What Just Happened?

The atheist, once again, is the voice of reason, compassion and empathy.  When confronted tonight with the question of “What should we do with Islam?” I expressed my concerns while trying to avoid a bigoted stance.  That is to say, I didn’t want to make generalizations about all Muslims, nor did I want to present an ethnocentric response to my antagonist.  That said, I too, believe Islam is dangerous.  Likewise, I believe that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Neo-Paganism, Astrology, and a number of other unsubstantiated belief systems are dangerous.  Not, perhaps, in the sense that I fear catastrophic or violent results as the sole derivatives thereof, but in the sense that they perpetuate disdainful behavior. That is, they exemplify their degeneracy more often by cognitive obstruction, impeding individualism and critical thinking.

I don’t want to kill people or prevent them from believing in such things, however.  I just don’t want their beliefs to influence public policy; I want them to remain private.  I would be lying, however, if I said that I didn’t want more people to be atheists, because I do.  I think it provides individuals with the freedom necessary to live a full, rewarding and positively moral life.  I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t fear catastrophically violent outcomes from their naturally divisive and intolerant beliefs.  I simply refuse to advocate violence – am I the Buddhist?

Returning to my conversation, this was the Buddhist’s answer: “Kill every last one of them.  Deport them from the West and Bomb the Middle East.”  That’s right!  The Buddhist thinks we should kill every Muslim!  Now, people can argue whether or not he was a true Buddhist, but let me remind you that just as Christianity has 40,000 different denominations, Buddhism is also similarly fractioned.  Likewise, Buddhism also proclaims to be a “philosophy” of peace, just as Christianity and Islam.  I withheld from challenging Buddhism’s “philosophy only” predicament, by the way.  Instead, I tried to illustrate the parallels between his statement and fundamental Islamic and Christian views.

First, all three – Christianity, Islam and Buddhism – claim to profess peace.  All three, it appears, want to kill each other.  Additionally, all three are certain that they are right.  Now, should I be surprised by the Buddhist’s response?  Yes, probably; but at the same time I should have expected it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar statements by Christians.  I can’t say the same thing for Muslims because I don’t know very many, but I’ve read a lot of nasty things from the Qur’an, and I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous behavior from “moderate” Muslims in the news – remember the Muhammad cartoons and Salman Rushdie?

Anyway, theists (and Buddhists???), remember this the next time you partake in a Gallop poll: atheists, almost universally, are humanists.  We aren’t the ones advocating violence, you are.  Be tolerant!  If you disagree with a particular worldview, do so peacefully.  Is the world really so fucked up that Buddhist’s are now advocating violence?  If so, then maybe we are beyond saving.

Categories: Religion

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32 replies

  1. Great post. Thought provoking and fresh. I just published a post myself on the lingering effects of history’s hardest learned lessons (religion). Seeking to explain the divide between science and religion, it delves into the history of modern Europe and the projection of anger onto the supernatural.

  2. Like it or not, we are confronted with the question of role of religion in our lives. In my view, man has always tried to seek safety in numbers. He would rather have a predictable life, or at least a predictably unpredictable one, while associating with others of the same belief. To make himself more secure, he tried to perpetrate his views across larger sections. This, I think, became faith, or religion, with symbols that the masses could relate to, much like today’s brands and logos. Others, those who did not subscribe, or chose to harbour different beliefs, were seen as inimical to one’s security, prosperity and even existence. They could not be relied upon. And hence had to be shouted down, converted or killed. And, laughably, every religion, ostensibly, seeks to promote peace and harmony. As long as you agree with it!! In my view, a religious congregation is nothing but a mob, irrespective of their religious denomination. Solution? No idea 😦

    • Thanks for the comment, Ankur! For some reason your comment got automatically filed as spam, so I apologize for the late response. Yes, one of the theories behind religious thought is our intrinsic need to rationalize the world around us. The only way we know how to do this, is through the projection of anthropomorphic reasoning. “That boulder fell on my brother’s head because the spirit within it was threatened by his presence.” Things of that sort.

  3. I think I’ll dissent slightly from this one. I’ve heard the same kind of “bomb the middle east” statements from atheists as well, although sometimes it is tongue in cheek of course. While I agree that aspects of religions are dangerous I’m not sure feelings like these are always connected directly to them.

    • Thanks, Howie. I kind of regret writing this last night. At least, I regret posting it without sleeping on it, which would have allowed me to clarify my point. I wrote this directly after having this conversation, and there were quite a lot of other things that I didn’t share, so I was pretty worked up. I simply couldn’t go to bed without getting it off my chest.

      Anyway, I’m sure that there are atheists that say the exact same thing. I also don’t believe that comments such as these are always directly attributed to the individuals self-professed beliefs. My point, rather, was to combat, or perhaps exemplify, the fundamental misunderstanding about atheists. That is, in recent Gallop polls atheists have been routinely selected as the most distrustful and immoral people in our society. I only wanted to show that even Buddhists say and do immoral things. Moreover, our self-label (atheist, Christian, Buddhist, etc.) should not be the measure by which people are deemed immoral or distrustful. Our opinions and more importantly, our actions should be the sole factor. I’ll probably write a follow up. Thanks for stopping by, Howie.

      • My point, rather, was to combat, or perhaps exemplify, the fundamental misunderstanding about atheists. That is, in recent Gallop polls atheists have been routinely selected as the most distrustful and immoral people in our society. I only wanted to show that even Buddhists say and do immoral things.

        Absolutely R.L.! I’m fully on board with you in trying to combat that kind of BS. I think those Gallop poll results show that a lot of people have an incredibly wrong impression of atheists. As an atheist who is also a secular humanist, I try hard on my blog to be as respectful as I can to religious people without “selling out” on any of my own values as a humanist of course. I do that mostly because it is just in my personality to be respectful to others, but I partly do it because I think people need to see another side of atheism and hopefully combat this “atheists are distrustful and immoral” crap.

  4. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    This is a surprise and not a surprise. Take a note on this one for future use.

  5. There is and always has been is big difference between the “belief system” and the believer. Most religions begin when followers of the teacher try to emulate the teacher. However, most followers have not reached the level of unlearning (awakening) as the teacher and so interpret the teachings through the filter of the ego. The ego driven human (and I am referring to almost every human on the planet who has made no attempt to disentangle from the ego) views all of life through a fear-based filter. That is why we kill each other, that is why societies focus on presenting the most dramatic news on their broadcasts, we are constantly fueling our fear. If you expose a fear-based thinker to a love-based philosophy they may be attracted to it, they may espouse it, but unless and until they engage in a rigorous discipline of ego-detachment, they will only be tinkers and dabblers in the realm of peace. So though I may claim to be a Buddhist or a Christian or a follower of Islam, unless I move fully into the teachings of Buddha, Christ or Mohammed, I will not see the world through the lens of love, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance….

    • Kate, I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Your comments are always informed and engaging. I think I agree with 99% of your comment. Like I told another commenter, I kind of wrote this haphazardly. This man shared more than just his opinion on Islam, and I was quite shocked. Anyway, I really can’t point my finger at Buddhism for his shortcomings. He simply kept repeating, “I’m a Buddhist and I believe…” It was pissing me off. Buddhism’s doesn’t teach such things, and I should have clarified that. Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, are not going to get away so easily. Jesus and Muhammad, in my opinion, were moral about half the time. Their teachings have influenced some pretty horrific things. Not misinterpretations of their teachings, but the implementation of their teachings. One only has to look at Luke 19:27 or Qur’an 2:191.

  6. One has to wonder about this Buddhist you speak of. Was he ever seriously wronged by Muslims, perhaps? Perhaps he suffered attacks of religious hatred from Muslims himself, or is otherwise constantly confronted with such attitudes from Muslims. Think of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (I think) who are “persecuted” by Buddhist and consequently all news about it is about the “poor” Muslims being persecuted by Buddhists, without asking the question of “why?” Perhaps the Buddhists first suffered great humiliation and attacks and what not from Rohingya Muslims and at some point had enough and took justice in their own hands. It is therefore no less deplorable, but realising such things help nuance the issue at hand.

    Same goes for religious tolerance, it is usually exactly because of the polarising influence of evangelising monotheisms that there is religious violence at all, as they profess to have the only truth and therefore conclude that all else is false and must be destroyed. It is not until we see the rise of such religions that religious violence really starts occurring in history. It is under the influence of such monotheisms that other, native religions can start behaving similarly, mainly in self-defense against the onslaught that has historically always followed the infiltration of mentioned monotheisms in new area’s. Polytheisms and other ethnic belief systems are usually very tolerant of each other and of other religions in general.

    I also wish to note that few religions seek cognitive obstruction, or impede individualism, or prevent critical thinking. Look at the ancient Hellenic philosophers, they were very big on such things, and yet they were not irreligious at all. They may have had different, rationalised ideas about the Gods, but relatively few were actually atheists, let alone monotheists or proto-monotheists.

    Conversely, there are also atheists out there who can be as fundamentalist in their non-belief as a mujahid, or a missionary, and show disdainful behaviour, who are involved with cognitive obstruction, and who impede individualism, or critical thinking. Atheists who think that atheism is the most rational option, and that because they are atheists all of their opinions are therefore rational. Which is certainly not always the case.

    I hope all this helps nuance the points you brought up in your blog post.

    • Well, even if he wasn’t directly wronged by a Muslim, I’m sure he would point towards indirect grievances such as 9/11, the prevention of our freedom of speech, etc. You’re right, there are often deeper reason behind feelings of hate and violence. That doesn’t excuse them and I’m quite aware of them. There is a quote that has often been attributed to Gandhi (wrongly) that is apt for this discussion: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you wish to see peace, your sole method for attaining it is through peaceful measures. Violent retribution for past wrongs breeds future violence – it is a never ending cycle.

      Now, your comment with respect to the difference between monotheism and polytheism is interesting. It’s quite clear that polytheistic beliefs are fairly tolerant of other polytheistic beliefs. However, polytheistic beliefs were not always tolerant towards monotheistic beliefs. If you want to debate which side threw the first punch, that’s fine I suppose; but the result remains unchanged. Polytheism was often tolerant of other beliefs because the people who held them didn’t outright deny the existence of the other’s. They accepted them, often has as their own gods under different names. When monotheists started denying those gods, through peaceful and sometimes violent methods, that pissed people off. Let’s not forget that monotheists were once the minority, and they were occasionally persecuted for simply not believing in other gods. I realize that you didn’t make a contrary claim to this, you simply said “usually very tolerant,” but I felt compelled to express this anyway.

      Jonathan, you always point out that I fail to differentiate between polytheistic values and those of the major monotheistic religions. I will make a note to clarify my comments more thoroughly in the future. Efharisto poli, kyrie. Excuse my compulsion to use Greek. I have been learning modern Greek for about a year and I rarely have the opportunity to use it. I’m, of course, making an assumption that you speak it yourself because of your last name. Katalavainete Ellinika;

      Take care and thank you.

      • The problem with monotheists in antiquity was only partly religious. Jews weren’t really seen as a problem at all in most of the Hellenic world. The Seleucid Empire at times though was a little less so, the Seleucids generally had an aggressive Hellenisation policy (aggressive in that they implanted Hellenic shrines, made the Hellenic language the official one, and so one), this meddling off course pissed of some powerful Jews who rebelled, and as the Seleucid Empire lost power even broke free entirely. But the Ptolemies were very tolerant of Jews, and even allowed them to build Temples in Leontopolis, and even Alexandria itself. They were also allowed to not partake in the Emperor Cult, on the provision that priests and rabbi’s would pray for the health and wellbeing of the Emperor and the Empire.

        Christians however did not enjoy this prerogative, and their refusal to make offerings to the genius (like a guardian angel) of the Emperor made them political enemies, and treasoners. Note however that Christian priests did not really supported their flocks to refuse to sacrifice the Emperor, they did not support martyrdom all that much. Christian persecutions have also been greatly exaggerated by the Church as propaganda. For the first few centuries of their existence Christians were actually relatively tolerated. It’s not until they grew sufficiently to start violently harassing other peoples that the trouble start. In fact, I think the very reason polytheism suffered such a setback in the West is exactly because of the tolerant nature of polytheism. It’s the same mistake the Qurayš made when they expelled Muḥammad and his followers from Makkaḥ for his crimes (destroying shrines and such), rather then just killing him.

        As for the Hellenic text, I’m not a Hellene by ethnicity or nationality, and have only this weak started learning modern Hellenic 😛 I don’t know what “katalvainete” is, but the rest i do understand.

        • I think we will have to agree to disagree on a number of metaphysical and historical points, sir. Perhaps one day you and I will discuss these further, but I do not have the energy for this particular discourse right now. You will have to forgive me. I do, however, value your opinions and look forward to more of your comments.

          As for the Hellenic text, I have been taught that “katalavainete” (καταλαβαίνετε) means “Do you understand?” My questions was “Do you understand Greek?” Had you replied, “Kataleveno kai milao lego Ellinika,” (Καταλαβαίνω και μιλάω λίγο ελληνικά.) I would have known that you understand and speak a little Greek – as I do. Very little Greek, however. I only made the assumption because of your surname, which I thought was Greek, but I suppose it could be something else. If you are ever interested in practicing, I’d love to give it a go. I never meet anyone that I actually get to use it with.

  7. I asked a Buddhist once about their approach/philosophy to violence and they were fine with dishing it out. By his understanding defending life (fighting the “good” fight) justified a little slaughter here and there.

  8. From my secular perspective, I do not see religion as inherently dangerous. However, I do see fundamentalism as potentially dangerous because it generally mandates the imposition of its belief systems upon others. This holds true for both religious and political ideologies. Christian Dominionism and Islamicism are examples of the former, fascism and communism are examples of the latter. What they all have in common is extreme adherence to rigid orthodoxy. Most people, including Muslims, reject these aggressive views.

    • I guess I mostly agree with you, Robert. Fundamentalism of any kind, religious or not, is of course beyond justifiable. As Confucius said (maybe), “The noble-minded are all-encompassing, not stuck in doctrines. Little people are stuck in doctrines.”

    • Takes one (religion) to have the other (fundamentalist) Got to outgrow/educate those indoctrinated in the former, to get rid of the latter.

      As to the OP, yes. I have seen these things for years. Hence my attitude towards religion is, I despise them all equally. When religion stops being a metaphor for hate group. I will reconsider my position.

      • Fundamentalism is merely the uncompromised implementation of religious doctrine. It is the fulfillment thereof. Thus, all religion deserves our condemnation, but the religious themselves deserve the opportunity of differentiation.

        • The real issue isn’t about religion. It’s about ideology. Religious ideology has a potential for creating horrors, but so can every other form of ideology. Look at National-Socialism, Maoism, Stalinism, Imperialism, etc.

          • Yes, similar to certain religions, there are certain secular ideologies that proselytize intolerance. The key to avoiding this sort of folly is to engage each as potentially hostile, to always be on guard and to vigilantly practice critical thinking. I have never come across a particular philosophy that I agreed with entirely. My own is an amalgamation of many, and it is constantly being revised. To become stuck in doctrines is to become intellectually impotent – the doctrine governs your thoughts.

  9. Enjoyed your article. Every religion has a tiny spiritual insight at its core, and a massive accretion of dead works of lame insincere imitation choking its light. I myself am a “post-Christian”, for the record. Jesus faced the same absurdity in his day — IF we take the gospels at face value, which of course we cannot. Reza Aslan makes a very worthy point about Pilate — that he was actually removed from office by Augustus FOR BEING TOO BLOODY CRUEL to the people of Palestine/Judea. He would crucify hundreds at a time for minor infractions. The idea that he would agonize over sparing a traitor to Rome (making oneself God was treason, since Caesar was God) is silly, unless as Prof. Aslan suggests, it was a ploy to appeal to the Roman market for religion, the biggest in the world. Therefore the Jews are blamed (“his blood be upon our heads”, &c.) and the Romans exonerated. Clever.

    Still, the record stands as what Christians claim to believe, but are not a bit better than those they accuse of it.

    John 8:
    [33] They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
    [34] Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
    [35] And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
    [36] If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
    [37] I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
    [38] I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
    [39] They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
    [40] But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
    [41] Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
    [42] Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
    [43] Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
    [44] Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
    [45] And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
    [46] Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
    [47] He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
    [48] Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
    [49] Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.
    [50] And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
    [51] Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
    [52] Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
    [53] Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
    [54] Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:
    [55] Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.
    [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
    [57] Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
    [58] Jesus said unto them, Verily,verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
    [59] Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

  10. There is always the difference between the conceptualization of religious thought–which is NOT the same as spiritual thought–and its practice by human beings of all kinds.
    I am disconcerted by your use of The Buddhist in your post–as if this one particular Buddhist person represents ALL Buddhists. That is misleading and a very dangerous route of thinking in itself.
    The followers of Christ often spout Love —and Thou Shall Not Kill — and yet they do not love each other and they do kill each other. Everyone makes –has made WAR upon each other–including atheists. No one escapes that scenario–not even the Tibetan Buddhists who got the Mongols to do their dirty work for them.

    Now–the first ‘rule’ of Buddhism is Do No Harm—-which I take to mean ‘harm’ of any kind. Dealing with the world such as it is, a violent,hateful place full of intolerance of all sorts–well, it’s not an easy rule to observe.
    Human nature being what it is makes it difficult for any group or individual to travel unmolested by the rest of humanity. But some of all belief systems do attempt to adhere to their value systems.

    If you really want a brick wall beat try conversing rationally with some good old Southern Baptist Fundamentalists. The world IS theirs to do with as They see fit. They know how to put the scary in logical arguments and they’ve got a ton of it.

    Oh and by the way, the references to Islam are also very limited. I know a young man who converted to Islam in order to marry the woman of his choice. He spouts no hate speech towards anyone. I sincerely doubt he has the capacity to do anyone violence unless his family is threatened.

    I’ve noted your comments elsewhere about needing to consider this topic in more depth — and I agree.
    I’ve known some very unfriendly, uncompassionate and irrational atheists. So the very first sentence is not holding up to my direct life experience.

    Still this has been a very thought provoking post. Thanks. 🙂


  1. Clarification to “What Just Happened?” « R. L. Culpeper
  2. Peace & Justice Award « MisBehaved Woman

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