There is a strange cognitive dissonance that echoes between the western and eastern halls of practicing Muslims, and it surrounds the question of headwear.
In recent years the West has taken a number of stances on the various head scarves and bags Muslim women wrap themselves in. In France, an uncompromising approach has been taken in regard to the fuller covering, the burqa. While in the USA, there remain, as far as I know, no laws that prohibit shrouding oneself like an embalmed corpse. For the best I suppose.
Traditionally Muslim countries have been equally varied though tending conservatively, ranging from mere suggestions to indulge in sartorial chauvinism to unequivocally demanding the burqa at all times in public.
There is an interesting trend among Muslim American and European women who claim their head scarves and coverings are in fact acts of female empowerment. Indeed, they seriously and resolutely claim that by exercising their right to these various covers they are joining the West’s ranks of radical feminists by defiantly showcasing an emblem of their supposedly oppressed faith.
The trouble with this logic is that no matter how one describes, rationalizes, or founds the practice of shrouding women, be it just their hair or their entire body, the inescapable reality is that an extreme and covetously violent chauvinism underpins it. A paralyzing fear and contempt for female sexual liberty and personal independence was and remains the only driving force for this nonsense and it is a truism to say so. Any person in disagreement is either deluded or insidious.
If you doubt this then ask yourself for alternatives. Why does it behoove Catholicism to forbid women from access to its hierarchy, the people capable of making real and meaningful decisions? Was not Mother Mary the purest Christian to ever live? Good enough to give birth to God but apparently not enough to be pope or even a mere parish priest. Why should the Mormons have permitted polygamy for men but not for women? Are there so few male Mormons? And again, why in Islam should family and male honor depend so desperately on female purity and virtue? Strange indeed that women alone should be burdened with so much responsibility and yet so little actual power.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of countries that do not forcibly segregate their men and women lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. Why anyone pretends otherwise seems bizarre and I can only assume that it is the overwhelming privilege of choice that convinces these women they are committing an act of bravery rather than surrender. Were they living in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan I ponder if they would remain so resolute.
I of course believe people should wear what makes them comfortable and if that includes mummifying yourself every morning out of submission to your husband and religion then hey, knock yourself out. But when it comes to these Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, and other such ladies that claim their respective faiths support equality, and that their acts of submission are in fact acts of protest against an intolerant world, I can do little but scoff. It is a desperate, pathetic, and very sad delusion these people exist in, convincing themselves that they are loved instead of despised. It reminds me of a chained and starving dog that thanks its abusive master for remembering to throw it scraps.
It must be that the deeply religious, especially deeply religious women, have some of the lowest self-esteem in all humanity. To allow yourself to be so debased, degraded, found so unworthy, can only be testament to a yawning void of self-love and reflection. These western women are so different from their sisters in other states where, more often than not, the ultimatum is behave or burn.
Much is often made of morality and its supposed origin in religion.
Though it is obvious to anyone not living under a rock that morality exists with or without religion, many are fond of arguing that without faiths like Christianity, morality would cease to be. Surprisingly enough this is even used to justify religion’s existence and legitimacy. The argument goes something like this.
But if no one believed in God no one would fear hell or his wrath and everyone would do what they want! Bleargh!
But if God wasn’t around to show us what’s right and wrong, how would we know?
We have a couple of problems here. Let’s address the first statement. There are two issues I have with this declaration and the first one exposes Christianity’s god for the extorting, misanthrope he is.
If God really loved you and was truly full of compassion and limitless understanding why would he have to force devotion out of you with fear like a tyrant? This also brings me to that point about free will humans ostensibly have under Christianity’s God. Is it really free will if you’re forced through ultimatums of eternal damnation to ‘choose’ him? Of course not. Ultimatums aren’t choices, they’re ultimatums.
None of the above is really the point. The point, and this is the biggest issue with both statement one and two, is that even if a godless world was an entirely immoral one that wouldn’t change the simple fact that Christianity and its like are all untrue. Or, if I am really generous, entirely unsubstantiated.
So these arguments using Hitler or Stalin, as facetious and facile as they are, remain inadequate since the point is about what is true, not what makes you feel good. And these other arguments about how Christianity is peaceful and Islam is not, are equally meaningless for the same reason. It doesn’t matter, because neither are true.
It should be glaringly apparent to the fives and tens of people who read this blog that I am no fan of religion. More than that, however, I’m generally opposed to lazy thinking, irrationality, and intellectual insincerity. The kind of casuistry that religious cheerleaders like Reza Aslan peddle, as well as the obnoxious fixation with Islam that men like Sam Harris display, are remarkable for their utter misapprehension of the issue at hand.
Their inability to transcend trivial and subjective perspectives leaves much to be desired when we move beyond the problems that bad ideas cause and ask, how do we meaningfully change them? We need to recognize that religion and superstition are representative of our failure to effectively educate in the practice and value of critical thought. Asking questions has always been dangerous, but not half as dangerous as acknowledging their answers once we’ve found them.
Religion, of course, is not the only form of magical thinking that exists. The USSR and North Korea offer prime examples of how entire peoples will worship a man when a god is unavailable. Stalin didn’t so much as defeat religion as he did replace it with a cult of personality. Mao’s methods were similarly palliative. People in the USSR did not walk away from religion because they had discovered truth, but because they were forced to. Even today, one can visit such far-out cities as Penza and see both a statue of Lenin and a flag of Jesus side by side.
Patriotism is yet another example of magical thinking. Americans are a remarkably proud people. We are quick to credit ourselves with the liberation of the oppressed, as counterweights to seemingly evil and imperialist powers like China, and as the bearers of an unquestioningly superior way of life and government. But anyone familiar with real-world history outside of the American classroom, and anyone who has stepped beyond our cloistered borders, quickly recognizes the cognitive dissonance and many inconsistencies American chauvinism presents.
Phobias, chauvinism, and superstition are all failures of critical thought. They are double standards, delusions, and personal preferences that become enshrined as objective facts. This happens when people are fundamentally uncomfortable with truth, preferring to hear what they want as opposed to what was actually said. In far fewer circumstances it is just laziness, the refusal to open a book and understand a complex concept.
I want to examine two prime examples of misguided arguments that aim to explain and ‘deal’ with the irrationality of religion. We’ll start with Reza Aslan. He blithely dismisses religion’s inconsistencies and untruths with the following quote.
Religion is concerned not with genuine history, but with sacred history, which does not course through time like a river. Rather, sacred history is like a hallowed tree whose roots dig deep into primordial time and whose branches weave in and out of genuine history with little concern for the boundaries of space and time. Indeed, it is precisely at those moments when sacred and genuine history collide that religions are born. The clash of monotheisms occurs when faith, which is mysterious and ineffable and which eschews all categorizations, becomes entangled in the gnarled branches of religion.
The word verbigeration comes to mind. Nothing here actually coheres into a meaningful, factual declaration. First Reza tells us not to take any one religion’s historical account seriously, they’re apparently too abstract for that. What purpose this ‘sacred history’ serves remains unexplained and its advantages are not discussed. Religions, he goes on to say, are born at the clash of real and ‘sacred’ histories. Again, no explanation of what this means specifically is given. Apparently this is all really self-evident. We are left with what is little more than a poetic and stupid excuse for religion’s mutable and inconsistent nature, notwithstanding the fact that many people do indeed read into their religious histories literally.
This convenient reduction of religion to the metaphysical and merely abstract ignores it’s consequences and obvious origin. Instead of acknowledging religion as institutions used to explain numinous phenomena and manufacture societal cohesion, Aslan likens it to a harmless and even charming fairytale that humanizes history. He pretends not to notice its sinister and exploitive relationship with politics and power and never acknowledges its intrinsic bad practices.
Sam Harris is much closer to the mark but he still misses the point. Harris acknowledges religion’s origins and its many bad practices and their consequences. He can discuss endlessly the dangers of encouraging faith-based belief, how these beliefs shape and influence action, and how a superstitious outlook on life results in assumptive instead of empirical mindsets. But he fixates too much on the details of specific faiths. He has even gone so far as to construct a kind of hierarchy in which Islam is the most violent overall while Jainism is the most conducive to peace. He’s done this through an ostensibly objective examination of the various doctrines, concluding that some sets of ideas ultimately redound to more harm than others.
What Harris doesn’t seem to get, however, is that even if we take his assessments seriously, how violent religions are or how abstractly or literally they’re practiced, it is all still beside the point. The point is that they are all untrue. Or in the very least, unsubstantiated to a broad degree. A religion is, at its core, an ideology. It is an explanation of life and how to lead it. Religion’s reliance on superstition and its claim on divine truth is what makes it so balkanizing and pernicious, not any particular doctrine in-between. Religion shapes how we think, and it does so by condemning skepticism and rewarding intellectual lassitude. That is what needs our focus.
We don’t need to become experts on every religion to critique the concept just as we don’t need to read every fairy tale to comment on the nature of stories. Their value as life-guides are undeniably bad in a world where so much can at last be explained. And their inability to account for themselves further justifies our wholesale dismissal of their legitimacy.
A stance like atheism is so humbling if only because it removes each religion’s claim to divine truth, allowing an objective metric like science to replace them. Unlike these faith based ideologies, you can’t simply ‘know’ you’re right, you have to prove it.
But ‘replacing’ religion is what we keep trying to do and that is why it keeps failing. Take a child’s toy away and he simply looks for another instead of the book you want him to read. This is why I use the word ‘meaningful’ in my question as to how we address this problem. We need to clearly and concisely show why and what is valuable and advantageous about an empirical approach to the unknown. We need to illustrate why critical thought will always lead us closer to truth than superstition. And we also need to demonstrate that knowledge is its own reward while its pursuit is a purpose in itself.
The ‘replacement’ or the goal as it were, should be to create a culture of critical and skeptical truth seekers that are unfazed by uncomfortable and disappointing answers and can grapple with doubt and not knowing. And lastly, to show people purpose is created, not granted. Everything in between is just bosh.
I was recently engaged in a very tedious discussion with some feminist, Marxist troll who kept insisting that atheism is an ideology. He asserted this based off of the beliefs, writings, and lectures of recent so-called ‘New Atheists’, which include the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. This has begun to bother me so I am going to address it briefly. Atheism is not, can’t be, and never was an ideology unto itself. It is a stance on one particular issue; that being the existence of a god or gods.
First off, notwithstanding the New Atheists’ fervent and generally cogent defenses of empiricism, secularism, and critiques of faith, their ‘ideology’ as it were, is not so much centered around atheism as it is on the practice of everyday empiricism. Atheism is simply the logical extension of an ideology that encourages empirical methods as a means of ‘knowing’ and drawing conclusions about cosmology and ontology. Their expectation that people apply this to their religious beliefs is a ramification of their more general doctrine on empiricism’s application to everything knowable. So anyone who makes atheism the point is merely mistaking the general for the incidental.
Further, it is only due to the arbitrary name, New Atheists, that people have this misconception in the first place. None of the aforementioned men coined the term and several of them, as I recall, have rejected it. There is nothing ‘new’ about their atheism. Atheism, as a stance, has existed for some time. And during that time many people have been outspoken about it. Harris, Dawkins, and the like, are hardly pioneers in this regard. They are, however, particularly out-spoken and effective orators and writers on the subject and it is this that has warranted their celebrity. Atheism itself would scarcely be so radical were America not crippled by such a forceful religious grassroots population and so riddled by multifarious and deeply-rooted religious communities. These are the factors that have made atheism the ostensive core of what is really a call to a more heuristic approach to life’s mysteries.
Atheism is actually incapable of becoming the center of any ideology because it doesn’t extend beyond its sole assertion. It is unaccoutered by a moral philosophy, rituals, or hierarchy, and makes no attempt at explaining anything. It only asserts that there is no god or gods. The ‘why’ of the matter is left to the atheist to describe. An atheist can justify their atheism for many different reasons – there is nothing inherent to the title itself that implies any standard explanation. This is similar to many other titles we may use to describe our professions, personalities, or positions. Being an extrovert, engineer, or mother does not explain why one chose to become these things, it only outlimns what they are.
Religious critics of outspoken atheists often attempt to accuse them of being dogmatic and like the very religions their attacking. This is amusing for two reasons. Firstly, because it admits that religious dogmatism is socially obnoxious and toxic. In addition, it accuses atheists of being the very thing that religious critics are so offended they are not. It is both facile and facetious to translate passion and justified confidence into dogmatism – the difference here being that the supposed dogmatism found among atheists (which is really just the certainty of truth) is grounded in the substance and consistency of their claims, while true religious dogmatism is utterly without place, especially since before believers have proven anything they’ve already asserted their infallibility. In other words, atheists can substantiate their assertions while believers can’t. It is this that often unites atheists into a bloc the religious mistake for a kind of church.
I wager it is the above that has made atheism seem ideological in the eyes of the religious, because this one stance rejects and thus offends so many actual religious ideologies. Making it appear ‘equal’ to them, and thus assailable, is the best redress they have. Further, because atheism is not an ideology, but merely a stance, opposition must perforce turn it into one so it can be effectively combated. They can’t defeat atheism’s assertion on its own terms so they have to invent straw-men.
But more than this, it also denudes the ignorance that many believers live in, whether that ignorance is about physics or biology. Religion is very often a free pass to remain intellectually indolent. Why learn about genetics and evolution when you have your trusty Bible?
The most vociferous critics of the non-existent New Atheist movement expose only the great insecurity of religion and its adherents. Despite having always possessed great power and representation and support in just about any country, no matter how great or small, they portray themselves as besieged by a horde of godless bigots, sated by nothing but their blood when really, all that is requested is the capitulation that believers are talking out of their assholes. It is, however, a common practice of the mighty and the privileged to whine about unjust treatment when being asked to play by the rules.
It has become exhausting, all the little buzzfeed and whatever else articles about ‘how annoying’ or ‘hypocritical’ atheists are. Allow me to counter some of these nonsense claims which are undoubtedly the work of the very insecure believers who, in an attempt to appear strong and confident, have put a very misguided and uninformed foot forward on the matter.
- Atheists are intolerant.
No, just exhausted with your false equivalencies and ignorant whataboutisms. It is funny to me that Sam Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens are about the only examples angry believers can come up with when ranting about intolerant atheists. Their biggest crime is writing highly cogent if slightly captious books. As for ‘intolerant’ believers, I could point to suicide bombers, assassins of doctors, hate crimes, pedophiles, imperialist missionaries, and genocides – all in the name of various religions. Consider yourselves lucky we only write angry books and blog posts.
- Atheists think they’re smarter than everyone else.
Nah…just more reasonable, consistent, and less hypocritical. You see it is a little tired, this tendency of believers to scrutinize with a scope every detail of science and philosophy that disagrees or is incongruent with their beliefs and yet refuse to turn that scope on themselves – and when asked to do so claim they are being ‘attacked’ and ‘discriminated’ against. Remember how when the Catholic church had power in Europe it used it to torture, coerce, murder, exploit, and deceive people into doing whatever it wanted? Again, you’re lucky we just ask questions.
- Atheism is a religion too!
No…it really isn’t. It’s a position on what is actually a really small issue – or at least it would be small if there weren’t so many asshole believers out there ready to kill, rape, forcibly convert, and sanction those who disagree with them. Atheism has no rituals, holidays, temples, and most importantly, gods. Just because some atheists can appear loud, obstreperous and overbearing the way religious people do almost all the time doesn’t mean atheism is a religion. See how that works? See how words actually have meaning and we have to stand by them in order for language to function? See how you can’t just decide to put everything in the same box because you don’t like what happens when their defined?
- Atheists think they know everything.
This again? Actually believers think they know everything. See believers think they know who created the universe, planet, all life, and why. That would be the definition of knowing everything. Atheists simply question this ludicrous stance and point out that not knowing something doesn’t mean you invent answers for it. And for the last time, simply because science has YET to explain something does not mean you can use god/s as the de facto space-filler.
- Atheists are arrogant.
I would say the people who believe they are the center, point, and focus of the universe, planet, their creator/s, and all life are arrogant but hey, that’s just my opinion.
- Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were atheists and they’ve killed more than any religious person!
Wrong again. Whether Hitler was religious or not is disputed at best. Obviously it is in the best interest of Christianity’s reputation to claim he was not one of their own. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao rejected religious institutions because they were barriers and competitors to and of political power. Totalitarian/Fascist leaders tend to consolidate and horde authority. But none of this is here nor there because none of these leaders killed in the name of atheism or formed an ideology based on it. Being an atheist while at the same time being guilty of murder is not the same as being religious and killing someone in the name of your religion. See the difference? Compare, ‘Hitler was a vegetarian (fact!) and he committed genocide, thus vegetarianism can lead to genocide.’ Nope.