Why The Number of “Good Followers” Of A Faith Doesn’t Matter

Why The Number of “Good Followers” Of A Faith Doesn’t Matter March 28, 2015
A protest for the institution of shari'a in Maldives. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
A protest for the institution of shari’a in Maldives. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

There has been a talking point that has recently become the clarion call of religious apologists and New Atheist witch-hunters like Reza Aslan and CJ Werleman, which is that it doesn’t matter that Islam is interpreted by evil people as a license to do evil things, as 1.18 billion other Muslims follow the same creeds and don’t commit atrocities. This is also loosely lumped in with the “it has nothing to do with Islam” sentiment. “Atrocities,” I suppose, has a wide definition.

One can see how tempting this strange sort of utilitarian-esque reasoning is. There is, however, an alarming kind of hypocrisy in these sentiments, from people who generalize the “evils” of Western intervention to their downright abusive and nearly slanderous generalizations of New Atheism–but that’s the easy argument.

More integrally, it should be assumed that 1.18 billion Muslims that do not indulge in acts of abuse, mutilation, discrimination, murder, spiritual or physical jihad, or acts of far more obscene natures, have not received their temperance or their human solidarity from their faith. The bonds of human kindness far predate their religion, and the cultural threads of general courtesy to others is, in many instances, antithetical to the doctrines prescribed in many holy revelations. They are, as we are all, subject to their evolutionary psychology. Apostates and atheists the world over have achieved balanced moral compasses in seemingly far greater numbers without the need for a holy book to decide whether or not stoning an unbeliever is a moral act, or whether or not it is within the right of a man to force sex on a child. This extends beyond mere Islam, of course, but to every monotheism wherein a capricious plan balanced on bloodshed is necessary for salvation or far less lofty rewards.

So, yes, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other less notorious “splinter groups” of Islam constitute the far inferior minority. Let’s not throw that fact around any more as though it is itself a neoliberal revelation. Rather, it means that far more Muslims are reading their Koran and have found passages that give inspiration, precedent, or direct mandate to commit immoral actions, and against the otherwise prescribed notions of their faith–have chosen instead not to. 

Or that they have chosen to use their faith to indulge in the abusive in less globally moving ways: the child-slicing of Muharram, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse of children. The laundry list goes on.

Muslims self-flagellating during Muharram. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Muslims self-flagellating during Muharram. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

All people like CJ and Reza have done is repeatedly shout the “No True Muslim” fallacy, which is fine. It’s a place to start this kind of discussion. But my interest is much less what makes a believer but rather what myriad facets constitute the faith. If a book that commends itself to be universally dominant comes overflowing with precepts of insanely immoral actions, I’m inclined to think that “interpretation” is ultimately synonymous with rationalization. Who cares that Muhammad was a pedophile and a warmonger? Who cares that Jesus demanded that his followers abandon their families and exemplified the idea of scapegoating? Who cares that Abraham absolutely would have butchered his son like a goat on a mountaintop? “Oh,” apologists and believers and moderates cry, “These are metaphors, symbols, ideas. They’re not to be taken literally.”

The absolute word of your god or his prophet(s) isn’t supposed to be taken literally? Then what, if I may be so bold, is the fucking point?

This is where Sam Harris’s understanding of fundamentalism is so paramount: there is no such thing. Either a believer follows the word of his god to the letter or he is less-than-a-follower; he rationalizes, what in kinder terms would be called a moderate. Moderation, in these instances, is really only a hop away from secularism. They’ve established the pieces of their faiths that are morally abhorrent, and the morally inspiring sections are not original to their religions, nor are their religions required to utilize them. So let’s do away with the flippant dribble of 1.18 billion excellent Muslims not flying planes into skyscrapers: they haven’t morally glorified their faith, they’ve simply remained in the status quo of the billions of other non-Muslims who didn’t do the same repellent thing. The ideological difference then, is not between non-Muslims and “good” Muslims, but between “bad” Muslims and Christians and Jews–and everyone else. And in such a schism, in all cases at all times, faith is the only vindicator of these people who are, apparently, not examples of their religion.

In flying what is now my apparently “Islamophobic” and “intolerant” New Atheist flag (these glib, cheap conflations of the hatred of an idea and the hatred of people that embody it), I have found that real discussion on this topic cannot possibly be had until those defending religion are willing to say what it truly is and is not. If 1.18 billion Muslims don’t commit terrorism but still hang slavishly on the words of a man who married a nine-year-old, then we still have an ideological and moral problem, regardless of the IS inventory. Those who wish to erroneously combine this kind of anti-theism with racism are ignorantly free to do so: but it is a silly distraction. I am adamantly anti-pedophilia, anti-human sacrifice, anti-child sacrifice, anti-chauvinism, anti-rape. I am anti-prostration. I am anti-subservience. It just so happens that the broad course of “theism” tends to include these themes as positive assertions…moderately, of course.

In effect–1.18 billion Muslims haven’t joined the Islamic State. Excellent. Good for them. Neither have I. And I can’t give my faith the credit for that obviously moral choice, while those who were responsible for the atrocities in Raqqa, in Paris, in Iraq, etc., do claim absolutely that their faith was the sole arbiter of their just actions. But whether you choose to think that is the whole of worthy discussion or not: Islam itself, along with almost every other faith on this planet, still has reams of crimes for which to answer, as perhaps do the people who tout it as a moral philosophy.

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Afghan women in burqas waiting for USAID.
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