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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Belief, Violence, and Denial

An article worth reading: Sam Harris on extremists and apologists


I am convinced that otherwise intelligent decent folks end up becoming de facto apologists for religious violence.

How does that happen?

I suggest there are multiple factors in play. First, most of us either know personally, or know of, persons who belong to one of these groups and also exemplify moderation. This creates a gnarly thought branch.  We are confronted with the idea that not everyone who is a member of said group is an extremist. Further, being decent compassionate and open-minded humans, we have no wish to offend the reasonable members of the group by unintentionally lumping them in with the loopy members. Further yet, if the group to which we refer are Muslims (and in the early part of the twenty first century, this is too often the case) many people have a perfectly reasonable fear of offending Muslims- be they loopy or reasonable.

No explanation for trepidation is necessary with regard to the loopy ones. As to the moderates, they divide into two camps. The poor folks who are, mostly, like everyone else and simply wish to get along with others and thrive in the world and the ones who are one news article away from joining their loopy cousins. Now, here is where things get dicey. Non-Muslims simply have no viable way of sorting them out. And, rightly or wrongly, we perceive them as not adequately defining themselves. This leaves us on the horns of a dilemma.

On one hand, we fear the less moderate non-Muslims will simply take matters into their own hands and target Muslims indiscriminately. Need I mention this is a very bad idea on its face, beginning with the vigilante nature of such action? On the other hand we have those who, so wish to avoid judging, (and here’s the tricky bit) even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, they refuse to call out the nutters for fear of offending the others. It is understandable. Folks do not wish to have any spill-over from their judgment taint the good folks. I couldn’t be more sympathetic to that cause. However, what if this thinking results in our failure, on a collective level, to say what is true and act on what is true? In short, what if our apologist attitudes result in worsening the situation in every way? What happens when we fail to see the world clearly, say bravely what we see, and, when the consequences are potentially dire, act appropriately? I suggest it likely emboldens the undesirables on both sides. That is, non-Muslims who are all worked up because they feel like nobody is taking leadership may be emboldened to act out lawlessly. On the flip side of the coin, those who would do us harm perceive our mealymouthed vacillation as opportunity.

All that said, we haven’t yet dared to approach the real prickly bit. Would anyone care to hazard a guess on that score?

Here is what Sam Harris (among others) has said and, more disturbing for many, what he implies. Simply stated, the words in the Qur'an call out to be interpreted in the strictest sense. Why? To believers, these are the words of the Supreme Being. As such, the rules and admonitions are intended to be eternal. If that were not sufficient, the words appear within a highly charged context. This is intentional. The author, regardless if he is perceived to be human or a prophet of God, unapologetically intended for the words to fall as heavily weighted as possible upon the mind of the listener. On this point few, on any side of the question, would disagree. So, we come to the more disturbing bit. Mr. Harris could not, by rational argument, fail to include in his assessments the other books which are universally included in the canon of religious texts. That is to say, the scriptures associated with Judaism and Christianity. As any student knows, from the study of the three major religions to emerge from deserts of the Middle East, they are all related. The history on this is well known and anyone, regardless of formal training, can perform a simple internet search to familiarize themselves with the overlap.

So, what does it all mean?

Because humans have a tendency to be parochial and shortsighted, it is easy to wag our fingers at the “others”. In our time, Muslims make an easy target. Our President recently scratched the surface of an unsettling truth when he referenced the so-called Crusades. In fact, any of us with the shallowest knowledge of history could have cited any number of examples. What kind of examples? Well, basically, examples where the people who were considered to be the most righteous, the most pious, the most devout believers, the ones most likely to have a literal interpretation of their scriptures, acted very, very badly. 


Okay, so it is fair to say that such conflicts are, to some degree, bound up with politics and the acquisition of resources (usually someone else’s). And, it is also fair to say that, the stated justification for the heinous barbarism was the advancement of the religious agenda of the aggressors of either or both sides. For any that cared to read all the way to the end, No! This is not about some prejudice or dislike of Muslims. And, while I’m about it, I am offended if that is what you thought.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tiny Little Story, just for chuckles.

A Union Man

I understand the birds are forming a union around the feeder in my backyard. Avian Union International, Backyard Chapter, Local 803. I only came to that realization when they sent their union rep to speak with me. He was wearing an iridescent suit, real gangster style, and his bearing suggested he could handle himself.

He said I could call him Mr. Starling. I just nodded.

He spoke just above a whisper which forced me to lean in. Then, with thinly veiled menace, he suggested that ,when purchasing my next bag, I might wish to consider the fancy seed. I don’t know what gave me away but he soon made it clear that I shouldn’t even consider "being the cheap-fucker I know you are”. That stung but I figured maybe it was one of those, discretion is the better part of valor moments. I let it slide.

Apparently at this point he thought it would be helpful to fill in some of the blanks. He told me the others had chosen him because of his “chill, laid back nature and strong negotiating skills". He explained, “This is a lucky thing f’you. Da'restadem were just itching to go all Hitchcock on y’r ass”. 

That seemed a bit much and I made a move towards him, as if to shoo him away. He didn't even flinch and responded with a look I can only describe as the embodiment of “Bitch, please! It had occurred to you that I can fly, right?” Then he cocked his head to his right, drawing my attention to the murder of crows who eyed our discussion from a low branch nearby. I admit it galled me that the lot of them didn’t weigh five pounds. Still, they had a thuggish look about them and any thought of defiance drained straight away. 

I gathered by the way he ruffled his feathers, Mr. Starling had a couple of other things on his wish list. I briefly considered dashing for the kitchen door but decided it would only delay the inevitable. So I sat fiddling with my coffee cup.

He offered faint praise on the installation of the bird bath but added with a cocked head and a DeNiro-like shrug, “It’s fuckin’ winta here”. I took the hint and added a water warmer next to fancy bird seed on my mental shopping list.

The only other substantive issue was the transparency/reflectivity of the glass windows on my house. Apparently a few of the dimmer bulbs among their numbers had some ongoing problems. Chief among these were failing to notice the windows while in flight, which I conceded could ruin your day. After a brief back and forth, we concluded this was one of those, problem-noticed-and problem-immediately-solved deals. “Usually with a broken neck”, I said, looking for approval.  Mr. Starling nodded obligingly.

Also a few of the robins, upon seeing their own reflections, would incorrectly infer they were facing territorial rivals. This resulted in much energy being needlessly expended trying to peck the shit out of an imaginary foe. In the end we both agreed that this was funny as shit at some level. I bravely stuck to my guns on this matter and insisted the windows would remain unchanged.

Emboldened by my little victory, I queried the union rep about his bravado. He looked at me as though I were mentally challenged. I gazed back in a manner that apparently removed all doubt from his mind. Then he explained that, despite our species bias and overall hubris, our kind was ultimately the more vulnerable. He proudly stated that while I was descended from a small rodent-like creature, his kind were directly descended from “fuckin’ dinosaurs”. Seeing the deflated look on my face, he shook back his suit, wagged his head, and gave me a pitying look.

“Ay, fuggetaboudit. That’s just the luck of the draw, kid. But don’t you worry. We don’t peck the hand that feeds us. In fact, just between you, me, and your cheesy lawn furniture, we run the protection racket around here. So, ya’see, as long as you make your payments, we’ve gotcha back. “All you gotta do is pay attention for our calls and you’ll know when predators are in the area. 

Prior to that moment, I had never stopped to consider whether a bird could sneer or how you’d know if he had. Mr. Starling helped me to flesh out that thought.

“Other predators, that is”, he snickered.

“You follow?”

I tried to respond but only a mousy squeak came out. After clearing my throat, I managed, “Sure, I follow”. But he already had his back to me and was heading toward his group.

Then he paused and turned his head around one-eighty in the way birds do. He stared straight at me with his body facing in the opposite direction. Though I’d seen this many times before, this time it felt intimidating even before he spoke. 

He paused to make sure he had my attention and finally said, “Let’s not have any more trouble, hah? I’d hate to see anything happen to the paint job on that new car, you follow?”





Monday, January 19, 2015

Those who live by the sword

What would the barbarian do? One choice was to reexamine the often brutal ways in which they treat their fellow human beings. The other choice was to arrest the person who made and presumably shared a video of the authorities brutally beheading a person.

Regarding this story:
Barbarians doing what Barbarians do...


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Human Rights

Quote:
Religion isn't a person. It is a set of ideas in a book. It doesn't have rights. It doesn't have emotions. It doesn't have a family or children. Those cartoonists were living, breathing human beings. They had rights, emotions, and families. Which of these deserves your respect?

The article linked below was written by a Pakastani-born author. That shouldn't matter but I thought I'd mention it for those who've been terrorized by the notion that any criticism of Islam is tantamount to Islamophobia. The author currently resides in Canada, and I leave it to the reader to determine why that was a healthy choice on his part.

how terrorism won


Friday, January 9, 2015

Thoughts are the most dangerous things

Please read: wife-of-jailed-saudi-blogger-my-husband-is-a-victim-of-the-thought-police.html


Saudi Arabia is one of our closest allies in the middle east. I can't help wonder what might happen in these situations if things were different. What would it be like if there was a very powerful country that was perceived to have a deep well of untainted moral authority from which to draw? Those who love compassion and justice might look to such a noble land for guidance and leadership. A few words of scorn from this country, added to the cries of decent people everywhere, may well turn the tide in cases of barbarism and injustice. I know, I'm such a dreamer. Perhaps I need to just snap out of it.

Addendum

I am not certain for whom I should be more afraid, Saudi liberals/secularists or Americans. I think this is a good moment to mention a couple of facts. Christianity is by far the dominant religion in this country and its believers own most of everything and control most of everything. Therefore claims by Fox news and others that Christianity is under attack and hanging by a thread, are laughable. Here is the more troubling part. Right-wing religiously motivated Christian Conservatives are ever attempting to swing the legal pendulum of our country to a more religious based system. That is not a claim made by me. That is their claim. Any number of these folks have openly stated they would prefer something more like a theocracy here. Consider this, if I said the new congress was quietly trying to inch us toward Sharia law, it would be easy to imagine huge protests. When I say that our elected leaders, federal and state, have flatly stated that they are boldly trying to move us toward the Christian version of religious law, what happens then? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's the difference?



What could possibly cause one graphic to inspire me and one graphic to leave me wondering whether my fellow Liberals/Progressives/Leftists are practicing their critical thinking skills? Take one moment to consider these banners before reading on, assuming you haven't yet decided to bail.

I am bound to ask what I don't hear others asking. What does being gay or being a parent have to do with opposing bullying?

When I see these messages and similar ones all over the internet and in the real world, I feel ambiguous at best. Sure, on one hand I am heartened to see that compassionate folks are standing against bad behavior. Also, I am dismayed by the unintended bright lines we are drawing around ourselves. The nationalistic lines (I'm an American or other). The smaller lines (I'm gay or black or Aspergers or Hispanic or feminist, and so on. I have been troubled by this for some time and this is as good a day as any to say, "I quit". I am done compartmentalizing my definition of myself and my support of fellow humans. I know it is popular and politically correct to say things like, "I'm a feminist" or "I'm an ally" (referencing LGBT issues) but I'm done.

I have decided that I can't make sense of a world, nor feel hopeful for a world, in which different sub-groups feel obliged to boldly state that they are banding together against bullying. What does that mean? Are there behaviors that are clearly good for people but about which we will not join hands? Will every group need a special banner or a T-shirt for every other positive thing upon which we agree or negative thing we oppose? How far down that path do we find ourselves now? This suggests that we are so parochial and clannish that we might well abandon hope for the united (or, at minimum,  more united) pursuit of betterment. I can't prove this isn't our nature, I simply decide not to feed it.

What would it be like if we imagined ourselves as members of the same team? While I respect a person's right to see themselves as a proud homosexual/parent/etc., I am a human, which is all I need to be to oppose bullying. As a human and a proud Humanist, I oppose the factionalizing of people. I suggest that long history shows factionalizing  people tends to produce more tension and discrimination and contention, not less. Essentially, bullying (as well as other forms of bad behavior) are not bad because they are anti-trans or anti-parent or anti-gay. Bad behavior is bad because it is counter to the well being of our fellow humans.

I am a Humanist. Period.

Okay, if aliens land tomorrow and they are not human, I may need to expand my definition in light of new information. Though it doesn't roll off the tongue, I may need to become a Sentientist (?).

Though I do not usually ask this, please like or share or whatever if you follow my point.
As always, feel free to speak in calm opposition to, or contend cantankerously with, that which you feel is poorly considered, baffling, or flatly wrong.