Friday, December 6th, 2019

Why Do the Craziest Religious People Get the Most Attention?

Published on October 7, 2012 by   ·   No Comments

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And how can more moderate voices be heard?

There’s no question that religion can have some ugly moral and social consequences. The homophobic and misogynist attitudes of many American Evangelicals come  straight out their sacred texts . So do the Islamic concepts of “ dhimmitude” and jihad. So does the Jewish notion of favored bloodlines. So do Mormon and Scientologist recruiting practices. The Bible prescribes the death penalty for thirty six infractions , ranging from childhood disobedience to marital infidelity to witchcraft.  The Quran contains over a hundred  verses sanctifying the slaughter of infidels in one context or another. I’ve  argued in the past that religion disinhibits violence rather than causing it, but in a world of complex causation, one where straws sometimes break the backs of camels, that may be a distinction without a difference. The fact is, putting God’s name on Iron Age morality contributes to Iron Age behavior.

There also can be no question that, in this regard, not all ideologies are created equal. Religions differ in their history, teaching, and priorities, and consequently in  how readily  they are leveraged to justify oppression or violence. To name this month’s most salient example, Islam’s death penalty for blasphemy, combined with a prohibition of images, means that some Muslims are uniquely likely to flare when testosterone gets ignited by blasphemous pictures. The Onion made this point recently with a  graphic cartoon  depicting Jesus, Moses, Ganesh, and Buddha engaged in sex, beneath the caption, “No One Murdered Because of This Image.”

That said, over a million Muslims in the U.S., when they heard that pockets of men in Libya and Egypt were rioting over a blasphemous film, declined to do the same. Globally, 1.6 billion Muslims sat home and sympathized with the rioters or with those killed and their loved ones, or simply went about the business of getting their kids fed. The point is that, whatever their sympathies, the percent of people who acted badly was miniscule. By contrast some took the risk of helping. From the standpoint of humanity’s  shared moral core , most people of faith are more restrained, humble, and compassionate than the writers of their sacred texts.

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