I’m an atheist

I’ve read the books and articles. I’ve watched the lectures and documentaries. I’ve done the thinking and discussing. I’ve been teetering on the edge of agnosticism for a while now. Then I read this exchange between Sam Harris and Dennis Prager. That settled it for me. I’m convinced.

Prager made not a single sound argument to show that his religion was true. It was evident that he assumed correctness at the outset. It’s true, therefore it’s true, is poor reasoning. Before rational discussion can ensue, an assumption must be temporarily abandoned when it is the assumption itself that’s being brought into question. (I can hear the skeptical reader exclaiming, “But an atheist assumes God doesn’t exist!” That is incorrect. An atheist assumes nothing at all—not God, not leprechauns, not the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

It came as no surprise then that Prager failed to notice Harris’ most compelling point (rightly exemplified by Russell’s teapot): one can assume anything, therefore the inability to prove something false isn’t reason to believe it’s true. This point demands an answer to the essential question Prager beat around the bush: “Why assume Christianity?”

It might have helped Harris to have introduced a fictional character who was in no way predisposed to any religion but who had learned about them all and was undecided as to which to believe. How could one convince this neutral character that Christianity is the one true religion? Harris could quickly show that there is no reason at all for one to decide that any religion is more correct than another unless, of course, one is already biased.

“Everyone has rejected an infinite number of spurious claims about God. The atheist simply rejects one more.”
-Sam Harris

Part of me almost feels the need to be apologetic for my newfound view, as if it were inherently disrespectful or arrogant. I think I’m prone to passivity in order to avoid confrontation. It’s time for me to evolve.

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40 thoughts on “I’m an atheist

  1. “Assumptions must be abandoned” ! :)
    I don’t think you’ve thought this through . Do you abandon the use of language before you reason or do you take that as given i.e its conventions, its norms, structure?

    okay, let’s assume it’s a monologue and not a “discussion”.

    But again, one has to ask if this is possible in all cases *prior* to language as Wittgenstein asked. If you want to call that infantile then please, go ahead!

    Of course, one can ignore anselm and the ontological argument if you so wish but Iris Murdoch would also say that we intuit unity and fill in the details later. And Wallace Stevens would say there’s a “muddy centre”. In politics as in ethics there are self-evident axioms. again, one can put to one side other forms of thought that one doesn’t agree with and dismiss them as ‘infantile ‘ but that really is a narrow approach to take in my opinion.

    For a rational discussion to take place one would *first* have to agree on what constitutes ‘rationality’ and apart from some formal elements (non-contradiction etc) it is quite possible -and historically speaking it has been the case-that people have disagreed over just this.

    Tell me something Jason: to say there is no God is to make a clear statement/assertion about His lack of existence. On what *rational* basis do you do that ? (you have not indicated how you do so in this post except to hint that because one cannot prove something as false one doesn’t necessarily accept it as true. Fair point . But that is not the same thing as proving that the thing is false).

  2. Congrats. I, too, have recently come to appreciate the genius that is Sam Harris. Have you read Letter To A Christian Nation yet?

    Also, I love your “If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget about it,” which is essentially the only reason I have a blog in the first place.

  3. @khalidmir: You say that one who dismisses other forms of thought as infantile is a narrow-minded person; precisely what are you dismissing Jason’s form of thought as? On what rational basis do you make a clear statement in support of the existence of a god?

  4. I am not saying anything about anyone being a “narrow minded person”.., i said a “narrow approach”. there is a significant difference. If Englsih is not your first language then I’ll let that pass.

    Secondly, I did not “dismiss” his view. If you read carefully, I said “in my opinion”. That is hardly being dismissive!

    I do not make any clear statement in supoort of the existence of God. I don’t think that that was the point in this current discussion. I think the point was, rather, whether contesting the view that atheism is wrong becuase it cannot “prove” the non-existence of God is in itself a statement that shows or proves the non-existence of God.

  5. I generally consider the phrase “I don’t think you’ve thought this through” as being especially dismissive, but that’s just me. I agree that you didn’t happen to utter the words “you are a narrow-minded person,” but doesn’t it follow that people who take narrow approaches to things are narrow-minded? Let’s drop it. I’m not trying to cause a semantic argument about word choice.

    I can appreciate your last point that that’s not necessarily what you were intending to get into, but the fact remains that I presented the question whether or not it related to the discussion: To say that there is a god is to make a rational statement about a god’s existence; on what rational basis do you do that? It seems to me that no one is proving anything here whatsoever on either side of the argument.

    Finally, English is my first language. In fact, I have another blog concerning English grammar…you should check it out! (Not because you have poor grammar, but because you just should for the sake of it.) :)

  6. I’ve rephrased a couple sentences. The one on assumption being abandoned now makes an important distinction.

    “Before rational discussion can ensue, an assumption must be temporarily abandoned when it is the assumption itself that’s being brought into question.”

    That can probably be worded more concisely, but it’s an improvement.

  7. Nosugrefneb, hello.
    i think you’re right, statements like “I don’t think you’ve..” usually say more about the ego of the person making them *in general* and it is quite possible to read that statement in that way. However, I hope from my previous responses to Jason’s posts that he will understand that there was no intention of dismissing his views and if he got that impression then I aplogise.

    Well, I’m not sure if there is a ‘rational basis’ or precisely what such a term means. Rationality can refer to instrumentality or , in the medieval sense, as being something that chooses the good: the emphasis being on the “object” detrmining the rationality of the choice (in contradistinction to the modern notion, which as I understand it is precisely the reverse!)And I don’t think that I have stated that it is incumbent on believers to *base* their beliefs on a rational terms anyway. surely the onus rests on those who claim that natural reason can “prove” that God doesn’t exist to do so…not for those who do not make such claims to show that reason is the basis of their belief: Anselm: I believe in order to understand, I do not understand in order to believe…More circular arguments, I’m afraid! :)

    Sure, will do. My grammar is awful -as you’ve probably noticed.
    One final word, though, if I may be permitted. I do think there is a significant difference in calling someone narrow minded since that personalizes the issue when what we’re trying to do (at least in this discussion) is talk about ideas. An unnnecessary distinction , perhaps, but one worth at least being aware of. Someone can take a narrow approach on certain issues and is not necessarily -at least in my opinion- a narrow minded person. That someone *takes* such a position is key. A narrow minded person just sounds too essentialist to my ears but on the whole I think your comments make more sense than mine.

    Regards,

    K.

  8. Khalid,

    Consider this list: God, Zeus, Shiva, Odin, Invisible Pink Unicorn. These beings are all on equal footing in the sense that they’re unobserved and unfalsifiable. Without an initial bias, I have no reason to consider the possible existence of God over the others.

    I need not and can not disprove God’s existence. I need only to see that there are infinite possible unobserved beings that could exist, and that not one of them is any more likely than another. As an atheist I do not assert that God doesn’t exist, but that God is only one possibility of an infinite array. Therefore, His existence is highly unlikely.

    “I hope from my previous responses to Jason’s posts that he will understand that there was no intention of dismissing his views”

    Absolutely. Your arguments are fair and thoughtful.

    “Someone can take a narrow approach on certain issues and is not necessarily -at least in my opinion- a narrow minded person.”

    Agreed.

    Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me on an intelligent level.

    -Jason

  9. Ben,

    No, I’m afraid I haven’t read Letter To A Christian Nation yet. I intend to read both Harris’ books. But first I have to finish Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. I admit I’ve been spending too much time online.

    I appreciate the comments,

    Jason

  10. @khalidmir: I agree too regarding narrow-mindedness. I suppose I was being a bit on the side of narrow-minded earlier in the day.

    @Jason: You should most definitely check it out when you have the chance. It’s only 89 pp., and they’re not really pages so much as giant-font quarter pages. I’m not kidding you when I say that I read it in less than two days, and I’m one of the slowest readers you’ll ever meet.

  11. Nothing much to add. I think my problem here was one of language. I have always thought that an agnostic doesn’t deny the possibility of God but an atheist, on the other hand, does. i.e an atheist can and does say: there *is* no god…not that he *could* exist (your words).

  12. Agreed. Jason, you said, “As an atheist I do not assert that God doesn’t exist, but that God is only one possibility of an infinite array.” That sounds more like a textbook definition of agnostic to me. I personally wholeheartedly assert that God – any god – does not exist, and I don’t feel like that’s an extreme viewpoint for an atheist to have. It’s okay to say it! God doesn’t exist! Weeeee!

  13. Wikipedia’s entry on atheism illustrates that the definition is not so cut and dry:

    Atheism is the disbelief in the existence of God and other deities. It is commonly defined as the positive denial of theism (ie. the assertion that deities do not exist), or the deliberate rejection of theism (i.e., the refusal to believe in the existence of deities). However, others—including most atheistic philosophers and groups—define atheism as the simple absence of belief in deities (cf. nontheism), thereby designating many agnostics, and people who have never heard of gods, such as the unchurched or newborn children, as atheists as well. In recent years, some atheists have adopted the terms strong and weak atheism to clarify whether they consider their stance one of positive belief no gods exist, or of negative unbelief.

    I agree with Richard Dawkins who acknowledges that although he can’t know for certain whether God exists, the probability is so unlikely that, for all practical purposes, he might as well be certain. Whether one calls that ‘knowledge’ is a matter of semantics.

    I don’t think human beings can ever be 100% certain. We don’t have the capacity for absolute knowledge. But I’m willing to state “God doesn’t exist” with the same degree of confidence that I can say “fairies don’t exist.”

  14. An important and oft-overlook distinction. In conversation with friends I sometimes try to throw the word ‘nontheist’ in. ‘Weak’ atheism is often confused with ‘strong’ atheism, which leaves one open to accusations of holding a (positive) belief, which the word agnostic often lumps you in with people who say they can’t know anything definitely so they don’t care (a caricature I know, but I know people like that).

    As one of my theistic friends puts it, there are two ways to approach language. One is to strive for absolute precision based on your definitions and those of the listener, while the other is to accept that we all have fluid understandings of what different words mean, so work with people where they are, i.e., don’t try to define everything. I lean toward the former, but many of those we interact with lean toward the latter.

  15. I believe that God is an imaginary construct created in the distant past to explain what science now does a fine job of explaining — the rain, earth quakes, our existence. And I believe it’s usefulness is well used up, and it’s time we let it go. It’s nothing but an albatross around our collective neck, weighing us down, preventing us from moving forward in our evolution as a species.

    And I also believe it’s good to come out of the closet as an atheist (or, if you want to sound less negative, as a skeptic). At least in this community we can, without fear of deadly reprisal, unlike some folks on the planet. For their sakes, we’ve got to.

  16. Ah, but the albatross is such a fine bird :)

    “for their sakes”..steady on HP, that’s a bit patronising isn’t it?
    Each to their own…As Barbara Streisand says in Hello Dolly, you ago your way , and I ago mine!

  17. By “for their sakes” I’m talking about those unfortunate people living in authoritarian theocracies who’d like to profess their apostasy but can’t because it carries the death penalty.

    I don’t think that’s patronizing at all. I think it’s every free human’s duty.

    I’m not out to destroy religion (though I’d certainly celebrate if it died of natural causes)…I’m out to eliminate tyranny.

  18. Sure, I can sympathise with what you’re saying . It goes without saying that religion and so-called religious authorities can and have stifled freedoms in many important ways.

    All i would say , though, is that in my opinion there are more fundamental issues to be considered if we’re concerned about social , ecomomic and political justice. Essentially: political rights, education, economic security, access to basic healthcare and water. Yes, freedom from persecution and issues of freedom of conscience are also crucial but I can’t help feel that these are not a subsitute for but rather a complement to the more substansive freedoms.

    But I do think we should be aware of the “missionary zeal” of some to wean people of religion (just as there zeal is the other way around). In some cases there is-to my mind at least-a visceral hatred for religion and not an enlightened live and let live attitude.

    But that’s just my two cents…

  19. Those issues are important, but I believe that problems in those spheres all stem from the mass mental illness of religion.

    And you’re right, that some people approach the issue with too much anti-religious zeal (like Mao in China). I would never, even if I had the power to do so, force anyone to abandon their faith. But I also refuse to allow religious zealots to deny others the right to abandon a faith they find toxic or even just silly.

    I do have a live-and-let-live attitude. Sometimes there’s simply no way or even use to get someone to abandon superstition. The only way ideas change, often, is when the old guard dies off and leaves the younger folks to forge a new and better way.

  20. “the mass mental illness” of religion ..er..yeah, okay, all those people over at least the last 10,000 years, from all over the world, have all been delusional in one form or the other! It is only western , modern man who has seen the light! :)

    and what shall we say about a mental illness that has contributed to the production of such exquisite works of art? As George Steiner says in Real presences, can we even think of a Bach, the Cathedrals, a Dante, Aquinas and Augustine, without religion?

    and perhaps if we looked on the ‘other side’ as well: the trenches, the bomb, the gulags, the camps…all these had very little to do with religion. In modern times: vietnam, Rwanada, the congo, Iraq…again, more mental illness., no?

    I don’t know what the basis is for your idea that religion -and not social and political injustice-is at the heart of the problem. From my own experience I can say that religion plays a very small (but sometimes oppressive ) part in people’s lives. Identity is much more a conglomerate of disparate elements: race, language, class, educational background, tribal or ethnic group AND religion.

    Of course, it’s very commforting to believe that others are following a “superstition” and only “our” generation is in a priviliged position to determine the truth. I guess this has, in some sense, always been the way: youth thinks it knows infinitely more than the previous generation.

    What has changed, though, has been the loss of the idea that those before us actually had something of value, some wisdom. (along with this, there is the nihilistic coontempt for the future..as Hans Jonas says). In fact, in late cpaitalism it is fair to say, I think, that there is only concern with “me” and with my consumption “now”. No wonder there is so much contempt for old people (at least in this country)..no wonder that getting old is looked upon with some trepidation .

  21. ‘“the mass mental illness” of religion ..er..yeah, okay, all those people over at least the last 10,000 years, from all over the world, have all been delusional in one form or the other! It is only western , modern man who has seen the light! :)’
    Actually, yes. Of course, there have been people all throughout history who have doubted that religion is the way to find truth, but they were usually in the minority. And to classify atheism as an exclusively western phenomena? Anyway…
    Religion beliefs are either true or they are not, and the belief that one has discovered the truth will always be mocked as arrogant by thsoe who disagree. Is it arrogant for the Muslim to believe that only he has the truth? Is it arrogant for the Christian to believe Jesus is the only way? If these are acceptable beliefs, then surely the thought that religion may be a powerful, comforting, uniting, though ultimately false answer is not as arrogant as you believe.
    Do you hang onto the albatross because it has on occasion produced great art, or because you believe it to be inherently true?

    I agree with some of your post though. Religion is only one factor among many, and it has contributed much good to the world as well as bad. I don’t think all the generations before us lacked value, or that the future is worthless, but I guess I’m not a nihilist.

    “Of course, it’s very commforting to believe that others are following a “superstition” and only “our” generation is in a priviliged position to determine the truth. I guess this has, in some sense, always been the way: youth thinks it knows infinitely more than the previous generation.”

    It seems Jason and I are skeptical of received truths- be they the assumption of generations past or revelations passed on through prophets. What alternate do you suggest? That we accept that the generation before us know the truth merely because they are older? That is as arbitrary as believing we have it because we are younger. One can gain many conflicting truths from the generation before, depending on who you listen to. Are my Christian elders, Muslim elders, secular elders, etc., all right?

  22. Brett, nothing muvh to say on your first point. I don’t think atheism is a uniquely western phenomenon or a uniquely modern one but I’d agree with P.rieff in that this is the first culture /scoiety that is based on a rejection of the sacred. When you say “actually, yes” that sounds quite odd…if manking has been so prone to delusions for tens of thousands of years -perhaps longer-it is surprising that he is, all of a sudden, any less so now!

    I don’t think “the muslim” believes that only he has the truth..this is only a very narrow approach . It is a fundamental dogma that each people have been given a message and that other people-specifically , people of the book-have righteous people amongst them. Islam is actually more pluralistic in that way. Cannot say anything about the claims of Christianity.

    and Ibn Arabi would daringly say that the polytheists are actualyl closer to the truth because they do not “bind” God to one reality. Add to this that I don’t think a really religious person would say that he “possesses” the truth..only that he is in a constant search for it, or deepening of it , then we might have a slightly more nuanced discussion.

    But yes, your point is, in general, a valid one. there atere arrogant people who indeed hold that view. I’m just suggesting that in our times it is mainly the perspective of science that believes that it, and it only, has discovered the truth.

    the point about art was not meantsas a “proof” of the intrinsic validity or invalidity of religion. just to suggest that that to talk of it as a mental illness is quite remarkable given the associations it has had with the development of reason (I like the pope’s ‘fides et Ratio’ in this regard).

    I can see what you’re saying. the modern world seems to be sceptical of anyhting that is ‘given’…including the “muddy centre” (Wallace stevens). How convenient tthat this should be just what is desired by capitalism! As Marx said : all that is solid melts into air….

    I do not suggest any alternatives. Each to their own. All i would suggest is the possibility that thought is possible from within a tradition (a point made both by leo strauss and Macintyre).

    I don’t want to go down this discussion again Bret since I’ve had it with jason. What is arbitrary? self -evident axioms in politics and ethics? Thought itself must start by assuming that God does not deceive us or that the infinite is ‘placed in us’ (according to levinas’s take on descrates). Another angle might be to think that language is given to us before we think (wittgenstein’s point, I think).

    I am not saying that just because something is old that makes it true. all I’m suggesting is that the dominant view today-that the old is ‘useless’-is a shallow apporach in my opinion. It really seems-to me at least-to be a reactionary position….one has ‘killed’ father…

  23. As a middle-aged person, I hardly represent youth. And I certainly don’t denigrate the elder generations…just old people clinging to superstition, whose ideas are so fixed there’s no hope of them ever changing. I very much value the wisdom of my elders who have something valid to teach (and I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading their ideas — Thomas Payne, for example, was a well-known skeptic; even Socrates rejected the idea of gods as actual beings). I even value my elders and their experience of life in my community, and am respectful of their beliefs in their presence, however silly I actually find them.

    When everyone thought the world was flat, were they right? Just because everyone holds a delusion doesn’t make it any less of a delusion. And now most of the world still believes in an invisible, all-powerful, unknowable God. Folks around here even believe in a heaven and hell that are actual places. How is this not clearly silly? How is this a useful mindset? Theism is like a conceptual virus, and it’s spread across the globe and does immense harm to one’s ability to think (and the ability to think is humankind’s primary method of survival.)

    Yes, religion has been the impetus for some art (though hardly all), and maybe an occasional religious person (especially among the Muslims of the past and the Jesuits and the Jews) has furthered the cause of reason, but far and away the vast majority of religious people have rejected reason as an enemy of faith. How could they not? Among many Catholics, for example, the Jesuits are seen as dangerous because their incessant questioning and pursuit of knowledge often leads young people to reject faith in the end.

    In the west, it’s not materialism that first allowed the rape of the natural world, but the Genesis story that gives man dominion over the rest of the world. The deforestation of Europe and Asia (which has had plenty of religion for millennia) happened long before the rise of materialism.

    For any good religion may have done in the past, it’s done more harm: untold wars, between the major faiths, and persecutions among various sects, as well as the destruction of the natural world, not to mention the oppression of women. Look at what’s going on between the Sunis and the Shiites! How much blood has to be lost over what amounts to ghost stories? And look at the scripture-justified honor killings of women in the more backward Muslim countries and Hindu India. It’s idiotic.

    Yes, religion is mass mental illness. It’s time humanity abandoned it, or at least allowed the individuals who are ready to do so, to do so in peace. Otherwise, we’ll never move forward.

  24. Hmm.. is there much point in continuing this HP? If you consider other points of view “clearly silly” then it seems futile engaging in a discussion. No? And I’m really not one for polemics …

    Virus..er..yes…perhaps you can come up with a “final solution”

    ability to think: of course, Aquinas, Augustine, anselm , Ibn Arabi , etc..all of those fools ! Dante, Rumi…you do make me laugh.

    Sunni/Shia! what a joke! america and Britain helped create conditions of complete anarchy ..after so many years of political sunni domination there still wasn’t much animosity between them (so my iraqi friends tell me). It was only America that first started talkig about “sunni triangles” and “shia crescents” It has largely been al-q that has been responsible for these killings and they can hardly be called sunni at all..or even muslims. They do not accept any of the schools of law or the basic norms of human decency.

    Religious has been responsible for…er ..yes, Buddhism Hinduism, Islamic art, icons , even the renaissance is an afterglow and depends on religious themes. More to the point, without the pull of the transcendent it is hard to imagine art flourishing. This point is made clear in C.Fuller’s wonderful book, ‘Lost illusions’ and George Steiner and Z.Bauman both pose the same question.

    they have not rejected “reason” as an enemey of faith but rather reason as the sole guide in life ..and that too, a particular type of reason…for the medievalists reason was perfectly compatible with faith (could I sugegst the pope’s ‘fides et ratio’).

    Destruction of the natural world! You’re taking the mickey, right? What ,exactly, would you call the technologically advanced nations’ impact on the envt?

    your reading of the impact on the envt and its causes sounds terribly biased . The rape of nature only really starts when the technology available to do it is around . Secondly, it only really kicks in once modern man has thought of himself and only himself of value and nature as pure extension, matter to be manipulated. Power over nature is an old Baconian theme and much more to do with scientific attitudes than religion. Please see the brilliant Hans Jonas’ ‘the phenomenon of life’.

    HP, pelase do elaborate on the mental illness of Auschwitz, the gulags, the bomb, the trenches, and most of the wars of the last century.

  25. “How much blood has to be lost over ghost stories”…Er..I don’t know, according to the Lancet about 600, 000 ..the ghost story being WMD and an al-Q link with Saddam. didn’t Madeline Albright once say in an interview with Pilger that if 500,000 people were killed in Iraq (as a result of the sanctions) that was a price worth paying?

    And Rwanad : 900, 000
    Congo: 3-4 million.
    more “ghost stories”?

    come on HP, why do you keep on ignoring the bleeding obvious.
    even after the Enlightenment secualr regimes have been involved in all sorts of horrendous practices. Let’s not even mention the support for Pinochet and his torturers or Abu Ghraib and Gitmo….

    “scripture -justified ” killings. Please, do elaborate. As far as I know , most of such killings in muslim countries are down to tribal customs and so-called local ‘culture’ . But I look forward to hearing your references to “scripture-justified” honour killings.

  26. K, I don’t see other viewpoints, in general, as clearly silly. I see the idea of an old man in the sky as clearly silly, which is what “God” means to my neighbors. I’m not talking about mystics here.

    And you’re right that those honor killings are tribal customs, but they are justified by Islamic scripture (taken out of context, as most justifications of violence are, like the American perpetuation of homophobia). Face it, the Koran is not exactly consistent in its declarations about women.

    And you can’t pretend that religion somehow ended after the Enlightenment. All of those atrocities you mention were committed by people who practiced Christianity of one strain or another. I guarantee Madeleine Albright goes to church. All of our politicians here go to church (and get their pictures taken on the steps on their way in or out, smiling and waving at the cameras). GW is the most religious (he’s a “born again” Christian who talks to go AND HEARS HIM TALK BACK) President we’ve ever had. You’re making my point for me.

  27. Err.. Rwanda was a uniquely Christian event (see my recent post on a Catholic priest just convicted for involvement). The current slaughter in Darfur is Muslim/Muslim. In both of those cases I would say religion is not the cause of the violence. However, you’d think that having such religious convictions would deter the violence. I’m not familiar enough with the complexity of the Congo to offer whether religious motivation is strong for any of the factions, but I would guess it mostly relates to tribalism, natural resources, colonialism, and spillover from Rwanda.

  28. Bret, i agree with you..that’s my whole point. If we want to have a serious discussion about violence then let’s talk about state violence in the 20th century (Russia, Nazis, Mao etc)..let’s also admit that some of it might have a religious dimension but a big part of the conflicts -from Vietnam to the current one in Iraq-are not really about religion. The same would go for Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya etc (although in recent times fanatical groups have come to the fore).

    To say that atrocities were perpetrated by muslims doesn’t mean that they are caused by religion. I mean, Saddam’s slaughtering of the Kurds cannot be depicted as muslim violence against other muslims beacuse it is quite clear that it was not motivated by that..same goes with Iraq/Iran .

    Just because they happened to be muslim by name means little in these cases. Same goes with Hitler..one doesn’t say that because he was a “christian” that what he did was about religion.

    I admit that many, many terrible things are done against women (my sister has worked closely with human rights organizations and has worked for a Christian NGO in Pakistan..so I have some idea of how tough things are there for women. I also agree that maulvis and mullhas can and often do re-inforce prejudice and regressive attiutudes/practices. But in the specific case you talk about-honour killings-I have yet to hear it being justified by religious texts and that is why i ask you again HP to please clarify that statement. Thanks.

  29. Okay, so it was a Catholic. Still religious. (Thanks for the correction.)

    Yes, sometimes I do wonder if Cheney doesn’t have some sort of speaker rigged up for that. I do think he’s the major source of the evil flowing out of the White House for the past six years. But I’m sure the truth is that Bush suffers from mental illness (much worse than the average). He was a coke addict and a drunk, remember?

    Are you really going to make me go hunt down my copy of *The Trouble with Islam* when I’m supposed to be hanging xmas lights? Here’s a link I just found:

    http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm

    Forgive me for being such a scrooge, but the pressures of the holiday are getting to me, this holiday we feel pressured to celebrate though we don’t actually believe in Christ. (I look at it as a solstice celebration, which I think makes sense…bringing light and joy in the darkest part of the year, but still, it does get to me.)

    And I completely agree with you that with ALL these conflicts the men in charge are actually motivated by money and land. It’s always been thus. But they’ve also always used the hatreds bred by religion to motivate the men who actually shoot the guns.

  30. Oh come on HP, that’s poor ..even by islamophobic stds.
    are we to suppose that any system of law can be digested like this..a few verses taken out of context?

    Even if one looks at the verses cited-and here one gets an idea of the sheer prejudice-one is about fornicating MEN and fornicating women..are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that that is used to justify ‘honour kilings’?

    “Nor come nigh to adultery for it is a shameful deed”

    Jeez..this is really childish HP…do you see how your prejudice is leading you to think irrationally?

    And the last one cited is about dazzling display..er yeah, right, that seems like a justification of honour killing if ever there was one.

    No, go ahead and enjoy your holiday. I find it difficult trying to make head or tail of such arguments…obvously I should stick to “ghost stories” ! :)

  31. Just checked 33:33 and it specifically says this with regards the wives of the prophet.

    Now, why would any reasonable person take a verse like that and say it applies to or is a justification of honour killings..do you see how warped that thinking is?

  32. HP, if you want to have a reasonable discussion, that’s fine. But I think you should confront your prejudices first. You try and slander my religion by saying it justifiies honour killings and then when asked to back that up you send a link written by an “ex-muslim” . In addition to that the verses cited (even out of context) can hardly be construed to be a justification at all by any reasonable person.

    It is a sad indictment of your prejudice that you continue to think that what is happenng in chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, Darfur and what happened in Vietnam etc is about using the “hatreds bred by religion” when most people can see them for what they are: fundamentally conflicts about land, ethnicity, resources, ideology (democracy).

  33. khalidimir,
    Again, I agree that the conflicts you listed are primarily not religious. I would like some clarification on a passaged that was linked to above.

    “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication-flog each of them with hundred stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last day.” Do you think this is a proper punishment for two adults consenting to an act? Is it ‘reasonable’?

    Also, you said those verses can hardly be construed as a justification by “any reasonable person.” I agree. But I think the argument may be that religious texts when followed literally make people act exactly like they aren’t ‘reasonable’ people. While your interpretation of scriptures seems to be a bit more free/liberal, do you see how more fundamentalist sects of your religion or others could be dangerous?

  34. I agree, some texts , if followed in a certain fashion can lead to unreasonable behaviour..I’ve laready said that I think that so-called religious authotrities can and do re-inforce regressive attitiudes/practices. But the point was whether the religion “justifies” honour killings.

    All I’m trying to say here is not that there cannot be a critique of other people’s practices or views..that’s fine. But it’s some pretty biased thinking when one quotes verses out of any context to justify one’s own prejudices. I mean, in another exchange it was claimed that the Nazis were “christians”..another spurious link to religion (by and large).

    On reasonableness.

    First of all, I’m not a religious scholar but I’ll preface my remarks by saying this: the traditional understanding of Islamic law has not been based on particular verses understood on their own , in isolation, but a whole set of them and how they are related to certain principles and to certain contexts (for example, the law on certain punishments was suspended by one of the first Caliphs).

    It is also legitimate to say that one has to understand and interpret things according to the times we live in (this point is made by Levinas succinctly with regards Judaism in his Jewish Revelation and the same applies here). This is a complex area and I will only refer you to the work of Abdullahi Naim or Allama Iqbal’s chapter: ‘the structure of movement in religious thought’ in his online work: the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.

    Thirdly, I think we need to make the distinction between different types of reason (Macintrye’s point).

    But in the final analysis I think we should also face up squarely to the fact that there will always be things in our own or other people’s traditions that appear unreasonable or strange to us because we live in very different times. One has (or should have) the option of rejecting the religion if it doesn’t suit one or one should try and work those issues out .

    Of course fundamentalists sects are dangerous! For me, that is obvious and we have to be guard against the growth of it (it would help , i think, if america stopped supporting the Saudis who are the biggest exporters of it). My point is only this: why should we neglect state violence since this has been the prime actor in so much violence of the last century….why shouldn’t we also look at “state terrorism” (I think the word was first used with regard the state..and there’s always the Hobbesian tradition).

    shouldn’t we also look at the fact that in the name of democracy and freedom countries have been decimated?
    so yeah, let’s talk about danger..shall we talk about the danger of invading a country and leaving it in chaos, or supporting some of the most radical groups in Afghanistan (Hekmatyar) or tryants and dictators all around the world?

    Here’s the dope. I see the fundos as a significant danger to civilised values, to peace. But I think we have to also recognize that states -whether the Sudanes or Turkish ones, or american or Serbain or whatever, black or white, “muslim” or Christian”, have acted abysmally and are also a “danger”..a far bigger danger in my opinion.

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