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A lovely article, sir. Thank you.

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Very well said.

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DensityDuck said on February 20th, 2015 at 12:43 am

They’re wonderful lovely people who believe that there’s a Magic Sky Daddy. Right.

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@DensityDuck And this makes them different from Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others how?

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Asher Elbein said on February 20th, 2015 at 10:40 am

@DensityDuck, clearly the important thing is that you are superior to them. It’s a good thing you told us, otherwise we might have gone forth into the world (horror of horrors!) not knowing.

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@DensityDuck: Not believing in a higher power certainly hasn’t prevented you from contracting a severe case of Smug Asshole, so I’m not entirely sure what your point is here. But speaking as an agnostic, you and Dawkins can both shove it. It’s been both amusing and disgusting to watch him spin like a top after the Chapel Hill murders.

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I work with a lot of Muslims, both the Middle Eastern kind and the American kind. Aside from some of the clothing they aren’t really different from anyone else. I don’t worry about my store being attacked or anything like that

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Sean D. Martin said on February 20th, 2015 at 1:42 pm


I’ve heard people saying that Muslims are violent extremists, that they’re a threat to America, and that they take over whole areas and make things unwelcome for people who don’t share their religion.

I’ve heard people say these kinds of things, too. Without exception it’s been said by people who are trying to make their area unwelcome for people who don’t share their beliefs. People who are completely blind to their hypocrisy.

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@DensityDuck: Thank you for highlighting an excellent point–many atheists seem to be operating under the assumption that simply holding atheism as a philosophical position is, in and of itself, intellectually and/or morally superior to that of a religious adherent. Even though movement atheism has had well-documented issues with racism and sexism, and many atheists have espoused conspiracy theories like 9/11 and anti-vax trutherism, some atheists continue to believe in atheism as some sort of inoculation against what they see as the problems brought about by superstitious thinking. Atheist Amanda Marcotte has an excellent article on the subject here:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/time-for-atheists-to-take-a-hard-look-at-ourselves/

@Gareth Wilson: The Muslim population of the Twin Cities in 2011 was already over 150,000; the article you cite suggests that “as many as 40” men have decamped to join ISIS. That’s half as many as joined the Branch Davidians in Waco (a city with a similar-sized population) but I don’t recall ever reading an article that suggested Waco was “a breeding ground for Christian extremists” in its headlines.

To be honest, scaremongering articles like this play directly into ISIS’ hands–their propaganda casts them as defenders of the Islamic faith against militant Christians who are trying to wipe them out. They are, quite literally, counting on Americans to panic and display anti-Muslim prejudice, because doing so legitimizes their crazy stance. I am puzzled as to why so many Americans seem bound and determined to help them.

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Gareth Wilson said on February 21st, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Waco was the headquarters of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists since 1935, so it’s not much of a control group. Why not use the St Paul of your childhood? Which local minorities were joining terrorist groups then?

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mygif

Well, I don’t remember my own childhood so well–I was a kid at the time–but we can certainly look at the 1930s in the Midwest, so that would be the Germans. Seriously, have you never heard of the Silver Shirts, or the German American Bund? Their numbers were much greater than any kind of Muslim extremists in America, probably by a couple of orders of magnitude in the Twin Cities alone. Somehow, we managed not to assume that all Americans of German descent were “suspect”. I think we can do the same now.

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Gareth Wilson said on February 22nd, 2015 at 12:06 am

I’m not familiar with the Silver Shirts, how many people did they behead?

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mygif

“I’m not familiar with the Silver Shirts, how many people did they behead?”

The Silver Shirts were Nazis. Yeah, yeah, I know–Godwin’s Law, yada yada yada–but I’m not exaggerating; they were literally Nazis. “Silver Shirt” is a direct reference to “Brownshirt”–the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party–and, according to contemporary sources, the organization planned on launching a coup, dethroning FDR, and setting up a fascist dictatorship with a dude named William Dudley Pelley at the head. ISIS are an awful, awful bunch, but if you seriously think they’re worse than literal Nazis, I really don’t know what to tell you.

Whoops–that’s a lie! I actually do know what to tell you: “When you’re dropping a one-liner about something you don’t know, it probably wouldn’t kill you to spend fifteen seconds on Google first.”

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I would just like to take a moment out of my day to thank gullible shitheads like Gareth Wilson and DensityDuck for being the reason I think twice before I say anything pretty much anywhere, because my own government is very likely watching me with their approval. Approval gained because they and all the cowards like them were assured it would only happen to brown people.

Thanks, guys! You’re the best.

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Kate the Short said on February 22nd, 2015 at 11:17 am

Seavey, thank you for this.

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I am curious to see if there will be an update here now that there is jihadist threat about the Mall of America in the books. Great article, bad timing.

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@Rob: The threat wasn’t specific to the Mall of America, and was made by a small Somalian offshoot of al-Qaeda with no ability to carry it out. It was basically just a video of some terrorists saying, “Hey, guys, wouldn’t it be awesome if somebody bombed a mall somewhere?” They also mentioned Edmonton and London, so this isn’t exactly what they call a clear and present danger. It’s certainly not worth smearing 150,000 people who live in this city, work in and shop at the Mall of America, and are probably just as worried as the next person about any kind of attack.

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@John Seavey. Fair enough. I appreciate your response and cool head here.

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No loss of traffic at the MOA today. They just used that because a lot of Somali refugees came here and like the MOA. They’re trying to scare the Muslims they consider apostate as much as anyone else. My exercise plans are still on.

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Thanks for writing this, John.

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DensityDuck said on February 23rd, 2015 at 1:57 am

Yes, tell me more about how religion makes us all wonderful people.

Oh, you mean they’re “just people”? A courtesy I doubt you extend to Christians in the American South.

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Asher Elbein said on February 23rd, 2015 at 8:33 am

I’ve lived my entire life in the south–as a Jew, no less. I’ve met my fair share of Christian (and Jewish) assholes, bigots, ignorant jerks, and general shit weasels. I’ve met considerably more who are decent, hard working, clever, generous, and open hearted. They’re all people. Many of whom are struggling to be good in much the same way the rest of us are.

There’s an incredible lack of empathy here, @DensityDuck. I don’t know your story and I won’t presume to, but from over here? It looks like you’re looking for a reason to dismiss the majority of people as idiots unworthy of your time or consideration, and if you don’t see the issue with that, you might want to put Dawkins down and actually go talk to people.

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@DensityDuck: I didn’t say “religion makes us wonderful people”. What I said was that religion doesn’t make someone a bad person, any more than atheism makes them a good one. I’ve known plenty of people of all faiths and creeds (including atheism) who are kind and generous and open-hearted and wonderful. I will always remember the way that the religious community in Texas opened their hearts and provided unconditional support of every kind to my sister when my niece died (so by the way, fuck you and your “courtesy you doubt I extend to Christians in the American South” sideways with a chainsaw, you arrogant little shit). I also remember the way that many atheists continue to insist that Rebecca Watson is some sort of man-hating sociopath who makes up lies about women in elevators.

On the other hand, I also remember Rebecca Watson…and Amanda Marcotte, whose article I linked you to…both of whom are committed and passionate humanists as well as atheists. And I remember Pat Robertson. :) Religious belief really makes a lousy litmus test for superiority, of any kind, and it’s a habit everyone should drop.

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mygif

At the risk of being on the wrong side of history…

My personal viewpoint is that it’s fundamentalism that is the problem – and that that fundamentalism can be moslem, christian, atheist, communist, etc. In all these cases, the risk is that people will consider the doctrine the source of Truth and be willing to put aside basic human compassion (whatever that is) for that doctrine.

Of these forms of fundamentalism, the religious ones seem to be a bit more fraught for abuse, because the heart of the doctrine has little mechanism for self-correction. Skepticism and Science can lapse into scientism, and is full of egos and bad beliefs and lots of problems, but at its core, it has a mechanism for changing its stance. Religious doctrine doesn’t, at least not without watering itself down.

In practice, living a religious life doesn’t mean you’ve abdicated basic human compassion (whatever that is) in favor of your belief, but you’ve at least paid lip-service to the idea that there is something more important, that trumps human understanding, and who knows WHAT the hell it might tell you to do.

Karen Armstrong, on Sam Harris’ belief:
“once you have blindly accepted the dogma that Jesus can be eaten in the form of a cracker, you have made a space in your mind for other monstrous fictions: that God desires the destruction of Israel, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or the 9/11 massacres.”

That concept really bothers me, though I recognize some of it is my reaction to the pseudo-fundamentalist construction I made for myself as a pre-teen that I then turned away from…

The other thing that really bugs me about faith– how do so many people seem convinced that they have the one true faith but that their God or Gods allow so many others to remain deceived? That was one thing that set me on the road to septicism, here I was, raised with a preacher dad, trying to be a good Christian, but if my father had been Imam, wouldn’t I be trying just as hard to be a good moslem? There’s a cultural construct aspect that people who cling to the supernatural-truth aspect of their faith seem to ignore.

So in practice, a lot of this all works out because most people are rather mushy about their faith and pick and choose the good bits that are compatible with basic human compassion (whatever that is)… but sometimes, it seems like the fundamentalists have a rhetorical consistency on their side…

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mygif

Yep. Islam isn’t the problem, whackjob terrorists are the problem. The ideology just makes for convenient “reasoning” for barbarism and impotent rage.

Hell, if we want to talk fear, I’m way more afraid of what southern Christian political figures try to get away with on a daily basis.

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mygif

“My personal viewpoint is that it’s fundamentalism that is the problem – and that that fundamentalism can be moslem, christian, atheist, communist, etc. In all these cases, the risk is that people will consider the doctrine the source of Truth and be willing to put aside basic human compassion (whatever that is) for that doctrine.”

Yep, all of that.

“The other thing that really bugs me about faith– how do so many people seem convinced that they have the one true faith but that their God or Gods allow so many others to remain deceived?”

I can’t speak to other faiths, but in terms of the Judeo Christian God, the choice to seek enlightenment (NOTE: no value judgment there – I’m trying to be as sterile as I can be here) is just as important as the enlightenment itself.

The short version is that God ostensibly gives us the freedom to make a choice, but that doesn’t mean that he will provide us with the knowledge to choose “correctly.”

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@DensityDuck:

“Yes, tell me more about how religion makes us all wonderful people.

Oh, you mean they’re “just people”? A courtesy I doubt you extend to Christians in the American South. ”

You seem to be going for a “gotcha.” Why, and to what end?

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“The short version is that God ostensibly gives us the freedom to make a choice, but that doesn’t mean that he will provide us with the knowledge to choose “correctly.””

Well, yeah, but isn’t KINDA SUSPICIOUS how folks “choice” of enlightenment is so demographically clumped? I could see understanding that in a “many paths” kind of context, but to have faith that YOUR group got it just right, with concentric circles of correctness extending from you, seems to me to be weirdly obtuse. (It gets pretty quickly into ‘could god be all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all good, with this much evil still in the room’… though that dilemma fades a bit if you relax some of the parameters) Especially for people who follow the “faith of their fathers”… lucky you for winning the Correct Supernatural Knowledge Lottery!!

The whole thing reminds me of this bit of Omar Khayyam:

And do you think that unto such as you;
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
God gave the secret–and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it? Believe that, too.

That’s kind of how I feel about ISIS et al.

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mygif

“I could see understanding that in a ‘many paths’ kind of context, but to have faith that YOUR group got it just right, with concentric circles of correctness extending from you, seems to me to be weirdly obtuse.”

Oh I totally agree. Exhortations that one knows the “truth” come off as desperation to me; they NEED to believe that they lucked upon THE answer, as the alternative (no knowledge whatsoever regarding oblivion) is too damn terrifying.

“It gets pretty quickly into ‘could god be all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all good, with this much evil still in the room’…”

I studied theology and spent ten years studying Milton’s catalog, so I really (weirdly) dig having those sorts of discussions. :) Only issue is that I find that I have to keep reminding people that I’m talking in the context of a character (God) and not an ethos. Otherwise things can get really heated DAMN quick.

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@erik, Matt: I agree that religious fundamentalism can produce a more toxic and dangerous strain of fanatic than anti-religious fundamentalism (although in fairness, anti-religious fundamentalism has rarely been allowed to take root in society due to the preponderance of religious fundamentalism, so it’s not like we’ve got controlled trials to look at here).

But that all misses the point of my actual post, which is that most religious people are neither fundamentalists nor fanatics, and that fundamentalism and fanaticism are not more common to one religion than another, and that most importantly it’s bigoted and cruel to judge an entire group of people based on a small number of fundamentalist fanatics a continent or two away, especially when first-hand observation confirms that this group is neither fundamentalist nor fanatic.

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“But that all misses the point of my actual post”

I was riffing on your original point. I understand and agree with the point you presented in the OP.

The point opens the doors for further constructive discussion.

SIDEBAR: I also should point out that me talking about religious fundamentalism in no way indicates an opinion one way or the other regarding non-religious fundamentalism. I’m not averse to that discussion, but it didn’t have any bearing on my point.

It’s kind of like Marvel/DC. If I’m bitching about Marvel at the time, it doesn’t mean that I’m loving DC.

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@Matt – in terms of Christian theology, some of it comes down to how liberally you can read stuff like “no one comes to the father but by me”. But again, my outlook is strongly influenced by what I’m “rebelling against” – a lot of that whole excluded middle “Jesus is the singular savior and 100% correct as described in (this inerrant) scripture, or he’s a mad man and his teaching is completely worthless”. Their rhetorical gamble has back fired in my case, and caused me to distrust the whole kit and kaboodle. (But is it a truly a non-issue, that of if a religion is supernaturally true vs poetically and culturally true? Again, it seems unlikely all these belief systems are all supernaturally true (without resorting to some kind of Marvel-esque multiverse) which makes me personally skeptical ANY of them are.)

@John i admit I got sidetracked by the DensityDuck thing, rather than responding to your post. I see the situation you describe (or rather the feeling of fear and intolerance you are trying to show the folly of) in terms of circles of empathy; there’s a fairly natural tendency to draw a circle, and everything inside is enough like you that you consider it worthy of protection and rooting for, and everything outside your less sure if you can have mutual interests at heart. (Speaking broadly the liberal impulse tries to expand the circle even at the risk of betrayal, and the conservative impulse is to constrict.) And you do good work to point out that if Judeochristian-types watch the patterns of day to day activity rather than get hung up on the outward dissimilarities, they could see why they belong inside that circle of empathy. (But of course, people get hung up on the headscarves and the prayer rituals etc, and then tie that into the sense of “other” and link it to the fundamentalist warrior jerks)

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Docrailgun said on February 27th, 2015 at 9:27 am

The violent extremists like Al-Shabab and so on are no more Muslim than charismatic Old Testament Evangelicals are really Christians. Actually, these groups have more in common with each other (the desire to see religious law trump civil law, the idea that there needs to be a holy war to establish their supremacy over the unbelievers) than with the religions they claim to follow.

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I’m not convinced Al-Shabab and Evangelicals who are on the outskirts of the religion they “claim to follow” are less truly really of their religion than moderates who have kinda watered it down so it’s less abhorent to modern sensibilities and basic human compassion (whatever that is).

And that’s a challenge of faith and religion in general, of fundamentalism vs moderate views; one view is the basic doctrine is the unchanging source of all truth, and every growth away from that is abhorent, and another view is it’s a living tradition where actual learning and progress is possible.

But just because you like moderate religion, you can’t say people who are obvious barbarian jerks aren’t “really” of the religion. You can do as I do, and say that the real battle for moderate people is against fundamentalism as a whole

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