Monday, February 06, 2006

Hitchens Nails It

Chirstopher Hitchens says all that needs to be said about the riots over those Danish cartoons depicting caricatures of Muhammad:

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week's international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

“Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean "unacceptable"? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a “spokesman” cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

And later:

I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

Exactly right.


At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since this blog has turned in to as much a religious commentary as it is anything else.

Question to all the opinionated readers of this blog:

Is there a good religion in the world?


At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see some people weren't conflicted about what side to take.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Nice to see some people weren't conflicted about what side to take.

Which side would that be?

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I'd like to know is where are the supposed "mainstream" elements of these world religions? Why do we not hear from more Muslims in America denouncing this behavior? And why don't we hear more Christians in America denouncing Pat Robetson or Jerry Falwell when they say something vile in Jesus' name? It's no wonder people have a perception that the world religions are full of intolerant crazies.

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the kind of BS you get from people who think God is on their side. History is repleat with examples. And, there is no reason to think the future would not be repleat with such examples if such believers were given sufficient power and control.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Is there a good religion in the world?

I think that depends very much on what "religion" means. (In academic and liberal-religion circles, that's anything but settled--making your question even thornier than it looks.)

Given a definition of "religion" founded on supernaturalism and evidenceless faith, I would say no.

Quoth Bertrand Russell:

My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.

I'd say that's about right, though I do think modern neuroscience has improved the descriptive case beyond Russell's "born of fear" line. (See, e.g., this.)

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why do we not hear from more Muslims in America denouncing this behavior? And why don't we hear more Christians in America denouncing Pat Robetson or Jerry Falwell when they say something vile in Jesus' name?"

Confirmation bias?

From the article Muslims tell Yard to charge protesters:

"BRITAIN’s leading Islamic body yesterday called on Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, to press charges against the extremists behind last week’s inflammatory protests in London over the 'blasphemous' cartoons of the prophet Muhammad."

From the article Rafsanjani calls for calm response to cartoons:

"Veteran Iranian revolutionary cleric Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani on Friday condemned the European press for printing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, but urged Muslims to respond calmly, AFP reported."

From Juan Cole's blog:

"Before I launch into this report, I want to underline that few places in the Muslim world have seen violence over the caricatures, so far mainly Damascus and Beirut (which are unexpected in this regard.) Protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere have been nonviolent. This is not to play down the seriousness of what happened in Damascus and Beirut over the weekend--acts which can only inspire horror and condemnation--only to set it in context. There are 1.5 billion Muslims. A lot of Muslim countries saw no protests at all. In some places, as in Pakistan, they were anemic. The caricature protests are resonating with local politics and anti-imperialism in ways distinctive to each Muslim country. The protests therefore are probably not mostly purely about religion."

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just in case anyone was wondering what my opinionated view was. The two passgaes of scripture below sum it up.

Colossians 2:22-24 (New King James Version)
22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

James 1:25-27 (New King James Version)
25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Most of what people call religion is just man made rules and regulation. True religion is a relationship with God. True religion is doing the works as expressed in James.


At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I read the article by Paul Bloom that you linked to. It is an interesting read.

It is obvious from the article that Paul does not believe in God or the supernatural for that matter.

When a person goes into a study with a preconceived idea, thought or belief it always influences the outcome of the study.

That is not to say that they are in any way intentionally trying to deceive or that any deception is being attempted. It is only saying that they influence our conclusions.

Our preconceived ideas, thoughts and beliefs simply influence how we interpret what we find. We want our study to prove our ideas, thoughts and beliefs. It is a part of our ego to want to be right.

Many of the studies about children that Paul mentioned could just as easily be said to prove that God created us. If we are born with the belief in or the knowledge of having a soul as his 6 year old son did with the statements of “It's my brain!" & “That's what I do," Max said, "though my brain might help me out.” In doing so he separated himself from the physical him. He is the one inside his body, his body is not him. I would use the terms soul or spirit of the man. It could be argued that we are born with this belief or knowledge of a soul or spirit because our creator placed that knowledge in us. He placed that knowledge in us so that we would look beyond the natural realm and seek the supernatural realm.

You may say that would be twisting the data to fit your beliefs. But couldn’t anyone say the same thing? They could claim that it is simply interpreting the data correctly.

Again; to go back to the beginning. Our ideas, thoughts, beliefs and even experiences influence how we respond, react and interpret everything in life. It is very difficult, if possible at all, to set aside these things. How would we truly know if we have or have not?

For me it is the same with evolution. I don’t disagree with proven facts. I disagree with the conclusions drawn for those facts. Just because the evidence can be explained by evolutionary theory does not mean that is the explanation.


At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is obvious from the article that Paul does not believe in God or the supernatural for that matter.

When a person goes into a study with a preconceived idea, thought or belief it always influences the outcome of the study.

This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy called poisoning the well. Bloom's article is nothing more than a recounting of the standard neuroscience explanation of why people believe in the supernatural. That he is not committed to the same arbitrary dogma that you are is hardly a criticism of the studies he has performed or of the others he describes.

Perhaps his inquiry is flawed because he doesn't presuppose the things you do. Another possibility is that your flights of fancy are entirely false.

Many of the studies about children that Paul mentioned could just as easily be said to prove that God created us. .... It could be argued that we are born with this belief or knowledge of a soul or spirit because our creator placed that knowledge in us. He placed that knowledge in us so that we would look beyond the natural realm and seek the supernatural realm.

"Easily" said? Unquestionably it can. It has always been incredibly easy to ignore reason and to dismiss the need to find evidence to support one's own notions of fact. Irrationality is very, very easy--more's the pity.

But many of us are much less interested in what we can "easily say" than what we can rationally conclude about the state of the universe. That group makes use of a principle called Occam's Razor, under which your "easy" goddidit hypothesis is clearly useless.

Of course you can look at all of the evidence that neuroscience has uncovered and arbitrarily decide that an invisible creator being has arranged matters that way. It will never be possible to dislodge that God from that Gap.

But, by the same token, I could believe that invisible pixies push my car along to allow me to drive to work each morning. I could believe that there's an outside my front door, keeping it closed, and a hovering over my office, keeping pirates away.

I could believe all of those things on exactly the same grounds that you disagree with Bloom. But to me that is a distastefully dishonest, hypocritical and ignoble way to address the universe. I don't feel comfortable making up the facts I'm going to believe and well-poisoning scientists who dare to (apparently) doubt them.

You can have your pixies, unicorns and gods. I prefer to let reality tell me what's true rather than attempt to dictate terms to it.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“I prefer to let reality tell me what’s true rather than attempt to dictate terms to it.”

Sounds rather naïve to me. All of this “reality” is interpreted though our subjective points of view.

Also, poisoning the well is a form of ad hominem. Mark was not making an ad hominem remark, he was pointing out that a priori convictions can influence how one interprets the data being analyzed. I think he was overstating the case. Simply because one has the a priori belief that there is no God doesn’t mean he cannot draw a conclusion that could be seen as favorable to a theist’s pov.

By the way, I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in pixies, unicorns or gods either. But I do sometimes wish my fellow atheists would stop lumping god in with such things as unicorns and pixies. It simply begs the question of whether or not there is a god. I know it is meant to make the theist's position look silly, but I think it makes the atheist look silly.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger CC77 said...

Does anyone know, along the lines of a Darwinian explanation for religion, if there have been any studies done to look at religion in the context of a pack, troup, pod, or flock of organisms? Could religion be a sort of vestigal "organ" left over from ancient evolutionary times? That is, we are willing to be submissive to a higher power in the pack, troup, pod, etc. and human imagination has just taken this instinct to the nth degree. I know this doesn't explain belief in supernatural beings specifically, but may provide a basis for understanding why people are so willing to "take it on faith". The direction that the group goes, where to hunt, what to eat all rests, in many cases, with one individual. The rest must simply take it one faith that the leader is doing whats best for the group, or risk having the group fall apart and having to go it alone. Again, this would be only a basis for the formation and identification with religion, not necessarily an explanation for all the things surrounding it.
Next subject - I think that the best way to engage in an open discussion about evolution (and inevitably religion) is not to tell the religious that the are really just closet pixies with a corral of unicorns, but to understand that they really do believe in the things that they say. It's not that they are trying to be silly or contradictory, but they actually believe there is a place that you go to when you die and so on from there. There have been recent studies that have shown that the brain regions that are active when thinking about religion are ones that deal with real concrete items and have a powerful positive feedback loop to them. (Ok, can't opiates!) But these conflicts between science and religion should be dealt with in a sharp, scientific manner.
That being said, I don't think that religion should be given any quarter. I agree that in it's present forms it can be a dangerous institution. When ider's and creationists attack evolution, they are making much broader statements about all of science. Evolution isn't some scientific island, but is based on and uses information for all branches of science (chemistry, physics, astronomy, quantum physics etc.)
I'll close for now with this. I just finished Richard Dawkins new book "The Ancestors Tale". The most pronounced thought that I had was...what an absolutely beautiful, mindblowing thing that life on this planet is and what an incredible explanation evolution provides us. The idea that the world was snapped into existance pales in comparison. I proudly say that I am part of an unbroken chain of life stretching back billions of years and am here purely by chance...and the lucky collision of an asteroid!

At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hitchens is a salesman and appeals to a certain type of person. I do not believe he is out there to uncover truth but to voice a certain demographic--and make money in the process; but thats a default assumption today.

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are political tools. There, I said it. And if you already with it you nod your head otherwise you stop reading or get angry. If that was the opening sentence to my book, I would just be preaching to the choir the rest of the way; or some editor somewhere is dissecting it to support his church.

Regarding debates with him Hitchens says: "because I always think it's a sign of victory when they move on to the ad hominem." So, then, is it sign a victory to say, for example, that "Buddhism says Buddha was [born of a virgin]". Really? That's not true because there is no record and many Buddhism flat out don't believe that; but what does that have to do with his philosophy anyway? And since this sort of nonsense is Ad-Hominem (if its suppose to be offensive) does that mean victory for Buddhism, automatically, given Hitchens own reasoning?

Atheism is fine but people should have a reason not to believe something as well as to believe it.

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