The End of Faith

“What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.”

the-end-of-faith

These are the bold words of Sam Harris, in his 2005 book The End of Faith, which may be better remembered by the nickname, Out of Context. Not that the material is out of context, but the style is direct enough such that certain quotes such as the above can be (and apparently has been) perceived in a completely wrong way if an attacker chooses to strip passages of their context. Apparently this very passage above has sparked controversy, primarily because someone quotes just the bad-sounding part (that we are justified in carrying out a nuclear first strike), and nothing before or after it.

Here is the full paragraph (p. 128):

“It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.”

This is indeed a troubling thought.

Overall, Harris’s book is far more direct than even Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which for the most part has a detached, academic tone. Harris’s tone is more dire.

More than Dawkins, Harris emphasizes the problem with the Western tolerance of intolerance in religion. Dawkins pointed out that there is an undeserved respect for religion. Any discussion of religion in current society can be dismissed as rude or offensive if the religious person deems it so. However, Harris goes further and calls out Western intellectuals who are religious moderates or even nonreligious for going along with and appeasing religion.

Also, since the passage above was about Islam, let’s be a little politically correct here and include something about Christianity (p. 73):

“Jesus Christ—who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily to the heavens—can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad? Rather, is there any doubt that he would be mad? The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Because each new generation of children is taught that religious propositions need not be justified in the way that all others must, civilization is still besieged by the armies of the preposterous. We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who could have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible?”

This echoes a Robert Pirsig quote: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.”

Unlike Dawkins, who strongly cares about the intellectual dishonesty or delusion imposed by religion, Harris seems to exert all of his effort on the practical consequences (31):

“As I have said, people of faith tend to argue that it is not faith itself but man’s baser nature that inspires such violence. But I take it to be self-evident that ordinary people cannot be moved to burn genial old scholars alive for blaspheming the Koran, or celebrate the violent deaths of their children, unless they believe some improbable things about the nature of the universe. Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal hatreds of its predecessors. If we would speak of the baseness of our natures, our willingness to live, kill, and die on account of propositions for which we have no evidence should be among the first topics of discussion.”

Even more on violence (27):

“Mothers were skewered on swords as their children watched, Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, then… set on fire. A pregnant woman’s belly was slit open, her fetus raised skyward on the tip of sword and then tossed onto one of the fires that blazed across the city.

This is not an account of the Middle Ages, nor is it a tale from Middle Earth. This is our world. The cause of this behavior was not economic, it was not racial, and it was not political. The above passage describes the violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims in India in the winter of 2002. The only difference between these groups consists in what they believe about God. Over one thousand people died in this monthlong series of riots—nearly half as many as have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in more than a decade. And these are tiny numbers, considering the possibilities.”

The “possibilities” most likely refer to a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

And let’s not forget:

“All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to find his meandering thoughts—of family and friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of sweetener—inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness and simplicity: between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping one thousand feet to the concrete below. In fact, we should take the perspective of thousands of such men, women, and children who were robbed of life, far sooner than they imagined possible, in absolute terror and confusion. The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not “cowards,” as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”

Addressing the claim that suicide bombing is caused by economics and not faith, Harris writes:

“The speciousness of this claim is best glimpsed by the bright light of bomb blasts. Where are the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers? They, too, suffer the daily indignity of the Israeli occupation. Where, for that matter, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more cynical and repressive than any that the United States or Israel has ever imposed upon the Muslim world. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against Chinese noncombatants? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam. This is not to say that Buddhism could not help inspire suicidal violence. It can, and it has (Japan, World War II). But this concedes absolutely nothing to the apologists for Islam. As a Buddhist, one has to work extremely hard to justify such barbarism. One need not work nearly so hard as a Muslim.

Recent events in Iraq offer further corroboration on this point. It is true, of course, that the Iraqi people have been traumatized by decades of war and repression. But war and repression do not account for suicidal violence directed against the Red Cross, the Untied Nations, foreign workers, and Iraqi innocents. War and repression would not have attracted an influx of foreign fighters willing to sacrifice their lives merely to sow chaos. The Iraqi insurgents have not been motivated principally by political or economic grievances. They have such grievances, of course, but politics and economics do not get a man to intentionally blow himself up in a crowd of children, or to get his mother to sing his praises for it. Miracles of this order generally require religious faith.

And finally, another great passage is the first paragraph of the epilogue:

“My goal in writing this book has been to help close the door to a certain style of irrationality. While religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction, it is still sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture. Forsaking all valid sources of information about this world (both spiritual and mundane), our religions have seized upon ancient taboos and prescientific fancies as though they held ultimate metaphysical significance. Books that embrace the narrowest spectrum of political, moral, scientific, and spiritual understanding—books that, by their antiquity alone, offer us the most dilute wisdom with respect to the present—are still dogmatically thrust upon us as the final word on matters of great significance. In the best case, faith leaves the otherwise well-intentioned incapable of thinking rationally about many of their deepest concerns; at worst, it is a continuous source of human violence. Even now, many of us are motivated not by what we know but by what we are content merely to imagine. Many are still eager to sacrifice happiness, compassion, and justice in this world, for a fantasy world to come. These and other degradations await us along the well-worn path of piety. Whatever our religious differences may mean for the next life, they have only one terminus in this one—a future of ignorance and slaughter.”

This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the next century of world history. We are nearing a point where the progress of civilization can be abruptly reversed by a group of irrational agents, and our chances for survival will depend ever increasingly on the ability to not get ourselves destroyed.

“Just As Bad”

One of the worst and widespread arguments these days is the “just as bad” argument. It happens when one criticizes some (often extreme) position, and the response is simply that the alternative (often neutral) position is “just as bad,” at which point the discussion is basically terminated, because the accuser will use no means other than repeating “just as bad.”

The most prominent case today is that of religion, particularly of Islam vs some other religion, or sometimes religion vs atheism.

Earlier in the year we had the Boston marathon bombings, committed by Islamic fundamentalists. This is not to mention bigger events such as 9/11 or 7/7. And yet, the West is afraid to call out Islam, afraid not of the Islamic world itself, but afraid of being viewed by other Westerners as racist or intolerant. (Neither of these labels is sensible, as Islam is not a race, and intolerance of intolerance is not the same as intolerance.)

In fact, many liberals defend Islam indirectly by saying “fundamentalist Christians are just as bad,” and they are smug about saying this, as if just to show off their “tolerance” of other people. Now, if the assertion were true, it would be a good argument. However, it could not be much further from the truth.

One person in a debate (I shall leave the name anonymous) tried to use Timothy McVeigh as an example. McVeigh killed 168 people and wounded many more via an explosion in Oklahoma City in 1995. He was also a Christian. However, his motives for the event was not strongly based on Christianity. He was not trying to protect Christianity, or trying to conquer in the name of it. His quarrel was with the government. Almost all Christians rightfully condemned the attack.

On the other hand, the marathon bombers spoke strongly about Allah, justifying it based on Islam. And while there are not yet any poll numbers for the marathon, we can extrapolate from Muslim world’s reaction to 9/11 and 7/7 that there was NOT universal condemnation of the attack. For example, from the poll linked previously, 20% of British Muslims sympathize with 7/7 bombers. Sure, 20% is still a minority, but not the “tiny” minority that politicians and politically correct liberals make it seem to be. I’m sure the percentage of Christians supporting McVeigh’s actions is under 0.001%.

From the Oatmeal comic:

oatmeal_extremists_1
oatmeal_extremists_2
oatmeal_extremists_3An important idea to keep in mind is that there are different degrees. This is the famous Isaac Asimov quote about it:

“When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Islamic fundamentalism:

islam-posters

Christian fundamentalism:

Westboro-Baptist-Church

At least Westboro doesn’t kill or bomb people. And stalling the advancement of society is better than actively moving it backwards.

“Atheist fundamentalism”:

Richard Dawkins

Of course, I put the phrase in quotes because there aren’t any holy pillars or dogmas that atheists must adhere to.

Overall, the “just as bad” argument is an intellectual cop-out move. Of course, there exist cases where “just as bad” is actually valid (stealing something on a Monday is just as bad as stealing something on a Tuesday). However, for most of the cases it is used, the person making the argument has no other argument than to equate two unequal things without justification. What worries me the most is that I know otherwise very smart people who are religious, and when I ask them about their views, they almost all have nothing more than fancy statements of this argument (circular reasoning being the other main argument).

Along with “just as bad,” we have the “just as extreme,” which is intrinsically not a bad argument since extremes are normally to be avoided. However, just as it is wrong to equate different levels of wrongness, it is very wrong to equate extremes.

(Unsure of the source for the following table, but it’s pretty funny to read and then think about how both sides are just as bad.)

religion-and-atheism

In addition, many otherwise logical people are drawn to this type of argument because it makes them look tolerant and politically correct. However, if you ask them whether it is worse to wear clothes mixed fabrics or to murder someone, they will always respond using proper reason, even if these two sinful acts have the same Biblical punishment.

A while back I wrote a post called “On Giving Too Much Legitimacy to the Inferior Position,” which also condemned blanket statements of two things being equal when they are not. I think these two posts are two different perspectives on the same issue. The other criticizes “just as good,” whereas this one criticizes “just as bad.” More broadly, it is wrong to equate two things without any justification.

To summarize, the “just as bad” argument has many real-world issues:

  • It draws otherwise smart people due to its political correctness.
  • It draws people who have otherwise no argument.
  • Smart people don’t realize they are using it.
  • It sounds at first like a legitimate argument.
  • It is much easier (and takes far less time) to use this argument than to criticize it it.
  • It makes people afraid to condemn destructive issues in Islam or religion in general, because they will be mocked by the statement that their own worldview is just as bad.
  • It helps to inhibit social progress, as those who advocate it are just as bad as those who are holding it back.

Watch the first comment be, “You’re just as bad as the people you’re criticizing!”

Why Do I Care?

Ever since I started to write about politics and religion on this blog, people have asked me why I care, or have questioned (with good intention) my time spent on it. Especially considering that I am studying mathematics, probably the field most removed from reality, why do I care about public affairs?

Apathy

In fact, just two years ago, I used to be a very apathetic person. I even wrote an article on apathy. Though the article does not explicitly mention social or political issues, that was the implication.

apathy_poster

Due to my apathy, I managed to blog for 3 years without a single direct mention of religion or politics. Mainly, I was following the social norm in which it is discouraged to discuss such things. In addition, such things never had any negative impact on me. Even as an atheist in Texas (thankfully Austin is a liberal city), I never felt discriminated against, nor had I ever seen firsthand what religious discrimination looked like. As for the broader social issues, I was pro-choice, for example, but never cared about enough to raise it in a discussion, nor did I realize at the time how connected it was to religion.

Things didn’t really change when I went to college. Cornell is just as liberal, if not more liberal, than the city of Austin, and thus I never felt any push. In fact, the apathy article I wrote was during my first year of college.

So what caused the change?

It started last August with a debate about motivation. I was shocked when my opponent claimed that the ONLY motivation there is to do good in this life is the promise of reward in the afterlife. More strongly, he claimed that his only motivation to do anything at all is rooted in the afterlife.

Being the logic-focused debater that I am, I wanted to test whether he really stood by that claim. So I asked, “What if there is no afterlife?”

His response: He would commit suicide.

That was the first time I had ever heard that line of thought. It was the game-changer for me. Before that, I had never realized how much irrationality could hurt someone or distort their views.

Later, even when discussing topics that were not religion or politics, I realized how much of a pain it was to argue with someone who would not listen to reason, would not look at the facts, and would not use logic. Upon noticing these signs, I wondered if this person was only irrational for this particular debate or if he got that from somewhere else, which I had suspected. So asked this person whether they believed the Earth was created in six days. The answer was yes.

Given that the context of this was a policy decision (of something rather minor), I suddenly had great concern about policy decisions of things that actually matter. Only then did I realize just how many members of Congress were creationists. (This was 3 months before the 2012 election.) Shortly after, I found out the shockingly low proportion of nonreligious people in Congress. From data slightly later, the nonreligious, who comprise 19.6% of the US population, have not a single member in Congress.

After that, I started realizing many other things. For example, I realized how closely (and negatively) correlated religion was to modern-day social progress (in particular on same-sex marriage and abortion). I learned about the modern status of religion in some of the theocratic states of the Muslim world, and how dangerous it is for non-Muslims (both Christians and atheists) to live there.

Due to my apathy, I had previously thought of Richard Dawkins as a hateful preacher of atheism who was “just as bad” as evangelists. Not because I had actually read any of his books, but because that’s what the (even-liberal) media portrays him as. I started watching some lectures/talks on Youtube, with notable speakers such as Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. I learned that they weren’t the hateful, mean people who they were misconstrued by popular opinion to be, but rather, some very intelligent, logical people who tell it as it is.

I watched Bill Maher’s documentary (Religulous) as well as Richard Dawkins’ (The Root of All Evil?) and was shocked at how absurd and dangerous people’s religious beliefs can really be. As someone who cares about the future of humanity, I was highly disturbed by this particular interview.

Last, but not least, I read this article called “Evangelical Apathy,” by Miri Mogilevsky. It makes a strong case against apathy in today’s world:

I’ve found that in my personal life, I tend to have a much harder time getting along with these people than I do with conservatives. With the latter, while we disagree, we can have a good time debating each other or at least bond over our mutual concern for what’s going on in the world. But with evangelical apathists, the very fact that I care about stuff seems like a thorn in their side.

Interestingly enough, this applies very strongly to my previous post, “Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals,” in which I defended fundamentalists for actually caring about other people, whereas many religious liberals seem to simply take on the most convenient view and bash fundamentalists and atheists alike.

Anyway, that is my answer to why I care. I care about politics and religion because I care about humanity.

Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals

You might expect from my politically liberal views that this article is going to bash religious fundamentalists. But in fact, this article offers a defense of one aspect of fundamentalism: its use of logic. The criticism is of the inconsistent beliefs of religious “moderates” and “liberals”. (Note, from here on out, the words “moderate” and “liberal” will denote degree of religiosity, not political views, though the two are often related.)

Disclaimer: I am an atheist and would be the last person to try to justify religion’s countless atrocities and impediments of social progress. However, this article was written to give a different perspective of religious fundamentalism, especially on the liberal criticism of conservatives or fundamentalists for taking things too far.

Disclaimer 2: This article is written with Christianity in mind. Many of the arguments do not apply to other religions due to the specific position of Christianity in the US.

Fundamentalists Hold More Consistent Worldviews than “Moderates” and “Liberals”

First, consider the following thought experiment. You’re standing in the middle of a highway, with no cars around. However, there are two people standing on the curb. They both think that a giant truck is going to appear out of nowhere and slam into you, killing you. However, you don’t think such a truck is going to appear.

One of the people on the side is more “respectful” of your beliefs, and just lets you stay in the middle of the highway, even though he sincerely believes you will be run over any minute. The other person, also sincerely believing you will be run over, starts yelling at you to get off of the highway. When you ignore her, she runs into the highway and shoves you out of the way. Which is the better person?

Of course, given that both of them sincerely thought you would be run over, the person who tried to save you (even by knocking you over) is a more sympathetic person.

In case the analogy wasn’t clear, the highway can be thought of as some path of sin, the truck is Hell, the onlooker who did nothing is the moderate or liberal religious person, and the one who yelled and shoved you out of the way is the fundamentalist.

Westboro-Baptist-Church

I hate to support even a tiny aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church, but you gotta consider the situation from their perspective. They are being very logical, given what they think to be true. Remember that in a logical argument, one makes axioms (aka. hypotheses, assumptions, premises) and deductions (or a deduction system), and then draws a conclusion. Of course, even if the logical deductions are perfect, the conclusion can be nonsense if the assumptions are false. I would guess that their logic is something like this:

  • Premise 1: The Bible is true.
  • Premise 2: It is good to save people from horrible things.
  • Result 1: From Premise 1, homosexuality is a sin.
  • Result 2: From Premise 1 and Result 1, one burns in Hell for being homosexual.
  • Result 3: From Premise 1, Hell is the worst possible punishment.
  • Result 4: From Result 3 and Premise 2, it is good to save people from Hell.
  • Conclusion: From Result 2 and Result 4, it is good to stop people from being homosexual.

The reason this is a bad argument is that Premise 1 is obviously false (at least, obviously to atheists).

However, I know some Christians who consider themselves moderate/liberal, yet still trust main points in the Bible (such as the concept of hell and that homosexuality is a sin), even if they do not interpret it literally.

So if you are in this group, my question to you is, why do you NOT actively try to save people? Again, I am nonreligious and I think the Bible is absurd; however, if you believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that a certain behavior from your friends is going to send them to hell, and if you value that friendship, then why are you NOT trying to guide them away from hell?

I can think of a few possible answers for this:

  1. You are secretly nonreligious, and are afraid due to social/economic concerns to come out.
  2. You actually do NOT accept concepts from the Bible like heaven and hell, or sin.
  3. You actually hate people and want them to go to hell.
  4. You can’t do simple logic.
  5. You never spent time thinking about these things, and only go with the flow. For example, you only support things like gay marriage because it’s the popular thing to do, not because you came to the conclusion from a rational perspective. (In this option, you can still support the concepts of heaven/hell and sin, be a supporter gay marriage, and be good at logic—it just didn’t occur to you to actually apply logic to this situation. This could be due to social norms.)
  6. You can both keep the idea that homosexuality is a sin, and at the same time support gay marriage by using doublethink/cognitive dissonance.
  7. You are mentally ill.

In any case, #1 is easily understandable  #4, #6, and #7 we cannot really do anything about. #5  just means you should think about the issue some more (or at all). #3 means you are a sociopath. And if it is #2 for you, then why are you still a Christian? (Though the answer to that might tie in with #1.)

Going back to the truck analogy, why would the passive onlooker NOT try to get you off the road? The corresponding bullets:

  • He does not actually believe that a truck will appear and kill you, thus it would be absurd to try to shove you off the road.
  • He believes some aspects of the truck myth, but believes that a the truck is benevolent (for example) and will not injure you.
  • He wants you to be run over by the truck.
  • He cannot conclude that saving you is the correct move.
  • He was brought up in a household/society where it is a social norm to NOT warn people of oncoming trucks, and to NOT try to shove people out of the way, even if it saves their lives, and he has not questioned those norms yet.
  • He used doublethink to simultaneously believe that it is correct to save you from being run over and that it is correct to not save you from being run over.
  • He is mentally ill.

On the contrary, fundamentalists at least speak and act on what they think is right. After all, if you really believe that some sinful action will lead someone to hell, then isn’t the right thing to stop them from doing that? Again, I am against the views and actions of the WBC (e.g. I support marriage equality), but the way they come to their views makes a lot more sense than how many liberal Christians arrive at the opposing views. Here is a WBC member speaking in a Russell Brand interview (1:39):

He seems like a nice person but is just playing with the wrong set of facts. Of course, immediately after the statement the audience starts laughing, but did they even catch the logic, let alone understand it? I know it might be comedy for them, but to solve the issue we need to understand what the other side is thinking.

This is one of the qualms I have with religious liberals. When a fundamentalist does or says something bad, religious liberals are quick to defend their own beliefs by calling out the fundamentalist, with sayings like, “He’s not a true Christian,” or “He is misinterpreting the Bible.” This is absurd, since fundamentalists are taking the most literal interpretation of the Bible, taking it as the word of God, and are in a sense the most Christian.

Instead of addressing the root cause (the Bible and its outdated, barbaric myths), Christian liberals blame the fundamentalists for taking the book too far, yet they themselves never criticize the book. So what they do instead is cherry-pick the currently convenient quotes from the book. In other words, they are the ones deciding which laws from the book are moral and which are not. Does this not directly contradict their belief that morals come alone from God? At least the fundamentalists are consistent about it. And, by not criticizing the book, religious liberals are only helping fundamentalists to impede social progress. (On the other hand, atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins directly criticize the Bible/Quran/etc.)

I challenge religious moderates and liberals to re-examine your views—both religious and social views. Are they really consistent with each other? Do they contradict each other? If so, how can you proudly embrace both?

I want you to show your true colors.

A “Hated Minority”?

There is a pretty funny article on CNN’s opinion blog today: When Christians become a ‘hated minority’ by John Blake. The reason it’s funny? Well, just take a look at some of the ideas expressed in it:

When Christians become a ‘hated minority’

This is nonsense. 73% of the United States is Christian, and that is a deeply entrenched majority.

oppressed

Neither are they hated: 90.3% of the US Congress is Christian. If anything, Christians comprise an over-represented sect of government. Who is the real voiceless minority? The Unaffiliated, at 19.6% of the general US population, comprise 0% of Congress.

Evangelical Christians say they are the new victims of intolerance – they’re persecuted for condemning homosexuality.

Intolerance of intolerance is not intolerance. If you don’t want to be criticized for condemning homosexuality, then stop condemning homosexuality. “The KKK say they are the new victims of intolerance – they’re persecuted for condemning blacks.”

A Laughable Comparison

…a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.

Perhaps because using the Bible to condemn homosexuality makes you precisely that: a hateful bigot. It is funny how the term “closet” has turned around here.

The conservative media culture is filled with stories about evangelicals being labeled as “extremists” for their belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Yet they pick and choose their sins. It would be universally considered fundamentalist, for instance, if one were to express their belief that wearing clothes of mixed fabrics is a sin (Deuteronomy 22:11).

“It’s easier to just go along,” says Carter, who is also author of “How to Argue Like Jesus.” “You don’t want to be lumped in with the bigots. That’s a powerful word.”

It’s a powerful word because it describes a detestable attribute.

“They are incapable of comprehending that someone may have a view different than theirs,” Johnson says. “For them anyone who dares to question the dogma of the tribe can only be doing so out of hatred.”

This was said in reference to supporters of homosexuality, I kid you not. If only those who condemned it would listen to their own advice.

Some evangelicals say Christians can’t change their view of biblical truth just because times change. But some scholars reply:

Sure you can. Christians do it all the time.

Denying a woman’s ability to preach in church was justified by scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 – “… I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

No further comment needed on this one. I actually didn’t believe the quote was true, but apparently it’s actually there.

Until the debate over homosexuality is settled – if it ever is – there may be plenty of evangelical Christians who feel as if they are now being forced to stay in the closet.

Oh no! How will society function without bigotry? How will I live my day without condemning others for their way of life?

Why Atheists Might Seem Nonvocal About Social Issues (Even Though They Strongly Support Your Views)

Today the same-sex marriage “debate” went to the Supreme Court. In support of marriage equality, vast numbers of people on Facebook put up the following symbol as their profile picture:

red-equals-sign

Now consider the following Pew survey result from 2012:

pew religion politics report same sex marriage 2

As the numbers show, 89% of atheists and agnostics were in favor of same-sex marriage, while 76% of white evangelicals were against it. Yet on the news, one rarely ever hears about atheist groups talking about their support for same-sex marriage, while you hear religious people speak against it all the time. Granted, the religious in America outnumber the nonreligious by large margin, but why does the atheist crowd seem silent in comparison?

Atheists Are Too Far Ahead of the Pack

While there are many factors that help to explain the apparent silence of atheists (such as the taboo on religion, or the societal distrust), one additional factor, which is to my knowledge so far unspoken, is that atheists have already considered this issue, overwhelmingly taken the side supporting it, and then moved on. To them it is absurd that there is still a debate about it, and it is absurd in a 21st century society, those viewed as different are still being discriminated against by the law.

This was at least the case for me. Though I am straight, I have always been a supporter of the LGBT movement, but I was under the impression that any year now society would adapt, so up to this point I have been completely silent on this issue. I thought it would take care of itself as people got used to it. But apparently not: We as a society are still seriously bickering about it in 2013.

In the meantime, I was more primarily interested in the issues of education and the environment, two issues that really should deserve attention. I think that, from a societal perspective, the war of and on LGBT rights is a waste of time. We could be focusing our attention to saving the environment or bettering the education of the future generation; instead, we devote much time and resources on a social issue that frankly should have been finished decades ago. I can certainly understand why it is an important social movement. But in the back of my head, I can’t help but to think that every minute this “debate” on same-sex marriage drags on, the more messed up the Earth’s environment becomes, and the more difficult it will be in the future to fix it. And so on.

I think this is one significant factor in the apparent silence of the atheists. They have already thought about these social issues a long time ago and do not want to waste their time re-debating it now. Or they cannot understand why someone would be so against such movements in the first place, as they did not grow up learning lessons from a bigoted holy book instructing them to be against such movements.

Other Issues

Similar to this “debate” are the “debates” on the issues of women’s rights and abortion (both in the US and around the world). In the big picture, they are just wastes of time, just as a “debate” about whether we should teach children that the world is round is a waste of time.   (If you were wondering why I use the word “debate” in quotations, here’s why.) Don’t get me wrong—I support both movements, but I find it appalling that it is still in issue in the year 2013. It is really very simple. Women should have equal rights to men, and women should have the right to choose. These questions should have been settled decades ago so that we do not need to spend our efforts on it now.

This is the 21st century. Grant everyone equality, and move on to more pressing issues.

Now what does this have to do with atheism or religion? Well, the primary force holding back the LGBT movement, women’s rights, or their right to choose, is in all cases religious beliefs. The poll results (from earlier in the article) are very telling. The atheist/agnostic vote favors marriage equality 89% to 7%. Even though the American population overall is in favor by 48% to 44%, if you subtract off the nonreligious people, it becomes 41% to 50%. If you just include the group of Christians, the compassionate religion, it is 39% to 52%. The atheist group is overwhelmingly pro-choice as well. And regarding women’s rights, it is not a coincidence that it is the most religious, theocratic nations (particularly Islamic countries following strict Islamic laws) where women are the most subjugated.

For same-sex marriage, look again at the atheist/agnostic result: 89% for, 7% against. If there was serious debate within the atheist community in the past, it is long gone now. And this, along with the similar numbers for abortion, lead to the following conclusion. Since atheists and agnostics are not bound by any scripture that is explicitly anti-gay or anti-women, they are the first to adjust to the facts and move on. The nonreligious but still spiritual group, with the next highest percentage supporting social progress, moves next. Finally, the religious group as a whole trudges on the slowest and with the most resistance. And when, decades later, they finally adapt to the situation, they pick different interpretations of Bible quotes and try to make it seem as if they were the good guys all along. (Watch out for this. With no unexpected events, in 2050, Bible fanatics will be saying, “Oh look, the Bible supports gay marriage.”)

Is It Even Worth the Time?

While religion still acts like a brick wall to social progress, society can advance only at a snail’s pace and with great sacrifice and cost along the way.

I am not saying that society should outright get rid of religion tomorrow (enacting things suddenly has had dire consequences in the past), but at least something should occur so that religion does not have to act against and hinder social progress whenever it arises. And then we might make some real progress: we might finally be able to save the environment, eradicate poverty, enjoy world peace, and travel to new worlds.

So is the fight against religion worth it? For the sake of humanity, yes.

Hitchens: How Religion Poisons Everything

This was my first Christopher Hitchens reading, so it took a few pages to get adjusted to his style of prose.

god-is-not-great

It is interesting to compare God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006). Hitchens’ style is far more direct. Here is cool chart that I linked to in my previous post (click to expand):

intp-intj-dawkins-hitchens

While Dawkins constantly hedges his arguments and states the caveats, Hitchens explicitly makes clear his disapproval and wastes no time in getting there. The following excerpt is from as early as page 6.  Pardon the lengthy quotes, but Hitchens writes in long form:

There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine. Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us, as are relics and the worship of any images or objects (even including objects in the form of one of man’s most useful innovations: the bound book). To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another: to the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock, we can counterpose a leisurely or urgent walk from one side of the library or the gallery to another, or to lunch with an agreeable friend, in pursuit of truth or beauty…. We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.

Hitchens is also wanting to provide large amounts of detail to counter even simple claims. Whereas Dawkins, whose arguments are mostly logical, appeals to the logos, Hitchens appeals to the pathos. Whereas Dawkins attacks the biological improbability of the virgin birth, Hitchens ridicules it by comparing it to other instances of it in other cultures. Dawkins says it was more or less impossible, while Hitchens says if it did happen, then it was not very impressive:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence. However, this made no difference during the Crusades, when a papal army set out to recapture Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the Muslims, incidentally destroying many Jewish communities and sacking heretical Christian Byzantium along the way, and inflicted a massacre in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where, according to the hysterical and gleeful chroniclers, the spilled blood reached up to the bridles of the horses. (22)

He is not afraid to call aspects of religion outright stupid.

The other man-made stupidities and cruelties of the religious are easy to detect as well…. Nothing proves the man-made character of religion as obviously as the sick mind that designed hell, unless it is the sorely limited mind that has failed to describe heaven—except as a place of either worldly comfort, eternal tedium, or (as Tertullian thought) continual relish in the torture of others. (218)

And on the “issue” of contraception:

Every single step toward the clarification of this argument has been opposed root and branch by the clergy. The attempt even to educate people in the possibility of “family planning” was anathematized from the first, and its early advocates and teachers were arrested (like John Stuart Mill) or put in jail or thrown out of their jobs. Only a few years ago, Mother Teresa denounced contraception as the moral equivalent of abortion, which “logically” meant (since she regarded abortion as murder) that a sheath or a pill was a murder weapon also. She was a little more fanatical even than her church, but here again we can see that the strenuous and dogmatic is the moral enemy of the good. It demands that we believe the impossible, and practice the unfeasible. The whole case for extending protection to the unborn, and to expressing a bias in favor of life, has been wrecked by those who use unborn children, as well as born ones, as mere manipulable objects of their doctrine.

The main takeaway point of this book is similar in spirit to that of Dawkins’ book. Dawkins argues that religion does not deserve special treatment and that the belief in gods is logically absurd, while Hitchens takes the taboo part of religion for granted and attacks the social consequences of it. Their books overlap in that they both view religion as a negative, but they are otherwise two totally separate books that complement each other well.