Provisionality, Offense, and Conviction September 27, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: blasphemy, Islam, mockery, offense, politics, sacred cows
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I was just reading a short post by Tristan D. Vick about the difference between beliefs and assumptions, and it got me thinking about conviction and offense.
Last week, Ginny and I were talking about offense. I’m not easily offended, and we were talking about why that is. Part of the reason, I concluded, is that I don’t have many things I find to be sacred; I don’t have ideas which are beyond criticism, unavailable for investigation, or held with great conviction. I am bereft of sacred cows to tip over, or something.
My beliefs, accepted facts, and interpretations—in short my worldview—is tentative and provisional, just as Tristan says about his beliefs. Thus, it’s hard to find ways to offend me because it would imply that some harm is being done to me to challenge or question something I believe. Since I have already questioned my beliefs (ideally, anyway) on my own, someone else challenging them is redundant and not harmful. Thus and form of poking fun, mocking, or calling my ideas stupid or silly in itself cannot offend me. I can be annoyed by poor attempts at criticism, but I cannot be offended by things which are not held with conviction.
So when I see people in the streets of Benghazi, Egypt, or elsewhere protesting the insult to their religion, I have trouble sympathizing with the offense they take. I can’t sympathize with having a sacred belief which cannot be mocked, questioned, or even illustrated. I find the idea that offense is taken by such mild acts as making a shitty video, drawing a picture of some guy who is believed to be a prophet, or simply saying that a set of beliefs is silly or unjustified as, well, offensive.
That is, if there is anything sacred to me, it is the freedom of expression, thought, and therefore of criticism. My ideal that ideas are subject to analysis and discussion is an idea which I don’t think I could be convinced out of. I am convicted to the idea of freedom of expression, and so the only way to offend me would be to protest such freedoms based on an idea or set of ideas.
And for someone to point of an inconsistency here; to say that I should hold the ideal of freedom of expression provisionally, seems to commit the same error as those who try to criticize what is sometimes called scientism, but which I think is better thought of as consistency in application of skepticism. That is, there must be some ground upon which we found other ideas and conclusions. For example, if we don’t accept that our senses are capable of giving us reliable (although not infallible) information, we cannot claim certainty about anything. If we don’t have some methodological basis for testing ideas (such as skepticism/empiricism), then we cannot test the veracity of hypotheses with any reliability. If we do not allow free expression free reign to all subjects, then we have no real (legal) freedom to believe what we want, because it becomes to easy to allow bias to inform which ideas are given privilege.
But most importantly, the only means to question the idea of free expression is with free expression. It is a self-founding idea, or a meta-value.
Finding offense in criticism, whether of ideas you hold or which are held by others, is a sign of placing value on the wrong thing. There is no good reason to accommodate sets of ideas over the ability to question those ideas. The meta-value of our world, our species, and of all sentient beings should be the freedom of expression of all ideas. Privileging a set of ideas, even if those ideas are right, is absurd. True ideas will survive the light of criticism, and do not need sanctions to survive. The truth, as Kosh once said, points to itself.
I have no fear of my ideas being questioned, mocked, etc. If they are good ideas, they will survive. If they are bad ideas, they will be replaced by argumentation whether in the form of polite discussion or mockery. The question I have for people who are easily offended, for their own sake or the sake of others, is where your values are? You can be sympathetic with the hurt feelings people have about having their ideas mocked, but at the end of the day if their ideas cannot survive that mockery, or even polite questioning, then perhaps that sympathy needs to be understood to be about their feelings, not their ideas.
There is a point when we have to take responsibility for our ideas, rather than coddle them. Ideas are not people, and they cannot be injured. Ideas are either good (justified) or not (unjustified). And if you are hurt because your ideas are mocked, then you are either protecting an unjustified idea or one that does not need protection.
Just like gods (if they are to exist), ideas cannot be harmed by our criticism, mockery, or polite disagreement. There is no reason to protect such ideas or beings, except to protect the fact that they are bad ideas and free expression might expose such a weakness.
Oh! That explains it now, doesn’t it?
I am no Islamophobe, I am anti-Islam January 23, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: Islam, islamophobia, Karen Armstrong, moslems, rick santorum
There has been a bit in the news over the last week or so about Islam. There was an incident in London recently where a planned meeting was cancelled due to threats by a Moslem with a camera phone, for example (I’m mobile, otherwise I would link that story). And today there is some talk about what Karen Armstrong has said about Islam, one example can be found at Jerry Coyne’s blog website.
A word which is often used in such conversations is Islamophobia. It has been a politically charged word for years now, especially after 9/11, and pops up again with the perpetuation of Islam in the news, especially in the context of violence, oppression of women, and issues surrounding sharia law and secular laws.
A few years ago, for example, the lovely man that is Rick Santorum (gag) came to speak at the University of Pennsylvania (at the Hillel building, if I remember correctly) during some “Islamophobia week” (or something like that) in order to speak about the horrors of Islam and the wonderful alternative of the truly peaceful and wonderful Christianity.
(I threw up a little in my mouth while I typed that)
During the Q&A, I challenged Santorum on this distinction by pointing out that Jeebus (I may have actually said “Jesus” as to not confuse him) and Allah were both the God of Abraham, and by pointing out that the god of Islam was so awful, he was ignoring not only that it is the same basic god concept as JHWH/Jesus, but much of the Bible demonstrates the equality of atrocity of his own god. How could he justify the harsh criticism of Islam given the relatedness to his own god and similar attrocities in his own scripture?
Let’s just say that this question was not received well by Mr. Santorum. He became visibly flustered and angry and both challenged me to argue such a “ridiculous” case while not really allowing me to do so nor answer the question at all. He rejected the premise of the question and called me an idiot or something similar It was pretty much what I expected.
So, back to Islamophobia.
See, I don’t think this is the right word, at least not from my point of view. I am not afraid of Islam. I am concerned what Islam may do if it is allowed to influence policy and law in the West (its influence in the Middle East and elsewhere is already problematic). But I am not afraid of the religion nor its adherents.
What I have is an extreme dislike of Islam, bordering on hate. I find it an ignorance-perpetuating, women-oppressing (men-oppressing, as well), violence-causing, and ultimately dangerous ideology. I hate what it has done to much of the world, creating a repressive and restrictive way of life for millions of people.
It is a faith, much like Christianity, which asks people in the age of technology and science to believe ancient superstition on pain of not mere death, which is infinitely more humane than that which it does offer, but on pain of eternal torture. It is a disgusting and anti-human (anti-life!) ideology not worthy of our reverence nor our tolerance.
Yes, people have the right to be Moslems. And rather than hate them I feel pity for them. It too often makes women into cattle, men into misogynists, and all of us into slaves–Islam means ‘submission’ after all.
So no, Islamophobia is not the right word. We should not fear Islam, we should see it as our enemy. Not in the way that we make war with Moslems (the Ummah), but in the way that we don’t allow its doctrines, superstitions, or laws creep any closer to the rest of the world. The people under Allah’s metaphorical thumb are victims, and those who seek to expand Islam are the most affected by this virus.
I am anti-Islam. I fear it not, so I am no Islamophobe.
Tomorrow is Blasphemy Rights Day! September 29, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: blasphemy, freedom of expression, Islam, Muhammad, Muslim violence
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That’s right, folks, not only do we have the right to be blasphemous, but there is a day set aside to have our fellow heathens (and those freedom loving believers who feel like blaspheming others’ ideas) express their inner blasphemer.
For those of you who don’t remember, or who were not paying attention way back in the early days of the atheist movement, it was September 30th 2005 when those now-famous cartoons were published in Denmark. You know, the ones that made all the Muslim leaders laugh and go on with their lives…or to protest their publication which led to violence and ultimately to more than a hundred dead. Same difference.
The fact is that many of the cartoons were not offensive at all. Most were not funny. But because some Muslims believed that the very attempt to try and depict Muhammad (the prophet guy, not just any Muhammad of which there are many tens of thousands).
The event brought lots of attention, world-wide, to this issue. The atheist community responded by many people stepping up and advocating for people to express their right to blaspheme whatever they want. There was PZ’s issue with a cracker, many campus organizations responded with chalk drawings of Muhammad or blasphemous messages of all kinds, and many individuals have, of course, stepped up in their own ways.
And I, of course, will take part. I have one of my favorite shirts ready to wear tomorrow, and I inevitably will have people ask me if I’m Muslim…because people are stupid and ignorant. And while it may be too late for you to get your own shirt, I urge you to find a way to express yourself in some blasphemous way tomorrow. For example, one Halloween several years ago I dressed up as the crucified Christ, with wrist wounds and all, carrying a cross I had made around with me even to a Halloween party. I wish I had pictures of that. Perhaps I will have to re-create that wonderfulness in a Halloween to come.
That’s like in a month, right? Where do I have some wood….
Remember, blasphemy is a victimless crime. So if you feel bad about hurting someone’s feelings, just remember think “What would Shaun do” and then do it anyway…because people have no right to expect non-believers to follow any rules set by religious traditions. And if you are still caught up in this respect thing, remember that if you don’t actually believe a thing is true, right, wrong (or whatever) you don’t actually respect it. You may respect someone’s right to something, but that is not the same thing. So, celebrate the fact that you actually can blaspheme (assuming you are not in one of the many countries where you cannot) and express yourself.
Oh, I almost forgot about this song which persistently gets stuck in my head. Your welcome.
Muslim humanity prevents Islamic violence November 1, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: Christopher Hitchens, Islam, Tariq Ramadan, violence
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I just finished watching this discussion between Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan about whether Islam is a religion of peace:
Now, there is nothing particularly new about this discussion, or the points made therein. In fact, to follow this post, you really don’t need to watch it. But, do watch it if you are interested in the issues involved.
One of the themes in this discussion is one which I see come up often. When we talk about whether a religion–Islam or otherwise–is one of peace or not, this point is raised that the majority of the faithful are NOT terrorists, militants, or remotely violent themselves. The violence comes from the extremes, the fringe, who are not representative of the vast majority of the religious community.
I will leave aside Sam Harris’ point that even if they are not doing the violence themselves, the moderates/mainstream believers lend shelter for those who do. While I agree with this idea essentially, I am not interested in this point at the moment.
Instead, I want to talk about a related point. Throughout the discussion, Tariq Ramadan pointed out that people can take the text (the Koran, in this case), and read it in ways that will compel them to violence. And at the same time, most Muslims do not read it this way, nor do they live their lives around violence or terrorism. That is, even if there are parts of the texts that can be read as a motivation for violence, the fact is that most people don’t live that way as Muslims.
And at one point, he compared it to the fact that while the United States has a secular founding document, George W. Bush was still able to use religious rhetoric as President, including rhetoric used towards initiating war with Iraq. And, in fact, presidents continually use religious rhetoric, even if the Constitution is a secular document. Supposedly, the point is that even if the text says one thing (whether it is secularism or violence), the practical fact is that people can be representatives of that document and not necessarily reflect that secularism or call for violence. There is a disconnection between the text and behavior.
An interesting point, but it compels me to wonder how we are to define a religious believer (or representative of the Constitution of the United States), in light of this. Is it enough to believe in Allah, Muhammad as his Prophet, etc in order to be a Muslim? Is it enough just to live in an Islamic culture and follow the daily rituals and where the right clothes? Is it enough just to have Muslim parents?
Similarly, is it enough to be elected president? That is, is just being in the position, holding the title, sufficient to actually be a representative of the Constitution which they claim to represent?
In a practical sense, it probably is enough. And I don’t want to get too mired in the minutia involved in this question now. But is there a line which, upon crossing it, one can no longer be considered a representative? Is a person who was raised Catholic, attends Mass on rare Sundays, is for a woman’s choice to abort, doesn’t really believe in the Trinity, does not care much for the Pope (the one in Rome), and who has not confessed his “sins” to a priest in years a Roman Catholic?
And if the Koran really does ask you to kill apostates, convert the world to Islam, etc and you don’t do so, then are you really a Muslim?
Where is the line? A point worthy of consideration, but I shall leave it aside for now.
But back to Tariq Ramadan. His point that there is a distinction between the text and the behavior of adherents is important, if not new, and I do think it gives us pause in such discussion to consider its ramifications. Ultimately, however, I don’t think it makes the point that Ramadan may intend, which seems to be that the text is not enough; that we need to look at the practical truth of how those who claim to represent those texts actually live. The people are the body of the religion, and how they behave is, in many important respects, the definition of the religion. But this is not the whole story.
I think Ramadan’s point does not prove that Islam is not violent any more than George W. Bush’s religious rhetoric proves that the United States is a Christian nation. Muslims not acting violently, despite the violence called for in the Koran, is comparable to the fact that politicians in the U.S. may be crossing a line in endorsing their religious perspectives as representatives of a secular document. What this seems to indicate is that people are capable of finding themselves in positions where they are supposed to represent a constitution or sacred text and do so imperfectly. That is, they veer away from the text in such ways that displays their humanity (and other influence on them from their culture), and how such things can influence how religions and political climates change in practice from their sources.
The practice of one’s religion is a combination of their sacred text (interpreted by theologians and other intellectuals) and the secular and/or alternative religious influences that permeate their culture. And where they are not acting upon the text and its commands (whether violence or something else), this demonstrates not that the religion is not in fact violent, but that their behavior is informed by other things. Their humanity prevents them from acting on the violent parts of the text (whether for distaste for it or, perhaps more likely, their ignorance of it), and since most people do this, the religion itself begins to look non-violent based upon this behavior.
Further, those intellectuals and more liberal theologians who read the Koran differently are, perhaps, not being honest with the history and source of Islam, whose history is rife with violence. It was Mohammad himself who led an invasion of Mecca, which led to subsequent invasions in the name of spreading Islam (both as a religion and political force). The Koran is pretty clear that the goal of the faith is to convert the world. One has to explain this or reinterpret it to mean something else to not see the inherent violence contained within.
So where are these intellectuals within the Islamic world finding this lack of essential violence in Islam? How are they finding the peaceful, intellectual, and modern view of Islam? Well, the same way that most (liberal) Christian intellectuals find the roots of peace, social justice, and acceptance of homosexuality within the Bible and the Christian tradition. They ignore the atrocities, reinterpret many others, and focus of the parts that are helpful to their worldview.
(and the conservatives do the same, but with a focus on different parts).
It is as I (and many others) have argued before; liberal theologians accomplish their liberal views by being inconsistent with the entire text. By making decisions with their educated perspective, which is often the result of interaction with ideas outside of their sacred text, they reveal the secular source of their peaceful and open attitude towards alternative ideas and beliefs. They are not being peaceful and sophisticated because of the religious texts themselves, but because of their humanity which they project onto their interpretations of those texts. And because there are a few occasions where the text does inspire more modern and liberal values, they highlight these verses and put to the side the ones which display the violence which is part of that tradition and faith.
So, why are the vast majority of religious people generally tolerant, non-violent, and moderate? Well, because they either don’t know what the text says, don’t agree with a lot of it, or because as human beings they don’t literally take the whole text (and only that text) as the inspiration for how to live their lives. And those that do try to live their lives based upon that text become fundamentalists. They become the fringe, because this behavior pattern of taking one source very seriously is rare in human behavior.
But the more seriously they take the text, the more radical and insane they seem to the mainstream. And since the text is the source of the religious beliefs of both fundamentalists and moderates, without which those crazy notions of violence, evangelism, etc would not as easily exist, would it not be better to just view the text as something to not revere?
Where the text says things we agree with, we merely acknowledge that we agree with the text there. Where we find it out-dated and crazy, we admit that. But this would imply that the text is imperfect, and the theological notions which derive only from those texts (whether it be Muhammad as being the last prophet or Jesus being God who dies for our sins) should be discarded.
But the moderates hold onto those notions anyway. While they only accept some of the text (again, out of ignorance or distaste), they still accept some of it despite their being no other source for supporting the ideas and the utter insanity of them.
Again, how are these people really representatives of the text, and why should we respect their beliefs just because they are only partially nutty? Just because most Muslims, Christians, and Jews are not acting on the calls for violence that their texts clearly ask of them, how does that not make the religion itself non-violent? Following directions poorly does not change the nature of the directions.
Draw Muhammad Day May 20, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: blasphemy, Draw Muhammad Day, fatwah, image Muhammad, Islam, jihad, Muhammad
So, to day is draw Muhammad day. It’s a silly sort of thing, actually. It really does not even deserve the merit of being commented on. The fact that some people’s lives are at risk because many Muslims don’t agree makes it worthy of comment.
So, here’s a picture of me wearing a shirt that I like.
See, I don’t have any respect for Islam. Nor do I have respect for Christianity of Judaism, but at least I can draw silly pictures of their gods and/or prophets.
And, for the record, it isn’t religion per se that I have the issue with, but the concept of faith, the inability to criticize beliefs, and so forth that I am so annoyed by. Religion just tends to be the carrier of such things. So, Muslims, get over yourselves. We don’t have to play by your rules, and we will not be scared into submission (what Islam means) nor silence.
Happy day, everyone!
(And if I end up dead, you’ll know why)
Blasphemy laws threaten our freedom July 9, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: blasphemy, Ireland, Islam, law, sharia
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I don’t know if any of you have been following the recent legislation in Ireland. I have been reading about the proposed Blapshemy Laws for a few days now, and am concerned. For those of you who would like to catch up, here’s a resource for you.
Basically, it may become illegal to criticize people’s religious beliefs.
The proposed law states the following:
- A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.
- For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
- It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.
Now, the second part of this mentions that the problem is outrage being caused by people who become upset by comments, short films, or cartoons. Why the hell would anyone riot over such things? And why are the Irish trying to protect people who would? The problem here is religious people, here primarily Moslems, reacting violently because of criticism, not the criticism itself. It makes perfect sense to riot because someone has implied that your religion is violent, right?
There have been a number of movements in Europe that have moved towards legislating protections for religion in the last few years. The acceptance of sharia in the UK is one such concession. Issues concerning whether women can wear burqas in their identification pictures is another (although the French have not sided with accomodation, at least). What is going on here?
Part of what is happening is that Moslems are moving into Europe and the United States in significant numbers. When I lived in West Philadelphia for a few years, I lived a few blocks away from two mosques and saw women in their burqas quite frequently. When people move into a place, they bring their culture with them. That will inevitably involve their concepts of law, morality, and religion.
Now, there are many points of sharia law that differ from the laws of the various nations that Moslems are moving into. And the openness and liberalism of these nations–places like Belgium, the Netherlands, etc–mean that they will try to accommodate the people that live there. This, to a certain extent, is admirable. The willingness to open yourself up to different cultures can lead to a better understanding of one-another and it is at the heart of what a free society is all about.
However, there is a point where in doing so you give up on what that liberalism and tolerance are meant to protect. Pat Condell says it best, perhaps:
I agree with Pat Condell here. Criticism is essential. We cannot make it a law that you cannot criticize religion. What will come of speech such as Pat Condell’s if Blasphemy laws are passed? What will happen to legitimate criticism of religion (or any other beliefs) if we are not allowed to say anything that may hurt someone’s feelings?
Religion cannot continue to get a free pass on criticism, as it has enjoyed for so long. You can criticize someone’s movie tastes, belief in UFOs, but don’t criticize Islam or Christianity! You might hurt someone’s feelings if you do that. There is no reason to give religious beliefs a free pass here.
It can only be the height of insecurity that would require religious views to be protected behind walls of legislation. We must challenge ourselves. And those that will not, we must allow others to challenge them. We must force those who make claims about the universe to support their ideas and allow skeptics and other dissenters to criticize their views as they merit.
I simply cannot understand what the Dail in Ireland is thinking. I hope that it will not pass the Seanad. And if it does, I hope that some will come out and test this law with blasphemy as loud as one can say it. I hope that the continuing undue respect, especialy to Islam in many parts of Europe, does not continue. I hope that people of reason will not be silenced by the fear that is projected by the faithful who feel the need to protect themselves from harsh words or criticism.