Assuming Religion's NOT to Blame

Christopher Hitchens argues religion “poisons everything.”

Harris argues that evil deeds committed by religious people can be attributed solely to their religious beliefs, i.e. an abortion doctor being killed by somebody who, due to their religious convictions, thinks abortion is murder.

Let’s shift focus to the Middle East. The stoning of women. Terrorism. I’ve seen folks (I think Xunzian) in the past take the position that the sectarian violence, the terrorism, etc., could be attributed to their society, their financial status, etc.

I’d like to pose a question: when somebody says that they are going to blow themselves up solely because they believe it’s for Allah, and 72 virgins, why assume that the underlying reason is something other than what they say it is? Is there any evidence that is more convincing than what they say?

I’m probably oversimplifying, but it seems there are only a few other options: perhaps, subconsciously, the person is being affected by factors other than their religious beliefs. Or, they could just be blatantly lying.

Obviously, not all Muslims are blowing themselves up. Not all Christians are killing abortion doctors. So maybe the few that do are influenced by something other than religious belief that causes them to commit heinous acts. But what evidence do we have to suggest as much?

Are religious people the only ones that “poison everything”? Is his point relevant?

Regarding your question, I see no reason to judge his statement as being either true or false, and I am very satisfied with that.

Precisely because religion isn’t a good predictor for those things. The demographics are all wrong, as you pointed out in the last bit.

On the other hand, the demographics line up quite nicely with other factors, such as poverty. There is a very strong correlation between poverty and violence. On the other hand, there is a weak-at-best correlation between religion and violence.

Desperate men do desperate things. Religious men do religious things. Sometimes those two overlap, but I’d suggest that is more a matter of convenience.

Look at the suicide bombers we have right now. They are young, poverty-stricken Muslims, usually men, who are fighting against wealthy, well-connected, modern states (usually either Israel or the US). Now let’s dial the clock back and check out what suicide bombers in the 1960s and 1970s looked like. They were young, poverty-stricken Vietnamese, often men, who were fighting against a wealthy, well-connected, modern state (the US). Let’s dial the clock back a little further and go to the '40s. Now we’ve got young Japanese men whose Empire has suffered a stunning defeat and are now fighting at incredible odds against a much better equipped foe (the US). Or we could look at the trends over a longer period of time. Like with the Tamil Tigers, who are again an under-equipped, desperate group fighting against a much larger and better connected foe (the Sri Lankan government), a conflict which has been going on from the '70s up until this very moment.

Check out Robert A Pape. Given the dire conditions many of these organizations face and the long odds they are fighting against, suicide bombings are actually an entirely rational weapon of choice. Grisly, but that is war.

I agree with you here, Xunz. There is obviously much more crime, and I’m sure violent crime, in poorer areas of the United States. I’m sure that trend extends worldwide, although I’d be interested to see if there are any poor areas with lower violent crime rates than usual, and what cause others have attributed to it.

But I think you’re speaking in generalities. Generally, poorer areas have higher violent crime. Generally, religious people aren’t violent. I can agree with that. I’m talking about particulars and specifics.

There are a lot of areas with poor people who aren’t creating bombs to blow themselves up in a crowd, or plotting to crash planes into buildings, or stoning women to death. I’m sure some of this can be chocked up to “culture,” but then we’d have to get into where culture ends and religion begins, and in the Middle East, I’m not sure that line would be clear.

Now, look at some of the details of the 9/11 hijackers, which I would also consider “suicide bombers:” … 01315.html

Clearly, many of the profiles of the 9/11 hijackers do not fit the description of poor Muslims growing up in the midst of sectarian violence. Additionally, their behaviors started changing sharply and noticeably after getting involved with religious fundamentalists.

Now, I’ll grant you that perhaps poor Muslims (which are really almost all Muslims in the Middle East, as far as I know) are perhaps more prone to becoming an violent Islamic extremist, just as a poor black man in Compton might be more prone to becoming a gang member. But it is only after learning and accepting a given religious belief system that the specific brand of violent behavior is exhibited.

And you’ve answered your own question. You’ll note that I wasn’t just talking about the status of the individual, but also the state of their country and their society. The recent spat of suicide-attacks does predominantly come from Muslims. But look at who is currently being oppressed and repressed and, well, you’ve answered your own question.

I’m not letting you off the hook that easy.

As I mentioned previously, the problem with bringing in the state of their country and society is that it is inextricably linked with their religion. To state that their society is to blame, when their government is the Taliban, is misleading.

Now, I’ll grant you that perhaps poor Muslims (which are really almost all Muslims in the Middle East, as far as I know) are perhaps more prone to becoming an violent Islamic extremist, just as a poor black man in Compton might be more prone to becoming a gang member. But it is only after learning and accepting a given religious belief system that the specific brand of violent behavior is exhibited.

How were the men, who’s profiles I posted, being “repressed?” They were living in well developed countries, came from liberal, middle class families, and were fairly educated.

Additionally, there are lots of people being repressed and oppressed that aren’t blowing themselves up, stoning or beating their own family members to death, etc. What’s the difference between those who are and those who aren’t, besides their beliefs?

Or should we be discussing whether or not beliefs lead to actions, or whether it’s other underlying factors?

Now, I can agree that concepts like ‘religion’ and ’ . . .’

Funny story. Because I was at loss for words, my girlfriend said that there was no concept for what I was looking for (she is a big fan of Derrida and occasionally conflates his philosophy with LP . . . which is fair, since the big D is a reaction to LP and others). The example I gave was “pious is to religious as X is to nationalist”, I was going to add, “pious is to religious as Y is to ethnist”.

Regardless, I want to express that I do understand that concepts like religion, nationalism, and ethnicism are easily conflated because they all have the same underlying core of dividing humanity into arbitrary groups. So it becomes a matter of how we rank these groups in terms of their influence on any given individual’s psyche as well as which elements are an authentic aspect of the human condition and which aren’t (and therefore, which elements properly belong in a discussion about discrimination of any sort).

You ask how the individuals in question were repressed, but you assumed an atomist, post-Enlightenment individual when you said that. Now, since such a concept is alien to the broader metanarrative that these individuals embraced, why should we include such a concept?

For a moment, let’s look at situations where we have good controls.

In areas where religion is repressed, one cannot say that there is a decrease in violence.

In areas where racial distinctions are repressed, one cannot say that there is a decrease in violence.

In areas where financial distinctions are repressed, one can immediately see a decrease in violence. Show me a country with a low gini that is violent. In fact, you’ll see that as the gini rises, so too does the violence.

Now, you’ll want to take this back to individuals. But that assumes a radicalized, atomized individual that simply doesn’t exist. Demographics are destiny. You can point to outliers but outliers are, by definition, precisely that.

Look at wife-beating (even wife-to-death beating). You suggested that it was common in Muslim countries and, indeed, it is. But it is also incredibly common in S. Korea.

Look at the numbers. “Fixing” religion doesn’t fix a god-damned thing. Fixing poverty, on the other hand, has a profound influence. Who they pray to? Doesn’t matter. Who they pay their taxes to? Now that matters a great deal.

To say, “but they were wealthy” while ignoring “their brothers were not” is a fundamentally mistaken view of the human condition.

One shouldn’t overlook the role of religion in creating poverty and inequality in the first place.

Really? Dubai is wealthy, its neighbors are not. Ireland is undergoing a boom . . . yet back in the day hardcore fundamentalist England trounced hardcore fundamentalist Ireland. The HRE had a relatively passive view on religion, whereas France did not, yet France was able to easily outspend the HRE. Let’s not forget Catholic Spain and Protestant Neatherlands. Both ardently religious and very wealthy. No one would call the Rome of Augustus poor, yet it can rightly be called pious. Those living under the Caliphate enjoyed one of the wealthiest civilizations at the time, yet were quite religious. The ‘White Man’s Burden’ also implied Christianity, yet those countries conquered the world. Imperial China regularly practiced sacrifices, and had the largest GDP in the world until England made the world safe for drug dealers. Meiji Japan was noted for its piety and modernized a country. America is a fundamentalist backwater, yet still maintains the world’s largest GDP by a fairly wide margin.

I’m not really sure what you are talking about . . .

That’s why I like talking to you, Xunz. You force me to read the dictionary and encyclopedia so I can understand what the hell you’re saying. :stuck_out_tongue:

Fair enough. Can you elaborate on what you mean by the last sentence?

By atomist, do you mean stand-alone, as in not influenced by anything else? I realize that they embraced a different metanarrative later on in life, but it was exactly that which caused a change in their behavior. Or am I misunderstanding you?

I’ve conceded that poor areas are predisposed to more violent crime, but I don’t think this addresses the point. Certainly that violent crime is going to be expressed in different ways. Maybe, if there was a poverty stricken place where no guns, knives, or weapons of any sort existed, people would beat each other up more. But this is only a substrate, if you will.

Now add on top of that some kind of belief set. In some poor areas of the United States, we see a belief set that promotes gang violence. This is obviously more of a socially-based belief system, but it causes a certain number of those people to dress in blue, divide their neighborhoods up into territories, collect guns, and shoot people wearing red who live in a certain area. All of these behaviors can be directly attributed to their socially-based belief system.

Back to the Middle East. The substrate of poverty exists, which means the people will be predisposed to violence. Check. Now what belief system is added to shape the expression of the inevitable violence? The Quran, of which the beliefs are far more wide reaching than that of the simple gang member’s in Compton. This one entails discrimination of various races and religions, the belief that the more innocent people you kill, the better, and that the reward will be 72 virgins in heaven, for you and your entire family.

If anything, this poverty serves as a motivator to fulfill these violent belief systems to escape to a better life. Gang members don’t blow themselves up in throngs of people. They don’t plot flying airplanes into buildings. Something must be said of the belief system that colors and shapes the poor, violence-prone substrate.

Throughout most of our history, most people have been, at least officially, religious.
We have no way to know if people would not have had wars or violence (or poverty as suggested above) to a lesser degree without religion. I doubt it, personally. I think humans find excuses and governments and power-mongers will use whatever manipulation they can find to get people to kill and die for them. Non-theistic ideologies in the 20th century did rather well as motivators and justifications for mass killing.
To be fair, we would need some way to compare equal amounts of theists and non-theists. Some statistically sound way of sampling. And we don’t have one.

There is a thought that humans could be unified; that the national boundries could be eliminated and humans can work for mutual benefit. Some people think that this would be easier if people were convinced to give up their religion. To me this mostly seems silly and idealistic. Groups are divided because people want power.

I see religons more as a side effect of tribalism and violence more than a cause.

Nor I you, apparently. If you think I mean to equate wealth with religion you didn’t understand me correctly. I don’t have time to explain it right now- my parents are visiting for the holidays and want to play some cards.

Xunzian, in response to Dorky you spoke of a “atomist, post-Enlightenment individual” that he was assuming, something which is alien to the individuals in question, Muslims? Are we in the West Atomist? Is this basically an individual who seeks self-interest above the group i.e. his brothers? A sort of magnified focus of the individual at the expense of the crowd?

So much to respond to here. Lemme see what I can do.

First off, I want to make it very clear that I don’t think that there is a positive correlation between religiosity and wealth. But I also do not think there is a negative correlation between the two – I don’t think there is any correlation whatsoever. Religiosity does not create wealth, nor does it perpetuate poverty.

As for the notion of the Enlightened self, it actually predates it but became more fully expressed at that time. So we may as well assign that label. It is basically the idea that each human being is autonomous in some way, that people are self-acting, self-actualizing creatures. Communitarians (such as m’self) hold that view as being entirely mistaken. We are all ‘encumbered’, in order to express who and what we are, things like our nationality, family, location, yada-yada all have to be taken into account. So it isn’t that the hijackers in question rejected such a notion, but rather that such a notion can’t meaningfully be applied to anyone. So to present the hijackers as individual cases doesn’t make any sense. Given this view, their western education should have pissed them off more, not less. College campuses are terribly wanton places, always have been. So while they have been exposed to their countrymen starving, they contrast that with people who have never known real pain, real suffering. Hatred and resentment are a matter of course.

Now, we can talk about the systems that shape people, but much of that has to do with the goals. What are the goals of a gangster in the inner city? To become rich. Blowing himself up wouldn’t further that goal at all. What are the goals of the sort of nationalists we are talking about here, the ones that do blow themselves up? Why, to strike out at the oppressor, to liberate their people.

Even without power being involved I would say that people would still want division.
People just like variety…well…that actually seems to be a natural occurrence.

It is less a desire for variety and more ‘in group/out group’ classification. Old and heavily imprinted on us by generations upon generations of selective behavior.

Which is why I place such emphasis on wealth. People will always make up ways of dividing people. It is human nature. Heck, there is some evidence that the Hutu and Tsusi ethnic groups were created by colonial powers to divide the local population and make them easier to control. And look at where that, absolutely arbitrary, division lead!

So I’m less interested in trying to eliminate things which divided humanity, since others will rise in their place, than I am in eliminating those things which fuel violence. Someone wandering down the street screaming epithets is certainly unpleasant. Having neighborhoods segregated (either de facto or as a result of policy) is indeed sad. But provided the material conditions are such that the territories are relatively equal, violence will be quite rare (not eliminated, outliers will always exist) and that is indeed a desirable thing.

Suppose these material conditions were equalized, the poor would still be the poor and the rich still the rich, consider the poor of today in western countries to the poor a hundred years ago, we could consider the standards of living a vast improvement yet being poor is still here fueling violence.

Okay, a quick explanation is in order. No, I’m not saying religion in general causes poverty, but in some cases it does. Btw, and apropos of nothing, just because a nation is wealthy doesn’t mean the people are, especially in some of the Arab oil producing nations. What I was referring too was more situations like the Hindu caste system, where the social caste assigned by your religion dictates the immutable social level you’ll have. [Not just based on religion, obviously, but it is in part.]

That said, your posts are usually thoughtful but this one displays a lot of nonsense. It’s silly to call the Rome of 200 AD and later a wealthy Christian empire without mentioning the half-millenia-plus of pagan military might that led to it! Surely Rome was very wealthy before. Ditto for your bizarre statement about the “fundamentalist backwater” of America. Certainly the current climate of religion is a very new development; at the time of our countries founding fully 90% of Colonists were not members of any church. While things are NOW fairly Christian, this isn’t the way things started, and you must admit the country is in a major slump (one that coincides fairly neatly with the rise of social and religious conservatism). Likewise, you fail to differential between subjects living in very wealthy societies and those subjects being wealthy themselves. This is sometimes the case, more often not. By the last info I could find, 20% of adult males in Saudi had no paid work, and the real per average income per capita isn’t good at all. Plus, about 20% of the society is illiterate. It’s little comfort to a poor man that his Caliphate was fabulously wealthy. :wink:

I say this only because I think you made a few ridiculous claims; overall I don’t think religion is linked to wealth, aside from the observation I make that religious people by and large seem, paradoxically, to be more materialistic in my experience.

I agree; I just consider this to be a fashion of variety.
We cannot stand everyone to be like us, or to be like everyone; there must be a difference and there must be a value held for one or the other.

That seems to be the case in many animals.