1. Minnow says

    It is a real poser for atheists, I think, when we are faced with a personality like Malala for whom faith in god, in Islam specifically, is central, and who so often cites her religion as essential to for her ability to carry on under the sorts of pressure that she has withstood. I think the ‘religion is for asshats’ school of atheism, looks a little bit shabby when confronted by a Malala.

  2. says


    She says her father was her inspiration and support. The only time she really speaks of religion in this interview it is about how the Taliban used it as a tool of manipulation and oppression.

    I don’t think it’s a poser. It’s just sad that someone as courageous as she is sometimes mistakes her faith in herself for faith in a god. Just like it’s sad that people think they’d be immoral monsters without some priest telling them what a god wants them not to do, or when they think that it is a god that saved them from a tragedy when it was first responders and modern medicine, or when they think religion is the only thing that can bind people together in a community.

  3. says

    For what it’s worth, while there are certainly unbelievers out there who assume you have to be stupid to follow a religion, I certainly don’t. I’d emphasize that, on the contrary, religions are very powerful, seductive things, built to take advantage of very general human vulnerabilities, and the customs and organization that surround them make it very difficult for anyone to escape them. Likewise, belonging to a religion doesn’t require you be an ‘asshat’; though, in fact, continued membership within and commitment to the defense of religion may, in fact, make you a raging, obnoxious asshat to specific others in certain, specific ways, especially if they refuse to give your religion the deference you’ve been conditioned to believe it must be given.

    Expanding on the former point: I don’t really think unbelievers are necessarily smarter people. They’re more people whose circumstances allow them to escape certain specific mental prisons built for them. We don’t have a flowering of relatively open atheism of late because people have somehow become intrinsically ‘smarter’ of late (education frequently does have something to do with it, mind; but this I’d call more a social condition, and environmental condition–people do learn some critical thinking skills in some curricula, and also are exposed to a multiplicity of other viewpoints, if they’re lucky, and possibly quite a lot of lines of evidence that do tend to clash with older cosmologies that look pretty pale and conflicted beside it all; I guess in a narrow sense you might call this becoming ‘smarter’, but it seems to stretch the language a bit); we have this flowering because of a complex of social conditions that have made it possible, and that, in turn, rests on a pile of also very complicated circumstances, changes in the world, changes in technology, changes in communities, so on.

    As to the asshat thing: I think that’s complicated, too. Given that religions are so adept at exploiting human vulnerabilities, and people become so very wrapped up in them, so attached to them, so tribal about them, it’s easy to see _how_ people do, in fact, quite appalling things in the name of their god. Bearing in mind that the manipulative and ultimately deeply dishonest tactics they may attempt to use to coerce others to join them were probably also used on them, I tend to feel a mix of sympathy and disgust. It’s always complicated. Even when you figure you’ve caught them lying outright to you, it’s always hard to know how much they’ve internalized that lie; how much they now, in a sense, believe the lie themselves. So it’s reasonable to be both enraged and sympathetic. Perhaps, even, feel some of the rage on their behalf. They actually think this is okay, now, that arguing this way makes sense or is justified, somehow. What was done to them that they think so? If you were raised yourself within a religion, you may have some idea. And lies you talk yourself into–not to mention assumptions you may not even notice, by the way, that lead to your believing things that just aren’t so–have always been a bit of a hard problem in ethics. It would be easiest to say, about the former, no, listen, you should have known better, this is just on _you_ for carrying this stuff further forward, but especially for people raised from the cradle, that’s a lot to expect, and see again the reality of human vulnerabilities.

    All that said, I think it’s frequently only right that unbelievers let believers hear their anger, nonetheless. I think people hould know you’re disgusted, when you are. For one thing, because it’s only honest. And for another, I think they should be disgusted themselves, at how the system plays them, turns them into a carrier, a vector, and get some idea what that looks like, from without. That it’s hard really to see as their fault, specifically, notwithstanding. For this, by the way, is one of the things I think religions have long tried very hard to suppress, and for very good reason; this blanket assumption that piety is just a good thing, it only stands so unquestioned because people appalled by what it does to people have been forced by various means–from the covert and social and subtle to the overt and entirely violent–to mutter under their breath so long.

    The other thing about religions is: these are systems that have long had a complicated and very intertwined relationship with our civilizations and ourselves; it’s a much larger discussion, though one made here and there around these blogs, but they _have_, in fact, served probably very useful social purposes over the last many millennia, and it is no surprise community continues to form around them, the costs they exact notwithstanding. That many of them have become such civic nuisances at their edges especially, and especially since the enlightenment, that many of them were founded by outright con artists, that fundamentalists remain determined to teach their cosmologies as literal truth, and so on, none of this means people can’t still make bits of that value work for them.

    So no, Malala’s not a ‘poser’ for anyone who knows anything about the larger context, anymore than is anyone who does laudable things, and continues to belong to whichever religion, and/or state they find inspiration therein. Rather, she’s something of a vivid and painful and textbook illustration of this same complexity.

  4. freemage says

    Her absolute dedication to reason and education–even at the prospect of being confronted by the Talib again–was just amazing and humbling.

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