I’ve been doing a lot of research on Islam lately, and it’s come to my attention that I have a bias. And I don’t mean “come to my attention” in the smarmy politician way, or the “third grader who is being made to apologize by his teacher” kind of way. Actually, nobody even spotted this but me, but I think it’s worth bringing up because it tackles multiple issues at the same time.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a black atheist. This puts me in a very interesting position to comment about race and religion. I can remember writing a pretty scathing piece about the lack of understanding when it came to the rioters in Ferguson, MO. I wrote about how people lacked a fundamental understanding of the black community and the struggles that it had gone through, that rioters are trying to have their voice heard in a situation where injustices are leveled against them with no political recourse, that I condemn their behavior, but I completely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and what they’re attempting to achieve from it. I realized that I sounded like a hardcore Islam apologist.
I realized that I sounded like a hardcore Islam apologist.
After this realization, I had to ask the question of motives or intentions, and the obvious came to my mind first: I think differently about this because I’m in one group and not in the other. The reason I think that Islam is bad but I can understand the rioters is that I’m a black atheist. Right? This is a valid criticism of myself that I want to explore, and I’ll tell you why I don’t think it leads to the same things.
One of the main problems here is the conception of belief, and what we know is that not all belief is the same. I’ll even go out on a limb to give Christian and Muslim apologists what they would like to hear: I don’t really think that all wrong belief is necessarily bad. Even though beliefs do not exist in a vacuum, I can’t bring myself to say that a belief that Elvis is alive is all that bad, however wrong it may be. What matters is how a belief is arrived at, and even more importantly, the mechanism by which it can be changed or destroyed.
What matters is how a belief is arrived at, and even more importantly, the mechanism by which it can be changed or destroyed.
This mechanism is hugely important, and it’s one of the reasons that many atheists love science so much. They love it because there is a systematic process of being able to credibly dismantle belief. For example, as Bill Nye mentioned multiple times during his debate with Ken Ham, if you found a fossil in the wrong place, that would change his mind about evolution, whereas Ken Ham says that no one is going to tell him that the word of God isn’t true. If there are good ideas and bad ideas in the world, and we recognize that it’s possible for a good person to believe a bad idea, then the badness of an idea or belief would increase based directly on a small or non-existent amount of ways to credibly dismantle it.
This is what is scary about faith and the reason that my opinions about the rioters are different. I reached those conclusions by taking in a vast history of race relations in this country, not just localized incidents. Polls, stats, research books, etc. The best part of a conclusion produced through reason is that it is subject to it, not to mention that by any sensible standards, I could be reasoned away from that belief, should it prove untrue, unnecessary, or harmful. And the reason that this situation is different is that I am not pre-committed to a set of beliefs about the world based on being black. I respect and understand the deep role that race has played in my life, but I can freely condemn the rioters. If you have already committed to the truth claims of Christianity, you cannot then claim that you possess the same freedom to just walk away. The same is not true of religion. It purports claims it cannot prove, and makes faith, the process by which you believe the unbelievable, a virtue and a requisite for entry into the community.
The same is not true of religion. It purports claims it cannot prove, and makes faith, the process by which you believe the unbelievable, a virtue and a requisite for entry into the community.
And in all truth, I admit that I could be considered functionally complicit in advocating for violence against authorities or in ignoring the injustices leveled against the police community (a lá #KillAllCops), innocent whites, and even innocent blacks who happened to accidentally own a store near the rage of the mob. I accept my faults and admit my biases and I’m sorry. Which, I guarantee you, is a hell of a lot more truth and honesty than you are likely to find. Really, it’s all I’ve got.
Part of the problem of fundamentalism is not that people are radical, but it’s that the radicals don’t know the parts of the Bible or the Qur’an to ignore. They haven’t been taught the PC apologetic spin on a proliferation of topics. What you get when people believe something with no credible evidence is a mad scramble, because the Christian, by dint of being a Christian, cannot relinquish certain parts of the faith and still consider themselves a Christian by any reasonable standard. Everyone would like to concede that fundamentalism is a problem, but no one wants to talk about what the fundamentals actually are.
Everyone would like to concede that fundamentalism is a problem, but no one wants to talk about what the fundamentals actually are.
For example, we could say that a radical Muslim’s idea of a God that he has never seen, and a paradise he’s got no proof of is ridiculous, but when we have fore-committed to the ideologies of Christianity, our hands are tied, and we can only say that his particular paradise is ridiculous, not the belief itself. Or better yet, we could claim that it wasn’t really one of the most pervasive, universal, and influential systems in the history of man (religion) to convince this man to do this (even when he says that that is explicitly why he’s doing this), but it was a neat “confluence” of political and geo-political circumstances that caused this. Give me a break.
Islam is bad, as are all ideas that do not have a basis in truth. But it’s worse because of how it affects women, homosexuals, apostates, and other Muslims in general that live under these systems that implement laws that correspond to their own human flaws and desires in the name of a God who doesn’t exist. This hardly seems controversial to me. Empathy is elemental.
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