I’m often hear Americans state as undeniable fact that Middle East terrorism is caused by religion. Their claim is that Islam is an extraordinarily violent religion, much worse than Christianity. I’m highly suspicious of this claim, recently made by Sam Harris. Anyone who has read the Bible knows that it contains hundreds of episodes of violence, many of them seemingly gratuitous. It is difficult for me to see how the Koran is any more violent than the Bible. Yet there is much violence in the Middle East and numerous commentators will thus conclude, simplistically, that Islam is especially violent and that therefore, Islam is the cause.
This analysis by C.J.Werleman provides some raw numbers and some history to work with.
The Suicide Terrorism Database at Flinders University in Australia, which documents all suicide bombings committed in the Middle East between 1981 and 2006, demonstrates that it is politics, not religious fanaticism that leads terrorists to blow themselves up. This is supported by research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, which was partly funded by the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency. The authors, Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, examined more than 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to present. Their research reveals that more than 90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force.
We’ve spent the last half century waging and funding wars in the Middle East, playing one side off against the other, stoking ethnic rivalries, and arming regimes that inflict economic oppression upon their people. We’ve encircled the entire region with nearly 50 U.S. military bases and parked an aircraft carrier group permanently at their shores. The 17 Saudi 9/11 hijackers made their intent clear; they wanted the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia.
The belief that Islam is the root of terrorism doesn’t explain how Western-targeted terrorism coincides with the period post oil being discovered in the Middle East during the 1930-’60s and the establishment of the Jewish state on Arab Palestinian land. Harris also ignores the fact that Palestinian Muslims welcomed Zionist Jews in the 19th century. It was only when Jewish settlers began taking their land, and when Jews made it clear they did not wish to share the remaining land, that violence ensued.
A new movie, “God’s Not Dead,” is about to be released. From it, many church-going folks will have their stereotypes about atheists reinforced. Here’s a list provided by Nell Carter at Patheos:
1. Atheist professors are predatory, and they are out to convert everyone into ideological clones of themselves.
2. Atheists are selfish, self-absorbed, greedy jerks.
3. Atheists are cocky, self-sure, and totally enamored with their own superiority.
4. Atheists will openly threaten you, bow up, get in your face, stare you down.
5. Atheists are clearly incapable of love.
6. Atheists lack ethical boundaries.
7. They disbelieve in God because something bad happened to them.
8. Atheists are angry at God. You can just hear it in all of their voices.
9. Atheists are miserable because they believe life is meaningless.
10. Atheists have no basis for morality.
Hemant Mehta, the editor of FriendlyAtheist.com, is launching this book project on Kickstarter. It is a book making the argument that the relationship many have with “God” is like a relationship with an abusive boyfriend.
Our goal is to get people to reconsider their relationship with God. We all know people who feel like they need Him, but we are both atheists who enjoy happy, fulfilling lives without religious faith. We know it’s possible! So this is our way of offering a different perspective on God than the one people usually hear in church. If you’re religious, we hope it nudges you to think differently. If you’re not religious, we hope you find it entertaining and informative.
New video on Atheist TV feature video statements of prominent atheists, including an address given by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists at the group’s 1990 convention. The clips start at about 5:30 min. These were radical statements in the United States in 1990. They are much more commonplace today, though they still aggravate many believers.
I just ran across this collection of Bill Maher stand-up routines on religion. I agree with most of his observations–cleverly presented. I found myself wondering what would go through the mind of a committed conservative Christian viewing this–I assume he or she would have an response to every particular jab, but I’m wondering whether any of this would get through and cause some need to rethink things, especially after a full hour of this. I know a least a couple Christians who write off Maher by simply stating he is “snarky” or “arrogant.” That cheap ad hominem serves to kick the can down the road, and avoids the need to consider his arguments which, though they are dressed up in comedy, are serious challenges for Christians to rethink their religion from the ground up.
Then again, people don’t adopt a religion through intellectual evaluation. They don’t shop for religions like they shop for cars, critically and skeptically examining the claims. It’s not surprising, then, that they don’t re-examine religion based on intellectual grounds. Further, blunt attacks on religion of the type the Maher is delivering will cause believers to circle the wagons and dig in. It is not Maher’s sole purpose to de-convert–he’s working primarily as a comedian. But he is clearly provoking people to reexamine their supernatural (and often oxymoronic) claims. As I viewed these clips, I wondered how Maher would adapt his presentation if his sole purpose were not to work as a comedian at all, but to cause Christians to reconsider the believes they have been repeating ever since they were taught these things as babies by their parents.
I should add that I don’t consider religion to always be a bad thing. As I see it, religion serves as a tool for social collaboration, tapping into subconscious tribal instincts. Good-hearted people use religion to collaborate to do impressive social good. Cold-hearted people use religion to collaborate with people like themselves to spread their social dysfunction. I see religion as a tool for social coordination, good or bad, and it’s never actually about the core beliefs–public declarations regarding these core beliefs (e.g., dead people waking up) simply mark social territory–they serve as radar to tell members of congregation who is loyal to the group. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere.
I do enjoy the observations of Michael Morris. He smells a big of hypocrisy in a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court. The case is Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway. Here are a few of Michael’s comments:
My strong suspicion is that Jesus has no immediate plans of coming back to Earth, otherwise he couldn’t have picked a better time to appear as a surprise witness at the Supreme Court reminding the “Christians” that Christian public prayer is an oxymoron, the very definition of “UN-Christian.”
When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. —Matthew 6:5
But wait, Jesus isn’t done yet:
But when you make your prayer, go into your private room, and, shutting the door, say a prayer to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will give you your reward. —Matthew 6:6
Pretty clearly the Son of God and King of Kings says only pray in “your private room” where you’re not “seen by men.”
But if Jesus says you can’t pray at your city council meeting, where else could you possibly pray? This time Jesus leads by example:
But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. —Luke 5:16
In every gospel, Jesus heads off to the desert or the mountain to pray. That’s fine for him, but he never quite imagined his followers would eventually number in the billions. It really is impractical to start your governmental meeting with a quick trip to the desert.