A Thought Experiment

A Thought Experiment April 11, 2014

I have a thought experiment! Take a look at these sentences.

A: “I’m a libertarian. I believe in free market. I think free market only happens when everybody is taxed at least 90%, and the government owns everything and there is no private sector. That’s what Ayn Rand really meant.”

B: “I’m a Marxist. I believe that the correct interpretation of Socialism is to make sure workers have no right and that profit is more important. Like what happens in China. That’s what Karl Marx really meant.”

C: “I’m a feminist, but I believe work place equality is wrong and women should remain at home and only raise children. That’s what Mary Wollstonecraft really meant.”

D: “I’m a Muslim. I think Islam is a religion of peace and jihad is actually peaceful struggle, and that men and women are equal in the Quran. That’s what the Prophet Mohammad really meant.”

I don’t like to assume things about people, but I still think it’s a safe bet that people who easily agree and defend D, would laugh and call A, B, and C bullshit. Of course, it’s understandable that more people say D, because the attachment to religion is much emotionally stronger and intertwined with people’s identities, while about politics we feel much safer to move from one political position to another. Although, you’d be wrong to assume A, B, and C were never uttered. Some people, when faced with the accusation of sexism, jump to find a “feminist” justification for their sexist remarks, and in some countries capitalism and socialism have become so hegemonic that everyone tries to define themselves under their umbrellas.

I think people are contradictory when they come to religion, sometimes even strong atheists. Ultimately, religion is another ideology, like all of them it makes factual claims about how world and history works and from them extrapolates value claims about how it should work.

But we need to show people that they are not consistent with what they claim they are, because accuracy matters, and because if people are attached to ideologies for emotional rather than rational reasons, it’s our duty to undermine those emotional reasons for the sake of clarity and rationality. It might be hard or unfair to them on a purely personal level, but I think the cultural atmosphere that we skeptics need to create is one that encourages people to let go of their emotions and personal identities and look at ideologies with the eyes of a rational impersonal observer.

If you think that everyone is free to define everything personally, I strongly disagree. These ideologies all have rich traditions and international connotations, there are scholars in many fields from political science to literature who study them, and they are not your mother’s inheritance. If you claim to be part of a tradition, then you need to understand that tradition. You are very free to add to the discourse, but you are not free to reset the discourse. You are free to start a new ideology or a new political movement, you are not free to pervert the old ones.

But, I am being too generous to think that Islamophiles are actually this consistent – they’re not. They usually limit this courtesy only to de-facto atheists who are pretending to themselves that they are Muslims, out of cowardice to break away from the hegemonic discourse and join the members of marginalized classes like atheists. And they do that for their own motives, but ultimately they give special privilege to religion, and judge it differently from other ideologies.

And that’s exactly the problem with religion, that it is treated differently.

What do you think?

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