Monday, March 10, 2008

'Well, At Least We Don't Have Suicide Bombers...'

Since my part-time blogging recommencement, the comment boxes have heated up, and familiar faces have reemerged. Rhology is a Christian with whom I had an extended dialogue several months ago, with each of us lobbing three-thousand-word posts back and forth. Today, he posted a pithy provocation in the comment box for “A Position Declaration: Economically Synopsizing My Worldview.” In that short meditation, I argue that, because our species is ignorant of moral truth—or, at the least, no moral code has been proved correct—it is incoherent for any individual’s moral opinions to be inflicted upon other individuals. The best analogy with which I can come up relates to colors. Suppose that I consider red to be the best color. Further, suppose that “Bill” considers green to be the best color. Because “best color” is not something that can be proved objectively, it would be utterly incoherent for me to demand that Bill recognize the superiority of red. In the face of factual ignorance, everybody should be entitled to create an opinion vis-à-vis best color. The same goes for morality. As such, in the comment box, I rail against moral authoritarianism, taking both Islamofascists and Christofascists to task for their attempts to inflict their arbitrary views on others. Rhology took exception to the comparison, and wrote the following:

“Yeah, the biggest difference might be found in the fact that Christians don't strap bombs to their bodies to blow other people and themselves up. But that's probably just a piddling, minor issue.”

I felt a public response might be valuable.

Of course, Rhology, you must recognize that my comparison was not of methods but of mindset. That is, for both Christofascists and Islamofascists, there is an assumption that they have a right to inflict their arbitrary moral opinions on those around them. Although I have seen no coverage of pervasive suicide bombing in Iran or Saudi Arabia—two hotbeds of Islamofascism—I readily admit that, at this moment and for the last few centuries, Muslims behave far worse than Christians do. However, let us not ignore the similarities between these two branches of Abrahamic superstition. Christianity and Islam both preach that women should submit humbly to the headship of men. [The Bible explicitly avers, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”] Both religions push bizarre sexual repression. And both superstitions have indulged in the most hideous of violence.

Remember that, only a few centuries ago, the church was torturing and murdering innocent people (mostly women) for engaging in “witchcraft” and “sorcery,” neither of which, incidentally, even exists. There are many hysterical estimates out there for the number butchered, but I stick with the conservative 40,000. [Now that we are here, I often have wondered why, in light of god’s omniscience, he was not more careful about the Bible's phraseology. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” is just begging for trouble, especially when there are nonconformists, heretics and ugly crones about.] Evidence suggests that, in 1252, when Pope Innocent IV authorized the use of torture during the Holy Inquisition to crush heresy, Christians embraced their newfound freedom with distressing alacrity. Soon, we saw the employment of the torture rack, thumbscrews and the hideous Judas Cradle. Mind you, although the pious did not do all the torturing, Christians of the day clutched and read the same Bible that you, Rhology, also treasure. If torture and murder cannot be laid at the Bible’s figurative feet, that tome certainly can be said to have inspired some of this. Before moving on, I have a question that I have been putting to several Christians lately: In your judgment—bearing in mind the innocence of the 40,000 executed for witchcraft—is it more likely that the torturers and murderers are now in hell, or chilling with the deity in heaven? Should you be lucky enough to go to heaven, would you want to spend eternity with the operator of a torture rack…with the person who manned the thumbscrews?

Enough with all that, though. As I said, that mostly was cleaned up by 1700. My concern here is what I have termed moral narcissism—that is, authoritarian moral imposition by a religious majority. The example I will use—perfect for its clear illustration and debaucherous nature—is Alabama’s infantile statute forbidding the sale of sex toys. Because none of these products ever has harmed anybody—except, perhaps, through inappropriate or unsanitary use—the statute clearly demonstrates the Christian moral authoritarianism running through Bible Belt states such as Alabama. The United States is supposed to enjoy freedom of religion. Presumably, much as the right to vote includes an implicit right not to cast a ballot, freedom of religion includes an implicit right to abstain from supernatural indulgence. If Bible-inspired statutes, such as the one in Alabama, are applied to Christians and atheists alike, there is no freedom from religion at all. Should I be unfortunate enough to live in the home state of Bull Connor, I would be an atheist in name and belief but a de facto Christian, if I wanted to avoid legal harassment. True freedom from religion includes the right to throw out Christian theology as well as the entirety of the Christian moral construction.

I know that I am biased, but I cannot help seeing my stance as much more accommodating than the Christofascists’. If you, Rhology, as a Christian, find sex toys to be immoral, you have every right never to buy or use them. However, if other people find them morally acceptable—and, dare I say, pleasurable—they would be allowed their (in your mind) “deviance.” For Christofascists, not only shall they abstain, they wish for the government to force everyone else to, as well.

In the battle of Christofascism vs. Islamofascism, none is more tolerable.

23 Comments:

Blogger Rhology said...

You crack me up. I answer here.

9:29 AM EDT  
Blogger The Barefoot Bum said...

I argue that, because our species is ignorant of moral truth—or, at the least, no moral code has been proved correct—it is incoherent for any individual’s moral opinions to be inflicted upon other individuals.

It should be noted that the idea that one should not inflict one's moral opinions on others is itself a moral opinion, and, according to your formulation, shouldn't be inflicted on others.

More formally, your formulation has an enthymeme: "Something should be inflicted on others if and only if it is a matter of truth." However, as a premise, it's susceptible to the Universal Philosophical Refutation. Furthermore, it's a vacuous premise: By definition, the truth is automatically "inflicted" on others by virtue of being true; truth is, in a sense, "self-inflicting". We don't need, for instance, to enforce the law of gravity.

Islamofascism and Christofascism are deficient not because they are inflicting their opinions on others; every civilized society does that when we persecute and punish murderers, rapists and thieves, We target these activities just because almost all people both disapprove of the activities directly and there is no meta-level to support them.

Islamofascism and Christofascism are deficient, rather, because they fraudulently argue that their opinions are not opinions, but matters of truth, that we should inflict these moral standards on others without regard to our own individual feelings.

9:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

You guys are the Ironic Duo! I love it.

Islamofascism and Christofascism are deficient, rather, because they fraudulently argue that their opinions are not opinions, but matters of truth, that we should inflict these moral standards on others without regard to our own individual feelings.

I suppose we the readers are supposed to take that matters of truth?
Should we indeed inflict these moral standards (that you're laying out here) on others without regard to our own individual feelings?

9:50 AM EDT  
Blogger The Barefoot Bum said...

Most people that I know have very strong negative feelings about lies and fraud.

Of course I cannot speak for you personally: I've seen no evidence in any of our conversations that you have any strong feelings about the truth.

10:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

I agree Jolly, though in all fairness, I don't see us becoming a Christofascist state, though some elements of the population certainly will try to bring it about. Compared to other countries in the world, we've got it pretty good.

In Muslim states in SE Asia like Indonesia and Malaysia, you have to designate a religion on your national ID card. Some months ago I blogged about a Malaysian woman who was raised as a Muslim but converted to Christianity. She wanted to change her religious affiliation to Christian, but the government said that it was up to the Muslim court. Of course, the Muslim court denied her request. That would be like a chicken asking the farmer for permission to leave the hen house. I sent an e-mail to the Malaysian Embassy denouncing the refusal to allow the woman to change her religious affiliation to Christianity, as one's religious beliefs or lack thereof should not be a state matter but rather a private decision.

As for suicide bombers, it is primarily a tactic used by people who are politically or militarily powerless. Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza, for example, do not have the ability to raise an armed force to defeat Israel on the battlefield. If they did, suicide bombing would be pointless.

The tactic is abhorrent to us because it violates our sense of fair play. We view warfare as combat between two armies on the battlefield. When one army is sufficiently beaten, that side is supposed to surrender to the winner. There are certain standards of conduct that are expected to be adhered to, such as the treatment of POWs and making efforts to minimize civilian casualties.

Suicide bombing violates these standards. Civilians are often deliberately targetted. Because of their sudden and random nature, they instill fear in the civilian population out of proportion to the physical damage they inflict. If you are an Israeli civilian, for example, there is probably an ever present fear that "maybe it will happen to me today on the bus." As someone who works in NYC, I know I felt like that for a while after 9/11.

To us, the deliberate targetting of civilians by suicide bombers is abhorrent (and it is abhorrent to me), but from what I understand, its proponents make no distinction between civilians and the military. In the eyes of the terrorists, a civilian population is responsible for the conduct of its government.

One could also argue that our policies are no better. While the numbers are probably exaggerated, the number of children who died as a result of our sanctions on Iraq would be viewed by some as a terrorist act. When Madeline Albright made her infamous statement on 60 Minutes that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions "was worth it", I cringe to think how that played out in the Arab world.

Whenever we launch a cruise missile or drop a bomb on a target, there is usually at least the expectation that innocent civilians are going to be killed. True, we don't mean for it to happen, but we know that it will. But when your parents or siblings are collateral damage from an American bomb, from your perspective it is no less horrible and evil than people killed by a suicide bomber in a market square.

As for fundamentalist Christians potentially becoming suicide bombers, for that to happen we would need a climate where they feel so politically marginalized that they saw no other way to effect change. Even then, they would probably use bombs with timed detonators rather than resort to suicide bombing. Either way, I believe it would only be a fringe minority that would engage in such behavior.

If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2008 and the Democrats maintain or even increase their control of both houses of Congress, there is a likelihood that right wing terrorism might increase in the United States. Particularly if they see reproductive rights being strengthened, gay rights issues being advanced and so forth.

Sorry for the rambling nature of these comments.

1:03 PM EDT  
Blogger Riker said...

JN,

My highest compliments on your fine writing; you raised some very good points, and defended them with clarity and insight.

Keep up the good work!

3:00 PM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

Well I would certainly agree that suicide bombing would be a last resort of the weak and as such would be a strong reason why you don't see suicide christian bombers.

6:28 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

PhillyChief,

Could you elucidate on that? Do you mean that Christians are not, at this time, in the position of political/military weakness, or something else? I'm interested in what you mean, but I can't guess it today lol. :-(

Thanks!

8:16 AM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

Yes, that's what I meant. Despite the perpetual 'woe is me' persecution complex, christians sit in the catbird seat and therefore are nowhere near a position of desperation to warrant things like suicide bombing.

9:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Oh OK, thanks!
Don't you think that the fact that Islam in doctrine promotes expansion by violence and such and Christianity in doctrine denigrates violence might have some influence on what might happen as well?

9:58 AM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

I don't find christianity denigrates violence. Maybe against those who share your faith, but all others seem to be fair game.

10:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Did you not see the "in doctrine" part of my question?

What part of the doctrine of Christianity promotes violence in your mind?

11:01 AM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

I see what you're trying to do. You're setting up a situation where any example of christian violence you'll dismiss as not indicative of the "true" doctrine (the old "they weren't 'true christians' gambit), which of course is your interpretation of the bible; furthermore, any biblical citation will also be dismissed with some apologetic.

No thank you, I will not indulge your wish to play the "in theory" or as you put it, the "in doctrine" game.

11:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

While it is true that Islam has in practice sanctioned expansion by violence, it is not the sole means by which it has expanded. In Southeast Asia, as well as along the East African coast, Islam was largely spread by peaceful means by Muslim traders. The Volga Bulgars in Russia similarly became converts to Islam.

Islam's initial expansion outside of the Arabian peninsula also needs to be looked at in its historical context. Prior to the advent of Islam, the Middle East was dominated by two superpowers, the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, which was Orthodox Christian, and the Sassanid Persian Empire, which espoused Zoroastrianism. Each had their respective Arab client states that served as buffers against raiders from the Arabian peninsula.

In the early 7th century, the Byzantines and Persians fought a long and devastating war that bled their treasuries and wrecked the economies of their Middle Eastern territories. In addition, the Byzantines alienated many of their Christian subjects in Egypt and the Levant by imposing their brand of Christian orthodoxy.

When the Arab Muslim armies invaded, they were actually looked upon as liberators by some of the Christian population. The Muslims did not care what brand of Christianity their subjects practiced, as long as they paid their taxes. Jerusalem itself was surrendered peacefully, and the Arab takeover of the city was a rather stark contrast with the Crusader conquest of the city in 1099, in which the Crusaders by their own account mention the massacres they committed and the blood that flowed in the streets.

The process of Islamicization itself in the conquered states was a slow process that took centuries. It was not until the late 8th or early 9th centuries that the Persians had become overwhelmingly Muslim.

There were even a number of instances when foreign conquerors, particularly the Mongols, adopted Islam as their religion, such as the Mongol Khanates that ruled Persia and Russia. Of course, it was largely done so out of pragmatism so as to better legitimize their rule in the eyes of their Muslim subjects.

As for the Christians, while lots of people like to harp on the Crusades to recover Jeruslam, given less mention are the Baltic Crusades against the pagan tribes that lived there. Like the crusades in the Levant, the Baltic Crusades were fought over the course of a couple of centuries in which non-Christians were massacred in the name of Christ.

Of course, if you want some more recent historical examples, I give you the Opium War in the early 1840's. The British had been flooding China with opium, causing much of the population to become addicted to the drug, which seriously disrupted Chinese society. When the Chinese government's demand that the British stop selling the drug fell on deaf ears, the Chinese had the audacity to actually start seizing caskets of opium and throwing them into the river. That got the attention of the British, which decided to go to war against a pathetically outmatched foe.

The Opium War was not fought in the name of Christianity of course, but the British clearly thought of theirs as a Christian civilization and that they were upholding its superiority over the decadent heathen Chinese.

If one wants to talk about the relentless expansion of Islam, then one must also look at a map of Africa in the late 19th century and look at all the colors on the map that represent territories ruled by Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Again, I am not going to get into whether or not European colonialism had sanction in the doctrines of Christianity, but the European powers clearly believed that theirs was a Christian civilization and that they were spreading the benefits of that civilization to the benighted regions of the world.

The irony in all of this is that with all the caterwauling about Europe being demographically swamped by Muslims (Eurabia is the term), the Muslim influx is itself a byproduct of European colonialism. France's Muslim population largely originates from its former colonial territories in Africa, while Britain's mostly hails from Pakistan, which was once part of British India. Funny how history has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass.

That being said, in this day and age, if I have the choice between living in a majority Christian country like the United States, or any majority Muslim country in the world, I wholeheartedly choose the United States. With a commitment to separation of church and state, and to religious pluralism, we should be a model for the world to follow.

Okay, lunch break's over now!

1:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

PChief,

See, if you disagree, you'd need to prove that the religion TEACHES the violent behavior as opposed to leaving your position open to the idea that there are just some who are acting out of turn, out of tune with the religion. Your argument can then only sustain a critique of the people (ie, some ChristianS) rather than a critique of the system (ie, ChristianITY), but that's not really where you were going. So I hope you'll consider changing your position.

Peace,
Rhology

1:59 PM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

No, because like I said, whatever part of the system I bring up then you'll wave it away with some apologetic.

Essentially the vagueness of the system is evidence for the system being flawed. No two christians can seemingly agree 100% on what the system is, yet you all call yourselves christians.

When any christian is victimized, ALL christians claim the offense as being against them, yet if one group of christians do something bad, you all distance yourself and claim "they weren't true christians". This is further evidence of the system being flawed, because it allows for such disingenuousness on top of the inherent confusion.

2:59 PM EDT  
Blogger RickU said...

I didn't read all of the comments, so if this has been covered I apologize. You can't forget that there are indeed Christians who are using force in America to attempt to force their views on others. The abortion clinic bomber/assasins are every bit as violent and bat shit crazy as the Islamic suicide bombers are.

They too are terrorists for their religion.

12:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Yes RickU, but how many of those are there?
And that doesn't touch of course the question of whether the religion teaches the violence or whether the violence is undertaken w/o justification from that religion.

12:42 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Ricku, the thing is, bombings of abortion clinics would only be carried out by a fringe minority who style themselves Christians.

Intentional bombings against civilian targets, whether by a suicide bomber, or by a controlled device, has greater sanction in parts of the Muslim world. In a Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey from 2006, participants were asked if suicide bombings of civilian targets "to defend Islam" were justified. In Jordan, 29% agreed and in Egypt 28% agreed that it was often or sometimes justified. Even in a more secular Muslim country like Turkey, 17% answered affirmatively, while 16% of Muslims living in France and 16% of Muslims living in the UK answered affirmatively. In Nigeria, an astounding 46% answered that it was often or sometimes justified.

With the UK in particular, the Muslims who carried out the bus and train bombings in London grew up in the UK, and if I recall correctly, they were in fact British citizens. While some self-styled Christian extremists in the United States would sanction bombings of abortion clinics, I could not imagine any scenario where a Christian extremist would detonate a bomb on a public bus. The only example I can think of where a fringe character tried to bomb a public facility was Eric Rudolph at the Atlanta Olympics in the 1990's. Some might bring up Timothy McVeigh, but regardless of what his religious affiliations were, in his eyes the Murrah Building in Oklahoma was a government target.

7:04 PM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

Let's see what we have here. We have:
1. They weren't "true" christians
2. Hey, get a load of those whacko Muslims...

If I had $1 for every time I heard either one. This one's a two-fer!

7:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Hi Philly. I don't know if any of your comments were directed at me, but as an atheist, I don't of course get involved in the "who is a true Christian" argument.

7:59 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

PC,

Up to you to make a case that they were true Christians. From what I've seen, I don't know you'd have the first idea where even to start.

And you didn't respond to the fact that there are far, far more Muslim bombers than "Christian" bombers.
Nor to the argument from which doctrine justifies which action.

In short, hot air from your end. Have a nice day.

Peace,
Rhology

8:06 AM EDT  
Blogger PhillyChief said...

Up to me? I've never split hairs. Imo ALL christians are christians, period, and the issue that there are more muslim bombers than christian bombers is irrelevant and absurd as a defense for christianity.

9:20 AM EDT  

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