My dad’s side of the family is not entirely sure about our heritage more than a few years back. Whereas my mom’s side can trace our heritage to emigration from Germany and Ireland, my dad’s ancestors were not immigrants to the Caribbean; not voluntarily, anyway. While lamentable, this is a fairly common story. The truth is that we may never know where we are from aside from the generic ‘Africa’. Still, it is hard not to feel some personal sorrow when I read a story like this:
Gangs of armed youths in the Nigerian city of Jos attacked Christians as they gathered to celebrate mass, killing a number of them and burning their cars, witnesses and the military said…
Witnesses said Muslim youths set up road blocks and attacked Christians as they gathered in Jos’s Gada Biu and Rukuba areas, shooting a number of them dead. Muslims involved in the clashes spoke of revenge for a string of bombs that exploded in Jos at the end of Ramadan last year that left at least 80 people dead. Nigeria has a roughly equal Christian-Muslim mix.
I have friends who are Nigerian. I know Nigerians to be a peaceful people who are highly tolerant and loving. Nobody who was truly Nigerian would commit such an atrocity. It is inconceivable. Anyone who would do something like this may call themselves Nigerian, but it is abundantly obvious that they are not. There is more to being a Nigerian than simply being from Nigeria, or being a citizen of Nigeria, or living and working in Nigeria. The laws of Nigeria specifically outlaw this kind of violent attack, and if people simply followed the laws to the letter, there wouldn’t be any such immorality. The fact that some people claiming to be Nigerian committed these crimes is simply precluded by this fact: a true Nigerian would not do such a thing.
Okay, ham-handed and obvious. Obviously everyone recognizes the stupidity of this argument. And yet, we’re called to accept it as legitimate when pressed into the service of religion. We are reminded endlessly that Christian ethics specifically preclude this behaviour or that one, and therefore those who engage in those behaviours are thereby precluded from the label ‘Christian’. It’s not just Christians that try to weasel out of their bad deeds either. Following every terrorist attack in which the perpetrator is Muslim, we are ‘treated’ to a chorus of evasive language (often from non-Muslim politicians) telling us how this isn’t “true” Islam.
Daniel Fincke over at Camels with Hammers takes this idea on:
Can we make a similar distinction between normative “true” religions and historical “pseudo-religions” which should be acknowledged as truly existing historical manifestations of religions but not be confused for “religion itself”—just as we say a past morality was a genuine historical instance of a morality but is not “true morality itself” or that a past science was a genuine historical instance of science but is not “true science itself”? How could we do this with religion? How could we say there is any truth in something so historically enmeshed with ludicrous falsehoods?
His conclusion is to judge the validity of the existence of a religious traditions in terms of how well it aligns with positive morality and pro-social development. If the purpose of religion is to provide a framework upon which civilization can be built, then any religious belief or practice that undermines such progress is, by definition, not a true religion.
It is an interesting idea, but any religion that encourages ‘faith’ (which I put in quotes to distinguish it from belief supported by evidence) inherently undermines social order. Encouraging people to suppress their critical faculties, even if it is only for certain claims and not others, is the mechanism by which these atrocities are justified. I am sometimes tempted to simply agree that those who commit violent acts in the name of their religion are just ‘really shitty Christians/Muslims/Buddhists’, since they ignore huge swaths of their own scripture. However, I cannot get past the fact that while committing those acts, the perpetrators always feel the hand of God justifying their endeavour. They don’t see themselves as breaking their religious laws, and their subjective experience of ‘feeling’ the Holy Spirit is all the reality check they need to ‘know’ that their acts have divine license.
Oh shoot. I screwed up the quote from the news article earlier. Yeah… replace ‘Christian’ with ‘Muslim’ and vice versa in that paragraph. It was, in fact, a group of Christians that attacked a group of Muslim celebrants of the end of Ramadan in Jos. The point of this clumsy switch is to highlight my central thesis when it comes to religion: I don’t care what banner you fly or what label you ascribe to yourself – they’re pretty much all the same to me. Any philosophical position that asserts its superiority based on belief without evidence is destructive, and I will oppose it. Whether that’s a cult or a world religion, whether you are a fundamentalist practitioner or a ‘moderate’, they’re all the result of the same faulty thought process.
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