du jour. As you note, there are some 364 Muslims who support violent jihad. Yet the number of people who have engaged in horrific acts of violence number in the thousands is comparatively tiny. Let’s assume that 10,000 people have done so (and this is likely a large over-estimation). That’s 0.003% of all supporters of violent jihad (not Muslims per se, in which case it’s a mere 0.0006%).

    Let’s get back to the word “can”, highlighted above. And let’s accept this “can” claim that “[R]eligious beliefs can inspire psychologically normal people to commit horrific acts of violence” — by which I mean let’s agree that acts of jihadi violence are carried out because the perpetrators believe in the ideology of jihad, with all its religious underpinnings. The next step is to ask, “What is it about the 0.003% supporters of violent jihad that gets them to actually act on these beliefs?”.

    You can’t just cite their beliefs, as these are shared by 99.007% of supporters of violent jihad. That’s why social scientists such as Scott Atran have looked at the role that group dynamics play in translating inert beliefs into engines of action (and this is just one avenue of enquiry one might follow). Although Harris has heard Atran’s ideas, he struggles to understand them (unlike his mentor Steven Pinker) and instead ridicules them (again, unlike Pinker, who approvingly cites and draws on Atran’s research). He pretends that people like Atran deny that belief plays any role at all in jihadi violence. This is simply untrue. I’ve interviewed Atran a number of times, and read his work, and he’s absolutely clear that jihadi terrorists are in the grip of a powerful, mad ideology – he just wants to know why in some people this ideology actually becomes violent action.

    When Harris does acknowledge that Atran accepts a causal role for belief, he then tries to lampoon it by saying “Yeah, yeah, I get it, beliefs are 8th, 9th or 10th down your list of factors driving religious violence”, as if merely pointing out that it’s not top of the list were sufficient to reject Atran’s work. It’s clear from Harris’s writing that he wants his readers to conceive of specific beliefs as the key factor in religious violence, and simply avoids the fact that they are not a good predictor of actual violence — as we’ve seen, at most just 0.003% of people who adhere to the ideology of violent jihad actually act on it.

    If you really want to understand why some people commit acts of horrific violence in the name of religion (as opposed the other classes of violence Harris notes *), you need to understand a lot more about human behaviour than simply seeing it as a product of the explicit beliefs we hold. This, I’m aware, is not an endeavour that most atheists writing online these days have much time for. Even Harris, with all his supposed interest in human behaviour, doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about what motivates people in the real world. I could explain this at length (and may do so soon), but this is not the place to do, and I’ve rambled on long enough already.

    *I think his classification is bogus, but that’s another matter.

    • Dan Jones

      Please excuse typos/accidentally omitted words – written in a rush before I go to a local Philosophy In The Pub session!

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      I agree that arguments against religion claiming that it causes violence are weak. See my reply to cyb pauli.

      But here is a stronger point: religion claims to have a unique monopoly as the source of and authority on morality. And yet it is clear that religion does not seem to cause its believers to be particularly non-violent compared with the non-religious. In the US, religious fundamentalism seems to make them particularly fond of Old Testament vengeance, since there is a very strong correlation between conservative fundamentalism and strong support for the death penalty. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the US is both one of the most religious countries in the world, and one of the few that has the death penalty and has the largest prison population in the world, not only in per capita terms, but in absolute terms. We have more people in jail than China, an authoritarian single-party nominally communist regime with 4 times our population. And it is conservative Christians exercising their political will that made this happen since 1980.

      Regarding Dawkins, you are taking his words too literally and extrapolating them too far. He does not advocate being rude to religious people every time you meet them. And you fail to mention he has often said that he mocks ideas, not people. In the particular phrase you are citing, his intention, which I glean from the larger context of his work and a more fair assessment of what he is driving at, is to give atheists the courage to overcome the unreasonable authority that religion commands, and the extraordinary deference that religion demands and is routinely paid in our society. If you pay attention to what Dawkins says, especially when he is debating religion, he is by and large polite, logical, and makes points based on evidence and reason. He does not engage in mindless ad hominem insult and attack. There is just no way to square what you claim about Dawkins and his actual behavior.

      Anybody who fails to see the dominance of religion is simply not taking an honest look at the big picture. And this dominance goes back nearly two millennia in the case of Christianity and Western culture. This is an institution that used to kill people for reading the Bible in their native language, rather than the Latin Vulgate. And ideas such as heresy, blasphemy, sacredness, holiness, are actually mechanisms of power and control via threat and fear. So today, while religion is far less lethal to unbelievers and critics than it once was, it still commands an inordinate amount of respect. There is still a stigma against criticizing the holy and the sacred, and there is still a presumption that the metaphysical claims of religion are sacrosanct and invulnerable to scrutiny and empirical inquiry. People are basically required to accept that what one religious believer says is true is just a likely to be true and worthy of respect and awe as what another religious believer claims is true. They are presumed to all be equally true, each in their own way. This is offensive to the reason which grew to prevalence during the enlightenment, and it is an offense that Dawkins is trying to teach people to no longer swallow and hide for fear of violating the taboo of criticizing the sacred, a fear that has plagued Western culture for century after century, and a fear that still has remnants in our culture today that enable religion to demand a hushed air of respect that it has not proven it truly deserves.

    • brad mckay

      I think the point Harris was actually trying to make is that when someone is willing to believe anything on faith without evidence, and believe that something we can’t see or hear exists and that this unknowable, unfalsifiable being is the ultimate authority, it also says about that person that whatever they believe this higher power to be telling them is ultimately more important than any worldly being. The only thing that can give true rationalization to an otherwise empathetic being that there are instances where violence IS justified where otherwise it would not be, is belief in the supernatural. The story of Abraham and Isaac comes to mind. In absolutely any other instance, Abraham would never dream of killing his son. But because he believes god is asking of him to do so, by this divine intervention killing his son BECOMES the empathetic thing to do. My dad once said to me, that if it weren’t the fact that killing people was a sin, that he would certainly have done it by now. On the surface this seems like an instance where religion has actually pacified someone. But what I see is an individual unstable enough to believe that an ancient nomadic book which tells him killing is bad and not his own materialistic conscious, and thus would be equally willing to believe that since his morality is divinely inspired, that if he were to truly convince himself that god was allowing and justifying his killing of someone, it would then be true in his world view. Religion is the only thing capable of allowing an otherwise rational mind to accept the irrational.

      • Lagerbaer

        I wholeheartedly agree with you, but your last sentence is too narrow. Religion isn’t the only thing capable of this. Ever heard of “Right or wrong, my country”? The process you describe can happen when ANY abstract concept, be it a deity, a nation, a political ideology, is valued more than human well being.

        • Pseudonym

          If I could give you many up votes I would. This is what Harris completely misses.

    • Grotoff

      She’s a child, and children get a pass with regards to belief in stupid dangerous things.

    • Al

      Indeed. From reading Harris’ critiques of Pape and Atran, three conclusions can be drawn: 1) Harris has not read their work 2) Harris has read their work but did not understand it 3) Harris is misrepresenting them.

      One thing that I find comical about Harris is that, in contrast to people like Atran and Pape, he has produced no peer reviewed articles on terrorism, he has accumilated no data on terrorism, he has undertaken no field work on terrorism, and he has never spoken to any potential suicide bombers or failed suicide bombers. There is absolutey no interest from intelligence communities or governments agencies for Harris’ writings on terrorism.

      People like Atran and Pape, on the other hand, are frequently asked to give briefings on terrorism to the White House, Congress and allied governments. Also, much of their research on suicide terrorists is funded by The US Department of Defence. Yet Harris makes them out to be quacks.

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    After mentioning logical fallacies, you proceeded to commit several in interpreting that Pew result compared to the long list of atrocities. These are not identical with “suicide bombing”. If you did a poll where people were asked about each of these things, there would probably be very different results. You can’t generalize the 28% to this entire broad range of religious crimes.

    To get even further insight one would need to break down the 28% who answered negatively to the statement “suicide bombing is never justified”. So in how many cases do these 28% think it is justified, and in how many cases do they think it is not justified? To be in this 28% you only need to think of one case when suicide bombing is justified. Given that people’s morality is context dependent, you can not reach a general conclusion from such a broad question. How many millions of Americans can think of one case when they feel torture is justified, or when bombing civilians is justified? The Japanese kamikazes thought suicide bombing was justified, and Zionist settlers in British Palestine felt that terrorism was justified.

    To infer from the Pew study that 340 million Muslims support the entire list of religious crimes is clearly fraudulent reasoning.

    • Anat

      Re: Zionist settlers in Palestine: There were factions that supported terrorism. These factions were ostracized by the mainstream Yishuv establishment. They were known as ‘porshim’ – dissenters. The bombing of the King David hotel put an end to a short-lived collaboration between the establishment and the porshim. In my school back in the day students who identified with these organizations were expelled.

      After the establishment of the state of Israel former members of these organizations were gradually absorbed into the Israeli mainstream. I’d say they became fully legitimized in 1967 when Eshkol included Herut in his ‘wall-to-wall’ cabinet on the eve of the six days war. I would guess this ended up enabling the wilder sections of the post 1967 settlement movement.

      • Atheist for human rights

        Irgun still exists today. It’s now called Likud and they have directing the Mossad to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists who according to the CIA are legally participating in a peaceful nuclear program. That is state terrorism for you.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        Ostracized, like being elected Prime Minister you mean? I mean Menachem Begin.

        But don’t get defensive. My point was not to attack Jews, but that people we support, people we are friendly with, people we understand, people like us can have surprising opinions when fear and anger are involved.

        To blow up that 28% figure (pardon the pun) into something it is not is hypocritical. The Irgun wanted to force the British to lift immigration quotas. It was a power asymmetry, which creates deep frustration and anger. Human beings in general, when they feel a deep cause of justice is being ignored and every effort is stymied by a far more powerful foe, resort to any tactics available to them. It applies to Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, as well as all other humans, regardless of their religion.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        Just wanted to add, I agree that those Israelis who rejected UN Resolution 181 because they were territorial maximalists, who thought that a sovereign Israel should include not only the present day occupied territories, but also all of Traansjordan, have moderated over time.

        These were Revisionist Zionists who formed the ideological base of the Likud Party. Today they no longer insist that all of the land east of the Jordan River belongs to Israel. They now limit themselves to Greater Israel including Judea and Samaria, and the other occupied territories. They want all of British Palestine for Israel, and no room for a Palestinian state, and they are supporting a gradual protracted program to accomplish this. Fortunately they must fight against opposition forces in Israel that are more moderate or liberal, and who believe that a two state solution is the only way that justice can be done for the Palestinians.

        This represents moderation from the previous extreme Revisionists, but this group’s moderate views are still extreme compared to the legally established boundaries of Israel. This ideological movement has gradually moved mainstream Israel to the right, to a position that is unacceptable to the international community and directly contrary to international law.

  • Matt Potter

    My issue with Islam, Christianity, and other religions tends to involve their religious texts. Although Christianity has revised the Bible many times and has different translations it usually keeps the verses and chapters with the same meanings and themes. The Koran on the other hand has remained relatively untouched and to my knowledge, believers in the faith see it as the perfect word of god. That brings me to my point, whether it’s the Bible or the Koran they both allow, even command, for violence to be committed in their name. Followers who disagree with the violence have to acknowledge the verses exist in their text and unlike a constitution or charter there doesn’t exist the same process to make amendments. As long as these texts exist in their current form there will always be followers who will validate the violence by quoting ‘god’s word’. However, if the texts did allow for revision what good would they be? It would no longer be divinely inspired but just a changing secular text. Take The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an example. The language is not ambiguous as to whether killing for your god is something allowed, you can’t say the same for the Bible and the Koran.

    • WVHeisenberg

      Are you saying that all secular ethics are perfectly pacifist?

      • Matt Potter

        Of course secular ethics are not perfectly pacifist. The reality is violence and war are a last resort but sometimes necessary. I admit there can be violence from secular ethics but if you look at the more secular based societies you find much less violence than that of the most religious societies. There are of course many variables to that example but taking away a supreme authority figure allows for more discussion of how to behave.

        • WVHeisenberg

          The United States is a secular society and government, and its been involved in over a dozen military conflicts since 1979.

          Iran’s theocracy began in 1979, and it’s never started a single war. It’s only been involved in two – a war of self defense against Iraq, and Iranian military have been provided as assistance to Assad’s government in the Syrian Civil War.

          The Soviet Union was involved in at least 6 direct military conflicts, and it was a secular society. Not to mention that Communists in that country killed tens of millions of people.

          Saudi Arabia is a theocracy, but it’s only been involved in three wars since its founding – two of which were fought in self-defense and the third was the Gulf War.

          China is a secular, atheist society that cracks down on religion and killed millions during the Cultural Revolution.

          Of course, these are just examples. I happen to believe that the best guarantee of non-violence isn’t religious societies vs non-religious societies, but rather the adoption of strong democratic governments that respect freedom of speech and of religion/ideology.

          • smrnda

            Violence within a society is also a product of inequality and poverty, which can lead to to war and other conflicts as well. I’d say that the better outcomes in say, Scandinavia as opposed to the US have more to do with better economic policy, and that people are just less into religion when they aren’t faced with so many stressed and problems they can’t solve.

            On the US, the US is ostensibly secular, but politicians have employed highly religious rhetoric when they justify wars.

            • WVHeisenberg

              They’re not perfect – Finland and the Netherlands both have higher murder rates than Saudi Arabia, and Sweden is tied with Saudi Arabia. Bahrain has a lower or the same murder rate than all the Scandinavian countries except Iceland. In fact,

              Not everything is quite so hard and fast.

              • C Peterson

                Of course, Saudi Arabia kills more of its own citizens than Finland and the Netherlands together. Not technically murder, since it’s lawful killing. Not good, either.

                Murder can be almost completely eliminated in a sufficiently repressive society.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  I can’t easily find dates that line up in Google, but in the four year period from 2007 – 2010, there were 345 executions in Saudi Arabia. In the four year period from 2003 – 2006, there were 491 homicides in Finland.

                  I’ll see if I can’t find an exact sync, but those were the closest time periods I could find with a quick Google search.

                • Itarion

                  As a percentage of population?

                • WVHeisenberg

                  Finland’s population is about 5.4 million. Saudi Arabia’s is 28.9 million. Which makes Saudi Arabia look even less violent than Finland as a comparison.

                • C Peterson

                  I wasn’t comparing executions in Saudi Arabia to murders in Finland. I was comparing executions in one to the other. The point being, murder is a natural consequence of living in a free society. You can’t compare the social behavior of people in radically different societies.

          • Itarion

            Apples and oranges. The secular groups you mentioned were all established or mostly established countries looking to expand their influence. Look at the first few decades after the US was founded, and I believe you’ll find a less warmongery state. (Also, secular society my ass. Europe has some secular societies. ‘Murica is so Christianized it hurts to look at.)

            The Soviet Union and Chinese Cultural Revolution can be looked at as civil wars or military powergrabs.

            Basically, the reason that any country is not in a war is generally that the government thinks they’ll lose, or they don’t have their excuse yet.

            • WVHeisenberg

              “Look at the first few decades after the US was founded, and I believe you’ll find a less warmongery state. ”

              Tell that to the Native American populations.

              Actually, the United States is a terrible example. In its entire history, there have only been two years in which it was NOT engaged in military action.

          • Grotoff

            The United States is NOT a secular society.

            • WVHeisenberg

              Fair point. It has a secular government. But its society, as your rightly point out, is largely religious. Albeit heterogeneously so.

  • Dan Weeks

    I read the article, and your summary is concise and poignant. So thank you for that.

  • Puzzled

    >Is there any other religious group that can “boast” this kind of >enthusiasm for grotesque and appalling slaughter? Me, I’m not the >slightest bit worried that scores of scheming Christians, Jews, or >Buddhists are going to want to blow marathon spectators to smithereens, >or butcher atheists and gay people, or fly Boeings into skyscrapers.
    Try living in one of the countries the US has attacked regularly, then calculate how many Americans support the wars.

    • Itarion

      The problem is that a lot of Americans do support these wars. I’m not sure what you wanted to say with your post, but you seemed to say that humans just like killing. Because depending on where you look, there are scores of most religions looking to kill someone.

  • Buckley

    Not to compare humans with animals but I see this all the time in animal control with pit bulls. The apologists will say that there are other dogs that are biting and maiming humans and they are not reporting them. that is not true. Typically when a dog bits a human that results in serious injury or death it IS reported as well as the breed. The statistics show that pit bulls have resulted in the majority of bits as well as the majority of the fatalities.( http://www.dogsbite.org/dogsbite-recent-dog-bite-statistics.php?gclid=CNOYldWulLoCFelAMgodq1UAMA) The stats are clear as to which breed is a problem.

    The point: regardless the many people who say they wouldn’t kill in the name of their religion, there are those that will and in the case of religiously motivated killing, the majority the past 10 years had been Islam motivated. The statistics do not lie. people can ignore the stats all they want but it is clear what they say. Christians have been here, to read the old testament so have the Jews, any religion can and will kill in the name of following their true teachings.

    • TnkAgn

      As humans are indeed animals, it follows that they do what animals will do. But they do it so much better. Human has been killing human since there were humans. Humans with a toxic ideology or religion are just better killers, and ones that can actually escape guilt, which even the “lower” animals feel.

      • Buckley

        Agreed. I guess that I have a high degree of sensitivity to referring to humans as animals when biologically I know full well we are. I’ve been in one too many arguments where I make a comparison and instead of seeing the comparison as valid, they zone in on how it’s being compared, which is why I made the statement I did at the beginning. There will be people who will see the comparison and think I am comparing Muslims and Pit Bulls, when what I am trying to illustrate is the nature of apologetics..despite the statistics, the apologetics will still ignore what is clearly in their face.

        • TnkAgn

          The other thing I think we may agree on, is that there are no “innocents.” Not in tribal, religious, modern industrial nor asymetric terror war of today. The only difference between now and then is that then, the women were raped and the children enslaved – now, they’re vaporized, if lucky enough.

          • Buckley

            As a teacher of history, the students are able to see the effects of Total War over time when comparing the tactics of warfare over time as well. It required a lot of effort to kill an entire population let alone an army on the battle field. Now a nation can wipe out a whole population relatively quickly and in some cases just by pushing a button. it also leads to a sanitation of killing when you can kill over long distance with out actually seeing your kill (ICBM, Cruise Missile, drone) or when the killed has been completely obliterated by the attack, it doesn’t have the impact that battle field hand-to-hand, close quarters killing has on those doing the killing. Usually in most cases, those that participate in war “up close and personal” want nothing more to do with war ever again.

            • TnkAgn

              As a Vietnam vet and retired history teacher, I cannot fail to see your points. Perhaps our points of view come by us honestly, at least.

        • Itarion

          Oops. I totally did that. I just take offense to the pit bull thing, cause I really do think that it comes down to training. I’m a dog person.

    • Itarion

      I am of the opinion that the pit bull problem is self perpetuating. Pit bulls have a rep, so people get them with intent to cause harm with the dogs. Causing the breed to have a rep. Pit bulls are undeniably high strung dogs that are difficult to train due to their heritage, but that doesn’t mean that a competent owner can’t train a pit bull that a child could control. The danger factor of any animal comes from its size and training level. A poorly trained Great Dane is just as dangerous to children as is a poorly trained pit bull, but an article a toy poodle attacking and killing anyone would cause a laugh because it was printed in the Onion.

      So…clearly, we need to train people that killing is wrong much better than we have been.

  • Bdole

    “I dislike all poppycock”
    I can’t say I’d ever KILL for poppycock. But, it is sweet AND salty AND crunchy, so…

  • NonCompassionateLiberal

    We (the United States) are the cause of many of our problems. On the list of crimes committed by Muslims, there was this:

    “Attempted to detonate a car full of explosives in Times Square, New York.”

    That wasn’t religious motivation, that was more like revenge for crimes committed by the USA, relating more to this part of the Harris narrative:

    “Normal” people for whom ordinary selfishness and fear are “magnified” to the point that they rationalize their violent deeds. “Think of a boy growing up in the inner city who joins a gang for protection, says Harris, “only to perpetuate the very cycle of violence that makes gang membership a necessity.”

    When the judge asked if he wanted to plead guilty, Shahzad, the perpetrator of the Times Square bombing-attempt, said this (from Glenn Greenwald’s Salon column):

    “Yes,” said Shahzad, and then said he wanted to plead guilty and 100 times more,” because he wanted the U.S. to know it will continue to suffer attacks if it does not leave Iraq and Afghanistan and stop drone strikes in Pakistan . . . Calm, but clearly angry, and standing the whole time . . . Shahzad said the judge needed to understand his role. “I consider myself a Muslim soldier,” he said. When [Judge] Cedarbaum asked whether he considered the people in Times Square to be innocent, he said they had elected the U.S. government.

    “Even children?” said Cedarbaum.

    “When the drones [in Pakistan] hit, they don’t see children,” answered Shahzad. He then said, “I am part of the answer to the U.S. killing the Muslim people.”

    In other words: “You’re messing with my homies, so I’m-a-mess with you!”

    • Itarion

      So… if the US just up and left the Mid East, that’s it? The whole military conflict is over? Unfortunately, I doubt it. The situation has become more complex because we started the war. Now , the US has to win, not by defeating the middle east militarily, but by getting the average person on a Mid East street to appreciate and approve of what the US is. And that just won’t happen with our current government, which is incapable of getting ITS OWN people to like it.

      • NonCompassionateLiberal

        The more innocent Muslims/Arabs we kill, the more they want revenge (I don’t blame them, so would I).
        The best policy for us is to start minding our own business, which includes dropping our unconditional support of Israel.
        We’ve been punishing the Taliban for 12 years for what? — for not giving up bin Laden — that’s it — that’s their only crime. The Taliban are a local Mafia whose goal wasn’t world domination; they’re a bunch of illiterates who couldn’t find America on a map . . they probably couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map.

        “. . the US has to win, not by defeating the middle east militarily, but by getting the average person on a Mid East street to appreciate and approve of what the US is.”
        I doubt we can get them to believe how wonderful (and of course, “exceptional”) we are, especially if we bombed the crap out of their homes and families; hearing some American sing The Star-Spangled Banner, watching MTV, a Pepsi commercial or pointing to the Bill of Rights wouldn’t pacify me.

        Sorry, but there’s no chance of “winning their hearts and minds.”

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    I recently was at a talk by J Anderson Thomson, where he was discussing the types of suicide terrorism. He had a slightly different take, which included one category Harris seems to omit (possibly because it appears to be disproportionately female).

    He notes two different sort of suicides: roughly, those who want to re-negotiate their position in society and are willing to risk death to do so, and the despondent who just want to end up dead; the bargaining, and the burdensome. The latter includes those who consider themselves a social burden, and thus may alternately take a drastic means to try to balance the costs their lives are thought to have imposed on others by an extreme personal cost, directing a conspicuous blow at societal enemies. (These costs may be purity related, but the focus is on the cost rather than on purity itself.)

    Nohow, Harris seems to have a largely solid if incomplete take. Contrariwise, figuring out the causation doesn’t assure finding a solution.

  • Hobbesian

    What is missed by most of the comments thus far is the rather important distinction between pre-enlightenment religious belief and post-enlightenment religious belief. Christianity for the most part has taken that crucial post-enlightenment step while Islam has not. And key to this distinction is the fact that the Enlightenment was and continues to be a phenomenon of Western civilization as is Christianity today.

    It’s no accident that modern democracy, and the Enlightenment ideals on which functioning democracies are based, remain extremely rare among most Islamic countries. Western Christianity by-and-large functions under Western secular values and ideals and has for hundreds of years. This is decidedly not the case for Islam. For better or worse, Samuel Huntington had it right with his “Clash of Civilizations” thesis.

    The Academic Left in the Humanities and Social Sciences have been at “war” with the Enlightenment project for decades – commonly in the form of Postmodernism, Postcolonialism, Post-fill-in-the-blank. The apparent enigma of liberal academics rushing to the rescue of Islam at every turn is tied directly to this anti-modernist, anti-westernist movement. The so-called evils of Western rationality, Western science, Western civilization and so on, overshadow any cultural sins of Islamic treatment of women – that by itself is astounding. Add to that the fact that George W. Bush declared war on terror and you have a perfect storm where such detractors of Western civilization become the vanguard for Islamofascism.

    The War on Terror is to anti-modernist liberals as the Affordable Care Act is to Tea Party Republicans.

    Note: I’m proudly part of the Academic Left but profoundly disagree with my colleagues on this issue. http://thehobbesian.com/

    • Hobbesian

      If you’re going to vote down my comment, don’t be a lazy coward. Tell me why you disagree.

    • TnkAgn

      I’m not altogether okay with throwing around neologisms such as
      ” Islamofascism.” Too much conflation of otherwise incongruous terms for me, particularly when this term has been used by the likes of Mike Huckabee and GW Bush to push a thinly-veiled Christian, neocon agenda. Same with “War on Terror”is to liberals as the ACA is to TPers. The best ideas can be the most simple, yet these seem a tad too simple.

      • Hobbesian

        See my reply to RobMcCune.

        And I’m not altogether okay with throwing around neologisms such as “Islamophobia,” “neocon,” and the like when they don’t apply. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But then this is the same sort of nonsense that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens have had to deal with from those who can’t remove themselves from their hatred of Western society to see the fascism that is equally staring them in the face among their brothers in arms.

        It’s not and doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition. It’s perfectly okay to recognize the evils on both sides without losing your soul. This it seems to me is the mark of a rational thinker.

        • 3lemenope

          You seem to conflate criticism with hatred. That strikes me as particularly bizarre. I can love America and being American and still think that we do many things bass-ackwards and have some questionable cultural commitments and practices, and point out that there are definitely glaring mismatches between our stated values and our actions.

          Being on the Right, I’m insulated somewhat from the generally ridiculous charge that when I make a criticism along those lines, I must hate America or Western Civilization. This does not give me much more patience with the employment of that trope than if I were its main target.

          • Hobbesian

            Very well put. I agree!

            • 3lemenope

              You claim that it should be possible (and even preferable) to criticize both “sides” effectively, but you are inserting an additional and unreasonable unspoken condition, that the criticism of both sides has to come out of the same mouth. Why is that necessary? Can’t it be that some criticize the Islamic world and some others criticize the Western world?

              This is academic disputation we’re arguing about, not CNN.

              • Hobbesian

                No, this is not CNN. This is casting aside dogmatic positions and critically examining one’s own position. To do so recognizes that your supposed ideological opponent may have something to contribute, i.e., you might actually learn something that doesn’t fit with your world view.

                So, yes, criticism ought to come out of both sides of the same mouth, which is what reasonable thinkers do. That doesn’t entail compromising on well-formulated principles for the sake of appearing reasonable. Nothing is sacred but not all truths are relative.

                • 3lemenope

                  That mistakes the whole point of disputation. Argument in the public sphere is only ever productive if the people forwarding arguments are doing so in good faith and give those arguments a decently zealous defense. That point is vitiated if speakers feel them must hedge their criticism or give equal time to their ideological opponents. The very capacity to critically examine any position and emerge from dogmatic simplicity is made possible only by a robust marketplace of ideas whose merchants actually believe what they’re saying.

                • Hobbesian

                  You misunderstand my point. Reasonable interlocutors will consider potential flaws in their argument (pointed out to them by their opponents or otherwise) and adjust their position accordingly. Putting forth arguments in good faith requires honest reassessment given evidence and convincing argument. I don’t see the purpose of argumentation as a contest of winning under all costs, but a process that assents to the best argument. In this sense, I’m firmly in the Habermasian camp.

                • 3lemenope

                  Ah, Habermas. My main problem with his discourse ethics is that intersubjectivity does too much work. Intersubjective assent to a statement, as far as I can tell, does not actually indicate anything about the possible truth content of the statement, not least because public arguments about questions of value are not generally truth-tracking. As a person with a keen appreciation of (and experience with) the power of arguments independent of their validity or soundness, I don’t buy for a second that truth is the primary objective of most effective arguments.

                  Habermas also insufficiently appreciated the inflexibility of human core beliefs; most people, most of the time, are psychologically incapable of shedding core beliefs and replacing them with others. Social arguments do not occur with the self-conscious desire to discover the best explanation, but rather generally to present mutually incompatible value-laden approaches from which the society is to choose. That the result, having been tested by adversaries who seek to destroy it, is improved by the process is a happy accident, if it occurs at all.

                • Hobbesian

                  Okay, articulate notions of “value” and “truth-tracking” without utilizing intersubjectivity. I do agree with your point about Habermas underestimating the irrational (value-laden) side of human interaction. But, then again, to argue for/against one or the other approach necessarily affirms Habermas’s communicative rationality, i.e., disagreeing with this point is self-undermining.

                  I should also say that social arguments in a Habermasian sense need not worry about self-conscious desires to discover anything. The structure of argumentation in-and-of-itself pushes discourse toward assent to the best explanation. In short, our exchange demonstrates Habermas’s point.

                • 3lemenope

                  Okay, articulate notions of “value” and “truth-tracking” without utilizing intersubjectivity.

                  The point is not that those concepts aren’t intersubjectively constructed. It’s that neither the process, nor the structure, nor indeed the result of disputation is properly characterized as either holding truth as a value or attempting to approach it. There is no necessary connection between the intersubjectivity of the activity and the characteristics of the results.

                  That’s because arguments primarily are narrative-tracking; their point in existing is in convincing others that the premise in contention is true because the premise is integral to a view of what’s true held by the debater. The person who is presenting the argument in service to the narrative either already believes the narrative to be true or cynically behaves that way in order to facilitate the effectiveness of the argument for some other end. The Habermasian contention that it doesn’t matter that the motive in disputation is not truth-tracking because the structure compels the result is absurd. Either a person is invested in the narrative, in which case they have no motivation to remain within the realm of undisputed facts to make their case, or they are not invested in the narrative, and so feel unbound to any sense that the narrative or any factual support it may possess are actually true before presenting them as persuasive aides.

                  As a result, really the only result that is compelled by the structure of disputation is that the better debater will prevail, and that any audience to the disputation will be moved closer to accepting that person’s proffered narrative. And this seems utterly insensitive to any factuality or lack thereof that the more skilled debater’s argument presents. The tenacity of survival or capable of spread of a given meme seems unrelated to its truth content.

                  I would suggest that the common Habermasian retort that by criticizing the account of discourse, the discourse is automatically embraced indicates only that that construction of discourse ethics assumes its own conclusion. The problem with the Habermas account is its implicit teleology that doesn’t seem to track any human being’s actual experience with argumentation.

    • Hobbesian

      Ah yes, and you’re one of the post-fill-in-the-blank vanguard who defends Islamofascism because of the absolute and intractable evil that is Western society. It’s too bad you’re unable to make principled distinctions and not see the world in such stark contrast. Life is a bit more complex.

      A note of clarification, I agree with my anti-modernist colleagues who opposed Bush’s so-called War on Terrorism. But then I also recognize the very real threat that Islamic extremists pose for such values as freedom of expression, gender equality, economic equality, non-patriarchal and non-theocratic systems of governance, rational discourse, rational problem solving, scientific literacy, literacy, and the list goes on.

      • 3lemenope

        David Horowitz, is that you?

        • Hobbesian

          LOL! You obviously don’t know David Horowitz

          • 3lemenope

            I’ve read him, and I’ve seen him speak.

            Your remarks remind me a great deal of him.

            • Hobbesian

              My bad then. I despise David Horowitz in a good sense of course. ;-)

      • Hobbesian

        Relax, Rob. We’re probably more alike in our political and ethical dispositions than you would like to think.

        Yes, for those who believe that blowing up and murdering innocent civilians for some religious/political ideal is a necessary or justified path to whatever… I configure an US vs. THEM mentality regardless of the constituents. Again, it’s not an either/or proposition.

        • Hobbesian

          From your perspective, I guess that would be true…

        • Itarion

          Personally, I prefer configuring the situation as Us v Them, then looking for the hidden their way out. It’s a greater challenge, and more rewarding.

      • Itarion

        I would have sworn you asked for criticism of both sides from both sides. You’re never going to get that if you abuse any critiquing.

  • R Vogel

    Great article, and I think you make some great points. A couple of things come to mind:

    -How many Christians secretly agree with using violence against abortion providers? I suspect is would be similar numbers if you could get an honest response. How many Christians would answer that they were fine with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Also probably a high number. Evolutionarily speaking we are programmed to fear the ‘other’ and be willing to use violent means to preserve ourselves.
    -Isn’t there a big difference between someone who will honest answer a survey question about violence versus someone who is actually willing to use violence? From above, I bet a high number of Christians, especially those of a certain stripe, would silently agree with the use of violence (I actually used to be one who did along with many others, so I know from whence I speak), but the number that would actually use violence is very small.
    -Do you think without a religious justification all the radical extremists would simply go home and get jobs and raise families? I have a hard time believing in the ‘smart, capable, compassionate, and honorable person grows infected with ludicrous ideas about a holy book and a waiting paradise, and then becomes capable of murdering innocent people’ Perhaps that is naive, but there are plenty examples of people who have killed many innocent people in the names of things other than religion. Religion certainly doesn’t help, since it highlights a easy way to draw the distinction between us and them, the real cause of violence, but I think it is a stretch to say it is the ultimate cause.

    I am not posing anything concrete – these are simply thoughts that occurred to me when reading.

  • Warren Senders

    It is becoming more and more apparent to me that approximately 28% of humans are completely batshit crazy. Muslim, Christian, Hindu, you name the belief system…looks like 28 percent are over-the-top nuts.

    As in:

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/10/09/theres-that-number-again-4/

    • baal

      I’d say that 28% of humans are prone to being driven by fear. I’m sure that at ~20% of that number would be decent if left to themselves.

    • Sven2547
  • DesertSun59

    Worse than terrorist-sympathizing Muslims in the US are terrorist-sympathizing Teatards. Their beliefs are spreading like the plague. They have total control over every bill that’s in Congress and currently have the entire country held hostage over a false belief. We have a political party that’s as bad, if not WORSE than Muslim terrorists in the US. Sadly, they’re not going away. In fact, their numbers are SPREADING. Soon, their special blend of false political beliefs will merge with Dominionism and we’ll still have a homegrown brand of belief that’s far far far worse than a few Muslims with bombs strapped to their chests.

  • WVHeisenberg

    According to Sam Harris, ethical thinking should be based upon scientific principles. And yet…. this essay is notably lacking in any scientific rigor whatsoever. Is Harris at all familiar with the science of criminology? You wouldn’t know it to read this essay.

    • TnkAgn

      Since Criminology is a social science, there’s probably room for Harris and his views. If Harris is talking about terrorism and crime, should be be forced to cite “Positivism” or the “Chicago School?”Face it, crime/terrorism of a religious nature is not dwelled upon in most criminology classes, and the relationship between religion and criminology is fairly recent study material.

      • WVHeisenberg

        There’s no rigor behind Harris’s views. He’s blathering, with no reference or understanding of researching into criminology. His “four categories” are purely arbitrary.

        • TnkAgn

          Your insistence on some unstated “rigor” is giving me mortis. I think Harris’s scientific chops are in order. This is as you say, is an essay, not a paper for his peers in neuroscience. You seem to want him to audition for CSI, for chrissake.

          • WVHeisenberg

            Really? Where in the criminologist literature can these four types of violent offenders be found? Is it standard in the field?

            • baal

              Harris is parsing a group to talk about a specific subset of people. He’s describing a group he wants to talk about. I don’t think it’s a fair or charitable reading of Harris to assert that Harris is asserting a new valid dominant classification scheme.

              If I wanted to talk about a specific group of homeowners, I might describe homeowners by income, distance from bodies of water and material of construction. Why? Maybe I have a point to make about folks who have above average income who preferentially build stucco homes with in 400 yards of a lake. Am I trying to describe all the things? No, I’m trying to define (identify) a sub set. My comments would be on that subset group and not a complete taxonomy of all of the houseowners.

              Your comment seems to focus on the lack of taxonomy rather than focus on what Harris positively did assert. That’s a misreading (and a paddling).

              • WVHeisenberg

                But this isn’t how scientists in the field classify people with violent behaviors. These are arbitrary categories that Harris made up just because they’re the categories he thought were important. There’s no science behind what he’s saying, and in fact criminologists classify behavior far differently than Harris is doing here.

                • baal

                  Reiterating your point doesn’t help when I’ve already explained why I think you’re not complaining about what he said.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  My point is that it’s not a valid scheme for classification. If you’re going to talk about criminal behavior, you need to reference the scientific literature on the subject, not just make stuff up. Even in an essay like this. The criminology ideas in the essay are actually plain wrong.

                • baal

                  I believe you’re stuck on a tangent. I also don’t see how we can expect everyone to be an expert on everything. Although, I dearly wish the christian apologetics crowd would learn a little of the biology, cosmology, physics, chemistry and statistics they misuse on their Gish gallops.

                  Ok, so particularize your issue – how would being an expert in criminology change Harris’s piece? Is criminology (as opposed to religion or terrorism) the right context to use? Where did Harris err in his argument that Islam in particular leads to an above baseline level of violence?

                • WVHeisenberg

                  For one, Harris didn’t control for other factors, particularly socioeconomic ones. He didn’t run any statistical analysis. He didn’t rigorously define key terms.

                  He used public opinion polls of dubious merit, cherry picked the data (he patently ignored, for example, the part of the poll where atheists were far more likely to be okay with bombing civilian targets during war than Muslims were).

                  The entire piece lacks rigor, control, or any typical social science analysis tool in arriving at its conclusions.

                • baal

                  It’s an essay not a scientific paper. I don’t suggest you take a philosophy class either.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  So we shouldn’t insist on rigor, empirical evidence and recent scholarship when we consider ethical arguments?

                • baal

                  I didn’t say that. What I said was the bug up your butt is a hissing cockroach.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  I didn’t realize that insisting on scientific rigor was a bad thing.

                  Okay, guys, let’s go back to analyzing your humours to see what’s making you sick!

    • baal

      Terry Firma wrote the OP not Harris. I assume you know that but it’s hard to tell from your language usage.

      • WVHeisenberg

        Yes, but my criticism is directed at Harris’s essay in particular, not Terry’s comments.

  • asifis

    This post isn’t very friendly. “Beliefs spread”, yes, which is why I don’t understand why you would try to spread the belief that muslims are more prone to violence than other groups with a bunch of cherry picked evidence and overwrought prose. An impressive list of atrocities, but equally impressive lists could be assembled to damn almost any group, except maybe women. And to note this is not to excuse any violence. I simply disagree with you and Mr. Harris about how to apportion blame.

    friend·ly

    ˈfrendlē/

    adjective

    1.

    kind and pleasant.

    “they were friendly to me”

    synonyms:affable, amiable, genial, congenial, cordial, warm, affectionate, demonstrative, convivial,companionable, sociable, gregarious, outgoing, comradely, neighborly, hospitable,approachable, easy to get on with, accessible, communicative, open, unreserved,easygoing, good-natured, kindly, benign, amenable, agreeable, obliging, sympathetic, well-disposed, benevolent; More

  • Pseudonym

    Oh, one more thing.

    Eight out of ten U.S. Muslims say it’s not cool to strap a bomb to your chest and kill a bunch of kuffar. But nearly two out of ten say that’s dandy… at least in some instances. There are 2.6 million Muslims living in the U.S.… x 19 percent… yep, almost half a million American Muslims give suicide bombers and child-murderers-for-Allah two big thumbs up when they feel the violence is somehow justified.

    I’m disappointed, Terry. I would have thought that we’d know better than to treat statistics with such disrespect.

    In fact, 100% of people agree to the use of violence when they feel that the violence is justified. That’s what “justified” means!

    Did you know that 61% of Americans agree with the use of drone strikes on civilian areas (which kill children), if the intended target is terrorists? A murdered child is a murdered child. Why are child-killers-for-Allah oh so much worse than child-killers-for-America?

    • Bdole

      The logic behind the distinction is that drone strikes that kill terrorists ultimately save more innocent lives than they cost (that’s the ideal anyway). This is very much in contrast to the theory behind pure-terrorist attacks where the objective is to take the lives of as many harmless people as possible (in the most dramatic way possible) in order to affect some government’s policies.
      Also, governments treat foreigners as less valuable than their own citizens, but it’s a sliding scale.
      Note, I don’t endorse these tactics. I’m simply stating the idealistic differences. In practice, we are probably all pawns caught in the crossfire of psychopaths.

      • Pseudonym

        The logic behind the distinction is that drone strikes that kill terrorists ultimately save more innocent lives than they cost (that’s the ideal anyway).

        Sayyid Qutb developed his ideology after spending time being tortured in prison by the despotic Nasser regime for ten years, watching his colleagues also tortured and murdered. Had you asked him, I think he’d have told you he was trying to save lives. I can also easily see modern Islamist terrorists pointing out that they kill fewer people than the drone strikes do. And they do, FWIW.

        I note that you don’t endorse these tactics on either side, and neither do I. I just don’t really see this as anything but a distinction without difference. Adam Curtiss would probably agree.

        • Bdole

          I just don’t really see this as anything but a distinction without difference.

          If you bleed red, white, and blue then the special pleading I just engaged in is how you distinguish between us and them on the battlefield. That, 9/11, and Freedom(TM). Plus, I think the fantasy of “surgical” strikes helps to make drones more palatable.

          • Pseudonym

            Yes, probably.

            I think there’s a “trolley car ethics” issue going on here, too. Pulling a lever is considered more “ethical” than physically pushing someone in front of a trolley car, even if the body count would be the same in either scenario. Using remote control adds a psychological barrier that wearing a bomb vest doesn’t.

  • DeadInHell

    Great article. It’s unfortunate that so many atheists/skeptics/and especially academics in the western world are currently falling all over themselves to apologize for and excuse the horrific acts of Muslims committed in the name of their religion. All in some cowardly effort to avoid being considering “anti-Islam” or “Islamophobic”.

    Why exactly should we consider being anti-Islam a bad thing? As atheists and skeptics, are we not very often anti-religion? If I am anti-christian, and an anti-theist, why is being anti-Islam suddenly reprehensible?

    We need to stop treating Islam as a group protected from criticism and public discourse and we especially need to stop supporting the myths that Sam Harris describes here. Islam is a dangerous religion with a fanatical base. Large majorities of the populations of many Islamic states around the world favor continuing the practice of archaic, barbaric Muslim law (Sharia). In Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Palestine, and Afghanistan (to name a few) the majority favor the penalty of death for apostasy to the religion of Islam. That’s right, these lovely innocent Muslims you guys are fighting so hard for, they want you dead. They very literally, and in large majority, want you to be executed by the state for your lack of faith. This is not a question of a “small band of extremists” as so many apologists continue to claim. This is an ideological infection on a grand scale. And it is in direct opposition to every freedom and human right that we take for granted.

    And lest you discard this as an artifact of strange, far-away nations, a recent survey of Muslim students at 30 universities in Britain found that 32 percent of respondents believed that killing in the name of religion was justified. Many more wanted the broad implementation of Sharia Law in Britain. This sentiment, the insistence that modern nations discard their laws and their protections on human rights is not uncommon in European nations with growing Muslim populations. And yet we refuse to address it. One third is not a “small band of extremists”. That is a significant portion of British Muslims, members of an industrialized first-world nation, who would see their countrymen and ours dead for the purpose of Islamic supremacy. As I’ve noted above, the numbers are alarmingly higher in many other nations. I only mentioned majority support above (in some, including Egypt and Jordan, support is above 80%), there are other nations in which considerable portions of the populace also support death for apostates (e.g. Bangdladesh- 44%).

    We need to stop pretending that this is not a problem. We need to stop pretending that Islam does not pose a threat to basic human rights. Sharia Law is not “just as good” as any other. I don’t want to hear some nonsense about cultural relativism. Islamic Republics govern in contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nations such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia maintain the death penalty for the “crime” of apostasy. Muslims in nations across the world want to implement this sort of law everywhere. And don’t for a second think that as atheists we are not part of this. That somehow we exist outside of religious conflict, and only Christians or those who actively preach against Islam are subject to such treatment. Atheists are actively persecuted in nearly all Muslim nations. As non-believers, we are guilty of apostasy, and thus subject to death for our crimes. So wake up, guys. You’re fighting on the wrong side here.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Re: “If you agree that this “No True Scotsman” (or “No True Christian”) fallacy is logically illegitimate and a transparent blame-deflecting device, you’ll also call bullshit on the 100% similar ‘No True Muslim’ fallacy, right? You’d have to concede Harris’s point, wouldn’t you?”

    Excellent point. I’ve said this before to Christians who think they can disavow the actions of their fellow Christians, but I can and will say the same to Muslims who have the same wish: It’s your religion. It belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. It’s up to you and you alone to root out extremists from within it who misrepresent it. Outsiders like myself cannot do it for you. Only you can. If your religion is important to you, then you have no viable reason not to ensure its integrity and hold its other members accountable for what they say and do. If you don’t think enough of your religion to do this, then you have no reason to expect outside observers such as myself to respect it, or respect you for belonging to it.

    Re: “But while the religious fervor of Christianity hasn’t precisely burned out (which is why it’s good to always keep a watchful eye on it), the fire is in its glowing-embers stage. After roughly a millennium and a half of crusades and inquisitions and indiscriminate heretic-killing, such appalling conflagrations have been robbed of oxygen by modernity and the Enlightenment.”

    I’m not sure I’d be so eager to pronounce the flames of militant Christianity as having reduced to “burning embers.” In fact, there are Christian terrorists, and there have been Christians who’ve killed innocents in the name of promoting their faith. These are the Christians who carried out abortion-clinic bombings and physician assassinations.

    I fully concede that numbers of these murderously-violent Christianists aren’t large, and they haven’t wracked up the sort of body count that other religions have, but given their insane militancy and their demands to have the country run as they want it run solely because they think they’re entitled to run it, I wouldn’t say we’re out of the woods quite yet. Some of them have gone as far as to demand a coup d’etat against the secret agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and Kenyan usurper who occupies the White House. I don’t expect this particular call to action to be obeyed … but televangelists wouldn’t be making such statements if there weren’t widespread sentiment supporting it (since they live off people’s donations).

    In other words, there may be differences in quantity of extremism between different religions, but there are none of quality. Extremism is possible with any religion. Those who believe in them must be attuned to it, and ought to want to stop it when they see or hear it. That a lot of them think they can just wash their hands of it and walk away, isn’t to their credit, and it doesn’t reflect well on their religion, either.

    • Pseudonym

      It’s your religion. It belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. It’s up to you and you alone to root out extremists from within it who misrepresent it. Outsiders like myself cannot do it for you. Only you can. If your religion is important to you, then you have no viable reason not to ensure its integrity and hold its other members accountable for what they say and do.

      How?

      Seriously, how?

      How do you, as a moderate-to-liberal theist, hold someone accountable when there is no mutually-agreed-upon authority to which you can appeal? What if that person firmly believes that you are the hypocrite and therefore should not be listened to?

      What if, no matter how much you try to put your message of peace and tolerance out there, none of the media will bother with it because there are no convenient soundbites? How about if you believe that it’s your mission to help people in need, rather than waste time arguing with people who won’t listen to you anyway?

      Do you have any concrete suggestions?

      Is the Arab Spring not enough, perhaps?

      • TnkAgn

        I don’t know if you have a country such as Iran or North Korea in mind, but if you are talking about the good ole’ USA, here’s my unsolicited suggestion. Pack up your moderate-to-liberal beliefs, and look for another shop in the marketplace of ideas. And if you are so cowed by the unreasonable “spiritual authority” you are currently associated with, and fear a shunning by the sheeple of his /her “flock,” you have abdicated your 1st Amendment rights, and are to be pitied. just saying.

        • Pseudonym

          Well I don’t live in the USA and never have, so I can’t comment on that.

          I will note that your advice contradicts that of PsiCop, Implicit in PsiCop’s comment was the assumption that the lunatic fringe shouldn’t get to dictate the definition of a religion any more than the Tea Party gets to dictate what constitutes American ideals and values, but in practice it does, and it’s up to the non-lunatic-fringe to fix this.

          One thing I will repeat is my remarks about “wasting time”. While they both do some things which are controversial (though perhaps more accurately, it’s more about what they sometimes fail to do), people generally give money to the Salvation Army or World Vision or groups like that on the understanding that the money is going to help people, and not fund sectarian squabbling. Actually engaging in sectarian squabbling would be counter-productive in such an environment.

          This is not a question of “shunning by the sheeple” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean). This is a question of detracting from the core mission.

          • TnkAgn

            “Shunning” was (still is, in Mormon and some other religious circles) an arcane practice whereby individuals could be ostracized by the religious community. In a town where everyone was a Methodist, say, and you were considered an apostate, shunning would separate you from the community of your fellows. Sort of a sensory deprivation of the social kind.

            “In practice” (dictation from the fringe) might occur in a few cases, but generally, reasonableness (as opposed to reason) dictates and prevails in most of the world’s countries, I think. Where it does not, that’s another matter.

            • Pseudonym

              “Shunning” was (still is, in Mormon and some other religious circles) an arcane practice whereby individuals could be ostracized by the religious community.

              OK. So help me out here. How can a Pat Robertson-type character be effectively shunned by, say, the entire United Methodist Church?

              “In practice” (dictation from the fringe) might occur in a few cases, but generally, reasonableness (as opposed to reason) dictates and prevails in most of the world’s countries, I think.

              I agree with you FWIW, but PsiCop’s point is that while the lunatic fringe gets the most airtime, he will judge the movement by what he sees. That may not be rational (it is a strict minority), but it is understandable from the point of view of an outsider.

              Perhaps moderate-to-liberal religion should just stop worrying about what PsiCop thinks and just get on with the job?

              • TnkAgn

                He’s Southern Baptist, so the Methodists could shun him, and most probably do, but it wouldn’t make much difference. I think his “sheeple” will not lament his passing, since he’s been such an embarrassment for so long.

                Funny thing about American history, the Baptists were persecuted by the Methodists and Congregationalists in the 1700s, even asked T. Jefferson for aid and succor. But by 1900, if you weren’t Baptist in the American South, you weren’t shit.

                I also posit that PsiCop agrees with you more than you think, but by all means let’s get on with the job.

                Good chat, that.

              • Itarion

                The lunatic fringe only gets put on air because it gets ratings. If media companies started getting loads of angry letters over giving so much time to the lunatic fringe, something might just shift. Maybe.

                • Pattrsn

                  Also the ideology they’re promoting, libertarian style free market economics, aligns with the needs of those providing them with a venue.

                • Itarion

                  Free market style just means that if there’s a market, there’re sales. The point is that we, the American people as a whole, can change the market. You should not, as a media conglomerate, be able to survive by catering to a small select group.

                • Pattrsn

                  But they do, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) reality always fails to live up to the demands of utopian ideologies like libertarianism or communism.

                • Itarion

                  The reality fails to live up to reality because humans fail to live up to the ideal person.

                • Pattrsn

                  Well it seems like the real problem is the “ideal person”.

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        Re: “How do you, as a moderate-to-liberal theist, hold someone accountable when there is no mutually-agreed-upon authority to which you can appeal?”

        Establish one.

        Re: “What if that person firmly believes that you are the hypocrite and therefore should not be listened to?”

        Push back. Harder.

        Re: “What if, no matter how much you try to put your message of peace and tolerance out there, none of the media will bother with it because there are no convenient soundbites?”

        Keep speaking out anyway.

        Re: “Do you have any concrete suggestions?”

        See the above. I never suggested it would be easy. Few worthwhile endeavors in life are easy. In fact, I don’t even care that it’s not easy. I just said it needed to be done, that’s all.

        • Pseudonym

          Establish one.

          That sounds like a solution to the shutdown. Both sides should just mutually agree on an authority who can settle it.

    • WVHeisenberg

      “Excellent point. I’ve said this before to Christians who think they can disavow the actions of their fellow Christians, but I can and will say the same to Muslims who have the same wish: It’s your religion. It belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. It’s up to you and you alone to root out extremists from within it who misrepresent it. Outsiders like myself cannot do it for you. Only you can. If your religion is important to you, then you have no viable reason not to ensure its integrity and hold its other members accountable for what they say and do. If you don’t think enough of your religion to do this, then you have no reason to expect outside observers such as myself to respect it, or respect you for belonging to it.”

      Would you hold this true for atheists? When atheist governments oppress religion, murder priests, and throw religious believers in jail, do you believe that it’s your atheism? That it belongs to you as much as anyone else? That it’s up to you and you alone to root out extremists?

      In that case, can I assume you’re writing from China, where this very thing happens every day?

      • TnkAgn

        False premise there. Assumes that “atheistic governments” persecute believers because of their lack of “atheism.” Isn’t desire to control, the primary survival impetus of authoritarian regimes, regardless of ideology or religion? You are off base on this, IMO.

        • WVHeisenberg

          Um, yes. Atheistic communist governments do, in fact, persecute the religious for their lack of atheism. Just like, in the past, religious governments have persecuted people for being atheists.

          So if, by your reasoning, it’s okay to criticize all Muslims for those Muslims who commit violence in the name of their religion, it stands to reason that all atheists are open to criticism for failing to criticize atheists who commit violence against the religion.

          Personally, as an atheist, I reject that line of reasoning. I’m responsible for my own moral behavior – nobody else’s. And by the same standard, i don’t judge non-violent Muslims based on the behavior of violent Muslims.

          • Itarion

            Actually, the argument is sound. Atheist governments that suppress religion IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM should be held accountable/called out by atheists, as religious governments that suppress other religions in the next of their religion should be called out by members of their religion.

            Frankly, though, “atheist” governments rarely use atheistic language to dress up the charges, as far as I know. (Counterexamples?) However, religious law countries do throw members of different religions into jail for violating religious law. There isn’t really any sort of atheist law to violate, due to a lack of doctrines. So the imprisoned end up declared enemies of the state, which falls into a political realm, rather than the religious. Unless you consider religion just another government, which is a whole new can o’ worms.

            • WVHeisenberg

              The most explicit counter example is Communist Albania, which put this in their Constitution:

              “The state recognizes no religion whatever and supports atheist propaganda for the purpose of inculcating the scientific materialist world outlook in people.”

              There was also Revolutionary France, which for several years persecuted Catholics under its official atheist doctrine known literally as the “Cult of Reason.”

              In Mexico under Plutarco Elías Calles, religious people were persecuted and denied Civil Rights under the Mexican Constitution, Thousands of Catholics were killed. Calles was explicitly atheist and anti-theist, and his persecution led directly to the Cristero War, a militant uprising against the government by Catholics.

              That’s just a few examples. I haven’t even gotten to many others.

              I’m a staunch atheist, but I find my fellow atheists ignorance of the history of explicitly atheist governments to be rather surprising. Atheists need to fight for secular governments, not atheist ones. And I stand with a lot of religious people on this front who support secular government as opposed to religious government.

              • Itarion

                Well, it seems I was wrong. And the argument in question still applies.

                The use of any ideology by any government to deny basic liberties and human rights to select groups within that government’s borders is wrong in every case, without regard for the ideology in use.

                Thank you for sharing this information.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  “The use of any ideology by any government to deny basic liberties and human rights to select groups within that government’s borders is wrong in every case, without regard for the ideology in use.”

                  Amen! ;)

                • baal

                  Amen said the atheist not fearful of being confused for a religious adherent (though yeah such was said of him mere moments ago).

                • WVHeisenberg

                  The smiley face indicated that I was aware of the irony.

                • Itarion

                  Amen can also be used to demonstrate agreement with a statement, so this use was totally legit.

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        Re: “Would you hold this true for atheists?”

        No, because atheists are not a cadre of people who hold the same package of metaphysics and dogma. Atheism is not a religion, and it’s not even an institution. It’s a lack of both those things.

        Re: “When atheist governments oppress religion, murder priests, and throw religious believers in jail, do you believe that it’s your atheism?”

        No, because “atheism” doesn’t dictate any of that behavior. Atheism doesn’t dictate anything at all, to anyone. Ever. All it is, is a refusal to believe in a deity. That doesn’t require any particular behavior by anyone; there’s no atheist scripture telling people what they have to do. On the other hand, things like “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Mt 28:19a) are specific instructions to believers in a package of dogma, ones they often choose to follow in brutal ways.

        Re: “In that case, can I assume you’re writing from China, where this very thing happens every day?”

        Are you trying to suggest that theists’ long tradition of antagonism toward non-believers … and their even-longer tradition of antagonism against believers in other faiths and of “heretics” with their own … is somehow justified by the fact that Christians in China are harassed? Seriously!? Don’t you realize that’s “two wrongs make a right” thinking?

        In any event, you assume too much when you assume the PRC’s policies are driven solely by atheism (or by anti-theism). They aren’t. They’re driven by the regime’s paranoia and hatred of all ideologies other than its own version of Communism. The PRC’s persecutions of anything other than what it teaches are ecumenical and go beyond just religion.

        (FWIW, atheism and anti-theism are two different things. There is some overlap; i.e. some atheists are anti-theists. But there is nothing about atheism that requires any given atheist to also be an anti-theist.)

        • WVHeisenberg

          I don’t think that the harassment of the religious by atheists is justified, nor do I think that the harassment of atheists by the religious is justified. But the only people responsible for persecution are the persecutors.

          Those who commit violence in the name of Christianity do not, by extension, render all Christians guilty. Similarly, those who commit violence in the name of atheism do not, by extension, render all atheists guilty.

          • baal

            Your second paragraph is a near tautology but fails at the parallelism. Christianity has teachings, atheism does not.

            Your first paragraph also has the same false parallelism founded on a truism. Harassment is wrongful (agreed!) but the endless parade of symbols and images of your (and only your) god on government (the many peoples not just christians) property and christian legal efforts means you’re using State power to harass atheists. We aren’t so lucky as to have the same degree of power (and the will to use it regardless of harms).

            • WVHeisenberg

              I’m not a Christian. I am an atheist. But if you look throughout history, there have been religious people killed by atheist governments in the name of atheism. I have posted several examples in this thread.

              Being an atheist doesn’t made you special or free from violent and oppressive behavior.

              • baal

                I think you’re suffering from the Kelemi / mainstream media false equivalency problem. Extent matters. Think of a scale, you can have 1 object on both sides or you could have 1 object on side 1 and 10 objects on side 2. It wouldn’t be accurate or fair to call the 1:10 a “both sides do it” issue since the only fair representation is that one side is way ahead of the other in doing ‘it’.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  In the 20th century, at least, the atheists were pretty far ahead in body count.

                  Let me be clear: I’m an atheist. But I don’t think religion or any ideology makes people violent. I think that humans are, by and large, innately violent, and look for pretexts to commit violence. Ideology – whether religious or atheist – provides handy pretexts.

          • Grotoff

            Apples and oranges comparison. Otherwise rational people kill over Christian dogma. There is no atheist dogma to kill over. Now communism, that’s a dogma. Randian Objectivism, that’s a dogma.

            • WVHeisenberg

              Yes, but communism and Objectivism are ATHEIST dogmas, and they are EXPLICITLY atheist dogmas.

              It makes as little sense to condemn all religious people as violent because some small fraction of Muslims are violent as it does to claim all atheists are violent because some communists are violent.

              • Itarion

                But see, that’s like holding Presbyterians accountable for the Catholic catechism. Not all atheists hold to Communism and Objectivism. The ONLY thing that binds all atheists is a lack of belief in any god. So the only reprehensible action due to a principle of atheism is killing explicitly because of the presence of godbeliefs in the victims worldview.

                Fun fact here, too. Objectivism is most closely bound to by the American conservatives, who also bind to Christianity. Randian Objectivism as an atheist dogma my left foot.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  In my opinion, the only people responsible for violent actions are the actors. Their ideology is irrelevant because it is typically a pretext.

                  The best way to reduce violence, historically speaking, appears to the prevalence of secular, democratic governance. But even then, there’s one major whopping exception: the United States.

                • Itarion

                  Well, really the best way to reduce violence is really to reduce poor living conditions across the board. Fair and even-handed governments are certainly an effective way to manage this.

                  And again, I would hesitate to call the society of the United States, regardless of the government, a secular body.

              • baal

                You’re missing the point again. Aside from the background killing rate, it appears that religion has a net increase (instead of net decrease) in the killing of otherwise already living humans without cause.

                • WVHeisenberg

                  (citation needed)

              • Grotoff

                That doesn’t make sense. Communism and objectivism have no claims on atheism. You can be an atheist platonist, or epicurean or stoic or hedonist or whatever. Those are enemy philosophies. There is no CONTENT to atheism. It’s simply a position on whether or not you belief in a deity. You can even believe in ghosts and homeopathy if you want; you just can’t believe in a deity.

                Christians and Muslims explicitly tie themselves to books and doctrines that make explicit claims on them. The most liberal Christian and most conservative Christian share many faith statements, like the reverence for Jesus Christ and the belief that the Old Testament reveals something about the nature and character of a supreme deity. They are connected.

                There are religions that are relatively more peaceful. Disagree with Jains all you want, but an extremist Jain isn’t going to blow anyone up. Don’t pretend that having peaceful individuals within a community is equal to ones’ bedrock dogma being nonviolence.

          • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

            Re: “Those who commit violence in the name of Christianity do not, by extension, render all Christians guilty.”

            No, but they are responsible for doing all they can to ensure their religion can’t serve as refuge for the violent. It’s also deceptive to paint those few extremists as a “lunatic fringe” lurking at the edges of a religion. For each one of those extremists, there are dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands, of sympathetic co-religionists. You know, like all those “loving” Christians who turned a blind eye to abortion-clinic and Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and allowed him to live for years as a fugitive. Or the “loving” Christians who gave Scott Roeder information he could use to corner Dr George Tiller.

            Re: “Similarly, those who commit violence in the name of atheism do not, by extension, render all atheists guilty.”

            Again, the comparison here is not apt. There is no cadre of atheists who allow anti-theist extremists to get away with violence in the name of atheism. It just is not happening. The same cannot be said of religions … Islam and Christianity included.

            • WVHeisenberg

              “No, but they are responsible for doing all they can to ensure their religion can’t serve as refuge for the violent.”

              What actions are sufficient to meet this standard? It seems awfully vague.

              ” For each one of those extremists, there are dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands, of sympathetic co-religionists.”

              How do you know that?

              “You know, like all those ‘loving’ Christians who turned a blind eye to abortion-clinic and Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and allowed him to live for years as a fugitive.”

              Which Christians would those be? What congregations? Please name them.

              “Or the “loving” Christians who gave Scott Roeder information he could use to corner Dr George Tiller.”

              There were lots of Christians who opposed this. There are, in fact, a whole heckuva a lot of pro-choice Christians. Are the Christians who condemn those acts responsible for the Christians who don’t?

              Would you say, for example, that liberal evangelical Fred Clark here at Patheos isn’t doing enough to counter the wrongdoing of his fellow Christians?

  • Pseudonym

    Not quite a haiku.

    he’s The best writer on Patheos

    I’m not Terry, obviously, but if I were, I wouldn’t know how to take that. It sounds like damning with faint praise.

    • Pseudonym

      Err… sorry for the bad formatting.

      • Itarion

        You can edit that, you know.

  • Charles

    Extraordinary articles, Terry – both yours and Sam’s. I was not aware of your Moral Compass site until now, but I believe I will be spending substantial time catching up.

  • ShoeUnited

    I imagine at some point this article will get spun out of control on fox news.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-april-24-2013/weak-constitution

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    And yet he’s posting on a liberal blog. Bon voyage, basic premise!

  • metalsheep

    “Every quantitative analysis of terrorism in the U.S. we have read shows
    that the percent of terror attacks carried out by Muslims is far less
    than 10%.”

    From this article: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/05/muslims-only-carried-out-2-5-percent-of-terrorist-attacks-on-u-s-soil-between-1970-and-2012.html

    I’m not trying to discount the fact that there is a lot of terrorism that has been done by Muslim people, or the terrifying numbers in support of those actions as stated in the article. I’m just saying that “terrorism” should not become synonymous with “Muslim”.

    • Itarion

      This is true. “Terrorism” should be synonymous with “war”.

  • joey_in_NC

    Until moderate Muslims and secular liberals stop misplacing the blame
    for this [violent] evil, they will remain part of the problem.

    For someone who doesn’t believe in free will (Harris), he ironically spends much of his time rebuking as if free will actually exists. But then again, that holds true for most free will deniers.

    • Lagerbaer

      You can deny that “actual” free will exists yet still argue that it’s a useful concept to describe how humans usually act.

    • baal

      I’m still waiting for folks who dislike Harris to get his positions right. Sam hasn’t thrown the idea of intervention to prevent harms out the window.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      “Free Will” in the Christian sense is trivial to disprove.

      Your inability to understand the limits of human language and how we’re forced to use shorthand terms and metaphors to converse is a fault in your thinking, not with Harris.

    • Anat

      Not having free will does not mean we do not make choices, it means the choices we make are not made freely, but are the result of something else (be it genetics, education, external environmental conditions, random chance, and most likely – the interaction of all of these). Making arguments changes people’s environmental exposure, thus may change the choices they make.

      • Itarion

        At least, that’s the hope. It don’t always work, if their education pushes them to rely on themselves foremost.

        Education being more about the shape of the thought processes than information known, as I use it here.

      • joey_in_NC

        Making arguments changes people’s environmental exposure, thus may change the choices they make.

        But one supposedly cannot freely choose to make those arguments, or change people’s environmental exposure. It’s absurdity all the way down.

        • Itarion

          Unless one’s environment has pushed them to make arguments, in which case one would not be free to NOT make arguments.

          You really expect someone to go through life and never encounter a new idea? You’ve encountered a new one just by reading this.

          Besides, its turtles, not absurdity.

          • joey_in_NC

            Unless one’s environment has pushed them to make arguments, in which case one would not be free to NOT make arguments.

            Well, yeah. Not a new idea.

    • Hobbesian

      Have you read his book, Free Will? Harris does not argue for the position you are attributing to him. Reread the chapter, “Choices, Efforts, Intentions” (pp.31-44). He does not deny that we have and make choices, that those choices have real consequences, and that we should be held responsible for the choices we make. It’s just that our choices have causes and those causes are not metaphysical or indeterminate. That our choices are determined by prior causes does not entail fatalism as you seem to suggest.

      • joey_in_NC

        …that we should be held responsible for the choices we make.

        What exactly do you mean by “responsible”? If it is meant no differently then saying that a ball is “responsible” for rolling downhill, or a tree is “responsible” for falling down during a thunderstorm, then I have no objections. But that isn’t really what people mean when they talk about responsibility in the context of human action. Human (moral) responsibility implies freedom of choice, praise, and blame…all of which don’t make sense if there is no free will.

        It’s just that our choices have causes and those causes are not metaphysical or indeterminate. That our choices are determined by prior causes does not entail fatalism as you seem to suggest.

        If man is completely stripped of his metaphysical free will, then how can that not lead to fatalism? If I subject myself to fatalism, then it should be argued (as everything else) that my environment has pushed me toward fatalism, and I have no free choice in the matter.

        • Hobbesian

          But that isn’t really what people mean when they talk about responsibility in the context of human action. Human (moral) responsibility implies freedom of choice, praise, and blame…all of which don’t make sense if there is no free will.

          Yep, and that’s what Harris is arguing against. But then he doesn’t argue for a fatalism that many people confuse with determinism. They’re not the same thing. I think ultimately he argues for a position that is closer to compatibilism than he’s willing to admit. He nevertheless believes the notion of freewill is nonsensical and does no real explanatory work, and therefore should be abandoned. Read his book. It’s a short and inexpensive read

    • DavidMHart

      I think you misunderstand. The fact that our choices are ultimately determined by prior causes that we are not able to inspect does not prevent us from trying to persuade each other to do things better, because giving people good advice is a potential cause of better behaviour, even if we are blind to the exact neurological pathways at work, or equally, even if the chain of causality were completely transparent to us.

      If you say “There’s no point in me trying to persuade you because you don’t have free will by virtue of living in a deterministic universe”, then you have missed the point. You can affect the deterministic inputs that someone else receives, even if your decision to try to do so is itself ultimately the end product of deterministic processes.

      • joey_in_NC

        If you say “There’s no point in me trying to persuade you because you don’t have free will by virtue of living in a deterministic universe”, then you have missed the point.

        No, that’s not my point.

        You can affect the deterministic inputs that someone else receives, even if your decision to try to do so is itself ultimately the end product of deterministic processes.

        I agree. Given what you say above, then all of existence becomes absurd. I’m simply trying to open peoples’ minds to the absurdity of all this.

        • DavidMHart

          Well, you’re going to have to explain why. I fail to understand why my existence would become absurd just because one accepts that the traditional idea of free will in a deterministic universe is an incoherent concept. And I don’t really think yours would either.

          • joey_in_NC

            Well, you’re going to have to explain why. I fail to understand why my existence would become absurd just because one accepts that the traditional idea of free will in a deterministic universe is an incoherent concept.

            Quite simply because we go through virtually every moment in our life thinking that we all have control over our thoughts and actions, and that we are morally responsible for them. Once you take that away, then absurdity abounds.

            I am a theist. Therefore, as a free will denier, you must reason that I had no free choice other than to be a theist, and that this outcome is precisely what my environment has compelled me to become. You and others may argue that I could alter my environment such that there is a greater chance that I can be pushed away from my theism. But me altering my environment would also not be a freely made decision, but also the result of my environment compelling me what to do. Therefore, it must be concluded that it is unreasonable to actually fault or blame me for being a theist, since every part of my entire being is simply the result of my environment, which I have absolutely no control over.

            Yet, so many people blame me for my thoughts and beliefs, especially here in this very forum. Why exactly, considering that it is so unreasonable to do so given that there is no free will? It is fundamentally equivalent to putting blame on a house for toppling over during an earthquake. So why continue with such unreasonableness?

            There is an answer to this question, which has to be the only answer to every why question. Because that is the result of physics taking its course. People are unreasonable because they have no choice other than to be unreasonable; they were compelled by their environment to be unreasonable.

            You don’t see how the absurdness continues indefinitely? Ultimately, we’re merely marionettes on strings where we have absolutely no control over our own strings.

            • DavidMHart

              This is not absurd; merely a bit ironic. We are beings who have been hardwired by natural selection to have a very strong tendency to see each other as free-willed beings, who, at every moment we make a choice, could have chosen differently. The fact that this is a cognitive illusion is no more to the point than the fact that the overwhelming tendency of humans over millennia to attribute misfortune to witchcraft, or to be more moved by one anecdote of suffering than a statistical ocean’s worth of data about greater suffering elsewhere, are also cognitive illusions. Or indeed the overwhelming tendency to dualism – to think of our ‘selves’ as somehow magically distinct from our physical bodies, despite the utter lack of evidence for anything resembling a ‘soul’ (and now, in the teeth of a mounting pile of data from neuroscience strongly suggesting that our minds are entirely the product of our brains).

              These are all cognitive errors, but ones which are strong, whether because they are usually-close-enough approximations that massively simplify the computations that our brains need to do to make sense of each other, or whether they’re just not wrong enough for there to have been strong selection pressure against.

              This means that those who blame you for being a theist are wrong to hold deeply responsible on a personal level – I’m entirely with you on that (though it’s a very hard habit to shake). But, crucially, social opprobrium is a very powerful factor in motivating our behaviour. Even if you are not ultimately responible for your beliefs, if you can be shown how implausible they are, how almost-certainly-wrong, and how potentially harmful they are when they form the basis of legislation, then we still stand a chance of embarrassing you out of them, even if the chain of causes that lead you to have them in the first place was not ultimately tipped off by anything that can be pinned on ‘you’.

              This is also how moral responsibility works under this view. If you do something harmful to others, then, if there is no ‘you’ that is ultimately responsible for it, then there is no sense in taking out retribution against you, but there is still good reason to consider locking you up because you have proven yourself to be a danger to others, and there is still reason to consider some sort of punishment on the hope that that will be sufficiently unpleasant to dissuade you from doing it again. There is also good reason to do so in the hopes of dissuading other people from doing the same sort of harmful actions, since they could expect the same to happen to them. And of course there is still, assuming you do it right, the possibility of directly intervening to try to make you more of a responsible citizen, through anger management, literacy and job training and anything else that is likely to lessen your chances of harming others again.

              Thus we can still hold each other accountable – we can still have a justice system that takes account of specific incapacitation, specific deterrence and general deterrence, and rehabilitation, even if we are able to discard revenge as a useful motivator. The fact that we tend to feel such a strong thirst for revenge is, I would posit, yet another cognitive shortcut – everyone knows that the live among vengeful conspecifics, so will be less likely to lightly take action that will trigger other people’s retributive responses. This is good enough, most of the time, for us to have got to be the species we are, but when it misfires (because it tends to make us overreact), it leads to ongoing tit-for-tat feuds, causing more carnage than whatever triggered it in the first place.

              So if we want to live in as peaceful and safe a society as possible, then we should want to base our responses to each other’s actions on as rational a calculation as we can collectively muster of what will actually best serve to reduce future harms (regardless of the ultimate cause of our actions), rather than a gut feeling of ‘they deserve it’. That is, insisting on seeing each other as free-willed agents is a potentially useful heuristic, but not the least harmful option now that we are able to introspect, collect data and statistically analyze it and generally understand ourselves as products of a deterministic universe.

              • joey_in_NC

                This is also how moral responsibility works under this view. If you do something harmful to others, then, if there is no ‘you’ that is ultimately responsible for it, then there is no sense in taking out retribution against you, but there is still good reason to consider locking you up because you have proven yourself to be a danger to others, and there is still reason to consider some sort of punishment on the hope that that will be sufficiently unpleasant to dissuade you from doing it again.

                You surely talk a lot of “reason”. But under your worldview, we have no free choice to follow reason or not. If we follow what is reasonable, then that is simply what we are compelled to do by nature. Likewise, if we follow what is unreasonable, then that too is what we are compelled to do by nature. So if you really think about, there really is no such thing as reason, unless it is viewed as merely an illusion, similar to free will. People will do what they do, not because it is “reasonable” to do so, but simply because they are compelled to do so. Reason becomes completely irrelevant.

                There is a reason why I have specifically chosen the word absurd to describe existence with no free will.

                But note, I recognize that just because something is absurd doesn’t necessarily mean that it is false. It’s just that I choose to not believe in the absolute absurdity of existence, and I choose to believe that reason is real and not a mere illusion.

        • Itarion

          No, that’s not my point.

          Then please, tell us. What is your point, so that we may attempt to refute it directly.

          It’s hardly absurd if it makes sense on some level.

  • gerrymor2538

    For years I didn’t believe there was such a thing as Evil. I have changed my mind.
    I thought people who did evil deeds were sick. Now I think they are just evil. They can’t be talked out of it or helped. They have to be removed from society. And I’m afraid it’s getting worse.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I feel that it’s more that the methods of manipulating people into evil are becoming more refined and easier to apply. It’s funny that Creationists attack Evolutionary Theory for allegedly having negative ramifications for morality, when Psychology is so much easier a target (still nowhere close to the right target, but at least it can actually be used to cause harm.) I suspect that’s because to attack it would be to peel back their own curtain…

      “Evil” does exist. It’s just that it’s a description, not an explanation.

      • 3lemenope

        “Evil” does exist. It’s just that it’s a description, not an explanation.

        That is a great way to put it.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          It’s not my line, but I don’t know to whom to attribute it.

    • joey_in_NC

      I thought people who did evil deeds were sick. Now I think they are just evil.

      According to Harris, there is really no fundamental difference between the two. “Evil” is simply an arbitrary abstraction of the actions of humans, where all human action is the result of random interactions of fundamental particles.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Physics isn’t random. Why don’t Creationists understand this?

        • joey_in_NC

          When I say “random”, I mean “having no definite aim or purpose”.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Ah, thank you. In that case, no, it doesn’t have a purpose at any level, just as water has no purpose or aim when it takes the path of least resistance. And it doesn’t require one; creating meaning can be more interesting than accepting it as handed down. That’s why art, music and literature are beautiful. Objectively they mean nothing; they become something more to each individual person as they experience creations, or act to create*.

            That the meaning people add is dependent entirely on processes outside their conscious control is really of little consequence in functioning in everyday life, since it doesn’t significantly affect behavior to simply know that. But it CAN inform how we deal with issues as a society and suggest better solutions, if we let it. We know that decision-making occurs entirely within a body – not just a brain – undergoing specific chemical reactions and exposed to specific environmental factors. There’s no outside consciousness guiding it, unaffected by the laws of physics. So we should consider retooling our approaches according to the information at hand.

            We know how water tends to flow; that’s why we built aqueducts and canals.

            *I become more mellow and philosophical when I have both time and energy to create, which is probably contributing to my being less of a provoking jackass. See? Meaning!

        • Itarion

          Tell that to quantum mechanics.

          That said, there’s a difference between random, arbitrary, and disorderly. Even chaos follows rules.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            I know, it gets goofy when you dig far enough*. But for our purposes, anyway…

            *That’s the Devil planting quantums to fool you!

          • FTP_LTR

            I took my car to a quantum mechanic once. I don’t know if he changed the oil. He may have. I don’t dare check. Just in case.

            • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

              As long as you didn’t get the work done at Heisenberg’s Auto Repair, FTP. Werner’s specialty is integrating the speedometer and the GPS: You know where you are or how fast you’re going, but not at the same moment. :-D

              • FTP_LTR

                And of course, *that* is the joke I was going for.

                I was thinking of “Schrodinger’s Pet Shop and Funeral Home”, of course.

                • Itarion

                  They both fit the category.

            • Itarion

              I love it!

        • phantomreader42

          Because creationists would rather die than understand anything. They worship their own willful ignorance.

      • baal

        I’ve commented to you that you’re falsely portraying Sam Harris on this point already.

  • aoscott

    When confronted with a challenge to his belief, Harris does the same thing a religious person does – frames the criticism as something else. So for example, when you hear about teachers or coaches or whoever on an education board react to a lawsuit due to their praying in school, they usually say “I can’t believe they’re saying I can’t pray,” or something to that effect. Of course no one is saying that, they’re just trying to change the argument to their favor.

    Likewise, with Harris, when you confront his attitude towards the Muslim world, he frames it as people trying to say “all religions do this; Islam isn’t worse; Religion is nothing more than a pretext; etc.” Perhaps some people do say these things to him, but in general, the criticism is his lack of acknowledging the role of the United States in the state of affairs. No one is saying that Islam does not lead to this shit, far from it. These groups use Islam as a tool to justify the fucked up shit they do, no one thinks otherwise.

    But that is only part of the story, and it’s misleading if not disingenuous to pretend the US – his own country – is not partially to blame for the state of affairs on the other side of the world. Islam helps fuel the fire, but we started it in the first place.

    • Grotoff

      Since when does Harris claim that American imperialism is good? He simply rejects it as an excuse. Muslim violence long predates American involvement in the region, and it will continue long after the petroleum dries up and the world goes back to not giving a damn about that ridiculous backwater.

      • aoscott

        You just did exactly what I described above. I never said he claimed American imperialism is good. Him rejecting it as an excuse is exactly my point. It is a huge part of the problem. A place like Somalia, for example, is fucked because we decided to finance the various warlords scattered across the country instead of the already weakened government, in order to pursue a pointless agenda to assassinate members of the Ba’ath party. Al-Qaida has a huge presence in Somalia today, which was virtually non-existent before we came along.

        Or take Yemen, where our cluster bombs and drone strikes have turned the population steadily against us. People who despise the extremists are now turning to them because they’re the only credible resistance to the fucked up shit we do there.

        • Grotoff

          Nonsense. Those places have been various degrees of fucked up since before the United States even existed. You can’t hand waive the ultimate and primary culpability of terrorists, whose terrorism is most frequently directed again local enemies, thanks to a little bad behavior from Washington.

          • aoscott

            Let me try to spell this out for you. I am not blaming the United States for a suicide bomber blowing up a shopping mall. I am blaming the United States for helping to facilitate those conditions.

            • Grotoff

              You are dismissing the role of religious ideology in the conducting of these attacks. That is what Harris is saying. You are highlighting peripheral bad behavior from the US government and attempting to obfuscate what the attackers themselves constantly assure us is their driving motivation.

              It isn’t the geopolitics of the US government driving them. It is their Salafist extremism. How many communist suicide bombers were there? None, because communism doesn’t have a justifying belief in an eternal life accessible via martyrdom. Beliefs matter.

              • aoscott

                No, I’m not. Harris has already laid out the role of religious ideology, there is no need for me to “lay it out” again as he has covered it quite well. I am simply pointing out that HE dismisses the role of the US, as do you.

                • Grotoff

                  Wasting time talking about peripheral concerns IS dismissing the primary concern.

    • Itarion

      Well, the US and the USSR together. Really, a lot of this stuff can be traced to the post WWII era, in which the less developed world got royally screwed in the political and ideological machinations of the first world.

      The fact that Islam is the main anti-West ideological drive is geographically dependent. If we screwed the Far East as much, we’d be facing Hindis and Buddhists. And, in fact, similar events did happen in the past. See the Boxer Rebellion, in which the Far East reacted poorly to imperialism.

  • Fran

    The original question by the journalist was about angry young men. I am interested to hear comments on the “men” bit. Where are the angry young women blowing people up.

  • MattG

    The reason why Sam Harris focuses on Islam in particular is because it just happens to be the most problematic religion in terms of dogmatism and violence. He is also addressing some on the left who naively and foolishly interpret Islamic terror as anything but Islamic. This is very dangerous and thus deserves the criticism Sam dishes out.

    I’ve read a few comments stating “It’s not religion exclusively, but rather dogmatic beliefs in general that is the cause of such violence…”. Sam concedes this point in case you didn’t know. He has said on many occasions the crux of the problem is dogmatism and irrational belief, however that doesn’t imply all dogmatism’s and irrational beliefs are as equally deranged and dangerous. Some are simply worse than others, namely Islam, and is more worthy of criticism and contempt.

  • phantomreader42

    So, 72% of muslims worldwide think suicide bombing is never justified, vs 81% of muslims in the USA. Do they have any data at all on non-muslims to make a meaningful comparison? I’ve seen US christians openly calling for using the same techniques used by suicide bombers to indoctrinate their children.


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