Those words are from New Atheist writers, Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay & Phil Torres, published in Time: How to Fight Extremism with Atheism.
It sounds like they are saying New Atheists need to show a little more tolerance and understanding in the way they approach the religious, in particular the Muslims:
New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots. And its current approach isn’t well-suited to further penetrate Muslim societies. The condescending speech of New Atheists—calling religious people delusional, for example—is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change.
No kidding! Of course other New Atheists obsessed with sputtering bile about Islam, speaking of it as some ectoplasmic monster that demoniacally possesses its mostly dark-skinned acolytes, are not impressed by these three maverick NAs. Jerry Coyne, for example, protested that New Atheists don’t go around calling religious people delusional.
Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!
(The childish “boo!” is part of the JC trademark that emerged most noticeably with I’m a philosopher! I haz a paper with Maarten Boudry on religious belief.)
How deluded can a New Atheist be? Immediately preceding that shockingly renegade suggestion that insulting people is not good for serious dialogue was a paragraph about the impact of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. The response of Jerry Coyne’s followers was to play the cute self-justifying word-game that insists a belief can be delusional without implying the believers themselves are delusional. So Coyne’s followers echoed his sentiments, disapproving of the Time article where it criticized NA approaches and magnifying beyond recognition of the original article where it made positive comments.
Posted September 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm
Of course it is rather weird of the authors to write that bit (“calling religious people delusional … is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change”) directly after saying this:
“The Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, has been downloaded ten million times, and pictures of people holding it while overlooking Mecca are remarkably commonplace given the draconian penalties for doing so—ranging from ten years imprisonment to death.”
Posted September 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm
I feel like that part of the article should have been left out completely as it makes the whole thing pointless. If NAs are the only ones who have made genuine in-roads because they’ve pointed out the falsity of religious beliefs, who exactly is going to take up the baton if they can’t take it any further?
It seems to be a bit of an apology to the religious for criticizing their (delusional) beliefs after they’ve just acknowledged that N. atheists are the only ones who’ve really got anywhere.
Is it really credible that NAs have had such “genuine in-roads” into the Arab Muslim world or that they have been “the only ones who’ve really got anywhere”? The Time article itself is more modest in its claims:
New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots. . . .
The fact is that several publications have appeared since 9/11 about atheism and apostasy in the Islamic world that demonstrate how long-standing such conflicts have existed there, long before September 2001. That Richard Dawkins’ book was downloaded so often in those quarters testifies to the ready-demand existing there prior to its publication. Recall the Arab Spring when Muslims took to the streets often at risk to their lives to call for secular democratic governance. NAs surely evince a little hubris if they believe they are the ones who, as the “best (most rational) of their breed” have taken up Kipling’s “white man’s burden” and been responsible for exposing supposedly Islam-benighted souls to the pure light of reason.
Did you know that the world is round?
The Time article calls for more moderate and understanding strategies to open “candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith.” I can’t complain about new strategies but I do question the emphasis on demonstrating religion’s incompatibility with science.
Today I learned through a new Jerry Coyne post that The Baffler has posted a beautifully written article by Sam Kriss, Village Atheists, Village Idiots, making the same point in a much more interesting way. He compares the distinguishing NA strategy with the decision of a lunatic to repeat over and over “The world is round” to prove his sanity. No-one can disagree with that statement, he reasons, but of course he only manages to demonstrate that he fails to appreciate the contexts in which he is attempting to make his point, gets into bigger trouble, then protests that he is being persecuted for proclaiming nothing but the obvious truth!
Jerry Coyne, unfortunately, cannot grasp the point (to do so would require some uncharacteristic self-reflection) and in his typically open-minded style chooses to cut out the entire journal from his life for this one article: Idiot compares atheists to village idiots.
Everyone knows that religion and science embody irreconcilable understandings of the world. We don’t say insects are wrong because they are not plants. Or rabbit is stupid because it’s not a tree. Probably every child being reared by a family who believes God created everything (whether thousands of years ago or billions of years ago, whether by suddenly making fully formed species appear or by guiding evolution) and that science is either not the whole story or is the completely wrong story. No one needs to tell Religion that it does not agree with Science.
When anti-theists complain about the unscientific nature of religion they are really advertising their ignorance of what religion is, why it is, how it seems to have come about. New Atheists need to do their homework instead of merely shooting fish in a barrel for fun.
So when Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Phil Torres call on NAs to recognize the humanity in religion it sounds to me as though they are on the right track that leads eventually to a genuine understanding of what they are dealing with.
Understanding reality and how humanity works
Stubbornly oblivious to their dishonest claims about their past lives our three authors appeal to NA favourites Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz as guides to follow. Their flaws might be many, but NAs can nonetheless cherry-pick their writings to compile several worthy principles to follow. One of these:
Atheism, Ali points out, is a logical step that comes after Enlightenment values like rationalism and tolerance, and the liberties of a free, open and secular society are in place.
But to act on this most logical of precepts would mean actively protesting against our own Western governments who are propping up the regimes that violently crushed the Arab uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East not very long ago. Or in Syria it would mean calling on our leaders to withdraw all support for the Islamist thugs trying to replace the Assad regime and then throwing every effort into supporting the original Arab Spring leadership. Somehow I cannot see such genuine support for the building of “free, open and secular societies” coming from people like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne. That’s a narrative that does not sit well with their view of Islam itself is the unregenerate evil to be confronted. Real people who actually make their religion (insofar as each of them has a religion) what it is are reduced to a mere shadow of the Beast of Islam itself.
I suspect the influence of “ex-Muslims” or “atheist-Muslims” of questionable character and tactics is at best limited in the Muslim world more generally. Changes are most likely to come from within the Muslim communities themselves. Muslims in countries like the US and Australia have in the main adapted to Western ways. Problems that persist are generally among the new generations, the “in-betweens” of the second generation feeling neither part of their traditional heritage nor at one with their parents’ new home. But that’s how it has always been with migrant families including the Greeks, the Italians, and then more recently the Vietnamese. We know that such conflicted worlds do eventually pass.
In an interview as well as in a book co-authored with Sam Harris Maajid Nawaz said something about Islam that I have seen few NAs notice: Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace. It is whatever people make it. That statement demolishes Islamophobic claims by many NA supporters that Islam is a force or power that is “by nature” evil. Naturally we all want to see the day when there will be no more human rights violations in the name of religion, but at the same time we need to understand what we are engaging with. Religious practices, however much they stand in opposition to human rights (and Christianity is still trying to move beyond its primitive days, too, let’s not forget) are not the same as terrorist ideologies. It is a mistake — and contrary to all serious research into the nature of radicalization and violent Islamists — to treat the two as if they are all part of the one package that contains a monolithic force for evil. As classic cultural imperialists NAs decide for themselves how to interpret the Qur’an and accordingly believe in the reality of their imaginary dragon spitting out terrorist flames at random. A more productive approach is to “recognize the humanity in religion” and listen to what all those living in the Muslim world (everyone from sceptics and rationalists to conservative, Western, Eastern and reformist imams) and those ideologically committed to the Islamist world are themselves saying.
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45 thoughts on “New Atheists Who Want to be Nicer (and Smarter) with Religion, esp Islam!”
“Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace. It is whatever people make it.”
In order to see what Islam is, one need only to look at the way Islam is practiced in countries wherein Muslims enjoy a strong majority. In these countries it is generally the case that women do not enjoy equal rights, apostates and gays are subject to prosecution and non-Muslims are second-class citizens.
Even in modernized Malaysia and Indonesia, sharia courts have the power to place virtually insurmountable obstacles in the path of Muslims who want to convert to another faith or marry a non-Muslim.
You have completely missed the point of the Time article by Boghossian et al. and, ignoring the point of the post simply repeat the ignorance of others.
Stop and think instead of just parroting cliches from Harris and co. When I have visited Muslim majority countries I have seen most women without any veil, had the vote, had equal rights in the workplace, ….. Even marriage to a non-Muslim was no problem. Would you like to guess what Muslim majority countries they have been?
Do you remember the Arab Spring? Do you have any idea what that was about?
You are also in disagreement with Maajid Nawaz, Sam Harris’s colleague. Why did you ignore the context and source of the quote you used?
And I reminded you of these in the article. How about thinking about what I wrote instead of just ignoring it and writing a knee-jerk reaction on the basis of an impression from something you just skimmed?
Stop and think. If you want to know what Christianity is like, what countries would you choose where there have been Christian majorities and what time period of history would you select? Would you select the American South or the Philippines of the Europe of the Middle Ages when it had real power or modern UK to point to “what Christianity is like”? Or would you agree that Christianity is what people make it according to their historical and cultural heritage?
Or better, how about actually reading my post in full and the article it discusses before just jumping in with popular and meaningless cliches.
In order to see what Islam is, one need only to look at the way Islam is practiced in countries wherein Muslims enjoy a strong majority.
In order to see what black people are, one need only to look at the way black people live in countries where they enjoy a strong majority….. lazy, corrupt, diseased, poor, high crime rates…. That’s your logi.
Hi Neil Godfrey! I have been reading your blog for a while. I discovered it because you write a lot about the question of the historicity of Jesus, which interests me a lot. I have also been following about what you said about Islam, and some discussions about it on this blog.
I completely disagree with you. Islam is truly an evil ideology, just like Nazism is an evil ideology. There is just no doubt about it. Muslims who truly believe Islam is peaceful only focus on the early years of Muhammad when he tried to peacefully convert people to Islam. The later Muhammad changed strategy and tried to violently convert people to Islam. He offered Christians and Jews three choices: convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or die. Other people, like atheists or Hindus have two choices: convert to Islam or die. This is what Islam truly is. All major Islamic schools of Islam (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, etc…) acknowledge this, and morally support this.
I believe at the end we all search for the truth and don’t want to live a lie. If a Muslim truly believes Islam is peaceful, shouldn’t we explain to him or her the he or she is false?
How would you react to a neo-Nazi who tells you that the Holocaust didn’t happen, and that Hitler was a peaceful man who wanted to protect the Jews? I think you wouldn’t take him or her very seriously. I think you would explain that the holocaust did happen and that Hitler wasn’t a peaceful man. You wouldn’t say that Nazism is what neo-Nazis believe Nazism is.
And socialism is a general idea about that people should be equal and that we should equally share all resources and wealth. There is not one single person behind socialism. Behind Islam is one man. You can study is ideas, his biography. Islam is Muhammad.
From what you read in the post and from what you read in the article by Boghossian, Lindsay and Torres that my post is about, what do you anticipate my response to your comment might be? And where do you believe my views (and those of Bohossian et al) are in error?
You have also been following what I have said about Islam, you say, though I have written comparatively very little about Islam and quite a lot about Islamism. Nonetheless, given your readings of my posts I am surprised you have ignored what I have written, the one central theme I have been making. I think a reasonable response from anyone who took issue with my posts would be to address the points I make in those posts — including where I have discussed the very points in your comment.
Or have you not so much read my posts but rather skimmed a few lines of them in anger? Forgive me if I am wrong in such a suggestion. Perhaps you would like to engage with my arguments to assure me otherwise.
If you have not in fact read my posts seriously, that’s fine. I’m happy to engage in a serious conversation if you are genuinely interested.
What I wrote wasn’t a response to this specific post.
I have problems with several statements made by you. This one here you can read above here.
“Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace. It is whatever people make it.” (Actually this statements wasn’t made you but you approve of it)
We would never say this of an ideology like Nazism. We would look down on neo-Nazis who truly believe Hitler was a man of peace, and that he put Jews in camps to protect them. (Compare this to the claim that dhimmitude is a system to protect people of the book.) Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace should not be taken seriously. Actually, we should explain to them that they are wrong.
Several other of your claims can be found here:
“Nazi ideology was set out by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, Communism was explained for all by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, and radical Islamism was planted with Sayyid Qutb‘s Milestones.”
“To say that the Muslim religion or the Qur’an is ultimately responsible for Islamist extremism and terrorism today is just like saying that Christianity and the Bible are ultimately responsible for Armstrongism, Dave Koresh, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jim Jones. Well, yes, in a very general sense they are, but only in such a general sense that the link become meaningless.”
No, I don’t agree. Islamic terrorists imitate the life of Muhammad. For instance, you see some of them beheading people. That’s what Muhammad did, so this is what they do. They want to return to the early days of Islam. Muhammed wanted to conquer the world and force people to convert to Islam, so this is what they do, or try. You see ISIS demanding Jizya from Christians, like Muhammed prescribed it. Muhammed approved of taking female sex slaves from the captives of war, so that is what they do. These are not ideas originally originating from Qutb.
And this quote here:
“Nazi and Stalinist ideologies are to socialism as Islamism is to Islam — as my recent posts on the origins of Islamism make very clear in the words of the Islamists themselves.”
I don’t agree. Socialism is a general idea, it has no clear founder. It is a bit vague, like, all wealth should be distributed equally, or something. Islam is very specific. It involves the teachings of one man: Muhammad. If you read the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sira you will discover that Muhammed wants Muslims to conquer the world, force people to convert to Islam, create a terror regime, etc….
I have been biting on my lips not to take part in the discussions about Islam, but now I do.
But… I found your other posts very interesting! Your posts about Jesus are good. I also liked Earl Doherty’s guest columns. But I have nothing to say about these (except for the theory that Marcion was the first synoptic gospel writer, I had an elaborate theory of how the synoptic gospels evolved).
Do you know the source of my statement that Islam is whatever believers make of it, that of itself Islam is neither a religion of war or peace? It did not originate with me but with Maajid Nawaz, co-author with Sam Harris. Maajid Nawaz had some rather distinctive qualifications to know.
Do you know what mainstream Muslims themselves say in response to your comment? If so, why do you reject their own statements about their own beliefs? Have you asked them about what you yourself have come to believe about their religion?
Do you know what the Islamists say about your comment? They will agree with not all but much of it and they do accuse mainstream Muslims of apostasy. You have bought the narrative, the myth, (not the history) of the Islamists themselves. How do you explain this new development of Islamism in recent decades — because it was unheard of in the West before the 1980s.
You did not address my post above but that post addressed very specifically, in anticipation as it were, the statements you have just made about Islam in your comments.
Yes, I know the origins of what you said was Maajid Nawaz. I accidentally erased the word “by”. (I accidentally wrote: “Actually this statements wasn’t made you but you approve of it”, it should be “Actually this statement wasn’t made BY you but you approve of it”).
When you take Islamic scripture literally many Muslims are indeed apostates. They are hypocrites who refuse to fight the Jihad. Would Muhammad be alive today he wouldn’t be happy about them. The Islamists are essentially right about Islam. They go back right to the source of Islam, to the scriptures. Islam spread by Jihad, and by forcing non-Muslims, to convert to Islam or die (or pay the Jizya, if they were Christians or Jews, and later also Hindus and Zoroastrians). Many couldn’t withstand the second class citizenship and converted to Islam. This is what the fundamentalists want to return to.
But that’s not the point. We should explain to them that the prophet they worship is an evil monster! If they truly believe he is a peaceful and friendly man we should convince them they are wrong! Point out to them the awful verses in the Quran. Refer to the Sira, where it is described how he raped a nine year old child, and how he personally beheaded people. Isn’t it important to know the truth?
I have to be honest here. I have spoken with two Muslims personally about religion, one was a man, a personal friend of mine, another was a female prostitute I visited. I didn’t have the guts to challenge them. I was afraid. The prostitute even tried to convert me to Islam. I did have a lively discussion with her about evolution theory, which she doesn’t believe in. My Muslim friend told me that Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace together in Spain, under Islamic rule. I knew he was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. I had some opportunities and I blew it! The truth should be spread.
But … don’t underestimate the number of Islamic fundamentalists! There are quite a lot of Muslims who believe ex-Muslims should be executed, or that adulterous women should be stoned to death. Really frightening numbers. The Pew Research Center has done some good research about that. Many Muslims do take the awful passages in Islamic scripture very seriously. Many believe it should be interpreted literally and only one interpretation is legitimate.
The reason for the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism might the fact that many more Muslims can read and write nowadays. They can read for themselves what Islam is about, and live according to its rules. But actually, I don’t know if it’s actually true that Islamic fundamentalism has risen. I wonder if there was a research institute a 100 years ago which polled Muslims about their religious beliefs. It might turn out that Muslims were as fundamentalist as they are today. I read the book The Triumph of Fate by Rodney Stark. He pointed out the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism using opinion polls while also complaining that there was lack of data from earlier times.
I invite you to read the post above where I address the approach some of us have of deciding for ourselves what other people’s religious beliefs are and telling them what it is they believe. I do encourage you to meet with Muslims — not only their enemies — and ask them about their beliefs.
You no doubt know that I myself did that when I arranged a community meeting between Muslim leaders and interested public for a public exchange and understanding of what they believed and practiced. I have also read books like the following:
Most Muslims I have spoken with, and certainly those Muslims who are found in those books and who authored those books, will not recognize your view of Muhammad or their religion as it has been cherry-picked by their enemies. They have Islamist extremists telling them that what they believe is evil and killing them for it as a result — they don’t need us to come along and give them the same message.
Do you recall the Arab Spring? Do you recall what that was about and who were involved and what they wanted?
You mention a book about the rise of fundamentalism. I can give you a bibliography several times longer than the one above of works I have indeed studied by researchers on the rise of fundamentalism and in particular the rise of Islamism — terrorism. Those are what my posts have generally been based upon. I have often cited my sources that I am discussing in those posts. I don’t think I have ever relied upon just one source but as a rule I do seek out competing views that challenge one another wherever possible and examine the grounds for each of the arguments. However, on the rise if extremism there is remarkable agreement and those who reject the findings are those who seem to me have never read them and are prejudiced ignorantly against their findings.
The myth of Muhammad that you cite is also problematic. It was a later development used to justify a certain political culture just as were the inventions of the conquests of Joshua and David used to justify Hasmonean claims and actions. The commands are there in the Bible but few Jews would take those as binding today and it would be unfair and wrong to tell Jews what they believe today based on those texts.
This comment is getting too long. I have not addressed all of your points but am not refusing to do so. Just in the interests of readability I prefer to address only few points each time. Happy to discuss further.
Jihad is not something that is cherry-picked from Islam. It is a core tenet of Islam. Much of Muhammad’s biography revolves around the jihad on non-muslims.
You say that the spread of Islam by way of jihad is a myth. I think you are alluding to the idea that Muhammad possibly didn’t exist and that the Quran, Hadith and Sira were compiled long after his supposed death, and are possibly completely fabricated. I have read about it, but I was not that convinced.
Actually, I did mention to the Muslim woman I met about Muhammed possibly not existing! I at first said to her that I believed Jesus did’t exist. She said she felt offended because she also believes Jesus is a prophet of Islam. I also told her that some people believed that Muhammad never lived, and I gave some reasons why they believed this.
But I have doubts about this theory. How then can we explain the schism between the Sunni and the Shia? The Shia recognize Ali as the true successor of Muhammad. Ali is supposed to be a cousin of Muhammad. If Muhammad never lived, Ali also never lived. Or Ali was not a family member of Muhammad. This problem is not addressed by people who question the origins of Islam. I think we can assume that the Quran, Sira, and Hadith give us a good picture about Islam, although not 100% scientifically accurate. It is basically all we know about Muhammad and Islam.
I don’t find the idea that Muhammad didn’t exist as convincing as the idea that Jesus didn’t exist. Paul is the earliest source, and he speaks of Jesus as a mystery that took place a long time ago, which is revealed from scripture. He assures us that everything he knows about Jesus he knows through revelation. Some other early Christians don’t seem to know about an Earthly Jesus. Jesus clearly never lived.
But at the end, my opinion is that people have the right to know the truth. If Muhammad never lived, or if Jesus never lived, or if King David never lived, or if Muhammad was a power-hungry tyrant, shouldn’t people know the truth about that? Shouldn’t we tell them? I mean, you have a blog which largely revolves around making clear the Jesus never lived. You clearly want to inform Christians about it. Shouldn’t we inform Muslims about the true origins of Islam? Should we keep them ignorant?
About the Arab Spring. It was about the majority Muslim population wanting to replace the secular dictatorships with Islamic states. The Syrian rebels are dominated by Muslim fundamentalists who want to establish an Islamic State. The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood scored a monster victory in Egypt. Libya is split between different Islamic sects. The only exception is Tunisia, which actually seems to become a functioning free democracy. I hope it doesn’t go the way of Turkey under Erdogan.
And again. If a very friendly neo-Nazi, let’s say a nice young woman, tells you the holocaust never happened, would you say that people should believe what they want to believe and we shouldn’t bother the poor young woman about it? What if a friendly young Turkish Muslim woman tells you the Armenian Genocide never happened?
I do not argue against the historicity of Muhammad and I don’t know why you even bring up that question. It has nothing to do with anything I have said so you are barking up the wrong tree there. I was instead referring to historical arguments presented by scholars who indeed accept M’s historicity. If you jump to conclusions like that in conversation here it is clear you have not as you say read very much of what I have written about Islam or Islamism at all — and it also worries me that you have jumped just as quickly to erroneous conclusions about Islam.
I have no idea what relevance your point about Holocaust denial has, either.
Did you read the post above? Did you read any of my comments right through? I don’t think so. You have ignored most of what I said and asked and simply repeated your own view, ignoring most of what I say in response. I don’t think you read my posts at all — perhaps just skim a lines here and there and recoil in disgust, yes?
I can only repeat the things I said above in my previous comments that you have chosen to ignore till now, or rather than repeat them, ask you to please read what I have said already and respond accordingly.
But as for the Arab Spring, it most definitely was NOT about trying to establish Islamic states. Where on earth did you read that? Did you ever follow any of the protests as they were happening? How can you possibly say it was about wanting Islamic states? I am really interested in your source for such an idea. I have never heard it before so there is clearly a world of information I am missing out on.
The Syrian protestors were crushed by Assad and that allowed the violent Islamists to step in and take over. The Syrian protestors were not dominated by the terrorists but driven out (after Assad arrested the leadership) and replaced by them.
As for Egypt, most Egyptians were opposed to the Brotherhood if you were following the details of the voting and the process by which the Brotherhood came to power — but at least they supported a legitimate democratic process that legal processes in the end skewed against the majority. Did you know that despite that the Brotherhood allowed popular protests against its government and supported the democratic processes.
These comments are becoming unreadable in mobile form. WordPress should do something about it.
The Muslim Brotherhood is supported by almost half of the Egyptians. More than a quarter of the Egyptians supported the Al-Nour party, another Islamic fundamentalist party. More than 80% of Egyptians support stoning for adulterers and the death penalty for Muslims who leave Islam, according to polls from the Pew Research Center. It is clear that moderate Muslims are a minority in Egypt. It is clear that the vast majority of Egyptians want Egypt to become an authoritarian Islamic state. They don’t want democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t support the democratic process. The Muslim Brotherhood attacked Coptic churches. And weren’t many Syrian protesters Islamic fundamentalists also? The Americans tried to arm the moderate rebels in Syria, but they simply aren’t there.
Denying that Jihad played an important role in early Islam is like holocaust denial. It is a whitewash. Millions have been killed under the implementation of Sharia law.
Obviously I didn’t read all you have written. I receive email alerts when new posts are published on this blog. You write a lot. It is too much. I did read some of what you wrote about the existence of Muhammad. You seemed to be supporting the hypothesis that early Muslims weren’t really that interested in Islam, and they created Hadith and traditions about Muhammad on the fly to support their objectives. So, if they wanted to be allowed to keep non-Muslims as (sex) slaves or bribe or take loot from non-Muslims, they just put it into the mouth of Muhammad, who might not even have existed in the first place, but possibly has, but we know nothing about him, because everything we know about him has been written or collected decades or even centuries after his death, so it is scientifically not reliable. That’s what I understood what you meant. You also referred to a book written by Robert Spencer who denies the existence of Muhammad, and you said his book was very informative. You seemed to accept the possibility that Muhammad might not even have lived.
You said: “The myth of Muhammad that you cite is also problematic. It was a later development used to justify a certain political culture just as were the inventions of the conquests of Joshua and David used to justify Hasmonean claims and actions. The commands are there in the Bible but few Jews would take those as binding today and it would be unfair and wrong to tell Jews what they believe today based on those texts.”
I have read that the Old-Testament is also partly forged. Moses, Abraham and even King David are rumoured not to be real historical persons, but they were fabricated to give the people in the land of what now is Israel a past, and to claim this patch of land as promised to them by God, or something. In reality the Jews or Israelites never migrated from Egypt to what is now Israel, and they never really slaughtered the Canaanites, etc… I thought this is what you were referring to, and that early Muslims did the same. They just created a fictional past with a fictional prophet based on Moses or something (or they used an existing prophet who was really named Muhammad who had nothing to do with Islam) and put their political ideas into his mouth.
So I think you mean that Islam is purely fictional, like Harry Potter, and Muslims can believe everything they want to believe what Islam is, because all of it never happened in the first place. And you believe the same is true for Christians and Jews. It is all fake anyway, so why won’t we allow Jews, Christians and Muslims of today to completely fabricate their own personal religion and let them call it Judaism, Christianity or Islam, and not bother them about it if anything is historically accurate in the first place. That’s what I understand from you. Live, and let live. Just let them live in their fantasy world.
The discussion is becoming uncomfortable. I’m going to bail out. I’m feeling very sad. Success with your blog, I like it!
Before you bail out please do tell me your sources. What sources inform you of your views of the Arab Spring, Egyptian and Syrian support for Islamic governments, etc?
You wrote: “You seemed to be supporting the hypothesis that early Muslims weren’t really that interested in Islam?”
No, not at all. You have misread badly. You are equating Arabs with Muslims, a major confusion. My post on Spencer was some time back and I have learned a lot since then, especially from Tom Holland, and it was to Tom Holland’s work that I was referring. Holland does not dispute M’s existence.
You really have misread me about the significance of the fabrication of sacred myths, too. Unfortunately it seems you have chosen to bail out so I doubt you are not reading this comment and there is little point in explaining again, here, the point I was making.
I am sorry you are leaving because I had hoped that we could explore the views you present and for me to understand why what I write seems to cause so much offence.
One thing does seem to keep occurring in exchanges like this with you as well as others in the past is that I find there is an imbalance of informed understanding of events in the Middle East and in Islam itself and Islamism, its political/extremist offshoot in recent decades. The reason I am writing is because I have read so much of reliable and testable research that I believe is worth sharing — that is the same reason I write about biblical topics.
The only source you mentioned was by Rodney Stark. Stark’s work is to say the least controversial in peer-review circles. Stark is an evangelist for the shining knight of Christianity that has saved and made the West great, etc. and a survey of his works overall should alert any readers to his bias.
I will tell you about my sources. One of them is the Pew Research Center. Their polls completely show that many many Muslims are dangerous fundamentalists. Rarely will you find Jews or Christians who want to stone adulterous women to death, or who want apostates to be executed. Within the Islamic world you will find many. You can find it here:
I have read the Quran completely. It was almost 20 years ago that I started to wonder I knew absolutely nothing about Islam. I bought a Quran and read it. I found it a violent and intolerant book. But I reasoned that this was also true for the Bible, and many Christians and Jews don’t do everything what is in the Bible. I didn’t feel any animosity towards Muslims. I was very upset when the Kosovo war broke out, and I was very angry when Serbs expelled the Albanians from Kosovo. The fact that most Albanians were Muslim didn’t come to mind.
At the time I read the Quran, I also went to the library and partly read some books written by Karen Armstrong. I have one book in my possession (my mother bought it). It is called ‘the Battle for God’. I think I also partly read ‘Islam – a short history’, or another book, I’m not sure. I didn’t like her books because she is so clearly a fan of Islam. I hated how she described how Saladin liberated Jerusalem, and how Saladin wore simple clothes, and the “evil” Crusader wore expensive clothes. It was so clear that she supported Saladin. At that time I still didn’t feel any animosity towards Muslims themselves. I also read Dutch books about Yugoslavia. One was Pyrrhus in Kosovo written by Rob de Wijk, and I read some books by Milo Anstadt (‘Scheuren in de heksenketel: een historische schets van Joegoslavië en de Balkan’ , 1993, and ‘Servië en het westen’, 1999). He wrote about the Ottoman Empire and how Yugoslavia should have copied the Ottoman Millet system. At that time I was very afraid of Russia because they supported the Serbs, and I was afraid they were going to invade Europe.
Then not long thereafter were the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which I initially attributed to anti-globalists. There were lots of demonstrations at that time by anti-globalists, so I saw a connection with them. It turned out it were Islamic fundamentalists. Most Muslims in the Netherlands supported these attacks (it turned out most Russians and Greeks did too, but I saw Russians as enemies anyway), and I slowly began to see Muslims as dangerous. Pim Fortuyn also became very popular in the Netherlands and he talked a lot about the dangers of Islam and the Islamization of the Netherlands. Before that time it was practically racist to criticize Muslims. Hans Janmaat did that, and he had to pay hefty fines. After Pim Fortuyn you could speak more or less freely about Muslim immigrants, and the problems they caused. Before that, people considered you a racist if you questioned Islamic immigration, and the problems they caused.
I began to read more about Islam, especially on the internet. Robert Spencer became active at the time, and since then I almost daily check up on his blog jihadwatch. I bought some books written by him. His books are truly informative. Much better than Karen Armstrong’s. He convinced me that Jihad is clearly a central part of Islam. Jihad means the struggle to subjugate all infidels. All major Muslim sects support Jihad, even the mystical Sufis. An exception is the Ahmadiyya movement (but that is not a big sect). The Quran copy I read was a Dutch translation made by them. (In the foreword they demanded from the Jews in Israel that they convert to Islam if they wanted to stay there.) The Ahmadiyya movement is considered heretical everywhere in the Islamic world. They are persecuted from Pakistan to the relatively moderate Indonesia.
I have some problems with Robert Spencer’s ideas. He is obviously a very rightwing guy. He supports the death penalty. I’m more left leaning. I generally vote for leftwing parties, like Groenlinks or De Partij voor de Dieren. I voted the Christian CDA to help prevent Pim Fortuyn’s party (LPF) from becoming the biggest party. I was extremely angry when he was murdered however.
Robert Spencer always sides against Muslims. He supports the Serbs versus the Bosnian Muslims and the Serbs versus the Albanian Kosovars (I know better). Regarding the Jewish-Arab conflict he obviously supports Israel. He denies that Jews ever expelled Arabs from what is now Israel, and he completely ignores how the Israeli government oppresses Arabs, bulldozes their houses and vineyards, how some radical Jewish settlers randomly shoot at Arabs with pistols, etc… I know better. Indeed, Muslims can suffer injustice too. When Buddhists mobs murder Muslims in Myanmar, Robert Spencer obviously supports the Buddhists.
But often he is right. I followed the Egyptian revolution closely. Many Dutch analysts on TV said that most Egyptians would not vote for Islamic fundamentalists, and that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate democratic party much like the AKP in Turkey! (We know how that both turned out!) Robert Spencer repeatedly said ‘told you so’ when such people were repeatedly proven wrong. But he didn’t expect the military to take over again. He thought the Muslim Brotherhood would prevail.
There also is a contributor on jihadwatch called Raymond Ibrahim. I find his contributions always very enlightening. His offers special attention to the persecution of Christians by Muslims in the Arab world. Something that is often ignored. He explains well the principle of Taqiya, and how Al Qaeda speaks with a split tongue, they have one message for the West, and another for their followers.
I cannot agree with Robert Spencer to stop all Muslim immigration. I am actually sympathetic to the idea of free migration. Closed borders often lead to second-class citizenship, or in worst cases even mothers and their children in jail. No person is illegal. I do fear Islamic immigration, and I am afraid Europe will become Islamic within a couple of centuries. Western people have too few babies to maintain their populations, and Africa is booming. I think the white European western population will be completely replaced by mostly Muslim Africans and Asians. I don’t like that idea. Fundamentalists have more babies than relatively more moderate or secular people, like Eric Kaufmann has noticed in his book ‘Shall the religious inherit the Earth?’. I fear that Europe will become a fundamentalist Islamic continent, largely populated by the descendants of Islamic fundamentalist immigrants from Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, Iraq, etc…… They will arrive in Europe and hardly see any ethnic Dutch, German, French, Swedish person at all.
For some strange reason I almost daily follow a Dutch language blog called xandernieuws.punt.nl. This blog is maintained by a very disturbed Christian fundamentalist. I think he is mentally ill, and out of work. His blog is hugely popular. He writes about all sorts of issues which interest me, such as environmental issues and the state of the economy. His ideas are highly disturbing. He seems to believe that a secret society called the Illuminati rule the world together with space aliens! He is a big fan of Vladimir Putin, and he is very very afraid of Islam, just like I am. He sees Russia as the last true Christian vanguard against Islam. He hopes the Russians will invade Europe and come to the rescue to free us from the Muslims. For some reason, I always want to know what he writes. I often see that he uses DEKBA.com as his source, when he talks about Islam. I never look at that website myself however.
I also read Christopher Caldwell ‘s book ‘Reflections on the Revolution in Europe’, David P Goldman’s ‘How civilizations die (and why Islam is dying too)’, and I read Doug Saunder’s ‘The Myth of the muslim tide’. The last person is a clear apologist for Islam, just like Karen Armstrong. He clearly underestimates the rise of Islamic fundamentalism (also in Europe) and the Islamic fundamentalist baby boom. He is right however that when Muslims arrive in the Europe their birthrates start to drop, but he ignores the fact that many Muslims go their home countries to find a mate, and bring them back to Europe.
I have not read his report, but there is a Dutch researcher called Ruud Koopmans who proved that approximately half of European Muslims are fundamentalists. You can easily google him. I read lots of articles about him and interviews with him.
Lately, I’m watching some videos by Bill Warner on Youtube. He thinks Islam is dualistic. When Muslims are weak they opt for the Mekkan version of Islam when Muhammad was peaceful. When Muslims become strong they switch to the Medinan version of Islam when Muhammad was a warlord. Make peace when you are weak, make war when you are strong. Islam is opportunistic. Islam will destroy everything. Christianity can survive communism and Nazism, it cannot survive Sharia law.
Personally, I have no job, suffer from a lot of anxieties, and live off welfare. I live with my parents. I’m declared officially unfit for work. I’m diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, but I don’t believe in labels anymore.
I am also an atheist and a vegan, and I’m very proud of the latter.
Thanks for your reply. I will respond but right now other commitments mean I need to postpone the time I want in order to do this.
Sure, I actually didn’t expect you to respond!
I forgot to mention which books I read by Robert Spencer. It were:
The Truth about Muhammad
Did Muhammad Exist?
And I bought ‘The Complete Infidel’s guide to ISIS’, but I read only a few pages.
I read a short biography about Muhammad, written by Sliman Ben Ibrahim and Etienne Dinet. I read the Dutch version. It was called ‘Het leven Van Mohammed’. In this book Muhammad is the good guy. They do describe his conquests however (they don’t hide he had a violent side).
I want to read Muhammad’s complete biography by Ibn Ishaq. I found a pdf. This will cost some time.
I have thought about the question why Muslims didn’t fight the Jihad in the decades before nineteen seventies. I watched some videos by Bill Warner and he gave a very plausible answer. The Muslims had just been completely colonized and defeated by the West, and they were extremely poor. When Muslims are weak they don’t have to fight, according to Sharia laws. Nowadays there are quite of lot of Muslims who have lots of money (like Saudi Arabia). They are basically recovering and went back to what they have been doing for centuries before that. But… (don’t forget the wars between India and Pakistan and between Israel and the Arabs, there surely was some Jihad).
There is much in your comment that I believe needs a response. I have been thinking of reworking it in order to reply by means of a post rather than in another comment.
I also appreciate your further extension in your follow up comment here. It helps me understand further.
I have to correct myself. I wrote about Karen Armstrong: “I hated how she described how Saladin liberated Jerusalem, and how Saladin wore simple clothes, and the “evil” Crusader wore expensive clothes. It was so clear that she supported Saladin.”
This is almost correct, except that Saladin should be ʻUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb and the evil crusader should be Sophronius. I came across the chronicle of Michael the Syrian (which can easily be found for free on the internet), and he describes exactly the story Karen Armstrong relates (I forgot in which book of hers). Michael the Syrian says: ‘Then ‘Umar went to Jerusalem. Sophronius, the bishop of Jerusalem, came before him. When he saw that ‘Umar [g308] was wearing old clothing, a worn fur, and a worn and coarse sheepskin, he brought him costly clothes and beseeched him to put them on. But [‘Umar] replied: “God put into my hands the entire Persian treasury at Ctesiphon, as well as the [treasuries] of the Byzantines, Damascenes, and Egyptians and many others, and still I did not change these clothes of my poverty so that I would not become proud and forget myself.” And so saying, he did accept [the clothes] from him. [‘Umar] honored the bishop and gave authority over that land to him. The bishop requested that the Jews be removed from Jerusalem and [‘Umar] gave him an edict to that effect. [‘Umar] also ordered that a mosque be built on the site of the Temple.’ [End of quote, I used “The Chronicle of Michael the Great, Patriarch of the Syrians, translated from Classical Armenian by Robert Bedrosian]
This story seems to be in total contradiction with that of pseudo-Sebeos, who says the Arabs and the Jews were friends, and worked together to conquer the Holy Land. On the other hand, according to pseudo-Sebeos the Jews and Arabs got in conflict together when the Arabs had their own plans with the Temple Mount. Maybe it was then when Umar accepted Sophronius’ proposal to kick out all the Jews from Jerusalem.
“Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace. It is whatever people make it. That statement demolishes Islamophobic claims by many NA supporters that Islam is a force or power that is “by nature” evil.”
That statement is another deepity, trivially true but meaningless in the context it’s used.
There was a post on stochastic terrorism here, and there’s some underlying truth to it: if you present a nonsense idea to a couple of colleagues they may laugh, but if you present it to a thousand random people, some of them will probably believe.
Millions of ‘mainstream’ Muslims perpetuate the idea that islamic texts contain some ultimately important truths, and shape their environment so that the idea gains plausibility and respect. It’s only inevitable that now and then, some idiots influenced by this idea look into these texts or interpretations thereof, and ‘make Islam’ just what they say.
This is how it works,
it doesn’t matter if you call it force or non-force, call it evil, harmful or just having natural consequences, it’s just playing with words.
I know of no research into the causes of radicalization/extremism within Islamism or the Muslim world that agrees with your account of how it works. I have written many posts on the research that is widely acknowledged and respected on this blog (and continue to do so) and also about how religious belief works. The popular notion that you express is as far as I know borne out nowhere in any case studies or research studies.
You don’t always need research to establish observable facts and be able to connect the dots. You don’t need separate research to prove general principles work in every particular case. In any case, existence of research is not a good reason to stop thinking.
The mechanism is based on the following basic premises:
– the idea that islamic texts contain ultimate truths is prevalent in the muslim world, and practicing Muslims are who keep this going.
– islamic texts contain quite explicit calls to hatred and violence against certain groups of people.
– some people tend to take nonsensical ideas way more seriously than population average.
These are beyond dispute I believe, if you know of research that doesn’t agree please share.
What follows from the premises is, as Muslim population is nearing 2 billions, chances that nobody takes the calls to violence too seriously are vanishingly small. It’s expected some part of Muslim population goes violent, and that’s exactly what we observe.
That’s obviously false what you say, that research doesn’t agree with this mechanism, but if it was the case, it would have to explain how Muslim population defies the third premise, and how they come to be such an uniformly rational bunch.
Where you diverge from the research is in the view of people as passive recipients of ideology. This diminishes the role of the individual and their circumstances instead treating ideas as though they are viruses that will indiscriminately infect a certain number of people out of any given population against their will. This also runs contrary to case studies observing situational factors that give rise to extremist perspectives and sympathy instead roping adherents into the scientifically useless category of “someone who takes nonsensical ideas too seriously” like it’s a birth defect.
The “underlying truth” you gleaned from Neil’s post on Stochastic Terrorism stands in stark contrast to the very specific conditions he laid out. What about the role of the public figure? The repetitious dehumanizing? The appeals to personal fear and disgust? The whole reason it’s considered a form of terrorism is because there is agency involved and not just bizarre ideas being casually emitted and left to gently bounce around the room until they trigger freak accidents.
There’s many factors and a very predictable pattern you ignore, so predictable in fact that attacks have been anticipated such as the one on Planned Parenthood. The utility of your approach, on the other hand, is questionable; once the cat’s out of the bag, it should just be a continuous siege against the abortion clinics, the infidels, etc. as each sufficiently receptive lone wolf gradually meanders into these floating ideas with no rise or fall in violence in between.
That doesn’t follow from my argument.
Let me rephrase: Level of commitment to an ideology varies greatly among adherents, from minimal (pretending) to extreme.
This variability comes exactly from individuals and their circumstances. I also wouldn’t say they’re being ‘infected’ against their will, but in case of religious beliefs, they are most often acquired in childhood, so if not against, it can be said it’s without their will.
Anyway this premise is true in case of large populations, regardless of what research has to say about individuals and small groups.
I don’t think it does. Specific conditions don’t rule out the general principle, which is evidently true.
Besides, public figures dehumanizing others, appeals to fear and disgust and the like accompany ideologies since we can tell, stochastic terrorism is just the old using new tech.
Another interesting thing to notice, some people who recognize that villifying groups of people through electronic media can cause violence, are at the same time reluctant to acknowledge this about islamic texts, which contain that and more – explicit calls to murder.
It doesn’t follow. That such events happen at all is in perfect accordance with my argument.
Of course there are circumstantial modifiers affecting what constitutes the extreme end of the spectrum, and the relationship between extreme commitment and probability of acting upon it, one of the most important is what I’d call density of adherents in a population.
My point is the “general principle” you’re posing is antithetical to the kind of research that Neil has posted: that an idea can own a mind rather than that a mind grapples with an idea.
All of the research that I’ve seen on Vridar and elsewhere looks exactly like in the link I posted: it follows the sociocultural dynamics that drive individuals to consciously pursue certain ideologies. Nowhere have I seen relevant scholars treat cultural ideas like genetic conditions that can be traced along populations nor ascribe them agency as entities that can displace human will.
The specific conditions are the whole point of stochastic terrorism, the meat and bones, the mechanics. If you divorce it from the very clear and specific context you effectively drive it into the ocean. It’s a power dynamic combined with the way an individual will interact with an elaborate all-encompassing ideological narrative.
No, this doesn’t support your principle that ideas carry intrinsic force and are capable of hijacking human minds “without their will”. No, your comparison of a visible authority figure exercising their power to grapple with an audience and systemically incite violence with the mere existence of passages in the Quran is a false equivalence that mangles the very concept of stochastic terrorism into a veritable Frankenstein’s monster that its very proponents wouldn’t recognize.
Simple breakdown: no power dynamic? No agent? No terrorism. Its proponents nowhere treat ideas as vicious attack dogs being removed from their cages in the way you compare an orchestrated ongoing public campaign to the inert contents of texts.
By this reasoning, since Islamic texts can be considered a terrorist campaign in themselves likened to that of a stochastic terrorist, we must also consider their propagation a form of terrorism. A moderate Muslim distributing a copy of the Quran for public consumption can have no less blood on their hands than an ISIS agent.
It almost seems that the best you can say about any research is that it can’t invalidate your principle. Is there anything that can?
Before I picked up any of the studies on terrorism I wanted to understand Islam and Muslims. This was of course in the wake of 9/11 and there was very heated public debate over Muslims. I read the Qur’an and was disgusted but not because of the passages so many critics cite today but because of its undisguised tenor of authoritative revelation. I tried to understand this response in comparison with the Bible which I had also viewed as authoritative revelation yet with which I had had a long love affair.
I followed the debates about Muslims and as I have said several times now even engaged Muslim community leaders for a public discussion. But that involved only the local community. I also sought out reputable research into the minds and attitudes of Muslims more generally.
It was only after all of that that I took up my inquiries into terrorism. I think part of the problem with my posts on terrorism is that I have failed to cover first of all the information I came across beforehand on Islam itself. I think a few posts on Islam as practiced and understood by Muslims more broadly (according to the serious research) will be useful.
But of course those posts may not make any dent on those whose thinking is directed more by concerns of our identity and values than facts — which is probably most of us at some time or other. :-/
It is still a worthy endeavor to work to humanize Muslims as well as the general practice of Islam which such critics have successfully portrayed as a boogeyman.
It amazes me that many of the same people who will laugh at what they deem cafeteria Christianity will dogmatically insist on a “True” Islam that is bound to its most barbaric elements. Despite the fact that the Bible shares in the violent authoritarian themes and the calls for the deaths of nonbelievers, of blasphemers, of rival religion practitioners, etc., the sneers of “so-called ‘moderate’ Christians” are few and far between.
I like to think that most would be reasonable enough to admit that religious practice has always been far too organic to be defined by its ancient texts were fear not the rule of the day. Sadly, the last thing many who are convinced of the inevitability of the clash of civilizations will consider is that the structures of “the enemy” can be as rich and fluid as their own. They can only be forces for or against something.
I should clarify by ‘humanize’ I meant combat the dehumanization.
The “general principle” is an observable fact. If observable fact is antithetical to research, what does it say about the research?
But I don’t think the principle is at odds with the latter alternative. If a mind grapples with an idea, and sometimes loses, that would produce the same effect.
How many people raised as Christians become Muslims? How many people raised as Muslim become Christians, or Buddhists? What does it say about that conscious pursuit?
Ideas don’t replace will, but will is driven by ideas and beliefs, among other things.
Isn’t paper a medium? Isn’t Muhammad a figure of authority? Isn’t all-seeing, all powerful being a figure of authority, should one believe in their existence?
I didn’t say islamic texts are equivalent to stochastic terrorism, I said they’re worse, because in addition to being a medium through which figures of authority villify and dehumanize groups of people, they contain explicit calls to violence.
Way less, if they’re not conscious of the consequences, but yes, they contribute a tiny bit.
Is there anything that can convince me all adherents show exactly the same level of commitment? Well, maybe if all Muslims went amok, every single one. But they don’t.
Seriously, I didn’t expect anyone to try to challenge basic observable facts.
Facts remain facts, even if they lead to some uneasy conclusions.
As far as Islam is concerned, they have a point.
One way to work against dehumanizing of Muslims might be stressing that few centuries back when christianity still went strong, the West fared even worse, but that’s hardly possible given the circumstances. It’s difficult to deal with foreign superstition, if you haven’t yet completely dealt with your own.
That anyone would “lose” to a disembodied idea like it’s a demon possessing them is very much at odds with the position of ideas as devices the mind uses.
You’re grasping. Muhammad does not constitute visible. This ancient figure isn’t grappling directly with a targeted contemporary audience.
It isn’t merely about possessing a platform, it’s about agency in directing ideology.
That is what I’m saying. Ideas are spread socially among individuals. There is nothing to suggest they “spring up” in populations like recessive traits, and I do include the radical elements when I say that.
Pieces such as the one I linked would suggest it more accurate to say that will drives us to seek out ideas and ideologies that best fit our personal needs.
Terrorism without being conscious of the consequences. So, accidental terrorism.
So basically it’s useless to even discuss whether research supports it since it’s completely unfalsifiable anyway. You’ve erected an untouchable dogma.
Since you can’t be mistaken about something that is “observable fact”, “beyond dispute”, “evidently true”, and immune to refutation by means of facts or evidence, I guess the only possible explanation is that the experts in all the relevant fields simply don’t know what they’re talking about. Well argued.
Check Darwin awards for numerous accounts of minds using devices,
but that has nothing to do with my argument.
Is a TV dude grappling directly with his audience? Is he a figure of greater authority than Muhammad? Do millions get angry with a cartoon depicting a TV dude?
What’s the fundamental difference, which makes a TV dude so influential, and Muhammad a figure of no importance nobody cares about?
Yes, ideas are being spread socially,
but that has nothing to do with my argument.
You might want to reread my argument, and make sure you’re arguing what I actually wrote, not some implications you imagined yourself.
If you know of facts, or evidence supporting that level of commitment to an ideology/religion is constant among adherents, and all of them take it equally seriously, by all means, please share.
Thanks for your reply, Ned. As might be expected, I support Greg’s reply. In addition, . . .
What research is good for is testing widely held “common sense” views of the world or other common or natural expectations and understandings that we have.
How would you test your third point — that “Some people tend to take nonsensical ideas way more seriously than population average.” Let’s construct some “nonsensical ideas” and see if that’s true. One nonsensical idea is that if we believe hard enough that we can fly we will fly. (I mean like superman, or by leaping off a cliff, unaided.) That’s a nonsensical idea. How many people take that one seriously apart from when stoned? Another nonsensical idea is that pigs can fly. How many people test that by tossing pigs off a cliff to find one that flies? Or what about the idea that a cat can be taught to talk? etc etc etc
My point is that “some people tend to take nonsensical ideas way more seriously than population average” is not a very useful “rule” or principle. It’s simply not true as a generic statement. It is perhaps true only in certain circumstances, among certain social groups, and related to certain types of ideas. Why do some people think an idea that many of believe to be nonsensical is not nonsensical at all? So that’s where we need to get a little more specific.
Secondly, what you say “we observe” is not quite true in any generic sense. It is only true since November 1979. Before 1979 Islamic terrorists were unheard of in my generation. Terrorists were all anarchists, socialists, nationalist liberation fighters. Your premises would lead us to expect something that should be observable any and all times where we find Muslims, period. But that’s not what we find. Islamic terrorism is something that appears to be tied to specific time periods and places. Research can help us identify those periods and places.
Third, we all know the old fallacy of mistaking correlation with causation. That’s another thing research is good for. How useful is being a Muslim as a predictor of becoming a terrorist? Before we even begin to answer that we need to be clear about what being a Muslim means. I know of many Muslims who are so simply because it’s on their ID cards by law. They in fact may be atheists or anything else but they are part of a Muslim society. Do we include those in our understanding of being a Muslim? If we find more Muslims joining voices for peace and condemning terrorism, then should we say being a Muslim is also a predictor of being an anti-terrorist? The correlation would suggest that is the case.
So such correlations are not particularly useful. Again, that’s where research is useful — and I refer once again to Greg’s post on that.
You’re right that nobody takes seriously ideas which aren’t taken seriously by anyone.
Fortunately, my argument pertains to ideas that actually exist, having large, statistically significant following.
For our purposes it’s sufficient it is certainly true about abrahamic religions, Islam in particular.
The argument refers to violence inspired by widely popular ideas in general, and is certainly true.
If you mean islamic terrorism, there are accounts of killing alleged unbelievers from seventh century, and something we can call terrorism in eleventh. It was always there to varying degrees.
You’re right that modern style terrorism is obviously a modern affair, but it’s a part of a bigger picture. You must realize that before ’79 a TV set was still a novelty in many parts of the world, and that modern terrorism which depend on modern media networks and technology couldn’t arise before development of modern media networks and technology.
Thanks to new technology modern terrorism is now more effective having incomparably wider scale and range than before, but on the basic level it’s still the same old thing.
Way more useful than having friends, being involved in social networks or being rebellious youth. These factors occur everywhere hence they don’t correlate with terrorism at all.
I’d add that in muslim world apostasy is still punishable by death, so there’s even more incentive to pretend. That makes popular notions like “most Muslims are peaceful” somewhat questionable.
I’d expect strength of beliefs to correlate strongly with support for terrorism, but we can’t be sure since it’s often difficult to get people to be honest about their beliefs. This is also one of the reasons case studies should be taken with a grain of salt.
Anyway, this only confirms my third point is true in case of Islam – some Muslims take it more seriously than others.
You missed my point. You need to revise and re-word one of your “observable facts”. You cannot say some people are always going to take stupid ideas seriously and act on them. That’s simply not true. The question to ask is why ideas that seem stupid to some people do not seem stupid to everybody. What is going on there? That requires a bit of understanding of history and psychology and how societies work. It takes more than a viscerally flippant one-liner to explain.
And then we need to understand WHY it is that a few do tend to act on ideas considered extreme and immoral by most people. I have been posting on the dynamics of how that happens. You would do better to try to take issue with those posts than simply write as if you’re the only one who believes he has any sense.
The rest of your comment follows the same partially and poorly informed popular disunderstandings. I’m trying to learn a bit about what researchers have come to learn about how the world works and share those posts here. If you find the arguments and evidence wanting then you need to address the points I make explicitly instead of just ignoring them and posting your own opinions.
If the above is simply not true, then the alternative must be true, let’s construct it:
Nobody is ever going to take stupid ideas seriously and act on them.
Is it one of the insights you gained from that respected research,
or just your own opinion?
No, that’s fallacious. It is the fallacy of the false dichotomy.
But you have actually hit on the key point I was trying to make when you say that some people take “stupid ideas seriously”. That’s just another way of saying that what one person thinks is stupid is not thought stupid by someone else. Some people think it’s stupid to deny oneself pleasure, for example, but others think it is a good way to physical or spiritual health.
Terrorists for example don’t think there is anything the least stupid about what they do. They actually think our response and ways of thinking is what is “stupid”.
No, it’s either some or none, no more possibilities, the dichotomy is perfectly fine.
Interesting but irrelevant.
Even if you don’t think killing people on the basis of their beliefs or lifestyle is a stupid idea, or just don’t like the word, the argument works anyway.
If there is a large population believing that a book contains sacred truths, and the same book contains calls to murder, it is expected some part of the population takes calls to murder as sacred truths, and some of them act on it.
No need to multiply entities any further.
Such persons on record who do so are known to be mentally ill. I know of no empirical evidence to support your assertion. That’s not how people — or religion — works. Just making wild accusations that are contrary to all human experience is not sound argument.
Every case of terrorist action or a person acting on extreme religious beliefs is explicable in terms of the formal studies I have addressed on this blog.
If you can point to a single exception that supports your sweeping allegation then do so.
Now look in your other post, ‘Something Rotten…’ table 12 ‘Islamic laws about apostasy should be strictly enforced in Muslim countries’. That very often means death penalty.
There was a Pew survey specifically about support for death for apostasy. It turns out it’s going strong and in six of the countries where the survey was conducted it’s the majority view.
That’s some few hundred million Muslims who declare they believe people should be murdered on the basis of their beliefs.
Are you trying to say they are known to be mentally ill?
You are not following my comments and are not being consistent with yours. I have attempted to point out that what is nonsense to one person may not be nonsense to someone else. Many people believe in a god; others (like me) think that the idea of god is nonsense. But the god believers think that not believing in god is nonsense. Who decides?
You are also not presenting the arguments fairly. Millions of Muslims do believe that apostasy should be punished by death, but all cultures distinguish between death as a penalty for a crime and murder. The barbarism of believing in the death penalty for apostasy is bad enough without having to misrepresent it as belief in murder for apostasy.
If you have followed any of these posts you should be aware that there are differences in strengths of feeling about the death penalty for apostasy in different Muslim societies. The Pew polling also tells you that. The fact of such differences, sometimes very large differences, cannot be explained on the belief that there is something inherently barbaric about Islam per se. But such variations are explained very well on the belief that any religion, Islam included, is modified by, shaped by, societies and political cultures in which it finds itself. I have referred briefly to the appalling situation in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It is instructive to examine the histories of those countries because one soon learns how religion has been in recent years been used as a political tool of control and manipulation in ways that would be utterly impossible in other places. Islam is as adaptable, as malleable, as most other religions, Christianity included.
In another society and time Christianity was a barbarous faith; in some societies today it is still a very primitive and superstitious faith. It adapts. Ditto Islam. The tragedy of why Islam has brought itself to such a low-level of values in so much of the world is what I have been covering in these and other posts.
I agree with that, but that’s not relevant enough to waste comment space. If some day you write a post about it, I’ll gladly contribute my three cents.
That’s a semantic issue.
I don’t see death penalty for apostasy any better than murder anyway, whatever you call it, works the same.
And I just wrote that too, also it’s the special case of my third premise which you tried to argue against.
Of course it can.
People are different, they are influenced by religion in different ways and magnitudes, and religion is only one of the factors affecting them, hence the variability.
When christianity was influential, it was barbaric, wherever it lost influence, it got better. Judaism never developed serious barbarism in this era, because it was dispersed from the beginning. Islam is the same, should it lose influence in the muslim world, it will get better.
You have strong feelings and convictions about this topic; unfortunately they do not seem to allow you to learn anything new or to acquire a deeper understanding of the topic from another perspective, least of all a perspective that aligns more with serious scholarly research.
Another empty appeal to authority.
Do you have any own opinions about the topic?
You seek answers and comfort in the scripture of “serious scholarly research”, but are you aware of the deep crisis the field found itself in? Do you know of the reproducibility problem in psychological sciences? Independent research has shown that only about 50% of the peer revieved research results can be reproduced, and that’s just as bad as it can get, you could get comparable reliability just tossing a coin.
That’s about the more reliable research based on statistical data, what can we expect of the kind of research you’re referring to, which is mostly speculations based on case studies?
Don’t get me wrong, I do respect psychological research, but I respect it for what it is, not for what it is not.
It is a collection of ideas and tentative hypotheses (often mutually exclusive), giving one things to think on, helping form his own opinions.
It’s certainly not a collection of immutable truths to believe in blindly.
I work with academics in the field of research data and published outputs management so yes, I am very aware of the problems associated with much of the published research in certain fields and in certain of the more popular journals. It’s my job to be aware.
What particular “authority” do you believe I am appealing to? What particular research do you believe I am relying upon that is questionable? I am certainly not referring to psychological studies — unless I have overlooked something I said for the moment. I have posted lots about the data, the way it is obtained, its authenticity and how it flies in the face of too many popular prejudices. I would appreciate a more targeted criticism of what I have posted rather than simply saying I appeal to authority (who’s the authority? where have I done so? on what point?)
As for my own opinions, I do try to make them informed opinions based on the reliable data. How do you form your opinions? Hearsay? News media? Anecdotal evidence? The political and other shapers of public opinion?