2013-04-13

Damned Lies, Statistics, and Muslims

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Recently a commenter posted a raft of figures supposedly establishing as fact that large segments of followers of the Muslim faith are supporters of terrorist violence. The commenter took the figures from an anti-Islamic hate website. The figures themselves are compiled on Muslim Opinion Polls: A Tiny Minority of Extremists?

muslimOpinPolls

I quote here the figures used to support some dire claims about Muslims along with the results of my own cross-checking of the sources for these figures.

Claim

Almost half of Muslims polled in 2006 supported Osama bin Laden (49.9%).

Fact

This claim is a loaded one. We will see that polling indicates that most Muslims in the Middle East refused to believe that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. That surely is a significant factor that is important for Westerners to understand. More on this later. Meanwhile . . . .

The poll is no longer available online so we cannot check the source and evaluate the figure against the questions asked and how they were framed and what audiences were targeted. But it does appear that the poll was an online one. That is, people check a tick box online. We don’t know if internet users were able to click multiple times from the one computer. Online polls are inevitably problematic in that we have little way to knowing how representative of wider society the respondents are.

The poll findings were reportedly released on an Al Jazeera news site but I have not been able to track down further details about where the poll questions were made available. Al Jazeera encompasses a wide range of audiences.

Nor do we know the actual context of the questions. In what sense did the respondents support Osama bin Laden? Did they believe he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and support him for that reason, or did they support him in a more generic sense of being one who stood up against the intrusion of Western power interests into the Middle East?

The figure of 49.9 % out of a total number of 41,260 clicks is nonetheless striking. So it is important to compare that figure with the findings of other polling with more transparent and valid methodologies.

A Pew poll in 2011 found that most Muslims do not believe Arabs carried out the 9/11 atrocities. So if there is any validity to those polls then we have to seriously consider the possibility that support for Osama bin Laden does not logically equate with support for the 9/11 attack. From a 2011 Pew poll:

doNotBelieveArabs

Was it different in 2006 when the 49.9% figure of support for Osama bin Laden was published?

No, according to a New York Times report on an earlier (2006) Pew poll:

In what the survey, part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project for 2006, called one of its most striking findings, majorities in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Turkey — Muslim countries with fairly strong ties to America — said, for example, that they did not believe that Arabs carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

So despite the association in Western countries of Osama bin Laden with 9/11, support for Osama bin Laden among most viewers of Al Jazeera in 2006 does not at all necessarily mean support for the 9/11 attacks on America. If large numbers of Muslims approved of the 9/11 attacks one would expect them to be proud to associate them with bin Laden.

And just to be sure, let’s have a look at Pew’s 2012 figures for Al Qaeda (after Bin Laden’s death). Keep in mind that most respondents very likely do not believe Al Qaeda was even responsible for 9/11:

alQaedaView

Claim

Sizable numbers polled by Pew suggest violence is accepted in defense of the faith by Muslims in Western democracies.:

26% of younger Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are justified.

35% of young Muslims in Britain believe suicide bombings are justified (24% overall).

42% of young Muslims in France believe suicide bombings are justified (35% overall).

22% of young Muslims in Germany believe suicide bombings are justified.(13% overall).

29% of young Muslims in Spain believe suicide bombings are justified.(25% overall).

Fact

Violence in defence of one’s faith? That’s surely a very vague term. How many Christians or Jews would not resort to defensive violence if they felt their beliefs and rights to worship were being threatened by a foreign power?

But then we look at the figures cited beneath this claim.

I thought we were about to see figures counting those who were asked if they felt violence in defense of their faith was justified. Nope, we see figures that purport to tell us how many “younger” Muslims “believe suicide bombings are justified”.

Yet we also see that the question asked was ambiguous: the question began with reference to “suicide bombing and other forms of violence“. The end of the question speaks of “this kind of violence”. So it is unclear if a respondent was thinking in terms exclusively of suicide bombing. So doubts are raised about what the Pew report claims these figures indicate.

Okay, let’s lay aside for a moment the question that entails all sorts of conditions that are related to defense of one’s faith. Let’s see what these figures claiming to tell us about support for suicide bombing are all about. The original website attributes them to a 2007 Pew poll. (Margins of error and methodology are explained from page 57 here.)

Here is the actual question asked along with responses:

suicidebombing

Here is the Pew Research Center explanation:

Can Suicide Bombing be Justified?
In addition to being more concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism, Muslims in the U.S. are far less likely than Muslims in other parts of the world to accept suicide bombing as a justifiable tactic. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. (78%) say that the use of suicide bombing against civilian targets to defend Islam from its enemies is never justified. In this regard, American Muslims are more opposed to suicide bombing than are Muslims in nine of the 10 other countries surveyed in 2006; opposition is somewhat greater among Muslims in Germany (83%).

Overall, 8% of Muslim Americans say suicide bombings against civilian targets tactics are often (1%) or sometimes (7%) justified in the defense of Islam. Muslims in France, Spain and Great Britain were twice as likely as Muslims in the U.S. to say suicide bombing can be often or sometimes justified, and acceptance of the tactic is far more widespread among Muslims in Nigeria, Jordan and Egypt.

There are few differences on this question in the United States across Muslim ethnic groups, but age is an important factor. Younger Muslims in the U.S. are more willing to accept suicide bombing in the defense of Islam than are their older counterparts. Among Muslims younger than 30, for example, 15% say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified (2% often, 13% sometimes), while about two-thirds (69%) say that such tactics are never justified. Among Muslims who are 30 or older, by contrast, just 6% say suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified, while 82% say such attacks are never warranted.

The higher levels of support for suicide bombing seen among young American Muslims resembles patterns found among Muslims in Europe, where Muslims also constitute a minority population. In Great Britain, France and Germany, Muslims under the age of 30 are consistently the least likely to say that suicide bombing is never justified. In other words, the share who think suicide bombing against civilians can ever be justified, even if rarely, is higher among those younger than 30 compared with those who are older. About a quarter (26%) of younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombing can at least rarely be justified, 17 percentage points higher than the proportion of Muslims ages 30 and older (9%) who share that view. The age gap is about as wide in Great Britain (18 percentage points) but somewhat narrower in Germany (12 points), France (11 points) and Spain (7 points).

cansuicidebomgingever

I wonder what I would do if I found myself in a country under the heel of another power, or agent of another power, that was opposed to everything I believed in. What if I were living under an extremist Islamic dictatorship that ruled almost entirely with the support of a foreign power and was hated by most of my fellow citizens who would truly like a democracy? (Are there any Middle Eastern nations where people are currently experiencing that very situation?)

Am I suggesting Muslims in the Middle East really want democracy? Of course. Everyone knows that, don’t they?

Are there any circumstances that would prompt me to volunteer to give up my life to strike a blow against those I saw as oppressors or occupiers?

But whatever way one looks at the original figures, it is clearly misleading to say that 26% of younger Americans believe suicide bombings are justified. That sounds as if the justification is routine. Yet the figures tell a different story. They make a clear distinction between “ever justified”, “sometimes justified” “rarely justified” and “never justified”. The original question, furthermore, is unclear whether it is referring specifically to suicide bombing.

What if my country was under the rule of Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia, or a radical Islamic sect? Would I be prepared to give up my life to strike against those people I saw as my occupiers and oppressors if I felt there was a chance it would help stoke fear that would eventually lead to the withdrawal of that power? What if I were under 30?

In other words, stop and think about the question — once you have discovered it. What does “ever justified” mean?

That 26% American Muslim figure suddenly drops to 5% “rarely justified” when the question is applied to civilian targets.

Do we begin to sense a little tendentiousness in the way the “ReligionOfPeace” website has cumulated figures into a cloud of anti-Muslim deception?

Claim

Huge segments of the Muslim population supported attacking the US:

61% of Egyptians approve of attacks on Americans

32% of Indonesians approve of attacks on Americans

41% of Pakistanis approve of attacks on Americans

38% of Moroccans approve of attacks on Americans

83% of Palestinians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (only 14% oppose)

62% of Jordanians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (21% oppose)

42% of Turks approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (45% oppose)

A minority of Muslims disagreed entirely with terror attacks on Americans:

(Egypt 34%; Indonesia 45%; Pakistan 33%)

Conclusion:

Suggesting large segments of the Muslim faith are peaceful followers of Allah and that lumping them in with radical elements is hyperbole is just not supported by polling data.

Fact

61% of Egyptians approve of attacks on Americans

Wow, that’s not the impression I gained from all the news footage not so long ago of events in Tahrir Square or from all the tourists I hear who visit Egypt. This is indeed most shocking! So I checked the source:

Here is what I found:

1. Rejection of Attacks on American Civilians

Large majorities denounce attacks on American civilians, whether in the US or in a Muslim country, though there has been some softening in the numbers who hold this view strongly. Most reject the argument that such attacks are the only way to get the US to listen to the Islamic people and a growing percentage perceive them as an ineffective method for achieving political ends. As a general principle large majorities reject the use of violent methods such as bombings and assassinations to achieve political goals.

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So where does the 61% of Egyptians approving attacks on Americans come from?

It takes quite a bit of dogged perseverance to find it in the cited source. Here it is:

First, there is this question that was asked:

7. Views of Groups That Attack Americans

In regard to the generic category of groups that attack Americans, views are divided. Only small numbers in all countries say they would speak favorably of such groups or would approve if a family member were to join such a group. However, significant numbers say they would at least have mixed feelings if a family member were to join such a group and more people say they express approval of such groups to others than say they express disapproval.

Consistent with this possible ambivalence about al Qaeda, respondents tended to show divided feelings about the general category of Muslim groups that attack Americans. Respondents were asked how they felt about “groups in the Muslim world that attack Americans” on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning not all supportive and 10 meaning very supportive. It should be noted that the question did not specify whether these would be attacks on civilians or military forces, because in fact such groups tend to do some of both.

Alert readers might wonder where this is leading. Note the question is not whether you approve of attacks on Americans, but what you thought of the groups that do this. There is no clarification on whether these groups in the respondents’ minds were military, whether they were in the Middle East even or in a state of war, or were complex organizations that incorporated charity work as well (as some do) or what other things these groups did that might affect feelings towards them.

Here are the results:

2png;base64d1d45b926ab0d717

Now we come to the 61% figure:

In a different question respondents were asked: “Thinking about groups in the Muslim world that attack Americans, would you say you disapprove of all these groups, approve of some but disapprove of others, or approve of all or most of these groups?”

In Egypt a majority (52%) said they approved of some groups that attack Americans; another 9 percent approved of most such groups, while 29 percent disapproved of all of them.

52% + 9% = 61%

Of that 61%, 52% said they approved of some groups that attack Americans. Presumably these are mostly military targets — in the Muslim world (not anywhere in the world) — since we saw at the beginning of the survey that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians oppose attacks on American civilians.

I’ve done enough of the hard yards on this site. I’m happy to leave it to others to try a similar exercise in relation to the other figures:

32% of Indonesians approve of attacks on Americans

41% of Pakistanis approve of attacks on Americans

38% of Moroccans approve of attacks on Americans

83% of Palestinians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (only 14% oppose)

62% of Jordanians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (21% oppose)

42% of Turks approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (45% oppose)

So many of us seem to be so quick to swallow whatever we read on the internet if it appeals to our prejudices.

Incidentally, I should comment that I am not happy with the above figures. There really is too much support for violence — even 1% is too much. What I find reassuring, though, is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims evidently think likewise. This is particularly reassuring given that most of them have strong ties of some sort to a region that has experienced the iron-boot of dictatorships (ongoing in Saudi Arabia and her neighbours) imposed and maintained by Western powers, invasions and the undermining of/coups against democratically elected governments at the behest of Western powers who have feared losing control of the strategic and resource rich region. And then there are those ungrateful Palestinians who, expelled from their homes and farms and living under foreign occupation or siege, refuse to vote the right way even when given democracy . . . .

I think we owe it to ourselves and our Muslims brothers and sisters to support the overwhelming majorities in their opposition to the extremists in their midst.

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82 Comments

  • 2013-04-14 00:43:53 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

    You know the first rule about holes, Neil?

    • 2013-04-14 02:29:05 UTC - 02:29 | Permalink

      +1 RL, if that could change anything (grin).

    • muuh-gnu
      2013-04-14 04:37:14 UTC - 04:37 | Permalink

      I think that for some reason, he has a very personal axe to grind. I have no idea what that reason might be, but I think that it is crazy to put the reputation and intellectual integrity of Vridar at stake to to protect his “Muslim brothers and sisters” from criticism.

      Vridar needs to have a good reputation to be taken seriously by its opponents in the uphill battle of showing that Jesus didnt exist, and polluting this reputation and this blog by laughably naive islam-is-a-religion-of-peace propaganda is something I really wish Neil didnt have done. It greatly diminished the value of Vridar as a source to link to. It is sad.

      • 2013-04-14 06:34:46 UTC - 06:34 | Permalink

        There is so much wrong with what you just wrote there, that I’m not sure where to start.

        First, Neil’s personal axe, Mr. muuh-gnu, is a the search for the truth. The fact that you can’t see that reflects badly on you. The “reputation and intellectual integrity of Vridar” absolutely depends on that search.

        Second, Vridar is not a mythicist blog. You guys really need to read Neil’s post, Why I’m Doing This, and let it sink in. Let me quote from it here:

        When I see academics or any public figure publishing or pronouncing bullshit, I feel I have a responsibility to challenge them if their nonsense impacts negatively on the wider community. I will challenge them to justify their claims, and make it clear to others when they are unable to do so.

        And I guess this is where this blog comes in. It is part of a life that has been active in social justice, political and environmental causes. I sometimes think I have done all I can do with exposing the bullshit behind some biblical scholarship, and the more understandable and honest fallacies of other biblical scholarship, and promoting a more consistent and intellectually honest alternative approach to the Bible.

        The Internet and the media in general are awash with anti-Islamic bullshit that needs to be called out. The same people who are accusing liberals of being soft on Islam are the same lying bags of crap who said we were soft on communism, soft on crime, soft on you-name-it. These people salivate at the coming “clash of civilizations.”

        Third, we have never bought into the “laughably naive islam-is-a-religion-of-peace propaganda.” There are peaceful Muslims. There are violent Muslims. There are peaceful Christians. There are violent Christians. Islam swept across Northern Africa under force of arms. Christianity swept across the entire Western Hemisphere under force of arms. Both religions enslaved millions. On the other hand, both Christians and Muslims have fed the hungry, helped the poor, tended to the sick, comforted the dying. Both religions have the capacity for good and evil.

        Finally, I don’t expect you to accept or understand any of what I just wrote. And that’s your right as a free human being. I really don’t give a rat’s ass. You can continue to think that what Neil has been writing about lately has “greatly diminished the value of Vridar.”

        But you are wrong. Neil is following the charter of Vridar and is following his conscience. I support him completely, not only because I consider him a friend, but also because he is right.

        • Jason Goertzen
          2013-04-17 04:32:20 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

          Neil, this is exactly the kind of “bending over backwards” that I was talking about in the comments of the other post. You see data indicating that 25% of *British* Muslims don’t agree with the phrase “suicide bombing is never justified in defense of the faith,” and your reaction is to be reassured that most don’t? I know you say that even 1% is obviously too much, but are you really reassured by figures indicating that support is ten times greater than “too much”? You also seem to misunderstand the relevance of comparing older to younger Muslims in the statistics: it shows that the support is growing substantially, rather than shrinking. I can’t fathom how this is reassuring.

          Your entire critique of Harris et al. hinges on militant Islam being a tiny minority. Even your reading of these statistics, which bends over backwards to see them in as positive a light as possible, paints a far grimmer picture than you need to make your case that it’s unfair or irrational to criticize “Islam” when talking about suicide bombing, threats against cartoonists, etc.

          That being said I want to chime in against those who think you’re off your rocker, or shouldn’t be posting this on your blog. Absurd. It’s your blog, for starters, but mostly, I’ve admired your honestly, and tenacious pursuit of the truth. We may disagree on this point–but heck, I don’t always agree with your interpretation of this or that Bible passage, or your assessment of the probability of this or that historical reconstruction. I don’t know why anyone would think you shouldn’t post this particular thing just because they don’t agree with you. It’s ironic, really, given that one of the most common critiques of “Islam” is its tendency to silence criticism/blasphemy.

          • Jason Goertzen
            2013-04-17 04:33:03 UTC - 04:33 | Permalink

            Oops. I posted this as a reply. Oh well.

          • 2013-04-17 06:31:41 UTC - 06:31 | Permalink

            You are missing my point entirely, Jason. I am hardly bending over backwards to demonstrate anything. I am merely pointing to the evidence for the simple fact that Muslims cannot be defined by extremists.

            It is all fine for theoretical models and discussions to define an entire people by the full range of a bell curve — by that standard we have to conclude that democratic U.S. and Australia are dangerous because of the loonies they include at their extremes. (Okay, maybe there are good arguments that they are dangerous, but not for that reason.)

            I don’t know anyone who isn’t concerned about Islamic extremists, including (especially) Muslims themselves. For you to suggest that I am saying we don’t have to be concerned about those extremists tells me I have failed to communicate my argument to you from the get go. I certainly do not bend over backwards to deny extremism is a problem and a danger. I would think twice before visiting a country if I heard official warning of a high risk of an imminent terrorist attack there.

            I’ve repeated my argument so many times now, so perhaps it’s more productive at this stage to ask you to paraphrase what you believe my point is in the post above — preferably with reference to my own words — and we can go from there.

            • Jason Goertzen
              2013-04-17 08:01:34 UTC - 08:01 | Permalink

              You’re right, it’s clear we’re not hearing each other well. I think the reason I’m finding it difficult to pin your position down is that you say true things in support of your criticism of those who have made public their belief that growing belief in Islam is a concern.

              Your main points, as far as I’ve been able to gather has been that (1) not ALL of Islam is dangerous, it is a small minority of extremists; so it’s unfair and unhelpful to lump the non-violent Muslims in with the violent ones.

              We have disagreed over whether it’s fair to criticize someone for using this shorthand. You consider it (2) equivalent to racism, in that it’s applying the characteristics of a subset of a group to the group itself.

              While I get that we should be hesitant to do this, I don’t consider this a fair assessment, as it ignores that the subset not only grew but continues to grow out of the larger group–and in a way that stems from the larger group’s beliefs. Militant Islam is an extreme, and literal form of Islam– not a belief system unrelated to mainstream Islam. That the non-extremists’ Koranic criticism has all the hallmarks of implausible and stale apologetics, for instance, might have something to do with why zealous young Muslims are being convinced to favour a more literal (and, frankly, plausible) interpretation. Understand, of course, I think both interpretations involve believing nonsense, but one is at least honest about what the text says.

              Finally you (3) criticize those who appeal to the fact that the problem also exists at the level of moderate Muslims, who are insufficiently critical of the extremists, and sometimes explicitly support the extremists actions. Here your argument seems to once again be that “it’s not the majority that support them.”

              But it doesn’t have to be a majority for the Harrises and Hitchens of the world to be correct. If 15% percent of *British* Muslims feel it’s often or sometimes justified to blow yourself up along with a bunch of innocent people to protect Islam, then Harris is *right* that an alarming percentage of the “moderates” don’t have what we’d normally consider to be moderate opinions. That’s a cause for alarm–one which once again undercuts the idea that it is prejudice (on par with racism!) to admit that there is a problem with Islam, and not just with the tiny minority of terrorists.

              When I point these things out, you reply that you are “merely pointing to the evidence for the simple fact that Muslims cannot be defined by extremists.” But nobody is saying that Muslims can be defined by extremists. That’s the whole point. If this is all you are saying, then you’re not disagreeing with anyone–certainly not with Harris or Hitchens. People are saying that (a) the Islamic world is producing extremists at an alarming rate and the (b) even ‘non-extremist’ Muslims support extreme actions at a shocking, and disturbing rate, as demonstrated by the very statistics you bring to bear on the subject.

              I hope I’ve captured the disagreement, and provided what’s needed for you to clarify. I’ll leave you with one question that summarizes why I feel it is ‘bending over backwards’: What percentage of Muslims would have to support suicide bombing before you’d agree that “We have a problem with Islam in the world”?

              • 2013-04-17 08:09:08 UTC - 08:09 | Permalink

                As I see it you are treating the Muslim religion as a monolithic behemoth which sprouts a few extremist tentacles and is continuing to sprout more and more of these. Therefore, though the relative number of tentacles coming from this behemoth is not large compared with the total number of tentacles, that such a behemoth can produce any such dangerous limbs at all is a worry, and even more of a worry if it is growing more of these all the time.

                Is that your position?

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-04-17 08:26:38 UTC - 08:26 | Permalink

                An interesting analogy that captures the a significant chunk of it, yeah. Like any analogy, it has its weaknesses, though. For instance, I don’t find it adequately captures the fact that it seems to be the very nature of the beast to produce such tentacles, or that there is evidence the rate of tentacle sprouting is increasing, or that the behemoth seems insufficiently inclined to lop off the offending member, if you’ll excuse the apt reference. 🙂

              • 2013-04-17 13:24:44 UTC - 13:24 | Permalink

                My argument is that there is no such beast, or behemoth, that is growing such tentacles. This sort of image is similar to the propaganda of the cold war where communism was similarly pictured as a monster spreading its totalitarian tentacles out across the globe.

                The image of a ‘behemoth’ — whose very nature is to produce such dangerous tentacles and who has no inclination to do anything, not even diet, to stop such tentacles from sprouting, and from whom the tentacles are growing at an accelerating rate, that is the image presented by Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne and that I am arguing against. That is the image that evidence demonstrates has no basis in reality, but is entirely the product of imagination fueled by fear.

                The image dissolves into nothing once one begins to study the Muslims depicted – both mainstream ones and especially those who are the focal points of the extremist movements.

                The extremist and violent version of Islam that we see today is a phenomenon that was not there a few generations ago. It is this relatively recent phenomenon that needs to be explained. The factual evidence points to the bulk of Muslims not wishing to have any association with violent extremists who claim the same name of Muslim as they.

                Bell curve images are a useful theoretical tool, but we misuse them badly if we imagine them as presenting fat bellied behemoth realities of the sort you are imagining Islam to be.

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-04-18 07:14:07 UTC - 07:14 | Permalink

                Just when I thought we were finally starting to understand each other. : I guess I was right to have reservations about that analogy, because it turns out you had in mind something far more sinister than what I thought when I agreed that it was basically representative of what I think. It turns out you had in mind not a giant that had some dangerous tentacles growing out of it, but a swarming mass of nothing-but-tentacles. Needless to say, I reject this as anything like representative of my view of Islam, and I am almost certain Harris, Dawkins or Coyne would too.

                I’ll give it one last go, since I’m afraid we might go in circles forever on this. My view is not that Islam is one monolithically violent entity, but that belief in Islam causes enough harm in the world to make the statement “belief in Islam is harmful” a true statement. How does this work?

                It works the same way it works when describing any other belief as harmful. When skeptics point out that belief in homeopathy is harmful, they don’t mean that it harms everyone who believes it, or even most people that believe it. They mean that sometimes people who believe homeopathy works actually take that belief seriously enough to not seek any other medical attention, which causes them harm. Since belief in homeopathy can cause harm, those who spread the belief are, inadvertently and indirectly, causing harm. The world would be a better place if nobody believed in homeopathy.

                The same, I’m afraid, is true of the (false!) belief that Allah exists, that Mohammed was His Prophet Par Excellence, and that the Koran represents the perfect communication from Allah through Mohammed. In the majority of cases, these beliefs might by benign. But other times they are instrumental and necessary to terrible harm being inflicted on people who believe it, on people who don’t, and especially on people who used to. This harm comes in the form of sexism and homophobia, but also in the form of acts of lethal violence. As with homeopathy, it doesn’t have to be a majority of the time—just enough of the time to make it true to say that the world would be a better place if nobody held these false beliefs.

                I will end with a list of premises which, together, entail that belief in Islam is harmful. I’d like you to point out which of them you disagree with, since you claim that you don’t even believe “the behemoth exists,” which I find contrary to many things you’ve appeared to agree with, but not find relevant. Please point out which, specifically, you find false.

                1) There are a spectrum of religious beliefs which all self-identify as Islam, each of which shares the core beliefs I listed above.

                1b) Many of these subsets of Islam exist in stark opposition to each other, insisting (sometimes violently) that the others are false religions.

                2) While most Muslims spiritualize and take metaphorically the places in the Koran where violent intolerance of other faiths is encouraged, some subsets take these sections seriously and literally.

                2b) This understanding of Islam directly contributes to violent aggression; explicitly religious reasons are given.

                3) The violent subset is growing as a proportion of the whole, not shrinking.

                3b) Those who turn to the more literal and violent form of Islam often first embrace Islam under the instruction of non-extremists.

                4) The majority of Muslims oppose the violence, but this majority is thin in some areas of the world, and even in the places where it is strongest, support of the violence is around 10%–a full order of magnitude than what you’d consider “too much.”

                4b) What is more, this support is growing in younger populations.

                And finally, I would like you to answer the question I asked before: what percentage of Muslims would have to support the violence before you would consider it fair to say that belief in Islam is problematic?

              • 2013-04-18 08:49:42 UTC - 08:49 | Permalink

                I understood your model exactly as you describe it. It is a bell-curve beast and at one end it has several extremist tentacles that are growing and mulitiplying and the viruses in the belly of the beast are doing next to nothing to stop that.

                Left unchecked we face nothing but dark terror from Islam.

                Actually you are arguing from the perspective of a very high conceptual level that causes problems when translated into relating it to reality. I myself have argued that Christianity per se — even the Catholics and Anglicans, are responsible, at one level, for the violence committed by some of the extremist Christian sects. The reason: they extol the importance of faith etc etc. At a theoretical level, and in a certain general background sense, that’s true. But if we were to see extremist Christian sects growing we would focus entirely on those extremists and know full well that it would be counter-productive, a waste of resources, to say that the “belief in Christianity” is itself a threat that needs to be dealt with. Because the extremists share “core beliefs” with the mainstream that identify them as “Christian”, is it helpful to say that those core beliefs “contribute directly” to the extremists and are therefore to be censured for all?

                The very fact that subsets of Christianity do stand in “stark opposition to each other, insisting (sometimes violently in history) that others are false religions” make it clear that we cannot blame Christianity per se for extremist sects. There must be other factors that come into the mix that must be of primary significance.

                You continue to speak of “belief in Islam” as if that is THE source of everything ALL Muslims believe and act upon. You even suggest that Muslims who take “seriously and literally” the Koran are truer to Islam than those who read the Koran figuratively. On the contrary, several passages in the Koran that have been used to support violence do not instruct Muslims to kill today but such instruction must be read into the verses as surely as Christians and Jews need to read into God’s commands to Joshua a call for them, also, to fight the heathen.

                But you are missing a more important key point here. You are making a judgement call on the seriousness of what people believe and the nature of what they believe without respect for or input from the believers themselves. That is, you are pre-judging Muslims. The noun is prejudice. You are not drawing your information about what they believe from the believers but from your own reading of the Koran. Do you really think your reading, from the perspective of your culture and political biases, is going to yield a true indication of what the native practitioners believe?

                On the one hand you say that “this understanding of Islam directly contributes to violent aggression; explicitly religious reasons are given.” Can you demonstrate that hypothesis? How long has that understanding existed? When did it arise? In what context? And what were the explicit reasons given, really? They were political, at least that’s the researched scholarly study of Robert Pape. Suicide bombers have made their very political reasons very, very clear.

                Islam has had a long history. The extremist violence we are seeing in the world as it related to Islam began in the last few years of the twentieth century. And it was more widely supported in some nations than in others. These are the facts that need to be explained.

                As for your final question, the reason I do not answer it is because I reject its assumption. I do not believe that “core beliefs in Islam” — those shared by ALL Muslims and specifically identify Islam from other religions — “support violence”. Simply asserting that they do does not make it so. I have attempted to counter such assertions with hard facts. But as I posted once before, facts never changed any unwilling mind.

      • 2013-04-14 09:09:49 UTC - 09:09 | Permalink

        Just a side note. I used to have a blog I called “sweetreason”* that I intended to reserve for political and social commentary. I soon realized, however, that I had little new to say on that. I mean, I had lots to say, but I also soon realized others were saying the same things and saying them from the vantage of a much higher profile than I could hope for. So I scrapped Sweetreason and decided to use Vridar for my occasional posts on those topics, too. I have felt somewhat frustrated in recent times for letting Vridar become almost entirely focused on biblical topics. There are a lot more important issues than biblical studies that seriously need addressing and it is clear that there are not nearly enough voices addressing some of these serious issues. Or at least those addressing these issues are too often marginalized by bigotry. The Bible is not the only area where so many people have been habituated into thinking with their glands.

        * I liked the name sweetreason because it carried the implication that a reasonable approach to so many issues really does, all too often, sound like treason to those who have never learned to look beyond and question the reports of mainstream media and political leaders.

        • Jason Goertzen
          2013-04-17 04:35:31 UTC - 04:35 | Permalink

          “Sweetreason.” Great name.

    • 2013-04-14 04:52:22 UTC - 04:52 | Permalink

      You need to dig them to build solid foundations?

      • 2013-04-14 08:22:16 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink

        in re: “You know the first rule about holes, Neil?” The other replies hadn’t showed up when I replied. And my joke wasn’t lame enough, so I’m explaining it.

  • 2013-04-14 04:32:34 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

    Some good points, I think, Neil. But regarding your statement; “How many Christians or Jews would not resort to defensive violence if they felt their beliefs and rights to worship were being threatened by a foreign power?” [also: “Are there any circumstances that would prompt me to volunteer to give up my life to strike a blow against those I saw as oppressors or occupiers?] Since Jews don’t accept Christianity’s New Testament as guidance, therefore must feel the Old Testament’s violent aspects may still be in force, I can’t speak to what any believing Jew might do; not can I speak to what any Christian group that accepts violence as a tactic, at any time or in any way whatsoever might do, much as how the Catholic Church has long accepted that violence must sometimes be used for its political objectives, just not violence by its priesthood for PR reasons apparently.

    But what I do know about is what a Christian who actually follows the New Testament’s teachings is supposed to do. They are supposed to go into the public arena whenever possible and preach their nonviolent gospel of Jesus (about how he died for the world, without Jesus fighting back, in order to save people from their sins and hell… and that people need to not merely believe in him to obtain that salvation but to obediently follow his nonviolent example in everything since their rewards for that come in heaven, not here)—while no violence of any kind is to ever be allowed by Jesus’ spokespersons (except something like spanking one’s child for that child’s own good, which has long been viewed as beneficial for certain ones as well as responsible by a parent)—that is, JESUS’ FOLLOWERS ARE NOT TO RESORT TO ANY KIND OF PHYSICAL ATTACK EVER… which means that if or when an authority or a “foreign power” forbids their “rights to worship,”—and even if such a power decides to imprison a Christian for that, or even kill a Christian for his or her exercise of their freedom of speech and religion—then that person MUST, according to their own New Testament principles/guidelines, submit to imprisonment or to even being killed (for the glory of the Kingdom of God and Jesus). The only recourse that such a person would ever have in such a situation, according to the New Testament, would be to continue to preach the gospel of Jesus even if commanded to stop doing that by an earthly authority, as how Peter is shown to have done in Acts when faced with that situation. No matter what any type of supposed “Christian” has done (as a Crusader in Palestine or a bomber in Ireland, or elsewhere) supposedly in “behalf” of their faith in some way or even their right to worship (which might include, in the opinion of some, trying to rid themselves of an evil/totalitarian rule) if any have ever resorted to violence, then according to NT principles/policies/instructions on that, they have only proven that they do not know what being a real NT type Christian was originally established to be and did not make the cut as actually being one.

    This is in great measure why the Reformation happened, even though some Protestants ended up disappointing on that as well. Yet the Protestants who have paid close attention to what their primary or even singular book for their guidance says (pragmatically being only the NT when push comes to shove)—i.e., Prostestantism’s alert readers—are well aware that many have been imprisoned, or worse (since NT times) as many adherents to that kind of Christian faith remained COMPLETELY—100%—NONVIOLENT… like John Bunyan as well as most of the translators of the Bible to the languages of the common people [unless of course mythicists in the HJ debate would like the say that John Bunyan and most of those translators of the Bible from Latin into languages like English did not exist]… even as that kind of nonviolence was the same tactic used by Martin Luther King Jr., which proved to be so utterly effective in behalf of civil rights. Meanwhile, I cannot believe that so many who are overly liberal haven’t yet fully some to recognize the effectiveness of that nonviolent approach! Like the approach of Martin Luther King Jr., the approach of John Bunyan, the approach of the translators of the Bible into English—as they essentially followed both the approach and example of Jesus himself. (Don’t worry, I’m still an atheist.)

    • 2013-04-14 08:42:09 UTC - 08:42 | Permalink

      Sorry about two typos just above. I pledge to make myself do better in the future for this great blog.

  • 2013-04-14 05:27:25 UTC - 05:27 | Permalink

    Back in 2010 I posted Why Facts Backfire (Why facts don’t change people’s opinions).

    I should have linked it here as a “related post”.

  • 2013-04-14 06:07:08 UTC - 06:07 | Permalink

    Good work, Neil; keep it up. In our Islamophobic climate, this is rather more important than picking over the minutia of early Christian studies.

    I use the term “Islamophobic” pointedly. Such terms (like “antisemitism” or “homophobia”) tend to be obscurantist blankets for distrust, fear, dislike, hatred, or simple disagreement with individual ideas, broad ideolologies, tiny fringe movements, or vast, irreconcilably diverse populations. They rarely serve to enhance understanding. Aside from being semantic hashwork or etymological nonsense, they’re meant to distance conversants from the subject at hand; to taunt or demonize. But, as you help demonstrate, there should be little doubt that Western society has suffered from a particularly irrational fear of Islam as a whole since 9/11. Of course, such fears (and the hatred and violence that spring from them) are not unique to any side; nor is calling anyone “Islamophobic” likely to help anything.

    • 2013-04-14 07:03:09 UTC - 07:03 | Permalink

      “… In our Islamophobic climate, this is rather more important than picking over the minutia of early Christian studies.”

      Oh if only they would pick over minutia instead of strapping on bombs, shooting girls in the head, lawfully cutting off body members, throwing acid, killing over cartoon Muhammed, etc. Now us minutia-pickers are being unfairly maligned.

      Added Bonus: NG commenting on the post ‘Use and abuse of the Bible PT1’

      “The Muslim thing is important. These posts are just a hobby.”

      God/Allah have mercy on us all.

      • 2013-04-14 07:30:15 UTC - 07:30 | Permalink

        Depending on what you mean by “they” (some few Muslems or all of them) I would agree. And if only Christians would pick over minutia instead of murdering gays and abortion doctors, promoting overpopulation and the spread of AIDS, enabling and protecting child-rapists, etc…. But how are we minutia-pickers getting maligned?

      • 2013-04-14 08:23:44 UTC - 08:23 | Permalink

        Let the FACTS respond. From a July 2012 Pew Poll:

        Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 8.19.12 AM

  • 2013-04-14 10:53:51 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

    There are two ways of responding to these sorts of posts. Readers can follow Jerry Kiss-My-Arse Coyne and hate and ignore them, or one can seriously grapple with and respond to the evidence and argument they contain.

    • 2013-04-14 12:48:21 UTC - 12:48 | Permalink

      NG, if you will allow me to give a third way: Bemusement sprinkled with surprise when considering the source of the zealotry. If you could imagine opening a can of your favorite soup and having 10w-30 oil pour out instead you might empathize just a wee bit with some of us loyal readers. Not that I have anything against high grade motor oil, its just my concern the ‘new’ normal means much less of my favorite soups to more of this specious lubricant. To give an example:

      “I think we owe it to ourselves and our ______ brothers and sisters to support the overwhelming majorities in their opposition to the extremists in their midst.”

      You could just fill in the blank with any of history’s non-indicted co-conspirators. Weak sauce coming from an unexpected source. What does it mean to those of us used to Vridar’s top-notch bible postings? Uh, did I mention bemusement & surprise already (blush)… certainly re-evaluation of that ‘minutia of early Christian studies’ herein. My2c, take care and maybe think about switching to decaf for a while.

      • 2013-04-14 13:02:49 UTC - 13:02 | Permalink

        2 cents is highly inflated. So you cannot bring yourself to grapple with the evidence or argument. Your reaction is no different from that of the loyal members of the proverbial totalitarian ideological state finding it inconceivable that anyone could question its founding ideology. Anyone who does so is relegated to the status of a clown, a village idiot, a candidate for an asylum, someone to be treated with uncomprehending bemusement.

        I present researched evidence, both from Robert Pape and from serious polling, and you cannot accept it, understand it, absorb it, register it. Why facts don’t change people’s opinions, indeed.

  • 2013-04-14 14:31:47 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

    Poe’s law.

    • 2013-04-14 17:00:52 UTC - 17:00 | Permalink

      Not Poe’s law at all. You know very well I am serious and that your reply is nothing but sarcasm because you have no argument.

      You are responding like a theologian who has never been challenged to examine his assumptions. He cannot believe anyone could possibly seriously consider Jesus was a myth, so much so he cannot even bring himself to respond seriously to the arguments. Every response will be ridicule, dismissal, or disdain.

      I challenge you to seriously respond to the argument of my post. Prove to me where my argument is wrong. You clearly cannot.

      Till then you are responding like one of those who, in the Soviet system, would sympathize with the policy of consigning a dissident to a mental asylum.

      You wrote:

      Oh if only they would pick over minutia instead of strapping on bombs, shooting girls in the head, lawfully cutting off body members, throwing acid, killing over cartoon Muhammed, etc. Now us minutia-pickers are being unfairly maligned.

      I call you out for posting hate-filled slander against a whole group of people. In the McCarthy era many people failed to see until too late that they were behaving as ignorantly and spitefully as the citizens of seventeenth century Salem. We are entering those days again with Muslims as the substitute for Reds under our beds.

  • 2013-04-15 00:55:59 UTC - 00:55 | Permalink

    I wouldn’t write this comment on a blog or site where Christians are likely to read it since far too many constantly look for any tidbit they can use to help fuel their aggressive proselytization practices; even as it’s the aggressive proselytization practices of both Christianity and Islam that I see as needing to be effectively countered.

    I’ve had a next door neighbor for something like twelve years who lives alone and is about 80 years old at this time. She doesn’t go to a regular evangelical type church, but something a bit more moderate. I know her very well and we reciprocate favors having to do with house maintenance and the like from time to time. Almost every time I see her I think to myself what a good person she is. She is what one might think of as the best product that Christianity could ever hope to produce for society, I think, if we were to give Christianity its amount of due credit for however much it has contributed to the way she is and lives.

    I would like to also feel that way about many Muslims, which I think your posts on Islam have helped me move in that direction a bit, Neil. Yet as an avid atheist now, after having had much experience with religion and its claims—as if a young man might think he should invest himself fully into something like that were it true—I do not wish to encourage the further spread of Islam either (or any religion now). I do think that atheists not viewing Muslims as all being the same is much more important now, in response to the reasons you have pointed out for that, Neil. Yet, with that, I plan to continue to assert that Islam is inherently flawed much the same as before.

    • 2013-04-16 15:15:04 UTC - 15:15 | Permalink

      I’m OK with the idea the Islam is inherently flawed. I am not OK with any suggestion that its flaws are worse, or more inherent, than those of Christianity.

      • 2013-04-16 17:48:22 UTC - 17:48 | Permalink

        It’s funny how this question, it seems to me anyway, looks to be wrapped up in the historical Jesus debate. If there was an historical Jesus, and if he read messianic prophecies like Isaiah 53, and thought they were potentially about him after having attempted to harmonize those in a scenario that could somehow accommodate each one and be about him, we now have a reason why nonviolence is taught in the New Testament in the way it is… and the historical Jesus also comes off as someone who accidentally helped humans become more nonviolent (even as more nonviolence would potentially become a big help to humans despite all of the negatives from several versions of his religion which have resulted. This is the way I view the New Testament and its Jesus, while any Christian group who doesn’t follow the central policies of the New Testament regarding nonviolence wouldn’t be that good of a rendition of what Christianity was mainly trying to be or become, like the Seventh Day Adventists, for example, which group was perhaps misled by the “apostle” John stressing whatever OT commandments he alluded to in his NT books–in John, in the epistles of John, and Revelation–presumably the Ten Commadments [Who knows which ones or all?], like the sabbath, which redition of Christianity would end up being one of its more mistaken forms that ultimately doesn’t give the religion much of a chance to see what its best outcome might be like.

        There are contradictions in the NT that will, of course, ruin its entire program. But I also see the discovery of it being ultimately false and so difficult for most humans to learn that it’s taken roughly 500 years after the Reformation essentially begun to now be getting somewhere in greater numbers than ever before… which, by the way, would also mean that Protestantism is better than Catholicism, even as Protestantism became a step in the process toward atheism as a destination, with altruistic and responsible atheism being the final desirable outcome. Meanwhile, Islam does not share as many positives in that process, in my estimation. However, once upon a time Islam did provide humans in this sort of evolution a means to connect with others who were pursuing scientific topics, which scientific work did benefit mankind significantly as well, which would mean that Islam wasn’t entirely bad on all counts either. But I tend to think that the contribution of a real Jesus, despite how it’s been hell to try to sort this mess out, as being greater in the cause of human betterment because of the nonviolence that would have been brought by a Jesus who was looking at Isaiah 53 as if that was about him needing to die as a sacrifice in a scenario in which he would be serving as Israel’s Messiah. So I see the influence toward nonviolence in humans as even greater than that of the contributions of some who adopted Islam long ago and helped moved science forward.

    • steph
      2013-04-17 01:40:16 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

      If the world’s religions have been written by human beings, they have evolved out of a need to answer human questions of existence, ‘why are we here’, ‘what is the meaning of life’ ‘how did we come to be’ ‘what happens when we die’ ‘how do we live … together’. So human beings, searching for answers, have used their imaginations to create solutions to questions which puzzled them all, and have told them through stories, and written them down to be passed on to future generations. Now we live in an age of science in which arguments and evidence can demonstrate scientifically, answers to human questions our ancestors tried to solve. Therefore the religious answers are seen to be flawed, the biblical and Qur’anic descriptions of ‘God’ are recognised as stories and not true answers to human questions. Neil is not questioning this. The point is not that religions are not inherently flawed but that religious people are being misrepresented, specifically Muslims. Islam as a historical religion is also being misinterpreted by people pretending to have authority (Coyne, Dawkins, Harris et al) when they have no knowledge of the history and evolution of ideas or experience of living with Muslims in the world today. It is a myth that all Muslims believe the Qur’an to be literally true. It is true that the Muslim world condemned the September 2001 attacks. http://www.muhajabah.com/otherscondemn.php As a Kiwi, we all knew it was al Qaeda from the beginning but I am still more concerned about Western terrorism against Middle Eastern nations and the environment. And often that is fuelled by Islamaphobia.

      • 2013-04-17 02:26:25 UTC - 02:26 | Permalink

        Thank you, steph. That was spot on.

        • 2013-04-17 15:39:17 UTC - 15:39 | Permalink

          ‘That killing of innocent civilians is absolutely forbidden in Islam and anyone who contemplates or commits any such act, does so against the teachings of Islam.”‘

          Happily, Neil has explained how Westerners are not innocent in the eyes of Muslims.

          • 2013-04-17 16:02:20 UTC - 16:02 | Permalink

            You seem a little off your game, Steven. Maybe your heart just isn’t in it.

          • 2013-04-17 17:12:11 UTC - 17:12 | Permalink

            Do explain, Steven. I never expected you to stoop to malicious lying slander.

            Your statement here is reprehensible and — its only redeeming grace — ignorant. You are ignorantly imputing to me everything I have worked against, and denying everything I worked for, as a peace activist since the 1990s, with your fatuous quip.

            • 2013-04-17 18:53:32 UTC - 18:53 | Permalink

              Thanks for all of your GREAT help with my historical Jesus search, Neil. VERY, VERY MUCH APPRECIATED!!

              But I now think that your blog is a bit too far left for me to keep reading at this time. Maybe I’ll check back in a few months, that is if you don’t mind me coming back later to see how things might go.

          • 2013-04-17 18:44:42 UTC - 18:44 | Permalink

            It’s okay for one side of this argument to do thinking by extension, but not for the other side to do that, it sometimes seems. I have a very left-wing liberal friend who is much farther to the right than a good deal of what’s been posted on these threads about Islam.

            Here is a bit of a rundown from my perspective: I suppose it was wrong for the U.S. to try to beat the Hitler in the pursuit of a nuclear bomb. It’s also apparently wrong for the U.S. to have built aircraft carriers in view of threatening dictators like Stalin and others since him who were not as bad yet similarly problematic to those of us in the west. I suppose Harry Truman was wrong to send two nuclear bombs to what used to be Imperial Japan after the U.S. was attacked since we should have let the war drag out for many more years and lost many more of our nation’s lives. And if we want the people of all countries to govern themselves via truly representative elections that’s called colonialism these days. America is so inherently evil, I guess, and needs to be put down by many who are far, far better out there. And sometimes, in the estimation of our leaders here, it was apparently a bit too ambitious to hope for a better state of democracy, or any democracy t all in some countries like Iran many years ago, which meant the U.S. Thought working with dictators was unavoidable seeing how things stood at the time… which mistakes were no doubt made as several later results showed, yes; but what is a country like the U.S. supposed to do? Vietnam didn’t work out but the Soviet Union was viewed as a not just a threat, but communism was seen as something that would impinge on the personal freedoms and happiness of people in the west, so decisions were made to combat what was viewed as detrimental to not just the U.S. but other countries’ well-being, and then the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, thank goodness. China is also a communist state, but the U.S. is tied to it economically and we have more shared interests with China now than we ever had with the Soviet Union, which the latter was constantly trying to build bigger and more nuclear bombs than the U.S. The U.S. is such an imperialist pig country, I suppose (according to many here also), which is why so many people try to emigrate to it. And now either Islam or radical Islam is seen as the next problem—apparently radical Islam—but some of us happen to theorize that the Religion of Islam, itself, is intrinsically problematic. And you cannot separate a religion that has a holy book (or books) from what its book (or books) states (state). And boy, has a good portion of the public in the U.S. ever been taking a crash course when it comes to learning about Islam in recent years!

            • 2013-04-17 19:24:31 UTC - 19:24 | Permalink

              Have you ever thought to try to engage with those who have views contrary to yours and actually try to understand them? Or do you just blindly label anyone who presses a few of your buttons to be in some knee-jerk ideologically anti-Americanism?

              What you impute here to the views being expressed by those of us arguing for an actual evidence-based contemporary and historical understanding of another group of people are offensive nonsense, at least as far as my own views are concerned. America as a world power has used its power no differently from the way a good many other world dominating powers have wielded theirs. If historical facts are offensive to you then I guess that statement is offensive. If you believe anyone who’s view of the world does not make allowance for American exceptionalism is somehow “anti-American” by definition then you are sadly mistaken and apparently have no wish to understand why and how others come to think differently from you.

              It is a shame some readers who are so keen to try to think validly when it comes to the Bible and religion don’t give a damn beyond what their viscera and Fox, CNN and whatever other mainstream media tell them how to feel about “the others”. Bunker down for more ignorance, more bigotry, more violence, more terror, more war. But at least you’ll happily get your Jesus sorted out!

      • 2013-04-17 03:59:44 UTC - 03:59 | Permalink

        Of those links listed on the page you pointed me to, Steph, the first one was about how to make a bread box. Of the next twelve, more went to pages that no longer exist or were about something else than those that supplied statements regarding this topic… which doesn’t mean those statements don’t exist because some do; but maintaining that message doesn’t appear to be a very big priority from what I have seen in that location so far.

  • 2013-04-16 17:56:16 UTC - 17:56 | Permalink

    Typos: ‘rendition’ in the first paragraph instead of “redetion;” also in the second sentence of the second paragraph: ‘as so difficult’ instead of “and so difficult.”

    • 2013-04-16 18:32:38 UTC - 18:32 | Permalink

      The perceived danger by the west is that the model to spread Islam now utilizes things like acceptance of multiculturalism, which then opens the door to many gullible and/or ideologically needy people, in any given country or area, adopting that religion’s most extreme aspects when they convert to it. The more it spreads the more its leaders accrue political power also, many of which are very aggressive therefore not moderate, which is what the religion seems to be really or mostly about now, or at least that’s how it seems to me and many more atheists. Check this link: http://weaselzippers.us/2013/04/13/turkey-warns-europe-of-new-holocaust-if-they-dont-accept-islam/

  • Evan
    2013-04-17 05:50:16 UTC - 05:50 | Permalink

    When I was younger the entire “western civilized” world was united in its animosity to countries that had adopted communist governments. This animosity was much more than political. It was a deep fact of our culture and served to justify corporate and military interventions and tremendous costs placed on numerous societies of every type. If someone wanted to describe a fearsome life to someone, they would use Russia as an example. Russians were villains in all kinds of films. They were the foes in spy novels. They occupied the semiotic space of enemy generally so much so that even in 2008, 17 years after their fall, people like Republican candidate Fred Thompson (a former US Senator) still referred to Russia as the Soviet Union. When communist governments could no longer carry out the propaganda functions that they had previously carried out, Muslims replaced them. Prior to 9/11, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was already the villain, so it was easy for Americans to be convinced that he had done the attack. After 9/11 any hostile act carried out by a Muslim became magnified in the public mind, so much so that when Christians did terrorist acts, they were still somehow assigned to a different category and no media outlet has routinely used the words Christian and terrorist in the same sentence despite undeniably terrorist actions by undeniably Christian criminals.

    The shift is transparent and it is transparently being used to justify additional corporate and military malfeasance.

    It is disappointing to see people who I admire, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris buy into the corporate and military need for a villain, but the same role was played by many people during the years of the “Cold War” and so it shouldn’t surprise anybody.

    I lived for two years in a country that was 98% Muslim and I cannot identify a scrap of difference between how they approach their lives and how anyone else does. Almost all of them abhor violence in almost all cases, moreso than most Americans, who idolize guns and wars.

    The fish can’t see the water it swims in, so it is possible I am misapprehending what is taking place. But I really see the vilification and “villain”-ification of Muslims as nothing more than propaganda.

    • 2013-04-17 06:42:49 UTC - 06:42 | Permalink

      Agree 100%, Evan. Ground-hog day, as Tim would say. It’s still the Orwellian 1984. I’m pessimistic and fear that none of this nonsense will go away until there is a complete geopolitical shift in power relations.

      All we can do in the meantime is try to light sparks for dialogue.

    • 2013-04-17 13:04:25 UTC - 13:04 | Permalink

      Evan: Even though the government in the U.S. attacked Iraq, it never thought that Saddam Hussein was the culprit for the 9/11 attacks. Right from the start, the president at the time said that al Qaeda was behind those attacks, which was not a country but an organization, which was big news to me at the time as I was following those events very closely. Al Qaeda, by the way, does exist. The reason for invading Iraq was never that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, but rather came after much frustration being experienced by weapons inspectors and numerous United Nations resolutions being ignored by that dictator. It’s important to have our facts straight as Neil chided me about that in another location in the comments.

      • 2013-04-17 19:34:39 UTC - 19:34 | Permalink

        I suggest you revisit your sources for your assertion that Saddam did not agree to cooperate with UNSCOM or that he had not fully disclosed what he did and did not have. You read at the time a lot of stories about Iraqi obstructionism, but did you ever stop to check the sources of those stories, where they were coming from, what other sources said about the same incidents, and what key figures in the inspection team themselves said? Or did you just rely on CNN and the New York Times? I also suggest you have overlooked claims that Saddam was in some liaison with Al Qaeda and it was that link that implicated him in 9/11. I also suggest you have missed the reports that the final order for attack came after Saddam issued the ultimate threat — an agreement to leave Iraq and live in exile. But of course that would have removed a pretext for invasion so the attack had to begin almost immediately to squash that bit of devilry from the news. Yes, Doug, you need to dig deeper than CNN and the mainstream media to find the facts about what is going on. Many of us who did do that before March 2003 knew damn well there were no WMDs there and that the sources claimed to justify this claim were as fake as a three dollar bill. Yes, I still chide you to get your facts straight. Learn the facts, first. You’ll only find the politically correct dialogue and the correct range of views expressed on CNN.

  • Jason Goertzen
    2013-04-18 09:21:37 UTC - 09:21 | Permalink

    “But as I posted once before, facts never changed any unwilling mind.”

    Insisting that people who disagree with you are “unwilling minds” is profoundly insulting, and is the surest way to shut down a discussion. Bad form, Neil.

  • 2013-04-19 18:15:25 UTC - 18:15 | Permalink

    One last comment here: Just as Christianity has evolved, so has Islam—apparently because humans can’t imagine that the universe could have happened without some overseeing Being or Intelligence both creating it and running it. In other words, so many tend to think that an architect is required therefore some Abrahamic religious interpretation is required as well, therefore Abrahamic theology has had traction and as a result has kept producing new forms.

    But in the gigantic case of Protestantism seceding from the Catholic Church was an exercise of attempting to return to that “true” form of the religion’s “pure” origin, which meant that those leading the Reformation were both insightful and had genuine faith. That’s not the case with MODERATE Christianity, nor is that the case with MODERATE Islam, in relation the either religion’s “pure” or “true” origin. Those who do literary criticism, like those who do great work in that respect at the Vridar blog, must certainly understand what it takes to discover what original texts would have originally intended. To be fair, this would need to be done with the Qur’an. As an atheist, I see this as critical to undermining both false systems.

    • 2013-04-19 18:44:50 UTC - 18:44 | Permalink

      I simply don’t understand what your comment has to do with the hard core evidence that clearly establishes the facts of the motivations of terrorists and the beliefs of Muslims across the board.

      Right from the opening paragraph I was confused: How does it logically follow that “some Abrahamic religious interpretation” is (necessarily?) required to meet the claim that “an architect is required” to explain our universe. Your comment strikes me as hopelessly buried within a very narrow Western-Christian concept of the life, universe and everything.

      You have intimated you are a recent de-convert from Christianity. I recall in my own early days of deconversion that there were many raw nerves painfully touched by others for quite some time before I came to where I am now. I suspect you are still in your early days and will emerge a different person a few years from now — if you continue to question, question, question.

      • 2013-04-20 04:54:28 UTC - 04:54 | Permalink

        I suppose I need to reply, do a bit more clarifying of that, which I didn’t really expect a fellow atheist to not agree with me on what is, in my opinion, an elementary point in all of this. Here is how I view that: Abrahamic religions begin with a creation story/concept, which is about the nature of the universe. Without that basis they would not exist because that places their deity as having always been over ALL–i.e., over everything that exists–which by extension includes him/it being in control of everything right now. Atheists don’t accept that basis; and if that creation basis is untrue then all Abrahamic religions can be dismissed by people like us as being false at their most central or core belief–a core belief that is an assumption–while that has very much to do with people accepting one of those three religions as if one were truly legitimate, even as those belief systems suggest that through them one can get in contact with and/or fellowship with the Creator who made them. That’s one critical way I approach the entire topic, which I think is necessary to have ready for pointing out to whomever I can that might be wondering about those religions; or else adherents to those will tend to be unreachable when it comes to any of them deconverting. As an atheist, I have been trying to do the work of an activist in relation to helping others deconvert while using what I have learned from having been (what I consider) a Christian Religion insider, because of the energy I previously invested in the belief system with genuine sincerity including no small amount of intensity–to now share what I have gathered over many years from the things found in Christianity’s foundation books, particularly the New Testament, with an emphasis on morality coming through cognition (instead of moral guidance via religious scriptures) as well emphasizing prophecies that are shown by the NT as having foretold Christianity.

        • 2013-04-21 11:06:51 UTC - 11:06 | Permalink

          I’m all for the side of reason and evidence as it stands against harmful irrational and groundless beliefs. I’m also for a comprehensive evidence-based discussion of major social issues.

        • 2013-04-21 13:43:34 UTC - 13:43 | Permalink

          Doug: you’re not suggesting that Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the biblical creation stor[ies] as a ‘core belief’ are you. Today with the evidence of science these stories are recognised for what they are – historical explorations of ancient people questioning their origin, meaning of life etc, – and religious people now believe in evolution especially in the educated UK and Antipodes. Same goes with miracles and biblical ideas of ‘God’, but lack of literal belief does not disqualify religious institutions from remaining Christians, Muslims and Jews, albeit in the modern world. One eight year old girl in Iran, asked me when I was talking to her about her own ideas, if I was Muslim. I replied that I had grown up without religion and never believed, and she said ‘I am very much Muslim but you know, I am really quite agnostic. I don’t know if there is a God or not’. She was a very incisive, bright eight year old! For many people religion is less about belief and more about moral codes and family, extending to community. Abby Day (OUP 2012) has also published important work in this area.

          • 2013-04-22 01:58:40 UTC - 01:58 | Permalink

            Steph: What I am trying to suggest is that the Abrahamic religions base from or begin with the idea that a deity that oversees the world–which Abraham seems to have decided that he and others could have a relationship with it (a him), something people could be friends with instead of that force over us functioning as some sort of vindictive monster, i.e. something that was needing to be appeased with offerings (or even human sacrifice at given times perhaps) for crops to grow via regular rains coming without flooding, or earthquakes or volcanoes not striking to kill or possibly wipe some people out–that such a deity exists. If that concept were taken away then the Abrahamic religions would no longer be seen as the true basis for good human/social behavior, and people would no longer be praying to it either since it wouldn’t be required for the Earth or world to be as wwe know it; meaning an intelligent architect would no longer been seen as required for everything to work, which would lead to a much more secular world, and even an improved one I think.

            • 2013-04-26 19:04:21 UTC - 19:04 | Permalink

              That bears no resemblance to the reality of what religious people believe at all Doug.

  • 2013-04-24 11:33:58 UTC - 11:33 | Permalink

    According to the FBI, only about 4% of terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/not-all-terrorists-are-muslims/

    • 2013-04-24 17:16:50 UTC - 17:16 | Permalink

      Help us out, J. Quinton, and tell us what percents of terrorist attacks come from other groups like Buddhists, etc.?

      • 2013-04-24 19:16:28 UTC - 19:16 | Permalink

        What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? It depends which side you are on. The American government have sponsored and initiated many terrorist activities particularly in non Western people, invading and scattering bombs etc, and environments including their own. However I doubt America is on the FBI’s list. School shootings are acts of terrorism. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (sponsored by Noraid) The American Nazi Party, KKK, etcetc Charles Manson… the list goes on. Ted Kaczynski (freedom?), Symbionese Liberation Army (I think the American government would define these as terrorists). Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Daniel Andreas. Hitler etc etc I fear fascists, Thatcher – like the current government of my own country which commits acts of environmental terrorism making it legal including terrorism against the poor. Although it’s more to do with humanity than ‘religions’ and ‘ideologies’.

      • 2013-04-24 21:32:51 UTC - 21:32 | Permalink

        It shows it right in the link

  • 2013-04-25 06:41:51 UTC - 06:41 | Permalink

    J. Quinton: I noticed that the FBI list which you gave us a link to only ran through 2005, so I tried to find a list of some more attacks that have happened through April of 2013. The following list in this comment doesn’t include any of those that have come from other groups besides Muslims, but I do remember a large number of these myself and think the following list is accurate. Also, I saw in the pie chart on that FBI page with the terrorism stats that the number of attacks in the U.S. that’s come from Muslims was 6% between 1980 and 2005, not 4% which is 50% more than the fugure you gave in the comment just above. I also noticed that of the 30 attacks shown in the FBI list as having happened in the U.S. between September of 2001 and November of 2005, that 22 of those 30–nearly 72%–came from left-wing organizations, which groups typically endorse the use of violence to make political statements, which concept I have a very big problem with.

    9/11/2001 USA New York, NY 2752 251 Islamic hijackers steer two planes packed with fuel and passengers into the World Trade Center, killing hundreds on impact and eventually killing thousands when the towers collapsed. At least 200 are seriously injured.

    9/11/2001 USA Washington, DC 184 53 Nearly 200 people are killed when Islamic hijackers steer a plane full of people into the Pentagon.

    9/11/2001 USA Shanksville, PA 40 0 Forty passengers are killed after Islamic radicals hijack the plane in an attempt to steer it into the U.S. Capitol building.

    3/19/2002 USA Tuscon, AZ 1 0 A 60-year-old man is gunned down by Muslim snipers on a golf course.

    5/27/2002 USA Denton, TX 1 0 Muslim snipers kill a man as he works in his yard.

    7/4/2002 USA Los Angeles, CA 2 0 Muslim man pulls out a gun at the counter of an Israeli airline and kills two people.

    9/5/2002 USA Clinton, MD 1 0 A 55-year-old pizzaria owner is shot six times in the back by Muslims at close range.

    9/21/2002 USA Montgomery, AL 1 1 Muslim snipers shoot two women, killing one.

    9/23/2002 USA Baton Rouge, LA 1 0 A Korean mother is shot in the back by Muslim snipers.

    10/2/2002 USA Wheaton, MD 1 0 Muslim snipers gun down a program analyst in a store parking lot.

    10/3/2002 USA Montgomery County, MD 5 0 Muslim snipers kill three men and two women in separate attacks over a 15-hour period.

    10/9/2002 USA Manassas, VA 1 1 A man is killed by Muslim snipers while pumping gas two days after a 13-year-old is wounded by the same team.

    10/11/2002 USA Fredericksburg, VA 1 0 Another man is killed by Muslim snipers while pumping gas.

    10/14/2002 USA Arlington, VA 1 0 A woman is killed by Muslim snipers in a Home Depot parking lot.

    10/22/2002 USA Aspen Hill, MD 1 0 A bus driver is killed by Muslim snipers.

    8/6/2003 USA Houston, TX 1 0 After undergoing a ‘religious revival’, a Saudi college student slashes the throat of a Jewish student with a 4″ butterfly knife, nearly decapitating the young man.

    12/2/2003 USA Chicago, IL 1 0 A Muslim doctor deliberately allows a Jewish patient to die from an easily treatable condition.

    4/13/2004 USA Raleigh, NC 1 4 An angry Muslim runs down five strangers with a car.

    4/15/2004 USA Scottsville, NY 1 2 In an honor killing, a Muslim father kills his wife and attacks his two daughters with a knife and hammer because he feared that they had been sexually molested.

    6/16/2006 USA Baltimore, MD 1 0 A 62-year-old Jewish moviegoer is shot to death by a Muslim gunman in an unprovoked terror attack.

    6/25/2006 USA Denver, CO 1 5 Saying that it was ‘Allah’s choice’, a Muslim shoots four of his co-workers and a police officer.

    7/28/2006 USA Seattle, WA 1 5 An ‘angry’ Muslim-American uses a young girl as hostage to enter a local Jewish center, where he shoots six women, one of whom dies.

    2/13/2007 USA Salt Lake City, UT 5 4 A Muslim immigrant goes on a shooting rampage at a mall, targeting people buying Valentine’s Day cards at a gift shop and killing five.

    1/1/2008 USA Irving, TX 2 0 A Muslim immigrant shoots his two daughters to death on concerns about their ‘Western’ lifestyle.

    7/6/2008 USA Jonesboro, GA 1 0 A devout Muslim strangles his 25-year-old daughter in an honor killing.

    2/12/2009 USA Buffalo, NY 1 0 The founder of a Muslim TV station beheads his wife in the hallway for seeking a divorce.

    4/12/2009 USA Phoenix, AZ 2 0 A man shoots his brother-in-law and another man to death after finding out that they visited a strip club, in contradiction to Islamic values.

    6/1/2009 USA Little Rock, AR 1 1 A Muslim shoots a local soldier to death inside a recruiting center explicitly in the name of Allah.

    11/2/2009 USA Glendale, AZ 1 1 A woman dies from injuries suffered when her father runs her down with a car for being too ‘Westernized.’ (10-20-09)

    11/5/2009 USA Ft. Hood, TX 13 31 A Muslim psychiatrist guns down thirteen unarmed soldiers while yelling praises to Allah.

    12/4/2009 USA Binghamton, NY 1 0 A non-Muslim Islamic studies professor is stabbed to death by a Muslim grad student in revenge for ‘persecuted’ Muslims.

    4/14/2010 USA Marquette Park, IL 5 2 After quarrelling with his wife over Islamic dress, a Muslim convert shoots his family members to ‘take them back to Allah’ and out of the ‘world of sinners’.

    4/30/2011 USA Warren, MI 1 0 A 20-year-old woman is shot in the head by her stepfather for not adhering to Islamic practices.

    2/7/2013 USA Buena Vista, NJ 2 0 A Muslim targets and beheads two Christian Coptic immigrants.

    3/24/2013 USA Ashtabula, OH 1 0 A Muslim convert walks into a church service with a Quran and guns down his Christian father while praising Allah.

    4/15/2013 USA Boston, MA 3 170 Foreign-born Muslims describing themselves as ‘very religious’ detonate two bombs packed with ball bearings at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and causing several more to lose limbs.

    4/19/2013 USA Boston, MA 1 1 Jihadists gun down a university police officer sitting in his car.

    • 2013-04-25 13:56:27 UTC - 13:56 | Permalink

      From violence against abortion clinics to Hitler…. were they Muslim or left wing? Not terrorism? How does one qualify to be a terrorist?

    • 2013-04-25 15:30:34 UTC - 15:30 | Permalink

      What sort of Sunday Fux News Rag did you get these headlines from, Doug? I just looked up one — 2/7/2013 USA Buena Vista, NJ 2 0 A Muslim targets and beheads two Christian Coptic immigrants.

      Guess what. Contrary to what the headline banner leads readers to believe (and of course you collected these from a Hate Islam website) the demented criminal did not execute his victims by some sort of ritual (or “Islamic”!) beheading, unless he decided to shoot each torso after he beheaded it. No, like so many other murders I have read about, the culprit chops up the body for easier disposal. Now clearly that murderer was a demented, violent, psychotic type of individual — and I have known people like that of different “faiths” and ethnic backgrounds. Their wives have to run to the police or safety houses just to avoid being savagely beaten or murdered. Yes, his cultural background infected his sense of identity, his role as the domineering boss, but I will bet you his Muslim neighbours didn’t like him much either whenever he started talking in a temper about his family before he murdered them. You get people like that everywhere. And yes, some cannot handle new cultural expectations in another country — but those who react the way that man did do so because they are violent people, criminals.

      For that church news site and that hate-Islam website and for you to try to say that that murder was the direct result of the ideology or religion of “Islam” is sickening. Yes, there are too many places in the world where there are very strict and even cruel ways that are a stain on humanity. And those places are defined by their cultural heritage primarily. I recall when younger hearing so often of Greek parents being very cruel to their children in the new country — they could not handle the more liberal ways of dating in Australia compared with what they had grown up with in Greece in an earlier generation. The point is that these are terrible consequences of some individuals being unprepared for social change and some with a cruel or violent streak act cruelly or violently.

      It’s a savage thing that needs to be stamped out. But you don’t stamp it out by blaming the whole religion — or exterminating all the Greeks. You need the support of the adherents of that religion to work with you to help those individuals/families that do face that hard challenge.

      What should be done about Muslims if you believe that that crime was the direct outgrowth of the Muslim religion? What is YOUR solution to handling this situation given your premise that the root cause of the crime was Islam itself? As Tim has also asked, this is what we really do want to know. Should we lock them all up for their own good? What?

      • 2013-04-25 16:53:52 UTC - 16:53 | Permalink

        You should note that on Doug’s list, each individual murder by the Beltway Sniper is considered an act of terrorism. It is not clear what his real motives were. And it’s hard to believe any devout Muslim writing notes to the police that say, “Call me God.” He did not sound particularly stable — not criminally insane, mind you, but a sociopathic creep of the worst kind.

        Of course on the nutter sites, they count every crime by a Muslim as a terror event. Because “ya gotta stay angry and scared.”

      • 2013-04-25 18:59:27 UTC - 18:59 | Permalink

        Granted, Neil and Tim, the list wasn’t a perfect one to illustrate the point. I didn’t sort through everything, and a list like this is actually a hard thing to find right now, it seems. I was just trying to show that the percent of instances that could be considered terrorist attacks in the U.S. by Muslims was greater than 6% in answer to J. Quinton’s comment. And I don’t hate Muslims in general now either, due to several things you have stated; therefore I do see some good coming from your efforts in recent posts about this, as well as from the BBC and PBS documentaries in recent years about Islam. But I do have a big problem with resorting to violence to make political statements, and I don’t see the influence of the U.S. in the world as generally evil or oppressive as many Muslims right now apparently do, some who think attacking human “shields” of westerners is justified to make political statements or gains. That’s totally wrongheaded, which I think you at Vridar agree with at least partly.

        • 2013-04-25 19:05:13 UTC - 19:05 | Permalink

          My own view is that a collation of essentially anecdotal rag-tag data like this “hate-Islam” list is the very reason we need disciplined and methodologically transparent polling. Until I see scientific evidence to the contrary I’m sticking with the 6% (plus or minus whatever error factor is granted in the study) figure.

      • 2013-04-27 06:44:16 UTC - 06:44 | Permalink

        Here is my answer to what should be done, which you and Tim have asked some of us who don’t agree with you completely:

        The Answer is the Atheist/Secular Movement

        Secularists need to be familiar with all of the reasons why each religion is harmful, sometimes worse or even bad. Those reasons need to be posted in many places and to be stated by as many as possible, so that the world can gradually become increasingly secular as opposed to it becoming more religious. This is about free speech—the right to compete for the minds of the public—so that what’s best will eventually win out (which is exactly how evolution works, with the best competitor winning out by either gaining more influence and/or producing more individuals). Each approach or belief system needs to be free to express themselves—religious or secular—then everyone should freely decide for themselves. Nothing can be forced; any change must come from people making free choices.

        For this to work, the secular movement must be smart; and one thing is a need to recognize each of those more legitimate reasons for why people adopt one of a variety of religions, then begin addressing those needs and issues.

        What People Want from Religion | What they Get:

        People want Justice. | Religions give people a token of justice through its narrative and associated explanations, which runaround will then call for more commitment, which too often results in nothing above the amounts of offerings being collected becoming greater.

        People want Orderly Lives. | Religions give people a scaffolding of customs which do serve to provide some structure, and people do indeed require some sort of structure.

        People want Guidelines for their Children. | The Ten Commandments were meant as guidelines, but alongside those the NT teaches confusing things about a need to hate oneself, or potentially letting others run over you in order to be more like Jesus, plus things such as our flesh is sinful or evil therefore we must mortify it, and that the Earth is cursed therefore will end soon so it’s not worth investing yourself in studying physical things on it all that much. Islam has its problematic counterparts to those, things like wearing a burqa/hijab, allowing polygamy, how the Qur’an’s seems to mention “hell” almost constantly, and too much acceptance of violence.

        People want Nonviolence taught. | The New Testament does make nonviolence paramount during this present life for the followers of Jesus, while some warnings in the Qur’an against wrongful or excessive violence are scuppered by too many of its suras accepting it.

        People want the public to be taught Not to Steal. | Religion has tried to help with that.

        People want to Lovingly Interact with Whatever Being Must Have Made Them—as that friend-of-God concept, which would supposedly allow for loving interaction, having been shown to come from Abraham—with people wanting a purpose for their lives derived from that. | Such Religions have given people a creation story (or origin myth), while the surrounding universe, including what’s now known about species evolution, won’t allow us to accept that as factual.

        People want the Human Libido Restrained. | Some restraint is necessary, of course, but these religions have given humans overemphasized apprehensions about sex and an excess of guilt.

        People want Life After Death, if possible. | To have life after death it needs to be a Utopia of some sort—a place where no troublemakers would be allowed—which the concept of removing troublemakers can translate into things such as killing infidels in the here and now (particularly if a non-Islamic government has intervened in an Islamic country and those who are part of that non-Islamic infidel force are being shielded from attacks by any Muslims who may not agree with Muslims in one of its more aggressive sects). None of that would happen if people didn’t believe in life after death. In Christianity, all of that kind of violence needed to get rid of troublemakers comes at a future day of reckoning, which by such violence being dispensed by God via his angels has often helped Christianity to be seen as nonviolent in the here and now.

        • 2013-04-27 09:55:09 UTC - 09:55 | Permalink

          I applaud any efforts to advance secularism over religiosity. Unfortunately, attempts to directly challenge the religious (especially by advocating insistence that parents not bring their children up in their religion when bringing up children faithfully is a central tenet of many religions) risk backfiring and only exacerbate religious hostility towards secularism. In a future post I hope to be including some of the evidence that such efforts that attempt to bring about a greater liberalization and democratization of Muslim societies, especially in Muslim countries, only worsen hostility towards the West since they become just one more instance of foreign domination.

          (By the way, the first campaign of suicide bombing in modern times — in Lebanon in the 1980s — included nonreligious volunteers. Give us atheists some credit. I have no doubt there are situations were some of us would be quite willing to die for a cause without any belief in an afterlife. 🙂 I will also be posting studies that show that this type of suicide is by no means seen as “an end” of this existence, but rather it is a means of achieving many things. It is a means to ends, not an end in itself.)

          • 2013-04-27 18:35:41 UTC - 18:35 | Permalink

            A certain person in these comments previously made the point that the most atrocities of all time appear to have come from atheists, which he must have been referring to Stalin regarding that. I agreed with him. But that type of atheism wasn’t what the world needed, obviously. And I do agree with Christians about the importance of holding nonviolence as extremely important for the well-being of humans, even though Christians who sincerely believe what the NT says actually hold a delayed acceptance of violence—the final judgment by their creator/god punishing eternally every evildoer and those who do not believe in their deity. We, today, need an atheism that is much, much better than that, which is the kind of atheism/secularism I wish to see promoted widely now.

            By the way, I left out the word, some (require some sort of structure), in the last sentence of what was essentially the fourth paragraph of my last comment. I wish I was better at proofreading than I am.

            • 2013-04-27 18:50:33 UTC - 18:50 | Permalink

              I don’t buy this talk of atheism (or religion per se) being a cause of violence, Stalinist, medieval Christendom, whatever. Such talk ignores history. It’s dogmatics, pure and simple. “Atheism” doesn’t of itself make people better or worse. We are social animals living in history. Committed idealism and fundamentalism are always dangers, whether among atheist or religious minds.

              (You speak a lot of “true Christians” or something like “the true reading of the Gospels”. But that also overlooks history and the wider world. It presumes we are the central standard of what is the true interpretation. Back in another century it was just as “obvious” to Christians that heathen had to be violently conquered. Your interpretation of the Gospels is just as much a product of historical developments as any other. Nor does its ethic of peace and turning the other cheek necessarily seem so eternally high and noble when its origin is studied among comparable philosophical systems and the slave societies of its early years.)

              (I fixed your missing word in the previous post.)

              • 2013-04-27 19:20:26 UTC - 19:20 | Permalink

                I know we disagree, Neil, on this nonviolence issue in relation to Christianity, which is also why you think Mark was written about the turn of the first century into the second. Here is the evidence that I have against us seeing it in that way: Romans 8:17; 8:35; 12:14; including 1 Corinthians 4:12; 15:9; then 2 Corinthians 4:9; [NOTICE PARTICULARLY 2 Corinthians 4:10-11]; next Galatians 1:13; 1:23; 4:29; 5:11; 6:12; 6:17; also Philippians 3:6; 3:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Timothy 1:13; and 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:12. So far, a good number of scholars who write on this topic have screwed up the histoical Jesus debate royally, in my opinion. Many right now also want to make it so that no Abraham of any kind ever existed, and they want to make it so that Paul didn’t even write something like even half of his epistles. I don’t accept that. So I guess we are still at odds in some respects.

              • 2013-04-27 19:48:07 UTC - 19:48 | Permalink

                Of course there was no historical Abraham any more than there was an historical Adam or Noah or Moses. You haven’t read Thompson’s The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives yet, I see. And do you really believe the same author who wrote Philippians also wrote the Pastorals?

                I am not so dogmatic as you on the dates or authorships of the NT books. I suspend judgement till I become more acquainted with the arguments from all sides. And usually after that I am even less dogmatic. The scholarly arguments are not foolish, well not most of them.

                But just listing a string of scriptures does nothing to overturn what I said about the historical origins of your interpretations of Christianity. You are missing the point when you respond to that by holding up bible verses as if “they”, in your pristine interpretation, is all that defines “true” Christianity.

                In another place and time another who understands “true” Christianity will hold up other verses. And should the two of you meet you can have a religious war all over again over what is the “true” faith 🙂

                I get the impression you are still very freshly just out from your earlier beliefs. You still find much to be attached to and that you can’t easily let go. I understand — I went through the same myself.

              • 2013-04-28 10:22:02 UTC - 10:22 | Permalink

                Thanks for the kind reply; I was expecting worse. The following is my main case; this was as short as I can make it.

                The Judaistic and Mythicist Fatal Flaw

                A completely mythical Jesus simply suits the fancy of many of atheists who would like to have curt one-liner answers to give to any Christian they encounter, such as: “There’s no credible evidence that Jesus ever existed” or “So where is the evidence of such a Jesus having ever existed?” Meanwhile, a Christian may respond by saying: “Well, Paul existed, which certainly indicates Jesus existed also.” Therefore mythicists seem as if they’ve been trying to prove Paul didn’t write his epistles, since they need Paul removed to win the argument; because at face value, common sense will dictate that if Paul existed then Jesus did as well.

                Next after Paul’s existence, we have what the Great Isaiah Scroll provides for this, which scroll was written before the first century and each of its messianic prophecies are found very much intact in relation to the common Christian versions of those, therefore they managed to avoid tampering when the Codex Sinaiticus was being produced, despite several alterations having been made in the Septuagint portion as that early Christian Bible was being compiled. Therefore, a literate historical Jesus could have read those prophecies and made plans, had he been guided to believe that he might be the Jew’s Messiah, which among those prophecies that 53rd chapter of Isaiah is found—about a person who would offer himself as a human sacrifice, therefore not fight back while being abused and then killed (which was the punishment for a person who wasn’t a king thinking he was while having some 500 people loyally following him). Meanwhile, mythicists take the same position on Isaiah 53 as those Judaistic Jews who reject Jesus—those who’ve helped maintain the Masoretic texts for so long—who try to claim that Isaiah 53 wasn’t special. In relation to the Jesus described in the New Testament, a person would almost need something sedating him or her to not recognize the fact that Isaiah 53 is special.

                The only reason that modern Judaism and mythicists wish to dismiss Isaiah 53 is because they don’t know how to address it without coming away with a clear implication that such a place is surprisingly powerful in relation to the NT’s Jesus, which they cannot allow themselves to admit. And there is only one way to solve the problem which Isaiah 53 presents—to do that from the perspective of an unbeliever—but taking that approach will cause both the mythicist and Judaistic positions to self-destruct/disappear.

                Here is how to explain it: Those who created the Old Covenant system via literature—which group would have included Israel insiders much as the authors of Isaiah were insiders—knew rather quickly that their system was a flop once they debuted it; therefore it wouldn’t have been that long before certain ones began to write about something that would come in the future which would be much better… its replacement. But for such a transition to occur, something dramatic like a one-time sacrifice of a special person would be needed in order to implement a debarkation of such enormous magnitude. Those who were behind Isaiah 53 (also behind Jeremiah 31), were looking for a way out for their nation—a way for Israel to rid itself of the boondoggle which the OT system truly was and/or turned out to be. That’s what set up the appearance of the new version of Judaism that later came to be known as Christianity. If this is what really happened—as there is simply no other good way to explain it—then both the mythicist and Judaistic concepts should go poof, right out of existence as things that are not worth believing. And on top of that, here is something rather easy to check and prove: There is no other way to have that New Testament theme of Christian nonviolence without that movement having grown out of Isaiah 53’s nonviolent concept with Jesus having truly offered himself—done so with no fighting back to fulfill/become that prophecy’s transitional human sacrifice—with each believer in Jesus, later, being expected to follow suit in their own individual ways as persecutions arose. (I can supply a list of places within the NT which will make that abundantly clear, in case anyone wishes to read those.)

              • 2013-04-30 09:59:24 UTC - 09:59 | Permalink

                Here are my next reasons for not being a mythicist, written primarily as a comment for the Vridar blog regarding what’s been discussed recently on this topic in these blog locations. Along with this, since you can see that human sacrifice idea morphing into Christian martyr deaths becoming sacrifices to please the Hebrew deity, as the scripture references in this comment as well as in that other list I’ve already supplied, both Christianity and Judaism both appear to have grown out of a heritage of animal and human sacrifices, which would be why some sort of Abraham looks to me as having been real and very influential before the Pentateuch was written. I have been working on figuring out what really happened for roughly eight years now since my deconversion, but my deconversion really began some nine years prior to 2005, which is the year in which my transition to atheism became official–or rather during 2007 that happened after having attempted to write my first book about all of this and then finally declared myself an atheist absolutely, after a Pentecostal person wanted to laugh in my face for not being sure, like as if I was agnostic about all of this, while I considered the false miracle system of liars in the Charismatic movement/Pentecostalism extremely malignant to human well-being after having watched its deception for many years from my adolescence on. Thanks for allowing me to comment here, Neil and Tim. This should catch things up for a good while, I think.

                Nonviolence, Politics, and Mythicism

                Early Christianity wasn’t meant to become a dominant political power on Earth. (It might be a good idea to circle that first sentence.) For in much the same way that Islamic countries have been underdogs politically in our modern era—i.e., those currently united under that system’s most essential concepts—first century Christians were seen as underdogs as well (i.e., early Christians who were also united around their system’s central or most critical beliefs).

                Early Christians viewed Rome as a force that was unfortunately in charge in their time—in charge on Earth, but certainly not in heaven. Early Christianity didn’t resort to anything like suicide bombings or kamikaze attacks to strike blows against what it considered to be the evil, even satanic, political empire based from Rome. Early Christian followers were called to die for their faith similarly to how Jesus died—do so in a completely nonviolent mode for the sake of a far better kingdom in heaven, a place where the tables could one day be turned so that any who might oppose its divine perfection could be executed.

                Even though early Christianity was meant to be completely nonviolent in the here and now—which probably did help a good number of humans with becoming more nonviolent than they might have been without it—Christianity’s VIOLENCE against all who disagree with its declamations remains integral to it, only postponed… while Islam’s teachings endorse the use of some violence in the here and now as a means of defense and sometimes to further its cause, which may be the most relevant contrast between those two—about their particular natures when it comes to how violence can be applied. And though nonviolence is indeed a wonderful ideal, sadly it’s a pie in the sky that in all likelihood will never be completely obtained since competing human groups on a such a planet is intrinsically tied to the evolutionary survival of individuals and groups within every species.

                Many Muslims have blown themselves up within the hope of inflicting at least some damage to powers having vastly superior militaries since that’s been the only way to deliver some sort of pain or harm… while early Christians—under firm directives to model themselves after the nonviolent Jesus—used to die like sheep being slaughtered for essentially the same reason that more than a few Muslims have used suicide bombings: to express detestation—their group’s stiff rejection ultimately—of a dominant political entity seen by their belief system as a contemptible brute beast drunk on political power (in comparison to Jesus’ perfection and everlasting kingdom) as nonviolent Christians hoped their valor during death might strengthen the resolve of other believers who may be weaker—but most importantly for that death to serve as a pleasing sacrifice offered to the Judeo-Christian deity (On that, please note Psalm 116:15 and 2 Timothy 4:6-7, as the idea of a human sacrifice pleasing the Hebrew God was applied to every Christian martyr).

                When it comes to competing political systems on Earth, it’s almost a certainty that the best we might realistically hope for or expect are conditions similar to what currently exists between Russia and the U.S., or China and the U.S. Each is a large political system representing great numbers of people, and each has its own priorities/goals/objectives in relation to their leaders and general populaces. Meanwhile, each must coexist with other powerful neighboring nations, which relationships require give and take. This is the reality of how peace is maintained on this planet, via give and take—or competition—which is innate to each and every life form here. Oh, it would certainly be nice if every human could somehow become perfectly nonviolent at all times, which we should indeed forthrightly aspire toward! But the reality is that our political entities hold one another a bay through checks and balances.

                So why would things of this type relate to Mythicism? They relate because accepting the mythicist concept of Jesus can avert some important lessons needing to be learned from history, since getting that Jesus question correctly solved is inextricably linked to what early Christianity must have been, while getting that question wrong can forestall insights related to other difficult problems. For the mythicist viewpoint or position can’t yet fathom how certain vital political dynamics have been present in both Christianity (even in early Christianity, as how the NT describes it) and Islam, which not recognizing those dynamics can be incapacitating in certain significant ways I’m afraid.

              • 2013-05-01 06:26:44 UTC - 06:26 | Permalink

                I have serious problems with what you say about the motives of “modern Judaism and mythicists”. My own views on Christian origins have nothing to do with being able to deliver “curt, one-liner answers to Christians I encounter.” I have not the slightest interest in trying to argue any Christian I encounter out of his or her views. I like Christians not to attempt to convert me to their way of thinking so I treat them the same way. I suspect most atheists feel much the same way. Many of us, I am sure, don’t give a hoot about Christianity and are not the least interested in bothering to argue with Christians they meet.

                I really am fascinated by the question of Christian origins as a historical study. I like to understand as much as I can about the nature of the religion that has impacted my life and the shape of my culture. I do believe that it is right and proper to argue the points as a general understanding, but not for the sake of rebutting or arguing with Christians I meet.

                As for “the only reason that modern Judaism and mythicists wish to dismiss Isaiah 53 is because they don’t know how to address it” because of its “surprisingly powerful relationship to the NT’s Jesus” — that again is a gratuitous imputation of motives. Firstly, I don’t know of anyone who “dismisses” Isaiah 53. What you are implying is that they disagree with the orthodox Christian interpretation of it. You cannot see any other valid interpretation of it (other than it referring to Jesus) and assume others cannot either — therefore you say they “dismiss” the passage. Again, I can only ask you to try to gain a little better understanding of how others with different views really do think. Don’t be so quick to impute dishonest or cynical motives. Maybe they are striving to be just as honest as you and genuinely do arrive at a different viewpoint.

                Your reasons for believing in the historicity of Abraham are imaginative, but they avoid addressing any of the historical evidence itself. I mentioned Thompson’s book that addresses this. May I recommend a good study of what scholars themselves have researched about these questions before getting too far into our own reasonings and speculations. That way we will be in a much better position to make more informed propositions.

                You speak of the need to understand “vital political dynamics” but I do believe the best way to understand these is to seriously study the evidence, the data, the wider research about the origins of religions and their holy books and the conditions and behaviours of their adherents today.

              • 2013-05-01 09:59:40 UTC - 09:59 | Permalink

                That was a great reply, Neil. Thanks for taking the time with me! Here are my next thoughts on this, which again require an historical Abraham. I will eventully get and read Thompson’s book as you recommend. But I think my value in this so far is that I haven’t allowed too many to influence me, that I have used source material only for my conclusions. I do plan, however, to read more commentary type material in the future since I won’t be so vulnerable to it now.

                Facts Help Mythology / Brain Expansion / Primitive Alters of Stone

                A qualitative difference can be measured between the Judaistic/Christian source literature and Greek/Pagan religious mythology in one undeniable way: Christianity today has roughly 2.2 billion fairly determined and/or generally sincere followers, while Greek and Pagan deities have been relegated to the bin of mythology. Consider also that some serious books, even a few encyclopedias, still accept a Hebrew exodus from Egypt as really having occurred, all of which indicates that the production practices behind Greek/Pagan mythology and Hebrew canonical literature was remarkably different. [Are any mythicists paying attention?] Yet both groups must have viewed their products with great affection and found their work extremely entertaining, in a time when human imaginations were vastly expanding—with those being the ancient equivalent to that modern prolificacy of fascinating fiction that’s been feeding the motion-picture industry. Today, virtually no-one holds any Greek or Pagan god as factually existing, yet most do hold the God of Abraham as real and vibrant. There is a reason why the Christian Bible replaced Greek and Roman religious literature—a reason why it won out as something that could be envisioned as factual, while those Greek and Pagan counterparts no longer could be.

                The human heritage behind Judaism and Christianity is one steeped in human and animal sacrifices. In order for Judaism and Christianity to be taken seriously—seriously as if their writings were wholly based on factual information—its Jewish and Christian authors wouldn’t have relied on fiction entirely, but on a medley of fact and fiction which would have made it far more effective than using fiction alone. They would have taken certain portions of their stories from real people—people they considered highly influential in their culture, use a select few of those to stress certain prized aspects that came from a handful of people they held in high esteem, some of whom brought about lessons learned that were nearly held as sacred. Abraham (one such person) would have been needed to move the culture past sometimes using humans as sacrifices—move the culture over to the Old Testament’s practice of offering animals (or grains) only. That Abraham-Isaac human sacrifice narrative would have been one item which allowed those authors to feel genuine tribal/national pride, even though they would have never admitted that human sacrifice was generally abolished by Abraham in such a way, which the barebone facts of that wouldn’t have been too flattering. And Abraham’s crafting of an explanation to avoid forcing his son to become a burnt offering may have resulted from humans beginning to have longer lifespans which would have allowed many to begin having more time to become far more attached to their children, which would have resulted from humans gaining increasing mastery of their surroundings which then afforded less volatile conditions therefore life expectancy should have been increasing.

                The spread of Abraham’s influence would have resulted in the Old Testament’s sacrifice system—sacrifices of animals only, not people—that apparently debuted in David’s or Solomon’s time, when a tabernacle (one like the Pentateuch describes) was made to serve as a temporary symbol of what was becoming the written “history” of the Hebrews, as found in the Pentateuch also. This tabernacle that was said to have been created in the wilderness (about 500 years prior to David), is also said to have been carried when Israelites entered Canaan, then after their lost ark was recovered from the Philistines, 2 Samuel 6 claims it was set up (ark intact) next to the house of Abinadab—until a permanent temple for housing Jewish ornaments and ark could be built. But before a more formal kind of alter for sacrifices was kept next to a tabernacle, and then eventually located directly in front of an even more permanent temple, sacrifices were customarily offered on what were very temporarily constructed stone alters, which rudimentary alters connects all of these customs to that most primitive form of the Hebrew/Jewish religion as practiced by Abraham and others before him—before human sacrifices had essentially been abolished by Abraham. This connects Jewish heritage regarding its religious beliefs/superstitions and practices to a what was most likely a widespread practice among a vast number of humans, something that reached clear to Central and South America—in the Mayans and Incas—the occasional or more frequent use of human sacrifices, which is what the historical Jesus debate should be more anchored in, I think. This doesn’t make the Jews any worse nor any better than anyone else, but with the stories of human and animal sacrifices in the Bible, and even Christians using the human sacrifice concept regarding Jesus, and with respect to the martyrdom of Christians as a type of human sacrifice in the first century, I think this is critical to understanding the true origin and natures both Judaism and Christianity, instead of taking an overly simplistic position that everything is complete fiction.

              • 2013-05-01 12:12:19 UTC - 12:12 | Permalink

                But I think my value in this so far is that I haven’t allowed too many to influence me, that I have used source material only for my conclusions. I do plan, however, to read more commentary type material in the future since I won’t be so vulnerable to it now.

                Thompson’s book is not a commentary. It is a historical thesis addressing what we can validly know from the available evidence, and what, precisely, is the nature of the evidence. I don’t let Thompson “influence me”. What I am looking for is the solid evidence we have for what lies behind the Bible stories and the origins of Judaism and Christianity. What influences my views is an better grasp of what I learn about the evidence from books like Thompson’s, and always being open to understanding more the more I read over time. Without that sort of input I really would mostly be only speculating.

  • 2013-04-25 13:16:06 UTC - 13:16 | Permalink

    Douglas did you know that during those few minutes in which the Boston marathon bombs went off, a dozen people were killed across America as a result of independent gun crimes. Furthermore the murderers were not of the Islamic faith. They do however qualify as human beings, with therefore human motivations.

  • 2013-04-26 19:10:40 UTC - 19:10 | Permalink

    Reality – Why does America lose its head over ‘terror’ but ignore its daily gun deaths? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/21/boston-marathon-bombs-us-gun-law

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