Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Wheaton College English Professor Alan Jacobs argues that religion is overrated as a social force. My SciBling Razib has already written a lengthy response.

Jacobs gets down to business in the third paragraph:

Of course, I can’t universalize my own experience — but that experience does give me pause when people talk about the immense power of religion to make people do extraordinary things. When people say that they are acting out of religious conviction, I tend to be skeptical; I tend to wonder whether they’re not acting as I usually do, out of motives and impulses over which I could paint a thin religious veneer but which are really not religious at all.

Intriguing! On the other hand, people often justify the extraordinary things they do by invoking religion, so we should not be too quick to dismiss the possibility that they’re serious. Let’s see what Jacobs has in mind:

Most of today’s leading critics of religion are remarkably trusting in these matters. Card-carrying members of the intelligentsia like Mr. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would surely be doubtful, even incredulous, if a politician who had illegally seized power claimed that his motives for doing so were purely patriotic; or if a CEO of a drug company explained a sudden drop in prices by professing her undying compassion for those unable to afford her company’s products. Discerning a difference between people’s professed aims and their real aims is just what intellectuals do.

You can probably sense what is coming. There is a big difficulty with Jacobs’ analogies, however. In both of his cases there is an obvious alternative explanation for the conduct other than the one given. The politician illegally siezing power is obviously helping his own selfish ends by doing so. And the CEO would certainly want to put a good spin on the effect of some recent economic shock (or whatever we are supposed to imagine is the real reason for the drop in prices).

But for the evils laid at religion’s feet, it is hard to imagine any motive except religion that can explain them. What motivates the Iraqi suicide bomber if not his belief that he is doing God’s will? Likewise for the person who bombs an abortion clinic. Or, less dramatically, the person who believes in teaching creationism or in forcing children to pray in schools. There is usually a clear logical path from what many religious zealots claim to believe and the evil they do in God’s name.

What examples does Jacobs have in mind?

Yet when someone does something nasty and claims to have done it in the name of religion, our leading atheists suddenly become paragons of credulity: If Osama bin Laden claims to be carrying out his program of terrorism in the name of Allah and for the cause of Islam, then what grounds have we to doubt him? It’s not like anyone would lie about something like that as a strategy for justifying the unjustifiable, is it?

Jacobs continues his discourse on what atheists think in the next paragraph. For now I will simply wonder why, if Osama bin Laden is lying about his motivations, he thinks invoking Islamic imagery is an effective strategy for justifying the unjustifiable. Isn’t it telling us something significant about the role of religion in society that when people want to rally the troops to an unsavory cause, or provide a public justification for some heinous act, they find religion to be the proper tool?

And while we’re at it, the thinking continues, let’s not look too closely at the many other statements by Osama that link his program to ethnic rather than religious shame — to his sense that the Arab people have declined in the world and need to have their pride and power restored. After all, surely if religious sentiment were erased from the world, ethnic prejudice would instantly evaporate as well — wouldn’t it? Mr. Dawkins certainly thinks so: He is on record as saying that if we simply ceased to teach religion to our children we would soon have “a paradise on earth.”

It is here, I am afraid, that Jacobs has abandoned his desire to make a serious argument, preferring instead the low road of caricature and straw-man construction. Osama bin Laden, one suspects, does not make a distinction between religious, ethnic and political motives. His views on the proper distribution of global political power is inextricably linked with his views on religion. It’s not as if we must say he is motivated either by religion or by politics. He can be motivated by both simultaneously.

But let us suppose for the moment that Osama bin Laden is a pure cynic. He doesn’t care one whit about God or religion or Islam, he just uses that kind of language for its rhetorical effectiveness. Are we really going to hypothesize the same for his legions of followers? The ones who flew planes into bulidings, or the suicide bombers on the streets of Baghdad, for example. When they tell us in their statements and their videos that they expect to be rewarded in heaven for their deeds, are they lying? Are they actually just acting from political motives, but think religious language is more appropriate to the situation? When threats of violence and bloodshed erupt from throngs of people irate over some tacky Danish cartoons or a novel authored by an obscure British novelist, are we to suppose that they too are lying about their religious motivations?

Jacobs is being silly in the last half of his paragraph. No one, not Dawkins not Hitchens not Harris, believes that religion is the source of all, or even of most, of the evil in the world. They believe simply that it is a major source of bad things, and one singularly worthy of attention because of the bizarre societal taboo against criticizing it.

As for the line about Dawkins, I think Jacobs is referring to this interview. A look at some of the surrounding dialogue makes it clear that Jacobs is badly oversimplifying Dawkins’ view:

Sheahen: You’ve said that baptizing a child or saying “this is a Jewish child”–that is, pasting a religious label on a child–is child abuse. In your letter to daughter, you ask her to examine what she’s told based on evidence. What do you hope the world would be like if all children were raised without religion, according to your theories?

Dawkins: It would be paradise on earth. What I hope for is a world ruled by enlightened rationality, which does not mean something dull, but something of high artistic value. I just wish there were the slightest chance of it ever happening.

Sheahen: So if people lived according to rationalism, you envision, for example, no more war?

Dawkins: That might be a little bit optimistic, but there would be a much better chance of no more war. Obviously nothing like 9/11, because that’s clearly motivated by religion. There would be less hatred, because a lot of the hatred in the world is sectarian hatred. For example, in Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan. You wouldn’t have an awful lot of the prejudice and trans-generational vendettas that humanity suffers from. There would be less waste of time. People would concentrate on really worthwhile things, instead of wasting time on religion, astrology, crystal-gazing, fortune-telling, things like that.

Sheahen: Some might see the situation in Northern Ireland not as religious, but as class conflicts. The haves vs. the have-nots. There are struggles where religion isn’t a factor–in America, whites vs. blacks, even if both groups were, say, Southern Baptist.

Dawkins: That’s absolutely right. But the thing about religious labels is that they’re gratuitous; there’s no need for them to be there. You can’t do anything about your skin color, but religion could go.

I see a bit more there than just, “Don’t teach kids about religion and suddenly everything is sweetness and light.”

Moving on:

It seems to me that skepticism about religion doesn’t consort well with overtrustfulness of human motives and human honesty. I would counsel our contemporary atheists to study some of their more consistently skeptical ancestors: George Orwell, for instance, who exposed the fundamental and incorrigible dishonesty of most political speech in his great essay “Politics and the English Language.” Or, better yet, Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” with its ruthless exposure of the ways that the Christian emperors of Rome manipulated religious language for the foulest of ends. Surely Gibbon would help even the most optimistic modern atheists break the habit of trustfulness.

We have already addressed this point. Even if we hypothesize pure cynicism on the part of certain political leaders and suppose they are merely using religious language to further political ends (which I have no doubt is a fairly common occurrence in global politics), you still have to explain why this language is so effective. The people on the street responding to this language are surely being sincere about their motives.

Jacobs addresses this point in his final paragraph:

Is religion powerful? I suppose it often is. After all, if people were not religious — or, to take a Gibbonesque view of the matter, if people did not want to be thought of as so — no one would use religious language to promote political or social or ethnic goals. That those seeking to acquire or keep power do use such language, and regularly, indicates that religion has influence. But the idea that without religion people would stop seeking power, stop manipulating, stop deceiving, is just wishful thinking of the silliest kind. Though it may seem ironic for a Christian to be saying this, it’s time to talk less about the power of religion and remember instead the dark forces in all human lives that religious language is too often used to hide.

There’s no supposing about it, alas. As for silly wishful thinking, this is more straw-man-ism. No one believes that religion is the sole source of evil in the world. Only that it’s an especially important source of evil, which would seem undeniable.

As for religious language being used to hide the dark forces in all human lives, I think Jacobs has it backward. The issue here is people using religious language to bring those dark forces to the surface. We’re talking about using religious language to rally people to evil causes, after all.

It is often said that atheists want to eliminate or get rid of religion. That is not really an accurate way of putting things, since it suggests a desire for some external force to come in and remove religion from society. What atheists really want is for people to become persuaded on their own that religion does not deserve the respect it so frequently given. If that were to happen, we argue, civilization would be a lot better for it.

This is not a theoretical point. The despotic theocracies of the Middle East are a good example of what happens when religion is permitted too great a role in the political life of a country. Stalinist Russia is a good example of what happens when you use government power to try to subvert religion, but it is not an example of what happens when everyone becomes too rational in their outlook.

On the other hand, modern Scandinavia and many Western European countries are good examples of what happens when people voluntarily allow religion to loosen its hold on society. Can anyone really look at those societies and argue they are suffering for their lack of religion in their politics?

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    June 8, 2008

    “What motivates the Iraqi suicide bomber if not his belief that he is doing God’s will?”

    The rest of your article I can’t find fault with, but I can see in this particular instance that political motivations can be just as strong as religious ones. Suicide bombings were particularly popular among early 20th. century anarchist terrorists, both during the Spanish Civil War and the broader “propaganda of the deed” movement. I don’t think suicide bombing is really endemic to religion.

  2. #2 mgarelick
    June 9, 2008

    I think Tyler makes a good point, and a similar point can be made with regard to abortion clinic bombers. Maybe they are motivated by religion, but it may be just as likely that they are motivated by misogyny (which may be correlated with religion, but is not identical to it).

  3. #3 razib
    June 9, 2008

    seconding tyler for sure. read Dying to Win:
    Pape had his graduate students try to ascertain the details of the identities of 41 suicide attackers in Lebanon in the 1980s. In hindsight his analysis of Hezbollah is of current interest, but that is neither here nor there. This is what he found:

    27 were affiliated with Communist or socialist groups
    8 were affiliated with Islamic fundamentalist groups
    3 were Christian! (one of these a female Christian high school teacher)

    and i’m sure you know that suicide bombings have been the speciality of the nationalist tamil tigers right? since your introspection was so off here i think you need to assume that cognitive and sociological insights can be easily derived from intuition.

  4. #4 razib
    June 9, 2008

    meant can not.

  5. #5 Susan
    June 9, 2008

    Is Salman Rushdie really “an obscure British Novelist” I mean the guy was in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” for crying out loud.

  6. #6 AL
    June 9, 2008

    Well, he was kind of obscure at the time his novel was published. The novel itself took him out of obscurity.

  7. #7 Daryl McCullough
    June 9, 2008

    Jason writes:

    When they tell us in their statements and their videos that they expect to be rewarded in heaven for their deeds, are they lying? Are they actually just acting from political motives, but think religious language is more appropriate to the situation? When threats of violence and bloodshed erupt from throngs of people irate over some tacky Danish cartoons or a novel authored by an obscure British novelist, are we to suppose that they too are lying about their religious motivations?

    Yes, I believe that the motives of suicide bombers are political. Yes, I believe the protests against Danish cartoons and Salmon Rushdie were political. As for whether that means they were lying about their motivations or not, I don’t see that that follows. People are often confused about their own motivations.

  8. #8 HP
    June 9, 2008

    One problem I have with both the article and the responses to it is that they assume that religion qua religion has some kind of existence independent of the actions (good and bad) of religious people. As though, if you took away all religious acts and motivations, religion would somehow still exist.

    Religion is what religion does. And that’s all that it is.

    If someone says their actions are motivated by their religious beliefs, then their actions are religiously motivated by definition. To believe otherwise means embracing the supernatural claims of religion. In other words, to say that bin Laden is not motivated by Islam means that Allah must have something else in mind for muslims — in order for there to be a “true” Islam independent of bin Laden (or any other muslim), there must be a “true” Prophet.

    Since the supernatural doesn’t exist, the only objective way to characterize religion is by the actions of religious people.

  9. #9 qetzal
    June 9, 2008

    The interesting question is whether religious motivations make a difference on the margins.

    Clearly, people often cite religious motivations and justifications for violent acts, wars, oppression, etc. Some are certainly using religion cynically, but others certainly believe the religious justifications, at least on some level.

    However, it’s just as clear that people often commit such acts without any religious motivation (or at least, none that’s apparent).

    If we could somehow eliminate all religion, would violence really decrease? Or would people simply substitute non-religious justifications and commit just as many violent acts as before?

    (Note that the same question can be asked about altruistic acts.)

  10. #10 Pierce R. Butler
    June 9, 2008

    The religion of The Wall Street Journal is money.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    June 9, 2008

    Ahem. The question was, “What motivates the Iraqi suicide bomber if not his belief that he is doing God’s will?” (my emphasis). Just because other people blow themselves up for different reasons doesn’t say too much, directly, about this particular phenomenon. To explain a murder, we might invoke jealousy as a motive; the mere existence of other motives — money, racism, homophobia, etc. — does not itself rule out jealousy’s causative role.

    It may well be folly to separate religion from nationalism, given that people divide themselves along borders defined, in part, by religious affiliation.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey
    June 9, 2008

    Also, what HP said.

  13. #13 JimV
    June 9, 2008

    Like several commenters above, I found something to agree with in what Jacobs is saying. I would put it this way: religion may not be the cause, but only one of the rationalizations for doing something. This ties in with what HP said, in a way. No god actually told the 9/11 hijackers to do what they did (since no such god exists). They must have been motivated by powerful emotions, but used religion to convince themselves that what they did was moral and noble. Secular nationalists and anarchists, as others have pointed out, have done similar acts using different rationalizations. Thus getting rid of religion would just eliminate one of many sources of rationalization.

    Which still seems like a step in the right direction to me, although I concede that such rationalizations can help us perform good actions as well as bad actions.

    In at least one sense, religion can be a cause, as it is one more symbolic territory to be defended by our innate territorialism.

  14. #14 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    HP wrote: “Since the supernatural doesn’t exist, the only objective way to characterize religion is by the actions of religious people.”
    But religious cultures exist and the actions of religious people, which result from considerations of options offered by what could be a multitude or sources, cannot be traced back with any accuracy as representative of only one of their influences.

    So rather than being the only objective way to characterize religion, this may in fact be the least objective way to characterize religion, when you start with looking at behavior in one niche of human existence and extrapolate from that some generalizations as to how religious humans will act in any of the other niches in which we may find ourselves.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 9, 2008

    Razib –

    Blake beat me to it. The issue here is Iraqi suicide bombers. That there have been other suicide bombers in other parts of the world who were not motivated by religion is neither here nor there. Furthermore, this clean distinction people are trying to draw between religious motives and political motives is not reasonable, as I explained in my post. The religious and the political are so intertwined that it’s not possible to separate them.

    My conclusion that Iraqi suicide bombers are motivated by religion was not based on introspection. It was based on the fact that they routinely tell us their motivations, that the religious leaders to whom they respond exhort them to their deeds in explicitly religious terms, and that there is a clear logical path from the religious beliefs they claim to hold and the actions they are taking. It’s also based on public polling data collected by Pew showing huge levels of popular support among the public for suicide bombing carried out for explicitly religious reasons. The dots are not hard to connect here, and it is unclear to me why people are tyring so hard to absolve religion from its rather large share of the blame.

  16. #16 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 9, 2008

    Susan –

    I think it’s fair to say that at the time The Satanic Verses was published Salman Rushdie was, indeed, an obscure British novelist.

  17. #17 Collin Brendemuehl
    June 9, 2008

    Jason,
    Good post. But I think you missed his point. He is challenging the motives that are either erroneously drawn from religious experience or falsely attributed to religious experience. His last sentence makes that pretty clear:
    Though it may seem ironic for a Christian to be saying this, it’s time to talk less about the power of religion and remember instead the dark forces in all human lives that religious language is too often used to hide.

    No one believes that religion is the sole source of evil in the world.
    Who said “sole source”? That is certainly a straw man. But the Left has its scientific atheism and the 20th c. saw those bloody results.

    The Problem of Evil is not insurrmountable for the Christian theist when the fall and free moral agency become part of the formula. But for the atheist/ naturalist/ evolutionist, the problem of Good requires a transcendant answer, and that escapes Science & Reason.

    The proper understanding, as he expressed in the last sentence, regards the fall. We must all beware even our own motives.

    :::::::::::::

    HP,

    What if they lie about religious motivation? It’s not like it’s uncommon, even for atheists.

    :::::::::::::

    Collin

  18. #18 Jud
    June 9, 2008

    Jason wrote: No one believes that religion is the sole source of evil in the world. Only that it’s an especially important source of evil, which would seem undeniable.

    I don’t agree. In line with several other commenters, I think this oversimplifies to the degree of missing the point.

    Think of this as the flip side of the coin from the argument that one can only be truly moral if one believes in God. I assume you and I share disagreement with that premise. If religion is not a source of morality, i.e., good behavior, then how can it be an important source of evil, i.e., bad behavior? As Dawkins argues persuasively in The God Delusion, how can people feel that some religious prescriptions are good (honor thy father and mother; don’t kill), and some are bad (e.g., animal sacrifice) unless the ultimate judgment of what is moral and what is not is extra-religious?

    Yes, I realize that Dawkins agrees with the Steven Weinberg quote that it takes religion for good people to do evil. I’m saying that’s an inconsistency in Dawkins’ argument. Isn’t the possibility of allowing oneself to be persuaded to do evil in the name of any overarching philosophy, religion included, a human failing? I don’t see the logic of blaming religion for that human failing, any more than I see the logic of blaming lack of religious belief for Stalin’s or Mao’s acts.

  19. #19 Tyler DiPietro
    June 9, 2008

    @ Blake and Jason,

    Ahem. The question was, “What motivates the Iraqi suicide bomber if not his belief that he is doing God’s will?”

    If I’m not mistaken, Jason’s original contention was that Jacob’s argument didn’t apply in this area because there was no other plausible motivation other than the one explicitly stated. However, history clearly contradicts the notion that religion is the only motivating factor that makes sense. I second Razib’s recommendation of Pape’s “Dying to Win”, wherein it is demonstrated that suicide bombing has been an exceedingly commonplace stratagem in resisting foreign occupation, which happens to be exactly what Iraqis are doing right now.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 9, 2008

    Tyler –

    You write as if the statement “Iraqi suicide bombers are resisting a foreign occupation” somehow contradicts the statement that “Iraqi suicide bombers are motivated by their religious beliefs.” Of course they would not be immolating themselves if there were not a foreign occupation to which to respond. But most of them would also not be immolating themselves if they did not believe that their religion required it of them.

    As an example of what I am talking about, consider this article from Time magazine. It profiles an Iraqi suicide bomber waiting for his final mission, and it contains interesting tidbits like this:

    He has also embraced the jihadist worldview of one global Islamic state where there is, in Marwan’s words, “no alcohol, no music and no Western influences.” He concedes that he has not thought deeply about what life might be like in such a state; after all, he doesn’t expect to live long enough to experience it. Besides, he says, he fights first for Islam, second to become a “martyr” and win acceptance into heaven, and only third for control of his country. (Emphasis Added)

    and

    “I AM A TERRORIST” Marwan seems certain he is on a “pure” path. Unlike many other insurgents, who reject the terrorist label and call themselves freedom fighters or holy warriors, Marwan embraces it. “Yes, I am a terrorist,” he says. “Write that down: I admit I am a terrorist. [The Koran] says it is the duty of Muslims to bring terror to the enemy, so being a terrorist makes me a good Muslim.” He quotes lines from the surah known as Al-Anfal, or the Spoils of War: “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the enemy of Allah and your enemy.” (Emphasis Added)

    What should I make of this? Is Marwan simply lying when he says he is motivated by religion? Is he cynically manipulating Time’s reporters to fool American readers about his motivations? Is Marwan just some freak who is not representative of suicide bombers generally? Is Time just exaggerating the role religion plays here because they think that is what Western readers want to hear?

    Or should I note that his actions make perfect sense in the context of his religious beliefs, and conclude that religion is a big part of the problem in Iraq?

  21. #21 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    Collin writes: “But for the atheist/ naturalist/ evolutionist, the problem of Good requires a transcendant answer, and that escapes Science & Reason.”

    Actually no transcendent answer is required when you no longer ascribe to the notion that good and evil are attributable to supernatural force or forces. Good and evil are descriptions of consequences of actions in certain circumstances which under different circumstances might be seen as their reverse.

    The assumption that acts of nature are purposefully directed at humans as either reward or punishment, and that there are competing sources of such purpose (gods and devils, perhaps), is where the escape from science and reason has entered the picture.

  22. #22 Jud
    June 9, 2008

    Jason wrote: Or should I note that his actions make perfect sense in the context of his religious beliefs, and conclude that religion is a big part of the problem in Iraq?

    Or should you consider further that if it were not religion, it might as likely be something else? I just don’t see, from the nearly infinite number of choices to fill in “Those people are not-us because of [blank], therefore we will treat them badly,” why religion should be designated as in any way special. Yes, the way history’s worked out, at this point people have filled in the blank with religion many, many times (though race, nationalism, tribal identity, etc., are no slouches either).

    But that doesn’t mean other social forces couldn’t have filled in that blank, or won’t fill it in the future if religion ebbs. To assert that religion is special in this regard is in my mind to forego, at least to an extent, the right to disagree in concept with those who assert religion should be considered special in other regards.

  23. #23 B8ovin
    June 9, 2008

    I wonder what I am to infer from the phrase, “God Bless America”. It is not merely nationalistic, nor political, nor religious. It combines sentiments to create a religiously mandated nationality, as well as motivation to preserve what god blesses. Anyone who doesn’t understand that Bush’s claim that God told him to attack Iraq is BOTH religious and political is dense. Invoking god has purpose in both spheres. Politically it rationalizes acts of aggression, religiously it motivates followers. Whether there is belief behind this manipulation is irrelevant, the fact that religion can be used to manipulate is the whole point. If a rational reason-based populace examines all claims, religious or political, with Dawkin’s criteria, how can fundamental invocation be used to justify bad policy or political action? Dawkins isn’t appealing to history, he is advocating a break from it, even while he admits it will never happen. Jacobs fails to see the center of Dawkin’s argument because he argues only the religious question, and many of you are doing the same to Jason’s post.

  24. #24 Moody834
    June 9, 2008

    This got me thinking…

    I think we can sum up thusly: When “God” becomes political, politics becomes “God”.

    We don’t see “God” leading the terrorists/rebels/armies/etc. We don’t see “Jesus” or “Mohammed” or any other religious founder doing so. Despite the ostensible immortality or eternal life of these, we don’t see any gods or saviors or saints or prophets at all. What we see is what we’ve always seen: Homo sapiens acting on internalized motivations (derived or taken from whatever source), psychological impulses, that they’ve accepted as mandates in their lives.

    All the motivations are human; there is no divinity, no divine sanction, so what else could they be? Everything humans do is ultimately traceable to human ends, whatever anyone would like to think otherwise. So Osama bin Laden is on equal footing with George W. Bush. Hitler is on the same ground as Pol Pot. Whatever the language employed to justify the ends, the actions are nothing but typically, selfishly human. We are a selfish species. All species are ‘selfish’. Life wants to continue, and will do just about anything to preserve itself. Altruism is not the norm. Why else would we find tales of self-sacrifice so astonishing, so wonderful and special? But even in self-sacrifice we see the watermark of our evolution. The species, the culture, the society, the tribe, the clan, the family unit has a better chance to carry on than any one of us alone.

    A healthy, educated rationality offers the way for us to avoid the pitfalls of mindless selfishness. Religion–specifically the “blind faith” certain of its branches demands–would have us worshiping uncritically the unconscious, with all its dreams, fantasies, illusions and pre-reality. What goodness people claim to gain from religion can be gotten without belief in its unfalsifiable, dubious premises. In fact, what goodness has come from various religions is proof of that to anyone inclined to cut away those premises from the start and to instead study the actions and motivations of those involved.

    All things being equal, that being rational is superior to being irrational is certainly demonstrable any day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. Osama bin Laden and those like him are guided by fatally flawed ideologies that fail to follow any rational course at the point where irrational “beliefs” intersect it, assuming they are truthful about their motivations (which is not a given).

    Just my seven pennies.

  25. #25 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    Moody834 wrote: “A healthy, educated rationality offers the way for us to avoid the pitfalls of mindless selfishness, etc., etc.”
    The problem with all that is that we have short term and long term calculating systems, dominated by what is popularly called our emotional and largely unconscious brain functions. Many commentators here have been observed to use emotional arguments as the height of rationality.
    And the paradox or conundrum involved is that we would not have evolved, or survived to evolve, by use of a purely rational process – one that took the time to sort out possible reactions to unknown forces with thereto-for unknown consequences in that organism’s experience.
    And we still have not evolved sufficiently to have the luxury of using only our more reflective and abstract analytical capacities.
    Religions are in many ways a codification of rules for dealing with imminent acts of nature.
    We haven’t yet found substitutes for those codes that the majority of the world’s society would willingly adopt in their place.
    And none of us have found ways to do without our emotional makeup – nor would we ever be likely to want to.

  26. #26 qetzal
    June 9, 2008

    Jason, you claim that:

    But most of them [Iraqi suicide bombers] would also not be immolating themselves if they did not believe that their religion required it of them.

    Except that it’s already been pointed out that suicide bombers have immolated themselves many times in the past even when their religion did not require it of them (cf. comments 1 & 3).

    I completely agree with you that Iraqi suicide bombers are using their religion as one of their major motivations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they would be less inclined to suicide bombing if there was no religious requirement.

    Personally, I suspect things would be better in the absence of such religious motivations, but I think it’s unwise to just assume that.

  27. #27 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 9, 2008

    qetzal –

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that, but I think it is pretty likely.

  28. #28 B8ovin
    June 9, 2008

    Baboo, I agree with up to this point:

    “And we still have not evolved sufficiently to have the luxury of using only our more reflective and abstract analytical capacities.”

    I am not certain of my reasoning, but I can’t think of how much further we can evolve to afford this luxury once we have the armaments, the capacity, to cause our own extinction. Indeed, I don’t see that we have the luxury NOT to be more reflective.

    Whether or not you are correct that “religion is a codification of rules for dealing with imminent acts of nature” (and I disagree with you, as I think it is the codification of behavior modification and crowd control), it remains that it is also a tool for political manipulation and active motivation. Given that both of these can be true, wouldn’t it be a positive step to cultivate a society that behaved by rules of reason that simultaneously allowed for the critical analysis of political action?

    Agreed the myriad societies of the world might not agree on these rules, nor follow that form of analysis, but what if the most economically sound, militarily advanced nations did? Surely, that would improve, to no small measure, the current condition. THIS, was the point of Dawkins’ arguments that Jacobs ignored or, perhaps, misrepresented, and what Jason was defending. It was also the reality Dawkins’ dismissed as having real world potential, a point Jacobs criminally neglected to mention.

  29. #29 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    BBovin, what I actually wrote was that “Religions are IN MANY WAYS a codification of rules for dealing with imminent acts of nature.” These rules were certainly not perfect and by their very nature have subjected their adherents to manipulation by the more powerful among them.
    Behavior modification and crowd control, etc., have always had a religious aspect as far as we can tell – and when societies have attempted to replace religion, all they have actually managed to do (ultimately without success) is substiute the tyranny of human masters for that of the gods.

    We can certainly work to reform the outdated rules that the religious have had faith in, although that faith in the US has been observed more by lip service than actual behavior.
    Introducing a more rational outlook, in this country at least, is not out of the question.
    Nor would it be in certain areas of Asia and Europe. But in the vast Muslim world, where science is having a very hard row to hoe, rationality as the modus operandi seems a long way off.
    We have seen what emotional thinking has done in our own economically sound militarily advanced and supposedly democratic society. Does it look to you that we will become a place where the rational prevails any time soon? We need to recognize the role that our emotions play and take that into account, instead of assuming our rational thoughts take precedence. We need to recognize the emotions are in fact the final arbiter of all our decisions. Our irrationality has been more due to a failure to recognize the nature of that mechanism than anything else.

  30. #30 Jud
    June 9, 2008

    qetzal wrote: Personally, I suspect things would be better in the absence of such religious motivations, but I think it’s unwise to just assume that.

    Jason wrote: qetzal -

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that, but I think it is pretty likely.

    OK, I now leave it to either or both of you to provide a rational evidence-based argument why what you’ve said should be true. :-)

  31. #31 Blake Stacey
    June 9, 2008

    The Problem of Evil is not insurrmountable for the Christian theist when the fall and free moral agency become part of the formula.

    Ah, yes, the good old “eating the fruit made Adam’s balls drop” argument.

    But for the atheist/ naturalist/ evolutionist, the problem of Good requires a transcendant answer, and that escapes Science & Reason.

    What?

    No, seriously, what?

  32. #32 Collin Brendemuehl
    June 9, 2008

    Baboo,
    If you even maintain the concepts of good and evil then you have a transcendant value without a deity. That’s what “religious” means. Unless, of course, you want to subject yourself to Nietzsche and the problems that he created …

  33. #33 Blake Stacey
    June 9, 2008

    But that doesn’t mean other social forces couldn’t have filled in that blank, or won’t fill it in the future if religion ebbs. To assert that religion is special in this regard is in my mind to forego, at least to an extent, the right to disagree in concept with those who assert religion should be considered special in other regards.

    I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this, and I haven’t had much luck. Who is asserting that “religion”, broadly speaking, has a special status? It is merely a factor leading to the creation of scarce resources, one whose removal might hypothetically improve the situation in some parts of the world. No doubt new problems would arise; history does not know happy endings. Transient and local improvements are, however, still improvements.

  34. #34 Blake Stacey
    June 9, 2008

    If you even maintain the concepts of good and evil then you have a transcendant value without a deity.

    No, you don’t. You’re presuming your conclusion.

    That’s what “religious” means.

    Not to everybody.

  35. #35 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    And Collin, let me add this from good old Wikipedia:
    “Depending on the context, good and evil may represent personal judgments, societal norms, or claims of absolute value related to human nature or to transcendent religious standards.”

    And it was clearly the claim of absolute value that I can find no basis for outside of religious assertions.

  36. #36 Moody834
    June 9, 2008

    Baboo said:

    The problem with all that is that we have short term and long term calculating systems, dominated by what is popularly called our emotional and largely unconscious brain functions. Many commentators here have been observed to use emotional arguments as the height of rationality.

    Funny… I don’t recall having said that emotions are bad, or intimated that emotions are opposed to or opposite of rationality. Also, I think that what we usually call “emotional” is not a “largely unconscious brain function”. I would like an expansion of what you refer to the “short term and long term calculating systems”, as I really don’t get your meaning.
    Baboo also said:

    And we still have not evolved sufficiently to have the luxury of using only our more reflective and abstract analytical capacities.

    I am not sure why this would be necessary in any case. Again, I don’t think that emotions are opposed to or opposite of rationality. Too, I think it’s fair to note that ‘we would not have evolved, or survived to evolve, by use of a purely EMOTIONAL process – one that took NO time to sort out possible reactions to unknown forces with theretofore unknown consequences in that organism’s experience’, either. You present a false dichotomy here when you apparently attempt to implicate me in wanting us all to be Vulcans a la Star Trek.

    I thought it was relatively clear when I suggested that “A healthy, educated rationality offers the way for us to avoid the pitfalls of mindless selfishness”. I thought especially that the qualifying words “healthy, educated” would shut out any notion that I was referring to some lizard-like approach to the world.

    Baboo further said:

    We haven’t yet found substitutes for those [religious] codes that the majority of the world’s society would willingly adopt in their place.

    Yes. I agree with the second half of that statement. Of course we’ve found “substitutes”–not that they are actually substitutes, but more of a GPL’d, open source code–to religions’ various (but not essentially varied) closed source moral programs. That’s why we must undermine religion wherever it attempts to gain its opiate-like hold on people and why we must help society to find a healthier way to celebrate life and to deal with nature’s imminent acts.

  37. #37 Jud
    June 9, 2008

    Blake Stacey wrote: Who is asserting that “religion,” broadly speaking, has a special status?

    Sorry, I was making an unfounded assumption that folks would get context for this from my earlier comments.

    Those who are asserting that religion has a special status are those who would treat it as (sorry, can’t think of a better word) sacred and at least partially exempt from criticism. They range from fundamentalists to those agnostics and atheists who characterize as “militant” or “angry” what I find to be rather reasoned criticisms by Dawkins, PZ, Larry Moran, Jason, etc.

    IMO it is fundamental to agree that religion is *not* special in order to maintain the argument that it should be subject to the same types of criticisms as any other social philosophy. When Jason says it is undeniable that religion is an especially important source of evil, I must disagree on two counts:

    - One, that to characterize religion as an especially important source of evil is no more logically defensible than to characterize it as an especially important force for good. We’re all familiar with this latter argument in the form of the canard that one can’t be moral without belief in God.

    - Two, that it is certainly not the *source* of evil. Humans are the authors of their own good and bad behaviors, whether they think “I do this for myself,” “I do this for my country,” or “I do this for God.”

    It’s on this latter basis that I’m skeptical of the thought that even transient and local improvements would arise from the removal of religion (supposing that could be accomplished). A sociopolitical environment that would permit religion to be forcibly “removed” would not likely be one conducive to improving the situation of the people within it. OTOH, were one to posit a sociopolitical environment where rationality in human interaction caused religion to die out, one would be presupposing not only the very improvements that lack of religion was to have caused, but (I would also suggest) some rather fundamental changes in us human animals.

  38. #38 baboo
    June 9, 2008

    Moody834 wrote:
    “Funny… I don’t recall having said that emotions are bad, or intimated that emotions are opposed to or opposite of rationality. Also, I think that what we usually call “emotional” is not a “largely unconscious brain function”. I would like an expansion of what you refer to the “short term and long term calculating systems”, as I really don’t get your meaning.”

    You didn’t say they were bad, you just seem to have left them out of the equation by indicating rationality was a viable solution to counter religious thinking, which is essentially emotionally based reasoning. You gave no indication that this would be as difficult to deal with as I am fairly certain it will be.

    “Again, I don’t think that emotions are opposed to or opposite of rationality.”

    But in many ways they ARE opposed to the logical processes we refer to as rational. They ARE our predominate short term calculating apparatus.

    “You present a false dichotomy here when you apparently attempt to implicate me in wanting us all to be Vulcans a la Star Trek.”

    Actually whether you wanted that goal or not, a rational approach that didn’t deal with the different rational systems used by our brains in differing circumstances would be Vulcan like – except that it wouldn’t have even worked for Vulacns if they were in any way mortal beings.

    When you speak of religion as attempting to gain an “opiate-like hold” on people, you are attributing to it the very force that should have also required an acknowledgment of whence that force arises.

  39. #39 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 10, 2008

    Jud –

    In describing religion as an especially important source of evil in the world I meant simply that it is one that seems to be implicated over and over again in the world’s hotspots. People are innately tribal and xenophobic, and we frequently must compete for scarce resources, so even without any supernatural baggage there would still inevitably be conflicts and even wars. But religion does seem to be a highly effective device for bringing people’s tribalism to the surface, and of drumming up particularly senseless conflicts.

    I’m afraid I disagree with the last portion of your last comment. As I argued at the end of my post, we have actual examples to look at regarding what happens to a society when large percentages of the people willingly let go of religion. There is no need to presuppose anything. The countries of Scandanavia and Western Europe have, for the most part, created societies where religion has relatively little sway over the public imagination, and more importantly a diminished role in government. I don’t think they achieved this by making fundamental changes in human nature.

  40. #40 Blake Stacey
    June 10, 2008

    One, that to characterize religion as an especially important source of evil is no more logically defensible than to characterize it as an especially important force for good.

    What? Surely we could conceive of evidence pointing one way or the other, even if that evidence were difficult to collect. What is “logically defensible” in abstract terms is irrelevant; the important matter is which propositions about human society can be made to yield testable predictions and held to the touchstone of observation.

    Two, that it is certainly not the *source* of evil. Humans are the authors of their own good and bad behaviors, whether they think “I do this for myself,” “I do this for my country,” or “I do this for God.”

    So? Way upthread, HP was making the point that, absent any actual supernatural intervention, the only thing we have to judge religion by is human behavior. What factors in environment and temperament motivate a person to do good or evil? As best as I can parse your argument, neither greed nor nationalism nor religious bigotry can be implicated as driving forces behind human actions.

    I suspect I am suffering a complete comprehension failure of your remarks, so rather than “communicate” at cross purposes any longer, I’ll stop now.

  41. #41 moody834
    June 10, 2008

    Baboo said:

    You gave no indication that [using rationality as a solution to counter religious thinking] would be as difficult to deal with as I am fairly certain it will be.

    It’s not so difficult when a solid, well-rounded education is the norm. This is not to say that only stupid people commit supremely irrational acts (such as blowing themselves up or flying planes into buildings), that would be patently false, but well educated people are less likely to be inculcated by irrational ideologies than people living in a mind-numbing state of ignorance.

    Now, before this goes off track, let me say what I feel a well-rounded education includes. First of all, the tools of critical and in-depth thought, going hand in hand with the basic RWA formula crucial for the young. Then, a sense of history (from world-evolutionary to world-cultural). A solid primer in sociology. Phys. Ed. complementing biology courses. Sex Ed. (age appropriate) complementing ongoing coursework in interpersonal communication. Something along these lines. In other words, from the start our children should be given the educational foundation upon which a just, irenic, ethical and socially conscious life may be confidently built. I think that, for a child, there is no need at all for the introduction of any mystical/supernatural explanations for life or morality. It is clear that, like many other species, humans have an innate sense of “right” and “wrong” (hence a work like The Phaedrus, wherein we read, as you’ll recall: “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good — Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”).

    Further, having evoked Socrates, I think it apposite to say that I think the irrational, the unconscious, our emotional perceptions and expressions, all the pomp and circumstance of our adolescence, will take on a new and healthier meaning once decoupled from the hegemony of religion that permeates our culture more finely than the gross exploits of the fundamentalists might incline one to suppose. This has become my experience in the middle of my life after a great deal of work overthrowing the bogey of the supernaturally spiritual.

    Do I think it will be easy? No; frankly, I don’t think anything to do with humanity is easy. But–I think it is necessary in order for humanity to leave its swaddling clothes behind and plunge, naked and alive, into the better possibilities of the future. As love is a fountainhead for emotions, I expect us to always have them, and I hope we do. I think that they serve rationality when we are educated about them and are given the tools to work with them. I find that religion generally stymies growth past a certain point, preferring to pass of uncertainties and discomforts as somehow being the work of “God” and not something to be explored in terms of a holistic, human education.

    Baboo also said:

    When you speak of religion as attempting to gain an “opiate-like hold” on people, you are attributing to it the very force that should have also required an acknowledgment of whence that force arises.

    I am sorry to say that I am not sure I know what you are getting at here. Also, I would still like an expansion of what you refer to as “short term and long term calculating systems”. I gather that you mean we make snap judgments from an emotional base first before applying rationality to the end of understanding something? If so, I think that only helps my case that a well-rounded education leads to better outcomes thanks in large part to the provision of handier rational tools.

  42. #42 baboo
    June 10, 2008

    moody834,
    When I spoke of countering religious thinking, I had also referred to it as essentially emotionally based reasoning. And that’s also the type of thinking that, to use your own words, gains an “opiate-like hold” on people.
    Clearly not all people – not on you and not on I. And certainly people in some cultures more than others.
    And when I mention short term and long term calculating systems, I’m making the basic distinction between our emotional thought processes, which ARE largely unconscious, and our more rational thought processes that allow us to think about long term and thus the more abstract form of problems. Not that the rational brain can’t also deal with short term problems, but in practice the emotional brain (so I’m told) more often than not does a better job at this
    But it’s also in the emotional brain where the decisions to accept religious dogma as viable lie. And it’s a decision making process that we cannot consciously monitor except by inference more or less after the fact.
    The form of logic used in this process is much more influenced by considerations of hope and desire than in the rational brain. And some believe that there are strategies built into that part of our brains that cause us to see nature as a purposeful force both amenable to human persuasion while at the same time requiring compliance with its demands. And since we feel these things as a given, and essentially without any conscious input to the calculating process, it’s immensely difficult for many to be at all objective about the religious process. (I’m trying hard here not to embark on some long and boring dissertation on the subject.).
    And if that’s not hard enough for the rational brain to deal with effectively, the emotional brain is thought by many to be the final arbiter of all our rational processes – in effect making it the judge of whether any arguments directed toward changing it’s core beliefs and strategies are persuasive.
    So when faced with the problem of reforming religious beliefs and practices, let alone one of eliminating them, it’s a wonder (if my view of the situation is correct) that we have made any progress at all in this regard. But clearly we have, and clearly it hasn’t been easy, and may not get any easier.

  43. #43 Jud
    June 10, 2008

    Jason wrote: I’m afraid I disagree with the last portion of your last comment.

    Hey, it’s your blog – feel free. ;-)

    As I argued at the end of my post, we have actual examples to look at regarding what happens to a society when large percentages of the people willingly let go of religion. There is no need to presuppose anything. The countries of Scandinavia and Western Europe have, for the most part, created societies where religion has relatively little sway over the public imagination, and more importantly a diminished role in government. I don’t think they achieved this by making fundamental changes in human nature.

    Well, ISTM we’ve still got the chicken-and-egg problem here. Is religion’s retreat a cause or result (or both) of generally good living standards and lack of violent conflict?

    Nor does the diminished sway of religious belief necessarily diminish the power of identity politics as a source of conflict. (E.g., the French may no longer be such observant Catholics, but a substantial segment of the population identifies sufficiently with Catholicism to know they dislike Muslims and Jews.) Of course this sort of identity politics is itself irrational, but it is no longer fundamentally dependent on belief in a deity.

    I guess I’d put myself in the “agnostic” camp with regard to whether belief in a deity acts as a cause of evil to some extent independent from fundamental human nature. (Blake, re your reference to “neither greed nor nationalism nor religious bigotry” – I’d say the first of these is a fundamental component of human nature, so yes it can be implicated as a driving force behind human actions. Nationalism and religious bigotry? I’d class these more as effects of human nature than components of it, but obviously issues of cause and effect regarding motivation of individuals or large groups are not simple ones.) Human social behavior is so complex, with so many interwoven causes and effects, that I can’t confidently draw a simple one-to-one relationship between belief in a deity as causative and evil as the result.

  44. #44 Goatboy
    June 10, 2008

    Moody834 ? It in no way really contradicts what you meant, but you might like to consider the Taiping rebellion in China. The second (third?) bloodiest conflict recorded in human history was begun by a chap who claimed he was Jesus? younger brother. Now, I don?t believe him, but, if the younger son of god was in fact leading an army, how would we know?

    Re, Dawkins? comments about religion. Whilst I don?t believe he has ever proposed theism as the only agent of irrational violence, what Dawkins has argued is that such violence frequently (actually, always, when it takes place above a certain scale) originates from irrational ideology and that religions, almost by definition form a (very large) subset of such ideologies.

    Lastly, on the prevalence of suicide bombings, has anyone done any analysis of the selected target type against specific ideology of the bomber?

    I?ve nothing except a hypothesis pulled straight from my arse, but, I would not be surprised to find that the religious suicide bombers are engaged in more terrorism attacks, as opposed to the SEA Marxists who (IIRC) tend to hit targets with more military value (I seem to recall reading something about female Tamil suicide bombers being especially useful as assassins).

  45. #45 ctw
    June 10, 2008

    moody834 says:

    “I don’t think that emotions are opposed to or opposite of rationality.”

    “I think that what we usually call ‘emotional’ is not a ‘largely unconscious brain function’”

    baboo’s “emotions” are in the Damasio sense, moody834′s appear to be in the conventional sense – in which case I fear your positions can never converge. Might I suggest agreeing on a common definition? My guess is that in essence you two actually aren’t very far apart modulo some definitional differences.

    FWIW, my bet is with baboo that it will be extremely difficult to effect moderation or suppression of those evolved “emotions” (Damasio sense) on a large scale. A “solid, well-rounded education” appears to be only conditionally effective, and those conditions seem to be relatively rare. Just consider where a half century of near obsessive focus on “education” in the US has gotten us so far.

    And yes, I understand that the current education is far from moody834′s ideal. But it’s what that half century of obsession has yielded, so changing it is part of the challenge.

    - Charles

  46. #46 JimV
    June 10, 2008

    It occurs to me that I have a small bit of evidence to present on this topic (significance of religion for good or ill).

    Background: in a weak moment I signed up for cable TV, which usually is 77 channels of stuff not worth watching. Three of them are all religion (Christianity) all the time. The other day while flipping through them I paused to hear a nice-seeming lady tell me that if I sent her a letter or an email with $100, every morning for 30 days she will put her hand on that letter or email and ask God to send me the miracle I need.

    There were probably a couple of infomercials on other channels selling equally worthless stuff, but not three channels worth all day; also I’ll bet the stuff sold in those infomercials at least generates some tax revenues.

    Whether the world would be a lot better off without religion I can’t say. Probably we would find plenty of other things to fight about or waste time and money on, and in many cases religion is probably just an excuse for doing things people want to do anyway. Still, I think the above example, while trivial in the grand scheme of things, illustrates that it does cause harm (granting my premise that no miracles will result from the donations).

  47. #47 Jud
    June 10, 2008

    JimV: Humm, but then the question is whether religion is more harmful, from a scam point of view, than Nigerians, and whether we should be putting forth an agenda to reduce the number of Nigerians in the future. ;-)

  48. #48 JimV
    June 10, 2008

    Jud: I think the more analogous agenda would be to reduce the number of people who are taken in by scammers, whether Nigerian or otherwise. (Sorry if I am misinterpreting your remark and taking it too seriously – perhaps the non sequitor was deliberate.)

  49. #49 B8ovin
    June 10, 2008

    Baboo, I wish to clarify my thinking on a point you make. My anecdotal evidence, using myself as both observed and observer, is that I love my family in such an emotional way that their faults are nearly invisible. In short, there is nothing rational about my approach to the purely emotional.

    In politics and many other social areas I try to be as rational and critical as possible. I don’t think I am extraordinary in this regard.
    My point is it is possible to be both emotional and rational as befits the subjects of our focus. I don’t see a necessary dichotomy there. I would further stipulate that my ideal would be a society that in great majorities abandoned the mis-application of emotions in questions that required more critical thought. How likely that is I leave to your imagination, but it is not unworthy to, as Dawkins does, imagine it is possible.
    As to the middle east, I find that issue ancillary. If the greater powers of the industrial world approached the middle east with rational critical thought there might be a resolution, at least in how that world approaches that region (by the way, I have the same misgivings for Africa).
    In any event, all this is an unlikely exercise in rhetoric as I am sure you are right in your assessment of human nature. Also, sorry if I misquoted you before.

  50. #50 baboo
    June 10, 2008

    B8ovin wrote: “My point is it is possible to be both emotional and rational as befits the subjects of our focus. I don’t see a necessary dichotomy there.”

    That’s correct, but then if you define dichotomy as a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different, that’s not what I was proposing, as I don’t see the divisions in our calculative processes as being “opposed” to each other or as entirely different. (Although the differences do seem to be the main source of what we call cognitive dissonance.)

    But the differences that do exist can be critical if we fail to recognize either their existence or relative importance.

    Also I’m asking myself why I failed to mention Africa as an area critical to this discussion.
    It’s not that I don’t consider that continent as equally important. It may be that the potential there for disruption in the overall scheme of things is so great that it hurts to think about it.

  51. #51 baboo
    June 10, 2008

    But for signs of positive change in Africa, check out this site: http://www.nexteinstein.org/

  52. #52 Phaedrus
    June 11, 2008

    2 cents :
    People invent religion when they have to. Like language, it is an inherent part of being human. Through training, rationality can replace it in some instances, but it always remains and is easily exploitable to the right dog whistle.

    The challenge is to find a religion that is free of all the negatives and is based on rationality. I’m writing this extemporaneously, so I’m guessing there are flaws in this line of reasoning – but the idea that humans can somehow be “religious” free seems like a non-starter. Perhaps a working definition of religion is in order.

    Anyway, I come down in the “remove religion and people will find other justifications for bad acts” camp.

  53. #53 JimV
    June 11, 2008

    Phaedrus: a cent or two in return -

    Some years ago while visiting relatives I went to church on Sunday with them. The adult Sunday School class which I attended was going through a comparative religion video by some theologian whose name I have forgotten (Spong?). The segment for that class was “Secular Humanism”. He (the theologian) listed the tenets of SH, which I have also forgotten but included something like these: Secular Humanists believe in compassion, they believe in the work ethic, and they believe in human progress over time through education (and have no supernatural beliefs). I thought, wow, that sounds like the religion for me, where do I sign up.

    The lecturer (a Christian apparently), then gave his critique: “Secular Humanists have both feet firmly planted – in mid air!” That is, since they had no supernatural authority figure they had no basis for their moral precepts (an argument whose earliest known rebuttal is attributed to Socrates).

    The buzzer for the end of the class sounded just about then, with no time for class discussion, but the class leader (who was also the church pastor) hurriedly exclaimed something like, “Those Secular Humanists are a big problem! The colleges are full of them! Watch out where you send your kids to school!”

    Anyway, maybe that’s the rational religion you were hoping for.

  54. #54 JimCH
    June 11, 2008

    JimV…
    That’s funny. I had an amazingly similar experience. But the buzzer at the end of sunday school class? That seems unusual.

  55. #55 J. J. Ramsey
    June 12, 2008

    Rosenhouse: “But most of them would also not be immolating themselves if they did not believe that their religion required it of them.”

    IIRC, Robert Pape in Dying to Win pointed out that early Muslim suicide bombers (which I think may have included Hezbollah, but my memory is hazy on that point) had to make arguments as to why the Islamic prohibitions against suicide don’t apply to them. Suicide bombers convinced themselves that their strategy was necessary, given their limited resources, and their actions were more akin to sacrificing their lives in a holy war effort (and hence “martyrs”). To put it bluntly, they wouldn’t be immolating themselves if they thought they could win without it.

  56. #56 JimV
    June 12, 2008

    JimCH: it could well be I’m misremembering the buzzer, but this pastor was what Seinfeld might call a long-talker, and church service was scheduled to start soon thereafter, and the class was down in the basement with no clock on the wall. Maybe he went long and delayed the start of church a few times and they decided to put a timer on him. I am sure the class ended abruptly, with a rush to get out at the end.

    Sometimes when I visited my relatives skipped the Sunday School session in order to set up the sound system and rehearse a musical presentation in the main part of the church, and I got to sit in a pew and listen to them instead of attending Sunday School. Sometimes I would pull a Bible out of the pew-back-rack in front of me, open it at random and read about some atrocity. The last such time was a story from near the end of King David’s reign, when there was a famine caused (it said) by the fact that King Saul had done something bad years ago to a tribe that was upright and righteous in God’s sight. So King David asked the tribal leaders what he could do to make it right. After some hemming and hawing, they asked that seven of Saul’s closest surviving relatives be given to them. Good King David agreed, except he exempted the line of his friend Jonathan. So seven were chosen and the tribe tortured them, killed them, laid their bodies on a hill, and lo, God was pleased and the famine ended.

    I’ll claim that as another case where religion did harm, since I don’t accept the premise as to why the famine started and stopped. Faulty premises tend to lead to faulty conclusions. Religion isn’t responsible for all faulty premises, but it is for some of them.

  57. #57 buzz
    June 12, 2008

    Is not a religion that claims some influence over the supernatural always proceeding from a faulty premise?

  58. #58 osmaniye çiçek
    January 3, 2010

    thank you very good

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