Saturday, December 18, 2010

The religion of peace

This week's edition of BBC's Newsnight includes an investigative report on how Egypt--our ally--has become an Islamist country while officially denying it.

Coptic Christians were in Egypt for centuries before Islam even existed. Today they're discriminated against at every level. Christian girls are kidnapped off the street by Islamist organizations and forced to "marry" older Muslim men. Then they're declared Muslim. The police tell their parents and extended families that they won't be permitted to visit these kidnapped and raped teens and women until the victims get impregnated and have a child.

Even if they escape their captors, they're now officially "Muslim" and are not permitted to either resume their Christianity or to marry a Christian. You can become Muslim in a minute, but renouncing Islam is a nearly impossible, life-threatening process, with the police turning a blind eye to Islamist organizations carrying out these pogroms.  If anyone dares complain to the authorities they just get stonewalled or even harassed themselves.

Coptic Christians find it nearly impossible to rise in their society. Most work at garbage dumps sorting garbage. It's nearly impossible to get a permit to build a church. Recently they built one illegally--it was dynamited and the Christian protesters trying to protect it were shot at by the cops using live ammo. Two died.

Officials stoutly deny all of this, and insist as well that there's nothing to investigate--so they don't.

All this in what's considered to be one of the more liberal Muslim countries.

And I'm not getting this from some wacky anti-Muslim website. This is BBC's Newsnight, which if anything has a liberal bias.

Of course it's even worse in our liberated "ally" Iraq, whose ancient Christian communities are being forced out of the country or murdered if they don't leave. This is what the Muslim Arab countries did to their 800,000+ Jewish citizens in and around 1948. Now they're doing it to the Christians.

Ironic that the Christian crusader George Bush was instrumental in freeing up the Islamofascists to do to the Chrisitans what they didn't dare do under Saddam Hussein.


n1ck said...

Religious tyrants are religious tyrants, regardless of the religion they use to control people.

Islam is a great example of what any religion attempts to do, which is to influence and control not only people, but governments.

Luckily for us in the Western world, religion has been neutered and must play nice. You still see people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who would terrify most sane people if given real power, but they're relegated to TV and making idiotic remarks like a teenage celebrity to garner actual attention.

But don't think for a minute that Christianity wouldn't do the same thing Islam does, if it hadn't been neutered hundreds of years ago. Buddhism is a nice, peaceful religion that hippies practice, right?

Well, take a look at Sri Lanka and how Buddhism is used by some to promote nationalistic violence towards Hindu Tamils, another religion not usually associated with "religous fascism".

Does Islam disgust me? Absolutely. Just as much as every other religion. The sole purpose of religion is to divide people into groups of "favorable" and "unfavorable", with the pretense that some invisible god agrees. This is nothing but a license to pass judgment and create conflict. God agrees with what you do! God likes the way YOU do things! God is great! Gee...I don't like the way another group of people do something, and if God likes me and agrees with me, he must also agree with me on that!

That is religious logic.

Some day, our species is going to have to make a decision. Are we going to go forward and make rational decisions without a bunch of biases handed down to us from thousands of years in the past?

Or, are we going to continue our "valued" traditions that make absolutely no sense in a world of science and medicine, and keep tabs on which human beings are "good" because they are like us, and those that are "not good" because they aren't like us.

No religion that separates people into categories is a religion of peace.

My challenge: Find a peaceful religion.

Sean said...


Your post glaringly flails against religion as if it's the root cause of all problems in this world. Are people not capable of doing atrocious acts without a religious cause? Your post does a fine job of pointing out that numerous religions have been used by people to commit atrocities. Fair enough, but have you considered other examples? Mao and Stalin didn't exactly promote a religion, but it had epic consequences. Genocidal tendencies do not require some sort of religious permission.

You seem confident that the sole purpose of religion is to divide people (aka segregation and racism). I'm not confident that religion is required for these traits. In fact, I'd argue that hateful feelings against someone else do not require any sort of belief in a deity.

Before religion can be ridiculed and blamed for all the world’s problems, the good must be considered along with the bad. Are you aware of all the good things occurring in the world that carry on under the premise of religion?

While your position is eager to blame religion as a tool used to create ignorance and prejudice, have you considered that you've just judged a whole millennia of human existence? Not even religion is capable of something like that.

Ehkzu said...

Gentlemet, I'd much rather work on actual problems than wholesale attacks on or defenses of all religion at all times everywhere, one way or another.

Whether you're pro- or anti- religion, in general (a huge discussion that's tough to prove one way or another) surely we can agree that there's a covert war against Christians going on across the Muslim world; that America bears a significant portion of the responsibility for allowing this to happen in Iraq, and that it doesn't seem to be an issue in our diplomatic relations with countries where this is going on, and so we do have a dog in this fight.

I'm not bringing this up because I'm a Christian myself. I'm not, I'm a strict empiricist in fact. But I'm not a big fan of systematic injustice, and I am a big fan of calling institutions to account for whatever is done in that institution's name.

And the treatment of Christians in Islamic countries is bad and getting worse in general.

I hadn't even mentioned Indonesia, probably the most liberal (rlatively speaking) Muslim countries. There the issue is a lot less dire, but there both Christians and Hindus are feeling beleaguered, which I know about from first-hand observation.

Regardless of the sins and/or virtues of religion in general, Islam in general has a problem with theological imperialism and intolerance of non-Muslims within the borders of Muslim-dominated territories. Most Muslims don't do anything against non-Muslims...but they don't do anything to stop the Islamofascists who do do it in their name in these countries.

I'm not making any philosophical propositions here--just factual assertions that can be verified factually.

How about it?

Ehkzu said...

I meant "gentlemen" of course. I don't think Google lets you edit comments once you've hit "enter." They should fix that.

n1ck said...


Mao and Stalin did not commit atrocities in the name of Atheism. Atheism isn't a belief or a dogma. It's the lack of belief. Mao and Stalin committed atrocities because they were megalomaniacs.

I did not blame religion for all of the world's problems. If I did, please, point me to that phrase or paragraph where I say religion has caused every problem. Or even a majority of problems. I'll wait.

I also didn't say that religion has never done something positive. Many people would probably be scum if they weren't afraid of an invisible sky wizard watching them. Many people do charitable work because of their religion. I never addressed religion on the micro level. I did so relative to the post by Ehkzu.

Islam in the middle east and in muslim-majority countries is not only powerful among the people, but it is also powerful over state governments. Sharia law is in effect in many of those countries, and political/military/religious leaders may sometimes use that religious power, but they can also be removed if the religious power is turned against them.

The name of the post we're responding to is "The Religion of Peace". It covers Islam and how Christians and other religious people in muslim countries are being persecuted. In case you were wondering, I'm not going to defend Islam, at all. Especially how it treats just about everyone but the rich and powerful few who have claimed the right to use it as they see fit.

All I did was explain that "peaceful" religions like Christianity are only peaceful NOW because they've been neutered by philosophers, governments, laws, science, democracy, and freedom, for the past few hundred years. Not because one religion is inherently more peaceful than another.

1000 years ago, Europeans gathered their forces and coordinated warfare in the middle east to conquer land and convert its peoples to Christianity. 500 years ago, Christianity wasn't some super-charitable organization of people sending canned goods and money to Africa. It burned people. It tortured them for having views it disagreed with. It supported brutal tyrants, if the tyrant supported that church. 200 years ago, some churches were still making a case for slavery. God seemed to approve of it in the OT, so why shouldn't men?

My point is that ALL religion inherently categorizes people as either saved/not saved. Faithful/infidel. Enlightened/non-enlightened. And no matter how positive a religion may be in theory, in practice, humans use it to justify just about anything they do, no matter how inherently evil.

Christianity is NOT an exception. The only reason Christianity is tame today, is because it was tamed by a cadre of people, institutions, governments, science, and ideas. And be thankful. This is why we have an open society that allows free speech and expression, and an emphasis on truth over dogma.

Islam needs to have the same thing done to it, but unfortunately, it has to be done internally, or the people who practice the religion just embrace it even more...especially the radical aspects of it.

That is what you see today. A religion that isn't being tempered internally. Many muslims are truly moderate and reasonable. But many others take offense to how the rest of the world treats their religion. Silly cartoons cause them to riot. Calls to martydom are actually answered and young people hurt and kill others, and themselves, all for their religion. Christianity did the same in the past, ya know.

Internal temperance is the only way Islam is going to survive as a major religion. And the paradox there is that when a major religion becomes neutered, it essentially becomes a token of itself and doesn't really do what a religion is supposed to do, which is provide a total reality outlook for all aspects of life.

Of course, to me, thats a great thing. But it is a long, drawn-out process that takes centuries, and blood.

It's painful when any major religion has to reorganize itself.

n1ck said...


I tried to respond to Sean, but it said the URL was too large and I lost my comment. I will try again, but more generally, and with emphasis on your post.

Religion isn't inherently evil. It provided humans with a world view before their was science to explain reality. I'd argue that religion provided group cohesion for early humans, which is why it is so "universal" among humans. It's a story that explains not only everything that you see, but everything you don't, and tells you not to worry. Ok, fine. Fair enough.

My post didn't lay blame for all problems on religion. My post was simply a way for me to say... no religion in practice is inherently more peaceful than another. 1000 years ago Christians gathered to conquer and convert the middle east. 500 years ago Christian churches split, and torture and executions were used by all sects of churches to keep their followers following their doctrine.

Today, you see the same thing, with Islam. It is a major, world religion with billions of followers. They have their own little schism between Shiia and Sunni, much like Catholics and Protestants. And just like Christians in Europe 500 years ago, aren't very tolerant of the other sect of muslims...or people who practice other religions.

What is going on today, is a religion that has to temper itself internally. There are many moderate/liberal muslims who do speak out against terrorism, and other aspects of Islam that the West doesn't like. But ultimately, its a long "battle" for the temperance movement, because of the inherent paradox with a neutered religion.

Once a religion becomes truly neutered, it no longer provides its subjects with a total view on reality. Tempering a religion allows government, law, science, and democracy to replace religious law and expectations. People may list themselves as a "Christian", but most don't read the bible, make any attempt to live their life in a "Christian" manner, etc. It just becomes a cultural phenomenon. A token. Look at Secular Jewish Culture, for example. Judaism is 1000+ years older than Christianity, and shows you where Christianity is going. A token cultural idea.

But, the path to this neutered religion isn't easy. Christianity was neutered by philosophy, government, law, science, democracy, and freedom. It took hundreds of years before many "Christian" countries allowed their citizens to practice religious freedom.

Now, look at the muslim world. How much democracy do they have? How much freedom do they have? How much non-Islamic government do they have? How free are they to philosophize and publish their work for others to read and discuss?

No religion is more inherently peaceful than another. Christianity wasn't a peaceful religion until many forces all came together and decided that equality under the law, freedom, and science are the way to make life better on earth. Islam has to come to the same conclusion, and it has to be internally.

When a group feels threatened, especially when their religion/beliefs seem to be a target, they are more prone to either become more radical, or stand back because they don't want to get in the radical's way.

This happened with Christianity hundreds of years ago, and it's happening now with Islam. It's painful, and bloody, and it isn't fun. Watching Islam now, in its phase to modernize and temper itself, you see what Christianity went through a few hundred years ago.

The only difference is that anyone can travel the globe in a few hours, and there are weapons that can destroy entire cities. It's scary and worrisome...but believe it or not, Islam is just as inherently "peaceful" as Christianity. It's just that the muslims need to change Islam from a world view and reality check to a cultural token. And that can only be done internally and over time. And during that time, there will be conflict.

Sean said...

Ehkzu and N1ck,

I'm a couple of days late replying to this discussion, but thanks for your comments/responses. Ehkzu, I appreciate your efforts to bring to light these issues. While many normal news headlines are nearly frantic in their efforts to hype up the latest news frenzy, your opinion posts are a breath of fresh air. Legible, intelligent, and coherent discussion on the internet is a rare thing, so I feel that this blog is a gem!

N1ck, I find it interesting the way you tie in religion to a societies peacefulness quite interesting. My Dad has studied extensively on the history of religions, so this is a topic that I enjoy to discuss.

In many cases, I fail to see that a strict cause-and-effect situation is at hand regarding how peaceful a religion is. I'm not arguing that middle-age Christianity didn't have it's violent moments, but I certainly wouldn't say that a 'young' religion was totally to blame for the crusades. The politics of power are the main driving factors behind this, I believe. When dynamic leaders are able to accomplish political victories while using corrupted religious fervor to rally the massed, religion becomes a catalyst.

Much in the same way conservative values are used by the billionaires in this country to rally the masses to stomp on tax increases for the richest 1%, so I think the same can be said for religion. Conservative ideas, much like religion, can be exploited by an influential force to be used as a tool.

I understand that these discussions are merely theory-crafting; these topics could be the subject of volumes. However, I think a fundamental concept of how beliefs are used should be utilized. Science, democracy, and equality didn't save the world from Christianity. And when the Islamic world finally stops rattling its sabers, it won't be because science, democracy, and equality came to its rescue.

I would argue that it isn't Islam that needs to be "neutered." Future Hitlers, Bin Ladens, and Stalins will use whatever existing social tool they need in order to further their goals.

Education and reason are vital for a peaceful, well functioning society, but I do not see that those traits are incompatible in the presence of religion.

Ehkzu said...

Let me suggest that the problem is fanaticism. Secular religions like Communism gave rise to the Cambodian class-icide that murdered 5m people, for example. The Nazis and the prewar Japanese both established a religion of nationalism; neither was particularly relgious--both were kind of onanistic, actually--people worshipped themselves as part of their culture.

About half the human race is mentally susceptible to fanaticism. Doubtless this evolved so each tribe could have its cannon fodder.

The trouble is that we now have cannons and whatnot that leverage the fanatics' urges over the pragmatists to an extent that was never true before modern technology.

And of course religions are used for this too, though, for example, studies of Muslim suicide bombers who got caught first have revealed a wide range of religious intensity, but a uniform cultural fanaticism.

The key trait of fanaticism is its crystalline simplicity coupled with the demand that its tenets not be questions--often on pain of death.

Today, where's the fanaticism?
In Islam to a striking degree, for historical reasons. I don't know as the religion itself is any more innately violent than any other, but in 2010 it has taken the lead in this regard, as the secular religions have generally subsided (often as a result of crushing military defeat).

There are fanatical movements within Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.

A good book on the subject of religious fanaticism is Karen Armstrong's "the War for God." Well-written--covers Judaism, Christianity and Islam but it's more broadly applicable.