Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Sometimes I Just Can't Understand Religiously Motivated Reasoning

In the comments section of a Mother Jones article, titled "Charts: How Much Danger Do We Face From Homegrown Jihadist Terrorists?", I found a comment that I just couldn't wrap my head around, since it was so poorly constructed (weird formatting and bad grammar in the original):
can find no justification for the crimes perpetrated by Christians in the
teachings of Jesus. When Christians do evil, it is because they deviate from
what Jesus taught. When Muslims do good deeds, it is because they disobey their
prophet. When they follow him they become evil. A good Christian becomes Mother
Theresa. A Good Hindu becomes Gandhi. A good Buddhist becomes Dalai Lama. A
good Muslim becomes Osama Bin Laden. Today
the secular and liberal western culture is influenced by the repressive Islamic
culture. We punish people who speak the truth against Islam. This insanity is
not because of secularism. It is the blasphemy law slowly seeping into our
secular laws. Western secularism is becoming Islamized.
Hrm. How does any of this make sense historically, religiously, or ontologically?

"You can find no justification for the crimes perpetrated by Christians in the teaching of Jesus." This must mean that either (A) all potential crimes carried out by Christians weren't actually crimes if they followed some interpretation of what was written as a teaching of Jesus or (B) there aren't a lot of Christians out there. If you believe that Jesus made Peter the first Pope, and that the Pope is therefore the mouthpiece of God here on Earth, then none of the actions of the Crusades or Inquisitions (against the Muslims, against heretical sects of Christianity, against the Central and South American peoples) were actually crimes, since these were commanded by Jesus through the Pope. OR these acts were crimes, because the Pope isn't the mouthpiece of God here on Earth, which means that the bloody wars of the Reformation MUST NOT have been crimes, since these were done to restore the Church to their original meaning. OR these acts were crimes, because the Pope actually is the representative of God here on Earth. Similarly, the American Revolution had to be a crime since it was done in direct opposition to the divine right of the King of England. Or maybe it wasn't a crime, since the Anglican Church didn't recognize the nature of the Pope. Of course, this argument is highly problematic, since the leaders of the American revolution weren't Catholic... But this type of argumentation would definitely work to explain why the French Revolution was a crime... until Napoleon re-took the throne. Of course, his reign was destined to fail once he committed the crime of emancipating the Jews and Protestants... Unless you believe the Pope to not be the divine representative of God, and then ....

... oh, wait. This whole thing is just too complicated, and none of the commentator's original statement makes any relevant sense to this discussion. At all. In fact, its own logic chases its own tail and ultimately - like Oroborus - eats itself.

The next two sentences - "When Muslims do good deeds, it is because they disobey their prophet. When they follow him they become evil." - make no sense to me for a couple of reasons. First is the question of who decides "good" and "evil." (The ontological question if you will.) As outsiders to a group, we can only consider the actions of that group based on our own group's sense of "good" and "evil." However, we must also recognize that members of that other group will likely have their own classifications for those things. Furthermore, the definitions of these things change over space and time, too, even within the same "group." For example, if we could somehow travel back to a Georgian plantation in 1800, slave ownership would not be considered to be "evil", while - several states north - it would... but members of both locations would each consider themselves to belong to the same group: "Americans". Travel forward 100 years to 1900, and then you will find discord around that Georgian plantation about whether the practices of slavery were actually "evil". Travel forward yet another 100 years to 2000, and you will find that the question of slavery being "evil" has been accepted, even in around that Georgian plantation. Similar examples can be found with most issues that we break down into "good" and "evil" (including the morality of women wearing trousers). To claim any deed of another group to be "good" or "evil", one must first recognize that one is imposing their personal definitions upon what they see. To not do this is... troubling... to say the least.

Next, though, is the bald assertion that amounts to "good Muslims do evil things". WTF? This assertion is doubly bald-faced when it is found in a comments section of an article that actually described how few Muslim Americans are perpetrating violence of any kind. Now, to be charitable, one could interpret this commentator's meaning to be, "Well, look at all the bloodshed from North Africa to Pakistan!" Okay... let's do that: Syria is currently in a civil war, while Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan are countries in which revolution and government overthrow just recently has taken place. Let's take a look at the comparative level of violence in the United States during those periods.

During the US Civil War, ~750,000 soldiers died and ~50,000 civilians (~2.6% of a population of ~31,000,000) using mid-19th century armament and medicine. (These figures may well represent an underestimate, given the problems of tracking deaths during those years.) Currently, the Syrian civil war has killed ~120,000 (~0.5% of population of ~23,000,000) using late-20th/early-21st century armament and medicine. So, compared the US Civil War, the Syrian Civil War has a long way to come to be as violent as the US Civil War (which was fought primarily by people who considered themselves to be Christian; a good number likely considering themselves to be "good Christians").

But surely the violence in Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan are all pretty high, too, showing the violence of these vastly Islamic-identifying countries, right? Well, the years following the US Revolutionary War weren't all peace-filled idyllic years. Following the defeat of the British in 1783, the United States had to contend with a series of violent "incidents" (including a major military attempt at rebellion), most of which are characteristic of a young government that hasn't (yet) established robust governance structures. In fact, the US has been - until very, very recently - a place where violent incidents have been the norm. And this is what the Mother Jones piece described. In comparison to the heavily-Christian United States, the countries of the Arab Spring, along with Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot reasonably be stated to be more violent than the United States of 1783-1793, nor can one reasonably state that any of this violence is specifically caused by the predominant religions of the countries. (Indeed, even when religion is invoked as a reason for armed conflict, it's often just a justification for political motivations, but even if you do count these as the actual justification of the associated wars, Christian holy wars against other Christians lead the death toll, followed by Christian holy wars against non-Christians.)

While one might allow the logical problems behind labeling things as "good" and "evil", the actual lack of historical accuracy in these two sentences is just ... really bad. However, the fact that these two sentences - devoid of any historical accuracy - pale in comparison to the lack of logical coherency that follow in the next four sentences.

Since when does "A good Christian becomes Mother Theresa"? Are this commentator saying that all real "good Christians" are Albanian nuns working (and conducting some questionable actions) in Kolkata? If so, then that's a pretty small group of people who can be "good Christians." In fact, by that definition, almost no one can be a "good Christian." But even if this commentator didn't specifically mean Mother Theresa, it implies that one has to be invested in the Catholic Church to be a "good Christian." Sorry, but wars have been fought over that question. ... wars fought (on both sides) by "good Christians." Furthermore, you would have been hard-pressed to find slave-owners in the American South who didn't consider themselves to be "good Christians", either. Among the membership of many white-supremacist groups, one will also find many who believe themselves to be "good Christians." And - outside, among the vast swath of "moderate Christians" - one would be hard-pressed to find many who would actively protest who can and can't choose to call themselves "Christians." So... this definition of "good Christian" is laughable at best.

Since when does "A good Hindu becomes Gandhi"? "Gandhi" is a family name, not a religious status, a position in a religious hierarchy, or anything like that. The commentator might erroneously be referring to Mohandas Gandhi's religious title of "Mahatma". However, if one looks at the actions of religious Hindus through the history of the Indian sub-continent, one will find many (many, many, many) who justify violence against others. Indeed, Gandhi was - until that time - a bit of an exception when it came to advocating non-violence as the sole means of anti-colonial activism, and he was a major exception when it came to embodying his advocacy. At the time, he was considered by many prominent Hindus to be religiously (or dogmatically) suspect, and not what embodied a "good Hindu". So... this definition of "good Hindu" is also laughable at best.

Since when does "A good Buddhist becomes Dalai Lama"? What about all the other branches of Buddhism? Is the commentator really saying that a member of the Japanese Jodoshinshu sect of Buddhism (for example) can become Dalai Lama? If so, you are betraying a massive ignorance of Buddhism. Indeed, this statement makes even less sense than stating, "A good Christian becomes Pope." No. Not even... No. *facepalm* This definition of "good Buddhist" is even more laughable than the definitions of "good Christian" and "good Hindu".

Finally, since when does "A good Muslim becomes Osama Bin Laden"? Even if we say, okay, you really meant to say, "... LIKE Osama Bin Laden", where is evidence for this? The commentator hasn't got any, other than the sayings of fundamentalists who want to emulate people like bin Laden. Taking what fundamentalists say as gospel would be the same thing as taking what the members of the Westboro Baptist Church say makes a good Christian and only using that metric to discuss all of Christianity. If the commentator were smart enough recognize the Westboro Baptist Church is an extremist group claiming to be Christians, and is - therefore - not allowing them to dictate the commentator's definition of "good Christian", then why does the commentator allow him/herself to fall for what a Muslim extremist group claims to be the definition of what "good Muslims" are? The commentator proves to have failed at maintaining logical consistency with the real world. However, considering the "evidence" and "logic" you have displayed above, this statement is not surprising.

Finally, this commentator appears incapable of recognizing that there is a double standard that people like him/herself are perpetrating in the name of equality. Commentators like this person often feel that their religion (Christianity) is being unfairly punished for the actions of a few people who claim to be Christian, but fail to recognize that they are doing the same thing to all non-Christians. It's in this mindset that the final lines of this comment are seen: "We punish people who speak the truth against Islam. This insanity is not because of secularism. It is the blasphemy law slowly seeping into our secular laws. Western secularism is becoming Islamized." Apparently, "Western secularism" can only be that thing if we punish people who speak this commentator's "truth" about Islam. Going further, it's likely that it's only if we impose this commentator's viewpoint of Christianity (it's conveniently never defined) that we can save "Western secularism" (failing to note that secularism specifically deals with "the principle of separation of government institutions, and the persons mandated to represent the State, from religious institutions and religious dignitaries".

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