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Woes of the Pharisees

Regular readers will know that I am not above my practice of occasionally quoting Christian scripture in the service of a point. While I’m sure I’ve mentioned this here and there, I don’t have any problem with using the Bible as a literary resource. I view the Old and New testaments in the same way I view Chaucer or Nabokov or Neruda – as a work of fiction from which interesting points can be gleaned. The only difference is that, unlike Chaucer, Nabokov and Neruda, I’ve actually read the Bible.

The title of this post is a reference to a sermon by the Jesus character in the Bible, in which he decries hypocrisy in a variety of forms. I enjoy this particular passage a great deal because of how unremittingly hypocritical religious adherents are when it comes to issues regarding their own beliefs. I explored that topic a bit this morning, but I failed to make an important point. While I am disgusted with the actions and arrogance of the Roman Catholic Church, and while I find their particular brand of hypocrisy to be the most blatant and offensive, I do not ascribe to them exclusive ownership of religious hypocrisy:

Rights groups have expressed outrage after an Indonesian court jailed a Muslim sect member for defending himself from a brutal mob attack. The court jailed Ahmadiyah member Deden Sudjana for six months, a heavier term than many of the attackers received. Three Ahmadiyah members were bludgeoned to death in an attack by a 1,000-strong mob of hardliners in February. No-one was charged with murder.

Sudjana was hit with a machete and almost had his hand severed during the attack, which pitted about 20 Ahmadiyah followers against more than 1,000 fanatics in the village of Cikeusik, west Java. But the court ruled that he had disobeyed a police order to leave the scene, and had been filmed punching another man.

Video footage of the attack shows crowds of hardliners beating a small group of Ahmadis as police watch. So far 12 of the attackers have been found guilty of minor offences and sentenced to between three and six months.

I first talked about the Ahmadiyah back in March, using their situation to make a point about what actual religious persecution looks like.  It’s something quite distinct from merely not having exceptions made for your bigotry because your religious beliefs make you an asshole. It is when the force of law is not only brought to bear to bar you from engaging in what would otherwise be legal activity, but also prevents you from realizing your legal rights. I also talked about this attack over at Canadian Atheist to illustrate why a secular state is to the benefit even of believers.

I honestly don’t know what makes the Venn diagram of ‘religion’ and ‘hypocrisy’ so tight, but it seems as though this tendency is not relegated to simply the Pope. The courts in Indonesia have given a big ol’ middle finger to the very concepts of fairness and equality under the law and have begun punishing people for being the victims of brutalization at the hands of a mob, simply because that mob believes in the ‘correct’ version of YahwAlladdha. The personal beliefs of the attackers, or how justified those who would assault non-combatant people may feel in perpetrating violence, is entirely immaterial when it comes to judging their actions. I would have the same contempt and outrage at a crowd of pro-science feminist atheists who physically attacked a white supremacist group as I would for the reverse. Violence is never an option in defense of ideology.

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Comments

  1. Jane says

    Hi,
    glad you’re not that kind of atheist who avoids criticizing Muslims or Islam for fear you would be labelled a bigot, or prompt talk of “racist xenophobia” like I experienced on canadianatheist.com.

    Notice how quickly “Veronica” thought it necessary to point out in the comments that the USA is rotten too. Now that’s just hilarious, keeping in mind what you describe as going on in Indonesia.

  2. Kate from Iowa says

    The US Is rotten too is an easy fallback for those who aren’t aware that there isn’t any more to the world than thier own little corner of it. I am, however, wondering why the fuck I haven’t seen or heard anything about this in the news…

    Oh, yes, that’s right. Muslims. Brownish-colored folks. And Europe is running out of money. And New York had an earthquake (in Virginia.) So yeah…all that’s been in the news is the important stuff like New York and Europe.

  3. says

    Thanks for your comment, Jane. I don’t know too many atheists that are afraid to criticize Islam – I do, however, know several that are wary of making scapegoats or hyperbolic examples of that particular minority group. I’d have to see the context of your comment to judge how racist or xenophobic they were.

    As far as the USA being better than Indonesia, I don’t really see that as a ringing endorsement of the USA’s policies. I am in better shape than the world’s fattest man – am I therefore off the hook for physical activity?

  4. Jane says

    You’re welcome.

    I don’t know too many atheists (unfortunately), but many among them fight back when hearing about the evils of Islam. Most of the time they would respond “well yeah, BUT, Xtianity does as well this and that”. Yeah, I guess that makes it right then! Where does this frequent quick reaction come from, involving xtianity where there was no talk about it at all? I think that somehow, in their heads, criticism of Islam usually comes from the right spectrum of politics, from people who are usually xtians, and so that’s automatically bad, never mind the actual content of the criticism.

    Here’s the two comments I made, prompting this fellow called “Ian” to cry “racist xenophobia”:
    http://canadianatheist.com/2011/07/30/sam-harris-on-the-norway-attacks/ comment #2, #4. I was simply using the same expression (“pure evil”) the first commenter – “Joe” – used hyperbolically, in the same way (btw, the whole article criticizes Sam Harris for… criticizing Islam; “Joe” cries “religionphobia”). Then Ian later writes another article as a reaction to my comments, where he warns against “racist xenophobia” – http://canadianatheist.com/2011/08/02/islam-is-pure-evil/

    And these are not just isolated cases. I had other discussions, on other atheist blogs, where to my shock I was labelled a “bigot” for the crime of criticizing Islam with actual facts. In personal conversations too: I was pointing out the attitude of the Turks toward the Enlightenment and evolution, quoting this Turkish American physicist (Taner Edis, An Illusion of Harmony), and because the Muslims were coming out looking badly, this guy just dismisses this, “oh, it’s only his opinion, it’s anecdotal, etc”, never mind that Taner Edis has great knowledge on the subject and knows what he’s talking about.

    Another time, when I pointed out to another that Islam has been a violent religion from the start, this guy simply dismissed it with a wave of the hand, rolling his eyes as if I was just spreading malicious stereotypes. Turns out he had absolutely no idea of early Islamic history, he probably was just content regurgitating the official propaganda, that Islam is in fact a religion of peace, and the 9/11 hijackers not only hijacked planes, but the hijacked Islam too (a favourite theme of Obama when it comes to Islam). So I find a lot of ignorance, and a lot of siding with a false underdog whenever this dog is criticized.

    As for the US, yes, it is better than Indonesia, and I never said or suggested that they do not need to correct some of their own ways. I was just underlining the ridiculous knee-jerk reaction of these PC types, comparing apples and oranges.

  5. Jane says

    Kate, I actually think this kind of stories are not reported by the media on purpose, so that Muslims will not be “demonized” by the mindless public who would be slowly transformed in hate-mongering genocidal bigots who will turn on poor Muslims like Germans turned on the Jews in the 30’s Germany. As crazy as it may sound, the only explanation I can see is this, of a conspiracy of silence, sometimes broken by a few news outlets who forgot they’re supposed to shut up :)

  6. says

    Utterly ridiculous. Your position is that the media doesn’t report on Muslims in a negative way? I suppose the ridiculous dust-up about the “Ground Zero Mosque” never happened then, eh? And Glenn Beck has never been on TV, and certainly not Bill O’Reilly…

    Kate’s probably much closer to the truth – the American media doesn’t care much about international news, so this doesn’t rate.

  7. says

    I don’t see anyone accusing you of anything in either one of the comments you posted. One of them doesn’t even have a reply.

    At any rate, I have not found it to be the case that atheists shy away from criticizing Islam. The purpose of drawing comparisons to Christianity is simply to point out that the problem is religion, not a particular one. You yourself stated that it was like the medieval Catholic Church had been transported forward in time – hardly apples and oranges. In our modern context yes, Islam is much more of a threat than Christianity. A good part of that threat is doctrinal differences between what Christians and Muslims are expected to do as part of their religion, and I have rarely heard anyone say anything different. However, when someone makes a comment like this:

    move to a country where Muslims are the majority, like Egypt for example, then wear an atheist t-shirt (like “all gods are false gods”, I wore mine today, hehe ), and see what you get.

    They end up sounding like the same right-wing reactionary nuts that pivot that statement to say “so we should deport them all.” You’re probably experiencing a bit of splashback from the points people think you are making, rather than the ones you are. There is also a lot of unwarranted anti-Muslim prejudice here in North America, and it becomes difficult to see where the line is between legitimate criticism and the spreading of hate.

    I do have to take you to task for using ‘politically correct’ as a pejorative term. I will refer you to a great standup comedian for why.

  8. Jane says

    I don’t see anyone accusing you of anything in either one of the comments you posted. One of them doesn’t even have a reply.

    You probably didn’t notice I said Ian wrote a whole article as a response to my two comments, at http://canadianatheist.com/2011/08/02/islam-is-pure-evil/

    The purpose of drawing comparisons to Christianity is simply to point out that the problem is religion, not a particular one

    Why the need to compare? Why the need to generalize and relativize when speaking of a particular dangerous religion? Especially since you agree that Islam is much more of a threat than Christianity. To say that religion is dangerous is not accurate. I’m not sure how Buddhism and Jainism(!) are dangerous? See, the fact is all these fellows, in their answer, bring into picture a particular religion, xtianity, not “religion”. If they mean “religion”, they surely don’t say “yeah, but look at Jainism/Buddhism/Hinduism, very dangerous too!”. As I said, I think some of these people reject criticism of Islam and immediately mention xtianity because the criticism usually comes from right-wing xtian types, and because one is naturally drawn on the side of perceived under-dogs.

    However, when someone makes a comment like this:

    move to a country where Muslims are the majority, like Egypt for example, then wear an atheist t-shirt (like “all gods are false gods”, I wore mine today, hehe ), and see what you get.
    They end up sounding like the same right-wing reactionary nuts that pivot that statement to say “so we should deport them all.”

    They end up sounding like the same right-wing reactionary nuts that pivot that statement to say “so we should deport them all.”

    Oh wow, I can’t believe you said that :) No, I don’t end-up sounding like that at all, there’s nothing in my statement that comes even close to “we should deport them all”. If you really think what I said sounds like that, than *you* are guilty of reading that into what I said. I have absolutely nothing to do with the twisted (and malicious) interpretations that any cook can come up with, right? Demonizing is easy, disproving a statement you don’t like is something else. Maybe you doubt the veracity of my quoted statement?

    You’re probably experiencing a bit of splashback from the points people think you are making, rather than the ones you are.

    But people can think a lot of crazy things; instead, they should focus on what I’ve actually written, not on their imagination running loose, right?

    I do have to take you to task for using ‘politically correct’ as a pejorative term. I will refer you to a great standup comedian for why.

    Well thank you for taking me to task :), but it seems that by PC we understand two different things. Your comedian was talking about “racial abuse, fucking Muslisms, the black sport, nigger”, etc. No, avoiding insults is not practicing political correctness, it’s called having been properly raised by your parents. For me, PC is the censorship of un-palatable truths/events/facts. PC kills my friend. Remember Nidal Hassan?

  9. Jane says

    Utterly ridiculous. Your position is that the media doesn’t report on Muslims in a negative way? I suppose the ridiculous dust-up about the “Ground Zero Mosque” never happened then, eh?

    Apples and oranges my friend. The media reported people rising against the GZM. Fox is the exception, on the whole the media did *not* portray the Muslims badly when it comes to the GZM.

    Kate’s probably much closer to the truth – the American media doesn’t care much about international news, so this doesn’t rate.

    The american media has plenty of international news. They report a lot of crappy and un-remarkable international events, but the kind of events from Indonesia you brought to light less often.

    But we don’t have to go over the border, how about in our own country: http://www.torontosun.com/2011/08/02/yonge-dundas-smackdown

    Who else wrote or spoke about that?

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