Liberal Purity

Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, implores all of us, but especially liberals, to try to expand our moral intuitions to include dimensions they might not have before. He categorizes the six relevant axes as: Care/Harm, Fairness/cheating, Liberty/oppression, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion and Sanctity/degradation, and has found in his research that the last three don’t really resonate with liberals.

I wrote last time about what it might be like to try to make those qualities more morally relevant, and in thinking and reading about it (for instance my wonderful comments section), some weaknesses in Haidt’s theory have come to light. For instance, it seems that liberals do have glands for loyalty, authority and sanctity, though they take a different form than they do in conservative thought. And secondly, in my view, it is where liberals have these senses activated that their politics are worst. It is a very good thing to understand where others are coming from, but it is also a good thing to not assume that the most understanding view is the correct one.

Examples of Liberal Purity

  • Leah Libresco has discussed the way the Effective Altruism movement “can feel more like a “purity” decision than other modes of thought people have used to date”, in exactly Haidt’s sense. For those not familiar, Effective Altruism is a movement of people dedicated to doing the most good they can with their charitable dollars, and sometimes their whole lives. From a utilitarian standpoint, what that ends up meaning is that there is a maximally good thing you could be doing, and everything else is not that. In fact, utilitarianism itself, generally associated with liberalism because of its universalism (and to be fair to Haidt, its anti-authoritarianism and anti-tribalism), is generally going to lead to a purity ethic, since things are not just good, they are quantifiably good, and other things are usually better.
  • Environmentalism, similarly, advances “clean energy”, and speaks of coal companies not only as evil, but as disgusting, contrasting the pristine atmosphere with the black fumes belching from smokestacks.

Clean eating sadly doesn’t seem to involve a lot of cheesecake

  • Lefty spiritualism tends to make great use of the purity ethic; there is much talk of cleansing one’s self of toxins, and raw and non-meat foods are spoken of as cleaner than their alternatives (think “clean eating”). This is sometimes as narrowly applied to kale and quinoa, and sometimes as broad as not eating fast food or processed food. In either case, the higher, cleaner, greener things are purer than dirty, fatty, mass-produced food.
  • As in all political disputes, liberals speak of their opponents not only as wrong, but as disgusting. Bigotry and prejudice are dirty, and they tar anyone accused of them. This is by no means limited to liberals, but it certainly does not pass them by.

Perhaps in contradiction with Haidt’s hope that in understanding the moral foundations of one’s political opponents, we will all come a little closer together, it seems to me that these purity-based progressive communities come under some of the most fire from conservatives. Spiritualism and environmentalism are soundly mocked, and it might be precisely because they make use of the purity ethic. It’s one thing if liberals just don’t get the need for purity (they fail to recognize the decay of the social fabric, they have no respect for the sanctity of human life, etc.), but it might be all the worse if they claim to understand, only to get it drastically wrong. Heresy and false idols are sometimes worse than atheism.

One of the weaknesses of the purity ethic, as this showcases, is that it doesn’t allow much room for pluralism or diversity, since any step away from the highest and holiest is wrong and bad. It’s telling, for instance, that effective altruists may not want to be seen the way described above. And I wouldn’t either. The purity-based ideologies in liberalism are some of those I’m most embarrassed to see on my team. I think environmentalism is great, but if you sacralize the environment, it becomes impossible to make even beneficial trade-offs for other valuable things, like economic development that improves and saves lives. Environmentalism is at its best when it emphasizes the people hurt by climate change and polluted resources (care/harm), not when it makes you a disgusting person for not driving a Prius. Purity is a blinding force, making it harder, not easier, to compromise (as Haidt himself says, morality “binds and blinds.” Haidt wants liberals to understand purity, but when they do, they tend (as all humans do) to see themselves at the top of the scale and others, like conservatives, at the bottom. I think I’d prefer less purity-based thinking rather than more.

(Certainly, it is valuable to understand the sanctity ethic to be able to empathize and steelman and model other people’s minds better. But that might not be worth going so far as to weave that ethics further into our politcs).

The problem is, if you don’t sacralize anything, and everything is up for discussion, it’s much harder to form extremely cohesive, effective units. Haidt found, for instance, that religious experiments in communal living were about 6 times more effective than secular ones, even when the secular cause was based around shared ideas and beliefs. Furthermore, the more sacrifice was asked for (body modifications, rejection of material goods), the more successful the group, a phenomenon easily seen in fraternity hazing rituals and larger and larger fur caps in Satmar Jewish communities.

It’s still bad, but it does seem to work. Community building is a bizarre art.

Many liberals I know have long been aware of this fact, and as a result have a deep respect for the religious left and fervent moral thinkers of all stripes. Atheists, humanists and rationalists have long been involved in moral communities which approach sacralization of some virtues, from the Ethical Culture society, to humanism itself and to newer approaches, like Solstice. Powerful political communities can take on this flavor all on their own, as anyone who’s sung “We Shall Overcome” at a political rally can attest. But they do largely see their sacred virtues as slightly less ultimate and unquestionable than their more orthodox counterparts.

Nonetheless, these expressions of human community and morality are beautiful and important. Insofar as these are expressions of purity (they aren’t much) or sanctity (this a bit more), this axis has been part of the liberal framework for centuries, and it should continue to be. Making morality concrete and surrounding one’s self with people who ferociously fight for the things you find important is exactly the way to become a more active moral agent, and to become the kind of person you want to be. Hopefully, these approaches can be compromises between the disaffected abstractions that fail to invigorate and inspire and the hyper-self-righteous purity rhetoric that pushes groups apart and undermines our ability to empathize with others and universalize our morality.

Any more “purity” than that, and the benefits of understanding stop being worth it.

Blogathon Wrap Up

I know this is a few days late, but I think it’s nice to have a place where all the posts are in the same place. I also really wanted to have a place to put this beautiful word cloud I made on wordle. It has all the words from all my blogathon posts, scaled to reflect the frequency of their use. I love that I seem to talk about people a lot. The other top words are pretty broad: think, just, know, like, good. They’re my go-to verbs, adjectives and adverbs. But there’s also: math, religious, questions, atheists and argue, and that all seems to describe me pretty well.

blogathon word cloud

For those looking for what I wrote, here are the posts:

My Blogathon Announcement: Where I said I was doing it and explained why I thought it was important.

Beginning Blogathon: Where I talked about why the Secular Student Alliance is so important and wonderful (and also how I got lost getting to where I was going)

What I’ve Learned as President of the Secular Alliance at the University of Chicago: Just a bunch of thoughts on what makes groups succeed and thrive.

On Challenging Religious Beliefs: On why I’m working on not seeing challenging religious beliefs in social settings or online as so cringe-inducing, and why I’m glad people actually do it. (Big honking caveat: All normal social conventions like appropriateness and respect obviously need to apply)

Maaaaaaaath: How and why math is so freaking great. Includes crocheted hyperbolic spaces and some light cursing.

Emotion-based Arguments and the Atheist Community: On my suspicion that arguments about infighting and about accomodationism vs confrontationism might be based more on emotional bias than on good arguments.

Safe Spaces for Racists: On what a space where people could ask “politically incorrect” questions without hurting people might look like. Note: title is meant to be catchy/provocative, not an accurate description of what I’m hoping for. By the way, if you like that post, you might like this one, called, “You Want a Space for Political Incorrectness? You Got It“, in which I announce I’m actually trying to create this space.

Brain Crack: A bunch of silly random ideas I’ve had floating around, like getting kids to teach their own classes and having churches serve as homeless shelters.

That’s all! Thanks so much for reading.

[Blogathon] On Challenging Religious Beliefs

I have a confession to make: I have an entirely negative attitude towards people who ask religious people about their beliefs. When I hear at a party, “But how do you know God exists?” or when I hear over a Friday night dinner table, “But what about the contradictions in the bible?” or anything similar in any social situation, I cringe and walk the other way. Part of that is for decent reasons: I have no reason to expect that anything will be said I haven’t heard a hundred times before, the conversation is likely to be unproductive and/or combative, and there’s high probability of someone getting offended or upset. I honestly don’t want any part of that, especially in a social context.

But that doesn’t really excuse how little I think of the people asking. If I’m being honest, I see asking such questions as low-status. They are, to me, a marker of a 101-type, a newly christened atheist still asking the basic questions. Atheism is boring, after all. There are so many other questions to discuss besides God. I would obviously never be so gauche as to ask my friends what evidence they have for god; my intellectual sophistication means that I instead discuss Talmudic sources and argue about the consistency of John Calvin’s theology.

This is what a page of Talmud looks like, by the way

This attitude also means I’ve bought wholeheartedly into the truth of the Courtier’s Reply. That is, atheists are silly to counter the claims of fundamentalists or youtube commenters. Those are easy to rebut. If you were to read Platinga (I haven’t) or Calvin or Luther or Vatican II, you would understand. Again, it’s a marker of low-status to be pointing out silly things like lack of evidence or evil in the world. Haven’t you examined the best possible counterarguments to your position? Humph, done with you, I’m off to read Luke Muelhauser and Leah Libresco, they’re atheists (or used to be) who take religion seriously.

Now, I’m not throwing out all of this approach. I do think discussions about God at a party are largely uninteresting and unproductive, I do think asking such questions gives me good evidence that someone is a 101 level atheist, and I do think that atheists could stand to know more about common counterarguments to their positions.

But I am deeply questioning the morality and accuracy of my position. Firstly, the sneering superiority really isn’t a good look for anyone. Atheism isn’t my primary hobbyhorse, and I might argue it shouldn’t be anyone’s, but that doesn’t mean that the people who like to argue about it a lot or talk about it a lot are to be looked down on. People have their interests and their preferences, and it’s much more appropriate for me to disagree with the extent to which these people have implicitly prioritized their atheism than to dismiss them entirely. (Somewhat to my credit, consistency-wise, is that I tend not to have a lot of patience for anyone who has just the One Big Thing that they care about, hence my general disapproval of hedgehogs. But the whole low-status business is pretty disgusting on my part.)

Furthermore, some subset of the people who talk about atheism a lot online or in person are new to atheism. Anyone new to a belief system and community deserves the space and patience to do the whole 101-thing, to figure it out for themselves. We should be happy and excited that they’re asking questions and being skeptical, and recognize that there are things we’re all still figuring out. That’s how we make atheism a safe place to land.

Also, I’m often secretly happy that this kind of person challenges religious people, and actually makes them argue for their position. As we know, religious people frequently get a pass on their beliefs that no one else gets on any other type of belief, and I’m only contributing to that state of events by not asking. Good on them for being willing to have the intense conversations, even if I wish they were more charitable and/or less focused on “winning.” And after all, without Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Jacoby, Dennet and others writing books that tackle these issues, the atheist movement really wouldn’t be what it is today, whatever else one might say about them.

On the empirical part, I’m currently reading the entirety of Calvin’s Institutes for a class, and I recently attended a Veritas Forum on Truth and Tolerance that I livetweeted. You know what I’ve noticed? The sophisticated arguments for the truth of scripture and the existence of God? Really not much better than the ones I see on facebook every day. Why is humanity sinful? Because of the fall. Why did god make us fall? He didn’t, we did. Then we have free will? No. Then why is it our fault? It was necessary, but also voluntary. Why would god make our wills such that we would fall? God is perfect. Really? Yes. (The format is different, but this is the actual content of Calvin’s argument). Similarly, the Christian (David Skeel) at the Veritas forum made utterly uncompelling arguments for the existence of god and the redemption of Christ. So I seem to have been wrong about at least a large part of the my belief in the Courtier’s Reply.

That’s why at the Veritas Forum, I asked Professor Skeel what it was like to live in a world where most of the people he cares about and interacts with were going to hell. He’s a public intellectual, making public claims about the nature of the world I think are both wrong and disturbing. Many, many other religious people are making similar claims, equally wrong and equally distressing. They should have to defend those claims, and the fact that I think it’s boring or low-status to be the one to make them doesn’t erase that truth.

Professor Skeel himself

Now, I think there’s a difference between public intellectuals and people at a party or online. And I think there’s definitely a difference between people who personally believe things and people who are very public about them. But I no longer think it is a useless or rude thing to ask about and challenge religious beliefs (except when it is, and I trust my readers can figure out appropriate contexts). I may still find it uninteresting, and I may still find many of the actual arguments made in such discussions uncharitable or badly made, but I am committed to working on no longer seeing the very act of asking as a low-status thing to do, as something worthy of derision. On the contrary, it’s deeply important.

Green Donate

Atheism: Questions and Answers

So SA got a bunch of emails from an English class in Chicago asking us about our religious beliefs. Apparently they’re doing some kind of project on religion, so Mike Mei and I I gave them our answers on the condition that I could post them. Here they are; I’d love to know what you think! (Note: Yes, there is some overlap, which I warned them about, and yes they are fairly short. Whatever.) If you have other questions you want us to ask about atheist (or in my case, Jewish atheist) identity, please ask in comments! Similarly if you disagree with any of my answers. 
(Partially cross-posted at the UCSecular Blog)


Question Set 1:

1. What made you want to follow the faith that you are following?
I am an atheist, and I identify as such because I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led me to the belief that there is no god.

2. How has your religious belief affected you and those around you?
My atheism, perhaps surprisingly, affects my life relatively little. Most of the time, the notion of god happening not to exist is not on my mind. However, the secular community has become one of my communities of choice, and spending time with such people has enriched my life, the way that such communities do. Similarly, I feel that my atheism has not affected those around me, except that I perhaps engage in more friendly debates about religion than I otherwise would.

3. What is the main concepts/pathways your religion follows?
There is almost certainly no god, meaning is to be found by individual humans through choice and ethics are to be derived from science and human values.

4. How do you define the relationship between the sacred and its followers?
The sacred is a cluster of powerful human intuitions and emotions surrounding these intuitions; followers of the sacred are people who have decided to dedicate some portion of their physical or mental lives to considering and engaging with these intuitions, either individually or in groups with shared tenets or practices.

5. How do you know that you have accomplished your purpose on Earth? Why do you believe you were put on Earth?
I do not believe I was placed on Earth; I believe I was born. I have no external purpose, and the only guidepost I can use to decide whether I have achieved any purpose at all is my own reason and judgment.

6. Describe how you find meaning in your life?  What steps have you taken to achieve completion?
Meaningfulness is also a constructed social understanding of shared human intuition, and so I find it in many of the ways that most humans access those satisfying and powerful emotions: I learn about the things I find interesting, I spend time with people I admire and care about, I set goals for myself that I think are useful, ethical and challenging and try to achieve them and I try to think deeply about the world.

7. Describe how the followers of your religious belief find meaning in their life? What are the steps necessary?
Because atheists are not bound by a series of strict beliefs, tenets and laws, they all find meaning in their own ways. Some are existentialists, who find meaning through choice and experience, some are humanists, who find meaning through ethical practice and community building, some are nihilists, who do not believe in meaning, and some are something else altogether. There are no prescribed steps, nor prescribed meaning.

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Question Set 2:

1.      What kind of religion do you believe in? ex. : Christian, Jewish, Buddhist
I am an atheist.

2.      How long have you been practicing this religion?
I have been an atheist since I was approximately 11 years old (8 years ago) but have been actively engaging with the atheist community for 3 years.

3.      Do you participate in daily or weekly meetings/worship services? If so, how often?
Yes, I go to weekly secular meetings at my school.

4.      Why are you drawn to this particular religious philosophy? Why do you choose it?
I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led me to the belief that there is no god.

5.      In your personal experiences, what did this belief bring to you? How does it influence your life? Why this is important to you?
Atheism has been tremendously liberating and satisfying belief to hold. It makes me feel like a more rational person, a more consistent person, and a more thoughtful person. I can feel proud of this belief, knowing that it is supported by evidence and that it is commensurate with a worldview in which empiricism, science and critical thinking are privileged above dogmatism and tradition. It is a progressive approach to the world, and best of all, it is true.

6.      Can you list and briefly explain some specific events that happened in your life, which this specific religion was involved? (it helped you to make decisions, it told you how to deal with the relationship with people, etc.)
Because atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god, it has never helped me make a specific decision, but the belief that there is no afterlife has certainly made me have much more of a concern for human life now.

7.      How do you identify the word “God”? How do you describe your relationship with the god?
The word God refers to our cultural understanding of a being which satisfies intuitions and emotions we have about the need for objective truth, meaning and morality, the existence of vast and majestic power and the desirability of the existence of an eternal onlooker, judge, king and parental figure.

8.     (Optional) Do you have any friends or family members who are also believe in the same religion?
Yes. Both of my parents are atheists, as are many of my friends and community members.

To check out Mike Mei’s answers, click here, and to check out his blog, click here.

Example 2: Having Opinions

Activism, or even just strong opinion, provides the same set of problems, in a variety of ways. First off is a rethinking of the classic firebrand/diplomat dynamic, about which Greta Christina has written fantastically. The problem is that a brilliant analysis doesn’t make the issue go away, and also, I think she may be oversimplifying. Most social movements aren’t a one-dimensional spectrum; they are way more complicated than that. That’s fine, of course, but when you get people who are not only in conflict but not even addressing the same points, it’s much harder to realize we’re all on the same side.

Any movement can serve as an example, but I’m going to talk about religion. In everyday parlance, it’s easy to squish all of the nuances of thought about the metaphysics of existence, the ontology of the universe, the teleology of life, epistemological concerns about faith and reason into a religious on one side, atheist on the other, agnostic in the middle line. That’s ridiculous. It matters to me whether someone believes in god because they couldn’t imagine a meaningful life without one or because god is a source of morality. It matter whether they oppose religion on principle because of its false teachings or simply because of the disaster it’s wrought. It matters whether religious traditions are important culturally or accomodationist cop-outs. Also, it obviously matters to me whether secularist organizations care more about religious tolerance than they do about exterminating religion. They’re important distinctions, and they really should be talked about. At every moment though, we should be clear about what’s being discussed.

It’s really hard, you know. I just watched this video by TheAmazingAtheist, who I normally think yells more than he thinks. But this happened to be a justifiably angry response to idiotic bigotry, and a surprisingly fervent pro-American ideals stance. I liked it a lot, and I posted it on facebook. The worry, of course, is that my friends who are more in the liberal, tolerant camp will be frustrated that I’ve thrown in my lot with someone who makes a point in his video to discuss how much he hates Islam. It’s certainly problematic, but it’s not a conflict. It’s orthogonal; they have little to do with each other. This is addressing Pat Connell’s remarks about the Islamic Cultural Center and how it relates to the First Amendment. I support the First Amendment, quite a bit, in fact, and it makes me happy to see it defended to vehemently. It’s also great to see an adamantly asshole-ish atheist not take the cowardly stance of opposing the building just because “they don’t like any religious buildings.” The fact that he hates Islam as an ideological system makes his argument all the more powerful. In a video about religious tolerance in general, it might very well detract, but we need to recognize that these lie on non-overlapping categories, and I think it’s important to have people like him, just like him, not like him without the bitchiness, on our side.

On the other hand, PZ Meyers, who is a self-proclaimed dick, but who I admire and like on an intellectual and personal level (I met him! :D) recently responded in what I think is very poor taste to a writer. This commenter, with the moniker of EvolutionSkeptic, told PZ that he has recognized, after much research and self-reflection, the truth of evolution and the lack of evidence for god. He asked, earnestly, how to construct a morality without god. Now, this isn’t, objectively speaking, difficult. In fact, it’s hard to do just the opposite, as this video shows. There’s a wealth of options: Bertrand Russell has some things to say, as does Sam Harris. The classics, of course, are rule or act utilitarianism, virtue ethics and deontology, but there are more. Furthermore, our innate, evolutionarily designed moral senses tend to serve us just fine. But this person just came out of a long relationship with themselves and that moral compass, and PZ decided to start bitching about how the church isn’t moral at all, given its pedophilic priests and Inquisition and WBC, completely missing the point. Greta Christina has written about how we need to make atheism a more comfortable place to land, and I completely agree. PZ has taken a step in the wrong direction; when you’ve finally convinced someone is not the time to be a dick. Giving them praise, encouragement and some valuable links and resources is. So much as I may agree with the specifics of what were said, it goes contrary to my humanist values to agree with the method, tone and choice of strategy.

It’s not that I need a label, but it can be difficult to navigate the enormous number of choices and spectra in a consistent way, especially when, in the case of orthogonal issues (belief and god and appreciation for religion come to mind), a position on one doesn’t actually necessarily help with a decision on another. The sex industry vis a vis feminism poses many of the same problems.
On an intellectual level, it can feel like getting battered around, fighting off the internet idiots claiming that I’m going to hell on one level, engaging on very hard to follow moral philosophy on another, discussing science and religion while having Francis Collins in the back of my head, getting mad at fellow atheists for forgetting that they’re not actually better than everyone else, taking action on what I believe in while making sure that I’m open to changing my mind at any time, worrying that I’m being too accomodationist in the privacy of my mind while fighting off accusations that I’m overly militant from people who know me. My about me is a good set of examples.

There are just too many positions on too many spectra on too many intellectual levels in too many different contexts to keep track of.

What to do?


This post is part of a series:

The Ground-Zero Mosque, Islamophobia and General Bigotry

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/us/08mosque.html?pagewanted=1

And so the controversy rages on. The problem? Muslims. Or traffic. It’s unclear.

What is clear is that there is a growing group of people opposed to any obvious or growing Muslim presence in their communities. It began, of course, with the “Ground-Zero Mosque” which is anything but. It’s not a mosque, but rather an Islamic cultural center, and it’s two blocks away from Ground Zero, where a 12 story building will hardly be seen. Not that any of that should matter in the least. What are the arguments here? That a mosque will be a signal of triumph for the Islamic world over the Western world?

Well, I suppose that makes sense. Except that Islam is no more a monolithic religion than any other, and has given rise to many sects and denominations over its millennium and a half existence. There are liberal Muslims and moderate Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims and Sunnis and Shias and Iranian Muslims and Afghan Muslims and Egyptian Muslims and Arab Muslims and many many more. And in case this isn’t stunningly obvious, while many current terrorist organizations appear to be influenced by a violent strain of Islam, the people they’re fighting are often also influenced and living in the name of Islam. Or isn’t it understood that Muslims fight Muslims, and that mosques are blown up on a regular basis, or that the radical Sunni elements in places like Iraq are fighting back against marginalization executed by American forces, which have placed only Shias in power and oppressed Sunnis, who feel that they have no voice in their government. I’m sorry, is that too complex? I know, political theory and history actually take thought to understand.

It would also be just delightful if it were understood that 9/11 was hardly a triumph for Islam. It was a superficially successful endeavor undertaken for political reasons in order to throw off a foreign invader. In case this wasn’t noticed, the campaign generally failed. We still have troops in Saudi Arabia, whose presence likely began the resentment Al-Qaeda used and grew out of, and now we are killing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and possibly Yemen and/or Iran next. Ignoring for the moment that these are separate nations with distinct histories and relationships with Islam, it doesn’t look like much of a success. I’m sure all those dead civilians are just thrilled that 9/11 “worked.” For whom, exactly? Certainly the military-industrial complex, the Defense Department, the CIA, Blackwater, other mercenary groups and plenty morally bankrupt organizations, but we won’t go there right now. Not for Afghanis, not for Iraqis. And not even for al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

You know who it certainly didn’t work for? American Muslims. Yeah, they’re celebrating the tremendous triumph of being blamed, mistrusted, marginalized and discriminated against for going on a full decade for things they did not do. I’m sure the peaceful Muslims who want to build a cultural center and are being widely opposed by a rapidly formed and well-organized set of organizations, including from groups like the Anti Defamation League who should be on their side, are just giddy with glee at their ‘triumph.’ Get real, people.

So given that the arguments are pure bullshit, what is left? A metric fuckton of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, ignorance, right-wing paranoia and dangerous idiocy, being fed and encouraged both by the entire right-wing in this country and enabled by the centrist bias in the media.

Let’s start with the first part. How do we know that these influences are at work? Well, it’s blindingly clear that their supposed arguments are absolutely worthless, which would seem to imply some sort of antipathy towards Muslims. But that’s silly, because it’s just about the symbolism of Ground Zero. Oh, wait. No it’s not. Tennessee, California, Wisconsin, California again. People are turning out in droves to opposed Muslim groups building places of worship or Islamic culture anywhere in their community. Sometimes they hide it in the transparently idiotic argument of traffic, and sometimes they don’t bother.

“Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators recently who wore “Vote for Jesus” T-shirts and carried signs that said: “No Sharia law for USA!,” referring to the Islamic code of law.”

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Opponents worry it [a 25,000 square foot mosque] will turn the town into haven for Islamic extremists.

Temecula, California

Anyone see something wrong with the first one? Vote for Jesus sounds a lot like a political message rather than a religious one, which is exactly what they’re accusing the Muslim groups of. Sometimes the Muslim centers are just bigger versions of those that were already there. A haven for Islamic extremists? What blatant idiocy and fear-mongering. And everything else I said before.

Here’s what’s up. Right-wingers feed into the paranoia and ignorance of their base in order to create issues where none exist. And that’s how we get the brilliant framing of the ‘Ground-Zero mosque” that drives the right into such a frenzy that they become incoherent. (Not that she wasn’t already). This is evil, disgusting and immoral, for the Muslims, for the possibly well-meaning protestors who are being pushed by groupthink further right/insane, and certainly for America at large.

Then the centrist bias comes in and says that this is a legitimate issue, that there actually is a debate here. “These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.” NO! No they do not! There is no debate here! We have a first amendment! We place value on acceptance and tolerance. We do not demonize and marginalize politically less powerful groups. Islam is not all the same. It is a religion that is not fundamentally at odds with American values or the Constitution. Most Muslims, like most Christians, most Jews and most atheists are entirely peaceful citizens. Quote-mining the Koran leaves open the very distinct possibility of opening the gates to a demonstration of all the horribly shameful and violent parts of the Torah and the Bible and any other holy book you want. And this is just the principled stuff. Empirically, most Muslims have committed no act of violence. They have been a part of American culture for decades. And also, mosques stop terrorism. So suck on that, idiots.

There is no debate. None whatsoever. This is blatant bigotry in its worst form, and should be fought at every turn. Muslims, like all other religious groups, are welcome to believe and practice as they wish. Those are the freedoms they hate us for, right? And as a constitutional right, no amount of popular opposition can undermine that. By the way, too, further marginalizing this population is a viciously unsuccessful way of breaking down the fear and resentment towards Muslims that have been present since 9/11.

Let’s get our heads on straight and fight for real American values (that happen to be basic human values), shall we?

Religion and War

http://www.alternet.org/story/144702/how_the_military_hides_dissent_in_the_ranks

It seems rather awful to me that conscientious objection (CO) can only be made on the basis of religion. Like, you can stop killing people if a new understanding of the almighty has led you to believe that there will be divine retribution if you continue in your current military capacity, but if you have come to the realization that the actions you’re engaged in are immoral on a fundamental, human level, you’re going to have to keep doing it?

The psychological repercussions alone are formidable, and PTSD and other psychological disorders are already hitting extreme highs in veterans coming back from war. I understand the need for discipline and order in the military, but mental health is important and the army ought to be caring for its soldiers. This is admittedly an oversimplification, but killing people is bad enough, for various reasons, but in this context in the sense of damaging a soldier’s mental health. Ostensibly, they came to the army with a general understanding of what they’d be doing; however, if they come to feel that they are committing a terrible injustice and literally aren’t allowed to stop, that could cause major problems later on.

And as for the argument that if COs can be made on nonreligious grounds everyone will do it, consider this: if there is that much ill-will towards a war, that soldiers are using any method possible to flee it (which happens not to even be the case), then perhaps that war should be reconsidered. Obviously military decisions cannot be entirely based on popular opinion, but if a volunteer army means anything, it means keeping public and military support high enough that this isn’t a problem. It’s a ridiculous argument anyway; how do you prove that someone has ‘actually’ converted? That gets into another whole set of issues about what it means to be religious.

Finally, there’s the idea that this is a manifestation of a prevalent problem: that religion is given a measure of respect accorded to no other ideological system. The Christian behest not to kill is not more powerful or better than a secular empathy, a knowledge that killing is as harmful to others (the victim as well as those close to them) as it would be to one’s self. In fact, I would argue the other way around, but that’s a separate post. And for the record, the vast majority of American soldiers are Christian, so the very notion of religious ethics being somehow more imperative is moot. Also, let’s talk about that idea for a second. Firstly, secular ethics are only less controlling in the sense that they are not dogmatically forced on people, and they are subject to change given new evidence. That does not mean that people who follow nonreligious ethical systems are flighty or capricious in their moral dealings. In fact, they are likely to be more thoughtful about them, given that there is no book to which they can turn for every conceivable situation. Secondly, those characteristics are positive ones, and should be encouraged. I worry for people who decide that murder is wrong because someone else says that god said so. I’m well aware that religious ethics are not even close to this simple, and that not all secularists think deeply about the philosophical ramifications of their actions. Nonetheless, realizing upon consideration of the evidence around you that what you are doing is wrong is a mature response, and should be accepted and promoted.

Basic point: in a volunteer army fighting for liberty and freedom, there has to be some leeway for conscientious objections made on nonreligious grounds, for the sake of ideological consistency, care for the mental health of the soldier, and a realization that philosophical affiliation can be just as important as religious affiliation, and secular ethics are no less valid than religious ones.