Monday, September 18, 2006

Proving the Pope Right

Suppose you had the following theory - that the Moslem religion has brought nothing new to the world except evil and inhumane acts. How would you set about convincing others that there may be some truth to it? You could read up on a lot of history, both recent and from times long ago, and write volumes on the subject; but of course, to be fair, it would have to be a comparative history showing that, in comparison to other religions, the claim is borne out. But that would take a long long time, and of course would spur a long debate that would bring to light new and novel interpretation of well documented facts, the introduction of new facts that you may have ignored or were ignorant of, countless debates, calls for further dialogue, etc. etc.

Or you could just quote someone else who said that very thing. And then, rather than document and prove your point with words, stand back and see the adherents to the religion of Peace (who to this day enslave Christians, preach conversion by the sword, talk about the infidel dog, call the Jews the modern day Nazis) burn churches and kill Italian nuns. Point proved if you ask me, but then again I didn't really need any more proof than what has been on offer for years (others more historically informed would say it's been on offer for centuries).

I am sympathetic to the argument that a small minority of extremists have distorted Islam, but I think that argument only goes so far. It seems to me that certain aspects of the religion lend it to extremism on the part of its adherents, especially as compared to the other major religions of the world. To say that it only does so for, say, five percent of Moslems, is no wringing endorsement, if other religions do not contribute to extremism at all. Every religion has its nuts, but only the imams of Islam seem to be confused about the difference between a martyr (the Christian conception of which is someone who dies in defense of their faith) and a suicide bomber, who dies in defense of nothing so as to kill innocents. Encouraging five percent of their unbalanced followers to terrorism (if that is all they have done), given the damage that minority is done, is too much to hold the religion in high esteem even if the remaining 95 percent are pious and peace-loving.

Think of it this way - if you were a non-believer in God, but you had to choose a religion for your kids, would you choose the one that maximizes the probability of them becoming murderers? Think about it as prescribing a medicine for your kid - all religions may, on average, yield equally beneficent effects on the virtue of their adherents, but only one seems to have such violent side effects in a non-negligible subset of the population.

I am reading a very enlightening book now by James Bowman (Honor: A History, you can order the book from his website:, who makes the point that the Arab world is an old-time medieval honor culture, and that much of how they behave is not to be explained by their particular religion, but instead can be understood within the context of that old-time honor culture, which is largely dead in the West. That old-time honor culture put a lot of weight on any public comment - if you insulted a guy's wife, his courage, his religion, whatever - you had to be prepared to duel or be exposed as a coward whose insult cannot carry any weight. Words often led to matters of life and death. "Honor" killings are still very much a part of the Arab Moslem world, and their reaction to the Pope's comments - treating them literally as "fightin words" - fits Bowman's hypothesis very neatly.

So one might argue that it is this old honor culture that, independent from the religion, would lead to the same behavior. But Bowman knows that the religion is not entirely blameless, because he spends a fair amount of time in the book describing how Christianity had a clear and civilizing influence on the concept of honor. One religion seems to lead people out of the insane aspects of the old honor culture, whereas the other keeps them mired in it.


The Phillies swept the Astros and are 1 game behind the reeling Dodgers for the wild card. Bet the college fund that they lose their next game!


Blogger pbryon said...

Maybe a little off topic, but do you think a Cardinal truly believes that he becomes infallible once he's been elected Pope?

In the context of this discussion, does Benedict think he has the weight of God behind what he says about Islam?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

If I remember correctly, the Pope's comments are only infallible if he specifically states that he is truly speaking as the head of the church, "ex cathedra" or something like that.

Otherwise, he is just speaking as another guy with an opinion, albeit a weighty one.

I'll have to agree with Hatch that if religion is the opiate of the masses, then there is no way the FDA would approve Islam. Way too many side effects among a significant portion of the population. (On the other hand, moderate Muslims would simply argue that Islam is not dangerous if taken as directed.)

Of course, as an ultra-conservative, Hatch probably has complaints about the the FDA's drug approval process as well.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to PBryon - What, you mean the Cardinals don't already believe their infallible? Or many of the priests...?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

Hi Professor Vic- I enjoyed your "FDA" analogy, not just because I agreed with it, but because I work for a drug company, & our regulating government agency is the FDA.

You're absolutely right--if religion were a drug, then Islam would never get approved by the FDA. I could imagine that audit...

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster. How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops, and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of colonial administration which can benefit nobody but its administrators?" -- August 22, 1920, written by former Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence (AKA Lawrence of Arabia)

11:02 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, he was an English guy, he came to fight the Turkish.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Pulvarizer said...

When viewing Christianity through the perspective of people who: (1) murder doctors because they perform abortions, (2) hold up signs at public demonstrations that say God hates fags, (3) condemn other nations because they teach practical family planning by promoting the use of condoms, (4) justify slavery with obscure and vague passages from the bible, (5) make statements that 9/11 happened because God was upset with Americans because of their support for things such as abortions, feminism, the ACLU and homosexuals, (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson), and (6) the hundreds of thousands killed and tortured as part of the Crusades, Christianity doesn’t look so attractive either. The point is, you can’t view religion though a snap shot in time, or through a few of its followers. To assess a religion’s divinity, it can only be properly viewed through the broad scope of humanity, not through an incredibly narrow view of its most radicals adherents.

If you really believe Islam is a religion that seeks to tear apart, enslave, and bring misery to this world, then you can’t believe, as the Bush Administration does, that we can co-exist with Arab-Islamic states in peace, no matter what form their governments take, democratic or otherwise. If you really believed this, then we’d have no choice but to lead a holy-war against all of Islam, because how can we live with those who believe in a religion that is focused on destroying peace?

2:07 PM  
Blogger Hatcher said...


As I said, every religion has its nuts (as does atheism). The difference is one embraces them and calls them heroes.

Also, your number 3 is really really lame, and you should read a little history about the Crusades. Come to think of it, all of them are really really lame. These guys behead infidel dogs, and you are worried what the pope thinks about handing out condoms. Nice try.

And, yes you can believe it. The emphasis is on empowering the sane and moderate voices in Islam - if you do that, you have no problem. But getting there is a problem.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Pulvarizer said...

I’ll admit #3 didn’t provide the best support given this topic, but hey, I was pressed for time. How about we replace it with these:

“When you get through you say, ‘If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom [the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where the State Department’s building is located]. I think that’s the answer, I mean, you get through this and you say, ‘We’ve got to blow that thing up.’” – Pat Robertson, statement made on his television show.

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." - 1992 Iowa fundraising letter opposing a state equal-rights amendment – Pat Robertson

"[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers." The 700 Club, 1/18/95

"We're not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us," NBC News quoted Graham saying at the dedication of a North Carolina chapel in October. "The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." – Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham quoted by NBC news.

Embryonic stem cell research is akin to the Nazi's live human experiments in World War II concentration camps. – James Dobson on his August 23, 2005 radio program.

Television preacher and Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell has warned parents that "Tinky Winky," a character on the popular PBS children's show, "Teletubbies," may be gay. (threw this one in just for fun.)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous G Hindsley said...

You were right about the Phils. It's hard being a Philly fan...

9:02 AM  

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