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Religion and Violence
Rick Searle   Dec 23, 2015   Utopia or Dystopia  

Sometimes, I get the uneasy feeling that the New Atheists might be right after all. Perhaps there is something latently violent in the religious imagination, some feature, or tendency, encouraged by religion that the world would better be without.

I kind of got that feeling after Paris and Mali, I felt it a little bit more after the attack on the Planned Parenthood office attack in Colorado, but it really hits me when I reflect on the recent brutal killings in San Bernardino where both the intimate cruelty of the act- the persons killed were one of the killer’s co-workers whom he was supposedly friends with and knew well- and the fact that the other murderer was this man’s wife, and the mother of their young child. Nothing I know about human nature allows me to make sense of how far this couple was able to step outside our evolutionarily forged instincts against harming those whom we are intimate with, and where maternal bounds prove stronger than ties of any other kind. Maybe the physicist Steven Weinberg was right when he said:

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

This seems to be the main point the New Atheists want to get across, as Steven Pinker did recently in a public discussion with Robert Wright on that topic, among others. Much more suffering, Pinker argued, has been caused by people acting in the name of religion than by those acting in the pursuit of self-interest in the form of raw power or wealth. For those who would counter with a list of the horrors committed by the secular totalitarian regimes in the 20th century Pinker would argue that such movements amounted to little more than religion in drag with God replaced by “History” or “Race”.

In light of recent events such an argument has the heavy feel of Truth in one’s hands, but upon reflection what seems solid begins to fall apart at the joints. To state the obvious, it simply cannot be the case that any religion is the primary cause of violence because any society in which violence ran as deep as religious sentiment would very quickly destroy itself. Whatever Donald Trump might think, there are anywhere from 5- 12 million Muslims in the United States- were any significant portion of them driven to violence by their faith the country would truly be on fire. It’s a fact that is just as true when it comes to Christians opposed to abortion on moral grounds.

Religion has certainly been the source of many human conflicts and the origin of much suffering inflicted in the name of dogmatism, but has it really, as Pinker claims, inflicted more suffering throughout the whole of human history than all the other non-religiously based wars? Has the suffering inflicted by religious fanaticism been greater than that of oppression based on naked self-interest? Has religion not played an important role in both the charity to offset, or the direct challenge (as in the abolition of slavery) to such oppression? In any case, how in the world is one supposed to disaggregate those who were motivated to commit atrocities by their religious beliefs from those who used religion as a cover for self-interest or the blatant desire to destroy as no doubt a number of princes did during the Reformation.

It seems a gross over simplification to single out religion as a unique source of human violence. Nevertheless, I think we miss something important if we fail to see religious thinking and aspirations as indeed a deep aspect of the way the human capacity for violence has manifested itself in recent decades. This religious connection in large part grows out of the claims of the world’s major religions to be the unique possessor of spiritual truth and sole path to human salvation.

The potential for violence latent in such monopolistic truth claims is made even more dangerous by the world’s very democratization and the communications revolution of the past few decades. For in such an atmosphere religious institutions and elites are no longer able to control the beliefs and actions of their believers. It is a situation that bears an eerie resemblance to the European Reformation and Wars of Religion, but is now global in scope- our luck so far is that so very few of us have fallen under the spell of such a conflict and instead are under the enchantment of the consumerist paradise in which we live where life and its needs drown out everything else.

It’s not so much any particular religion’s claim that it is the possessor of the truth which is the origin of any tendencies towards violence as it is the belief of its adherents that they have the right to enforce conformity with their beliefs through violence if necessary. Still, with the exception of where, as is the case with ISIL, such a demand for conformity comes to rule or where deep sectarian divisions intersect with political conflicts within a society, much of this new violence appears to be waged almost as a form of communication, an attempt to break through the cacophony and materialism of pluralistic societies and be heard.

On this score, violence is just as likely to be racially (as it was in the case with Timothy McVeighAnders Breivik, and Dylann Roof,  or even environmentally motivated e.g. Ted Kaczynski aka the “Unabomber”) as it is to emerge from religiously based commitments. One need not take the worldview behind such violence seriously, but one should certainly take it as a barometer of deeper social fissures and political failures that go unaddressed at our peril. The same types of systemic failures that have led many on the left, with more legitimate claims to justice, into the age of protests.

The more insular and unresponsive our political and economic elites appear and the more ideological conflicts in our societies become, the more likely it is that those who believe themselves to be permanently disenfranchised will turn to political conspiracies to explain events, and the more likely a small but very dangerous minority of these disaffected will turn to violence as a form of political action. Should that become the case, elites are likely to retreat even further into their gated communities and rely on technology as a means of social control absent democratic legitimacy, commitment to the common good, and the quest for international solidarity. Such a world would represent a dark, mechanized analog to the promise of universalism and concern for the other at the heart of all the world’s great religions: a noosphere absent a world soul.

Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.


Hi Rick..

Regarding.. “.. elites are likely to retreat even further into their gated communities and rely on technology as a means of social control.. Such a world would represent a dark, mechanized analog to the promise of universalism and concern for the other at the heart of all the world’s great religions: a noosphere absent a world soul.”

Antiquated Religion to one side, (for better or ill), - Institutional Apathy? Economic destitution? Increasing poverty and suffering?

Are we already there? Can Peaceful protest and Religion even help at all?

By coincidink, I was watching re-runs of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine only last evening, (*yawns* - I know bear with me..) and was contemplating the profundity of this dialogue which kinda runs parallel to your points, and the prospective disparate future of two world cities..

It goes as follows..

[Sanctuary District Street]

(Basically, it’s a slum.)
BASHIR: What is this place?
SISKO: A Sanctuary District.
BASHIR: Twenty first century history is not one of my strong points. Too depressing.
SISKO: It’s been a hobby of mine. They made some ugly mistakes, but they also paved the way for a lot of the things we take now for granted.
BASHIR: I assume this is one of those mistakes.
SISKO: A bad one. By the early twenty twenties there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.
BASHIR: Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?
SISKO: No. People with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.
BASHIR: Then what did they do to deserve this?
SISKO: Nothing. They’re just people without jobs or places to live.
BASHIR: So they get put in here?
SISKO: Welcome to the twenty first century, Doctor.

[Sanctuary District street]

(At the steps to an apartment building.)
GUARD: Whoa, you guys can’t come in here.
BASHIR: We’re just looking for someplace to sleep.
GUARD: Well you’re going to have to look someplace else.
BASHIR: Let me guess. This building is full.
GUARD: Sorry.
BASHIR: Every building we go to, it’s the same story. They can’t all be full.
SISKO: Don’t be so sure. One of the main complaints against the Sanctuary Districts was overcrowding. It got to the point where they didn’t care how many people were in here. They just wanted to keep them out of sight.
BASHIR: And once they were out of sight, what then? I mean, look at this man. There’s no need for that man to live like that. With the right medication, he could lead a full and normal life.
SISKO: Maybe in our time.
BASHIR: Not just in our time. There are any number of effective treatments for schizophrenia, even in this day and age. They could cure that man now, today, if they gave a damn.
SISKO: It’s not that they don’t give a damn, Doctor. It’s that they’ve given up. The social problems they face seem too enormous to deal with.
BASHIR: That only makes things worse. Causing people to suffer because you hate them is terrible, but causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care? That’s really hard to understand.
SISKO: They’ll remember. It’ll take some time and it won’t be easy, but eventually people in this century will remember how to care.
BASHIR: But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Are humans really any different than Cardassians or Romulans? If push comes to shove, if something disastrous happens to the Federation, if we are frightened enough, or desperate enough, how would we react? Would we stay true to our ideals or would we just stay up here, right back where we started?
SISKO: I don’t know. But as a Starfleet officer, it’s my job to make sure we never have to find out.
(A man is being beaten up by a gang who wear hats.)

You can read the rest here.. if you’re interested

Seasons greetings & have a happy new year!



To a large extent I agree with you, Rick. One thing I want to add, though, is that religions become all the more dangerous if their founding scriptures themselves advocate (or perhaps even require) violence. I’m thinking of Islam, of course, and it does seem to me that the violence advocated - again, arguably required - by the Koran against non-Muslims, heretical Muslims and (especially) apostates makes the religion inherently vulnerable to lurches towards Da’esh-style violence.

Also, let’s not focus too much on the “elites”. If we are looking for a culprit, I think my preferred choice would be disempowered thinking, aka learned helplessness. Somehow we need to find a way to create a future that meets the aspirations of the sentient beings that will inhabit it. That means we need to believe that this is possible, define more precisely what that might mean in practice, and act accordingly. All too often it can seem as if the religious fundamentalists have more faith, and more inspiration, than anyone else. And that, of course, is part of the appeal.

Hello CygnusX1:

From what I’ve read about the attackers in Paris, they seem to have been living in ghettos without much prospect on employment or social advancement- so I think we’re already there.

We seem less likely to end up like the humans in Star Trek than sort ourselves into the types of strictly defined “races” that are found in the rest of the show.

Well… there goes my Xmas cheer, but a Happy New Year to you and your all the same.


Well, I am not sure how much more violent the Koran is than the Tanakh, or The Book of Revelation, or even, to not always be picking on monotheists, the Mahabharata of Hinduism.

As far as I can see violence emerges from political and historical circumstances and for many Muslims that means vulnerability in the form of either outright oppression or imperialism. Where Muslims are not vulnerable in these ways- in a place such as Indonesia for example- they seem to not be drawn to political violence whatever the Koran says. For what it’s worth no Muslim I have spoken with seems to feel any of the recent violence is justified by the Koran.

Indeed I think there is a lot of denial among peace-loving Muslims (and others) regarding the extent to which the Koran justifies violence, just as there is among more liberal-minded Christians (by way of example) regarding the extent to which the Bible condemns homosexuality. I’m certainly not saying the problem is limited to Islam, and perhaps it’s actually a good thing that so many people are in denial about this kind of thing. Personally I tend to find obfuscation and denial annoying, but to be honest they do have their uses (and of course there are more polite ways to refer to them).

Regarding Revelation (which of course I know best of the ones you mentioned, given my upbringing), yes certainly it describes violence but I don’t think it really advocates violence on the part of Christians. Clearly the OT is more problematic, but in general fundamentalist Christians are more likely to be influenced by the gospels and epistles, which contain the most coherent description in the Bible of early Christian doctrine. And non-violence lies at the heart of it. This is not to say that Christianity is somehow “better” than Islam, either culturally or as a religion, but in that particular respect it does seem less problematic.


I just don’t think the argument that violence is a reflection of references to violence in a religious text is all that useful. Sure, non-violence may be at the “heart” of Christianity, but that didn’t prevent Christianity from being more violent than Islam for most of its history -The painting above is of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

It was the Catholics who were responsible for that as a result of Medici political machinations, with the Protestant violence more likely to come from their use of the Old Testament as a master plan for how to build a holy community- a recipe that included religious wars and violent suppression of heretics. 

In other words, you could purge the Koran of all references to violence, hell, you could convert all Muslims to Christianity or even secular humanism, and you would STILL get violence in those societies experiencing extreme social fissures, oppression or imperialism.  In a way we’re lucky on that account because political conflicts, as opposed to religious ones, actually can be practically addressed. Confusing their origin with religious differences prevents us from addressing them.

I don’t say that religion is, in general, a reflection of references to violence in religious texts. That would clearly be absurd. My point is rather that advocacy of violence, and even the requirement to be violent in a religious text makes the religions concerned more vulnerable to lurches towards violence as a result of the kind of fundamentalist revivals that tend to occur as religious traditions and power structures evolve.

Obviously violence is a result of many factors, and doubtless these include social fissures, oppression and imperialism. But here my other point is also relevant: learned helplessness might actually be a better culprit to focus on, not least because it is something that all of us can work on in ourselves. And this of course has other advantages to, and in particular for ourselves and those we associate with most closely.

So what do I mean by this? Essentially it’s about focusing on problems that we can actually solve, setting realistic goals based on well-defined values, and taking consistent action in pursuit of those goals. I know this sounds banal, but I really do think we need more of it. And frankly, we can probably do more good by focusing on this kind of thing than blaming violence on the favorite enemies of the political left. And if we want to be nice to religion, rather than downplaying its link with violence better to think about how religions can be transformed so they are less supportive of it. And one way to do this is to draw inspiration from our religious traditions without necessarily buying in to all the doctrine.

As a purely historical matter, Islam has been no more violent than Christianity, and by some accounts far more tolerant with large Christian and Jewish minorities thriving in majority of Muslim majority lands until quite recently.

Thinking differently leads to something like this:

which only further exacerbates the situation. I completely agree with your statement that “about focusing on problems that we can actually solve” although I define these problem in purely political and economic terms that are indeed addressable in a way disputes over the “real” meaning of a religious text are not.

Q: What would it, (does it), take for “individuals” to subscribe to peace and tolerance/acceptance of others? - can this be evaluated?

Q: What would it take for Religion to aspire to it’s lofty goals of peace and non-violence?

Feudalism: There will always be tyrants and oppressors willing to exploit the meek/weak and helpless, and with insidious craftmanship and twisted tongue, use religious text against injustice to conscript and rally pawns to do their bidding, and use others to pursue their self-serving politics.

There will never be a time where violence against brutality is not necessary to deal with tyrants, as this is all they really understand and respect, such is the nature of the oppressor. So can there ever be opportunity to eliminate the justification of violence from religious texts?

Q: What would it take for tyrants and oppressors to become extinct?



I think this kind of addresses your first two questions, but not your third. If there is any sense in which I agree with Peter that religious text are the source of religious violence it’s in the fact that, at least when it comes to the monotheistic faiths, they claim a monopoly on religious truth- though Islam is actually better in this regard than Christianity.

I think you’ve nailed the problem in that except for a religion that embraces pacifism under all circumstances- like Jainism- most religions give some room for violence as a response to threats to self, other or extreme injustice.

The issue then is how do you decide when violence is called for and what types of violence are justified? As far as I understand it, it used to be the jurists in Islam who decided such questions- a little like how the Church could declare a war just or unjust. But, just like in the Reformation, such theological questions have been “democratized” in the Middle East- and on that account you get contradictory, sometimes amusing, and sometimes horrific interpretations of the Koran and other Islamic holy texts. 

The thing that most disturbed me about the couple who committed the recent terrorist murders in California was that somewhere, in their hearts, they somehow confused killing innocent people at a center for the disabled with being on the side of the Good. What struck me, though I never really followed through with it in my post is that we might have just as much to fear with those who confuse themselves with Goodness as those out to do absolute evil.


And isn’t it always the case, that Humans can justify any acts as acceptable or “good”, both religious and non-religious alike?

This discussion is not so dissociative with the other thread on Nihilism, and this article prompted me to post links to the Bhagavad which is exemplary in justifying violence and contradiction in the name of leading the “good life”. And yet, the contradictions therein are exactly that which invoke skepticism and thoughtful reflection on the hypocrisy of Humans?

Peter wants to focus on pragmatism, a worthy endeavour. I still say, solve the “economics problem”, eliminate the feudalism that is the bedrock of competition, inequality, structural violence and poverty, and perhaps, just perhaps.. it will be that much more difficult to rally “individuals” to war and violence - leaving folks more time to focus on the finer goals of their religions, (which for the most part all espouse the same goals)?

As a side note, it is pleasing to hear the Pope recently voice his opinions on the materialism and apathy that is ever so prevalent in modern society, it doesn’t help matters.

Value ethics anyone?


“I still say, solve the “economics problem”, eliminate the feudalism that is the bedrock of competition, inequality, structural violence and poverty, and perhaps, just perhaps.. it will be that much more difficult to rally “individuals” to war and violence - leaving folks more time to focus on the finer goals of their religions, (which for the most part all espouse the same goals)?”

I agree with everything you say there, although, as we both know, it is much easier said than done. 

To (kind of) return to your initial science-fiction reference- I just caught the first episode of a new series “The Expanse”, and though it present a dark near future, I found it pretty riveting all the same.

Enjoy your New Year!

Rick, the issue is not about ‘the “real” meaning of texts’. The issue is about the practical impact that the actual texts have, and the link that this may or may not with the tendency of a religion to inspire violence. Personally I find it difficult to see how a text that clearly and explicitly advocates violence towards unbelievers, and is held to be divinely inspired by believers, would not leave a religion vulnerable to lurches towards violence.

You write that historically Islam has been no more violent than Christianity, but the question then is what we should be concluding from that, assuming that our purpose here is to draw sensible, helpful conclusions regarding the subject of your article. I’m certainly not interested in turning this into a pissing contest between Christianity and Islam, and neither am I particularly worried about the risk of inspiring acts of violence against Muslims through what I write here. I just don’t think it’s sufficiently likely to be worth worrying about. I’m more interested in trying to draw sensible conclusions about the matter at hand.

Regarding CygnusX1’s question, “What would it take for Religion to aspire to it’s [sic] lofty goals of peace and non-violence?”, firstly I think he means “achieve” rather than “aspire to”, secondly there is no such thing as “Religion”, what there are are many religions, and many subvariants of those religions, and thirdly they do not, as a rule and in general, aspire to the goals of peace and non-violence. Some (such as Jainism) clearly do, for most others it’s a much more mixed picture. Drawing sensible conclusions requires us to start with accurate assumptions.

As far as religious texts are concerned, if we indeed want to be pragmatic then I think we need to think about what practical effect those texts have on people who might be prone to commit violence, and what that depends on. It is indeed easy to blame “oppressors” and out-of-touch elites, and certainly there is plenty of justification for doing so, but there doesn’t seem be much point in discussing the link between religion and violence just to come to a conclusion like that. It just doesn’t add anything new or particularly helpful. And neither can we get away from the fact that if you elevate a text that advocates violence to the status of God’s Word, then you can expect some people to take it literally.

In any case, if we really want to make a contribution, through discussions such as this one, to reducing the prevalence of religion-inspired violence, and/or harnessing the non-violent aspects of religion to combat (unjustified) violence, then we need to think carefully about the practical impact that such discussions have, on ourselves, each other and whoever else might be influenced by them.


The problem is you produce no evidence for your interpretation of Islamic texts, and even were you to mine those text for passages that call for violence:
Many of those texts were written during a time of war and have a long history of pacific reinterpretation. That is, Muslims do not need to distort their sacred traditions in order to reject terrorism or other forms of barbarism:

1. Terrorism is above all murder. Murder is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted). 5:53 says, “… whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”

2. If the motive for terrorism is religious, it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). Note that this verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD or after and was never abrogated by any other verse of the Quran. Islam’s holy book forbids coercing people into adopting any religion. They have to willingly choose it.

3. Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran chapter “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

4. In the Islamic law of war, not just any civil engineer can declare or launch a war. It is the prerogative of the duly constituted leader of the Muslim community that engages in the war. Nowadays that would be the president or prime minister of the state, as advised by the mufti or national jurisconsult.

5. The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. According to Sunni tradition, ‘Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, gave these instructions to his armies: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

6. Terrorism or hirabah is forbidden in Islamic law, which groups it with brigandage, highway robbery and extortion rackets– any illicit use of fear and coercion in public spaces for money or power. The principle of forbidding the spreading of terror in the land is based on the Qur’an (Surah al-Ma’ida 5:33–34). Prominent [pdf] Muslim legal scholar Sherman Jackson writes, “The Spanish Maliki jurist Ibn `Abd al-Barr (d. 464/ 1070)) defines the agent of hiraba as ‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty of hirabah . . .”

7. Sneak attacks are forbidden. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent. The Prophet Muhammad at one point gave 4 months notice.

8. The Prophet Muhammad counseled doing good to those who harm you and is said to have commanded, “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

9. The Qur’an demands of believers that they exercise justice toward people even where they have reason to be angry with them: “And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”[5:8]

10. The Qur’an assures Christians and Jews of paradise if they believe and do good works, and commends Christians as the best friends of Muslims. I wrote elsewhere, “Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.
Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and some Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:
5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers [Muslims] those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

Depends what you mean by “their sacred traditions”. Different Muslims regard different aspects of Islamic tradition as “sacred”, and what is sacred to one is often heretical to another.

Regarding terrorism being murder, bear in mind that (from what I understand at least) it’s a fairly universally accepted principle of Islamic doctrine that later verses of the Koran supersede earlier verses where there is a conflict. I’m certainly not denying the “long history of pacific reinterpretation”, but one doesn’t have to be particularly well-versed in these matters to know that many Muslims regard much of that tradition as heretical.

To say that something is “impermissible in Islamic law” culpabably ignores the fact that there is no such thing as universally recognised Islamic law, beyond a few essentials (such as the one I’ve just mentioned). I don’t know to which version of Islamic law you are referring, but unless I am seriously mistaken it is certainly NOT recognised by all Muslims.

Once again, the point I am trying to make here is that the existence of sacred texts that explicitly advocate or even require violence to be perpetrated against unbelievers inherently problematic. That there has been a “long history of pacific reinterpretation” since those texts were written is of course helpful, but doesn’t seem to contradict the point I am trying to make. Obviously it is also helpful that there is plenty in the Koran that seems to point in the direction of non-violence, but if there are also other verses that clearly do the opposite (as is my understanding) then again it seems to me to be unhelpful to deny that this is inherently problematic.

Again I think it may be helpful to think about the impact this discussion is having, or might be having, on ourselves, each other, and anyone else who might be reading it or be influenced by it in the future. Certainly I think these discussions can be helpful in refining our thinking on the topics we are discussing, and the link between religion and violence is undoubtedly a crucial one, but if we actually want to make a positive contribution then I think we need to do better than just defending our respective positions. Perhaps the question we need to consider is whether it is more helpful to think that the Koran (or Qur’an if you prefer) advocates violence or rather forbids it. The truth is obviously more complicated than either, but both memes are circulating widely, and I think it is worth pondering which is the more helpful, or conversely the more dangerous.

To take this a little bit further, whether an idea is helpful or unhelpful obviously depends how it is being used. If the idea that the Qur’an advocates violence is used to inspire violence against innocent Muslims, then obviously that is bad. If, by contrast, it helps us to identify a genuine problem and understand better what motivates some Muslims to commit violence against those (either Muslim or non-Muslim) that don’t happen to share their particular version of Islam, then that strikes me as good. Similarly, if the idea that the Qur-an opposes violence helps motivate Muslims to oppose violence, and non-Muslims to be kinder to Muslims, then so much the better. When it instead blinds us to a genuine cause of religious violence then it strikes me as far less helpful, and this is essentially the concern I am seeking to address here.

To return to my initial point, the Koran is certainly much less violent than the Old Testament where God demands the genocide of the Canaanites by the Hebrews. Yet you are not saying that Jews and Christians are predisposed to violence because of the violence in their sacred books. 

I think your idea that Islam is somehow more prone to violence than other religious or even secular ideologies reflects your own prejudice and lack of real understanding which when acted upon results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most practical thing we can do is to not caricature and scapegoat the faith of a billion people the vast majority of whom are no more “radical” than us.

I’m not caricaturing or scapegoating the faith of a billion people, Rick. Indeed one of the points I’ve made is that there are many different versions of Muslim belief. As for the Old Testament, as far as I know not many people today use the Old Testament as a pretext for violence, which is the essential reason why this is less of a concern for me than the extent to which the Koran advocates violence. Regarding “the most practical thing we can do”, one thing I have just been doing is to look at Wikipedia to refine my knowledge of the extent to which the Koran actually does justify violence. There is a whole page on “Qur’an and Violence”, which I’ve been finding quite educational. So that’s one positive outcome of this discussion, for me at least.

What I think would also be helpful, though, is if we try to strike a sound balance between emphasising the peaceful nature of much of Islamic tradition and recognising the extent to which parts of the Koran indeed seem to justify violence and are in practice used to do so. Clearly I have been tending to emphasise the latter so far, while you have been emphasising the former, beyond a certain point that ceases to be helpful. Thinking further about what we can do practically, one thing I think we should certainly refrain from doing is caricaturing each other’s point of view or accusing each other of prejudice and lack of understanding.

As a document, the Koran offers much less of an explanation for the current violence in the Muslim world than this one:–Picot_Agreement

Though I admire your efforts to learn what the Koran actually says.

You’re still missing my point, Rick. Obviously you really, really don’t want to get it, but the fact remains that some of the later verses of the Koran do, actually, advocate and indeed require violence, at least if one takes them literally, and that many Muslims do.

Besides, the topic of your article is not “the current violence in the Muslim world”, but rather the link between religion and violence, and whether the New Atheists have a point after all. It’s a good and balanced article, which to a large extent I agree with as I pointed out from the outset. Why there is so much violence in the Muslim world currently is a whole different subject, and I’m inclined to agree that extent to which the Koran advocates violence is a relatively marginal cause of this.

Coming back to your point about prejudice and lack of understanding, as I wrote above I think we can and should do better than indulging in that kind of mud-slinging. I have a keen interest in this topic as you know, and I am motivated to a very large extent by curiosity, which I think provides a fairly reliable protection against prejudice or bigotry. That you seem to think otherwise seems to me to say more about you than it does about me.

Saying the Koran is somehow responsible for violence in or from the Muslim world is like blaming Catholicism for the terrorism of the IRA and as in that case it places almost all of the moral responsibility on persons who have nothing to do with the acts, also allowing those indirectly responsible- say through the invasions, bombing and occupations that served as the root cause of acts of terrorism- in the first place to deny their own culpability.

As many of the smarter pundits over here reminded Mr. Trump after he suggested banning Muslims from the United States- all of our important allies- on the ground- against ISIS are Muslims.

It depends what you mean by “somehow responsible”, and in any case it would be more like blaming the Bible for IRA terrorism, not “Catholicism”. Not that I’m exactly “blaming” the Koran, I’m saying that some of its later verses advocate and indeed require violence, at least if taken literally, and this seems likely to be playing a causal role - indeed I believe there is ample evidence that it is playing a causal role - in some of the current violence being perpetrated by Muslims.

Regarding moral responsibility, the fact that you or I might say that the Koran is somehow responsible for violence does not “place” moral responsibility on anyone, nor does it absolve anyone of it. This is a complete misunderstanding of how moral responsibility works. What I am trying to do here, I repeat yet again, is to strike a sensible balance between emphasising the peaceful nature of much of Islamic tradition and recognising the extent to which parts of the Koran indeed seem to justify violence and are in practice used to do so. If we want to talk about moral responsibility, we first need to clarify what our own overall beliefs about morality are, and to what extent they are in accordance. Then we can talk about the implications of the essentially empirical point that I am making.

Once again, I think this is a good moment to remind us both to think about the practical impact of the discussion we are having. You seem to be determined to “win the argument”, but for me this really is not what this is about. As I wrote above, to a large extent I am motivated by curiosity, and a wish to refine my own thinking. I enjoy a good debate, and to a large extent it is because it helps me to do this.

And what about the impact on others? Well obviously if somebody is reading our exchange and is influenced by our arguments, then that will in turn influence their behaviour and what they say to others. In other words, whoever has the better arguments gets to propagate the ideas we are respectively defending. And of course, the more we learn ourselves from the debate the better informed we will be, which presumably has to be a good thing.

Regarding Trump, I haven’t been following the recent debates in the US particularly closely, and I’m sure to some extent it’s helpful that people are pointing out that the US’s on-the-ground allies in Iraq and Syria are largely Muslim, but it’s not a particularly strong argument. Trump is a populist bigot, who as the recent Economist cover put it is playing with fear. Democrats may be happy because it helps Clinton (hence the conspiracy theories and pictures of Trump and Bill C. playing golf), but personally I’d prefer Rubin to give her a decent run for her money and then lose. I suspect there are vastly more effective ways to reduce Trump’s appeal than pointing out that Muslim’s are helping in the struggle against Da’esh. My main point, though, is that nothing that you or I say about any of this is going to make much difference to all this, so we might as well stop imagining that it does, try to have a more polite discussion and actually learn from each other. At least that is what I am trying to do.

I am pretty aware that I am unable to convince you to abandon your prejudice, or even become conscious of it. I am fine with that. I just hope others will actually pick up and read the Koran, visit a mosque, and learn about the history of the Muslim world before making pronouncements regarding why we see violence from that quarter.

If you really wish to learn about Islam why don’t you offer to house a Syrian refugee? You would do better that way than debating here.

There are many ways to learn about Islam, Rick. Reading Wikipedia articles is already a good start. I think you are taking comfort in the idea that I am prejudiced, because it helps you to avoid questioning your own beliefs. I won’t say that I am “fine with that”, because actually I find it rather annoying. But I can certainly live with it.

I’m also not sure that wishing to learn about Islam would be a particularly good reason to house a refugee. There are just better ways to learn about Islam, and better motivations for housing refugees. It’s a cheap rhetorical point in any case. Visiting a mosque could be interesting, and of course there is always more to learn about Muslim history.

In any case you will not stop people from making pronouncements about the link between religion (Muslim or otherwise) and violence on the basis of limited knowledge, and if you find such comments irritating maybe you should consider whether it’s wise to publish articles on the subject. It’s kind of asking for it, isn’t? But I do understand that you are finding it frustrating not to be able to convince me to abandon my point of view on this issue. Of course, we all have our prejudices, and certainly I am no exception to that. But that’s precisely why these discussions can be helpful, provided they are engaged in respectfully. Unfortunately you seem to be unwilling to do that.

I am not finding this argument very productive.

For those who would like to help refugees fleeing from the crisis in Syria:

For those who would like to support or gain exposure to Muslim civil society in the West:

For those who would like some historical background to the current crisis in the Middle East and Europe:

Let’s hope and pray for a more peaceful and humane 2016.

No I haven’t been finding the argument very productive either, Rick, for the reasons I’ve been explaining. I have little real idea of what impact we’ve been having on anyone else (since CygnusX1 left the discussion), and while as mentioned above I’ve learned something, you just don’t seem to be willing to engage with my point of view in a sufficiently respectful way for the discussion to be particularly helpful.

In any case, I hope that if we get into discussions in 2016 you will be more respectful. That is something simple and practical that you can do to make 2016 a little bit more peaceful and humane than it otherwise might be. In any case I wish you a good one.

I’m not sure why I’m wading into this one, but I must have a reason that’s eluding me at the moment.

From my initial read through it seemed like Peter & Rick were arguing about what shade of “grey” is “gray”?  And this may have been why the argument was deemed “untenable”.  That both of your perspectives may be valid in some sense, but the argument went around in circles trying to loop upon a “flaw” (assumption that there is a flaw).

To some extent I agree with CygnusX1’s last comment in the aspect of tying it in with the Nihilism thread, and value ethics though.  I’d also like to tie in thoughts of a different author’s post ( ).  In the sense that our “fears”, and “mongering” with respect to religion/ideology is just that, fear mongering because of a highly/“over(?)” developed brain/awareness.  To some extent it is of value, but it is also pointless as mentioned prior (are our arguments really making an impact?  Doubtful, but I suppose doubt is the first steps towards tenable growth….after all if there is no problems noticed is there still a problem?).

...I kinda want to say “mu” in the Buddhist sense of trying to imply what are you two actually arguing about?  Is it the same question/problem?

....anyways just some thoughts.


Thanks for your attempt at mediation. I do think I understand Peter’s frustration - he can’t understand why I won’t admit what to him seems obvious; namely that the stance towards violence in the Koran is a contributing factor to some believers in the Koran acting violently. And I suppose this should seem obvious, hell, doesn’t the source of the recent terrorist attacks style itself as the Islamic state, weren’t the attackers self identified Muslims?

What I don’t think Peter understands regarding my reluctance is that this (his) common sense interpretation of the relationship between the Koran, Islam and political violence that drapes itself in Islamic imagery, is actually the view of a very small group of political terrorist- ISIS/Al Queda and some right wing politicians in the US and Europe, thankfully, IT IS NOT the view of the vast majority of Muslims both Sunni and Shia- otherwise the world really would be on fire. Many Muslims have already confronted and declared heretical the views of Islamist terrorists on the question of violence. This is a problem Muslims have wrestled with since 9-11.

Peter thinks he is being “reasoned” but he is doing so in an atmosphere when tens of thousands of refugees (many of them Muslim) are asking for shelter in Europe and the US, when American political candidates are talking about baring anyone of the Islamic faith from the US, or asking them to renounce their own religious law (Shira) in order to remain US citizens. It’s thus not the right time to argue whether Muslims should purge the Koran of references to violence- because it plays into to the clash of civilizations narrative both Islamist and the right want us to have, and frankly not it’s Peter’s or my business to ask Muslims to do so, but only that they understand and act upon those passages in a pacific way. 

I think the real solution for disputes like the one between Peter and myself would be to get the voice of a practicing Muslim into these discussions.

@ Rick

No problem, if anything it may have changed the tone in which the discussion was being directed.  I was going to suggest, as you said, getting a voice of a practicing Muslim in on said discussion in my original post (although it seemed like it was getting long enough).  Albeit a potential problem with that is the risk of assuming, or taking that one person’s voice is representative for an entire community (but I’m sure you’re familiar with such notions).

I guess to some extent it all boils down to the “banners” we raise when presenting ourselves to others, or fly overhead to announce our respective ideologies.  I mean I can readily announce myself as any “sect/stance/ideal”, but chose not to because I realize the implications present in doing so.  To this point the attackers may have self-identified as Muslims, but if they’ve been renounced by their community at large.  I’d potentially see such a schism as a violence in the Faith.  That should ideally be resolved by said Faith.

Although to some extent comparisons could be drawn to this thread.  Both you and Peter have gotten in “arms” about some “ideal” that is dear to you (respectively), but really what does it solve?  It may be fun to argue at points (as is violence otherwise videogames would have a different tone), but when outside parties are getting into the “fray” (eg Me, or the “World at large” in the context of Isis).  It should call into question as to if such displays are worthwhile.  As odd as it may sound what is “Isis’s message” that is trying to be conveyed (other than apparent destruction of the West)?

After all isn’t that what supposedly made the Iliad so great?  The ability to get “inside” the “other’s” mind, and see their point of view?  Isn’t that also a principle of “Battle” (Sun Tzu - “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ).

...just some more thoughts.

I was also thinking about what might happen if someone who self-identifies as a Muslim were to join this discussion. Anyway thanks to both RJP8915 and Instamatic for moving it away from a pissing contest between me and Rick.

Regarding what Rick thinks I don’t understand, I don’t think I’ve really been making a general interpretation of the relationship between the Koran, Islam and political violence. I’m also not suggesting that Muslims purge the Koran of references to violence. The Koran, like the Bible and other religious texts, is what it is, not what we would like to be. I suppose some Muslim authorities could declare the Sword Verses to be non-canonical, but it’s certainly not something I was intending to suggest.

In any case, while I certainly think the voice of a practising Muslim would add a new and interesting dimension to the discussion, I think we need to be able to discuss these issues respectfully irrespective of who is participating. I take Intomorrow’s point that candor can in some ways be more refreshing, but it should be possible to do both. As Hank pointed out when we adopted Buddhist Right Speech as IEET comments policy, there are plenty of other places one can go for a good (or rather bad) slanging match.

I like RJP8915’s question about what “message” ISIS is trying to convey. According to one article I have read it should best be thought of as an apocalyptic sect, rather as if David Koresh was in charge of territory inhabited by 3 million people. In other words, they have bought into an utterly delusional, fundamentalist version of Islam, according to which God requires them to fight heretics and non-believers, rape and enslave non-Muslim women, and generally install an utterly brutal and barbaric reign of terror. The message they are trying to convey, I suspect, is primarily a message to themselves, namely that their version of Islam really is the correct one, that God really does require them to do these things, and that they will go to heaven when they die. Or perhaps it is aimed at God, the message being that they are worthy of His grace and mercy. And the message to the rest of us? That resistance is futile (and likely to get us killed).

Regarding the “ideal” that is dear to me, or rather the ideals that are dear to me, those familiar with my ethical preferences is that one of them is utilitarianism, and this is part of the reason I have been insisting so much on considering the practical impact of our discussion. Of course, baser motivations also come into play, and Rick is certainly right to have perceived a certain frustration regarding his apparent refusal to admit what indeed seems fairly self-evident. In fact, part of the reason I raised the issue in the first place is that it is something that I have been thinking about, and discussing with others, quite a lot since the Paris attacks and subsequent terror alert here in Brussels, not least because members of my own family are devout Christians and my own turning away from that faith has, let’s say, caused “issues”. At one point this led to a discussion about the difference between Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, and why the latter indeed seems to be more dangerous.

Anyway, as I’ve written previously I’ve certainly learnt from the discussion, and especially now that more voices have entered I think we have started to cover some interesting ground. One point that I feel has somewhat got lost, though, is the other point that I made from the outset, namely that if we are looking to blame something for violence, rather than focusing on out-of-touch elites I think it would be better to focus on learned helplessness. Here I’m partly expressing my utilitarian ethics again, but in a sense blaming elites and oppression seems about as pointless as arguing about whether the Koran encourages violence. We are not going to change either the Koran or the behaviour of elites just by posting comments here. But if we can each learn something from the discussion that is useful to us, and at the same time reinforce whatever tendency we already have to be respectful, while striking an appropriate balance between candor and sensitivity, then I think we can reasonably be satisfied that we are contributing to the common good.

it never rains but it poors?

Regarding Sun Tzu.. Rick, do you ever feel that you are being manipulated? if in distress or confusion, you can always play the Buddhist Right Speech Ace?


@ RJP8915 - some great observations here and on the other thread, don’t have time presently, but will attempt answers later.

@ Peter..

“One point that I feel has somewhat got lost, though, is the other point that I made from the outset, namely that if we are looking to blame something for violence, rather than focusing on out-of-touch elites I think it would be better to focus on learned helplessness.”

“Blame” is certainly something we need to consider with mindful vigilance? And with regards to “learned helplessness”, may I kindly suggest you consider how “Economics oppression” both systematic and supported by elites has helped to orchestrate a “perfect atmosphere” for Religious Fundamentalism to rise and pursue it’s twisted political ideology and practice it’s evil violence, utilizing poverty and the ignorance of endemic peoples and losers worldwide projecting themselves as Jihad heroes?

May I also suggest you consider the similarities between imposed religious sharia laws by ISIS and the same imposed by Saudi elites, therein lies a common connection, after all what’s good for Saudi must be good for the new caliphate?

Eliminate poverty, and maybe, just maybe.. Humans would be content to live in peace and would not be so easily manipulated by the twisted politics of others, (tyrants and oppressors)?

Regarding 2016 - same old, same old. “Here’s” looking forward to much of the same?



“After all isn’t that what supposedly made the Iliad so great?  The ability to get “inside” the “other’s” mind, and see their point of view?  Isn’t that also a principle of “Battle” (Sun Tzu - “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ).”

That I believe to be absolutely correct. ISIS may have nothing to do with how ordinary Muslims read the Koran, but their self-understanding is that of an Islamic/apocalyptic cult and their behavior is inexplicable unless we take that understanding seriously.


“At one point this led to a discussion about the difference between Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, and why the latter indeed seems to be more dangerous.”

What I was trying to get at in the prior discussion is that the fact that Islam is more violent at the moment is relative to history and even “location”. For most of its history Christians (whatever its scriptures say) looked more like ISIS than the lands dominated by Islam and Islam was the more tolerant of the two faiths - Jews and Christians were protected minorities in Muslim countries.
Even the question of which faith is more violent now isn’t settled against Islam.
It is “Christian” countries who are invading Muslim countries and dropping bombs on them from 10,000 feet. It is Christian and Jewish countries that occupy Muslim majority countries, whereas Islamic terrorist attacks in the West have killed thousands of people the action of Christian countries have killed 10s of thousands. Perhaps, Peter, the conversation you should have with your family isn’t why Muslims are so violent, but why Christians are?
I mean you no disrespect and apologize if I have insulted your dignity. 


“May I also suggest you consider the similarities between imposed religious sharia laws by ISIS and the same imposed by Saudi elites, therein lies a common connection, after all what’s good for Saudi must be good for the new caliphate?”
This I think is a much deeper problem posed by fundamentalism generally, and especially Muslim fundamentalist because they actually control states. The social progress many societies have made is incompatible with a literalist reading of scripture that portrays the values of millennia ago as ideal. How do we combat such literalist readings while leaving room for religion? How do we oppose the imposition of such readings in the name of the rights of others, in other societies, without falling into a war between civilizations. 

As for Sun Tzu, he says:

“If your opponent is of choleric temper, irritate him.” (Just kidding)

It’s nice to know you mean me no disrespect, Rick. I think RJP8915 pretty much hit the nail on the head when suggesting that we haven’t altogether been arguing about the same question/problem. Certainly you have been saying things that I really don’t have any disagreement with, including (for example) the idea that the current violence associated with Islam is a function of history and geography, and that Christians historically have been just as violent if not more so than Muslims. Again, presumably to a large extent a function of history and geography.

I think it’s OK if we get annoyed from time to time, as long as we acknowledge how we are feeling and trying to channel it constructively. Regarding CygnusX1’s point about “Economics oppression”, rather than considering how it has created a “perfect atmosphere” for religious fundamentalism to thrive, I would be more interested in considering what we can usefully do about it. As for the sharia laws opposed by the Saudi elites, sure there is a common connection with that imposed by ISIS, but what is good for the former is most certainly not what is good for the latter. ISIS is a huge threat to the Saudi elites, though possibly a lesser one than low oil prices.

Regarding what “Christian” countries are doing, I think we need to be cautious about the extent to which we actually do regard the countries of North America and Western Europe (in particular) as Christian. In a sense we are, obviously, culturally Christian or post-Christian, but part of the whole point of secularism is to get away from that. So when I discussing with my Christian relatives, for example, I do not generally complain about “Christians” being violent, since this would raise too many questions about what it actually means to be Christian.

How do we combat literalist readings of scripture while leaving room for religion? Good question, though made somewhat less relevant by the fact that religion isn’t going to disappear any time soon, so it really doesn’t need us to “make room” for it. In a sense I think how we read (i.e. interpret) scripture is less important than what we do with interpretations, and that of course depends very much on the context in which we are doing the interpretation. What we need to combat, then, is not so much literalistic readings of scripture as - to use CygnusX1’s words - twisted political ideology and evil violence.

I certainly agree that there is a serious risk that current political conflicts descend into a full-scale war between civilisations, to the extent at least that it really does make sense to talk of different civilisations. In any case, when considering questions of the type “How do we combat…” or “How do we oppose…”, it is important to consider to whom the word “we” is supposed to refer. I still think that the best likely outcome of this discussion is that we each learn something that is somewhat useful for our lives, and develop good habits around respectful dialogue. We are not going to solve the problems of the world, and we should really try to avoid imagining that we will, tempting though that is.

And in this context I want to come back to Instamatic’s point about candor. We really do need to strike a balance between indeed “saying what we mean” (or perhaps: writing whatever comes into our heads without much in the way of filtering) and being appropriately respectful. Perhaps it might reassure CygnusX1 to know that it’s been ages since I played any active role in moderating comments on this site, and my purpose was certainly not to insinuate that I might do so, in case that is what he had in mind. I was just reminded of Hank’s remark about how there are other places to go to vent, if that is what we wish to do. Actually I just checked in on Christmas Day to see whether there was any Christmassy or otherwise religion-related article, and came across this one. Perhaps this will encourage me to start commenting more actively again in the new year, perhaps not. Depends how it fits with my personal priorities.

Regarding my feelings about how this discussion has gone so far, I certainly don’t have the impression that my “dignity” has been “insulted”, at least not in any way that I consider remotely worth worrying about, nor am I aware of having experienced a significant degree of distress or confusion. It’s been a bit frustrating at times, as I’ve pointed out. But yes, some of the remarks made about myself and my point of view have been quite disrespectful from my perspective.

Indeed, blaming violence on oppression is primarily something progressives like to do in order to feel better about themselves, which is why they tend to throw their toys out of the pram when someone makes it more difficult for them to believe in their own narrative.

Not that they are entirely wrong, of course, and I’m less convinced than you seem to be that the risk of all-out war is really fading. But you’re right to question how equality is supposed to be achieved, and your point about no solutions being presented is spot on: exactly the point I was trying to make about learned helplessness.

Of course it can be helpful to point out the existence of problems without necessarily (immediately) proposing a solution, and oppression is certainly a problem (and, to some extent, a cause of violence though I completely take your point that the correlation is not that strong, and might even be negative). But then it should at least be a problem that people are insufficiently aware of, and there has to be some realistic chance that somebody somewhere might actually come up with a workable solution (and one that doesn’t also create other, worse problems). And progressives banging on about oppression is indeed a case of - again to use CygnusX1’s words - same old, same old.

The horse is dead guys, so why don’t we stop beating him?

I should state, however, that the idea that Islamic terrorism grows out of religion, but not what at least is the perception of oppression by some Muslims is one I find silly and perhaps a little twisted.

One is at 0 risk of dying from Islamic terrorism if your country isn’t involved in bombing Muslims - if you’re say a resident of Costa Rica. 

Terrorism has always been the violence of the militarily weak and the best response to it is not more violence and oppression. That we cannot see this is a better example of “same old, same old.”


*Rubs eyes*

Yes, you read it here first at IEET - The Arab spring was and is nothing to do with the oppression of peoples, anyone that believes so is obviously a fool!

Syrian Official: “Sir, the people are revolting”
Assad: “Yes they are “Revolting”, that’s why I bomb them”

@ instamatic

Love the “Ben N’ Jerry’s” metaphor, spot on!



Is nation-building really an obsolete concept? I’m not sure. I think it probably still has some uses. What strikes me, though, is Rick’s comment that one has zero chance of dying from “Islamic terrorism” (not a phrase I coined, by the way) isn’t involved in “bombing Muslims” is precisely the message that Da’esh has been trying to pass via the Paris attacks and bombing of the Russia plane. Personally I think there are some of good reasons to be bombing their positions and taking out their leaders, and while there are also some very good reasons not to, the fact that it puts one’s own citizens at risk of terrorist violence at home does not seem to me to be a particularly compelling ones.

Anyway I do agree with you Instamatic that fulfilling anything like the socialist dream will probably require some kind of enhancement. Will that make socialism “outmoded, meaningless”? Possibly not. I think we need to be cautious before throwing out such ideas altogether. But we do need to draw a distinction between what we would ideally like to happen, and what is realistically possible, and on what timescale. We are not going to eliminate oppression any time soon, and nor are we (if by “we” we mean the participants of this discussions and those we have a realistic chance of influencing) going to stop our respective countries bombing Da’esh positions in Iraq and Syria. So we really don’t need to agree on whether doing so is something we should be supporting or opposing. It just doesn’t matter very much.

What I am arguing is that the REASON Da’esh or other groups bombed particular Western countries was that these countries were bombing them or supporting the Assad regime that has killed SEVEN TIMES more civilians than Da’esh.

Bombing Da’esh may feel good for Western leaders and the public, but it really doesn’t solve the problem in the way ending the war in Syria would. How that might be done is a different argument, but instead of that we get anti-Islamic rhetoric (including people blaming Islam itself) which just feeds into Da’esh and like minded groups’ narrative that the West is full of hypocrites and morally cruel.

Whether or not my opinion has any “effect” isn’t really at issue - having informed opinions and arguing for them is what citizens of democracy are supposed to do. It’s because enough of us don’t do it that we keep making these egregious mistakes. 

Not only arguing for them, Rick, also considering those of others and updating our own beliefs as appropriate. You wrote above: “I should state, however, that the idea that Islamic terrorism grows out of religion, but not what at least is the perception of oppression by some Muslims is one I find silly and perhaps a little twisted.” But I have not been arguing for that position, which is essentially a conflation of the two points I have been making, namely:
1. that the support for violence inherent in some parts of the Koran is nevertheless problematic, and
2. that learned helplessness is probably a more promising culprit to focus on as a cause of violence than oppression.

And yes, I do think it is important to consider the effect that expressing our opinions has. It is certainly good to have informed opinions, and sometimes it is good to argue for them. But earlier in this thread you were precisely telling me not to do this, on the grounds that my views reflected “prejudice and lack of understanding” and were encouraging unhelpful readings of the Koran. So you’re not exactly being consistent, are you?

Dam it, my New Year’s resolution was not to comment on this post any more and now I’ve already broke it.

Not quite sure what contradiction you were seeing. I was not arguing that you shouldn’t have your opinion I was arguing that you were spreading one that was misinformed.

As for learned helplessness, again, we are being attacked by groups and individuals who identify with people our countries are attacking or who are being viciously oppressed by leaders we support. It’s not just random failures from random “failed” countries - even Islamic countries and individuals. 

Your application of this psychological theory, if I understand what you mean by applying it in this case, seems to be a version of cultural superiority which is how sophisticated Westerners do racism or cultural imperialism these days. I don’t think it gets us out of our log jam.

Well what logjam are we in exactly? That we have different views, or that we misunderstand each other’s views, or that we think our views are misunderstood by the other, or that we think the others’ views are misinformed? In my case, I think it’s mainly the third of the above, namely that I think you still haven’t understood my point of view. And that’s as much my failure as yours, I guess.

Anyway let’s go with your thesis, namely that the root cause of violence, whether committed in the name of religion or not, is oppression. So then what should we be doing about it? And there I get a bit stuck. Whereas if we go with learned helplessness as the root cause (in any case the real cause is a combination of many different factors, right?), then we can take this as inspiration for the development of more compelling visions of the future than much of secular society, or liberal versions of religion for that matter, tend to offer.

The fact is that it’s NOT just oppression that leads people to violence. It’s also, among other things, a craving for excitement. So we need to give people alternative forms of excitement. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about oppression, but in a sense that strikes me as such a banal point, especially within (techno)progressive circles, that it’s hardly worth (re)stating. We need to try to be a little bit innovative here, otherwise indeed why DO we bother to continue posting comments or writing articles?

Personally I think you started well with your reflection about whether the New Atheists had a point after all. You gave their point of view a fair run, and then pointed out (perfectly plausibly) why you were still not convinced. It’s just that I then added a couple of caveats and you seem to have perceived them as something you absolutely had to argue against, come what may. And no, I still don’t have the impression you’ve entirely understood them.

But really, Rick, it doesn’t matter. How about you keep your New Year resolution from now on, and we continue the discussion - or start another discussion - if we feel like it, in another thread on another article?

Your last point sounds good.  Have a great New Year, Peter.

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