Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Boom in Athiest Publishing

How does one explain the recent spate of bestsellers by militant atheists? We've had in quick succession "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett, and "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. Not to miss out on the boom, Cristopher Hitchens will soon be coming out with his own polemic on religion, "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". Has there been a sudden upsurge in the ranks of the unbelieving that hasn't been captured by polls? Are religious Americans becoming masochistic in their reading habits?

I spent the day, between halting attempts to paint the master bedroom, reading Sam Harris' blogalogue with Andrew Sullivan, as well as a four-part debate he had with Dennis Prager. I have to say that athiests need a better class of apologist.

The first thing that strikes me is Harris' lack of diplomacy. If your aim is to win converts to your way of thinking, it's generally a bad idea to start off by calling them liars. But Harris does so in this paragraph:
Of course, people of faith are right to insist that there is more to life than being reasonable-which is to say there is much more to life than merely understanding the world and getting one's beliefs about it to cohere. But we can have ethical and spiritual lives without lying to ourselves and to others and without pretending to be certain about things we are clearly not certain about. Anyone who thinks he knows for sure that Jesus was born of virgin or that the Qur'an is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe is lying. Either he is lying to himself, or to everyone else. In neither case should such false certainties be celebrated.

Way to score points, Sam! Has it ever occured to him that it is possible to have false beliefs without lying? Lying is knowingly spreading a falsehood. If you believe the falsehood, it isn't a lie. You're not going to win someone over by misrepresenting their motives or intentions. This isn't a form of logical deduction, it is a form of fallacy that the ancient Greek logicians called "being a jerk".

There are two other trends to Harris' argument that I find troubling. The first is his insistence that religious moderates are as bad as the extreme fundamentalists. I find this position just irresponsible. If someone supports the same cultural values that you do with regard to respect for individual rights and human dignity, it is just wrong to tar them with complicity with those religious people who disdain those values just because they share a common religious tradition. Sullivan is nothing if not outspoken against the threat of Christan fundamentalism. If anything he goes overboard in ringing the alarm bell over what he calls "Christianist" influences in the Republican party. The only thing that Sullivan could do to satisfy Harris is to give up on his religion. Harris' "my way or the highway" view of religion doesn't represent the kind of reverence for freedom of conscience that he accuses religious people of lacking.

The second trend is this hysterical doomsday fearmongering of what will befall the world if religion is not extirpated in the very near future. With all the crimes throughout history that you can properly place the blame upon religion, and they are many, you can't say that they ever came close to spelling doom for mankind. History is a bloody spectacle, and future history will be moreso, but we will continue to thrive in spite of it. Harris' doomsday scenarios over the continued practice of religion are as plausible as global warming doomsaying. In fifty years, if anyone remembers his books, he'll be remembered as any other false prophet of doom.

31 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Oh, come on. Five books -- one of them really a pamphlet -- are a publishing boom?

Religious books must come out at the rate of at least five books an hour.

I don't know whether the motive for publishing atheist books is proselytizing or just self-congratulations. The friend who first introduced me to conservative thought was an atheist, but he observed that there is something self-contradictory about preaching belief in nothing.

Inasmuch as there are few social rewards for being an atheist, it's not likely a vast atheist missionary enterprise will arise. Atheism is like the Christadelphians in that respect.

There are not many Christadelphians.

Agreed that Harris is impolite. It's the 21st century disease. I don't see how he is as offensive, however, as the Christians -- many of them notorious criminals -- who routinely claim that atheists cannot be moral.

And while you may be right that sincerely held religious beliefs are not "lies," it is harder to argue that anyone can seriously and honestly believe that atheists cannot be moral.

To the extent that religionists sign on to the no-moral-atheists trope, they are liars, of the flat-earth variety, or worse.

March 03, 2007 11:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

As David would say (and say and say and say), you are misapprehending Creation.

And as I would say just as incessantly, his assertion is untainted by meaning: it is impossible to misapprehend that which is not apprehensible.

Every argument about creation face plants before its shoelaces are tied. Tossing God into the mix accomplishes nothing beyond begging for infinite regress, avoided only by arbitrary definitional hand-waving, along the lines of "Hmm ... I know, God has always existed. That's the ticket." Conversely, leaving God out completely sidesteps the whole issue.

Neither is an answer, although the former pretends to be one far more often than the latter.

You two have a tendency to paint “Dunnoism” (can’t you come up with a term that doesn’t onomatopoeiacally suggest a half-wit?) as a 50/50 flip of the coin.

Here you have completely misconstrued Dunnoism. At its heart, it is providing an unanswerable question with the only response it deserves.

Every statement about God, or Creation, is a pure faith statement, because the truth value of any faith statement is completely indistinguishable from all the others.

There is nothing 50-50 about it, and certainly no coin toss: all those statements are worthless.

What about the multiple universe theory Dawkins and others hang their hats on to answer the anthropic principle argument of Hawkings, et. al? Do you say that is equally plausible?

Plausible? You must be joking. Multiple Universes, just like the whole swarming herd of creation myths, is pure conjecture tarted up as an explanation.

The Anthropic argument itself is completely empty, as it extrapolates from a single data point: it is an intellectual headless vector, all speed and no direction.

Let's grant that the arrangement of physical principles is tuned to a jaw droppingly improbable fare-thee-well.

Is this universe the only trial? One in an endless succession of serial trials? One in an endless number of parallel trials?

Not only is the answer to those questions unknowable, answering yes to any of them gets you nowhere in comparison to the rest.

So the answer to each is "Dunno."

which is why Dawkins’s hammering away on evidence is misleading and selective. It’s about probability, plausibility and persuasion based upon knowledge, experience and sense defined broadly ...

I do not wish to defend Dawkins rationale for atheism, because he is providing an affirmative answer where Dunno is required. But that gets me back to the original point of this thread: I think Dawkins is misread, as he was turning the argument theists make back upon itself -- they made it first, and ID/Creationists continue to make it.

Going beyond that to prove atheism is merely to reiterate the original mistake in the opposite direction.

They all aim, shoot and miss, and the prisoner walks. ... Dunnoist say they are equally plausible and that anyone who comes down for the latter is simply not being honest?

A Dunnoist would point out the fallacious analogy. We have no end of experience with firing squads, so we would not be extrapolating from a single data point. We know the before and and after states, and we would be able to collect evidence: where did the bullets go?

Most succinctly, though, until there was evidence available to answer the question -- is supernatural intervention really a better solution? -- then a Dunnoist is going say: "I dunno. And you don't, either."


Duck:

Way to score points, Sam! Has it ever occured to him that it is possible to have false beliefs without lying? Lying is knowingly spreading a falsehood.

Yes, it is possible. However, acknowledging that one possesses a belief that could well be wrong in whole or part is leagues away from claiming to possess absolute truth.

That claim is simply impossible to make without shocking ignorance regarding the meaning of the word "truth," being delusional, or proclaiming Truth despite knowing better.

Of the three options, which is best?

There are two other trends to Harris' argument that I find troubling. The first is his insistence that religious moderates are as bad as the extreme fundamentalists.

Having read "The End of Faith," I am reasonably familiar with his argument, and I think you have misread it.

That most believers reject, ignore, or are ignorant of, the truly repellant passages in all Holy books, of which the Q'uran must be the most egregious, does not mean those passages are not there, and possess the same imprimatur as the anodyne portions in which they do believe.

He doesn't say they are "as bad," rather, by failing to explicitly reject the portions of divine revelation that true believers use to justify their actions, they are acting as enablers for terrorism.

The second trend is this hysterical doomsday fearmongering of what will befall the world if religion is not extirpated in the very near future. With all the crimes throughout history that you can properly place the blame upon religion, and they are many, you can't say that they ever came close to spelling doom for mankind.

What do you think the odds are that, should a nuclear weapon (whether from Pakistan or Iran) were to fall into Islamist hands, that it would very soon be reaching critical mass in some Western city?

You may think that is hysterical fear mongering. I don't.

I'm not sure it would spell the end of civilization, but it would plenty horrible enough, and all in the service of perfect belief in an awful book for the most idiotic of reasons.

I don't share Harris' blanket distaste for religion; Christianity has largely lost its unwarranted certainty, and, in contrasting the US and Europe, seems to, no matter its objective truth, be a net benefit for our society.

But I have utterly no respect for Islam. It's book wants me dead.

Hard to get more objectionable than that.

March 04, 2007 2:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
Yes, I'm being a little facetious with the word Boom. It's four books and a pamphlet, but if I'm not mistaken all five made it to the NYT bestseller list, which is the real phenomenon. There seems to be a public for these kinds of books.

Granted there are many religious voices who are more impolite and offensive than Harris, but what I'm saying is that since there are so few recognizable atheist voices, it doesn't help our PR that they all hew to the angry atheist stereotype laid down by MMoH.

March 04, 2007 6:40 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

He doesn't say they are "as bad," rather, by failing to explicitly reject the portions of divine revelation that true believers use to justify their actions, they are acting as enablers for terrorism.

Well, that's almost as bad as saying they're as bad. That's a damning accusation, but is it true? Lets leave moderate Muslims out of the picture for now. Is a moderate Christian who is committed to the same values of individual freedom and secular government really enabling Muslim terrorists by overlooking or ignoring those egregious passages from the OT that condone slavery or the stoning of adulterers? That's a pretty wide brush to apply tar with. We don't help win the struggle against terror by picking internecine quarrels among the anti-terror side.

What do you think the odds are that, should a nuclear weapon (whether from Pakistan or Iran) were to fall into Islamist hands, that it would very soon be reaching critical mass in some Western city?

You may think that is hysterical fear mongering. I don't.


But do you really think the danger of such catastrophic conflict would go away if religion were to somehow disappear?

Not that such an outcome is possible. I doubt that anyone in the Muslim world is reading Harris' book. Harris seems to think that it is just as urgent to eliminate religion in the Christian west as it is in the Muslim east, which is crazy. Peaceful Christians aren't endangering the world, so why is Harris throwing them in the same roundup with jihadist Muslims?

March 04, 2007 6:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

It looks like Skipper is writing templates he can post before the argument he is challenging even appears.

It's easy to see this as just a problem of excess on both sides with everyone just needing a good dose of tolerance and live-and-let-live spirit to avoid a punch-up in the park down the street, but what is happening here is a growing, increasingly sharp class divide, both domestically and internationally. It used to be that old-fashioned conservatives would express personal doubts about faith but argue how important it was to encourage belief in the lower socio-economic classes. Now those classes, which have borne the full brunt of the effects of secularism and enjoyed few of the benefits, are trying to say the same thing themselves and they are being spat on by Harris et. al. in the most virulent and patronizing way. The old leftist/secularist argument about religion being a means of control imposed from above that will inevitably disappear is being disproven (again!)before our eyes and it is causing near panic in the postmodern intellectual West.

These atheist fanatics are not responding to mainstream Christian or Jewish thinking. Dawkins hardly mentions the Pope, but he he is clearly haunted by the evangelicals, and for good reason. He and his pals are attacking the spirit of Red America (and the third world) and are leading a campaign to maintain political/intellectual privilege and firm control over their education, social relations and even children. Do you imagine folks in the rural south, immigrant communities, ghettos or British urban estates spend a lot of time worrying about genes and Darwin or what Paley said? They have other things on their minds and they sense very strongly that the social pathologies that surround them aren't going to be defeated by more welfare and government counselling. Whether atheists can lead moral lives is a fascinating question for undergraduate seminars, but the real question is whether a community can pull itself out of the muck without a shared notion of reverence, self-control, family commitment and sexual restraint. More and more people from those communities are saying no, and boy, does that scare the beautiful people. The humorous thing is they seem to have so little sense of how marginal they are outside of academia, Western Europe and liberal America. Didn't they think through that religious gene they keep talking about? Or do they dream over dinner of a new secularist neo-colonial empire?

The same thing is going on internationally. Nicholas Kristoff did a series of articles on AIDS in Africa a couple of years back and stumbled on a woman in a shelter for HIV infected women who bowled him over with her faith when,when he asked her what to do about AIDS, she said "It is easier for a man touched by God to accept when a woman says no." The answer to that from the tranzis and brights is to rant about how she is either stupid or lying, raise bogeymen spectres of "fundamentalism" and order another plane load of condoms. Just who do you think is eventually going to win that argument, and just what reaction do you think this kind or arrogant contempt is going to earn?

Duck, I don't think atheism needs a better class of apologist, I think it needs a huge dose of humility and far more concern about for whom the bell tolls. I can't answer many of your questions about the nature of God, but I think I can tell you He is not mocked.

March 04, 2007 7:40 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: I don't know what you're responding to, but the "You misapprehend creation" argument is just another way of saying that the religion you guys are constantly rejecting is a straw man.

March 04, 2007 9:16 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper was responding to something Peter said in this post.

March 04, 2007 9:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

"It is easier for a man touched by God to accept when a woman says no."

Peter, everything I know about African history and ethography -- and I know quite a lot -- says that is nonsense.

It doesn't hold very well outside Africa, either, but the religious trade in women in Africa -- and never mind which religion, in this respect they are all alike -- is universal.

Duck, I didn't know all those books were on the best-seller list. A passing enthusiasm, I'd bet, like oat bran. Ingersoll used to bring out the crowds.

March 04, 2007 11:06 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Duck, I don't think atheism needs a better class of apologist, I think it needs a huge dose of humility and far more concern about for whom the bell tolls.

What is that supposed to mean? We should be worried about getting straight with God? No thanks, already did that. See my post on Ultramontante Catholicism on my blog.

And yes, we do need apologists, for the main reason that we are probably the most slandered group of people in America. We need apologists who will defend atheists without the need to attack religious people.

I can't answer many of your questions about the nature of God, but I think I can tell you He is not mocked.

Are you going all Charlton Heston on us now? I don't mock god. I don't acknowledge his existence, so how can I mock him?

March 04, 2007 3:58 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

Not to cut in on Skipper's response, but the strawman, as you call it, is the standard Christian theological model.

Perhaps you can describe the theological model that we should be addressing.

March 04, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter

I meant: See my post on Ultramontante Catholicism on your blog.

March 04, 2007 4:03 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm not sure I get why atheists need defending specially. Are the tumbrils rolling for us? (Note: civilized countries only.)

It takes a lot of self-confidence to be an atheist; it must be so, because, with no missionary prodding, almost all atheists must come to their understanding on their own.

While I don't like being slandered, I consider the source and shrug. Whaddaya gonna do?

Surely -- and obviously -- some people will counterattack. It's still a free country. Given the "most slandered" starting point, it's hard to see how any defense of atheism will be well received by the antiatheists.

May as well suit yourself, therefore.

Query: What do you estimate is the ratio between atheists who study religious apologies:religionists who study atheist apologies?

I'd guess about 100:1.

March 04, 2007 4:36 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

Well, that's almost as bad as saying they're as bad. That's a damning accusation, but is it true? Lets leave moderate Muslims out of the picture for now. Is a moderate Christian who is committed to the same values of individual freedom and secular government really enabling Muslim terrorists by overlooking or ignoring those egregious passages from the OT that condone slavery or the stoning of adulterers?

Again, you misread his argument. He isn't saying moderate Christians enable Islamists, he is saying moderate Muslims enable Islamists.

Similarly, he is saying moderate Christians enable Christiansts.

Who are extremely thin on the ground.

At first blush, it seems he is hurling darts at the wrong board. I for one, wish he wouldn't.

Unfortunately, it isn't easy to wish it away. Let's put Islam under close scrutiny. It would be easy for you or me, and most Muslims, to excise the Q'uran's loathsome passages. Unfortunately, in so doing, even the remaining parts are fatally undermined, because they operate under precisely the same imprimatur as the reeking bits.

On the same unfortunate path, it is equally impossible to put Islam under close scrutiny while all the while observing a studied neglect of Christianity: they are both universalist monotheistic religions; their books are different, but the underlying principles are the same.

I truly wish Harris could take on Islam without nicking Christianity, but it is very difficult for me to see how he can (I'll leave aside for the moment the question as to whether he wants to).

He provides an invaluable service, though, in putting to rest the nonsense of Islam as the Religion of Peace.

But do you really think the danger of such catastrophic conflict would go away if religion were to somehow disappear?

With thousands of nukes on each side of the cold war, the chances of a vaporized city were far less than should even one nuke get into the hands of an apocalyptic Islamist cult. They have the motive, and can easily develop the opportunity. All they are lacking is the means.

And when they say "adopt Sharia law, or say goodbye to Chicago", just what the heck are we supposed to do?

If Islam were to be overtaken by the tinge of uncertainty underlying most Christian belief, the MSM could go all Britney all the time without fear of untoward distraction.

I doubt that anyone in the Muslim world is reading Harris' book.

No, but the Pope's Regensburg speech was almost enough to make you wonder whether he was.

David:

I don't know what you're responding to, but the "You misapprehend creation" argument is just another way of saying that the religion you guys are constantly rejecting is a straw man.

Wrong. I am not attacking any particular religion, I am attacking all belief systems that portray as Absolute Truth that which is indistinguishable from their exact opposite. If you can find where I have posed a religious straw man, then attacked it, I'd love to see it, and apologize appropriately, because I sure don't remember doing so. In other words, you need to explain yourself better than just stringing together several words.

Perhaps you overlooked this: Every argument about creation face plants before its shoelaces are tied.



Back to the headline question Duck asked: How does one explain the recent spate of bestsellers by militant atheists?

9/11.

March 04, 2007 5:04 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

It looks like Skipper is writing templates he can post before the argument he is challenging even appears.

No, it looks a heck of a lot more like negligence seasoned with a dollop of ineptitude.

I use a text editor to write most of my comments, and somehow got a previous post off the top of the window.

So when one does a Cmd-A Cmd-C combination, everything instantly goes along for the ride, and the Cmd-V on the blogger end shows only the last dozen or so lines.

Which is a long way around of saying, head hanging in shame, "Ooops."

Part Tres.

March 04, 2007 7:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Western intellectuals, including liberal Christians, often naively ask Muslim thinkers to accept that the Quran is a human literary creation, while still taking it as the primary religious text. Someday this may happen, but for now, such a secularized interpretation of the sacred sources is, far from being obvious, not even an option for all but a very small minority of Muslims.'

-- Taner Edis, "An Illusion of Harmony," p. 109

Another way of saying what Skipper said, that moderate (Muslims) enable extremist (Muslims).

But it's even worse than that, as we saw in Europe in the '30s. Once you sign on for moderate religion, you are at the mercy of those who are not moderate but claim to hold the same faith. Moderates never burn extremists at the stake.

March 04, 2007 10:20 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Of course they do. Ever heard of Savonarola? But you have described the modern left pretty well.

March 05, 2007 5:12 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Duck says that you're attacking the standard Christian theology of creation, which goes to my point that what you guys reject is a very specific god that I don't believe in, either.

To round out this round up of David's Favorite Cliches, this all comes from your insistence that Faith explain itself to Reason using the tools of Reason. The atheist's implicit, and your explicit, starting point is that religious belief is not rational because it does not depend upon the evidence of our five senses. To which the religious response, which you never seem to take seriously, is "Yeah. So?"

Atheism is ugly and brittle. Religion is far more subtle, supple and sophisticated. Now, it is not the way of the world that the prettier theory is always true, but it is true often enough to give even the materialists pause.

So, to sum up:

You misapprehend Creation, which is an ongoing single act that necessarily encompasses all of existence rather than something that happened long ago.

That this Creation is the act of an unknowable G-d much subtler and more sophisticated than the caricature in which you don't believe. And,

This G-d exists outside the scope of reason.

March 05, 2007 8:46 AM  
Blogger David said...

To put all this slightly differently, it is a truism of atheists that religion, because it is based upon faith, cannot be disproven, so why spend so much effort trying to disprove it?

March 05, 2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

I have a hard time believing you have read anything I've written on this.

Not a word of it has mentioned the standard Christian creation myth, either specifically, or even generally. Every argument about creation face plants before its shoelaces are tied.

Failing to take that on board misapprehends Creation.

To put all this slightly differently, it is a truism of atheists that religion, because it is based upon faith, cannot be disproven, so why spend so much effort trying to disprove it?

I doubt you understand what motivates Sam Harris or Dawkins.

If all religion did was posit a compelling narrative in a Jeffersonian marketplace of ideas -- much as Christianity does now in the US -- Harris, Dawkins, et al would not have a audience.

However, that is not religion's history, and it is not Islam's present.

It is the claiming, through particular revelation, of possessing The Word in its Absolute Universal Truth, and all the murderous certainty it entails that provides the motivation, and the audience.

Do you find the sectarian violence to be tragic, pointless, bloodshed over nothing more than a concoction of fairy tales, lies and phantasmagoria?

If so, then you are siding with Harris, et al.

If not, I would dearly love to hear what the Shia - Sunni sectarian divide is about.

March 05, 2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger David said...

Politics.

March 05, 2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

...insistence that Faith explain itself to Reason using the tools of Reason...

[R]eligious belief is not rational because it does not depend upon the evidence of our five senses.

Exactly. Exactly.

Do you find the sectarian violence to be tragic, pointless, bloodshed over nothing more than a concoction of fairy tales, lies and phantasmagoria?

It's tragic, but not pointless.

There are fairy tales and lies overlaid, but the underlying phantasmagoria exists, which is why people keep fighting over their differing interpretations of it.

March 05, 2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Actually, they rarely do.

March 05, 2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Savonarola had to push pretty hard to get them to burn him, so I think I'll stick with my general observation as a generality.

It must be at least as valid as 'they rarely do.'

LGF links today to a story from Riyadh about a girl who was kidnapped, beaten and raped by 14 men. She is to receive 90 lashes for violating religion.

That sort of thing takes a lot of overlookin'.

March 05, 2007 6:51 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

That, and the following, are why I'm going to laugh with joy and glee whilst dancing on the graves of the cultures and societies of these barbarians and less-than-useless sacks of animal excrement:

Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue
Friday, 15 March, 2002

Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing [the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam], according to Saudi newspapers.

In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday. [...]

[M]ore than 50 others were injured.

According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, [...] [o]ne witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out. [...]

The school was locked at the time of the fire - a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes...

Poker debt girl shows women's plight in Pakistan

KARACHI - When she was one, Rasheeda Begum's late father promised to marry her off to a relative to settle a poker debt. Fifteen years later the man came calling to collect his winnings. [...]

Rasheeda's mother Nooran Begum said her late husband Rahib was a gambler and lost Rasheeda in the card game with his friend Lal Haider in 1992. He promised to give his daughter to Haider in lieu of 10,000 rupees (166 dollars).

Nooran said she paid off the debt several years ago, following her husband's death.

Recently, however, Haider started visiting their house and demanding custody of Rasheeda, saying that it was his right under ancient tribal customs, she added.

Rasheeda said friends of Haider had started turning up outside their house and threatening them. Haider said he would kidnap her and take her to the mountains of southwest Baluchistan province, she said.

"We are poor people and can't defend ourselves on our own. We cannot leave our house," said her uncle Dur Mohammad, who lives with the two women. [...]

Police in January arrested six men who allegedly raped a teenage girl and made her parade naked through a village in Sindh in a so-called "honour punishment" for acting immorally.

At around the same time two lovers were tied to a tree and stoned to death for adultery by angry relatives in central Punjab province.

Then in February another girl was allegedly raped by four men, again in Sindh, and two women in the same province were hacked to death by close relatives who suspected them of flirting with neighbours.

Finally on February 20 a hardline Islamist cleric shot Punjab provincial minister Zilla Huma Usman in the head at a public meeting because she did not wear a veil.

It later emerged that her killer, Mohammad Sarwar, had escaped trial despite confessing in 2003 to killing four prostitutes. [...]

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report last month that there were 565 honour killings in Pakistan in 2006, nearly double the number in 2005.

###

The "glowing glass" option is looking better and better.

March 05, 2007 7:51 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I could have come up with culturally distinct but morally similar events in the South of my youth, done in the name of the Bible. As disgusting as those things on your list are, they do not, in themselves, condemn a particular theology.

The lashing of the young rape victim is of another order altogether. The only thing I can think of in my lifetime that comes close in America was the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in the Amirault cases.

However, the Supreme Judicial Court is not established as nor does it claim to be a moral directorate.

Moderate Muslims sometimes object that they are expected to denounce every crime committed in the name of religion, with the implication that there are so many they cannot be expected to keep up.

An odd implicit conception that, but I'll accept it as far as it goes.

There are, however, some events that demand all sheep and goats to choose sides. Kristallnacht, for German Christians. More recent instances in which pretty much the whole civilized world could not keep silent were Sbrenica or Tien An Mein.

For myself, though I deplored both, I did not think they rose to the level of a Kristallnacht, a Sept. 11 or a Munich Olympics.

Like I say, this one takes a lot of overlookin'. I have no doubt that the moderate Muslims are up to the job, though.

March 05, 2007 11:08 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I condemn not theology, but rather culture.

When they're fully subjugated, they'll still be nominally Muslims. They just won't be barbarians, or at least, they'll express it in non-physical ways, as we now do.

March 06, 2007 4:55 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Atheism is ugly and brittle. Religion is far more subtle, supple and sophisticated. Now, it is not the way of the world that the prettier theory is always true, but it is true often enough to give even the materialists pause.

Ah, the argument from aesthetics. This is what I think of the argument from aesthetics.

As for subtle, supple and spohisticated, I assume you're talking about your own experience of religion and not the more mainstream versions that really do hew to the caricature that we are painting of it. Nothing subtle and supple about fundamentalist Christiantiy. But anyhow, it is very easy to be subtle and supple when you don't make any positive claims about the creator. He just exists behind a fog of impenetrabile platitudes. I agree, you can be very sophisticated with such a philosophy.

So, to sum up:
You misapprehend Creation, which is an ongoing single act that necessarily encompasses all of existence rather than something that happened long ago.
That this Creation is the act of an unknowable G-d much subtler and more sophisticated than the caricature in which you don't believe. And,
This G-d exists outside the scope of reason.


What exactly separates you from a dunnoist? If you can't make any positive statements of his attributes, then what is it that you believe about him? It seems to me that you've held onto the structure of religion whilst losing all of the content, like a town that's been hit by a neutron bomb. The religious experience isn't about meditations on unknowabilities, it is about a personal relationship with a personal god who is all too knowable through the imagination. I'd say you are in Derbyshire territory. You're a dunnoist, but don't know it.

March 06, 2007 5:45 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: First, I take your point about aesthetics. I don't like arguments from aesthetics any better than you do. So, I note that my theory is prettier than your theory, but not that you should switch for that reason. (Which is different than saying that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Catholic Church for being the great driver of the western aesthetic.)

As for what separates me from the Dunnoists, I would think that it is my faith that G-d exists despite my acknowledgment that there is no direct material evidence for His existence. Now, starting from there, I can build an elaborate edifice of ritual, commandment and tradition that results in my not eating leavened bread for eight days next month but belief in G-d seems like enough to be getting on with.

Again, you seem to claim that I can't believe in G-d unless I believe in a personal G-d. I continue not to be sure what that phrase means to you, although I have followed some of the links you've provided in the past. This may just be something too deeply rooted in Christianity and its deep ambivalence about Jesus' nature to translate easily for a Jew. Sometimes it seems to be Islamic (water on the stove doesn't boil unless Allah wills it), sometimes it seems every man is to be a prophet (G-d speaks to me) and sometimes it seems that G-d is the IRS (a note is made of everything I do). For Jews, who more or less believe that we are born, we live according to the commandments and then we die, it doesn't compute.

Perhaps it's enough to say that we never imagine ourselves sacking G-d.

March 07, 2007 8:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Here are some signs that you believe in a personal God:

* Use of a personal pronooun when speaking of him.

* Ritual behavior designed with the idea that God behaves like a person. Such as:

- burnt offerings that assume God enjoys barbecued meats

- acts of debasement and mortification that assume God wants us to demonstrate that we know our place with respect to him.

- words of outrageous praise that assume God has an ego that welcomes or requires such praise.

- the idea that God takes personal notice of oneself.

March 08, 2007 5:16 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 08, 2007 5:36 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Offerings, acts of debasement and mortification, and words of praise, as well as prayers of thanksgiving, aren't for the benefit of God, they're for the benefit of the actors.

In their most basic form, they build the values of sacrifice, humility, appreciation of others, and appreciation of one's own good fortunes.

In other words, those acts attempt to promote what used to be called "good character".

In fact, the organization CHARACTER COUNTS! calls them "The Six Pillars of Character" - Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, Citizenship.

Of course, CC! also promotes itself as "the most widely implemented approach to character education — embraced by thousands of schools, communities, public agencies and nonprofits", so YMMV, just as it does with religiously-inspired acts of Big Spook appeasement.

March 08, 2007 5:38 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home