Religious toxicity

Earlier today I stumbled over some accusations that atheists are lining up with Islam because their actual enemy is not religion but Christianity.

The actual revelation here is that the fever-swamps of the left are capable of generating unlimited amounts of nonsense and putting it on protest signs. And, that conservatives are still prone to respond with a kind of reflexive bigotry that undermines them even when they have valid points to make.

I’m one of those “militant atheists” Tatler and Publius Forum are ranting about. My position is slightly complicated by the fact that I’m also a neopagan mystic – but the sort of “religion” I practice is nontheistic and fully compatible with philosophical atheism. This is not as unusual as one might think: many neopagans and Buddhists could say the same.

In hopes that some conservatives might actually pay attention, I will now explain how “militant atheists” evaluate different religions and why Islam is actually the least likely of them to attract or seduce atheists. The model I’m about to convey is explicitly shared by one of the major “New Atheist” writers – Sam Harris – and I am in little doubt that the others in that group (notably Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett) would broadly approve of it.

To understand how militant atheists think about religion, you first have to understand that modern atheism is not simply against religion. It is for something; it opposes religion from a set of principles and values. Those principles first found expression in the French Enlightenment of the 1750s and the writings of men like Voltaire and Diderot. In later centuries they were further developed by (among others) Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell.

Modern ‘militant atheists’ (including me) see themselves as the heirs of Voltaire, the children of the Enlightenment. Our rejection of theism is motivated by specific features of theistic religions. Two, in particular, stand out: (a) religious anti-rationality, and (b) religious violence. Not all religions are afflicted by these in equal measure.

To an atheist, religion A is worse than religion B when religion A requires belief in more anti-rational things than religion B does. More miracles, more superstition, more craziness. Religion A can also be worse than religion B by having a stronger tendency to erupt in violence – pogroms, witch-burnings, religious wars, conversion by the sword.

These compound into a sort of religious threat potential, the estimated likelihood that in any given year the believers are going to boil over into an irrationally murderous mob intent on putting unbelievers to the sword.

Atheists tend to broadly agree about the relative threat potential of major religions. Among those that come in very low on the toxicity scale we can include, for example, the more austere Theravada varieties of Buddhism. These are essentially systems of prescriptive psychology with almost no component of belief in a supernatural, and have no history of warfare or conversion by the sword. Threat potential: near zero.

We class other religions as low in toxicity but suspicious because of their historical roots. A good example of this class is the Baha’i Faith, which is a rather nice inoffensive little religion if you ignore that streak of Shi’a Islam in its past. Some of the quieter and more mystical Christian denominations, like Quakers, fall in this category as well – indeed, many Quakers are barely theistic themselves. I know of several atheists who deliberately adopted Quaker ritual for their weddings and didn’t surprise their atheist friends even a bit by doing so. Threat potential: low.

One Christian subgroup also gives us an example of a religion that maxes out the doctrinal-craziness scale while seeming relatively harmless on the violence front. That would be the Mormons. I mean, really – Amerinds as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? God lives on the planet Kolob and you get your own world to rule when you die? How do these people even take themselves seriously? Oh well, at least they seem to plan on inheriting the Earth by out-reproducing unbelievers rather than killing them. That’s something, even though it could easily change in the future. Threat potential: low to middling.

There’s also pretty general agreement on which religions are the toxic worst. These would be the religions that combine particularly crazy superstitions with a blood-soaked historical record. We atheists think of these as deadly memetic plagues, occasionally found in relatively well-behaved quiescent phases but prone to bloom into full-fledged insane murderousness whenever the next charismatic nutcase wanders along to remind them what they’re really about.

And which two religions are at the very top of the threat-potential list? No prizes for guessing that they are Christianity and Islam, not necessarily in that order. Both have relatively tolerable minorities (Christianity’s Quakers and Unitarians, Islam’s Sufis) but have extremely dangerous and powerful fundamentalist groups that effectively dominate the discourse inside their communities.

An accident of our time, post-9/11, is that Islam currently appears the more dangerous of the two. This is a case both Christoper Hitchens and myself on this blog have argued, despite our shared detestation of Christianity. And it’s why the notion that Western militant atheists would run en masse to Islam in preference to Christianity is especially absurd. That would be trading from bad to worse.

262 thoughts on “Religious toxicity

  1. The Koran: Sura 9 Verse 5: 9:5 Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

    So, the assertion is that atheists would willing ally themselves with a religion that would enslave them, or force them to “rediscover” Islam (since the Koran holds that ALL PEOPLE are lapsed Muslims that just need to see the light and come back (except Jewish persons, who will simply be outright killed)), after they complete their conquest of the Earth.

    I’d rather take my chances with the Christians.

  2. “One Christian subgroup also gives us an example of a religion that maxes out the doctrinal-craziness scale while seeming relatively harmless on the violence front. That would be the Mormons.”

    Well…they’re all quiet and peaceful now…after the rest of the country put a lot of pressure on them at the end of the 19th century. Before that time, they were driven (they say, “persecuted”) from place to place because they were so obnoxious. They ended up in Utah, where they perpetrated the Mountain Meadows massacre.

    There’s a basic problem with monotheistic religions. If there’s only one God, then the other people’s beliefs logically must be wrong. This naturally leads to all sorts of mischief.

  3. LS says:
    > There’s a basic problem with monotheistic religions. If there’s only one God, then the other people’s beliefs logically must be wrong. This naturally leads to all sorts of mischief.

    That’s a universal argument against anyone who believes that there’s such a thing as objective truth.

  4. I would, too, but to be fair, I’ve known a lot more Christians than Muslims, so there’s that sampling bias. FWIW, these Christians would be about as likely to harm a hair on your head as ESR – and under just about the same conditions, to boot (e.g. self defense). I can imagine certain Muslims behaving the same way. A lot of people by and large would just rather be left alone.

    That’s the thing. I’m not sure to what extent this is a fault of the religion and to what extent a fault of the person. Suppose all Christian and Islamic trappings were scrupulously removed from the earth and from everyone’s memories. (Sufficiently advanced aliens, I dunno.) Would the ones who would go fanatical under religion be peaceful and rational in this possible world, or would they simply latch onto something else? There have been atheistic goofballs, after all.

  5. But even when the Mormons were driven out west, it was never their own violence that started things. It was the fact that nobody else could stand their more peculiar traits.

    BTW, Kolob is considered the star nearest to God, not his planet of residence (although the difference is minor).

  6. >If there’s only one God, then the other people’s beliefs logically must be wrong. This naturally leads to all sorts of mischief.

    As there is no god, all of their beliefs are wrong; this leads to no “mischief” though, since it is impossible to force people to be rational, or even to behave rationally.

  7. The difference between Christianity and Islam is that Christians are violating the tenets of their own religion when they perform violent acts in the name of God, while Muslims are violating the tenets of their own religion when they do *not* perform violent acts in the name of God.

    By the way, some of the most obnoxious, intolerant religious bigots I have ever met, have been atheists.

  8. I think one of the things that has kept the Mormon religion in check, when it comes to violence, is its strong practice of missionary work for it’s young adults.

    Spending 2 years of your life far from home, with only minimal support, forces you to expand your world view and become more tolerant of others. Especially when it’s done in your early 20s, while your personality is still forming.

    I’m no Mormon, but that’s one of the practices that other religions should adopt.

  9. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We consider ourselves Christian. I hope you consider our threat potential low. We are not pacifist, but we do not support any of the nations wars. And we view ourselves as being separate from the extreme religions of Christendom.

    I agree with your assessment. Islam is not, historically speaking, as dangerous as Christianity.

    What about the scandals of the churches? Of course, every religion has problems that arise from within. But I don’t see Muslims being torched by the media for child abuse. Isn’t Christianity just as repulsive to atheists for the way they treat their own as they treat others?

    Then again, I don’t see priest beheading members of their flock for committing adultery. Although these acts by radical members of Islam are exceptional–child molestation, fleecing the flock, and other abuses are very common.

    My point is, does an atheist have to examine a war record to determine the danger level of a religion when we see what the media reports almost every day from the inside?

  10. One thing I have noticed is that when you try to have a meaningful discussion about terrorism, it becomes impossible because certain people refuse to see the the real threat posed by Islam.

    The minute you bring this up, they start babbling about christians and planned parenthood, Tim McVeigh, etc.

    Someone like Tavis Smiley is particularly obnoxious in this regard.

    Today on his show, Michael Medved mentioned that, of all terrorist acts committed since 9/11, there have been 130 people involved. Only two of them were not Muslim.

    I know a Christian guy I work with; he is studying to be a minister. The guy comes across supernice, like Ned Flanders. The idea he and people like him are equally likely to be a threat as people coming from the muslim faith is laughable.

  11. I think that as regards Christianity, Islam, and violence, there’s a hidden-variable factor at work: Some belief systems appear to be more susceptible to being coopted by individuals or organizations that are already looking for excuses to seize or consolidate power. Heretics burned at the stake, for example, weren’t technically being executed by the Church; they were declared outside its protection and promptly lit up by “secular” authorities. Theravada Buddhism, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have equivalent hooks that an ambitious power-seeker could exploit.

    The tendency-toward-violence component seems to parallel communist ideology in the 20th century, and I wonder what particular components of an ideology make it exploitable.

    On a semi-related note, you don’t address the effects of the Hindu caste system. How would you analyze its effects, given that it tends to stabilize society at the cost of class-based oppression?

  12. I know a Christian guy I work with; he is studying to be a minister. The guy comes across supernice, like Ned Flanders. The idea he and people like him are equally likely to be a threat as people coming from the muslim faith is laughable.

    You’re probably right about him–but to say that he represents all Christians is attempting a proof by anecdote.

  13. I know a Christian guy I work with; he is studying to be a minister. The guy comes across supernice, like Ned Flanders. The idea he and people like him are equally likely to be a threat as people coming from the muslim faith is laughable.

    Nearly a quarter of the world’s population practices Islam. If “people coming from the muslim faith” were somehow inherently violent, we’d all be dead by now.

  14. >>> Nearly a quarter of the world’s population practices Islam. If “people coming from the muslim faith” were somehow inherently violent, we’d all be dead by now.

    Or we in the west would have killed them all by now.

  15. Or they’re too busy killing each other and existing at a pre-industrial to pre-nuclear level of technology to have killed us by now.

  16. Would somebody please build me a nuclear rocket ride to the Kuiper belt….I wish to flee.

  17. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not fan of religion. But I wouldn’t lay this all at the feet of the divine. After all, many of the worst massacres in history have been products of the secular demagogue. Stalin, Hitler, Pot, Mao, none of them acted in the name of god, but all of them acted with that same craziness you find in religion — you know that thing, where the philosophy has a pristine internal consistency, but totally nuts when looked at from the outside.

    So it really isn’t the god thing at all. It is a certain group of philosophies that are profoundly destructive and should rightly be feared. Communism needs a place in your spectrum as does eugenics, and fascism. In truth the only difference between them is the absence of god, and that difference is not at all important (or not very important.)

    It is also important to note that religion is a tool of the powerful. Most people who profess a religion know very little about it. They know what their imam or priest or other guy tells them. They exchange the comfort of a system of ethics, provided in simple to understand chunks, for the right to decide what is right and wrong. However, it requires a truly skilled religious man to drag them outside of the kind of natural sense of morality that we inherit from society broadly. You got to isolate people, tell them they are the chosen ones, the only ones who know the truth. You got to move them lock stock and barrel to Guyana before the will drink the kool aid.

    (BTW, curious linguistic thing: “drinking the kool aid” now means the process of being suckered in, rather than meaning, as its origins bespeak, the denouement of that process.)

    As for the commenter who said Muslims are obliged to violence, and Christians are obliged to non violence, I would simply ask him why God cast Saul down from being King of Israel? You’ll find the answer in 1Samuel 15. It involves killing babies.

  18. A minor nitpick. Theravada Buddhism has tonnes and tonnes of supernatural stuff, what with the oldest Buddhist scriptures frequently showing Buddha as talking to all kinds of beings from all kinds of worlds etc. – I can produce references if you wish. It is just that the modern (19th century onwards) western expositors of Buddhism have been products of enlightenment, and they in their presentation stripped the supernatural stuff and focused on the psychology involved.

    Also, I am not a Christian and never have been, but I think Christianity has, in some sense, passed the stage in history where it was extremely toxic. As it is now, it is infinitely less harmful than Islam – and I am afraid you haven’t done justice to the huge gulf between them. Koran is far too “identity conscious” to give much hopes of the religion turning mild.

    Finally, one more point : “heirs of Voltaire” like yourself are a minority among atheists. As stats clearly show, atheism attained more popularity due to Bin Laden than due to Bertrand Russel.

  19. I disagree on two fronts.

    1) I think that the atheist intellectuals would probably agree with your threat assessment, but I think that many, even most, of the ordinary atheist folks have a near-religious love of villifying Christians, and general apathy towards other religions, or at best a vague “Yeah, they’re scary, but did you hear about the latest stupid thing Fred Phelps said?” attitude. I’m an atheist myself, but seriously, the level of hatred I hear sometimes just blows my mind. Christianity hasn’t been too terribly violent(relative to its scale, at least) since the Thirty Years’ War, and it’s a lot better than most as regards the moral teaching type stuff. Yeah, there’s a lot of obnoxious Bible-thumpers out there, but they’re dying off(both literally and figuratively), and I’d wager that most of the people today who consider themselves Christian are functionally atheist.

    2) I think that the biggest source of threat is a society that feels that only one religion is acceptable, and that tries to impose that on others. I can handle being shunned, but lynch mobs, not so much. In other words, I don’t fear them being weird, I fear them having power to impose their views. And despite the fact that I live in an area that’s near-unanimously Christian(if only nominally), I don’t feel that kind of threat. The Enlightenment grew out of Christian society, and it’s more or less taken over Christian thought in some very important ways. Sure, they try to throw their weight around on things like sex ed, but that’s small fry given that they’ve already imposed liberal democracy.

    There’s only two religions that have significant power and a will to impose that power on others in threatening ways that I can think of anywhere in the world, and those two are Islam and atheism(specifically, the Chinese Communist kind). I know peaceful Muslims and peaceful atheists, and I suspect that a majority of Muslims and nearly all atheists living anywhere near me fall into that category, but there’s parts of the world where the violent, repressive kinds hold sway, and those are pretty much the only parts of the world where I think anyone in the minority should feel enough threat from the religious majority to really be worried. Even in the most stereotypical bits of the southern US, you’ll get some dirty looks and some social opprobrium if you’re an atheist, but you’re not going to get tossed in jail or stoned to death. I get that it might be more annoying than the plight of some Falun Gong guy you’ve never heard of, but it’s not nearly as bad.

  20. In my opinion also as a ‘militant atheist’, while Islam takes the crown for absolute danger, it does not manage to hold the top “evil per capita”. That award goes to the Scientologists.

    This is not simply because their most visible beliefs are batshit insane; the Räelians possess a similar “UFO theology” and don’t really harm people outside their group. Scientology’s issues are more methodological.

    1. They recruit people from a pool that is inherently biased towards people with mental health issues, quite intentionally. While most other religions do try to shanghai in members who are disadvantaged, the ratio of insane to merely poor people is usually more balanced in the resulting community.

    2. The core basis behind their rituals is literally eliminating psychological feedback from mental observations. The truth, to a “clear” Scientologist, is whatever e wants to think, rather than what e needs to think. This pattern is even visible in the somewhat implausible and mutually contradictory claims of their apostates.

    3. Scientology is much more successfully totalitarian; admittedly, this is probably a consequence of their somewhat young status and small size, but it has remained in the ‘critical mass’ median stage between a single-generation apocalyptic cult and a post-cult for enough time to do significant damage. Their tactics are egregiously anti-hacker.

    4. Scientology has captured persons in high positions that are not under especially intense scrutiny by other power structures. (E.g. Hollywood, business coaching woo, ‘intellectual property’ organizations).

    Fortunately, there at least seems to be significantly more of chance of stopping them than the longer-lived religions. And the internet is thoroughly against them.

  21. God…anti-God.

    If you are really wrapped up in either concept, you scare me….even more so if you get your wisdom from a fellow pink primate who has an axe to grind either way and wish to share with me…forcibly…for my own good you know.

    Jessica is correct…secular religions have killed a LOT of people. For their own good of course.

    Where can I purchase that one way ticket? Anyone…Anyone…….

  22. I’ve seen ESR argue that the further removed in time a religion gets from its founding prophet, the less spiritual/more dogmatic it becomes. I believe that it also becomes less infantile over time too. Christianity is very, very old, and Islam is 600 years younger. 600 years ago, Christianity wasn’t an awful lot safer than Islam is now, and Christians weren’t that much more sophisticated. It’s possible that this same type of progress will take place within Islam over a much shorter time, accelerated just like everything else. (BTW, y’all goyim are still in diapers.)

  23. > Modern ‘militant atheists’ (including me) see themselves as the heirs of Voltaire, the children of the Enlightenment.

    I’d like to point out the Robespierre, Marx, and Lenin also saw themselves as heirs of Voltaire and children of the Enlightenment.

  24. >Communism needs a place in your spectrum as does eugenics, and fascism. In truth the only difference between them is the absence of god, and that difference is not at all important (or not very important.)

    I’ve blogged on this point of essential continuity before. See Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine.

  25. I think it’s obvious that Islam is inherently more dangerous than Christianity. Consider: the Koran is said to have been received by Mohammed directly from Allah. It’s supposedly the literal word of God, a perfect copy of the one in Heaven. (Yes, God speaks medieval Arabic, and don’t look too closely at those ancient Korans that don’t perfectly match today’s official text.)

    In contrast, even fundamentalist Christians must admit that the Bible was written in (IIRC) three different languages, by a few dozen people, in different cultures, over a period of hundreds of years. Nearly everyone reads it in a language that is not one of the originals, and the original authors were said to be “inspired” by God, and not merely taking dictation. As a result, there is a lot of room for interpretation, which means less doctrinal rigidity.

    Now imagine that the Bible was written in Aramaic by Jesus. Not much room for interpretation now, is there? Thus one can argue that any real Muslim is a “fundamentalist” in ways that make any Christian fundamentalist seem like a Berkeley Unitarian.

  26. > I’d like to point out the Robespierre, Marx, and Lenin also saw themselves as heirs of Voltaire and children of the Enlightenment.

    They were wrong about a whole lot of other stuff too.

  27. PapayaSF Says:
    > I think it’s obvious that Islam is inherently more dangerous than Christianity.

    I believe you are mistaken both in your assertion that there is little diversity of view within Islam, and in your view that Christian doctrine does not promulgate the idea of the literal dictation of the Bible. Most of the strife in the middle east is over arguments on Islamic doctrine, and many, many denominations of Christianity believe precisely that. That little dust up by Martin Luther was in large part about the literal truth of the Bible (though he was ticked off about a few other things.)

    I wouldn’t mention it save to tweak the Christians a little. Here in the USA Christians like to say our law is based on the Bible, and want to carve the ten commandments into our court houses. This despite the fact that eight out of ten of those commandments are not illegal, and a few of them have considerable legal protections to ensure that you are allowed to break them. In fact, ironically, there is a case to be made that our law is based more on Islam than Christianity. The concept of the common law, that is to say, reasoning from a body of case law rather than strictly interpreted statute law, has its origins in the 12th century, at the time the English Royalty was on crusade in the Muslim lands. Coincidentally, Islamic law has had from its earliest, precisely this system of precedent in arguing religious law, many people arguing that it was brought to England, and subsequently to America, as a carry back from the crusades.

    Further, much of statute law comes from Roman practices. You know the guys who chucked the Christians to the lions.

    So perhaps we should put Quranic verses on our courtroom walls instead.

  28. As there is no god, all of their beliefs are wrong; this leads to no “mischief” though, since it is impossible to force people to be rational, or even to behave rationally.

    There are abundant counterexamples to this assertion, as others have already mentioned Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and a host of other atheist monsters.

    I think that a good case can be made that the violence or lack thereof in a religious culture has much more to do with historical contingencies than it does with anything intrinsic to the religion itself. Christian religious violence only got started after the Roman emperor converted, and pretty much every example of large-scale Christian violence is really an act of state violence with a religious pretext. Conversely, based on what’s in the Tanakh, you might expect Judaism to be a powderkeg of terrorism and genocide, but obviously it didn’t turn out that way.

    (The Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine article has so many errors and historical boners that it makes me want to stick a pencil in my eye. It might be the worst thing you ever wrote.)

  29. The actual revelation here is that the fever-swamps of the left are capable of generating unlimited amounts of nonsense and putting it on protest signs.

    The First Amendment is nonsense now?

    I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    — Voltaire

  30. They may have the right to say it, but that doesn’t mean that they are right to say it.

  31. >The concept of the common law, that is to say, reasoning from a body of case law rather than strictly interpreted statute law, has its origins in the 12th century, at the time the English Royalty was on crusade in the Muslim lands.

    That is utterly, absolutely, as-wrong-as-it-can-be wrong. I don’t know who’s been peddling you this propaganda, Jessica, but it’s complete bullshit.

    The English common law – including argument from case law – has clear and traceable roots back to the pre-Norman law of the Anglo-Saxons, and through it to Germanic tribal law in the Migration period and earlier. This line of development is at least a thousand years older than Islamic law and was already well elaborated by the 12th century.

    While the earlier Germanic tribal law was an oral tradition now lost, we can reconstruct many of its principles by looking at descendant systems recorded in writing, especially among Anglo-Saxons, Icelanders, and mainland Scandinavians. And the idea that new law is to be made by conservative extrapolation of recorded cases is at the center of this ancient tradition.

    Similar case-law centered systems arise everywhere that there is no central government with sufficient authority to create and enforce statute law. The 12th century in England did not feature introduction of case-based law to a statute-centered system – in fact its principal theme was the exact reverse of that as the Plantagenet kings gradually asserted authority over their nobles.

  32. >(The Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine article has so many errors and historical boners that it makes me want to stick a pencil in my eye. It might be the worst thing you ever wrote.)

    Says the apologist for religion. No sale, fool.

  33. They may have the right to say it, but that doesn’t mean that they are right to say it.

    Does “they” refer to American Muslims or the atheists who are defending those Muslims’ First Amendment right?

  34. There are lots of people who call themselves atheists and perhaps think themselves atheists, that are lining up with Islam against Christianity, but in my highly unscientific survey of these people, not one of them is an actual atheist. They are Jewish new agers, Gaia worshippers, Marxists, and so on and so forth. A typical militant “atheist” who lines up with with Islam not only believes that Christ did not rise from the dead, but also believes that the preacher Jesus was not crucified to stay dead. However, while dismissing the New Testament from beginning to end, even the bits that refer to regular non miraculous history confirmed by non Christian historians who lived not long after, he believes that the Talmud was dictated to Moses by the angel Metatron, and preserved essentially unchanged until written down a thousand or so years later. Famous dead people talk to this militant atheist from time to time, or possibly Gaea speaks to him, or he hears the trees and speaks for the trees.

    And in the rare case that he does not hear Margaret Mead, or the trees, or the Angel Metatron, he hears the voice of the proletariat, which voice tells him that individual proletarians are stupid rednecks and he should ignore those stupid rednecks, and listen to the proletariat, not individual proletarians.

  35. As a rule, any deistic religion scares me, primarily because I’m never sure if they’re about to nail me to something and set it on fire. I’m a pragmatic agnostic, and a psychic.

    I concentrate on what I can feel, with the knowledge that I may be wrong. Unfortunately, I’m not wrong as often as I would like. In fact, between 2002 and 2005 my then employer used me like a mining canary. When I started getting visibly nervous for no obvious reason, he knew something was going to affect the business. When he started negotiating the sale of all the IP, I started freaking out. I didn’t know why, and when I asked him what the frak was happening he just said that yes, something is happening, and no, I shouldn’t be worried about it.

    My beliefs resolve around my self. Not that I am more important then anyone else, just that I have to be the best I can be. Unfortunately, even that sort of doctrine would make mentally unstable people dangerous.

  36. Wow, the angel metatron!

    Does that not sound like a transformer?

    Like when he is done being an angel, he becomes a Camaro?

    But seriously there is a grain of truth to this. The atheists and liberals align themselves with Islam because of their hatred of the christians.

    Isn’t it curious that our media will not refer to terrorists by an accurate label but instead refers to them as “insurgents” or some such? Above all Islam is not to be mentioned in this context.

    I remember this being the case in the shooting in Fort Hood Texas by Major Hasan. In today’s military he was seen as a sign of diversity, not a threat.

  37. @ESR:
    I have actually heard many many atheists defending islam by trying to equivocate Fundamentalist Christianity with some of the more hard core Islamic groups. If they can’t see the difference between a Pentecostal or Freewill Baptist and a member of Al Quaida there is something wrong with them.

    @ Jessica Boxer
    Thats just BS.

    Many, many legal systems are based on judges interpreting law. What made common law different from all of them is that it treated the law as discovery not imposition. In other words it treats the law descriptively NOT positively. This means that judges don’t make the law, they find out how people are actually behaving as if the law existed and how they are settling their disputes themselves and then attempts to unite such features into a common format.

  38. You know, I just now realized that “militant” athiests are religious bigots by definition, and for good reasons too (or at least justifiable reasons.) Is it possible that the word “bigot” has too many negative connotations?

  39. @ James A Donald
    > A typical militant “atheist” who lines up with with Islam not only believes that Christ did not rise from the dead, but also believes that the preacher Jesus was not crucified to stay dead. However, while dismissing the New Testament from beginning to end, even the bits that refer to regular non miraculous history confirmed by non Christian historians who lived not long after, he believes that the Talmud was dictated to Moses by the angel Metatron, and preserved essentially unchanged until written down a thousand or so years later. Famous dead people talk to this militant atheist from time to time, or possibly Gaea speaks to him, or he hears the trees and speaks for the trees.

    Interesting perspective. I am an atheist, but none of the statements you make above bear any resemblance to my beliefs whatsoever.

    @esr
    Further to your idea of religious risk potential (which I quite like) do you think there’s any useful distinction to be made between Catholicism and the various Protestant-isms?

    The historic risk of violence at catholic behest intuitively seems higher … But maybe we should adjust for the possibly higher prevalence in the Protestant-isms of bone-crushingly stupid ideas like young-Earth creationism.

  40. >Is it possible that the word “bigot” has too many negative connotations?

    No. The defining characteristic of a bigot is unjustified antipathy.

  41. >Further to your idea of religious risk potential (which I quite like) do you think there’s any useful distinction to be made between Catholicism and the various Protestant-isms?

    Some Protestant denominations have moved into the low-threat-potential category, Quakers being the type example. On average, though, I don’t see Protestantism as having a significantly different threat potential than Catholicism – that is, highly dangerous though currently in a latent and fairly suppressed phase. The similarities swamp the minor doctrinal differences.

  42. Here in Spain, left-wing atheitsm is strongly in line with Islam against Cristianity. And it is in the goverment now.

    (And I am not Christian, but this situation of a pro-islam goverment in a country that is geografically at the front line of Islam is somewhat strange)

  43. >The atheists and liberals align themselves with Islam because of their hatred of the christians.

    I see no evidence whatsoever that there’s any grain of truth to the assertion “Atheists align themselves with Islam because of their hatred of the Christians.” On the other hand, I do see plenty of evidence that leftists align themselves with Islam because they’re still running the Soviet propaganda apparat’s nihilistic Gramscian programming.

    I think you are mistaking the effects of the second phenomenon for the first.

  44. > No. The defining characteristic of a bigot is unjustified antipathy.
    But it *is* always justified. Not always *correctly* justified, but justified nonetheless…

  45. >But it *is* always justified. Not always *correctly* justified, but justified nonetheless…

    You’re just confusing yourself, not me. By “unjustified” I mean that the defining characteristic of bigotry is a universalized hatred not grounded in evidence. The fact that the bigot himself may be able to recite a justification in his own mind is irrelevant to this standard.

  46. It’s just a matter of whether you are willing to accept his justification by your own standards.

  47. I think I disagree with everyone her. Kind of feels lonely.

    It really starts at the basics. People do not follow religion, religions follow people.

    People create the religion they want out of whatever believes or scriptures they find. Those who want to take the Old Testament literally when it commands to kill all (male) homosexuals simply want to kill all homosexuals and look for an excuse. The original creed, Anabaptism, behind the peaceful Quakers was also behind the tyranny of Munster.
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/John_of_Leiden

    The misinformation about the Islam seems to be almost complete.

    The biggest Islamic country is Indonesia. Another big one is Turkey. They had their spell of terrorisme from all sides, including some aweful ones from Islamic Fundamentalists. But in total the people there are not more prone to support terrorism as your average South American christian. Agressive Islamic Fundamentalism is popular is Pakistan. Pakistan was founded by people from India who wanted a Muslim state, which failed on all levels. But that brought about a constant civil war between newcommers and natives which allows other international terrorists to hide.

    What is called International Islamic Terrorism is largely a spill-over from a simmering civil war fought in the Arabic hearthlands (Saudi-Arabia) and Egypt. The events of the last months indicate that the Wahabi (Saudi) fundamentalists lost this war in North Africa (Egypt).

    Of the ~1 billion muslims, only a few hundred million are Arabs. And only a minority of these belong to Wahabi or Salafiyya schools. The involvement of arabs in terrorism is not strange given the fact that there has been a constant state of (civil) war in Arab countries since WWII. When there was a civil war in Northern Ireland, we had Catholic Irisch terrorists. During the civil war in the Balkan in the early 20th century we had Orthodox Serbian terrorists.

    As I wrote, people create the religion they want just to have an excuse to do what they already wanted to do. My response to religious claims is always that we cannot demand God to take responsibility for your deeds, so you have to take full responsibility yourself. If you would kill a classful of toddlers if god would ask you to, I consider you simply a depraved child murderer and treat you as such.

  48. >It’s just a matter of whether you are willing to accept his justification by your own standards.

    Yes, but that’s trivially true of all justifications and adds nothing to the discussion. You are still pointlessly confusing yourself.

  49. @anonymous
    “Here in Spain, left-wing atheitsm is strongly in line with Islam against Cristianity. And it is in the goverment now.”

    This is a very nasty joke. Are you a supporter of Opus Dei by any chance? Because such claims would be something their propaganda department would like.

  50. It’s not always so trivial. Just look at some of the comments here. (And I mean no offense by that.)

  51. >People do not follow religion, religions follow people.

    This belief reveals a profound ignorance of the actual mind-set of religious believers and its impact on history. It is, among other things, unable to explain phenomena such as martyrdom. Martyrs are not people who begin with a desire to commit suicide and construct a religious rationalization for doing so. Rather, they are people who have so internalized the fantasy reward system of their religion so thoroughly that they consider the payoff from dying in an approved way greater than the payoff of living.

    Once you understand martyrdom correctly, you will see that same mechanism of fantasy reward operating to produce behaviors less extreme than suiciding which are not what the believer would ‘want’ to do in the absence of the fantasy.

    Until you understand this mechanism, you will massively, dangerously mis-predict the behavior of religious believers. You will underestimate their willingness to self-sacrifice. You will also underestimate the extent to which they can be manipulated into crazed, hateful, destructive behavior by tweaks in the fantasy reward system.

  52. Religion isn’t required in order to do that (as you have already noted.) I think it’s an entirely separate issue.

  53. > You will also underestimate the extent to which they can be manipulated into crazed, hateful, destructive behavior by tweaks in the fantasy reward system.

    I’ve wondered whether the 40 virgins is really enough to incentivise a suicide bomber. Maybe it’s just because I cannot imagine the self-delusion that requires, I have always sort of assumed that political imperatives (dying for the cause) would have to be a big factor too.

    Bit hard to conduct a survey, I suppose.

  54. >Maybe it’s just because I cannot imagine the self-delusion that requires

    Yes, I’m afraid that is precisely your problem. It’s a common error in modern intellectuals, a failure of imagination resulting from sheltered upbringing. You don’t understand religious fervor because you’ve never been exposed to anything but the palest shadow of it. If and when you do begin to understand it, I can almost guarantee that the realization of the true depths of craziness out there will frighten you as severely as anything has in your life. It had that effect on me.

  55. As someone who plays video games (and first-person shooters at that,) I have had to deal with similar arguments in the past– the idea that such video games directly cause violence. I don’t believe this for a moment, and neither should you. Certainly, there are unhinged people who will latch onto the game in an attempt to justify or codify the preexisting violence within themselves, but those people were already crazy anyway.

  56. To clarify, I do think that a causal relationship between religious convictions is a little bit more credible than for video games, but I remain very skeptical about just how “obvious” this relationship is, and I think that arguments in favor of this relationship will draw bigots out of the woodwork.

  57. @esr
    “Martyrs are not people who begin with a desire to commit suicide and construct a religious rationalization for doing so.”

    Actually that is rather what they do. These are mostly people looking desperately for a meaning to their life. They pick some meaning and are then willing to die for it. Religious fundamentalists tend to use that tendency, especially in unmarried young men. But you find that too in men with a midlife crisis.

    @esr
    “Rather, they are people who have so internalized the fantasy reward system of their religion so thoroughly that they consider the payoff from dying in an approved way greater than the payoff of living.”

    Sorry, but I think you are wrong on this account. There are countless people who want to give their life for a good cause, any good cause. This just starts with people who want to die to protect their country. A Martyr will die for his believes, but the believes themselves are not very important. People were willing to die, rather than fight for their country, for their political views, for their friends, or to revenge an insult.

    You will have a hard time to prove these Martyrs would not have been willing to die for any and every reason they adopted. A suicide bomber is a soldier willing to die in combat. Nothing more and nothing less. The actual cause is mostly accidental.

  58. >I remain very skeptical about just how “obvious” this relationship is

    Try this. Do you believe that political ideas cause mass violence?

    To make the question more concrete: Do you accept that the death of 12 million people in concentration camps 65 years ago was the result of a set of ideas about Aryan superiority and racial purity of the Herrenvolk, or do you think an entire nation woke up one morning thinking “I will commit genocide for no particular reason today”?

    If you understand that political ideas cause mass violence, why do you suppose religious ones don’t?

  59. >They pick some meaning and are then willing to die for it.

    You just restated the fantasy-reward model in different language. It doesn’t matter that the martyr may have entered the belief system for personal psychological reasons. Once he’s entered the belief system deeply enough, it’s the belief system that becomes causative.

  60. @esr
    “Do you believe that political ideas cause mass violence?”

    Ideologies do not kill people, people kill people.

  61. Violent people may subscribe to violent political/religious ideas for self-justification. Everyone else might, in theory, go along with whatever ideas are in vogue or in power at the time, but they won’t be totally devoted fanatics and they’ll happily switch from one fascism to another without really caring. At risk of invoking Godwin’s law, it’s a common misconception that during the Third Reich, every man, woman and child was a card-carrying, active member of the Nazi party. But besides the ones which were conscripted (many of whom were probably very unhappy about it,) this wasn’t really the case. To believe otherwise is to buy into Nazi propaganda. Also, Winter is right that a lot of fascism works by co-opting a preexisting “for the clan” psychology that existed in the EEA and which wasn’t really caused by religion.

    This, at least, is the mental model I have at the present time. I could be wrong; more likely, I am partly wrong.

  62. @esr
    “Once he’s entered the belief system deeply enough, it’s the belief system that becomes causative.”

    So that is why 99.99% of all converts to any religion become peace loving, quitely living citizens.

    Do you know where “running amok” comes from?

    Amok is Malay and the original local custom in Malay speaking countries was that at moments where your life fell apart because you lost your face and honor due to some unforeseen circumstance, you could regain some kind of honor by “running amok”. Quite some “crazy foreigner” philosophies have been grounded on this custom as part of the very foundation of these unfathomable people from the east. East is east and west is west kind of nonsense.

    Obviously, this is simply going postal or whatever the local name for suicidal mass killings is. People (actually, men) have been known to take revenge on their mates and society for their failing the Alpha game for as long as men existed. Society can canalize this behavior offering them to join the foreign legion or the suicide bomb squad. But men trying to kill in suicide actions after failing the Alpha game is just a nasty part of being human. Blaming religion or custom to cause this is too much honor.

    Obviously going postal is just one reason for martydom. If one person can derive the meaning of his live by collecting stamps, another can from dying for a “good” cause. And the stamps can be pins, and the cause can be anything.

  63. The biggest Islamic country is Indonesia. Another big one is Turkey. They had their spell of terrorisme from all sides, including some aweful ones from Islamic Fundamentalists. But in total the people there are not more prone to support terrorism as your average South American christian.

    Before I rip off your head and shit down your neck for this one, I have to ask: what, exactly, do you mean by “South American”? Because if you mean “from the parts of the United States commonly known as the South” rather than “from the continent of South America”, you are very badly wrong and have had your mind fogged by the propaganda coming from the European Left – which hates American conservatism and will stop at nothing to destroy it, including by smearing it with ludicrous accusations such as this one.

  64. @Jay Maynard
    “Before I rip off your head and shit down your neck for this one, ”

    Another peace loving citizen of the USA. Please remind me to stay out of the USA if you ever get into power.

    “I have to ask: what, exactly, do you mean by “South American”? ”

    South America instead of North America. Where all the people speak Spanish or Portugese. With countries like Argentina and Chile. What else?

    “Because if you mean “from the parts of the United States commonly known as the South” rather than “from the continent of South America”, you are very badly wrong ”

    I did not fail my geography. I would never accuse South Americans of being citizens of the USA. I know many want to, but they are not let in.

    “and have had your mind fogged by the propaganda coming from the European Left – which hates American conservatism and will stop at nothing to destroy it, including by smearing it with ludicrous accusations such as this one.”

    What America you are talking about? South, Central, or North America? And which country? Do you include Canadian and Mexican conservatives? Or only Chilean? What Europeans want to destroy what part of North or South America? Do you actually have any idea what you are talking about? Should you first sleep before you start on a rant?

    And do you see it as an accusation that I say South Americans (the continent) are not prone to terrorism? Do you think they feel insulted if I write that they do not subscribe to terrorism? Because neither the Islamic Turcs nor the Islamic Indonesians have much tolerance for terrorists. Neither do the Christian people of South America. Would you like to differ?

  65. Winter, I think you could have phrased that better, and I certainly thought you were insinuating the same things Jay Maynard is talking about. If indeed it was just a technical phrasing error, there’s no need to stand fast and defend your honor here.

  66. The Wehrmacht was, according to the German constitution, apolitic. Being conscripted into the Wehrmacht did not make you a member of the NSDAP, to the contrary, Wehrmacht members were prohibited from being members of a political party (and could not vote).
    The only military units that were strictly NSDAP were the Waffen-SS, which was the armed part of the NSDAP and not a part of the Wehrmacht, although operating under Wehrmacht command.

  67. @Max E.
    I would be sorry if my non-native US English fails me.

    But looking back, I still cannot see how you can misinterpret:
    “But in total the people there [Turkey and Indonesia] are not more prone to support terrorism as your average South American christian.”

    1 Turkey and Indonesia saw hardly more Islamic terrorism than the USA, UK, or Spain. Or maybe that is not known in the USA?

    2 “South America” is the only way I know of to designating that continent. And most inhabitants are Christians. So any suggestions of how to phrase that?

  68. Jay M.:
    Europeans can make the distinction between “South American” and “Southerner”. We’re not THAT stupid, thank you.

  69. The less-ambiguous phrase is “Latin America.” The phrase isn’t synonymous with “South America;” it describes all the Spanish/Portuguese speaking areas which include part of the North American continent as well. But it’s probably closer to the meaning you were going for anyway.

  70. @Max E.
    So I will use Latin America to disambiguate. The phrase is less popular over here because we have (former) colonies there where they do not speak Iberian languages but indigeneous creoles.

  71. Yes, I’m afraid that is precisely your problem. It’s a common error in modern intellectuals, a failure of imagination resulting from sheltered upbringing. You don’t understand religious fervor > because you’ve never been exposed to anything but the palest shadow of it. If and when you do begin to understand it, I can almost guarantee that the realization of the true depths of craziness out there will frighten you as severely as anything has in your life. It had that effect on me.

    but how do you get to REALLY know it? Having grown up an athesist in a catholic country, it happens that most of the people I know are catholics. But while we loved to discuss religion and faith with some of my catholic friends, with hindsight I now realise they could not explain to me their experience of being religious …

    It was not that they did not respect my own atheism, but rather that I sincerely did not (and do not) understand what the whole religion thing is all about. I rememeber a long conversation with a friend of mine about the pilgrimage to lourdes, which she defended, together with miracolous healings in general (she is a criminal lawyer) .. from my point of view, it was like discussing life on mars …

    you can call this abusrd and crazy, as I do, but the fact is that there is an experience there that I have not lived and is not so easy to describe from the outside as ESR would have it, and if you read books and papers about it you end up with a set of useful historical notions that do not explain the experience that my friend was trying to tell me.

    So my question remains: how do you get to know what a REAL religious experience is? maybe in the US there are more atheists from a religious background? maybe it is easier to go into a church or temple and take part in a service (I would feel very uneasy about it)? Maybe there is much more religion in the public sphere to begin with?

  72. @Jay Maynard

    I thought Winter was talking about the continent of South America and nothing else. I know in Australia that “South America” refers only to the continent. The area you would call the south is “southern United States”.

  73. and a related question: how much social pressure is there on outspoken atheists in the US?

    From what I hear from my friends, in some places it can be very difficult to explain that you do not want to go to church or take part in the community activities of a church ….

  74. @Max E.

    Sorry, to me Latin America only means the countries between Mexico and Panama inclusive in North America.

  75. @Jessica and @esr:
    When I clicked on a link to this article in my RSS reader, I wondered: how long would it take for someone to point out that Communism=Violent Theism. Well, as I found out — not too long. :)

    I think that your worst illusion is to think that you have enough information on this issue.

    Political and social structure of Soviet Union wasn’t the same al the time. In fact, before Stalin it was entirely different. Stalin had to exterminate Communist party which created the October revolution and brought freedoms and opportunities to the people. After that point “Communism” and Marxism etc. etc. became nothing more than an ideological fig leaf.

    After the fall of The Soviet Union in Russia a lot of information on this issue came to the surface. At the same time Cold War-era western experts were not gone and continued to present highly selective information to western public.

    I can recommend lot’s of books on the issue, but they are all in Russian. (For examle, this book http://scepsis.ru/library/id_128.html ).

  76. @Lyle, Wikipedia disagrees:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_America

    @Federico, There are a lot of people who are atheist but who go to church anyway because it’s a social occasion or who went to church during childhood because their parents made them. I imagine it depends on what part of the country you live in (it’s a big country,) but at least in California you are more likely to encounter raised eyebrows for being theist than for being atheist, at least in my experience.

  77. @Max E.

    I did say “to me”. Looking at the nice little map also shows that Latin America and South America overlap, but one is not the superset of the other.

    Talking to my house-mate, he actually includes California as part of Latin America.

    South America is concrete. Latin America is obviously to open to interpretation to disambiguate anything.

  78. > The less-ambiguous phrase is “Latin America.” The phrase isn’t synonymous with “South America;” it describes all the Spanish/Portuguese speaking areas which include part of the North American continent as well. But it’s probably closer to the meaning you were going for anyway.

    I never thought “south america” could refer to the southern united states, it certainly does not in the world of travel literature and guidebooks.

    As for “latin-america”, i hail from the region, and the trend there is to prefer “south-america”, precisley in order to avoid the parochial, we-all-speak-spanish-here, connotation of the term ….

  79. You’d be entirely justified for including California. If not a majority, then at least a sizable minority of Californians are Spanish-speakers, and it used to be Mexican territory.

  80. Atheists have killed MILLIONS. Oh, it wan’t because they were atheists? Bullcrap, they did it and they were atheists.

    You aren’t ever going to control the US of A.

    Get over it.

  81. And of course you censor.

    By the way, Vox Day skewered your “logic” on his blot today.

  82. @esr
    “Earlier today I stumbled over some accusations that atheists are lining up with Islam because their actual enemy is not religion but Christianity.”

    Back to the start. This is an accusation that the political opponents of the writers are commiting high treason by collaborating with the enemie. Or simply put, war rethoric.

    This accusation has been made by almost every “extremist” political movement against almost any political opponent. It is the favored accusation during any war. It does not matter who is opposing what. It is simply an excuse for not having to listen or come up with reasonable arguments.

    The idea that US politicians would collaborate with fundamentalist muslims to help them attacking the USA is simply another such war rethoric. The writers and their audience will not listen to any rebuttal, because the whole point of this accusation is to have an excuse to ignore their opponents point.

  83. I think it goes deeper than war rhetoric. War rhetoric would be that such-and-such a group attacked us. We must retaliate

    This is ideological rhetoric backed up by the fact that there is an ongoing war against a group that has a predominate religion that is opposed to their predominate religion.

    If the war was against another Christian nation, you wouldn’t get as much bashing of Islam as is going around now.

  84. hsu

    I think one of the things that has kept the Mormon religion in check, when it comes to violence, is its strong practice of missionary work for it’s young adults.

    Spending 2 years of your life far from home, with only minimal support, forces you to expand your world view and become more tolerant of others. Especially when it’s done in your early 20s, while your personality is still forming.

    I’m no Mormon, but that’s one of the practices that other religions should adopt.

    Seeing the world, yes, the rest of it… I’m not convinced. I live in Finland and there are pairs of young American mormon missionaries doing their rounds every now and again. From what I’ve read, they very rarely convert anyone and probably put up with an enormous number of more or less hostile reactions and doors slammed in their faces. I gather that they’re expected to do some sort of a tally at the end of the mission, and the results in a place as secular as Finland are mostly depressing from their point of view. I should think that spending a year or two going door to door in a very far-away country with a difficult language, seriously bad weather and a famously silent and reserved population, selling a religion that nobody wants, mostly teaches you to follow the orders of your elders, no matter how idiotic and far-fetched they are. Surely there’s a better way to teach tolerance, but I guess that’s not the idea of the LDS church anyway.

  85. Vox as dealt with Eric’s post. Go there for a much more informed and well-researched perspective. Evidently Eric hasn’t even read ‘The Irrational Atheist':

    http://voxday.blogspot.com/2011/03/atheism-and-islam.html

    Eric, you’re really, really good when you talk about subjects in your area of expertise (e.g. Android, OSS, libertarianism) but in this topic your biases just destroy all your efforts.

  86. @Mikko
    “Surely there’s a better way to teach tolerance, but I guess that’s not the idea of the LDS church anyway.”

    I understand there are other reasons to let “inexperienced” young men spend some time among foreign woman far from home.

    It seems to work for LDS members.

  87. Don’t automatically give the Quakers a pass, they’re poison. Seriously. They may not do violence themselves but if you take them seriously and follow their ideas, your society will collapse. It’s happening to us, right now. American liberalism (aka leftism) has deeply religious *native* roots (no memebots required). Read something like this http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,801396-1,00.html and be astonished.

  88. Vox Populi
    “Christianity is not, and has never been, anywhere near as blood-soaked or crazily superstitious as the paganism that it replaced or the neo-paganism that has replaced it in the post-Christian West.”

    Paganism? That was 1000 years ago.

    I would like to add:
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the Atlantic slave trade
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the great Irish Famine
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the great Bengal Famine
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and Inquisition
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and witchcraft
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the 30 years war
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the now deceased native inhabitants of the Americas
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the sacking of the Provence
    – Christianity and Pogroms
    – Christianity and the crusades
    (no pogroms, the Jews were not yet in Christian lands)

    We do not see many of these done for “christianity” after 1800 because at that time they kicked the church out of government. With force. They would have liked to continue though. They still demand the power to fight those who disagree with them on religious grounds.

  89. As for ‘rating’ religions, I think you are all neglecting the fact that religions are not just doctrines- they are also living cultures, or parts of living cultures. People, as a rule, pick and choose which portions of the doctrines of their religion on which to base their practice. Always have, always will. So the form a religion will take is going to be very strongly affected by the pre-existing (underlying, you could call it) culture of the practitioners. Which is why you don’t get Malaysian terrorists (Malays are remarkably laid-back people), but the tribal groups behind, say, the Taliban were violently reactionary before Islam existed (or rural Iranians- they’re not just terrifying *now*, they were JUST like that 1500 years ago or more).

    Doctrines themselves can also be modified over time in various ways, different parts can be emphasized or deemphasized, even if the books don’t change. That’s happened to both Christianity and Islam. Yes, wars of ideas can be decided by the sword. In Islam, rationality lost and died about 800 years ago- more to the point, it was suppressed and killed in infighting 800 years ago. Christianity went the other way – I highly doubt the Enlightenment would have been possible if the Wars of Religion had been a clear Catholic victory.

  90. > I understand there are other reasons to let “inexperienced” young men spend some time among foreign woman far from home.

    Well, yes, my mother invited in a couple of Californian boys many times about fifteen years ago. She was learning English at the time, and she thought that the guys were funny. They liked to sit inside, whine about the cold and talk about going to the beach as soon as they got back home. My mom was around fifty at the time, she had no intention of becoming a mormon and I guess nobody had any intention of becoming any more “experienced” during those meetings. (My parents have been married for over 40 years. Eventually the guys had to get to their proselytizing and my mom put a stop to it.)

  91. Good Day Winter,

    You said:

    “Paganism? That was 1000 years ago”

    This statement, being that it is demonstrably false, demonstrates, on your part, both a lack of intellectual rigour as well as a historical bias.

    For example, from memory only, I can state that the Mongol empire from the 12th and the 13th centuries (meaning only 800-700 years ago, not 1000), which was primarily pagan in religious flavour, was far more barbaric in terms of its conquests and tactics, and the number of individuals that it killed, than an Christian army ever was. And thus, although this is but one quick example off the top of my head, it is still sufficient to defeat your poorly informed claim (although granted that it was likely written in haste).

    Furthermore, some of the examples you provide are downright humourous when taken within a comparative context. So, for example, the Insquisition. Did you know that the atheistic Stalinist empire killed as many people in a day as the whole Insquisition did during its 350 year history? Next, witch-burings. Did you know that the number of witches killed by Christians, as determined by unbiased modern scholarship, is somewhere under 10,000? Finally, the Crusades. Did you know that the Crusades were, in large measure, a defensive counter-attackagainst expansionist Islamic aggression? Much like the allies during the D-Day invasions of World War II, Christians penetrated into enemy territory in order to prevent the enemy (Islam) from continuing to attack them, and thus, in large measure, they were fully justified and just in such action.

    Anyway, let’s be both historically accurate here and keep a little perspective, even as we admit to the actual (not imagined) moral errors committed by Christians.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa
    rdmiksa.blogspot.com

  92. And as an additional side-note–though I loath to mention it due to the way it will shift the discussion–it is a historical fact that the Nazi leadership, and thus the Nazi coordinators and controllers, were neo-pagans in outlook. So the “1000 years ago” comment is even further off the mark.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa
    rdmiksa.blogspot.com

  93. ESR,

    In evaluating my religion, Protestant Christianity, your religious threat potential includes calculations based on the action of Popes and Kings from centuries gone by.

    This begs the question. What is the religious threat potential of militant atheism? Are Stalin, Mao, and Pot included in those calculations??

    Atheists ALWAYS claim that religion is the root of all evil and needs to be fought. It is fabulously ironic that they do so with what can only be called “religious fervor.”

    It appears to me that atheists proselytize more nowadays than most Christian religions do.

    I do agree with you post in that I feel you are correct that the atheist left is aligning itself with Islam to fight a common enemy is an absurd position.

  94. Some shadow people would love to see a WORLD WAR between Christian and Islam. A third Great World War that which have been prophecize by them. The power that controls the media promote this unholy alliance between the Atheist/Left/Liberal and Islam against christian/conservative Right.

    But by the grace of God it will not happen, not in a any major scale.

    The real problem is Islam LOVE Jesus too much!

    They do not worship him or idolize him. But True Fundamentalist Muslim, LOVE JESUS! They do with many blessing they bestow to him! And Forbidden are they to curse or Mock the Great Jesus for he is the great Messiah. AL-MASSEEH EESA peace be upon him!

    This is very unlike the other Ancient temple religion who mocks and curse Jesus as son of a harlot! Who believes that Jesus’s follower too shall deserve death. That believe in stupid divine promise that they and their blood shall inherent all earth!

    And to achieve that dream a great WAR must be made among the people who will be made to cattle and think like cattle! A great War among christian and Islam. A War that will Unite the the World.

    ORDER…..out of chaos!!!!

    You true peaceful,rational and logical athiest (not the monkey Marxist/liberal kind)should smell this freom a mile.
    Just like it is impossible for any stinking A-rab who can make building turn to dust! Especially the third one!

    ( _O) and the great eye will be always watching……..

  95. Winter: I see where you are coming from. In this case, I took your previous statements and interpreted them to lead me to an unwarranted conclusion. I apologize.

    And I agree: “Latin America” would have avoided the whole issue.

    Us southern US conservatives get so much carping from the European Left that we get defensive.

    And, for the record, I an an atheist, as well, although not of the militant variety. I believe that demanding the right to believe as I do requires that I recognize that same right in others. Where I draw the line is in allowing anyone to force their religious tenets on me.

  96. Winter, I’m not sure how you organized your list, but there were pogroms after 1800 in Russia and elsewhere.

    I think western atheists might be more likely to side with Islam than with Christianity (if they are– I don’t have a general survey) because they are closer, personally and historically, to injuries done by Christians, and because at least in the US, Muslims are a small minority with an outsider status something like atheists.

    Eric, your second link downplays how dangerous the most violent Christians are– they’ve done some killing.

    I believe that people both shape and are shaped by their religions, and that the holy texts exert a modest gravitational pull, frequently overridden by whatever social pressures a group is exerting. If you look at the range of behaviors from Christians over the millenia, I don’t think very much of it could have been predicted from the Christian bible.

  97. @Nancy Lebovitz
    “Winter, I’m not sure how you organized your list, but there were pogroms after 1800 in Russia and elsewhere.”

    Oh yes, I would include some of post-Stalin USSR dealings with Jewish citizens as a sort of Pogrom. I did not want to create the impression that pogroms ended.

    What I wanted to say was that a lot of systematic mass murder done after 1800 was not done under the flag of any particular church. The Great Irish famine was most certainly motivated by religious fevor (Anglicans versus Catholics). It is simply impossible to disentangle etnic, rasist, and religious motives. It was just not done at the time to call out these crimes as church policy. The same for all the Pogroms in eastern Europe.

  98. I would suggest that an important tactical data point missed in ESR’s threat model for religions is messianism, or specifically the associated belief that, in Wikipedia’s words: “The state of the world is seen as hopelessly flawed beyond normal human powers of correction, and divine intervention through a specially selected and supported human is seen as necessary.”

    Religious groups that are strongly messianistic in this sense (Shi’a Islam, Evangelical Christianity) are somewhat resistant to utopian thinking and it’s associated ends-justifies-the-means social programs. An obvious loophole here is the false messiah (e.g. certain elements in current Iranian politics), who can whip up dramatic religious fervor but may also encounter considerable resistance to his claims of authority (see also Iran).

    I read an interesting if probably overstated article a couple of years ago – no longer online, unfortunately, and I lost the original link in a crash in any event – arguing that this split happened in Protestantism in the 1700s between pre- and post- Millennialism, with the pre- becoming more fundamentalist but focused on individual purity rather than trying to fix society, and the post- becoming less mystical, more focused on perfecting society, and eventually evolving into the modern political left, dropping off the mainline protestant denominations along the way.

  99. >Ideologies do not kill people, people kill people.

    So you do think Naziism was not a cause of the Holocaust. OK, I give up. You’re ineducable. The superficial signs of intelligence I thought I detected were all bogus.

  100. @esr
    “So you do think Naziism was not a cause of the Holocaust. OK, I give up. You’re ineducable. The superficial signs of intelligence I thought I detected were all bogus.”

    So you admit guns kill people?

    And why do you think I am intelligent?

  101. There’s a Venn diagram in here somewhere. A significant chunk of out and proud atheists these days are actually more accurately described as STATHEISTS (my formal definition of statheism is “a doctrine or belief that there’s no God but the state.”) Eric obviously isn’t one — but if you look at this issue empirically and pragmatically, it’s hard to conclude that statheists are joining Muslims in a political alliance of convenience to take on the bittery-clingery types.

  102. @ esr

    As a non-practicing Greek Orthodox, I would rather go with a nut job like Bill Mahr on this one. At least he bashes all of them equally. I was a little bit surprised that you found yourself in the vicinity of a bunch of clowns such as Hitchens [proof] and Dawkins. It’s rather hilarious to listen to any of them. Hell, I used to say the same things to pick up “intellectual goth girls” when I was in highschool.

    If you have the patience to watch the video in which Hitchens makes a joke of himself, you’ll notice how obsessive he is when it comes to Christianity. Militant Western atheists are self-taught Christian bashers for the simple reasons it’s easier and SAFER.

    Now, coming back to the original post, I think atheists are on the same wavelength with Islamists for the same reason Code Pink and the likes cheered the overthrown of Mubarak along side Muslim Brohood: my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

    I agree with Mr. Hipp. Please, forget the religious crap. Do what you do best. Write good software and talk about tech and politics.

  103. I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    — Voltaire

    If religion is a defined belief set of morals, and world view; then everyone is religious.
    The issue with government and religion is all law is someone’s morals being enforced on the population.
    The question then becomes who’s religion do you want as law?

    Although I am a christian, I agree with ESR in the fact that a heap of violence has been done by christians, and in the name of christianity.

    Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

    — John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton

    This has held for every philosophical belief, religious orientation, and political persuasion I’ve seen in my short 25 years.

  104. esr> Martyrs are not people who begin with a desire to commit suicide and construct a religious rationalization for doing so. Rather, they are people who have so internalized the fantasy reward system of their religion so thoroughly that they consider the payoff from dying in an approved way greater than the payoff of living.

    And…

    esr> Do you accept that the death of 12 million people in concentration camps 65 years ago was the result of a set of ideas about Aryan superiority and racial purity of the Herrenvolk, or do you think an entire nation woke up one morning thinking “I will commit genocide for no particular reason today”?

    Um, aren’t these two statements inconsistent? In the first, you say that religion is the vehicle that causes people to be able to commit atrocities, in the second you say that political alignment allowed the atrocities in Nazi Germany. Perhaps I’m making a bit of a leap here paralleling suicide to mass murder, but I think the underlying belief system that sustains both is approximately the same and suicide bombers and other “terrorists” would tend to support that theory.

    I think I would say that ANY belief strong enough to induce self delusion (whether individually or through “group think”) is sufficient to cause said atrocities, and running screaming from theism provides no meaningful protection.

    I would also observe (anecdotally) that many “atheists” are actually theists believing that god is present in nature and the Earth itself, and so are will to commit atrocities (or have atrocities committed) to “save the planet”. I see no difference in allowing millions to die of disease and hunger to reduce CO2 emissions or “protect the planet” from DDT than I do in allowing millions to starve to death because they are Jewish, the mechanism is the same, only the blame is changed to protect the guilty.

    I would further comment that “rationality” has potential to cause as much destruction as religion simply because most people who purport to be “rational” are far from it. It’s kind of like the people who go around tell everyone how smart they are generally have only moderate IQs (e.g. Joe Biden). “Belief” is, I think, hardwired into the human brain, and rejecting an overt religion (with all the associated baggage) only means that you will likely replace it with SOMETHING, and that something may not be intentional (e.g. you may not make the decision consciously and rationally). I would say that you (our esteemed host) are in fact a living example of this in that you chose neo-paganism through rational choice and understanding, while 99% of “atheists” do not make that choice and so they “fall for anything” as the saying goes.

  105. If religion is a defined belief set of morals, and world view; then everyone is religious.
    The issue with government and religion is all law is someone’s morals being enforced on the population.
    The question then becomes who’s religion do you want as law?

    Your first assumption is false and meaningless, not taking into account that there are other things besides religion that can be “a defined set of morals and a worldview”. Your second assumption is then both false because it’s based on a false premise and then because it takes a running jump further into it. Laws are and have been a series of compromises that encode the social acceptability of some behaviours. If a single someone decrees singlehandedly what you can or cannot do, that isn’t the rule of law. At this point, it’s obvious that your final question is also meaningless and false.

    (This came from the top of my short 31 years).

    Also, if “great men are almost always bad men”, and this “has manifested for everything you’ve seen”, maybe that is just the way things are, and at that point you’d as well complain that the gravitational constant = 6.67300 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2 for all the good it will do.

  106. @Don One could say that both religion and political alignment can be responsible for atrocities (we could also argue wether the level of fanatism required by the nazi party can be qualified as religious or not), without having to limit ourselves to one option or the other.

  107. If religion is a defined belief set of morals, and world view; then everyone is religious.

    This is the same tired old saw trotted out by the religious who cannot imagine that there are people who are not religious in any manner. The problem is that it is argument by redefinition of the most pernicious kind: it redefines the term at the core of the argument in such a way that not only does it conflict with the generally accepted definition, but also weakens it to the point of robbing it of all meaning.

  108. Winter said:
    >
    >- Christianity and Pogroms?

    I think you forgot to say Christianity and Pogroms enough. Furrfu.

    Please read The Irrational Atheist. Most of the examples of “the evil Christians attacking innocents” that you’re talking about (NOT the Pogroms) are NOT religious wars at all. The Crusades, for example, in their design were a justified counterattack against a military invasion by an aggressor. (Their execution stank, but that is sadly typical in warfare of any sort.)

    As an Evangelical Christian, I find an interesting subcurrent behind the dislike of the Jewish people. There are very few culture-independent prejudices in the world, but one of them is anti-Semetism. Go to Japan, and (some) people don’t like the Jews. Go to India, and there are people who don’t like Jews. People who have no possible reason to care a bit about a small subset of the world’s population who came from a little pile of rocks and sand somehow attract the negative attention of the whole world. I happen to think it evidence that there are powers that dislike the message that their ancestors brought into the world, and the message they (or their descendants) will spread yet still. (Mind you, I also happen to think that the promise “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” as both literally true and still 100% binding. I’m used to being in a minority on this.)

    A lot of Christians have failed in their ability to follow Christ’s message. Full stop, no excuses. I personally try to separate the actions of those who do not practice their claimed identity from the basic principles of said identity. Islam is a martial religion: its prophet was a military leader and he did military forced conversions. He commanded and advocated the military takeover of the rest of the world. My tolerance fails me for this case.

    No Christian who truly believed and lived Christ’s teaching could participate in the African slave trade(*). However, it was not secular humanists who led the charge to end the African slave trade, it was the Evangelical Christians of England (and, to a lesser extent, America). European society of 1800s in general was quite willing to buy into the myth of the sub-human races, left behind by the great white English(**) in the race of evolution. Read Darwin on the subject, his opinions on the degenerate status of the Irish, blacks, and other inferior races are rather clear. When man is nothing but an animal, there is nothing wrong with trading him like cattle, charging him such rent that he can barely feed himself (the Irish famine), or taking his money and running him off. The eugenics that infested American, English, and continental philosophy of the late 1800s and early 1900s simply reached their logical conclusions under the ugly Austrian.

    If you are a Jew, you were statistically much safer under the Christians of Europe and America pre-1800 than under the humanist/pagan Europeans of the 1900s. If you are a feminist, Islam offers you the headscarf and second-class citizenship at best, and the burka and honor killings at worst. Lets not even go into the place of homosexuals. Does that excuse Christian failings? Of course not. However, it does make the cries of “the people who want to kill you now (the Islamists) are better for you” a bit sad.

    (*) I hope I’ve avoided the No True Scotsman’s fallacy here. If not, then accept my apologies.
    (**) In England and America’s case. The Germans had their own ideas on this, of course.

  109. The comparison is maybe too narrow. Communism is a sort of radical neo-feudalism. I don’t think this is putting the horse before the cart: it has many other characteristics of feudal societies that aren’t necessarily true of specifically religious societies, such as serf plantations, corrupt vassals skimming off the top (the bureaucracy) and brutally fratricidal princes.

  110. >STATHEISTS

    Yes. That is why I am a secular humanist, but not a Secular Humanist. Several years ago I read “The Secular Humanist Manifesto” in Paul Kurtz’s book In Defense of Secular Humanism. It actually had more in common with Marxist “liberation theology” than with anything I believed.

  111. >Um, aren’t these two statements inconsistent? In the first, you say that religion is the vehicle that causes people to be able to commit atrocities, in the second you say that political alignment allowed the atrocities in Nazi Germany.

    Right. In both cases, ideology killed. I don’t view secular totalitarian ideologies as being significantly different from faith-centered theisms; both employ the same psychological machinery to similar ends. You must be new here or you’d know this already.

  112. > Christianity and the Atlantic slave trade

    Huh? Slavery was eradicated in the West by Christians. Anti-slavery was a religious push.

  113. ESR,

    “you first have to understand that modern atheism is not simply against religion. It is for something”

    This is exactly my problem with it. There is nothing special about being non-theist, I am one, too. But this “for” thing… are we trying to repeat history instead of learning from it?

    We had the same sort of rigid rationalism in the 18. century, Voltaire and all that, and pretty soon we learned that people are just not cut out for this sort of thing, thus came a counter-revolution against rationalism call the Romantic age, where instinct and emotion were idolized. But this new mysticism was much worse than the old one, because it lost the moral compass of the old mysticism, and could no longer tell good emotions from bad ones, hence in Romanticism hatred could become a respected emotion like love, and from this – i.e. from the zeitgeist of an age that wanted any alternative to reason, including the worst alternatives, because they no longer could tell good from bad – arised Nazism. Nazism was the most destructive form of Romanticism i.e. the counter-revolution against Reason.

    After its fall, came another rationalist age, 1945 – 1965 and we saw yet another uprising againt rigid rationalism, the hippies and New Left and New Age, the age of the Aquarius and all that nonsense, this was at least not a very hateful period, but still very silly.

    My problem with Dawkins, Hitchens et al. is that they don’t seem to be willing to learn from these and settle for a moderate amount of rationalism that the constitution of the average man can tolerate, but they want to usher in a third extremely-rationalistic age, which will lead to a third extremely-irrational backlash. I can even predict what the backlash will be: it will be a very emotional and unphilosophical form of Christianity, the Pentecostals already have hundreds of millions of followers (mostly in America and Africa), that, alongside with a new form of Islam and maybe some recurring of Orthodox Judaism in Israel will be the backlash.

    I want a moderate rationalism, not an extreme one, because a moderate one can last, while extreme ones result in extremely irrational backlashes.

    I think the New Atheist attitude and persuasion is wrong even on its own chosen measure, namely, scientific thinking.

    I’ll give you a hypothetical example: if you visit a primitive tribe, where a certain kind of illness does not exist, and the local shaman tells you “it is because that illness is caused by little red demons and there is this plant, it contains little blue demons, and we give it to patients and the blue demons defeat the red ones and the patient gets better”, then then proper scientific attitude is emphatically NOT “bwahahaha there are no demons, therefore your argument is invalid”, but take that plant to a lab and test the living fuck out of it, because there is a good chance it contains some useful drug. Why? Because an irrational explanation of a thing does NOT mean that thing does not exist, and although people make stuff up all the time, they usually don’t tend to make stuff up in the practical fields, they only make up a mystical explanation of the effect, but they don’t make up the effect. This is basic economics: if and when stupidity is costly people aren’t stupid, and therefore behind every mystical explanation of a practical thing there is usually a valid observation of what works and what doesn’t.

    This is how an intelligently non-theist person should relate to ideas like original sin, Augustine’s classification of desires or his idea about original sin creating vanity and vanity creating all the other sins etc. Whenever it is about something important, people are usually not stupid, thus, there must be some perfectly valid psychological observations behind all that. We KNOW that we have the brain of a primate on top of the brain of a mammal on top of the brain of a reptile and we KNOW that it does not work together very well, and we therefore we KNOW that the human hardware (and software) is buggy, and we should very seriously study the religious writers in order to take hints in what ways it is buggy, in the same way the medical researcher can take a hint from the shaman in the field of plant drugs. Just because it is wrapped IN bullshit, it does not mean it IS bullshit – again, basic economics, costly stuff is usually right on a practical level even when it is wrapped in bullshit.

    Enlightenment Rationalism does not work, this is a historical fact and also one increasingly supported by evol-psy. Thus, the basic problem with Hitchens et al. is that they want to reinvent a third version of it.

    ESR, thanks for the post, I actually wanted to ask you if you don’t find Hitchens et al. very narrow-minded and doing a wrong kind of atheism. Apparently not. Strange, even some Marxists (which I normally consider the dreg and scum of intellectuals) of the more intelligent kind like Terry Eagleton think it is too narrow-minded…

    “And it’s why the notion that Western militant atheists would run en masse to Islam in preference to Christianity is especially absurd.”

    Of course it is. But as you too have observed, it is often hard to tell New Atheism from left-wing silliness, and the later tends to have an oikophobic (i.e. self-hating, occidentalist) aspect, i.e. “we are bad, ours is bad, our bad is the worst bad”. Still, even the left-wing part of New Atheism won’t flock to Islam, what they can flock to is a kind of Foucaultian third-worldism which is objectively pro-Islam in a roundabout way. Michel Foucault, despite being atheist, Nietzscheist, and gay, have supported the Ayatollah, whose regime would have gladly executed him as a gay person. I think the best explanation is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oikophobia

  114. >But as you too have observed, it is often hard to tell New Atheism from left-wing silliness, and the later tends to have an oikophobic (i.e. self-hating, occidentalist) aspect, i.e. “we are bad, ours is bad, our bad is the worst bad”. Still, even the left-wing part of New Atheism won’t flock to Islam, what they can flock to is a kind of Foucaultian third-worldism which is objectively pro-Islam in a roundabout way. Michel Foucault, despite being atheist, Nietzscheist, and gay, have supported the Ayatollah, whose regime would have gladly executed him as a gay person. I think the best explanation is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oikophobia

    Nothing in this last paragraph with which I disagree, really. I think you’re somewhat too hard on the New Atheists, and your claim that the Enlightenment “didn’t work” is at best highly dubious, but given how strongly culturally conservative you are I wasn’t expecting anything different. You are quite right that oikophobia is the core problem here, even more so than what another commenter called “statheism”. It’s not that atheists are running to Islam, it’s that oikophobes who happen to have atheism as a sort of ornamental flourish are running to Islam. The rest of us think this is plain nuts.

  115. esr> You must be new here or you’d know this already.

    Uh, I’m far from new here. What I don’t get (and I may not have said this clearly) is, why do you seem to say that theistic religion is the root of these evils, when you clearly know and understand that it is fanaticism that is the root of the evil? You can be fanatical about bunnies and kill millions to save the bunnies. Does it really matter what the object of your fanaticism is? If Christianity is evil because people are fanatical about it, what about Jodie Foster? Do you think Hinkley was any less evil than Eric Rudolph, or any crazier than Joan of Arc?

    I’d be interested what you thought of the rest of my reasoning (good or bad) as that’s how I’ve always decided such issues.

  116. Let me try to explain my disagreement with you, Eric.

    First, there isn’t that much of a positive correlation between religion and violence. To say that tens or hundreds of millions have been killed in the name of religion may well be true. What isn’t proven is that those deaths wouldn’t have happened anyway.

    The British Empire is an example. Most of their wars, at least until late in the 19th century, were nominally done in the name of the Church of England. However, most of those wars were fought for other reasons than religion. Whether the wars were justifiable (the wars against slave-dealing African kingdoms) or wrong (the Opium War with China) or somewhere in between, the driving force was always the perceived interest of Britain, at best, or the particular government in power, at worst. The religions were only invoked after the fact.

    Second, the correlation between aggressive atheism and violence is very strong, and very definitely a positive one. Note Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and virtually every Communist government that ever existed. Note also the French Revolutionaries, which were at least atheist-influenced and anti-Christian, if not always openly atheist.

    Third, while I don’t disagree that Hitchens, et al, are very anti-Muslim, that doesn’t mean that they represent most atheists. If anything, I’ve seen a rather rabid hatred by most atheists of anyone who proposed that militant Islamists were a real problem. To reject these atheists as “not really atheists” is a “No True Scotsman” argument, much like those who say that Torquemada or Ivan the Terrible weren’t true Christians.

    Fourth, and most importantly, I believe that Christianity, as now constituted, has a very positive role in modern society. No, I’m not talking about morality; that is not limited to Christians. I’m not even talking about the claim that rights are meaningless unless handed down by God. (Even if true, this would not settle the issue about what those rights were; the medievals believed as fervently in the Divine Right of Kings as we do in the rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence).

    No, I’m talking about the fact that a belief in Christianity is essentially a vaccine against superstition. It can be argued, perhaps legitimately, that Christianity itself is a superstition. Nevertheless, its “superstitious” qualities are generally limited to events no more recent than 2000 years ago. Beliefs like astrology and Marxism are rejected outright. People think the word Puritan means “purifying the soul of sinful thoughts,” when in reality it means “purifying the Christian religion of non-Christian ideas.” As hostile as Puritanism was initially to Newtonian physics, it was no accident that the two thrived together, since both represented a demystification of the heavens and earth.

    I would argue that the Puritan emphasis on statements either being true or false, and not subject to “mind power,” has been one of the driving forces behind the success of the Western world in the past three hundred years. I also have a nasty suspicion that the decline of Puritanism has resulted in the renaissance of superstition over the past 40 years. And I say that as someone who is utterly turned off by the dark, hell-obsessed aspect of Puritanism: just because I don’t like something doesn’t eliminate its value.

    Just to be clear, the “evangelical Christianity” popular today is far removed from Puritanism. If anything, it goes in the opposite direction by emphasizing God as a quasi-magical force who gives random boosts to the fortunes of his supporters, whereas the Puritan God was a rather demanding, uncompromising deity with much activity in the hereafter and relatively little in the here and now, other than saving souls.

  117. >why do you seem to say that theistic religion is the root of these evils, when you clearly know and understand that it is fanaticism that is the root of the evil?

    Theism (specifically, the fideistic kind you get in Zoroastrian-descended religions) is the root in that it is the great historical legitimizer of fanaticism (before the 20th century, anyway). Saying “fanaticism is to blame” is true but nearly pointless; it’s a descriptive account but gives you no causal handle on why people become fanatics, nor any way to predict on whom they will unload. The content of belief does matter.

  118. “Theism (specifically, the fideistic kind you get in Zoroastrian-descended religions) is the root in that it is the great historical legitimizer of fanaticism (before the 20th century, anyway). Saying “fanaticism is to blame” is true but nearly pointless; it’s a descriptive account but gives you no causal handle on why people become fanatics, nor any way to predict on whom they will unload. The content of belief does matter.”

    Then something is missing. What you have is an example, not an explanation. Else how could you explain things like the Ikko-Ikki?

  119. >Second, the correlation between aggressive atheism and violence is very strong

    It is questionable whether communists should be considered “aggressive atheists”. They were evangelists for the eschatological religion of the communist revolution and the primacy of the state. They called themselves “atheists” mainly as a propaganda move against competing absolutisms. The “dialectic of history” or Marx himself fufilled pretty much all the characteristics of a venerated deity.

    But suppose I conceded your point. So what? My post was about how atheists evaluate religions. It wasn’t about totting up the relative demerits of “secular” massacre-mongers versus the religious kind. Communist and Nazi atrocities (which I have never been slow to denounce) may be vast, but are irrelevant to the discussion.

    If I needed any confirmation that religious believers are fundamentally idiots, this “But…but…look over there! Communism! Booga booga!” maneuver would supply it. It’s pure evasion. So is blaming “fanaticism”, as if fanaticism existed in splendid isolation from the content of belief.

  120. > Slavery was eradicated in the West by Christians. Anti-slavery was a religious push.

    That’s a remarkable assertion. Can you cite some sources to support it?

    Bear in mind that your claim implies all of the following:

    – The Abolitionist movement included only Christians. No atheists or believers in other religions were involved.
    – Non-Christians were all either defenders of slavery or apathetic. Only Christians actually opposed it.
    – No Christians opposed Abolition. Every single Christian was in favor of it.
    – No one ever cited Christian doctrine in DEFENSE of slavery.
    – The American Civil War was a religious war, with all the Christians on one side and everyone else on the other.
    – The Confederacy was an atheistic nation.
    – Christianity did not exist in the South before 1865, and was presumably introduced by missionaries during Reconstruction.
    – The 300-year-old First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC cannot exist. It must be a fake.
    – The Westerners involved in the African slave trade were all atheists (or Buddhists, or Hindus).

  121. >Then something is missing. What you have is an example, not an explanation. Else how could you explain things like the Ikko-Ikki?

    Good question. I’d say look for connections to Pure Land Buddhism, the one really diseased fruit of the Buddhist tree. As far back as 1948 Joseph W. Campbell traced it back to Zoroastrian influence over the old Silk Road.

  122. “Nothing in this last paragraph with which I disagree, really.”

    And of course you can attribute most of what I wrote before the last paragraph to being culturally conservative and ignore those, but please do not ignore the paragraph I wrote about the scientific method or attitude, and the parallel of the shaman and magic plants / medical drugs extracted from plants, I think I am on something fairly important and widespread in that one. I.e. being more respectable about possible testable psychological truths encoded in the myths of major religions because basic economics tells us that people are rarely stupid about costly and important practical matters – take any illiterate primitive tribesman, still the mushrooms he says are poisonous are probably truly so. Same with religious writers and poisonous emotions, passions etc. etc.

  123. >That’s a remarkable assertion. Can you cite some sources to support it?

    He’s quite right, actually. Abolitionism in the U.K. in the early 1800s was strongly associated with a form of evangelical Protestantism that was rather new-wave at the time. Your implications are false because they depend on then premise that if some Christians opposed slavery, all Christians must have done so (and all non-Christians must have supported it). Logic fail.

    I loathe Christianity, and I think it has in general done more to promote slavery than to oppose it. But we must give Wilberforce and his crew their due: for them, anti-slavery definitely was coupled with and motivated by their interpretation of Christianity.

  124. >I think I am on something fairly important and widespread in that one. I.e. being more respectable about possible testable psychological truths encoded in the myths of major religions

    You’re saying this to me? Shenpen… what makes you think that the idea that there is recoverable psychological wisdom encoded in world mythology could even possibly be breaking news to a neopagan? That’s what we’re all about, man!

    /me tries to stop laughing.

  125. >But suppose I conceded your point. So what? My post was about how atheists evaluate religions. It wasn’t about totting up the relative demerits of “secular” massacre-mongers versus the religious kind. Communist and Nazi atrocities (which I have never been slow to denounce) may be vast, but are irrelevant to the discussion.

    They aren’t irrelevant, because your argument rests on the “blood-soaked historical record” of Christianity and Islam. Considering that Christian governments have maybe a 40% correlation with extreme tyranny, and that explicitly atheist governments have close to a 100% correlation, it’s hard to conclude that Christianity is more harmful. Remember, your argument wasn’t for agnostics, but for “militant atheists”–your term, not mine.

    To put it differently: you are arguing that our society should be militantly atheist, because of the violent past of Christianity. I am arguing that our society should not be militantly atheist, because its past is even more violent.

  126. A few more thoughts. I consider it almost an axiom that any discussion about “human concerns” i.e. religion, philosophy, the human sciences is meaningful only to the extent it touches the ur-topic of them all, that of human nature. That can be debated, of course, but I think to the extent ideas have driven history, it was mostly ideas about human nature.

    Pre-modern Catholicism had a fairly modest view about human nature: their conception about original sin meant our software is “buggy” i.e. man is vulnerable, weak, can easily fall and do bad stuff, but it is not completely rotten, you can be a good guy, it will take effort and constant vigilance, but you can do it. This lined up fairly well with Greek philosophy, even with with the “you all have the diamond of the Buddha nature but it is covered with lots of dust” view of Buddhism – I think there are many common roots in pre-modern thinking. (Islam is a different case because AFAIK it is rooted in Gnostic Christian sects in Syria.)

    It was John Calvin who uprooted it by saying that human nature is not simply buggy but “totally depraved”.

    This was an extreme view, and from it arose another extreme view, as a backlash, from the same city, that of Rousseau, that human nature is naturally good, and this idea have given birth to the modern world. This backlash is understandable: seeing mankind as something totally depraved is a grave insult against all of us who are trying, and often succeding not being so, and quite often doing so with little to no help from religion. Of course basic, normal human pride had to revolt against an idea of total depravity. Despite being understandable, this revolt called modernity is wrong: we can learn both from history and evol-psy or just basic life experience that we are, indeed, buggy.

    One very typical and very explanatory example of this revolt called modernity is how we think about poverty. A pre-modern thinker would have thought poverty requires no explanation: human software is buggy, therefore of course we screw our stuff up quite often, both as individuals and as a political society. This lines up perfectly with the historical experience that most people almost everywhere in almost all times were dirt poor. Modern man cannot accept it, modern man thinks it should be somehow perfectly normal, natural and expected that every person should succeed, because we are naturally rational and good and whatever. Therefore, modern man requires an “explanation” of poverty, and the left-leaning one will blame society and the right-leaning one will say that that person is faulty and is to blame, f.e. very lazy. A pre-modern person, much more reasonably, I think, would have said we all are faulty, we all can be blamed for lots of things, we all are born with a huge capability of both screwing up our own lives or establishing wrong political institutions, but sometimes we get lucky or sometimes we are capable of succeeding through ability or effort, but this is the exception, not the norm, and it is success that requires explanation, not failure, failure is normal both individually and socially.

  127. > Your implications are false because they depend on then premise that if some Christians opposed slavery, all Christians must have done so (and all non-Christians must have supported it). Logic fail.

    I think you’ve missed my point. Andy Freeman responded to the phrase “Christianity and the Atlantic slave trade” by saying “Huh? Slavery was eradicated in the West by Christians. Anti-slavery was a religious push.” His clear implication was that Christianity cannot possibly have been connected in any way with the establishment of slavery, only with its abolition.

    Sure, there were lots of Christians associated with the drive to eradicate slavery. There were also plenty of them on the other side. To suggest, as Freeman did, that Christianity and abolitionism were one and the same is simply inaccurate.

    > Abolitionism in the U.K. in the early 1800s was strongly associated with a form of evangelical Protestantism that was rather new-wave at the time.

    Yes. It was a minority, and something of a fringe group. Those evangelicals accomplished a great deal, but it’s simply false to suggest that they spoke for all Christians at the time, or that they did not have allies who were not themselves religious.

  128. >To put it differently: you are arguing that our society should be militantly atheist, because of the violent past of Christianity. I am arguing that our society should not be militantly atheist, because its past is even more violent.

    Well, that’s at least the right sort of argument to be making. Though I wasn’t arguing for militant atheism directly, just explaining why the idea that atheists are ready to sign up for jihad training en masse is absurd.

    Whether your position is valid or not depends on whether the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century were actually “atheist”. I’ve already explained that I don’t think they were. They had all the characteristic psychological fixations and control mechanisms of theistic religions – messianism, eschatology, and what I’ve elsewhere called the sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor. Of course they rejected belief in the other religion’s god; monotheisms always do.

  129. esr> So is blaming “fanaticism”, as if fanaticism existed in splendid isolation from the content of belief.

    I’m guessing this is my reply ;^). As I said, I think we are hardwired TO believe in something larger than ourselves, so the question is what do you choose (or do you leave the choice to the uncontrolled subconscious)?

    You’ve clearly chosen, as have I, through conscious thought and deliberation. I believe that many “atheists” however, do NOT choose consciously, and so they make the decision subconsciously, with their passions, e.g. left leaning mumbo jumbo, Earth as Gaea environmentalism, “Statheism”, etc. In believeing they are above belief, they open themselves up to outside influences that to most are silly and irrational.

    You won’t find me defending the abject failure of Man within the Christian faith and the twisting and use of Christ’s teachings to do MASSIVE amounts of evil. It’s the primary reason I’m agnostic, because I feel that bureaucracy (and the hunger for power that it feeds) within the Church is at the heart of that evil (as it is at the heart of the the rot within the State). The same can be said for any organized religion.

  130. >They had all the characteristic psychological fixations and control mechanisms of theistic religions – messianism, eschatology, and what I’ve elsewhere called the sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor.

    Eschatology yes, but the messianism and sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor were grafted on by the various Communist governments as a means of keeping control.

    In its pure form, Marxism was neither an evangelical religion (as you claim) nor was it the huge government-owned-and-operated charity that its supporters claim. The system described by Marx was one of pure self-interest, in which the proletariat rob and murder the bourgeousie who employ them. Since this was not the basis for a stable society, Stalin et al used some quasi-religious techniques to keep the lid from blowing off.

    Nevertheless, the self-interest inherent in Marxism was absorbed thoroughly by the Soviet populace. Virtually every personal success story during the Soviet years was the result of ruthless elimination of rivals. That’s why today, Russia has no believers in Communism, but millions of self-interested thugs, Putin being currently the most powerful thug.

  131. I have to agree with those that see the real touch point being that “militant atheist” and “left-wing marxist” are co-mingled. The modern neo-religion of Marxism, which self-identifies as “militant atheist” doesn’t have much in common with the sort of “militant atheist” that esr is. But it does seem that it has much to gain from an alliance of convenience with militant Islam at the moment, with the common foe being what both see as “the West.”

    To a Christian, esr’s “militant atheist neo-paganism” is very hard to distinguish from “left-wing dupe neo-pagan with Che t-shirt” who agrees with Michael Moore that Al-Queda in Iraq was just like the Minutemen.

  132. @JD:
    > By the way, Vox Day skewered your “logic” on his blot today.
    Vox Day is an explicitly Christian-oriented blog. This is neither surprising nor relevant.

  133. esr: Unitarians aren’t really all that Christian. Particularly not the Universalist kind. You know better than that. :)

    @LS: Mormons aren’t strictly monotheist. Mormonism — at least the LDS variety — has a “Godhead” which has many aspects, such as God the Father, and God the Mother, etc. They’re practically soft polytheists

  134. @Shenpen: You’re wrong about Rousseau and the idea of human nature being inherently good being the foundation of the modern world. No, that notion is the foundation of Leftism. There’s a difference. The older view, of human nature as flawed but improvable, with sufficient application of effort, choice and *reason*, never died out. Thank goodness, or there would be no hope at all.

  135. >Good question. I’d say look for connections to Pure Land Buddhism, the one really diseased fruit of the Buddhist tree.
    >As far back as 1948 Joseph W. Campbell traced it back to Zoroastrian influence over the old Silk Road.

    Oh that’s very good, thank you. I’ve never really looked closely at Buddhism- in just the time I’ve had on my hands this afternoon not able to get any work done because I’m waiting at the mercy of a certain Help Desk that shame Remain Nameless, I’ve been able to read enough about Pure Land Buddhism to find it deeply creepy- actually my initial reaction was “this is 72 fucking virgins territory”.

  136. The state demanding religious conformity in its lands is so common in history that it’s probably improper to attribute the tendency to the religion in any cases (including atheism imposed by Communist regimes); the impulse lies in the desire of the state, not the church. A Hellenistic pagan emperor didn’t rededicate the Jewish Temple to Zeus because of anything in pagan religion.

    The case of conquest in the name of converting the infidel, on the other hand, has no particularly obvious historical antecedents before Mohammed, and seemed to manifest in Christianity only after it was introduced to Christians by Muslim invasions. This “Muslim Source” theory seems to be supported by the fact that the Spaniards were the major Christianizing-by-the-sword conquerors (compare Spanish Mexico/Peru to British India) and the backbone of the armies of the Counter-Reformation . . . and the Spanish are the only Christian imperialists who were ruled by Muslims for an extended period.

    Christianity seems to have, in recent times, finally shaken this infection, while Islam, true to its roots with Muhammad, seems to be busy trying to export itself at swordpoint even when it has decidedly inferior swords.

  137. >To a Christian, esr’s “militant atheist neo-paganism” is very hard to distinguish from “left-wing dupe neo-pagan with Che t-shirt” who agrees with Michael Moore that Al-Queda in Iraq was just like the Minutemen.

    *snort* Well, except for the “not being left-wing” part. This is very silly of you; it’s like saying an ocelot is hard to distinguish from an alligator because they’ve both got four legs. Try paying better attention next time.

  138. >I’ve been able to read enough about Pure Land Buddhism to find it deeply creepy- actually my initial reaction was “this is 72 fucking virgins territory”.

    Yes. Yes, it is. Really nasty stuff. You say you’ve never really looked closely at Buddhism; please do not prejudge the rest of it by Pure Land. I’m not a Buddhist, but I respect the tradition; it’s the sanest of the great world religions by a very wide margin.

  139. Greg> You’re wrong about Rousseau and the idea of human nature being inherently good being the foundation of the modern world. No, that notion is the foundation of Leftism. There’s a difference. The older view, of human nature as flawed but improvable, with sufficient application of effort, choice and *reason*, never died out. Thank goodness, or there would be no hope at all.

    Uh, that’s about 180* from where I see the left. My interpretation is that the left (modern day “liberals/prgressives”) feels that people are basically bad (and/or stupid) and must be shepherded by their leader(s) (you know, the “smart” people who run the government) to do the right thing. Libertarianism (a belief in liberty) is to belief that people will basically do the right thing if given the choice without coercion, and will be corrected by society at large without the authoritarian hand applying force to “improve” them.

    Your comment that it’s a good thing that there are still people who believe in using coercion and force to improve us or there’d be no hope for us at all IS deeply disturbing.

  140. @esr, it feels a little poor to fisk an article from seven years ago, but I do need to defend my assertion above that the Islam post was a miasma of historical nonsense, far below your usual standards. So let’s just hit the highlights, shall we?

    But in interpreting that early period, we need to bear in mind that Christianity changed in fundamental ways after the Donation of Constantine.

    The Donation of Constantine is a medieval forgery claiming to show thot Constantine gave authority over the Western Empire to the Pope. It’s been known to be false since before the Reformation. I think that you meant to just say the

    conversion

    of Constantine, but this is either very ignorant or very sloppy. Either way, it bodes poorly for the rest of the essay.

    (Or it’s possible you were saying that the existence of the medieval forgery was decisive in changing Christianity, but that seems excessively subtle.)

    [The Zoroastroan scriptures] are like nothing else in world religion but very much like Christianity after Augustine, the Christianity that made the Book of Revelations part of its canon.

    This baffles me. The Book of Revelation was written at the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the second, a good 250 years before Augustine. The council that decided its canonicity was held during Augustine’s lifetime, but while he was still a priest and neither present at it nor recorded as being influential over its proceedings. There’s just no way you can claim that the church that canonized Revelation was post-Augustinian.

    That’s where we got the Sunday sabbath and our words for “priest” and “pope”;

    Your statement about the words for “priest” and “pope” is just plain wrong: the Greek word for “priest” is presbyteros (which is where the English word ultimately comes from), which is a native word that literally means “elder”. The Latin word is sacerdos, originally a word for a pagan sacrifical officiant. “Pope” (Latin papa) comes from an old Latin word for “tutor”. Not a Zoroastrian root among them.

    [E]ven the Eucharist reflects a Mithraic initiation ceremony called the Taurobolion.

    Before rereading your article, it had been a long time since I’d heard that old canard. Anyway, you seem to have confused the tauroctony with the taurobolion, the former being the Mithraic rite, while the latter was an unrelated rite in the Roman civic religion. There are no extant descriptions of the Mithraic tauroctony rite, but from what we can reconstruct it does invole Eucharistic actions such as, um, sitting around a table and eating. Shared elements of such uniqueness clearly indicate heavy influence.

    The deeper problem with your theory about Zoroastroan influence via Augustine is that it ignores the Eastern Church, in which Augustine was a minor figure whose theological views were never widely accepted. To this day the Eastern Orthodox deny the Augustinian understanding of sin and grace, yet the political features that you attribute to Augustine’s influence were all present in an even stronger form, as the Orthodox Church was the official cult of the Emperor long after the Western Empire had fallen to pieces. Whatever features of Christianity enable this politicization, they must be common between the East and the West and not a peculiarity of the quintessentially Western theologian Augustine.

    The analogy you’re trying to make between Christianity, Islam, and leftism is certainly intriguing. However, the historical argument that you used to begin the article is high-grade bullshit, and it undermines whatever else you tried to say.

  141. @LS: Mormons aren’t strictly monotheist. Mormonism — at least the LDS variety — has a “Godhead” which has many aspects, such as God the Father, and God the Mother, etc. They’re practically soft polytheists.

    Doesn’t matter….they’re close enough….The general idea is that, if you worship different gods of thunder, The Earth Mother, the war god, etc., you’re not put out by the news that others worship other gods. After all, if there are a bunch of gods, you can never be sure that you’ve collected the complete set.

    OTOH, if there’s only ONE, and you worship Him, those other people must be WRONG.

    I’m trying to convert esr to my cybernetic religion….If you lead a good life, you get sent to a place where open-source software is the only software there is….If you lead a bad life, you get sent to a COBOL shop in Cleveland.

  142. > In hopes that some conservatives might actually pay attention, I will now explain how “militant atheists” evaluate different religions and why Islam is actually the least likely of them to attract or seduce atheists.

    I’m pretty sure that you’re misunderstanding the argument.

    They’re not claiming that atheists are converting to Islam. The claim is that some atheists are attempting to aid Islam in a war against some Christians.

    The analogy would be that Hitler and Stalin helped each other to achieve common ends. No one argues that they seduced each other or attempted conversion.

    Note that “Christians” is actually a stand-in for something that is at best nominally religious.

  143. > Andy Freeman responded to the phrase “Christianity and the Atlantic slave trade” by saying “Huh? Slavery was eradicated in the West by Christians. Anti-slavery was a religious push.” His clear implication was that Christianity cannot possibly have been connected in any way with the establishment of slavery, only with its abolition.

    That implication wasn’t clear or intended, but I’ll go with it as it happens to be mostly true.

    > Sure, there were lots of Christians associated with the drive to eradicate slavery. There were also plenty of them on the other side.

    Since “everyone” in the relevant culture was nominally Christian, you can’t look at the religion of the folks involved to figure out the religion’s position.

    Instead, you have to look at what the religion was teaching. While you can find some church folk arguing for slavery, a plurality were silent while a huge fraction were anti.

    For example, it’s easy to find churches helping to free slaves. It’s almost impossible to find any churches that were doing slave-catching.

    More to the point, it’s almost impossible to find anyone in the abolition movement who wasn’t strongly associated with the anti-slavery churches.

    In other words, while not all churches were abolitionist, almost all abolitionists were religously motivated.

  144. >OTOH, if there’s only ONE, and you worship Him, those other people must be WRONG.

    There’s the Hindu idea that there’s one god, but that it has an infinite number of manifestations.

  145. We’ve all been passing back and forth moral opinions. Since this seems like a good crowd to ask, and I haven’t yet found a good answer for this question (and yes, I’ve done more than a 2 minute Google search).

    Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application? For example, if I ask you “Why is it wrong to kill you?”, this system must not rely on a religion’s previous definition, and you can’t just say “Well, he may be useful to you” or “You wouldn’t want to be killed.” A theist can “cheat”: “God said so” is internally consistent and complete (even if you think it’s wrong).

    So far, I’ve seen one person attempt a definition worth reading a little. Of the first twelve axioms, at least three begged the question, and all were dependent on the undefined meaning of “good”.

    Practically every nontheist I’ve talked either steals Christianity’s moral system (in whole or part), or their moral system devolves into a utilitarian system. (You get the occasional Nietzsche/Russell adherent who claims to agree that atheism logically implies nihilism, but they usually manage to fall back to an unconscious “it’s not fair/right/etc.” anyway.)

  146. >Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application?

    It can’t be done. Without some set of moral axioms that are not permitted to be questioned, some form of utilitarianism is the best you can do.

  147. Kentucky Packrat Says:
    > Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application? For example, if I ask you “Why is it wrong to kill you?”, this system must not rely on a religion’s previous definition, and you can’t just say “Well, he may be useful to you” or “You wouldn’t want to be killed.” A theist can “cheat”: “God said so” is internally consistent and complete (even if you think it’s wrong).

    Well there’s Eliezer Yudkowsky’s meta-ethics sequence.

    http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Metaethics_sequence

    Warning: this consists of 38 long dense blog posts, some of which rely on material from other blog posts.

    I’m not sure how much I agree with it, but it’s the most serious attempt I’ve seen to formulate a morality without God.

    BTW, as I understand it the short version his answer to the question “Why is it wrong to kill you?” is “You don’t want to kill me, and if you think you do, you’re probably mistaken about that.”

  148. “An accident of our time, post-9/11, is that Islam currently appears the more dangerous of the two.”

    Let’s see, fervent Christian George Bush invaded two countries, dropped bombs with a blast radius of hundreds of meters into crowded metropolitan areas, and directly or indirectly killed somewhere around 100,000 (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/) or 1.4 million (http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq) Iraqis, depending on the methodology used to tally the body count. He continued an embargo against Iraq established place by his Christian predecessors that caused somewhere between 1.7 and 2 million deaths (http://www.ilaam.net/War/IraqEmbargo.html400,000). (Embargoes are a particularly nasty form of warfare, as they are aimed directly at civilians without even a pretense of aiming at military targets.)

    Fervent Muslim Osama bin Laden destroyed two buildings and killed 3000 people.

    Which one of these fanatics was more dangerous?

    Eric, for an anarchist you are amazingly blind to the atrocities committed by the very government you live under… when the targets of those atrocities aren’t Americans.

  149. LS Says:

    “Well… [the Mormons are] all quiet and peaceful now…after the rest of the country put a lot of pressure on them at the end of the 19th century. Before that time, they were driven (they say, “persecuted”) from place to place because they were so obnoxious.”

    Give me a break. Having unusual religious beliefs doesn’t justify the kinds of things done to the Mormons, no matter how obnoxious you find those beliefs.

    “They ended up in Utah, where they perpetrated the Mountain Meadows massacre.”

    Certainly a black mark against the early Mormons. But while you’re at it, why don’t you bother condemning Governor Boggs of Missouri for his extermination order making it legal to shoot and kill Mormons on sight?

  150. >Let’s see, fervent Christian George Bush invaded two countries, dropped bombs

    Whatever the merits or demerits of those actions, it wasn’t Bush’s religion motivating him but pretty straightforward great-power politics. Not relevant to assessing Christianity’s threat potential.

  151. ESR:

    “Whatever the merits or demerits of those actions, it wasn’t Bush’s religion motivating him but pretty straightforward great-power politics. Not relevant to assessing Christianity’s threat potential.”

    Quoting Bush:

    “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.”

    Another Bush statement:

    “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

    If you want to argue that Bush only used his religion as window dressing to cover mundane political motives… well, likewise, bin Laden’s stated motives were largely political, boiling down to reaction against U.S. military domination of the Middle East.

  152. “It can’t be done. Without some set of moral axioms that are not permitted to be questioned, some form of utilitarianism is the best you can do.”

    It’s not at all clear to me how you can even do that much, in so far as axioms about how the ‘utility’ of two unrelated things may be compared qualify as “moral axioms” in the context of a moral framework based entirely on the idea that utility is something that can be measured.

  153. “Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application?”

    Humanism has a non-theistic non-utilitarian moral system, as have Buddhism and Confusianism.

    They are obviously not universal. But they go an awfull long way.

    Actually all people create moral system just as they create laws. God or other excuses are only added later.

  154. “Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application?”

    Look at it differently (~ what Winter said)
    People create moral systems. It wouldn’t surprise me if one could trace this back to some evolutionary benefit, or at least a side-effect of one.
    Religion is just a convenient way of representing morals, not unlike gods were once a convenient way of explaining phenomena such as thunder and lightning, and churches serve to codify and formalize those moral rules. Not unlike laws.
    Anecdotal evidence : all religions I know of have a rule that says something like “don’t kill people (~ members of our tribe)”. AFAIK, most countries also have laws that say something like that.

    I suppose this does not meet your criterion of ‘non-utilitarian’, but that sounds like an arbitrary requirement anyway.

  155. I’m not sure how much I agree with it, but it’s the most serious attempt I’ve seen to formulate a morality without God.

    Read John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Then read Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Skip Walzer and Sandel if you really don’t like utilitarianism, I guess. I’m not particularly saying you should agree with either Rawls or Nozick, and I’m not saying Yudkowsky’s work is crap, but there are definitely serious attempts to formulate ethics sans God out there. And yeah, Rawls is a liberal — but that didn’t stop the libertarian Nozick from engaging with him seriously. It’s worth the effort if you’re really interested in the philosophy of justice and morals.

  156. Oddly enough, ESR decided to name his magnum opus “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, with the big old Christian building = bad, and the marketplace usually found in Islamic countries = good.

  157. >If you want to argue that Bush only used his religion as window dressing to cover mundane political motives… well, likewise, bin Laden’s stated motives were largely political, boiling down to reaction against U.S. military domination of the Middle East.

    This equivalence you’re claiming will be true right about the time U.S. troops start charging into battle screaming “Christ is great!”. Wars of religion have obvious behavioral and structural features which the U.S.’s interventions do not. Bush may think God called him to pursue American interests, but he never even twitched in the direction of trying to motivate his troops or the public that way. In fact, the attitudes of mainstream Christian clerics and churches have generally ranged from neutral to anti-intervention.

    Not saying it couldn’t happen, mind you – I can imagine relatively near-term scenarios in which the bloodstained madness at the heart of Christianity really wakes up, especially if the jihadis get their nuke and detonate in in a major city. But it hasn’t happened yet.

  158. >Oddly enough, ESR decided to name his magnum opus “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, with the big old Christian building = bad, and the marketplace usually found in Islamic countries = good.

    I’m a neopagan, so you may be sure no religious particularism was involved here.

    Point of historical interest: The “cathedral” in my title was a reference to a cathedral metaphor used in Brooks’s “The Mythical Man-Month”.

    Another point: I nearly named it “The Cathedral and the Agora“. Better metaphor if you know what an agora was, but I feared most people would not.

  159. > Read John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice.

    I have. Rawls has no idea what he’s talking about.

    His basic premise is to assume a “veil of ignorance” and to argue that since we’ve abstracted away people’s personalities including whether they’re risk-averse or risk-loving, then only reasonable thing is to assume they’re maximally risk-averse.

    Wait, what? I also get the impression he doesn’t understand what the words “risk-averse” and “risk-loving” actually mean.

  160. > Charles Darwin was a prominent aboligist who campaigned against slavery.

    Yes, he (among others) wrote a few essays.

    However, they were the exception, not the rule. The anti-slavery movement, as I wrote, almost entirely religiously-based.

    If anti-slavery had been pushed mostly by atheists against religious support, it wouldn’t have succeeded. It probably wouldn’t have succeded against religious indifference.

  161. > Bear in mind that your claim implies all of the following:

    Actually, it doesn’t, but since you haven’t paid attention to what I’ve written, I’m not inclined to write more.

    Yes, there were christians who supported slavery. The relevant question is what the churches did. Most did nothing, but the ones that did something were the backbone of the abolitionist movement. Atheists were irrelevant because they were a very small minority.

    Note that there were pro-slavery atheists and atheists who owned slaves. So, if you’re going to argue that “some christians were pro-slavery” implies that christianity had nothing to do with the end of slavery, then the fact that there were pro-slavery atheists implies that atheists had nothing to do with the end of slavery.

    So, who do you credit? Martians?

  162. >I have. Rawls has no idea what he’s talking about.

    Would that it were so. In fact, Rawls did know what he was talking about, in a sort of dishonest instrumental way. His entire theory of ethics was a sort of back-formation designed to justify, under a pretense of disinterested philosophical inquiry, certain specific conclusions: soft-socialist, big-state redistributionism. The sketchiness of his premises is because he actually wasn’t very interested in his premises.

  163. >it feels a little poor to fisk an article from seven years ago

    You know, “fisk” does not unpack to “nit-pick terminological details”. You are correct that I confused the taurobolion with the tauroctony. And looking into the matter now I see that the etymology of “priest” and “pope” is more disputed than I was aware of at the time.

    That being said, most of your other assertions are either false, poiontlessly contentious, or misleading. Ignoring the small stuff, I’ll zero in on the big one. The Great Schism did not occur until 600 years after Augustine’s death, leaving ample time for Augustine’s theology to impress itself on the elements of the church that would later become Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox later rejected Augustine’s ecclesiology as part of the political schism, and made a sort of pro-forma attempt to reject Augustinian “original sin” with it – but the attempt was basically a terminological tweak, the theology of sin they ended up with is still built around Augustine’s sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor. The denials of this are no more convincing than the Western church’s denial than Augustine had bent its theology into warmed-over Gnostic dualism.

  164. > > Charles Darwin was a prominent aboligist who campaigned against slavery.
    > Yes, he (among others) wrote a few essays.

    In fact, Darwin was an Anglican minister and a very religious man (I think.)

  165. Rawls is awful, as Eric pointed out it is blindingly obvious that his “reasoning” was purely trying to rationalize what he already believed. Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia was more about justification and creation a political system than on ethics. Kai Nielsen’s Why Be Moral? does a good job of demonstrating that it is not possible to support an ethical system philosophically; he surveys (it is a collection of essays) nearly every type of philosophical justification I have seen for ethics, and every one has major flaws.

    The one Nielsen didn’t discuss is a variation on egoist ethics. In Ronald Merrill’s The Ideas of Ayn Rand, he suggested that the purpose of behaving ethically is to form your own character, to make yourself the kind of person you think you should be. There are definite weaknesses with using that as a social morality, but for guiding your own decisions, it works quite well.

  166. ESR,

    slightly offtopic: you really should check out this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lama_Ole_Nydahl

    because he is a Buddhist teacher who has a such a similar personality and ideas as yours and such a good sense of humour that the time investment worths it by the sheer fun factor of it.

    There aren’t many Buddhist teachers who are strongly critical of Islam, because of lack of freedom of speech and because it oppresses women, and he says the problem with it, besides the lack of compassion with half of mankind, is that a man who does that, he opppresses the feminine, instinctive, open wisdom of his own mind and the result is a closed-minded paranioa which accounts for at least part of the terrorist mindset. There aren’t many Buddhist teachers who are critical of the Pope, saying he is responsible for many children in the poor ghettoes of South America, and saying that people should be advised not to have more children that they can afford to educate. There aren’t many Buddhist teachers who say if Europeans go to the wellness clubs and Muslim immigrrants go to the fitness clubs there will soon be some serious problems. There aren’t many Buddhist teachers who say environmentalism is overblown and our real problem is overpopulation, especially that of poverty-stricken Latin American slums and Muslims. There aren’t many Buddhist teachers who joke that when they drive they always listen to hip-hop because as long as the IQ of the musicians is under 90 the rythm is always very good. My difficulty with him is that he isn’t cultural-conservative enough for me, which should be a good sign for you, he has such a natural-born politically-incorrect libertarian-individualist-heinleinian personality – without calling himself so – that you really would like him, I am sure. The reason I am pushing this matter is that something truly interesting could arise from a kind of cooperation of two people of very similar personalities and attitude but very different experiences and knowledge as you and him.

  167. Lama…Ole…Nydahl…

    *gigglesnort*

    I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, but I can’t help thinking his name is the punchline of a Minnesota joke.

  168. >>Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application?

    Z It can’t be done. Without some set of moral axioms that are not permitted to be questioned, some form of utilitarianism is the best you can do.

    unless those axioms are genetically innate. It seems emphaty, in the sense of a ‘theory of mind’ ability is, and that would be part of any ethical system….

  169. >slightly offtopic: you really should check out this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lama_Ole_Nydahl

    Did a little research. Didn’t like what I found.

    I discount various vague reports of cultish behavior at Diamond Way as the sort of noisy denunciation that someone in his position will attract even if there’s no shred of truth to it. It is evident that he has a pretty classic rascal-guru sense of humor, inflected through a western background; that’s OK.

    Now the unpleasant stuff. Accurately describing Islam as an evil, oppressive religion, OK, but fabricating supposedly Koranic quotes about wife-beating, not OK. Other reported incidents suggest that he’s got a really foul temper and a tendency to go off on people who challenge him, unpleasant in anyone but just plain not an acceptable flaw in a Buddhist teacher.

  170. esr…

    I see you criticize both christian and Islam!

    But chose to neglect to have a go at Judaism??

    The mother of all filthy gutter of a religion!!

    Just compare the how filthy the old testament compares to the new testamant!

    The old Testemant is all about stealing other peoples land and doing a total holocaust/genocide among the Goy/Phillestian people? God even command not to leave any women touch or untouch alive and killing all the children and babies too. Even to the level of including their donkeys!

    at least Koran tells Muslim to kills in only self defence or in oppression.

    Also the Old Testemant is full of figurehead lying and cheating and deceiving , betrayal, revenge, fornication, adulteress, wife stealing, stealing , robbing and so on. Don’t believe? just read the the whole bible.

    It is no wonder Jesus threw these Rabbi/priest out of the temple!! Islam say the Jew never really worship God rather they worship their Rabbi and their own race, and have many times kill their divine prophets! Jesus say these money changer Jews are not son of abraham rather their father are the devil.

    Now when you read the Babylon Talmud and Jewish Kaballah it gets even worst. Ohh.. the media will hide that from you. All these stupid atheist tree hugger never knew that their belief in nature really is from the teaching of kabbalah and from the wisdom of the tree of life!

    Stupid atheist not knowing their source. Metatron and Gaia bull shit! All this dualism Nonsense. Being one with the earth and nature, so one can ultimately achieve Godhood. When one can become God, he can do both good and evil for he is above it. That is all devil talk.

    Just another way to sway and kill thoses stupid christian and Muslim boys….. and yes you real atheist are next in line

    and by the the way no stinking A-rab can make building in NY turn to dust… not collapsing… but turn to dust uniformly with just impact. and three of them too?

    Wonder any geek who can do that too and proves the world wrong?

  171. @Andy Freeman
    Abologist movements were already found in pre-christian Rome. There have been people who have opposed slavery as long as it existed. Some of these where christian, some were muslim, jewish, or hindu. Some where atheist.

    Slavery has been supported as a moral right by many people. Some of these where christian, some were muslim, jewish, or hindu. Some where atheist.

    The Churches have been involved in the slave trade from the start:

    http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Religion/slavery.htm

    Especially:
    “”Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given. The purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue, or Catholic faith of the slave.””

    http://churchslavery.blogspot.com/

    The Anglican church felt they had not really opposed the trade:
    http://ramasuntiger.blogspot.com/2006/02/anglican-church-apologises-for-its.html
    “The Church’s missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation in Barbados and slaves had the word “Society” branded on their chests with red-hot irons.

    The Synod was told that the society’s governing body included archbishops of Canterbury. Bishops of London and archbishops of York were involved in its management.”

  172. @federico Says:
    “>>Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete, non-utilitarian, non-theistic definition of morality that justifies its universal application?

    Z It can’t be done. Without some set of moral axioms that are not permitted to be questioned, some form of utilitarianism is the best you can do.”

    It cannot be done at all.

    Morals value chosen actions with respect to all possible actions and outcomes. There is a range of postions. Morons judge actions isolated from circumstances, possibilities, and outcomes. Utilarism judges actions based on the best possible outcome. Most people are in between.

    It is clear that every position includes a value judgment. One action or outcome is prefered over another one. There are no universal yardsticks of preference. How can you chose between “Children” and “Money” as the better choice without some way to value children versus money? And on what to base such a valuation?

    When it is admitted that some basic choice of valuation must be made, these have to be made based on human preferences and existing habits.

    Then we have those that chose this explicitely, like Humanists, Buddhists, and Confusianists. And those that are delusional and claim their particular choice was ordained by divine revelation. Inspection of such claims always shows that these revelations always are identical to the preexisting mores of the population. So divine revelation is simply a way to hide the origin of the morals.

    But universal priciples of morals, they simply do not exist. And how would such universal rules look look if they have to be valid for humans, chimpanzees, dolphins, and every as yet unknown life forms forming alien civilization?

  173. > Can someone point me towards an internally consistent, internally complete . . .

    I’ll just stop you there and point out that you’re literally asking for the impossible. Kurt Gödel proved 80 years ago that no formal system can be both consistent and complete.

  174. Eugine Nier Says:
    >LS says:
    >> There’s a basic problem with monotheistic religions. If there’s only one God, then the other people’s beliefs logically must be wrong. This naturally leads to all sorts of mischief.
    >That’s a universal argument against anyone who believes that there’s such a thing as objective truth.

    Nope, it’s not! It’s a universal argument against anyone who believes that (s)he’s *got* the objective truth!
    I for example believe in an objective truth, but I also believe it is essentially unknowable (while we can make educated guesses using the scientific method).
    The problem is the people who claim /special insight/ that forces them to suppress everyone who begs to differ, all for the /greater good/…

  175. @Frank: Not necessarily. There’s also the opposite problem. If you’ve ever read Atlas Shrugged, then you know that the looters and the moochers tried to claim that there is no objective truth, a claim that Rand held to be just as dangerous, if not more so.

  176. @esr
    Your threat potential analysis primarily based on anti-rationality and violence seems to me to miss one rather crucial point: proximity. As a European, I regard virulent Christian fundamentalism as a threat only insofar as it influences US policy. Other than that, it’s just too far away to pose much of an immediate thread to me (globalisation notwithstanding).
    There you also have a possible reason why US Christians perceive this imagined coalition between Atheists and Muslims – some US Atheists may be more concerned about Christian as opposed to Muslim craziness than warranted by a purely “anti-rationality and violence” analysis because the Christian crazies are the ones who tend to be living right next door instead of halfway around the world.
    I do not see similar tendencies here in Europe, where Christian craziness is relatively weak and Muslim influence much higher – here Atheists tend to concentrate on the Muslim fundamentalist threat.
    Ergo: Proximity matters!
    Regards, Frank

  177. @Morgan Greywolf
    Um, I agree (with reservations), even if it is a bit beside the point I was trying to make regarding Eugine’s comment.
    IMHO the rational POV is that even while the objective truth is unknowable (which may be perceived as dangerously close to nonexistent), there is a big point to be made regarding the comparative validity/justification of competing interpretations.
    If s/o of course goes the whole way into relativist crazytown by pronouncing “If objective truth is nonexistent/unknowable then all POVs are equally valid.”, well, then he’s arrived in relativist crazytown… =)

  178. ESR > Whether your position is valid or not depends on whether the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century were actually “atheist”. I’ve already explained that I don’t think they were. They had all the characteristic psychological fixations and control mechanisms of theistic religions – messianism, eschatology, and what I’ve elsewhere called the sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor. Of course they rejected belief in the other religion’s god; monotheisms always do.

    OK, all the violent folks in Christianity’s past weren’t really Christians (followers of Jesus Christ).

    I think that settles it for all Christians. Similar statements could be made for all religions for anyone believing in that religion.

  179. >OK, all the violent folks in Christianity’s past weren’t really Christians (followers of Jesus Christ).

    It doesn’t matter to the threat assessment whether they were actually following Christ or not, just what they were actually doing.

  180. @Frank: I think we basically agree. The big problem is when someone claims to have a monopoly on objective truth; that he or she is (or followers of his or her religion are) the only who can know or interpret what is or is not true. The reverse (obverse?) problem also exists when you claim that objective reality doesn’t exist, therefore what is true or not true is decided arbitrarily by those with that decision making power on a case-by-basis; therefore something we know to be true on one day doesn’t apply the following day because that case is different somehow — or, more likely, the objective truth is simply inconvenient for those making the decision.

    There has to be a balance that lies somewhere in the middle.

  181. Eric, the problem with your reply to Adam is simply that a Christian of the sort to argue against your thesis in the first place is never going to accept that “godless Communism” did, in fact, have a god. To them, you’re simply justifying why Stalin, for example, is no true atheist.

    I don’t have a good reply to that.

  182. Regarding Theist vs Atheist megacrimes, I want to point out the matter of the openly proclaimed reasons of said crimes. There is an abundance of criminals citing religious justification – none of the atheist criminals have been able (or even trying) to justify their crimes with atheism!
    The hypothetical quote “There is no god, therefore I must kill you!” sounds ridiculous for a reason. The Absolutist excuse for crimes e.g. was usually that it was for the greater good of mankind as a whole. That excuse is not dependent on Atheism on the part of the excuser.
    The very real quote “God wants it so!” is very much dependent on a belief in the entity in question.

  183. >a Christian of the sort to argue against your thesis in the first place is never going to accept that “godless Communism” did, in fact, have a god. [...] don’t have a good reply to that.

    No reply is required, because rational argument with such people is a waste of time. The best you can hope for is to reach people whose critical faculties haven’t been completely shut down by the infectious mental disease they’re carrying. Meanwhile, keep your weapons handy in case somebody triggers the believers into a mass-psychotic phase.

    I know this sounds pretty bleak. Unfortunately, our evolved mechanisms for belief formation are severely defective, and the minority of people who achieve something resembling rationality more than 50% of the time simply has to cope with that. Part of coping is a realistic assessment of what can be achieved by argument, and when you’re talking hard-core believers that’s basically nothing.

  184. I’m not worried about Scudder in 2012. No such candidate has made himself known, and it’s getting to be too late for an unknown to enter the fray. If there was one already prominent, it’d be a different story: 2012 will likely be the biggest chance in a generation for a Scudder to be elected, simply because of the upcoming anti-Obama backlash.

  185. I’m not worried about Scudder in 2012. No such candidate has made himself known,

    Closest to him is Huckabee, but I don’t think he’s running.

  186. > Eric, the problem with your reply to Adam is simply that a Christian of the sort to argue against your thesis in the first place is never going to accept that “godless Communism” did, in fact, have a god. To them, you’re simply justifying why Stalin, for example, is no true atheist. I don’t have a good reply to that.

    @Jay: I have no issue with saying anyone isn’t an atheist or that communism had its own god. I wasn’t trying to latch on to Stalin to make a point about atheism. My point was that people in a group and outside a group aren’t going to define it the same way.

    > I know this sounds pretty bleak. Unfortunately, our evolved mechanisms for belief formation are severely defective, and the minority of people who achieve something resembling rationality more than 50% of the time simply has to cope with that. Part of coping is a realistic assessment of what can be achieved by argument, and when you’re talking hard-core believers that’s basically nothing.

    @esr: I concur but I think we differ in that I would include atheism.

  187. >Well, no one but Sarah Palin.

    You sound as clueless as an NPR executive when you say things like that. Palin is not a dominionist or anything like one; your scorn would be better aimed at Mike Huckabee, who really does vibe like Nehemiah Scudder at times.

  188. Well, no one but Sarah Palin.

    I love Sarah Palin. Anyone who drives the Left that batshit crazy has to be doing a lot of things right.

  189. >I love Sarah Palin. Anyone who drives the Left that batshit crazy has to be doing a lot of things right

    She has a talent for finding the actual psephological center of U.S. politics and sitting right on it. That is, as opposed to where conservatives fear the center is and leftists wishfully hope it were, quite a bit to her left. If politically average Americans knew they were a majority, rather than feeling like conservatives surrounded by a hostile left-wing-dominated media and pop culture, a great deal would change very rapidly. The reason leftists are so terrified of Palin is their sneaking sense that, more than any other living politician, she has the potential to pop that preference-falsification bubble.

    Mind you, I’m not at all sure I’d like the future we’d land in if she succeeded. That massive preference falsification has at least maintained support for several civil-liberties causes I think are quite important, and I am far from sure they would fare well in Palinworld. The American average is far more culturally conservative than I am, too. So I have very mixed feelings about Palin – I’d like to see her somehow confound her enemies without empowering her allies.

  190. @esr

    Our rejection of theism is motivated by specific features of theistic religions. Two, in particular, stand out: (a) religious anti-rationality, and (b) religious violence. Not all religions are afflicted by these in equal measure.

    I would be interested to know how you would rate the various flavors of Judaism (and any other major which you have thought on but left out of the post) on this continuum.

  191. >I would be interested to know how you would rate the various flavors of Judaism (and any other major which you have thought on but left out of the post) on this continuum.

    I rate Judaism as a whole pretty low on the threat scale – not as low as Buddhism but lower than the LDS. Monotheistic, yes, but orthopractic rather than orthodox, which lowers the danger level a lot. There’s a way outside potential for something nastier to emerge from the murkier depths of Orthodoxy, but it would have to fight a well-entrenched tradition of Jewish rationalism with secular allies.

    Another interesting example to consider is Hinduism. Polytheisms have low threat potential in general because they don’t lend themselves to centralization of religious authority. Hinduism’s threat potential is further lowered by its strong ties to place and ethnicity; these make it difficult for Hindus to assert universalizing claims in the way that Christians, Muslims, and Baha’is do. Thus, while religiously-motivated Hindu violence is not unknown, it tends to be localized and reactive rather than aggressive.

  192. >Thus, while religiously-motivated Hindu violence is not unknown, it tends to be localized and reactive rather than aggressive.

    To illustrate the logic of my analysis further, let me explain a hypothetical under which Hinduism’s threat potential could drastically rise.

    Most polytheisms that last for any length of time suffer attempts at internal consolidation by a priestly elite promoting a henotheistic and eventually monotheistic theology. Sometimes the attempt fails, as with the cult of Akhnaten in ancient Egypt. Sometimes it succeeds, as it did historically in Judaism. Or, the religion can continue to exist in a state of unresolved tension between a henotheistic theology taught by the priestly elite and folk custom that remains polytheistic.

    Hinduism is in that state, and has hung out there for a couple millennia now. It’s a particularly interesting case because there several different henotheistic theologies in contention, centered around different deities and nominally subsumed into monotheism by the cult of Brahman. In effect, the different henotheistic factions have fought each other to a draw that has little effect on folk belief.

    The danger – a remote one, but I bring it up as a thought-provoking hypothetical – is that one of the henotheistic factions could actually put its god on top, subsume the rest of the religion, then begin making universalizing claims in imitation of the post-Zoroastrian religions.

    Unlikely; if the potential were really there it would have probably already happened in reaction to Islam – and, broadly, we can see Sikhism as an attempt at this that did not quite succeed. But if it were to happen, Hinduism could mutate into something quite dangerous.

  193. You sound as clueless as an NPR executive when you say things like that. Palin is not a dominionist or anything like one; your scorn would be better aimed at Mike Huckabee, who really does vibe like Nehemiah Scudder at times.

    Damn. I almost said Mike Huckabee, too, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure if he was considered to be a 2012 contender. Like you, I’m not afraid of Palin herself — I don’t think she’s as right of center has, say, Huckabee — just her allies.

    The problem is that I’m nearly 100% certain that whomever the Republicans put up against Obama is going to win. People are not happy with Obama. Let’s just hope it’s not a Scudder.

  194. I’m not that sanguine, Morgan. The 2012 presidential election is very much the GOP’s to lose, but it can be lost. See, for example, Sharron Angle.

  195. >I’m not that sanguine, Morgan. The 2012 presidential election is very much the GOP’s to lose, but it can be lost. See, for example, Sharron Angle.

    Indeed. And it can be lost in at least two distinct ways, both of which are ways Republicans have repeatedly fucked up in the past.

    1. Nominate a go-along-to-get-along type whose idea of “victory” is not expanding government spending quite as fast as the Democrats want.

    2. Nominate Huckabee or somebody else who cares more about waging reactionary kulturkampf than about the looming fiscal trainwreck.

  196. OK, all the violent folks in Christianity’s past weren’t really Christians (followers of Jesus Christ).

    What???

    Are you trying to suggest that no-one who went on crusade to the holy lands to ensure their place in heaven was a Christian? You’ll have a hard time skating that past even a cursory investigation of the evidence.

    Or are you trying to say that weren’t a TRUE scotsman?

  197. >Are you trying to suggest that no-one who went on crusade to the holy lands to ensure their place in heaven was a Christian? You’ll have a hard time skating that past even a cursory investigation of the evidence.

    Don’t even bother with this argument. It’s pointless. Your opponent is, at best, hung up on labels rather than attending to behavioral reality. At the (quite likely) worst, he’s too mentally ill to process anything you have to say – you might as well try to argue a paranoid schizoprenic out of his delusions.

  198. I just thought the mention of Scudder and the coincidence of the nearness of 2012 was interesting.

    It has been a long time since I last reread “If This Goes On -“, but I didn’t think Scudder himself had been elected to anything. The only title I remember being applied to him was Prophet. I thought it was supporters of his that got elected and basically turned all the branches of the government over to him and his particular cronies.

  199. Don’t even bother with this argument. It’s pointless. Your opponent is, at best, hung up on labels rather than attending to behavioral reality. At the (quite likely) worst, he’s too mentally ill to process anything you have to say – you might as well try to argue a paranoid schizoprenic out of his delusions.

    Right. That was kind of where my early morning fuzzy brain skipped a gear on. Are they commiting the most obvious textbook fallacy in the history of fallacies or are they engaging in re-definitional shenanigans of a level that only makes sense in bat-shit insane bizarro world.

  200. > Abologist movements were already found in pre-christian Rome.

    So what? They failed. We’re talking about how slavery was ended in the west.

    > The Churches have been involved in the slave trade from the start:

    Yes, but they weren’t supportive at the relevant time. At that time, most were neutral while some were strongly opposed. The latter were the bulk of the opposition.

    > The Anglican church felt they had not really opposed the trade:

    Yup, but they weren’t the only church at that time. Neither were the various flavors of Catholicism. Those were the neutral churches that I mentioned.

    I note that your link

    I note that you haven’t bothered to tell us who pushed to end slavery. You insist that no Christian Church had any positive role, yet ….

  201. > The 2012 presidential election is very much the GOP’s to lose, but it can be lost. See, for example, Sharron Angle.

    The 2010 election had several interesting lessons.

    One was that the “Tea Party” Republicans respected primary results. When their candidate lost, they supported the winner. In some cases, this made the difference.

    Another was that establishment Republicans did not respect primary results. When their candidate lost, they opposed the winner. In some cases, this made the difference.

    If Tea Party Republicans act as establishment Republicans in the future, Repubs are likely to lose seats that they could easily keep and not pick up seats that they could easily win.

    Frankly, I think that Obama has a better than even chance of being re-elected.

  202. @pipy – LOL.

    > I think that your worst illusion is to think that you have enough information on this issue.

    OK, now you’ll hear from someone who has a lot more information than you do. AND who can read Russian. And knows a lot more about history than you evidently do.

    > Political and social structure of Soviet Union wasn’t the same al the time. In fact, before Stalin it was entirely different.

    That difference had less to do with Stalin and more with Russia’s shift from agrarian near-feudal society to an industrial one. Which happened right around the same time.

    However, the salient points about supposedly “atheist” society in which statism replaced religion exhibiting the same violent tendencies as Islamic countries is invariant across the different strains of politics since 1917. The concepts of class struggle and worldwide revolution didn’t change, nor did the desired methods of achieving the goal.

    > … created the October revolution and brought freedoms and opportunities to the people.

    ROFLMAO. You mean freedom to choose where to work? Oh, sorry, the government chose for you. Oh, you must mean the freedom to choose where to live. Look up what “propiska” means in Russian and study the details of its implementation. Oh, right, may be you mean the great freedoms given to millions of Ukrainians who were stared to death during “golodomor”, or to honest hardworking farmers who were “raskulachenni”.

    As with any revolution, the only freedoms and opportunities that significantly improved were those of the people who were on top – in this new case, Party bosses.

    > I can recommend lot’s of books on the issue, but they are all in Russian. (For examle, this book http://scepsis.ru/library/id_128.html ).

    Actually, this book completely contradicts your thesis. In chapter VII (http://scepsis.ru/library/id_349.html), he pretty much proves what both ESR and myself

  203. @pipy – (continued)

    … Actually, this book completely contradicts your thesis. In chapter VII (http://scepsis.ru/library/id_349.html), he pretty much proves what both ESR and myself: “As with any revolution, the only freedoms and opportunities that significantly improved were those of the people who were on top – in this new case, Party bosses.”

    The only problem is that he claims that nobody could have predicted that in 1920s.

    Leaving aside the bullshit value of claiming that something THIS self-evidednt to anyone who is familiar with the way humans operate was a big unknown secret in 1920s, he actually contradicts himself, citing Buharin circa 1921.

  204. I’d have thought that the mere lack of numbers lowers the potential threat level from Judaism tremendously. It’s theoretically possible that a version of Judaism could be invented which attracts huge numbers of converts, but I don’t think that’s the way to bet.

    More generally, if folks want to do a little black swan speculation, what do you think the chances are a major new religion or vast expansion of an existing religion? Such things do happen occasionally.

    As for memetic hazards, I think nationalism (the idea that people’s primary loyalty should be to their government and/or that citizens are property of the state (corollary– anyone who isn’t certified a citizen is fair game) is either the meme which has gotten the most people killed in the past century or so or the primary amplifier of bad memes.

  205. More generally, if folks want to do a little black swan speculation, what do you think the chances are a major new religion or vast expansion of an existing religion? Such things do happen occasionally.

    That may already be occurring. Wicca continues to be the fastest growing religion in the United States, and one of the fastest growing religions worldwide.

    There seems to be no shortage of people wanting to learn this and other neopagan religions, if the sales of Llewellyn Publishing are any indication.

  206. >Wicca continues to be the fastest growing religion in the United States, and one of the fastest growing religions worldwide.

    And, as a Wiccan myself, I’m not as sure as I’d like to be that this is good.

    If the version that’s spreading is the rationalist/agnostic-friendly version that Morgan Greywolf and I carry, then all is well; it’s an effective inoculation against insane religions and the net craziness in the world will decrease. But there are Wiccans out there who are much more like conventional faith-holders; if that’s what’s propagating it might just lead to another run of the same deadly clown show. And I don’t know how to evaluate the odds on this, Wicca is so diffuse and hard to study that nobody can really be certain about the distribution of belief.

    As with Hinduism, the danger is mitigated because Wicca is polytheistic, but I know of at least one henotheistic variant that could get traction. The decay path to watch out would be a combination of (a) henotheism winning, (b) faith-holders winning, (c) ritual practice fossilizing and losing its ability to induce theophany. Sigh. If that happened, I’d have to break with Wicca, get back in the religion business, and invent something…

  207. One more thought on salient characteristics; perhaps religions with a significant historical period of being an oppressed minority – Judaism in particular, and to a lesser extent various Christian sects and non-Sunni Islam – are much more prone to support limits on the power of central authorities.

  208. >One more thought on salient characteristics; perhaps religions with a significant historical period of being an oppressed minority – Judaism in particular, and to a lesser extent various Christian sects and non-Sunni Islam – are much more prone to support limits on the power of central authorities.

    Definitely so. I’ve said in the past that modern Judaism’s relative harmlessness seems largely due to having had the shit repeatedly kicked out of it for more than a thousand years.

  209. In discussions like this I usually come across as atheist, and that’s probably a good enough fit. But regarding religions, I really can’t bring myself to care at all about any particular religion’s doctrinal craziness. That’s for its believers to sort out in their daily lives. If the beliefs are goofy enough, I’ll laugh about them to myself but, really, who cares?

    However, I do care a whole lot how much violence a religion’s believers commit. That’s where their freedom to believe hits my nose. And that strikes me as the only point worth considering in this discussion.

  210. @ESR: Sigh. If that happened, I’d have to break with Wicca, get back in the religion business, and invent something…

    Why?
    If you’re not drinking the cool-aid anyway, what vacuum does religion fill for you?

  211. >If you’re not drinking the cool-aid anyway, what vacuum does religion fill for you?

    The positive use: it’s a toolkit for certain useful kinds of alteration in consciousness.

    The negative use: Sane religions are protective against crazy-violent ones, like inoculation with cowpox so people don’t get smallpox.

  212. @Andy: As Chesterton didn’t say “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything. ” (According to http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_Cammaerts attributed something similar to Chesterton.)

    I’ve always considered that to be a pile of BS:
    Every gambler (believer in luck), horoscope reader, sucker who pays for palm reading, card reading, etc.. that I’ve known identifies as a believer in a major religion. IOW: the people who do believe in religion, in my experience, are the ones who tend to believe in anything.

    @ESR: The negative use: Sane religions are protective against crazy-violent ones, like inoculation with cowpox so people don’t get smallpox.

    I’ve heard that argument made for “other people” but why would a rational person like yourself feel the need to subscribe to a belief system (that you appear perfectly willing to walk away from if it it starts filling up with the wrong type; maybe belief is the wrong term) just to keep your mind from wandering off and clinging to some other, more destructive belief system? Maybe I don’t understand enough about Neopaganism. Is it, for you, a philosophy without belief in the supernatural?

  213. >Maybe I don’t understand enough about Neopaganism. Is it, for you, a philosophy without belief in the supernatural?

    Yes. I don’t personally need to be inoculated against crazy religions, but that’s because I’m much more of a skeptic by temperament than most people. For people without an astringently skeptical mindset, I think the best protection against a religion that makes you crazy is a religion that occupies the same psychological receptors without making you crazy.

    How do you check “making you crazy”? That’s pretty easy: religions that draw normative consequences from unfalsifiable claims make you crazy. Religions that require “non-overlapping magisteria” so you have to maintain one set of beliefs about “natural” truth and another about “supernatural” truth make you crazy. Religions that make claims about acausal events (miracles) make you crazy. Religions that require you to deny scientific evidence in order to maintain conformance to dogma (I’m looking at you, creationists!) make you crazy.

    Finally, religions that raise mobs to kill unbelievers make you crazy.

  214. @esr:Yes. I don’t personally need to be inoculated against crazy religions, …

    Which brings me back to my original question.
    Why have YOU signed up?

    You gave originally gave two reasons.
    It’s the second (the negative) that I’m trying to square with your last comment.

  215. >It’s the second (the negative) that I’m trying to square with your last comment.

    Why is this complicated? Increasing the number of neopagans in the world decreases the number of foaming religious loons in the world, at least as long as neopaganism itself keeps its anti-dogmatic character. So I try to propagate it when and where I can.

  216. @esr: Why is this complicated? Increasing the number of neopagans in the world decreases the number of foaming religious loons in the world, at least as long as neopaganism itself keeps its anti-dogmatic character. So I try to propagate it when and where I can.

    Not complicated, contradictory.
    In any case, you’ve cleared that up. You’ve joined so that others, who may be more likely than yourself to join with more malignant religions otherwise, will also join.

    Personally, I’d rather see more skeptics but, in any case, good article. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions.

  217. esr: The dogma is what attracts many to religions, because they don’t HAVE to think, the priest, rabbi, whatever does it for them. I think that’s likely to remain true long after we’re gone.

    And you’re assessment of why Jews are “mostly harmless”, because they’ve ‘repeatedly had the shit kicked out of them for the last thousand years’ sounds to me like a recipe for serious mayhem if they should ever have a truly charismatic leader appear. That kind of repression can easily blow up.

    I guess you don’t have to change your threat assessment though until they start to congeal.

  218. >I guess you don’t have to change your threat assessment though until they start to congeal.

    Yes, that’s sort of the point. There are particular pathological features you can watch for as danger signs; one that’s particularly relevant here is the Christian and Islamic doctrine that those refusing to convert to the faith are damned and inferior. If a variant of Judaism were to arise which combined that with a chip on its shoulder about historical persecution, I’d consider the threat potential of that variant to have increased dramatically.

  219. I’m not so sure that’s likely, Eric, for one reason: while we Americans tend to see Judaism as purely a religion, the rest of the world sees it as much as an ethnicity as a religion. This would argue against people adopting the “convert or be inferior” doctrine you mention: one can convert one’s faith, but one cannot convert one’s ethnicity.

    That aside, I agree with you; I simply don’t see it happening except possibly within the US, and the kinds of religious fundamentalism that would produce such a movement seems to be quite rare among Jews here.

  220. >I’m not so sure that’s likely, Eric

    Indeed, it’s highly unlikely. I was posing it as a hypothetical to answer a question, not because I think it’s even remotely probable.

  221. ESR wrote:

    “…I’m much more of a skeptic by temperament than most people. … religions that draw normative consequences from unfalsifiable claims make you crazy. Religions that require ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ so you have to maintain one set of beliefs about ‘natural’ truth and another about ‘supernatural’ truth make you crazy.”

    So why do you call yourself a neo-pagan *mystic*? Mysticism and rationality don’t mix.

    A dictionary definition of “mystic”:

    “a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge, as by direct communication with the divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy.”

    As Eliezer Yudowsky would put it, a mystic is then someone who thinks he/she is exempt from the laws of thermodynamics. (See his article “The Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Engines of Cognition”, http://lesswrong.com/lw/o5/the_second_law_of_thermodynamics_and_engines_of/ .)

  222. >So why do you call yourself a neo-pagan *mystic*? Mysticism and rationality don’t mix.

    Belief in the supernatural and rationality don’t mix. Mysticism need not imply supernaturalism. Read Dancing With The Gods for discussion.

    Yes, this implies a definition of ‘mysticism’ that does not quite square with your dictionary quote. This is necessarily the case, since the ontological assumptions lurking behind that dictionary definition are broken and insane.

  223. @pipy, DVK
    Regarding pre-Stalinist revolutionary Russia, and it’s “freedoms”, one should also be sharply aware of the fact that the whole project was already circling the drain when the Bolsheviks took leadership of said revolution. Just check out what Lenin and especially Trotsky thought of the freedom of the people to self-determine and self-organise when e.g. it came to Nestor Makhno’s Ukrainian Anarchist movement or the Kronstadt Rebellion. Free sovjets my ass!

  224. “>If you’re not drinking the cool-aid anyway, what vacuum does religion fill for you?”

    Religions give meaning with a set of symbols and rituals. Mostly, they supply symbolism. Personally, I get my meaning (and symbols) elsewhere, but that is simply an accident of history.

    If you read the writings of some of the sharper neo-pagans, you will learn that neo-paganism is about attaching meaning to life, the world, and the universe using “powerful” symbols and rituals. The frauds in the field understand and abuse that function. In the end, it does not matter whether the founder of a religion or church is a fraud or the genuine article. It is the believers that shape the religion anyway.

    There are ways to use even an irrational neo-pagan ritual of casting a spell to attach your person to the subject of the spell. You do not have to believe in supra-natural powers to appreciate the influence of a sky-clad midnight ritual on your determination to hold on to a pledge.

    But I agree, that is only my rationalization of what other people do. They will most certainly disagree vigorously (violently?) with my view.

  225. >If you haven’t already, you might enjoy reading Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.

    Read it many years ago. Thought: “Ah. This one has actually been paying attention.”

  226. @Nancy Lebovitz

    > I’d have thought that the mere lack of numbers lowers the potential threat level from Judaism tremendously.
    > It’s theoretically possible that a version of Judaism could be invented which attracts huge numbers of converts…

    1) “*theoretically*”?
    This already happened. You may have heard of this little known version of Judaism
    featuring the assumption that the Messiah already appeared around 2000 years ago.
    I think it attracted a fair share of converts :)

    2) However, more seriously speaking, any version of Judaism that does this
    will pretty much cease to be Judaism. Two of the main memes are that:

    a) Judaism officially prohibits/discourages proselytizing.
    Moreover, nobody is allowed to join EXCEPT people who really really want to
    AND they have to go through a big deal of effort to join.

    To quote from the relevant Wiki article:

    “In the past, Rabbis often rejected potential converts three times, and if
    they remained adamant in their desire to convert, they would then allow them
    to begin the process.”

    b) Most importantly, **one don’t have to belong to Jewish faith**
    to be assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.
    (immediate quote from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah
    , but the original quote source is probably Maimonides)
    More specifically, any non-Jew who follows Noahide Code to achieve that result.
    Which basically means that, there’s zero theological incentive to convert non-Jews into Judaism
    even leaving aside the previous bullet point.

  227. But there are Wiccans out there who are much more like conventional faith-holders; if that’s what’s propagating it might just lead to another run of the same deadly clown show

    Yep. I know what you’re talking about. If it were just the fluffy bunnies, then I wouldn’t be worried, but one of the biggest areas of growth seems to be the Christo-Wiccans and Christo-Druids. And there are a lot of those even if they don’t call themselves that or claim a belief in a certain Jewish carpenter. They just change terminologies from Yahweh+Yeshua+Miriam -> God+Goddess, but otherwise their thinking and practice are basically the same. I wish I could de-brainwash them all.

    As with Hinduism, the danger is mitigated because Wicca is polytheistic, but I know of at least one henotheistic variant that could get traction.

    You’re right there as well. As of late, covens claiming to be “Isian” and even the (bleh) Dianics are picking up steam. Some have gone past even Wiccan duotheism (all gods are aspects of the One God and all goddesses are aspects of the One Goddess) to all gods and goddesses are aspects of the One God or One Goddess. (Note the subtle difference in wording for those of you following the discussion who aren’t Wiccan. This is intentional.)

  228. @razvan:
    If you have the patience to watch the video in which Hitchens makes a joke of himself, you’ll notice how obsessive he is when it comes to Christianity. Militant Western atheists are self-taught Christian bashers for the simple reasons it’s easier and SAFER.

    It did take some patience. More because of the 20 minutes of introduction blather that didn’t get trimmed off than for anything else.
    I never saw Hitchens act like a Joke in that video. I thought he carried himself very well (as he always does). If he seemed obsessive about Christianity in particular, it might have had to do with the fact that he was in an Evangelist Christian University engaging in a formal debate with one of the professors of that school on the existence of God, specifically the Christian god.

    You don’t have to read much of his material to know that he doesn’t favor one religion over another. Specifically, and in line with the subject of this thread, he was a very loud and outspoken in his attack of those who criticized the Dutch newspaper for publishing a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Mohamed and had actually housed Salman Rushdie in his apartment (endangering his own life in defense of free speech against militant Islamists) during the fatw? proclaimed against him by Ayatollah Khomeini. Hardly someone who would take sides with Islam against Christianity.

    If you’re going to jump in and tell people to stick with what they know, you might want to do a little more homework yourself. Or maybe you just came here to fling some poo.

  229. WordPress didn’t like the spelling of “fatwa” with the accent over the last ‘a’ in the previous post.

  230. The usual historian rambling, but there’s some interesting survey data; e.g., religious tolerance correlates strongly to religious diversity in your social network, but civic engagement correlates strongly to strength of social ties to members of your church.

    I could’ve told them that.

  231. WordPress didn’t like the spelling of “fatwa” with the accent over the last ‘a’ in the previous post.

    fatwā produces “fatwā” on another WordPress blog I comment on sometimes. Pity that ESR doesn’t use the preview function that one has.

  232. @bps
    Ah, that’s the problem. A lot of the extended characters in Unicode (but not ASCII) are not allowed in input fields. The use of the & # <code>; construct allows you to enter any arbitrary character. Unfortunately, there is no symbolic name for it like the Umlauts:
    &amp A u m l ;
    &amp a u m l ;
    &amp O u m l ;
    &amp o u m l ;
    &amp U u m l ;
    &amp u u m l ;
    What each of these entry methods have in common is that you only use pure ASCII, and the browser converts these “entities” to the actual characters.

  233. Monster,
    Thanks. I’m familiar with HTML escaping but didn’t know if they too would be escaped and didn’t want to experiment in Eric’s blog. As it is we’ve added way too much off topic clutter in this digression.

  234. > Which basically means that, there’s zero theological incentive to convert non-Jews into Judaism

    There is however a non-zero theological incentive in the Noahide Laws to convert non-monotheists into monotheists. First order of business, for anyone who wanted to enforce the Laws and felt they had the clout to do it would be killing Eric. Oh, and gay men, of course.

  235. @Phil R.

    Hmmmm…interesting this Noahide thing, is so I thought I’d look it up:

    morgan@dagda:~$ whois hasidicuniversity.org
    [snip]
    Registrant Name:JAHG-USA
    Registrant Street1:2034 E. Lincoln Ave., #309
    Registrant Street2:
    Registrant Street3:
    Registrant City:Anaheim
    Registrant State/Province:CA

    *Googles JAHG-USA*

    Let’s click About Us:

    Jews and Hasidic Gentiles—United to Save America (JAHG-USA) is a national Jewish and Hasidic gentile outreach organization headquartered in southern California. We follow the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim with our programs and activities, creating a worldwide Hasidic gentile (“Noahide”) movement that will bring the Messiah in this generation.

    Holy religious toxicity, Batman!

  236. > Holy religious toxicity, Batman!

    Wake me up when they do anything more than get bad haircuts.

    There are lots of things that could go bad. However, there are far fewer that are actually worth worrying about.

  237. @esr, i know you’ll find my reply “idiot”, but, you can’t say all Muslims are bad, idiot and pro-war people. I’m Muslim but I have never thought that the true thing is killing each other (Christian, Muslim or Jewish, or even Buddhists). Those terrorists are just idiot people who thinks they are working for God (as we name it, ‘Allah’).

    The exact culprit is the leaders… Leaders who gives the order of killing someone.

  238. Nomatter,

    I didn’t see anyone in this blog say that “All Muslims are.. ” anything.
    The discussion is about atheists and why it absurd to think that they would align themselves with Islam.

  239. Returning to the original point: Warner Todd Huston in his article ” ‘Atheists for Islam’ Happy to Support Religion?” says atheists are hypocritical or disingenuous for participating in rallies such as the one titled “Today, I Am a Muslim, Too.” In fact, these atheists are behaving consistently and honorably. They disagree with the factual assertions made by Islam and other religions, and may also believe they tend to cause death and suffering, but they do not believe that these religions should be suppressed by the force of the state. (They hope, perhaps, that these religions will be gradually extirpated by the advance of science and rationality, but that is something quite different.) The issue with which the “Today, I Am a Muslim, Too” rally was concerned was a U.S. Congressman (Peter King) holding hearings on whether U.S. Muslims as a group harbor violent, seditious tendencies, hearings which raise the specter of Muslims being subject to governmental surveillance, among other things. (A connected issue, suggested by Huston’s photo credit, is whether U.S. Muslims should be deprived of their First Amendment right to build mosques because non-Muslims find them offensive.) In all of this I believe the atheists are taking completely standard libertarian positions. It is ridiculous to say that they aren’t genuine atheists for having declared “Today, I Am a Muslim, Too.” This is clearly a simple statement of solidarity, akin to the legend of King Christian X of Denmark declaring he would be the first to wear the yellow Star of David required by the Nazis of Jews.

  240. >Esr, you might want to take a look at this text by Nyanaponika, a theravadic monk with German origins

    Yeah, that’s pretty straight-up Theravada doctrine, which goes far to explain why I singled it out as a religion with very low toxic potential.

  241. What level of toxicity would something like Daoism have? The Western appropriation seems to be pretty much generic “mystical philosophy”. The Chinese version seems like something of a mixed bag: not really concerned with conversion, fairly willing to change and assimilate other ideas to accommodate adherents, polytheistic; but had a bit of a power seeking tendency early on (was essentially China’s “high religion” at one point) though they got smacked down by the Confucians, and has its theological base in China’s renowned bureaucracy.

  242. >What level of toxicity would something like Daoism have?

    Your historical summary is accurate and, I think, implies the answer. Today’s forms of Taoism, cut loose from the imperial Chinese system, are very low threat – maybe not quite as low as Theravada but pretty close.

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