Religious terrorists


During the interfaith panel that I was on recently, in my response to the question of whether there is a heaven, I said that the concept of heaven was not merely a harmless fantasy but harmful because it led people to do awful things in the belief that it would help them get into heaven. I mentioned Islamic terrorists who had committed recent atrocities and the Christian terrorist who gunned down the abortion providers in the belief that he would receive the grateful thanks of fetuses in heaven. I could have, if I had the time, listed Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu terrorist acts as well.

The Muslim panelist took issue with me and said that it was wrong to call these people Muslim and Christian terrorists because these were not truly religious people and their crimes should not be attributed to their religious beliefs. It was an interesting comment that I could not respond to at that time because the format was not that of a debate.

I think that the problem with a description of ‘[religious] terrorist’ (insert the religion) is not with the religion part but with the word terrorist. All too often it is not defined objectively but is used pejoratively to describe those who are perceived as the enemy. As the old saying goes, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. But assuming that one can arrive at an agreed upon definition of what constitutes terrorist acts, then I see no problem with labeling anyone who publicly professes to committing such acts in the name of their religion as a religious terrorist.

The defense of the Muslim panelist falls into the ‘No true Scotsman’ category that allows people to disown members of their group when they do something that embarrasses the group.

The idea that there is some ideal type that sets a standard for belonging is hard to sustain. For example, we now accept that there is no Platonic ideal of each species, with variations from the ideal being considered aberrations. We accept that variations are all there is. The same is true of languages. Some talk of dialects as if they are aberrations from the true language but in reality, there is no true language. Dialects are all we have and there is no rule that forces us to pick one of them as the standard.

The same is true for religion. I can well understand why leaders of religions want to disassociate themselves from the actions of people who commit appalling acts. But it is disingenuous for them to suggest that they are not representatives of their ‘true religion’. There is no true religion of any kind, in the sense of some kind of distilled essence that everyone subscribes to and nothing more. There are only religions as practiced by individuals and these are as varied as individuals, although people who subscribe to any specific religion share some common features.

So it seems to me to be perfectly justified to label someone as a Christian/Islamic/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/other terrorist if they commit an act that can be fairly labeled terrorist and they claim to be doing it in the service of that religion.

Comments

  1. moarscienceplz says

    So it seems to me to be perfectly justified to label someone as a Christian/Islamic/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/other terrorist if they commit an act that can be fairly labeled terrorist and they claim to be doing it in the service of that religion.

    I agree.
    Part of the problem in communication of this idea is that religions have done such a good job of co-opting the morality space. At my atheist club last week, we had some pople, definitely non-religious themselves, assert that we atheists can call ourselves “ethical” but not “moral” because the word moral automatically comes with a religious connotation. So, if one can only get morality from religion, and person X does an immoral act, even if they do all the thinks expected of a devout worshiper, ipso facto they are not truly religious people. And thus *my* religion can remain wholesome, no matter what anybody else says or does.

  2. doublereed says

    The Harris acolytes make similar claims with the term “fundamentalist.” Where they act like buddhist terrorists aren’t truly doing it in the name of their religion because it’s “fundamentally” a peaceful religion. So they aren’t truly fundamentalists unlike those muslim terrorists. Or something, I dunno.

  3. abear says

    doublereed@2:
    The “Harris acolytes” do this? Really?
    You have some evidence of this?

  4. says

    The Muslim panelist took issue with me and said that it was wrong to call these people Muslim and Christian terrorists because these were not truly religious people and their crimes should not be attributed to their religious beliefs. It was an interesting comment

    You are over-generous to call the opening gambit of “no true scotsman” ‘interesting’
    It’s more like “a totally predictable yawn-generator”

  5. CJO says

    Re: “terrorist” versus “freedom fighter”: one can be both; they are not opposed terms. Fighting for freedom, or some other cause, whatever it is, is a political goal. Terrorism is a strategy, a mode of action, in the service of some goal. In my view, no political goal is so worthy that it justifies acts of indiscriminate violence, so this is not about justifying terrorists’ tactics. But the fact remains that people can, and do, commit heinous acts in the pursuit of worthy outcomes.

  6. doublereed says

    @3 abear

    Yes they do. They are parrotting Harris’s own argument which he has put in many places. Are you uninformed on this? The whole “a fundamentalist jainist wouldn’t hurt anyone” thing.

  7. mnb0 says

    “I could not respond to at that time”
    A few days ago I could – I replied that those terrorists read the same Holy Book and have trained spiritual leaders for guidance. Interesting point brought up is that the Quran explicitely prohibits suiced (I haven’t checked). So I reformulated the question: “How is it possible that a suicide terrorist, backed by his spiritual leaders, does something like that when the Quran forbids it?”
    No answer, which here was the honest approach.
    You could have done something similar. You could have said “For my point whether they are true muslims or christians or not is irrelevant. My point is that their belief in heaven stimulates them to commit atrocities and hence is harmful.”
    That’s more interesting than a discussion about fallacies, I think.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    mnbo,
    I’m pretty sure Mano meant that the rules of the debate prevented him responding, not that he was unable to formulate a response.

  9. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Based on discussions with xians in the US, the actual number of xians is rapidly approaching zero…..

  10. abear says

    #6: Harris doesn’t say it’s impossible to find buddhists that don’t commit violence in the name of their religion, but that because violence is not a core part of buddhism you have to look much harder than buddhist terrorists than for muslim ones.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtnuoLSw_ns
    He does state that religious violence is absent from jainism because the core beliefs are peaceful. A fundamentalist jainist is even more likely to be peaceful than a nominal one.
    Do you have any examples of jainist terrorists?

  11. says

    He does state that religious violence is absent from jainism because the core beliefs are peaceful.

    Alternative hypothesis: jains are lazy.

    Cause and effect, how does it work? Correlation and causation, such a fine combination.

  12. abear says

    @11: lol. It isn’t The hadiths on jihad in islam that causes muslims to declare on unbelievers, it’s the lack of pork in their diets.

  13. Mano Singham says

    mnb0,

    As moarscienceplz said, it was not a debate with back and forth. A question was posed and then each panelist got one shot at addressing it and then we moved to the next question. Since he spoke after me, I could not react to his comment.

  14. doublereed says

    @10 abear

    No no no, the discussion was of fundamentalism, remember? A fundamentalist jainist would oppress those that don’t follow the proper jain rules (or whatever interpretation). Just because it’s a so-called peaceful doesn’t change the nature of fundamentalism.

    But I do thank you for demonstration of what I was talking about.

  15. doublereed says

    Also keep in mind that jains have always been a small minority and haven’t really had much opportunity to oppress others.

  16. deepak shetty says

    So it seems to me to be perfectly justified to label someone as a Christian/Islamic/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/other terrorist if they commit an act that can be fairly labeled terrorist and they claim to be doing it in the service of that religion.

    There are different ways that one can use the term “Islamic terrorist”.
    Ones the fairly trivial sense – A self professed muslim committed a terrorist act (equivalent to yes science and religion are compatible if all you mean is a religious person can be a good scientist)
    The other seems to be the way you are doing it – That the person claims the reason they commit that act is in the service of religion (But then if Hamas or Bin laden state that they have a beef with Israel/US primarily does that make them more of a political terrorist?)
    And the other is where wants to state or imply a causal relationship between Islam and terrorism i.e. if a person followed Islam , thats why they were more prone to commit acts of terrorism.

  17. brucegee1962 says

    I think the way to tell whether or not someone is a religious terrorist would be to ask, “If this religion did not exist, would this person have done this evil thing?”

    I think that there could be two cases where someone commits a terroristic act that would still have happened WITHOUT the religious motivation. One would be in the case of genuine mental illness. If you’ve got voices in your head telling you to kill, then they’ll probably be telling you to kill regardless of what flavor of supernatural beliefs you’ve got, or even if you don’t have any supernatural beliefs at all. I know that there are some people who say that “anyone who commits murder in the name of MY religion MUST be mentally ill.” I doubt this — religion seems to be uniquely suited to get sane people to commit atrocities.

    There’s also the case of someone who wanted to do something awful anyways, and is using a religion as cover. Old South slaveowners or various brands of religious misogynists would probably keep doing what they were doing even if they couldn’t claim religious justification.

    But in the cases that you mentioned, like suicide bombers or abortion attackers — it’s very difficult to imagine many of them would be doing this if religion went away.

  18. Shanti Rasiah says

    No religion endorses violence or hatred and if people act in such a manner it is due to being brainwashed by
    some power hungry individuals who want to create destruction and terror in the name of religion so that they can
    feel righteous. All religions teach kindness and good will and a lot of religious people practice that so it is baseless
    and unfair to say these acts of terror are done by people for religious reasons. They are doing it to show their strength and power.
    Religion is personal and even though God has not been seen and most of it is myth and fantasy if people feel there
    has been some instances in their lives where they feel they have been helped by their religious beliefs we should be
    happy for them and not belittle and ridicule the religion. Just as we should not condemn the non believers because most
    people are good whatever sect they belong to and if you are a bad person it is just the way you are and not due to religion

  19. Nick Gotts says

    Shanti Rasiah@18,

    You appear not to have read the OP. I suggest you do, paying particular attention to the following:

    There is no true religion of any kind, in the sense of some kind of distilled essence that everyone subscribes to and nothing more. There are only religions as practiced by individuals and these are as varied as individuals, although people who subscribe to any specific religion share some common features.

  20. Dunc says

    I think that there could be two cases where someone commits a terroristic act that would still have happened WITHOUT the religious motivation.

    It’s extremely difficult to disentangle religion and politics in general, and it’s even more difficult with this issue. It seems to me that many of the underlying issues which drive people to commit terrorist acts are fundamentally political, but couched in religious terms. And the end of the day it’s the result of conflicts between different identity groups – it’s just that religion is one of the more common means of defining identity.

  21. rietpluim says

    I agree with @mnb0 #7. The question is not what constitutes a “true” Muslim. That’s a theological debate we may happily leave to Muslims themselves. The question is whether someone’s belief is harmful. In this case, it undoubtedly is.

  22. says

    Deepak Shetty @16:
    I have read a good article (or at least an interesting one_) in The Atlantic (IIRC) arguing that this is one of the major differences between ISIS and more familiar terrorists like Al-Queda. They argue that ISIS are the most “truly” Islamic terrorists the world has ever seen, in that while Al-Queda, Boko Haram, Hamas, the PLO and so forth may use Islam as a justification, their end goals are political, not religious. US out of Islamic lands, end to Israeli occupation of Palestine, end to US aid to Israel, overthrow of the Saudi royal family, etc., are all primarily political goals. As opposed to committing terrorist acts in order to impose Islam on a region, or to enforce Sharia law, or punish Apostates, and so on as ISIS does.

    ISIS, they argued, doesn’t only justify their acts with the Koran, they are actually trying to fulfill Koranic prophecies, by setting up the type of Islamic Caliphate that the Koran specifically proscribes, and running it in the way the Koran proscribes. That starts with obeying Sharia law, but goes way beyond it. They must be ruled by a legitimate descendant of the first Caliph, which they claim they are. They must bring other Islamic states under the rule of the Caliphate, which is why they tried to expand so aggressively. They must purge apostates or convert them to “true” Islam, and in their eyes ALL other muslims are apostates, because they have not joined the Caliphate as the Koran requires.

    Even their barbaric acts, like beheadings, and the keeping of slaves are done in order to fulfill the Koran to the letter. Mohammed required his troops to commit atrocities in his wars of conquest in order to terrify and horrify the enemy, to sap their will and bring the wars to a quicker end, so they must commit atrocities. Slavery is allowed in the Koran, as is marrying slaves, so they have to allow it in their Caliphate.

    The article said it is all because they are trying to fulfill Islamic apocalyptic prophecies, which say that at the end of days the armies of the Caliphate will do battle with the armies of Rome in a city (whose name I forget) which was one of the first cities seized by ISIS.

    Basically, they are an apocalyptic death cult, and they are trying to fulfill the prophecies they believe will set up the necessary conditions to bring about the end of days. Very different than Al-Queda, or even the Taliban, and much more literal in their interpretation of Islam.

    I don[‘t know how true or accurate the article was, but it was sure interesting. And an eye-opener, if true.

  23. Dunc says

    the armies of the Caliphate will do battle with the armies of Rome

    I think I may have spotted a small flaw in their plan…

  24. rietpluim says

    @Dan Henschel #22 – I don buy that for a second. IS is after wealth and power, like any other violent movement.

  25. abear says

    @25: So you think that fundamentalist xtian terrorists aren’t blowing up abortion clinics and assassinating abortion providers because of their religious beliefs. it’s for power and money?

  26. abear says

    @14 and 15: So your point is that the more strongly you believe in non-violence the more likely you would be violent if you had the opportunity?

  27. deepak shetty says

    @Dan Henschel AKA Leaford
    Well the article reminds me of what Dawkins /Coyne say about creationists – That they are more honest (religiously speaking) and favor a literal interpretation of what the Bible says rather than an apologist who twists and turns to have their cake and eat it too.

    Im in the Dan Fincke camp – That the creationists cherry pick as much as the liberal religious person. They just pick different areas. Its true of the Islam or Quran too – ISIS may be literally following some of its provisions but they can only do that by ignoring things they do not like – It has to be that way since almost all religious texts have a bunch of contradictory stuff.
    I’d also doubt that power ,wealth and politics doesnt factor into ISIS actions and obviously religion is a component too.

  28. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To brucegee1962 in 17
    Well said. Posting this for emphasis.

    Quoting Dunc

    It’s extremely difficult to disentangle religion and politics in general, and it’s even more difficult with this issue. It seems to me that many of the underlying issues which drive people to commit terrorist acts are fundamentally political, but couched in religious terms. And the end of the day it’s the result of conflicts between different identity groups – it’s just that religion is one of the more common means of defining identity.

    What you wrote is silly and doesn’t make that much sense. It seems quite apparent that you’re using motivated reasoning to reach certain artificial and unreasonable definitions of the terms “religion” and “politics” so that there is no overlap. That’s just silly. In this context, with the proper and straightforward meaning of terms, religion and politics have substantial overlap.

    For example: Acts of violence against LGBT people happens because certain people have certain bigoted beliefs, which “causes” them to commit acts of violence against LGBT people. No one is born with bigoted beliefs against LGBT people. People who have bigoted beliefs against LGBT people learn these beliefs. These beliefs are learned. These beliefs are learned from the surrounding culture. And what is by far the majority cultural phenomenon that embodies, captures, promotes, defends, etc., bigoted beliefs against LGBT people? It is certain specific religions.

    While Sam Harris is a miserable human being, I am convinced that he is right on this topic. It’s probable that you were never a really serious religious believer. You do not understand what it means to be a sincere and devout religious believer. When someone tells you that they believe that gays should be killed by human hands in this life because their holy book commands it, you don’t believe that person. In a certain sense, you refuse to believe that anyone could believe anything that dangerous / silly / wrong / etc. So, you look for other explanations, because you refuse to recognize reality for what it is.

    I am not saying that every person who commits violence based on religious belief would do so in every possible circumstance. I am not saying that there are no other aggrevating factors. There are lots and lots of aggrevating factors.

    I am not saying that without religion, no one would commit violence against LGBT people for being LGBT.

    I am not saying that all people who claim to be fervent religious believers are honest. Some are just liars in it for power and money. I consider it quite possible that this is an accurate description of most of the leaders, but I consider it quite unlikely that this is accurate for most of the low-level followers.

    I am saying that if I could waive a magic wand, and force people to confront the evidence and reason, and thereby convert many people away from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to atheism, then rates of violence against LGBT people would go down. This is such a blindingly obvious conclusion that in order to deny it, one must be very much in denial.

    As Sam Harris says, beliefs are operative. We operate according to our beliefs. Some beliefs fit in the category of “religion”. There is no magical separation of “operative beliefs, which you might call political beliefs” and “non-operative beliefs, such as religious beliefs”. No. Some people really do believe that crazy religious bullshit, and because they believe it, they will act according to those beliefs (and values). Further, I would argue that believing that there is a category of beliefs which are wholly non-operative is flatly and flagrantly silly. And again, I must emphasize that there are other beliefs and other circumstances which can mitigate dangerous beliefs or enhance them, but it’s asinine to deny that some people really do believe this crazy religious bullshit, and it’s asinine to say that all people who really do believe will not on those beliefs in any way.

    Honestly, abear makes the same point just as well as I just did, but much more concisely, in post 26.

    @25: So you think that fundamentalist xtian terrorists aren’t blowing up abortion clinics and assassinating abortion providers because of their religious beliefs. it’s for power and money?

  29. doublereed says

    @abear

    I have no idea what you’re misunderstanding. These are groups with tribal tendencies, and it’s not as if jainism is that difficult to twist into a violent religion. What, do you think jainism doesn’t have punishments for breaking the rules? That somehow jainists are somehow immune to tribalism and violent tendencies because their religion says this or that. This is obvious naivete and special pleading.

  30. doublereed says

    The point is that fundamentalism is terrifying regardless of the window dressing around it. Fundamentalist muslims, buddhists, christians, are often more alike than they are different, even accounting for textual differences.

    Sam Harris and his acolytes constantly present Islam as a special case with blatant special pleading. Christianity has relatively peaceful texts but has a horribly bloody history. It just doesn’t fit with reality.

    A Jainist fundamentalist wouldn’t be uber-peaceful. He would probably kill any meat-eater and justify it however he could.

  31. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sam Harris and his acolytes constantly present Islam as a special case with blatant special pleading. Christianity has relatively peaceful texts but has a horribly bloody history. It just doesn’t fit with reality.

    Agreed. AFAIK, the Christian Bible is just as bad as the Quran in terms of promotion of pillaging, raping, wanton violence, etc.

    A Jainist fundamentalist wouldn’t be uber-peaceful. He would probably kill any meat-eater and justify it however he could.

    Misses the point, or denies the point. Beliefs are operative. If someone practices a religion where their particular religious culture actually preaches peace, love, tolerance, and understanding, then this information should adjust one’s estimation to be more likely than it was without the information that they will be more peaceful, loving, tolerant, and understand. It’s not guaranteed 100%, because humans are complex and interesting creatures. However, neither is it completely uncorrelated. And this relationship is more than correlation. It is causation. People operate according to their beliefs.

  32. doublereed says

    ??? You can easily imagine a jainist would enforce a more oppressive rule on others. They believe that you have to minimize suffering. Taking this to a fundamentalist extreme in an oppressive way is easy, you simply justify what you’re doing as minimizing suffering globally.

    That doesn’t conflict with “beliefs are operative.” Saying that buddhist extremists have the more peaceful religion when they’re slaughtering and oppressing muslims in certain countries is obviously wrong.

    It’s the fundamentalism part, regardless of the particular religion.

  33. doublereed says

    I guess you could think of it as calling Harris overly textualist.

    Like Christians killing abortion doctors. That doesn’t come from anything in the bible. The bible, if anything, is pro-abortion (the punishment for causing a miscarriage is a fine, differentiating it from murder). So I guess those pro-life fanatics aren’t religiously motivated? Haha. Obviously that’s kind of laughable. But it’s not based on the text by any means.

  34. abear says

    #33: I suppose you could imagine a jainist that oppressed others for not following their beliefs and you may even in real life find some that do that.
    The facts are that that would be a rarity, because jainist beliefs generally proscribe coercing others in their beliefs. If you have evidence to the contrary other than imaginary evidence let’s see it.
    #34: You must be aware that most xtians don’t follow Old Testament laws because they have been abrogated by Jebus.
    Likewise, in the Quran there is a passage that is said to have been written when Muhammad was in Mecca saying “there is no compulsion in religion”. Many muslims follow this belief. However, there are other passages written after the Mecca period that command that islam be forced on people and that apostates should be killed and also that when quranic writings contradict another the later passage will abrogate the earlier one.
    As a result substantial numbers of muslims believe that violence is acceptable in furtherance of their religion.
    My point is that religious beliefs aren’t the only factors that shape human behavior but they often are an important factor.
    Are you saying they have little or no effect?

  35. doublereed says

    I think I’ve clarified a lot already. I do not think Islam is a special case.

    These holy texts are massively contradictory and to pretend that there is a true form of the religion or whatever is giving them way too much credit.

  36. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    These holy texts are massively contradictory and to pretend that there is a true form of the religion or whatever is giving them way too much credit.

    That has not been my position, and I doubt it’s been the position of abear. I agree that the contents of the holy books are often not the primary driver. What is the primary driver is the religious culture. It doesn’t matter as much what’s in the books. What matters more is what people believe is in the books. Focusing on the books is a mistake. Talking about the “one true Islam” is also a mistake. What matters is what people actually believe, and profess to believe, and the beliefs that people promote in public, etc. And some of that is properly called “religion”, and some of that is properly called “Islam”. Some of that is also properly called “Christian”. Some of that is also properly called “Jainism”. You don’t need to appeal to a “one true authoritative version” in order to notice that there are substantial differences in the beliefs of the current members of these different groups.

  37. abear says

    @36: Who said there is a “true” form of religion?ffs I had just stated in my previous comment that not all members of the same religion believe all the same things. If you want to really clarify what you have been saying stop throwing out strawmen and answer yes or no:
    Do you believe that peoples religious people have no effect on their behavior?
    I’d love it if you could also provide non-imaginary evidence of fundamentalist Jains committing violence in the name of their religion.

  38. deepak shetty says

    @abear

    The facts are that that would be a rarity, because jainist beliefs generally proscribe coercing others in their beliefs.

    It’s a rarity because Jains are a minority everywhere. Do you think Muslims in the US behave in general as they do in Saudi Arabia?
    See for e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Meerut_riots – Muslim / Jain riots over some water fight (But hey werent Jains a peacful lot who dont resort to violence? )
    And recently there was news about coercing other religions to eat no meat during the Jains holy festival
    http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/4-day-meat-ban-in-mumbai-during-jain-festival/

  39. abear says

    @39: There are about 5 million jains worldwide and about 3.3 million muslims in the US.
    There have been more than one or two acts of terrorism committed in the US as well as dozens to the low hundreds of american muslims joining Daesh. How many Jains participate in jihad-like violence?
    As for the Meerut riots- it did not state who started the violence. Regular jains are allowed to use violence in self defense when necessary, the more pious monks are not. doublereeds argument that the more fundamentalist of the jains are likely to be as prone to violence as any other fanatic would require jain monks to be more violent than the nominal jain. Your example doesn’t state whether monks were involved in the violence or for that matter whether any jains were acting in anything but defending themselves.*
    As for your second link, it mentions a letter sent saying “we request you not to sell any meat”. That doesn’t sound to me like a threat of violence.
    I don’t doubt that some jains indulge in violent behavior, and on occasion use their religion to justify it occasionally. The rarity of this is more than just their relatively low numbers.
    There are about 300 muslims for every jain. I contend there are many more than 300 acts of religious violence committed by muslims than any one by jains.
    *whodathunk the other side of the mob were muslims

  40. abear says

    Further to the comparison between jains and muslims:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_in_the_United_States
    Since 2000 there have been 40 terrorist attacks in the US.
    Muslims comprise 1% of the American population yet 14, or possibly 15 of the 40 attacks have been linked to islamic extremism.
    So far i’ve seen one example of jains being pushy and intolerant and another of some jains that at least threw some stones during a riot. No terrorists.

  41. doublereed says

    @EnlightmentLiberal

    What matters is what people actually believe, and profess to believe, and the beliefs that people promote in public, etc. And some of that is properly called “religion”, and some of that is properly called “Islam”. Some of that is also properly called “Christian”. Some of that is also properly called “Jainism”.

    Oh come on, no you can’t. That’s basically just bigotry. These religions are practiced so widely and differently from culture to culture that such analysis doesn’t lead to anything coherent. On the other hand, when religions get really scary, torturing and beheading people, I think it’s disingenuous to say that they are obviously totally different things.

    Yes, the window dressing is different. They have different styles. But when it comes to demands of conformity, oppression of women, suppression of free speech, propagandizing education, etc. etc. fundamentalists tend to do pretty much the same things.

    You don’t need to appeal to a “one true authoritative version” in order to notice that there are substantial differences in the beliefs of the current members of these different groups.

    So my point was that Harris plays around with the word fundamentalist, and tries to pretend that fundamentalists between religions are wildly different things based on the text and such that they’re working with.

    The No True Scotsman fallacy that Mano described here appears again, and applies to fundamentalism. Just like he can’t deny that it’s religious violence and the person is motivated by his religion, I think you can’t disregard other fundamentalist violence as not part of a general fundamentalist mindset.

    Hence to say that Jainist fundamentalists would be uber-peaceful is a farce, specifically being argued to demonize Islam.

    @abear

    There have been more than one or two acts of terrorism committed in the US as well as dozens to the low hundreds of american muslims joining Daesh. How many Jains participate in jihad-like violence?

    You could probably say something similar about Jews in before the 20th century. Of course, nowadays you can see Jews oppressing others like in Israel, where they have political power.

    Jains have always been a small minority being horribly persecuted whereever they go. There’s no reason to think this is particularly related to the Jainist beliefs and more their political situation. Just look at the Buddhists in Sri Lanka which have turned it into a Nationalist belief system and oppressed the minorities there.

  42. doublereed says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    I think in general we agree, but my responses aren’t the best trying to describe what I mean. Maybe “No True Scotsman” isn’t really the right idea there.

    Basically as abear describes it: I believe a fundamentalist Jain would be as violent as any other fundamentalist of any other religion.

    But according to Harris, this isn’t true. I’m supposed to believe fundamentalists of different religions act totally differently because the religions are totally different. Or something like that. I do not believe this is way fundamentalism works in any capacity, and pretending that it does is essentially special pleading.

  43. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To doublereed
    This just might be a terminology dispute, specifically over “fundamentalist”.

    I do not doubt that there have been and will be extremist Jains who do violence because of their Jainist (?) beliefs. As others so correctly put, most people are going to pick and choose in their religious beliefs, and it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to go from “be nice to others” to “kill those who are not nice to others” when one is operating on a faith-based mind-set and when one is also already .. unhinged .. to some degree. (Can I use that word? Would “mentally unstable” be better? Trying not to be ableist, and I’m not sure if it’s my word choice, or if it’s the inherent idea that some forms of mental illness are associated with violence.)

    However, again as abear put so eloquently and irreverently above: The people in the United States who kill abortion doctors are not doing it for power, or for money, or because of other political grievances, or because of racial identity politics, or because of national identity politics, or because of religious identity politics. These people kill abortion doctors because they have particular religious beliefs that they truly believe, and they act on these beliefs, and inside that particular system of beliefs, the rational and moral thing to do is to kill abortion doctors, and that’s why they do it. Inside that particular system of beliefs, it’s even heroic in some particular sense to kill abortion doctors, because they know that it carries great personal risk and potential personal sacrifice. These people are (mostly / probably) not insane or crazy in any meaningful sense of the words. They just have really, really wrong beliefs, that they believe quite strongly, so delusional? Yes. Crazy? No.

    We also see this w.r.t. gay rights, trans rights. We saw religious beliefs propping up Jim Crow. While many people today were not around for it, we also saw these religious beliefs propping up slavery.

    Beliefs matter. Beliefs inform behavior. Some people really do believe this awful, ridiculous shit, and it’s going to affect their behavior.

    And finally, the content of the beliefs of the standard / average / normal Christian is different than the normal Muslim, and they’re both different from the normal Shinto believer, etc. It is foolish to expect equal outcomes from these very different sets of beliefs. However, to agree with some of your position, it’s also equally foolish to believe that there’s no such thing as a violent Jainist extremist who is violent because of their Jainist beliefs. As I tried to emphasize, humans are amazingly complex creatures, and it’s hard to predict for individuals. All I’m saying is large-scale statistically significant trends.

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: And no one should take anything I say to be part of some systematic legal discrimination against particular religious creeds. That’s unethical, and IMO almost always counterproductive. I fully support the freedom of Muslims and everyone else to believe what they want, and preach what they want (subject to usual limitations of US free speech law). I just strongly disagree with what they say, and I want people to recognize the danger of what they say and people who believe that shit – Christians too, and extremists Jews too, etc. etc., – so that we can fight against irrationality and faith, in order to make the world into a better place for everyone.

  45. doublereed says

    It’s kind of hard to define what a standard Christian or Muslim believes unless you’re within a particular culture.

    Like when we talk about Christians, we’re usually talking about American and Evangelical Christianity. When we talk about Muslims, oftentimes we’re talking about foreigners which is not so easily defined because that’s all over the place.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Oh wait, I didn’t read the earlier post.

    Oh come on, no you can’t. That’s basically just bigotry. These religions are practiced so widely and differently from culture to culture that such analysis doesn’t lead to anything coherent.

    My fucking ass.

    Yes there are differences, but there are also similarities. And I’m not saying that every self-identified Christian out there believes X. I am noting that there are general trends. These general trends are what allow us to differentiate “Christian” from “Muslim” from “Jew” from “Shinto”, etc.

    Yes, the window dressing is different. They have different styles. But when it comes to demands of conformity, oppression of women, suppression of free speech, propagandizing education, etc. etc. fundamentalists tend to do pretty much the same things.

    Fucking bullshit. Also rich in irony because of the apparent hypocrisy. You’re the one who just complained that I was painting with too narrow of a brush, and then you try to one-up me and do the same thing but worse: you said that fundamentalists of all religions all do the same things. Do you realize just how incredibly ignorant you are? You just grouped all of the world’s religions into this incredibly narrow cliche. You’re basing all of this off of what, maybe 3 of the world’s religions? You do know that there are more religions besides the Abhramaic religions right? You do know that there are Matriarchal religions, right, where the fundamentalists would not oppress women? At least my position rests on the facts that there is diversity in the religions of the world, whereas your apparent position is that it’s all the same shit.

    Yes, one should expect any religion to suppress free speech, propagandize against religion, and demand conformity. However, only because of your ridiculously narrow, myopic even, view of the world, where every religion must be just lke the religions that you happen to know – only then can you have the gall to say that all extremists of all religions would oppress women instead of oppress men, or lack gender-specific oppression.

    Fucking hell.

  47. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Like when we talk about Christians, we’re usually talking about American and Evangelical Christianity. When we talk about Muslims, oftentimes we’re talking about foreigners which is not so easily defined because that’s all over the place.

    This is really starting to get ridiculous.

    The reason that there was laws against gay marriage in the United States was because a majority of the United States was members of particular sects of Christianity which included the belief that “being gay is really bad”. I am not claiming that this is a universal and fixed trait of Christianity. I am simply claiming that this is a religious belief of a religious culture, which is not shared by all people on the planet, and that if we could eradicate this particular belief, then we should expect gay people to be less persecuted.

    You are the one appealing to the No True Scotsman fallacy here. You are the one demanding that I must assume that Christianity is one whole fixed thing. Fucking bullshit. Of course it’s not. However, it’s also ridiculous to say that the belief “being gay is really really bad” is not Christian. It is Christian. It’s from one version of Christianity. I’m not saying that all Christians must believe it to be real Christians. That’s silly, because there is no such thing as One True Christianity. Christianity as a cultural movement is self defining, with many subsects. “Being gay is ok” is also a Christian belief, a belief of other Christian sects. There’s no contradiction here. As long as you’re going to be the apologist for the Christian sects which have the belief “being gay is really really bad”, then it’s going to be really hard to make social progress on these issues and to eradicate religion entirely.

    Stop pretending that I need to paint all Christians as the same in order to make these points. I don’t. There could be two separate groups who both use the label “Christian” but which had diametrically opposed beliefs, and my points would be just as valid.

  48. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And just to drive it home – I am making the point that different religious communities have different beliefs on aggregate, and these will cause the behaviors of the communities to be different, and we can see this.

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And as one last point. For Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in particular, because these are the ones that I happen to know best, almost every single religious subgroup of these religions have the belief that their texts are divinely inspired in some way, that they contain moral and/or factual truths that are better than the mere moral and factual truths of man. That’s dangerous. That’s especially dangerous because those texts are horrific, both factual and morally.

    Yes, people can be Christian and ignore the bad parts of the Christian bible. However, it generally requires ignorance or intellectual dishonesty, i.e. compartmentalization, to do so. The intellectually honest Christians are the ones demanding all sorts of horrific stuff. The Christians who excuse away the bad parts of the Christian bible are better moral people, but they’re also less honest people. That’s the problem. That’s my particular problem with Christianity, and Islam, and Judaism. That shared, near universal, belief, about the superiority and specialness of their texts, will lead to great harm, because their texts are incredibly, incredibly shitty. Only through ignorance, or lack of strength of belief, or extreme dishonest rationalizations, can one avoid the horrible parts of those texts.

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry, on a roll.

    And we see this playing out today. Today, the number of Christian literalists is far lower, percentage wise, than the number of Muslim literalists. We see the consequences of this playing out today. As I explained above, even the non-literalists are a cause for concern, because their book is still shitty, and because blind faith is inferior to reason and humanism. However, the relative differences of numbers of literalists is hugely important. The “Christian world” is far better off because we as a broad culture have managed to make it socially acceptable in many Christian circles to not be a literalist. AFAIK, this has not happened in the Shia and Sunni world. Today, Christian scholars can say that parts of the bible are forgeries and still be well respected religious scholars in their broad religious groups. Whereas, AFAIK, that’s definitely not true for Shia and Sunni scholars, where even publicly stating in many counties that parts of the Quran are false or forgeries is a great way to commit suicide-by-extremist. These are real differences, and these are differences that matter.

  51. doublereed says

    @EnlightmentLiberal

    Hahaha, I think it’s really funny how your tone suggests that you disagree with me when as far as I can see you actually don’t. We’re just putting the emphasis on different things.

    As I said before, it would be ridiculous to suggest that Christians killing abortion doctors are not doing it by their religious beliefs just because the text says otherwise. I never disagreed with the “beliefs are operative” thing. Not sure why you think I did. Oftentimes there’s a textualist bent to Islamophobia which greatly emphasizes how violent the text is.

    You’re the one who just complained that I was painting with too narrow of a brush, and then you try to one-up me and do the same thing but worse: you said that fundamentalists of all religions all do the same things.

    Uhh… no? How can you accuse me of lumping things together immediately after you say “Yes, one should expect any religion to suppress free speech, propagandize against religion, and demand conformity.” Again, where’s the disagreement?

    Was it just on the subjugation of women? Because come on, that’s a theme of a lot more than just the three Abrahamic Religions.

    I am not putting my emphasis on the diversity of religious beliefs. I’ve already assumed that, frankly. I am putting my emphasis on the similar bad things that happen when they turn fundamentalist. And again, you seem to agree that all fundamentalists suppress free speech, propagandize, demand conformity, and even commit horrible acts of violence. This is in contrast to abear who seems to pretend that Jainists are totally peaceful and the fundamentalists would be even more peaceful. Again, you agree with me, not abear, on this point.

    I apologize for phrasing things so poorly.

  52. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Hahaha, I think it’s really funny how your tone suggests that you disagree with me when as far as I can see you actually don’t. We’re just putting the emphasis on different things.

    Well, that’s good.

    And again, you seem to agree that all fundamentalists suppress free speech, propagandize, demand conformity, and even commit horrible acts of violence. This is in contrast to abear who seems to pretend that Jainists are totally peaceful and the fundamentalists would be even more peaceful. Again, you agree with me, not abear, on this point.

    Nits. I believe that tribalism and authoritarianism can easily co-opt any religious beliefs. However, depending on the content of the previous religious beliefs, it can be much harder to co-opt the religious beliefs. I don’t know much of anything about Jainism, but if it is as advertised, then it seems that produces violent authoritarianism out of it is much harder than doing the same for any of the Abrahamic religions. Not impossible. Just more difficult.

    I also don’t like your use of the word “fundamentalist” in this context. “Fundamentalist” has the etymology that the believers are going back to the fundamentals, which for Christianity are horrible, but for Jainism might not be as bad. A Jain who goes back to the fundamentals would seem to become less violent. I much prefer the word “extremist” in situations liker this. In the end, this nit may just be semantics. However, it may be more than semantics, because it is my point that there are real differences between the beliefs and creeds of different religious communities, and these differences in beliefs and creeds will affect how violent they are, and how vulnerable these communities are to becoming authoritarian and extremist.

    Put in other words, you can have complete assholes who use religious rhetoric to justify their behavior for any religious tradition, but for some it will be less likely to happen, and for some it will require more intellectual maneuvering, i.e. rationalizations, to accomplish this. To oppress women? That’s been in the tradition of Christianity since its start. It’s not all that hard to come up with that. Dittos for slavery. The Christian bible does normalize, condone, and even endorse slavery. But imagine that the texts included several specific commandments against human slavery, and didn’t contain other bits that are supportive or normalize slavery. In a culture has a general belief that the book is special and morally authoritative in some way, it’s going to be much much harder to promote human slavery with religious rhetoric.

    Put shortly, again, there are substantial differences between the different religious creeds and sects. For the religions that have holy books, there are substantial differences in the texts. I agree that the texts contain lots of contradictions, and people can cherry pick, but I must emphasize that it is not a blank ink-blot where the user can derive anything that they want with equal ease. There are words written there, and there are reading which are more logical, coherent, reasonable, etc., and there are other readings which are less logical, coherent, reasonable, etc. The books are not content-less. The books do have some impact. (But again, the traditions outside the books also have impact, such as the tradition of being literalist vs not.)

  53. doublereed says

    As far as semantics, I don’t really see how extremist is any better than fundamentalist. An extremist obviously would take the fundamentals to extremes, so an extremist pacifist would be extremely pacifistic. In that regard, “Fundamentalist” and “Extremist” have the same issue you describe. Although, I would say “extremism” implies something about society as a whole: that the beliefs are fringe and extreme. That’s not really implied with “Fundamentalist.”

    Colloquially, I would say the difference between the words is rather minimal though.

  54. abear says

    @55:

    As far as semantics, I don’t really see how extremist is any better than fundamentalist. An extremist obviously would take the fundamentals to extremes, so an extremist pacifist would be extremely pacifistic.

    Didn’t you say you believed an extreme pacifist would be violent? Or would a fundamentalist be violent and an extremist be pacifist?

    A Jainist fundamentalist wouldn’t be uber-peaceful. He would probably kill any meat-eater and justify it however he could.

    doublereed or doubletalk?

  55. doublereed says

    @56

    Didn’t you say you believed an extreme pacifist would be violent? Or would a fundamentalist be violent and an extremist be pacifist?

    The second one. EnlightenmentLiberal was essentially suggesting the opposite (that a fundamentalist would be pacifist but an extremist would be violent). Hence it being a semantic difference.

    If you were following along with the conversation between EnlightenmentLiberal and me it would make sense, but apparently that’s over your head.

  56. abear says

    @57: You said it yourself earlier:

    I apologize for phrasing things so poorly.

    Between your imaginary “facts”, your wrong “facts”, your contradicting yourself, and your crappy writing skills I’m not sure right now whether it’s over my head and I can’t understand it or your ideas are so disordered that you are incapable of making a consistent point.
    So now you appear to believe that a fundamentalist jain would go out and murder people that disagreed with him but an extremist jain would be extremely peaceful.
    That’s supposed to make sense?

  57. doublereed says

    Dude, that’s the precise semantic issue we were discussing. EnlightenmentLiberal says the opposite. Do you think that makes sense? I assume you believe us both to be talking nonsense then. You apparently think jainists can never ever do harm to people because it “preaches nonviolence,” which is so blatantly naive that it is sad.

    I’m not exactly sure what “facts” you’re referring to. No one in this conversation has brought specific facts to back up their assertions, including you. We’re arguing principles and shit like that. The only facts are like… there are muslim terrorists killing people and christian terrorists killing abortion doctors. These aren’t things anyone is disputing.

    You’re clearly just flailing with substance-less ire. I don’t think there’s anything more to say.

  58. abear says

    @59:
    You apparently think jainists can never ever do harm to people because it “preaches nonviolence,” which is so blatantly naive that its sad.

    That is a lie. Read what I said. I talked about exceptions like self defense.
    Read my comment #40.

  59. Dunc says

    I’ve largely been ignoring this thread, but I’ve just noticed that EL responded to me earlier…

    What you wrote is silly and doesn’t make that much sense. It seems quite apparent that you’re using motivated reasoning to reach certain artificial and unreasonable definitions of the terms “religion” and “politics” so that there is no overlap. That’s just silly. In this context, with the proper and straightforward meaning of terms, religion and politics have substantial overlap.

    Well, no… I maybe wasn’t clear, but the whole point I was trying to make is that religion and politics are practically inseparable.

    To use a concrete example of the point I was trying to make… As someone in the UK of a certain age, my main reference for (ostensibly) religiously-motivated terrorism is the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland – decades of terrorist violence between Protestant and Catholic communities, built on centuries of complex politics. Now, whilst the two sides were primarily defined in sectarian terms (Protestant vs Catholic), the actual roots of the conflict were political, relating to the distribution of wealth and power along sectarian lines. Whilst there was a lot of sectarian trash-talk, the precise differences of belief between Catholic and Protestant weren’t really the key issues, and the conflict could very well have turned out quite similarly even if the historical grievances behind it had been based on something else.

    I am saying that if I could waive a magic wand, and force people to confront the evidence and reason, and thereby convert many people away from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to atheism, then rates of violence against LGBT people would go down.

    Fair enough, but that’s an extremely very narrow and specific matter, and does not represent anything like the majority of (ostensibly) religiously-motivated conflict. In the case of Northern Ireland, or the Sunni / Shia conflict, or Israel / Palestine, or any of a hundred other examples, simply getting rid of the specific religious beliefs of the various groups involved is not going to address either the historical grievances or the present-day issues relating to the distribution of power, wealth, and access to resources which drive those conflicts.

  60. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Dunc
    Seems reasonable. Largely agreed.

    One thing:

    Fair enough, but that’s an extremely very narrow and specific matter, and does not represent anything like the majority of (ostensibly) religiously-motivated conflict.

    Sure, but that also seems like an extremely narrow and specific matter to focus on large-scale wars. I’m also concerned about the every-day violence and oppression of women, gays, and other minorities across the world, such as in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim countries. In other words, it still comes back to the central contention: I believe that the contents of religions vary tremendously, and I believe that this has a substantial impact on causing harm in this world.

    PS: Offhand, I do grant that many / most large scale religious conflicts happen along religious lines because of tribal identity, and not because of any particular religious content.

  61. Dunc says

    I believe that the contents of religions vary tremendously, and I believe that this has a substantial impact on causing harm in this world.

    Oh, I absolutely agree. I just think it’s a mistake to assume that conflicts which are ostensibly about religious sectarianism actually originate in religious sectarianism, or that getting rid of religion will magically resolve these long-running disputes.

    As for the matter of focus – the title of the OP is “religious terrorism”, so to me (as a UK citizen of a certain age) that has particular connotations. For other people, in other places and times, it will have different connotations. I certainly don’t want to try and get into a debate as to which forms of violence are worse – I’m sure we can both agree that both the sort of large-scale conflicts I’m talking about and the everyday violence that you’re talking about are each terrible in their own way.

  62. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’m talking about and the everyday violence that you’re talking about are each terrible in their own way.

    Yep.

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