Building bridges to wickedness.

Geez, do I hate giving Chris Stedman any attention.  Over the last few years he, and some of the people to whom he has provided a platform, have taken shots at me when he knew I would not be able to fire back.  Though he attempts to build himself up as some type of hero standing against the atheist big wigs, that behavior has shown me what a coward he is.

Of course, now I can respond to Chris.  He’s got a column in the Religion Dispatches about atheists ignoring Islamophobia in which he takes issue with something I wrote.  Here’s the excerpt from the article.

When I expressed my concern about those comments, atheist blogger JT Eberhard wrote the following:

Islam is a shitty religion (more shitty than most, and try me if you don’t think we can defend that statement) and Muhammad was a pedophile, which has resulted in several Muslims continuing the practice. If Chris doesn’t like the word “shitty”, I wonder what adjective he would suggest. Horrible? Morally repugnant? Should we greet the anti-science, morally fucked up religion of Islam with an, “Oh shucks, that is pretty anti-humanity and doesn’t make much sense now does it?” How softly would be enough to get Stedman to relinquish his iron-clad grip on his pearls? Frankly, to call Islam shitty is like calling the surface of the sun warm.

Later in the post he claimed to just be “factually criticizing” Islam and Muslims, but even if that were his aim, several of the claims he put forth about Islam and Muslims were not only false, but were framed in a way that is likely to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment.

Well, let’s see the claims I put forth.

1.  Muhammad was a pedophile.

From wikipedia.

Aisha was six or seven years old when betrothed to Muhammad. Traditional sources state that she stayed in her parents’ home until the age of nine when the marriage was consummated with Muhammad, then 53, in Medina, with the single exception of al-Tabari, who records that she was ten.

And yes, other Muslim men attempting to live in the image of their prophet have continued the practice.

This is why we can see stories like that of Nujood Ali, an eight year-old forced to marry a man more than three times her age (who, under Sharia law, received compensation from Nujood’s family in the divorce).

Watch it, Chris.  Listen to it.  Her parents said they could not protect her because now she belonged to her husband.  Look at me and tell me that they would’ve done this without the influence of Islam.

There are countless other cases I could trot out.

2.  Islam is morally repugnant.

As if the worship of a pedophile wasn’t bad enough, we have the burqa which, itself, is an extension of the oppression of women inherent in Islam.  We also have the very idea of apostasy.  Again, from wikipedia.

The majority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.

There is no shortage of Muslims proclaiming this.

Islam is also anti-science.  Its presence in the Middle East has resulted in a populace far more ignorant of reality than they would’ve been without the dogma of Islam.  This concerns me.

So no, Chris.  These things happen.  They happen on account of the contents of Islam.  That some Muslims reject these portions of their faith speaks no more to the goodness of Islam than Christians rejecting the anti-homosexual portions of the bible speaks to the goodness of Christianity.

Speaking of which, Christianity is also a shitty faith.  From its condemnation of gay people to it’s lengthy list of reasons to kill your neighbor, to the idea that humans are loathsome by nature, to the idea that you could be eternally punished for your honest opinion, to the idea that we should believe things on faith, etc., Christianity is a shitty religion.  Some Christians manage to get away from some of that, but it does not rescue Christianity from being a shitty religion.  Nor should it keep us from ignoring Christianity’s malignant influence on hundreds of millions.  Ditto for Islam.

My criticism of Stedman has always been that he protects evil things from criticism.  This is a perfect example.  Take this sentence:

“…were framed in a way that is likely to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment.”

I’d make the correction of saying that it was framed in a way to incite anti-Islam sentiment.  I do not wish any ill against Muslims, but Islam is horrible, and I have no reservations in saying so.  Any moral human being should reject the horrors of Islam.  Likewise, I do not wish any ill against Christians, but Christianity is horrible, and I have no reservations in saying so.

But Chris offers up no defenses of the things I pointed out, and he offers no condemnation of Muhammad’s pedophilia.  He instead prioritizes trying to shame me for drawing attention to these things and for designating them as “shitty.”

He presents my disgust with Islam as evidence for “Islamophobia.”  Anybody without an axe to grind would call it “criticism.”  As Ed Brayton said (in a wonderful blog about this same article), Chris doesn’t seem to get the distinction between criticism of ideas and hatred of people.  This is a defense of religion that theists have used for some time now, to call every criticism of their beliefs prejudice/hate/whatever, and it poisons the well of ideas by suppressing criticism.  Criticism should be withdrawn when it’s wrong, not because it’s confused with bad intent toward the people holding those ideas.

That Chris can have all the charity in the world with faiths largely responsible for the anti-LGBT sentiment in the United States and abroad, but no charity for the guy saying that admiring a pedophile is bad, reveals more than enough about the person trying to build himself up as atheism’s good guy.  Give me atheists who tell the truth and who call out morally terrible things regardless of whose feelings get hurt.  Spare me the ones obstructing the criticism of horrors in an effort to build bridges.

Let’s delve further into Stedman’s article.  At one point he highlights Ernest Perce, as though essentially every atheist in the movement (including myself) hasn’t said he’s an embarrassment.  Nobody’s going to defend most of his shenanigans because he’s been made a pariah by the same movement Chris is suggesting has a problem of embracing Islamophobia (ironically using Perce as evidence for that).  Perce is out to offend, not to make legitimate critiques regardless of who it offends.  Big difference.  But Stedman would have us believe that he is somehow representative of this movement and its flaws on the whole.

Then he talks about a post by Kylie Sturgess.

When skeptic blogger Kylie Sturgess wrote a post about the Joplin mosque she was called “a terrorist” by a commenter.

There are four comments on that post.  Two of them are from Kylie, and the other two aren’t remotely offensive.  Perhaps the “terrorist” comment was deleted by Kylie, but then how does any honest person take one comment as representative of a “problem” in a whole movement?  If that’s the lengths to which you have to stretch to make your case, it might be time to re-examine some things.

Would you like to see the very next sentence in the article after the one quoted above?  Here ya go.

Of course, it’s hardly reasonable to be concerned solely on the basis of comments made by Internet “trolls.”

If that’s so, why cite an obvious internet troll while building your case?

Given all of the above, this part of the article makes me slam my head into my desk.

But while this silence is deeply troubling, I don’t want to suggest that, like some of those mentioned earlier, the atheist community at large necessarily has an Islamophobia problem—or that legitimate criticisms of Islam (or any other religions) constitutes Islamophobia.

If he’s sincere, then he clearly casts a very wide net when determining what is not “legitimate criticisms of Islam” and is “Islamophobia.”

I stand by what I said about Islam: it’s a shitty belief set and a shitty religion.  I can defend that, I have defended it, and Chris has done nothing to change my mind.  Does that mean all Muslims are shitty people?  No (although, no matter how much they’ve emancipated themselves from the contents of their holy books, they all must think faith is a good idea rather than a moral failing, which does cost them points in my book).  I don’t need to withhold criticism of a religion to prove that I don’t wish ill or inequality upon its adherents.  But Islam, like Christianity, is a shitty religion bursting at the seams with moral ideas that should be rejected out of hand, and despite the obviousness of that fact, you’ll never hear Chris Stedman echo the sentiment.  But you’ll sure hear him criticizing those with the integrity to voice it and bending the facts to serve his purpose.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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