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Strike Off Their Heads!

Entry 1271, on 2011-02-24 at 11:08:26 (Rating 4, Religion)

I know many conservative Christians derive a perverted pleasure from pointing out the inadequacies in other religions, especially in Islam, and of course, they are quite right to do so. Islam is a bad religion (is there any other type?) in two major ways in my opinion. First (whether it is fundamentally violent or not) it does cause a lot of violence and other conflict. And second, it causes ignorance and suppresses progress in other ways.

I know it's possible to make a counter-argument to these points. For example, there are people who maintain Islam is a religion of peace and point out that the majority of Muslims don't murder others or even incite violence against others. That may be true but it's also a fact that Islamic fanatics are primarily fanatical because of their religion. If it didn't exist their fanaticism would be gone, or at least greatly diminished.

And regarding ignorance, clearly this is not inherent in Islamic beliefs because, in the past, Islamic scholars preserved and extended knowledge during the period the Christian church repressed free thinking and progress in the West. But there's no doubt that the current lack of contribution Islamic states make to human knowledge is largely due to the way their religion stops them from thinking freely and honestly about the real world. Look at the number of Nobel prizes awarded to Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists and you will see a very obvious trend. And it can't all be due to anti-Muslim bias.

So Islam causes violence and ignorance. I'm sure it has some positive aspects as well but can they really be sufficient to counter those two huge problems? Obviously I think not, and that's one thing (maybe the only thing) that I have in common with conservative Christians!

But they shouldn't be too smart about that. For example, they like to quote Koran verses such as: "I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers - Quran 8:12". Sounds nasty! But I could quote the Bible too: "In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered like dung on the ground. - Jeremiah 25:33, NLT". Even more nasty!

So I find it ironic when Christians criticise Muslims for doing the very same things they are guilty of themselves. Are they not familiar with this: "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her - John 8:7, ISV". Is there not a clear metaphor in that passage (one I fully agree with despite being an atheist). Maybe, as is so often the case, the Christians prefer to be selective about which parts of the Bible they follow.

Most people are too sensible to allow something written in an old book to influence their lives too significantly. Few Muslims go around striking off heads and fingertips and few Christians think anyone should undervalue human life to the point of treating the bodies of a group they have a disagreement with as dung! But people who are more prone to believing fantasies (such as those in holy books) often will read those passages and act on them. Who knows, maybe they would find a different justification for violence if they weren't religious, but it's clear those violent writings don't help.

As I indicated above, I find some parts of the Bible quite inspiring, although I do find the vast majority of it backward, irrelevant, and mind-numbingly boring. If I spent some more time reading the Koran I'm sure the same would apply. There is good and bad in all philosophies and religions. Everyone should look at these and incorporate them into their personal morality. But if you are convinced one book is the inerrant word of a god (even though it's totally obvious it isn't) you are trapped into believing that without thinking. Then you are obligated to believe the bad as well as the good and you miss out on the good parts of other books you might be forbidden from reading.

So faith and religion just can't be good by their very nature. They stop people thinking for themselves, and if they stop that they are open to manipulation by religious and political leaders who don't always (in fact very rarely) have their best interests in mind.

The famous enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said several things which I think are very pertinent here: "Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent people", and "Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.", and finally "It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere." But there is one other thought from American social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer which is even more relevant: "Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power." Strike off his head!

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Comment 1 (2862) by GadgetDon on 2011-02-25 at 06:44:51:

The main difference between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity went through the reformation. While the specifics were important, it meant that almost all branches of Christianity have made some big changes:

(1) Following the Christian God is a choice. A profound choice. While some sects still believe it is appropriate for individuals to choose not to engage with those who do not share their beliefs, it's nearly universal that neither law nor violence is an acceptable way to spread faith and require belief.

(2) A rejection of the idea that God annoints certain men with the authority to speak for Him and rule in His stead. Even Catholics, which retain the concept of Papal Infallibility, have limited it to very specific decrees on Church law.

No, these aren't as absolute as I state them. While few if any Christians would support an affirmation of faith under threat of violence or legal sanction, most laws are an embodiment of morality and when that morality comes from faith, the actions become fuzzy. And there are always those who will be tempted to grab power by claiming a special relationship with God. But there is still a bright line between what Christianity meant before the reformation and after.

Since most Western cultures have strong roots in the history that includes the reformation, Muslims who have adopted Western culture adopt a Reformationist attitude towards their religion. But in the homeland of the Islam, the Reformation was what those other guys were doing, which was viewed as a rejection of the faith that had been beating up on them, and thus to some extent a vindication of the more hardline elements of Islam.

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Comment 2 (2863) by OJB on 2011-02-25 at 08:48:48:

I agree the Reformation was a significant step in the breaking of the power of the church, but it was the realisation that science and empiricism are a better way to progress civilisation than faith and revealed "truth", especially during the Enlightenment, that things really progressed. You're totally right though that Christianity has gone through a major transition where Islam hasn't. Christianity used to be violent and closed minded, just like Islam is today.

BTW, do you know any laws based on morality which is in turn based on faith, apart from a few archaic blasphemy laws which are still in force past the time they were "relevant"?

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