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Get Some Perspective

Entry 610, on 2007-09-18 at 22:13:20 (Rating 4, Religion)

In the past I have defended some of the behaviour of Muslims, especially from the self-righteous Christians who criticise them. I have pointed out that they are a repressed group and that many of their religious beliefs and actions are no worse than similar extreme Christian actions, especially during the height of religious power in the west - also known as the dark ages (which in itself tells you a lot).

But I don't think I can continue to be so generous. I have just listened to a podcast which included discussions by some leading critics of Islam, including Salman Rushdie. I am a rationalist and I am prepared to change my mind when new evidence becomes available. I still totally disagree with the idea that the average Muslim is violent, but I no longer have any sympathy for the plight of Islam because it suffers from a problem which is basically self-inflicted.

Progress in the western world was impeded for centuries by the ignorant attitude of the Catholic church, and pursuing truth was considered an offence punishable by death. The same thing applies to Islam today. But the western world went through the Renaissance and Enlightenment and now we are comparatively free of the corrupting influence of religion. This never happened in the Islamic world. They are still living in the dark ages because they haven't got to the point of accepting that religion can't control every aspect of a society.

It is essential that church and state should be separate. Its not really because of the reason most people give: that freedom of religion is important and the state shouldn't be forcing particular beliefs on its citizens. I think the real reason is that religion is destructive from a practical perspective, and that's not a good basis for running a country! I would like to see religion disappear completely, but if that's not possible at least put it in a corner somewhere where it can't do too much harm!

If anyone doubts the danger of introducing more religion into society (and especially government) as the religious right in America want to do, just have a look at Islam and ask: is that where you want to be heading? So we need to get some perspective on what religion really is. Stop taking it so seriously. Let the things that really matter, like science, move ahead, even if a large proportion of the people insist on burying their heads in the sand and pretending their ancient myths are true.

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Comment 1 (849) by WF99 on 2007-09-20 at 08:10:48: (view recent only)

"I would like to see religion disappear completely,"

That's a bit extreme, really. There are a lot of positives to religion, too - and a lot of negatives from lack of religion.

"If anyone doubts the danger of introducing more religion into society (and especially government) as the religious right in America want to do, just have a look at Islam and ask: is that where you want to be heading?"

I don't see a passage in Christianity (that's pretty much what you're thinking of :-p) that says to kill unbelievers. Mankind has been killing each other senselessly for quite a while. I doubt that getting rid of religion would do too much.

It's our nature to harm others for ourselves. If anything, religion may have PREVENTED a lot of negative influences in society.

"Let things that matter, like science, move ahead..."

Fair point, provided that religion doesn't matter, and it has been a remarkable boon to man in many aspects.

"I still totally disagree with the idea that the average Muslim is violent..."

What a coincidence - I just finished a World Religions course on Islam from a secular textbook. According to their beliefs, if you're NOT willing to be that violent, then you're NOT a true Muslim. Their "Great Comission" is to kill all who don't repent. So, if you mean that the "average Muslim" is not a "true Muslim", then yes, I'd have to agree with you. But "radical Muslim" is the only form of Muslim that the belief accepts.

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Comment 2 (855) by OJB on 2007-09-20 at 11:07:10:

Can you list some positives from religion and negatives form lack of? And weigh them against the negatives of religion and positives from lack of. Let's see what the overall balance might be.

You don't see any incitement to violence in Christianity? Have you ever read the Old Testament? Have you ever read the history of violent conflict originating from, or aided by, Christian belief?

What a true Muslim is or is not seems to be just as hard to define as what a true Christian is. The fact is that very few Muslims engage in violence even if some interpretations of their holy book might say they should.

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Comment 3 (857) by WF99 on 2007-09-20 at 13:29:05:

Weighed on the scales, we're both sure that if religion was not here, it would be better for mankind than if it were. Just as if pollution were not here, it would be better for mankind than if it were not. Just because something has negative effects doesn't mean it's not true. Lack of evidence: different story.

Yes, I've read the Old Testament. The parallels are so different I don't feel that they're worth going into.

Their holy book says that they should kill infidels. My holy book says to turn the other cheek.

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Comment 4 (858) by OJB on 2007-09-20 at 19:41:38:

So you admit that if we had no religion (including Christianity) the world would be a better place? One of the justifications for religion I have come across is that it may not be true, but it does make the world a better place.

Your book says to turn the other cheek? It says a lot more too. Ever checked out what your "holy book" says at Deuteronomy 13:13-19, for example?

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Comment 5 (861) by WF99 on 2007-09-21 at 08:17:20:

Of course, it would be difficult to classify that a crime was committed in the name of atheism than in the name of Christianity. But a lot of crimes - murder out of greed, for example - I doubt would come from Christianity.

Yes, I'm aware that the Old Testament is violent. Do you know what the differences are?

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Comment 6 (866) by OJB on 2007-09-21 at 13:46:52:

Its overly simplistic to say a crime was committed, or a war started, etc, entirely because of a religious belief. Some people defend the Crusades, for example, by saying they were politically motivated. I'm sure politics played a part (doesn't it always) but that doesn't detract from the fact that religion was also very important.

As far as crimes being committed because of atheism. I can't really see how that could happen. Atheists just lack a belief in god. There is no strong emotional cause there. As Billy Connolly said: You don't get atheists knocking at your door saying "stop believing in stuff" or agnostics burning a large question mark on your lawn. (I like that quote)

Yes, the Old Testament is violent and yet Christians must still obey it, but please tell me the "differences".

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Comment 7 (869) by WF99 on 2007-09-23 at 02:35:03:

My point is that crimes that atheists commit are not religiously motivated. The motivation is basically, "Why not, if I can get away with it?"

First, it's imperative to understand the context of the book before you interpret it, just like how you can't just jump in the middle of a letter you've received. The book of Deuteronomy mainly dwelled on Moses' speeches to the Israelites before he died. This was during the judgment of the rebellious Israelites, so God was basically commanding (through Moses) to do what was happening anyway.

And, although you may not see the offense as major, Christians and Jews view it as extremely reprehensible.

And note that this is not a commandment to all Christians today. Again, you need to separate Christianity from Judaism. So even through your view that the Bible is just a book, you should take that as a commandment for Jews, not Christians.

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Comment 8 (874) by OJB on 2007-09-23 at 10:33:38:

OK, so you are saying that religion is useful because it restricts people's behaviour through fear of the consequences. Yes, I can see that would work for some people. I agree that religion does have a purpose of guidance for certain types of people. That doesn't make it any more true, but it does give it a social function.

It sounds like you agree that the Old Testament incites violence against non-believers just like the Koran does. I can't quite see how your justification works, and even if it does, do you not think Muslims could come up with similar justifications for the violence in their holy book?

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Comment 9 (876) by WF99 on 2007-09-24 at 05:56:49:

Not through fear of consequences. I'm just saying that the rules are there. For atheists, there isn't a set-in-stone moral compass (the Bible shouldn't be considered that, anyway, though).

The difference is that violence against non-believers is an integral part of Muslim belief, while that was a one-time command in the Old Testament.

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Comment 10 (879) by OJB on 2007-09-24 at 10:33:29:

So we agree that the Bible is a potential source of morality but shouldn't be accepted without question. Most atheists would accept a lot of the morality in the Bible, not because the Bible is anything special, but because it reflects a lot of good morality from earlier philosophy. The danger is when people accept whatever the Bible says, without question. We agree that's bad.

I must admit that I don't know enough about Islam to say whether violence really is part of their integral belief or not. I certainly hear enough from some of their extremist leaders inciting violence, but I hear a lot form their more moderate leaders calling for peace. The problem with all holy books seems to be they are self-contradictory and hard to interpret. That's another reason I reject them all.

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Comment 11 (881) by WF99 on 2007-09-24 at 10:40:40:

So I guess we're at an impasse on this discussion.

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Comment 12 (897) by sbfl on 2007-10-05 at 00:18:20:

I think this has to be *the* most cringeworthy post OJB has ever written (not that I have read them all). He tops it off with: "Let the things that really matter, like science, move ahead,"...umm, okay, must re-memorise the periodic table for the sake of salvation. Good for you OJB that science is at the top of your list of things that really matter in life. Don't bother to mention love, forgiveness, compassion... all those crazy concepts that Jesus promoted.

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Comment 13 (899) by OJB on 2007-10-05 at 08:36:33:

Oh come on! This hardly the most cringe-worthy! I only rated it 4 out of 5 on the controversy scale! Still, I guess how cringe-worthy something is isn't the same as how controversial it is.

I wasn't really referring to the superficial aspects of science, such as memorising the periodic table, I was referring to the deeper philosophies, such as the genuine search for truth, creating technology which improves peoples' lives, etc.

Even if Christians genuinely supported love, forgiveness and compassion (and many don't) they are hardly unique to Jesus. Socrates was promoting similar ideas before Jesus. And what is really more compassionate: running around converting people to Christianity or finding cures for the diseases which make people's life a misery? Practical scientific solutions are really more compassionate than all the fancy words in the world!

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Comment 14 (901) by sbfl on 2007-10-06 at 04:56:09:

"Only rated it 4 out of 5". Getting 80% in an exam was damn good when I was at school. Not really recognized these days though, with the NCEA PC rating system in all "Merit", "Achieved" etc.

The periodic table comment was made tongue in cheek obviously. I was aware of what you meant.

Of course Christians support love, compassion and forgiveness, they wouldn't be Christians if they didn't. However in saying that of course Christians are also sinners, so don't expect them to always practise what they support.

Now you put an interested question forward... but firstly they are not mutually exclusive, and there are plenty of Christian scientists. They *do* teach science in Christian schools. They also teach big bang, would you believe!?! Anyway back to your question... finding a cure to a misery-inducing disease is not that easy, certainly not an everyday event. I also wouldn't use the word compassionate to describe success, neither conversion is about compassion really. Both are more about advancement, benefits etc.

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Comment 15 (903) by OJB on 2007-10-06 at 22:06:47:

OK, let's imagine the modern world without religion and then without science. Which of the two missing would have the greatest negative impact? Naturally, I think we would miss science a lot more than religion. Do you agree? If you think of it that way, my comment might not be quite so cringe-worthy!

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Comment 16 (904) by sbfl on 2007-10-08 at 04:51:34:

Hmmm, you seem to have started a new line of inquiry. A world without belief systems would be pretty boring. No hope, no real sense of purpose, we would just be like a species from the animal kingdom (ok, slightly exaggerating but you get my point). A world without science and we would still be living in the medieval ages, which incidentally, many third world countries still do - but at least some of the people are happy, even if they are not rich in material items or scientific knowledge.

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Comment 17 (906) by OJB on 2007-10-08 at 16:40:32:

I haven't really started a new line, I was just tying to demonstrate that my original suggestion (which I implied more than stated) that science is more important than religion can be supported if you compare what the world would be like if either was missing.

I don't agree that a world without belief systems would be boring, although (again) it depends on your definition of "belief systems" (it always seems to come back to definitions). For example: philosophy, fiction, fantasy, movies, theatre, sport, games, etc are all ways to make life interesting but they don't really involve belief systems.

I don't know if I have ever seen any research regarding the relative happiness of people living with and without the benefits of science so your contention that people who don't have the benefits of modern technology but are happy because of their religious beliefs is really unsupported. Apart from that, if they are happy because of a false set of beliefs is that still good?

One thing I will point out though is that there aren't many examples of countries or societies deliberately abandoning science and technology and reverting to a more religious way of life. Well, there might be one major example: the Islamic world. And look where it got them!

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Comment 18 (908) by sbfl on 2007-10-09 at 00:28:55:

Again I would like to emphasize that I don't disagree with the acquisition of scientific knowledge. Definitely a good thing. Point being that we have clear examples that a lack of it (advancement in technology etc) doesn't mean we have no point in continuing. Of course one doesn't need wealth of material objects to be happy, if you need evidence I suggest you visit a few societies that haven't received the benefits of advanced scientific knowledge - they don't require an Xbox 360 or iPod for a quality life.

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Comment 19 (911) by OJB on 2007-10-09 at 14:26:59:

Well you still haven't answered my criticism that in most societies there is a trend to rely more on science and technology, and less on religion. Why is that? Are these people not saying through their actions which is more important to them?

And remember that religion is heavily promoted through popular belief and church propaganda. You could hardly say that about science because people don't understand it and scientists have been rather remiss in promoting it.

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Comment 20 (914) by sbfl on 2007-10-12 at 14:48:39:

Well I can't see why you view it as one or the other? We rely on science and technology for our day-to-day tasks. This includes all 6.5 billion of us, to varying degrees. People don't stop relying on technology to rely on something else. I am really struggling to comprehend you here. For instance it sounds like you are saying you either choose water or car. one is for drinking, the other for transport. I don't think you can compare/choose between them.

You are also drawing illogical comparisons in your second paragraph. And when you use terms like 'propaganda' I can see you're not trying to be objective. I can also see it as a step towards fulfilling Godwin's Law! So I think its time to move on now, but hey, I enjoyed chatting with ya.

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Comment 21 (915) by OJB on 2007-10-12 at 17:52:48:

I'm asking what should we use to provide our explanation of reality, our world view, our justification for morality, our basis for law, etc? I think science and religion (amongst other things) could both be used in these cases. I have made it clear which one I would prefer!

Godwin's law... right! I haven't made any references to Naziism have I? And I wasn't going to either! :) And OK, we can leave the discussion at this point. I probably do tend to exaggerate my opinion here (blogs are supposed to be somewhat inflammatory) so I will say there is a place for religion, but I still want it kept out of areas where it could have an adverse affect such as political policy, so for example: let stem cell research happen, don't let religious ideas serve as an excuse for war, don't teach religion in schools (even if it is disguised as ID). That's what I meant by putting it in a corner where it can't do any harm.

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Comment 22 (917) by sbfl on 2007-10-14 at 23:55:09:

Godwin's law - No, but I said "a step towards fulfilling Godwin's Law" as you had brought up the term 'propaganda'. Never mind, there was still some way to go!

"That's what I meant by putting it in a corner where it can't do any harm." ... like communism? ;-)

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Comment 23 (928) by OJB on 2007-10-15 at 05:16:36:

True, you did say a step towards it. But I don't think I'm in the habit of making comparisons with Naziism (I only mention it at all three times in hundreds of blog entries). Its just too easy and its done so often it has no real effect any more, which is what Godwin was really saying, I guess.

Well yes, failed political, social, religious systems should be discarded. Christianity has failed in a similar way to communism, its just taking a lot longer for that to become obvious to its followers.

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Comment 24 (944) by sbfl on 2007-10-17 at 06:30:04:

Nice pot shot. Only Communism is going out of fashion in the world whilst Christianity is only gaining in numbers. Nice try though. (in saying that, I don't see numbers necessarily being any validity to truth on any aspect in the universe - it's true the majority can be wrong!)

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Comment 25 (957) by OJB on 2007-10-17 at 10:14:46:

Christianity is only gaining because the churches are proselytising in third world countries. Eventually they will run out of suckers and then what will they do? Another point is that many people who label themselves religious aren't really that committed to the belief they identify themselves with. Its just a label they use at census time without any real thought.

And at one point communism was also gaining in numbers but that didn't last. Maybe the same will happen with religion. Also, the fastest growing religion is Islam. I don't think growth figures mean a lot here.

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