“Why Do You Care?” – The Roadblock of Social Progress

Why do you care?”

If I haven’t been asked this question enough lately, I could definitely do without for the remainder of this year.

Depending on the context of the situation, the question can be asked defensively or it can be phrased offensively. In the specific context of my situation- and more specifically in the situation of millions of other people  also- it was a mixture of both.

A couple of weeks back when the news that the SCOTUS (that’s Supreme Court of the U.S.) declared that marriage in the United States was to be allowed for all persons of legal age regardless of gender, race, or creed, I, like millions of Americans and millions of people around the world, was ecstatic! Before that day, America was slowly moving in the right track toward social equality, city by city and state by state. However, I’m sure that like me, a lot of people never anticipated that it would come this soon and this fast. In my mind this was a process that would drag on for years to come only to culminate in some far away date no one would predict. Imagine our surprise. But once it came, as you know, the wave of euphoria spread throughout the land. There wasn’t a news channel, newspaper, or social media platform in the United States where the decision did not make news, and those who did not support it made their voices known only to be drowned out that day by those who did. A major part of that wave of positivism was the product of progressive social media campaigns, sometimes pushed by social media giants themselves such as Facebook and Twitter. That day, for example, millions of Americans from celebrities to politicians to regular people alike all took to Facebook and Twitter to show their support by either Tweeting about it or by adding the rainbow flag as a background on their profile pictures.

A few days later, a friend of mine asked me in earnest curiosity why I- a straight man- was celebrating something that clearly did not affect me in the least bit. The question was funny to me for several reasons and at that point I was thinking that perhaps he meant marriage in general, since aside from being straight, I also don’t wish to ever be married. But I understood the point as I understand it now.

That’s when it dawned on me that when it comes to civil rights issues- or many other everyday issues for that matter- there is still a very deep disconnect in our understanding of other people’s suffering; but also that we often do not question the things that truly matter and we do the things that don’t.

With utmost sincerity I explained to my friend that this huge change that had just happened in America had to be celebrated by everyone because essentially it pertains to everyone’s interests in the way that the Civil Rights Movement of last century pertained not just to African-Americans (or rather just Americans) but to humans. In effect, this was a victory for humans, not just for some humans.

If you are offended by the comparison I suggest you get your head out of your ass. I am well aware that the suffering for both black Americans and the LGBT community has been different in many ways, as well as their respective socio-political movements have been. But there is no doubt that where we are concerned they are both social issues where people have suffered as a consequence of other people’s ignorance and indifference, and therefore they should be addressed.

The problem I see regarding social and political movements nowadays is that people have taken too much trouble to compare one to another. The bigger issue here is learning to realize that a social movement that aims to create progress is never over and it’s continually progressing. In fact, it’s in any social movement’s ethos to continue that progress essentially forever.

To know the history of the LGBT movement in America we really don’t have to go that far back, merely a few decades- almost a hundred years to come to an honest timeline proximity.  However, if we wind back the clock a bit further we find that even though the attitudes towards homosexuality and hemophilia are dependent on specific historical settings, we see that in general, homosexuality has been frowned upon by more societies than we can count.

One could make the case that unlike the suffering of black people throughout history, LGBT members of any society have been less marginalized simply for their ability to blend into that society easier, having no discernible exterior features that give away their innate condition other than their sexuality. But playing devil’s advocate for a second, are we not wrong in making such distinctions, or even dismissing the suffering of one group by comparing it to the suffering of another?

Although tolerance lies in the objective mind, there is no doubt that it is also a subjective experience. It’s then that we begin to see that social change is not so much going in circles as it is spiraling upwards as far as progress is concerned. To compare one progressive movement to another is to denigrate the very meaning of social progress, precisely because it’s social, meaning it affects society as a whole, and it’s progress, meaning it moves society forward.

Just from common sense alone you might infer that every “race” as we know them today (and even every race within a race) has been, at some point in human history, victimized by another. Take a look at the history of military conflicts and you will see that it is always the losing side that gets pulled down to the bottom of the social scale. This even happens in modern times. Where in the 1800s and early 1900s Chinese, Italians, and Irish immigrants were the “flavor of the month” as far as the most persecuted races in America, now Hispanic immigrants are. Of course there are a few groups that throughout history have been more hated than others, Jews for example who have had to endure antisemitism for over two thousand years. But to say that because Jews have had a hard time throughout history to really care about any other group of humans, would not only be a blatant disregard of social order, it undermines the kind of morality we are trying to instill in future generations and it is exactly the kind of potentially harmful learned social behavior that breeds ignorance, hatred, racism and the propagandist vitriol that disseminates it.

Do we have to be one race or another to ONLY understand their suffering?

Granted, most educated people in the world now don’t see it this way. But there are still those that make the comparison with a certain degree of animosity.

It seems to me that the reasoning behind the alienation of supporting cooperative social progress is flawed, and in fact it is downright illogical.

Saying that a group or a person should only offer their support for one of the things they believe advances social well-being, and adhere to what it is only their concern due to race or creed- or any other self-serving reason really- is discrimination at its finest. That mentality narrows conversations and excludes others who are of a different race or creed or sex to be part of a positive change that’s being created for the world and for the future of the human race as a whole.

Imagine for example if the hatred of Jews had evaporated just as soon as it began, there is no doubt we would have different problems in the world right now, but not that specific problem to try to fix. In fact, imagine if hatred of any race had never existed in the first place, where would we be?

It is a waste of time to study history in the hopes of “what would’ve been,” so instead we should study history in the hopes of understanding how we can, once and for all, eradicate hatred now that we have a deeper understanding of the social structures that we create and the tolerance that we have come to acquire through much pain and suffering.

 

Selective Urgency/Selective Tolerance

Sometime before the SCOTUS announced equality in marriage I announced in some social site or other that equality in marriage is basically, or should be, a non-issue and that more urgent matters required our attention.

Of course from everything you read in the sections above it might sound hypocritical of me to even say that there are more important things to think about than gay rights, or ridding our world of racism, sexism, classism, etc.

By this I did not want people to confuse the intention- I don’t believe we as an entire nation should be discussing something that is so foreign to our national priorities. But I also don’t want people to confuse the underlying message- the fact that we are discussing these matters effectively proves that we have been ready for quite some time to move past the kind of social roadblocks that prevent us from creating a near-perfect society.

At first reading it sounds as though I don’t consider human rights to be part an urgent matter to discuss. I’m saying that given how much we’ve known about ourselves historically, the issue of human rights is one that in today’s day and age should take no longer than a coffee break. It is imperative that we force each other to recognize that human rights is for all humans- not for some, not for the best, but for all. And it is something that, in brutal honesty, should have been resolved by now.

One of the reasons why this moment hadn’t arrived sooner is because of selective tolerance.

We as individuals do not devote all of our attention to one unbelievably huge problem, one that seems to be out of our reach (e.g. the imminent death of our galaxy, the existing threat of nuclear war, or even global warming) especially when our lives are already buried beneath an avalanche of problems of our own that we must worry about. Instead we limit the laundry list of problems to what we can carry individually and devote decreasing slices of our time to those problems that seem to be out of our reach (e.g. gay rights, and within that bracket, gay marriage; drugs, etc…) Unfortunately in this case the problem comes about when in the interest of self-preservation we often run contrary to the benefit of the whole “colony” to benefit ourselves, in smaller and smaller numbers.

A little thought experiment.

Whether you are poor, middle-class, or filthy rich- provided you have had some kind of education- you know it’s a fact that mass poverty is something that affects millions around the world everyday, and that in some countries poverty is so extreme that people die by the millions because of it and because of the slew of social consequences it produces. You are aware that poverty affects some percentage of the total global population, and depending on the country we’re talking about you know that some areas are more affected than others, maybe even in your own town. Of course you know this.

But when TV ads about the poor, dying kids comes on television do you jump to the chance to donate money to sustain a child in some poor faraway nation?

Congratulations to those who said they do/would. But how many of you asked yourselves in this hypothetical scenario what their own financial situation was before donating- or even whether you should? Doubtless there’s a moral echo going off in the back of your head while you guiltily check your bank account. But don’t worry, I would- and have- asked myself the same thing. The point is that the majority of us have done it practically on cue. While intrinsically altruistic people do exist in the world, they don’t by any means constitute any majority- intrinsically selfless people being an even smaller circle.

However, there are obvious evolutionary advantages for that kind of selfish attitude, and we have done well to translate them to our modern times; we just cannot help but weigh out how helping others will shortfall us in some way. This is something we all do regardless of anything. We are, to a certain point, selfish. Of course the situation is not as black-and-white as it sounds, and you are not selfish as I made you seem. Perhaps you donate to Amnesty International, or you devote your time to recycling programs, or you anonymously bought the next table over their meal. Maybe you’re even more selfless and you donate time and money to a cause- and maybe religion is a big part of that course of action. But the fact remains that there are degrees of selfishness and reasons to be so. For example we are selfish enough not to give to those faraway starving children, but selfless in that we would provide for our own children before we provide for ourselves. Our altruistic motives only go as far as we allow them to.

Coming back “to the gay thing,” it appears that logically we cannot all care about all the issues that happen so we select those that affect us in closer social proximity. It is a logical step to take and it would make sense that most people would consider equal-rights as being something more important that something that appears extraordinarily complicated and long- something like global warming per se. But ask a starving person if they consider global warming a pressing issue, or gay rights for that matter. I’m quite sure they would disagree with you while trying to instill enough urgency in you to feed them.

It is important that you as the reader understand that by this I am neither shaming you, nor pushing a hidden agenda here- I actually do believe global warming is the more important issue here-but people would benefit greatly by understanding the ridiculous comparison between one issue of overdue resolve to one of yet-greater potential damage to us as a species and for the planet itself.

Think of it this way, if homophobia (and sexism and classism and cynicism) suddenly vanished from the human condition- think how much could be accomplished. Without straying far from the context, the amount of time humanity has been talking about sexuality- or people’s personal lives for that matter- is far too long for us to have conceived any honest notions of planet colonization a thousand years sooner.

Perhaps, the pats in the back we give ourselves for our great achievement of finally advancing social reform  will show us just how capable we are, as a thoughtful, tolerant society, of moving past ignorance while at last revealing just how tedious the subject actually is.

Of course not talking about it isn’t as easy as it sounds, after all entire ad campaigns have been formed around issues that shouldn’t be pressing and not enough time is being devoted to issues that truly are a matter of life and death for all of us (but that’s for another blog). However, until our collective understanding of social equality catches up to this future we’re living in, talking about human rights for that matter is one of the most important thing to think about. Ironically if we want to fix the world we inhabit we must first fix ourselves.

 

The Role of Religion

Think hard about the following question: How does gay marriage affect me?

The short answer is that it doesn’t.

The long one is that you want it too. And over time it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that you have made it affect you. Am I not talking about it now?

The fact is that same-sex attraction exists within all species of living creatures in the planet. It’s natural because we are part of nature itself. And it’s not abominable because sexuality- even if it’s practiced responsibly- will always carry some kind of risk no matter what, homosexual sex is not exclusive. Think how slower AIDS would have spread had we as a society been more tolerant. Instead of shaming our kids for being who they are, we could’ve informed them to practice sex and love, safely.

This is where our other prejudice comes from, and in this case it is deeply rooted not in our DNA but rather in our voluntary convictions- something much more terrifying.

If we haven’t presented a voice to speak for those we alienate in society, we might get away with it by putting it on our very own intrinsic selfishness. But if the human race is already alienating towards those we don’t’ like, there is one thing I can think of that puts those doubts into overdrive- voluntary conviction, and nothing does a better job at it than religion.

Just in the same, but opposite, way that we are selfish not to give to those children in Africa, sometimes it is to our advantage to make other people’s lives miserable. If you don’t believe that, read up on… pretty much every single war ever.

Even if you consider yourself a good person, it serves some purpose to enslave people, or at the very least deny them the same rights that you’d grant yourself. In the case of financial motivation I can at least understand its nefariously logical ways to make us be a bit more selfish with others and a bit more selfless with ourselves or our own.

But a more curious- and hopelessly lost situation- is when we enslave others, or deny them rights, with the inviolable conviction that what we are doing is a good thing. There is no moral ambiguity here, the only way any human will adhere to morally reprehensible ideas while keeping a clean conscience, is either by being medically psychopathic or by being devotedly religious. You can see for yourself when you ask a question like: should gays be allowed to marry?

If you were one of the few who said no, I would challenge you to think of a valid reason why they couldn’t that was not based on religion. Without wasting anyone’s time I will say that outside of religion there is no valid reason for why gay people shouldn’t marry or form relationships, and those who insist on quoting scripture should do well in reminding themselves why they have just denied a human the right to love.

Once on Facebook I debated a person who believed that without a doubt all human life should be respected and that all humans should have the right to live free and happy lives. The caveat here was that as long as they weren’t gay they should be.

I can think of only one way in which an obviously intelligent and decent person would get it into their heads that happiness is not deservedly equal unless blank.

The simple fact is that religion has taken too much of our time in idiocies that not enough people would believe had it not offered some kind of reward that is “too big to fail.” Or in fact, too big for us not to take notice. Something so large that it can only be received in the one life we are not even sure exists- go figure.

So it seems that religion while in some contexts is benevolent, at the root it is just as selfish as our natures can go, and then some.

Global warming- yes again with that- is a problem that is significantly more urgent, although more distant, in scope if not in time. This is one of those pressing issues that if we fuck up, has the potential to annihilate not just the human race but pretty much everything else. And yet, we approach it with the same patronizing urgency we show kids.

In the subject of religion, decency, like public discourse, seems to go only as far as the word of god allows, it appears. Whereas in any other context the diminishing bubble of religious influence allows our decency to go much further, even if it’s not as far as it should be.

John Lennon once said, “Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

Lennon used to beat his wife. And while some have elevated him to near mythical status, Lennism isn’t a religion- that I know of. That should tell you something about the fanaticism of some, while reminding you of the objectivity of most.

Lennon was truthfully an incredible human being- but he was no god and in fact he was very flawed . And the rest of us, like sheep, are smart, and perhaps a bit selfish as a few, but very idiotic and corruptible as a flock. The moment we realize that we are betraying our own humanity for ideas people had about how to live two thousand years ago, the faster we can start talking about the things that will take us, quite literally, to the stars.

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Instead, check this out:

 

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Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 2

Churches and religions pride themselves in having compiled in volumes all the rules by which humanity is supposed to live by and what our roles in society should be. However, what little morality can be found in the Quran can also be found in the cheapest crime novel you can find at your local gas station. The rest of it can be derived simply from common sense and from the connection people form with their fellow human beings. Unless a serious mental illness is preventing someone from acting rationally, there is no way to miss simple moral acts that enrich human experience, i.e. being kind to others, helping those in need, minding others’ fears and feelings, etc. Why? Because we can relate to all these things solely by our own experience of being alive.

Unfortunately, there are those who don’t see it this way and for them, their own interpretation of things is the only interpretation. Belief, based on these interpretations, becomes a dangerous tool to wield. Ideas can be molded into anything, and detrimentally to everyone, in the minds of those whom religion already provides a preemptive answer to everything, interpretation is not born out of logic of differentiating patterns, but rather it is the mental equivalent of muscle memory, a learned behavior with only one intended consequence- hegemony.

In religion, mainly the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, when a bad idea is sanctioned by the text from which it comes from, it is standard procedure not to question it or its origin, but rather accept it and love it as having providence in the mysteriousness of a deity almost as obscure and unknown as the people who claim to have been the messengers of it. When does it become inconvenient for us to question it or outright reject it? How far must things go before we realize that the things we are made to believe really cause pain to people? Certainly not far enough if people truly believe in this day and age that the actions of Abraham were appropriate and warranted simply because it was god’s word. How far can we go if people will be made to believe that subservience is the way to heaven? After all, not more than half a century ago people still believed that the separation between races was divinely mandated. This is an example of how diluted our common sense can become when we are made to believe things that many generations before us could not concretely explain. Must we destroy the entire world before we start to question things?

Christianity has “evolved” over thousands of years from a small insignificant rebellion to the leading form of organized “consciousness” (for lack of a better word in this context) that humanity has ever participated in. It is essentially the most deadly self-imposed psychological experiment that in one way or another has changed the world, sometimes for the worse. In its infancy Christianity was harmless, just another cult, but as its numbers inflated violently for the very first centuries, Christians were known as terrorists, rebels, and racially inferior beings (sound familiar?). They were despised, persecuted, tortured and executed. It should be funny to note that during those first centuries, the desperation of pagans seeing their gods being replaced by a foreign one must have been quite a culture shock.

Following the Constantine decree that Christianity was to become the official religion of the Roman Empire, the cult then sought to infect nations and radicalize them either by “the word” or by the sword. Early Christians experienced a sort of either-you’re-with-us-or-against-us attitude and committed atrocities in the name of unreason. Of course I can’t say this is exclusive to Christians, for earlier religions much did the same, imposing their own mythologies onto other groups of people. This new mythical thing of incredible proportions became faith. Faith then turned out to be the invisible lighthouse in the shores of reason, a place where all sailors wanted to be drawn to but that clad in obscurity it took an enormous amount of effort to find. Not surprisingly, over the centuries many ships have capsized in this place.

Star and crescent icon

Much in the same way that Christianity spread its message by blood, and occasionally by peace, Islam and radicalized Muslims do the same today. Historically speaking, the spread of Islamism was much quicker and much more brutal than Christianity ever was, at least in the first centuries of its creation. Compared within the same time period, no doubt Islam would have been far more effective at indoctrinating the masses. But that is only possible admitting that Islam was born out of the sword of an illiterate warlord who sought to conquer over his oppressors come what may.

The thought that Islam under the caliphates was at one point the better of all evils, and that it advanced mathematical and scientific advancement, is one of the most recycled untruths (not lies) that we tell ourselves during our time. It is no more true than saying that we now have a deep knowledge of the universe because of Christianity. People of science and logic can be found anywhere and everywhere, it only takes the right incentive to provoke them to share their curiosity with the world. However, I cannot overlook the fact that indeed thinkers under ancient Islam were not as restricted under the banner as Christians were under Christianity. Sadly, I can’t say that about “modern” Islam. The brutality with which purely Muslim governments enforce Shari’a Law is the same with which Inquisitors enforced the canon of the Catholic church, and as a result what we have is a new inquisition period, the new Dark Ages. What’s so surprising is that heads are still rolling for imaginary crimes in an age when we can peer into the darkest spots of the known universe. Seeing the events unfold, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves and each other, “How can this possibly still be going on?”

Under the current modus operandi of Islamic nations it seems that the Quran is not taken out of context, as some might believe, but something much worse, it is understood by the most literal interpretation it can be given. If at some point we thought it was a hypocritical thing to cherry-pick the Bible to find passages that conveniently suited our moral needs, then I suggest we go back to that and try to convince our Muslim brethren to do the same. At our demise, the phrase “Beware what you wish for” comes to mind. Then again wishing that it wasn’t so is basically the secular equivalent to praying it wasn’t so.

Islam it seems has inherited the proverbial scepter of unreason. But let me clarify before I start receiving hate-mail. It is not Islam that I have a problem with, but rather literal Islam that I hate. Before we begin to convince ourselves of the fairy-tale illusion that there are many moral passages in the Quran to constitute a moral rule-book to follow, let me tell you that often in the same passages of the hadith where a moral passage can be found, an equally immoral one can also be found. The greatest problem we come across it seems is recognizing what is moral?

As if it wasn’t enough to see women clad in black and knowing that they have been genitally mutilated as children (prominent practice in some Muslim countries and also in some Christian ones), it has become the job of some cynics to declare that the people doing this sort of thing are just radicals and misunderstand and twist the word of the Quran and the Bible. What they continually fail to realize is that these “radicals” are not a band of illiterate sheepherders as they sued to be, or warriors as Mohammad himself was, but rather people of broad-reaching influence such as heads of state and religious leaders. It is not the ignorant who dictate policy, it is the learned. The radicals that we mention command armies and lead nations, these are not gangs, these are people who truly believe every word they read down to the last punctuation mark and they use it to maintain a strict control upon their populations. Whether or not this oppression exists solely for the purpose of near-total hegemonic social control, such as in the case of societies like Saudi Arabia, is something that changes from country to country, from tribe to tribe, and even within the same religion (i.e. Shia Muslims vs. Sunni Muslims, Catholics vs. Protestants, etc.) The fear that we have is not with moderate Muslims, although we should be cautious of their beliefs much in the same way that we are cautious of the beliefs of others such as Christians, Jews, and indeed my fellow atheists- our fear should be grounded in the radicalizing of these moderates as ISIL and other warring factions have effectively managed to do by spreading propaganda with the message that to wage holy war against infidels (everyone who is not a Muslim) is glorious. And what’s more, that to die is immensely better than to live. This is a highly dangerous position to take and defend. As philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris has said, “These people love death more than we love life.”

 

And if none of this convinces you of the severity of the problem then perhaps you will be more sympathetic when you realize that ISIS tortures and kills children, and all we can do is impotently watch in our computer and television screens as it happens. Does any reasonable person dare say that this is not the work of Muslims but rather the work of psychopaths misled to think this is the path to heaven?

This oppression that exists, not only of the body but mainly of the mind then becomes like a poison that kills the fertile ground of thought, and lets nothing grow. The most passive verses of the Quran are continually ignored while those which spell out in detail how to punish and control people are followed to the letter, and they work very effectively. If you thought Communism was bad, theocracy is much worse. Children are brought up thinking that this sort of behavior should be tolerated, celebrated, and repeated. In consequence we have generations upon generations and waves upon waves of faith-fighters willing to die as martyrs in defense of their twisted ideals. Teaching kids that infidels are only good for killing, or that the opinion of a woman is only half of that of a man, does not make children moral, it makes them immoral, or if anything it makes them amoral. To push the envelope a little bit further (perhaps not exaggerating), whole generations are being indoctrinated and groomed as reserves for some future holy war that some are praying, and praying hard, that will one day come. How can we hope to win a war against those who willingly walk to their deaths to defend nothing more than the right to die gloriously as we fight to defend life? It seems almost impossible. Within those circles, the interpretation that is given for men to follow has perpetuated an endless war with the perfect breed of warriors willing to die happily.

Much like the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages, these Muslim theocracies appear to be highly organized even in the face of auto-radicalism. Is there a shred of doubt that they would all wish to see Israel, or the U.S., or the E.U. in ashes rather than form a peaceful world? Of course not. And it seems that money is basically the only thing keeping some of these societies at bay from erupting into war. But how long will this strategy of showering these countries with gold last? When the oil dries up and there is nothing more to sell, what will happen then? If greed fails, what other cards do we have to play?

Even within our nations it seems that the squalling within misinformed liberal groups is giving the enemy the advantage of ideological warfare. While we question what constitutes criticism of religion and indeed freedom of speech, radical Muslims have no problem using social platforms created by Western countries such as Facebook and Twitter to shamelessly (and cowardly) recruit among our own populations. For now it seems their strength lies solely in pushing propaganda, not in their numbers or even in the hope to fight established nation. But for how long? Can we allow this to change? These are questions that must be asked now.

Morality is a tricky thing sometimes. Occasionally it’s difficult to assert correctly what is moral, after all not all moral decisions are good and not all good decisions are moral. But in order to enjoy the benefits of living in a society where its citizens are happy, the freedom to speak one’s mind is paramount to the contribution of that happiness and the cornerstone in building that type of nation. Although I believe that morality is rooted in what we find pleasurable and good without the need to affect others, I also believe that it is corruptible. Some moral things that were considered good and moral before are not any longer and so we have to be able to make that distinction correctly. In that sense, morality has to derive at least in part to the freedom to let your mind be known, for only then can people be aware of other people’s true intentions. And when that right is infringed upon, it creates a domino effect that is very hard to get away from unscathed.

Before the European Enlightenment brought reason back into the minds of people, awakening them from a long slumber, nations had to fight each other for ideological supremacy but also for freedom from oppression which they themselves created. History became a vicious cycle hard to break away from, and men perpetuated this cycle by fueling it with ideas that did not benefit the group en masse, but that only satisfied their own desires. It would be unfair to say that collective reason was completely absent during these times, for even during the Dark Ages there were people who dared to think. If that sounds surprising to read it’s because it is. Yet, from the heap of garbage that myth and unreason originate, sometimes we can find something of great value there.

But while we waste our time looking for these scattered moral passages, ISIL (or ISIS or IS) will have already executed several thousand people, most of them innocent, most of them Muslim, and some of them foreign nationals. ISIS will have also brutally  killed thousands of children and tortured many more people for crimes that should only be judged in an Inquisition court. All of it done in the name of Islam and to defend the honor of a “prophet” long gone. We can go on and on how Islam is a religion of peace, but until we get our hands dirty and dig into these passages ourselves will we know just what exactly is being taken out, or read into, context. And if you are religious, I urge that you do not make comparisons between your religion and Islam, for if taken literally, the Bible is just as violent and damaging as the Quran, and perhaps even more.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.  photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.
photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

It is true enough that we must not blame the wrong people for these atrocities, and it is equally true that only those who commit these crimes must be held accountable. I believe we can all understand that no person wants to be blamed for the crimes of another- even if they subscribe to remotely the same beliefs. But what is imperative for us to realize is that these crimes are not perpetuated in defense of reasons that are beyond their control (race, nationality), instead they are the deliberate result of manufactured beliefs that unfortunately are also shared by those whom are affected most by them, innocent people who also read the Quran or the Bible whose innate morality leads them to reject the obvious immoral passages of these books. The most effective way for moderate Muslims to distance themselves from those who use their religion as a scaffold to greater crimes is simply to weed them out. I admit, it is only simple in theory. The responsibility falls on the moderates to reform Islam, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has declared, or to edit the Koran itself to reflect 21st century views. Muslims should not fear for that portion of history to be lost, like the Magna Carta- another very important ancient text, and one of the many documents from which the Constitution is based on- the original Quran will never be lost, but it can be updated.

And it is the job of reasonable people to collectively denounce injustice wherever we see it. We should speak out the truth in defense of reason and common sense and be fearless in our resolute goal of condemning censorship of any kind. Admittedly, there will be times when there is little we can do in the adversity, but when we prove to them and ourselves that we are united in this goal, we can surely make some kind of change, even if it’s in our own communities.

Like Christianity, Islam will eventually be reformed. One should hope that it happens by “the word” and not by “the sword,” as religions have done to spread their message. But that, it seems, for now at least, that is our of our control.

Personal interpretation based on our own understanding of the contents of whatever it is we’re reading sometimes is not much more dangerous than blindly following someone else’s interpretation of it. But it is a good place to start. It’s possible we will never rid the world of unreason, of violence and fear, of injustice. But if we shake the foundations of everything we know- or rather everything we think we know- perhaps we can make this one world we have a better place. To question everything should be a mantra to follow.

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In Memory of the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the victims of radicalism.

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For more information please check out the following interesting links:

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/02/islam-will-not-have-its-own-reformation/

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_reinfibulation_central_Sudan/en/

http://nation.com.pk/blogs/28-Dec-2014/jack-in-a-box

http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

The Gays, the Atheists, and the Government

Gay Marriage Concept with Rainbow Rings.

 

As the fight for marriage equality among same-sex couples rages on in the battle-ground of America, and more states join the 35 that already made marriage for the LGBT community legal, there are still those that hold on to old stigmas and refuse to join the progressive consensus that yes, after much deliberation, gay people are still humans and as such they also have the right to marry whomever they please.

As of now, six Southern states are waiting for a “pro” ruling on continuing litigation, while another four await the decision from appellate courts for an “against” ruling. While this is going on, five other states have a strict marriage ban that is expected to be challenged in court soon as more lawsuits pour in. [1] But while these numbers seem optimistic for the LGBT community as the long fight for marriage-equality begins to wind down, the real fight that few talk about is being waged against our own family and our own friends in schoolrooms and in the living rooms of America, and one can’t help but wonder, why is there so much hatred towards homosexuals?

 

LGBT

 

Have you ever heard of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot? No? Well the Russians have, and Putin never did like punk music.

The band, a group of seven raging feminists, came under severe government scrutiny after they staged a series of unauthorized concerts with strong anti-government, anti-religion, anti-anti-sexism, and anti-establishment messages that, no doubt, infuriated Putin and his government. Two of the members were arrested and following several protests and other arrests, high profile human rights organizations became involved claiming that the government had crossed a line by imposing anti-gay laws.

On  December 29, 2014, Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia (Pretty much Putin’s puppet), signed into law a proposal that bans homosexuals in the country from driving on the grounds that they are “sexual deviants” with “mental problems”. Now, that of course sounds absolutely ridiculous and, if it could even be possible, makes our bigots sound like liberals, but it’s true. [2]

photo credit: Rasande Tyskar via photopin cc Feminist protestors demanding the release of incarcerated Pussy Riot members

photo credit: Rasande Tyskar via photopin cc
Feminist protestors demanding the release of incarcerated Pussy Riot members

That kind of stuff is not so rare in Russia as it is in Europe. But Russia is also not the worst place to be if you’re a homosexual. For example in most countries in Africa and the Middle-East, being gay is not only illegal, it is life-threatening. Most (or should I say all?) theocratic Muslim countries make it punishable by death to be a homosexual, and most people netted under these laws are not only killed, but many are tortured and imprisoned for several years beforehand. This Wikipedia page has a very good graphic on the legality of homosexuality around the world- don’t get your hopes up, humanity is still pretty fucked up.

Here in the United States though, with marches and demonstrations and letters to policy-makers and celebrities coming out of the closet, there’s plenty of attention being focused on this issue of sex-equality and same-sex marriage. The movement is beginning to see light at the end of a very long tunnel that for many will remain dark and stretch on indefinitely simply because it is a fight they do not want to be a part of and would rather remain silent.

Right now, there is still a large number of people that do not and will never identify themselves as LGBT, whether it is to conserve “family values”, because of societal pressure, fear from recrimination from their parents and friends, due to the current state of the law, religious affiliation, etc- for any of these reasons and many more there are people who are not willing to speak up for their own rights, or those of others and wish to remain anonymous; and truly who could blame them? The horrible torture that is having to live with that type of discrimination is something that should be considered psychological abuse, and something which not a lot of us can relate to.

Last month transgender teen Leelah Alcorn killed herself after feeling like there was absolutely no way out of her struggle. I will not elaborate further on that story which you can find here. But I will say that if brave people like Leelah are still discriminated to the point of suicide in such a “progressive” society as many claim the United States to be, then there is something inherently wrong with us as a country that we have to mend immediately.

The struggle for marriage equality and gay rights goes beyond politics, it is at its core a debilitating struggle in the search of human dignity and compassion between those who are right and those who are wrong. When the question begins to explore human suffering/well-being in this particular subject, there is hardly ever an in-between gray area where conformists and opportunists go to hide, there is just a plain black-or-white field between those who wish to subjugate humans and those who fight for equality.

Copyright © (insert year of original publication) Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

Copyright © (2014) Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

Copyright © (insert year of original publication) Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

Copyright © (2014) Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

 

But when the last gavel eventually allows same-sex marriage in all fifty states, not only will it be a huge victory for the LGBT community, but it will be a victory for everyone.

It is hardly a secret that the fight for and against gay marriage is built on two platforms that basically wind down to secularism versus religious ideology. After all, there is not a significant portion of the secular majority who are against marriage-equality; all fingers seem to point then to a Christian-based bunch who see gay marriage, and gay rights in general, as an abomination dead-set on defying god’s law and the word of the Bible. And while a large portion of the gay community is also religious, the type of religion that they interpret and the kind that the other half practices is very different. But this religious defiance goes beyond the shortened-reach of organized religion in an increasingly secular America, it affects politics to the core.

 

The Atheists

 

As more and more regions of America wage a war of ideologies to put the final dot in the last chapter of the separation of church and state, it seems that that religious defiance will boost yet another platform that is gaining ground all over the world and especially here in the United States. That is the new-atheist movement.

The differences between homosexuals and atheists are wide, but there are also many similarities that tie both groups together. For example, gays are born gay and the only thing they can choose to do is to either come out or stay closeted. Atheists have a similar problem, however their ideas are based entirely on logical conclusions and they can choose to either voice their disconetent or not. Although as an atheist I could make the case that we, too, are born atheist and are only indoctrinated by force.

Just like homosexuals, atheists are also fighting a battle for their rights, and it is hard to know which group is more hated in the U.S. right now, homosexuals or atheists. Although I think it’s safe to say that both are undesirable here and abroad. To this day, atheists in some states are not allowed to hold public office. And in many countries atheists run an equal risk of being detained, tortured, and murdered for their beliefs, or rather lack thereof as homosexuals.

All of this does not mean that the atheist movement is hijacking the noble purpose that the LGBT community is fighting for- the recognition of human rights for all humans- but it also doesn’t mean that the atheist movement is devoid of content, it just means that without adding too much emphasis on one or the other, both issues are civil rights issues and in many ways also human rights issues.

In the political world however, the way these things unfold will determine just how much power the government has at its disposal to interfere in the lives of ordinary citizens, and where it sees itself in the future as more people seem to juggle between the need for the government to protect their individual rights and liberties, and the claim to want a smaller government.

Republican elephant over bright background

In the United States, the bloc that wants to keep marriage “pure and traditional (one man one woman)”, is represented by none other than the Republican party, which is religiously composed of mainstream Protestant Christians who see no shame in denouncing homosexuality as “an abomination” to defend the views of their constituents in public forum. These are also the same people who claim to be the defenders of small government and who ideologically despise government intrusion while at the same time they seek better ways to expand government watch over citizens and expand influence quite callously. This hypocrisy is exacerbated by the PR arm of the Republican Party which is of course- and you guessed it right- Fox “news”. We all know this. What we don’t communally realize is that every time there is an attack on this establishment, we move forward towards a state of prosperity that has nothing to do with religious rule (which is to say religious bigotry) that shouldn’t be there in the first place. This opens the door to discuss other issues of great importance and impact: the right for women to control their bodies, drug legalization, the environment, etc.

 

The Government 

 

But the question remains burning in our minds: how is it that in this day and age, we are still fighting for civil rights when not fighting for them only benefits a minority- to the detriment of the rest of us? What does the government gain in all this?

At first, the question seems a bit offensive. Indeed it’s a disappointing question to ask for two reasons. First, what we are implying is that not everyone’s wishes or opinions count in a democratic society, merely the majority’s. And second, we are admitting that that there is something fundamentally flawed in our society that the national conversation has to remain fixated on a fight that should have been settled long ago, and that is only still alive by means of societal discrimination. As for the government gaining anything, well anyone that poses the question of “What does the government want?” is sure to lose that fight, even with himself.

photo credit: theslowlane via photopin cc LGBT Rights around the world in protest

photo credit: theslowlane via photopin cc
LGBT Rights around the world in protest

In most non-Muslim countries, the institution of marriage goes beyond that of a religious ritual. Legally speaking, it’s a way for a two people to be represented equally as an entity. It gives people the legal right to represent each other or to conduct each other’s affairs should one of the parties ever becomes incapacitated. It’s a way to recognize your legal right to choose your life partner based on your own decision as an adult. And it is a way to designate a legal guardian of all your assets and possessions. And of course, one of the most important reasons, to have the ability to adopt and raise children with the full backing and knowledge of the government. Whether you choose to get married by the church or not, in the eyes of the law those who marry by civil court only, are afforded these privileges. However, in America and many other Western countries, where the separation of church and state is not a complete process, or doesn’t appear to be fully implemented, it seems that religious bigotry affects the legal status of millions and the right for those law-abiding citizens to exercise the same rights everyone else is not afforded to them.

It is an insult that there is an uproar when two consenting and conscious adults of any sex want to marry because they violated the rules of “traditional marriage” when Utah’s libidinous Mormon pastors can fool congregations of men and women into thinking that they are entitled by divine ordainment to have more than one wife or to sleep with the wives of their congregations. It is a disgrace that soldiers coming back from whatever duty their country required them to perform are met with hostility and have to fight for their rights when they already fought for ours. It is a applauded that the military (a very conservative organization) has openly welcomed homosexuals into their ranks and we still can’t stand to see two men or two women get married.

And for the government to have any role whatsoever in how these consenting adults conduct their private business is the epitome of big government.

My question is, what seems to motivate politicians to take the uncomfortable position of “defenders of morality” and stand in front of the proverbial entrance of equality to block the way for homosexuals to claim their full rights under the law? If we think about it, holding this type of bold position would seem to be political suicide, so why aren’t they all rushing to join the ranks of the other type of politicians who support marriage equality even if they don’t agree with it themselves? Could they hope to sway public opinion of their own constituents, even if the majority of constituents calls for change, merely to satisfy their religious leanings; or are the church’s political contributions just way too juicy to pass up?

According to this Pew Research (which I will invoke again in other blog posts), 151 members of the House of Representatives in Congress (87 Democrats and 164 Republicans) identify as Protestants, 138(68 Democrats and 70 Republicans) denominate themselves as Catholic, while the remaining 41 memebers of the House claim other denominations of Christianity and other religions. In the Senate 55 are Protestant (17 Democrats and 38 Republicans) and 26 members are Catholic (15 Democrats and 11 Republicans), while the rest identify themselves as Mormon (7), Jewish (9), and Buddhist (1). By showing you these facts, I am not in any way indicating that religious affiliation has anything to do bigotry, but I’m merely pointing out that those who are heavily influenced by their religions tend to make irrational decisions that otherwise would be logical conclussions to very simple issues: homosexuals are human beings and they deserve to have the same rights as everyone else. Period.

 

Reformation

 

I am not oblivious to the fact that all over America there are still pockets of discrimination towards certain groups of people (i.e. homophobia, xenophobia, classism, anti-semitism, all-out racism, etc.), and I understand that bad habits die hard, but I would imagine that as a fairly young nation- both in terms of the age of people and historically- we would be fairly more progressive and open-minded. But it seems that we are falling behind Europe in this issue. I would imagine it’s because the religions that migrated from Europe took a strong foothold here in America, while the Europeans started to see what a sham they all were and progressed faster towards equality, but that’s just my opinion.

But let’s also not take away the successes of homosexuals in bringing about change in policy all by themselves. They have fought hard battles in and outside of the political arena to get people to identify themselves (not that they should) so that we can truly know their numbers and where they stand as a slice of the population. Harvey Milk himself was hailed as a hero in this fight, and to be completely honest, had it not been for the movie, a lot of people including myself wouldn’t have known about him and his work.

But the fact is that now a younger and increasingly left-leaning population is taking account of the situation and wanting to do something about it. These are the progressive youth that spearhead a movement of equality and change in all arenas of national conversation. More and more we are seeing change happen all over the United States and in many other parts of the world as the fights for equality rage on. Even the Catholic Church under Pope Francis (a rather amiable Pope if I may) has brought about a sudden reformation in its ranks that it hasn’t seen for many years; whether it is to appear amiable and reformed in light of all the recent church scandals (child-abusing priests, money laundering, etc), or to counteract dwindling church attendance, it is clear that they are being forced to adapt to a world less and less dependent on organized religion. Will we see the same type of reformation in other denominations of Christianity here in the U.S.?

But even though I am against marriage as a whole, let’s look at the arguments posed forth against same-sex marriage:

1. The traditional family is threatened with same-sex parents

First of all, that’s a stupid positon to take since there is no evidence that a “traditional family” model even exists. The traditional American family is an illusion created by the media in the 1950s and 60s. But if the people taking this position mean a traditional family where you find a mother, a father and kids, then it is still a vacuous place to start.

There is extensive evidence to show that homosexual marriages are just as effective at raising competent, law-abiding citizens as heterosexual marriages (which half of them end in divorce), perhaps even more so due to the fact that they voluntarily decided to be parents. Although there are studies out there that contradict these findings, most of the science is correct in this issue.

Oh and then there’s this…

If it’s good enough for god to weigh in on, then it’s good enough for me!

2. Gay marriage will hurt children and turn them homosexual

This is perhaps the most backwards argument that people have against gay marriage. Even if homosexuality was something you could choose, what business is it of people to decide what they do with their own bodies provided they are not hurting anyone else?

But besides this stupidly-held position, there is absolutely no evidence to show that the children of gay couples will grow up to be gay (provided that it isn’t in their genes to begin with). Besides, children are already extensively bullied by other children, why would they voluntarily give bullies just one more reason to get picked on, and no it’s not a learned behavior.

According to Dr. Michael Bailey, professor of the Psychology Department in Northwestern University in Chicago, and his study on the genetics associated with homosexuals, have confirmed, or at least re-confirmed, that “Genetic factors account for between 30% and 40% of what decides whether a man is gay or straight…” while other factors such as chemicals in the womb and prenatal care can affect the sexual orientation of a person. Choice, it seems, is not a part of any process of a man or a woman’s sexual orientation.

3. The Bible clearly….

I stopped right there simply because anything that points to anything religious is bound to fail. I can, and will, provide several rules also observed in the bible and in the Koran that point to crimes much more severe perpetuated in the name of religion that null the entire argument altogether.

I find it interesting how people usually rush to quote the bible but many don’t even know the ten commandments, let alone any other rules.

Just for fun, let’s go over some of these. Oh and if you truly observe the Bible as the unerring word of god then the women reading this can never teach or have authority over a man (Timothy 2:11), and you as a man cannot go into church if you have a wounded penis, no testicles, or erectile dysfunction for that matter (Deuteronomy 23:1)). Just saying. Okay here we go:

“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)

Better not get divorced or you’re sure to land in hell after death.

“A bitched shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:2)

A bitched in this context refers to someone born outside of wedlock, what they used to call bastards in the good ol’ days. So if you or anyone within ten generations was born out of wedlock, you’re fucked. Oh and if your kids were born outside of marriage, your family will be doomed until your great great great great great great great great-grandson or grand-daughter are born. Unless they get divorced or have malfunctioning genitals or have a vagina.

“If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”(Leviticus 26:27-30)

This one I actually agree with and plan to exercise as soon as I have kids. Basically if your kids are unruly… eat them.

And with that I rest my case.

4. It is unnatural

What exactly is unnatural? Because if we are talking about homosexuality, then simply by being something that we do as humans and creatures that are part of the natural world, then it is natural. Same sex unions are found in every species throughout the animal kingdom. And I know what a defender is going to say next, “But we should know better!” Why exactly? Aside from the religious bullshit that they are going to diarrhea out of their mouths then I have no intention on listening. I am more interested in the scientific reasons of why it happens. This is a completely normal behavior to engage in and in no way does it affect or degrade the human body.

This is a very common position to take when the minority does not act the way the majority does. Yes it has happened throughout the ages with people that are not part of the majority, with people of dark complexion, homosexuals, women, even left-handed people- they all suffer from the discrimination of the masses around them. Left handed people are even fewer in numbers than homosexuals, would you say that’s unnatural? “No because they can’t help it.” Good thing you admit that. Neither can homosexuals.

5. They will turn everyone gay

How exactly? Again there’s no evidence to show that people who aren’t born already gay will magically turn gay. Obviously gays aren’t allowed to multiply so that’s ruled out. However, if you start feeling a little gay, go on and act on it, just to make sure. But please, for the sake of being a human, leave people alone.

Next time you encounter a homosexual please be decent to them, just like they have no idea about the struggles you have been through, you also don’t know about theirs. If you disagree with the ugly parts of your religion, then please adhere to the good messages of the Bible or the Koran or whatever holy book you choose to follow. We all have opinions of people, but unless you are asked or harmed, keep those opinions to yourself, after all we are all human and we all want the same things for ourselves and for ours: respect, love, opportunity. It doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with them, or even like them, just stay out of their way.

Decency to others is nothing less than our highest most admirable trait, the very thing that makes us human, it is the essence of it expressed through peace.

And now I leave you with one of my favorite bits by the great philosopher-comic Louis C.K. Enjoy!

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Bibliography

[1] http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

[2] http://auto.ndtv.com/news/transgenders-and-homosexuals-can-t-drive-in-russia-725614

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For more info check out these links:

https://gaycenter.org/

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://news.yahoo.com/idaho-governor-appeals-gay-marriage-case-us-supreme-202150225.html;_ylt=A0SO80r8m6lUnKgAmDJXNyoA?_sm_au_=iVV65bRF4QrkknHH

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/10/06/legal-argument-over-gay-marriage-is-all-but-over/

1 (800) 273-8255- NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE

The Crusaders of Reason (?)

 As you may remember, a few weeks ago, Bill Maher and Ben Affleck had a little spat on Maher’s show Real Time with Bill Maher, where Maher denounced Islam for its anti-progressive, sometimes brutal, nature and where Affleck got all 5-year-old on Maher for being- as he (in)famously put it- a racist. Now, there was a player in there that most people (who are not atheists) don’t recognize but who has for some time been making some serious waves in the public discourse about why we need a more secular America, and indeed a more secular world for that matter, and that man was the philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

During the debate, which you have probably already seen on YouTube, Harris sides with Maher and denounces Islam as basically a modern 14th Century Christianity, in reference to the ways the Catholic Church brutally and greedily maintained the status quo and wanted to convert  everyone to the faith Inquisition style. During the debate, Harris makes some pretty incendiary, but true, claims about Islam and about Muslims  who cowardly hide behind the Koran and its texts to justify bloodbaths and acts of terrorism. As it went on, Harris remained completely cool and collected while he talked about the punishment for apostasy in Muslim countries, the treatment of women and homosexuals, and the overall thinking of the majority of Muslims outside the Middle Age… East. Outside the Middle East, excuse me.

For the most part, the other invited guests, contributed little to the discussion although they made one or two good points worth remembering but not worth mentioning here. The whole exchange was mostly between Affleck and Harris, where Mr. Harris said something along the lines of Islam is bad for women, progressives and people wanting to leave the religion and where Affleck usually cut him off or sneered at him without contributing much of weight to the conversation beyond calling him a racist or a bigot. I’m sure that Affleck was speaking out of the kindness of his heart having never heard of Sam and his extensive work and history on the eternal battle between reason and religion. And if you are also not familiar with Harris’ work then maybe it is also reasonable to you take the position Affleck took, after all, outside of context, what Sam Harris and Bill Maher were saying does sound a bit bigoted. But again, put in context what they were advocating was that Liberals have not taken enough responsibility to denounce Islam for its failures as they have done with other religions like Christianity and Judaism.

This is all old-news to you, but here’s where it gets interesting. In the aftermath of the debate, weird things in the political circle started happening. Many News shows, some of them Fox “news” programs- came to the aid of Harris and Maher, known secularists and liberals whom Conservatives and its subsidiaries (Fox) often view with untrusting eyes.

Panelist Greg Gufeld- a self-described agnostic and Libertarian- and part of the the Fox News chain program “The Five” said during a recent airing of the show, “What you see is the crises that takes hold when liberal orthodoxy faces off with real attacks on liberal orthodoxy.” Which I find odd, since it is hardly liberal orthodoxy to want a society that is reasonable and devoid of bad ideas. He goes on to say, “Yes, we get that it’s wrong to stereotype but then we study the facts…” He then ends his segment with a rather funny and contemptuous remark about Maher saying, “…and in a shock to even himself, Maher becomes the sanest man in the room, how’s that?”

Bill O’Reilly in his own Fox News Show “The O’Reilly Factor” also remarked Islam’s isolated ideology, but not because of the dangerous  influence a literal interpretation can cause but rather because he still holds an outdated, crusade mentality that Christianity is the right answer in this whole conflict. “Islam is  a destructive force in the world…”, he says without offering a better alternative other than his own religion. Surprisingly, O’Reilly turns a bit more objective and logical even though the evangelist message, although subtle, continues to be implied.

Not only did all these guys side with Harris, but they went so far to denounce Affleck- a known liberal- as stupid or as someone who didn’t know what he was talking about. It was hilarious for me to see that because in virtually NO other context but to denounce Islam as a religion for which war and death is the path to eternal salvation would they have sided with Harris on that matter. And while the debate between the movie star and the scholar was clearly lopsided in the direction of Harris, it was entertaining and informative to see the way that secularists think about the different angles of religious freedom not just here in the U.S. but abroad, and especially in the Middle East.

While Affleck is a smart guy and very knowledgeable and entitled to his opinion- as Sam Harris himself put it in an essay he wrote days after the exchange- he is no authority or an expert on religious fundamentalism, freedom of religion, or rather lack of, especially regarding Islam and Islamophobia and the history and rise of militarized Islam and its influence on the modern world. It seems Affleck sees the argument through the eyes of a romantic defending a bunch of misled young boys. He was obviously not interested with anything Harris had to say or even familiar with his work which, I’m sure, he would have agreed with a lot of it had he given it a page-through.

But this is exactly where the fabric of time seems to disintegrate as logic dissolves. If you know anything about Sam Harris, he is one of the men some Christians call one of the “Four Horsemen”, this of course in reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The brilliant Christopher Hitchens famously mocked the eponym by saying they were in fact “The Four Horsemen of the non-apocalypse.” Harris, as was Hitchens, is a man who is an atheist to his very core going so far as to even hating the word itself for its presumption that to be anti something, it must exist.

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Over the years, Dr. Harris has written many books about the uselessness of religion in today’s society and other philosophical concepts. He has also debated with dozens of religious apologists from different religions and various politicians from either side, using honest and verifiable rebuttals, while also making his point. But it’s not all Dr. Harris has managed to do since he wrote the New York Time’s Best Seller “The End of Faith”, in his books he not only takes the path of the rank atheist, he steps up the game and proposes alternatives to religious doctrine, something which many before him wouldn’t do. Sam Harris has openly declared that the way towards true equality is not religion, but reason. This is where Fox, Republicans and most serious Christians come in.

The Republican Party- that’s the guys with the elephant- is, as you know, a political organization (1 of 2) that has a very strong Christian base. Ironically, the Republicans want a smaller government in theory but in reality they expand the government  more than Democrats have done, logically from their close attachment to corporations and corporate interests (which tend to favor big government), most staunchly decline the idea of man-induced global warming- or global warming itself- and they are big on weapon rights. I say this is ironic, because according to Christian principles, these do not align with Christianity or the teachings of Jesus. But among their many accomplishments, they have successfully re-branded Christianity over a generation to fit their own agendas. In a sense, they use the name of Christianity and the Bible, sometimes illegally, to justify injustice at the grandest scales to fit an outdated way of thinking. It’s not about traditional American values, it’s about slowing down progress. I’m not saying that Democrats don’t go down the same road also, but statistically speaking, not in the record numbers that Republicans do.

The psychology of the Republican party is led by the status quo. Which is why progress in areas like gay marriage and gay rights, immigration, the integration of minorities into the political scene, global healthcare coverage and the environment, among others- is rather slow.Republican elephant over bright background

America, being the melting pot that it is with its thousands of religions, thousands of languages, and hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, is, in a sense, no place for Republicans. For example, more than freedom itself, most Republicans wish that America was an officially Christian country, which is kind of like saying, “You can have freedom of religion as long as it’s Christianity.” Most also wish to make English the official language of the U.S., and limit the inflow of immigration. And while I am inclined to agree with some of what they propose in these and other areas, most I think should be rejected outright. It is, I think, safe to say that most Republican voters would support a bill to amend the part of the Constitution that grants us all, not only freedom of religion but also freedom from religion. I think you can see where this is leading.

So in one corner, we have Sam Harris, a man of reason and science, and in the other we have the Republican Party, staunch defenders of the faith.

I believe that we as Americans, and within a smaller circle we as atheists, are placing the emphasis on the wrong argument. It shouldn’t be whether Affleck or Harris were right, I think the bigger question is whether Harris or the Republicans are right. Ben Affleck is indeed a hothead, but for all practical purposes, partially correct about the things he says. I believe that given all the information, he can be persuaded about this issue, or at least he would reasonably admire its assertive points. But the Reps on the other hand only agree with Harris because the flawless Christian nation they want this country to be should have nothing to do with Islam. In other words, the crusaders in Armani suits wouldn’t really be so against the idea of waging holy war in the name of Christianity. The-enemies-of-my-enemies-are-my-friends sort of thing.

The Republican party is not really in the side of reason, they just hate Islam more than they hate Harris. And in the off-chance that one of ’em rascals reads this blog, I write it with the utmost sincerity, and anybody who is willing to dispute that claim they can certainly make a case for it.

Eventually, the debate will blow over in the political spectrum and something else will take its place. But what we can take from it, is that this has opened the debate among atheists, and people of all faiths, about just how far we are willing to go to protect bad ideas. While you may think that the current form of Islam is just another religion taking its course and that it has been hijacked by psychopaths, I am willing to bet that the Islam from a thousand years ago was in many ways much more tolerant and progressive, while the Christianity from the same era was brutal and imposing. It seems the roles have changed.

This brings us to ask the question of just how tolerant we are willing to be about a religion that advocates mass murder, misogyny, and illiteracy? And no I’m not talking about Christianity, although the shoe also fits. This forces us to ask among ourselves, just how long we are going to tolerate many bad ideas that are comfortable for a few good ones that are uncomfortable. Change is difficult, but is it more difficult than human suffering and injustice?

Maybe one day, Islam will go the way of Christianity and reform itself without the help of the rest of the world. Maybe Christianity one day will become as thousands of religions have become before it, simply an interesting myth. Maybe Ben Affleck will one day read the works of Harris and understand that while it sounds pretty bad to denounce an entire population for their beliefs, it is in fact their beliefs we are criticizing. After all, no, we don’t have to respect everyone’s beliefs. I would not be willing to accept anyone’s personal beliefs that racism is a good thing or that women are not equal to men. This type of acceptance is dangerous for a population. But more than anything, I hope that maybe one day, politicians can take this all in and understand that beliefs are not mere political tools, but actual instruments of liberation or repression used by the sane and the psychotic alike in a dangerous game of chess where people die when nations go to war because of them.

 

 

If you would like to know more about Sam Harris and his website, Project Reason, and his blog, here are the following links to both, respectively.

http://www.project-reason.org/

http://www.samharris.org/blog