Friday, January 16, 2015

Skeptical about Skeptic Bias

It really hasn't been my intention to make so many posts about Islam, but I keep seeing news that demands comment. This one arrived in email. Fortunately,'s communications are also posted on the web.

Here is a link to Skeptic magazine's take on the "war with Islam".

The author generalizes his conclusion to state that "Abrahamic monotheism" is inherently violent. You can expect that an atheist writing for Skeptic is going to have his agenda. In this case you have an atheist who begins with the assumption that all monotheism is a nursery for violent tendencies.

But let's look at the data:
"Consulting a variety of worldwide sources, Stark assembled a list of all religious atrocities that occurred during 2012. In order to qualify, each attack had to be religiously motivated and result in at least one fatality. Attacks committed by government forces were excluded. In the process, Stark’s team “became deeply concerned that nearly all of the cases we were finding involved Muslim attackers, and the rest were Buddhists.” In the end, they discovered only three Christian assaults—all “reprisals for Muslim attacks on Christians.” 
"In all, 808 religiously motivated homicides were found in the reports. A total of 5,026 persons died—3,774 Muslims, 1,045 Christians, 110 Buddhists, 23 Jews, 21 Hindus, and 53 seculars. Most were killed with explosives or firearms but, disturbingly, 24 percent died from beatings or torture perpetrated not by deranged individuals, but rather by “organized groups.” In fact, Stark details, many reports “tell of gouged out eyes, of tongues torn out and testicles crushed, of rapes and beatings, all done prior to victims being burned to death, stoned, or slowly cut to pieces."
You'll note that his raw data do not support his general conclusion. For one thing, Buddhism is second only to Islam as a source of religiously inspired attacks, and it is not an Abrahamic religion. We do not know how this compares to atheistic violence because all of the results are filtered to include only "religious atrocities". Secular atrocities are ignored. The author's bias is known and is well-demonstrated here. But it is useful to keep in mind that NO analyst writes with pure objectivity, no matter how skeptical or objective he pretends to be. It's not my pretense to be objective here, though I'll try to be fair.

What the data clearly show is almost all religiously-motivated violence is instigated by Muslims. Most Muslims favor death for apostasy (leaving the religion). A huge minority (at or around 40%) favor honor killings. This jumps to clear majority in fundamentalist Middle-Eastern countries. Almost all Muslims want government legislation based in Shari'a law. We're talking above 95%. Furthermore, and very importantly, when in a country in which Muslims are prevalent and do not face a serious threat of Western justice, Muslims act on their violent beliefs.

As stated in the piece, this tendency toward violence is not universal. It is far less in Free Western societies. But within the worldwide population, if you're a Muslim who truly abhors violence, you're in the minority. Moreover, religiously-motivated violence in the West is but a small tip of the iceberg when compared to overall violence. There is no basis, I think, for the author's more general complaint about "Abrahamic religions". Whereas most of the violence we hear of in the Middle East is religiously motivated, most of the violence in the West in indisputably secular. One could make the same complaint about non-religious violence vs. religious.

Some Comparisons and a Hypothesis

Let's look for a moment at the Abrahamic religions that did not account for almost all of the religious atrocities perpetrated in 2012

It is amazing, is it not, that of those 808 atrocities, 6 of which occurred in Israel, none were perpetrated by Jews? If the problem were "Abrahamic religions", then surely the Israeli Jews, living in a country surrounded by and permeated with Muslims, should have committed a good number of those. Rockets have been fired on targets in Gaza only in response to Hamas attacks; and Israel gave fair warning prior to each launch. No other country places a direct telephone call to the site of a missile strike and personally warns them to evacuate. Israeli hospitals treat the children of the people who would destroy them. Israeli trucks bring food across the border. Israel is militarized only because it has to be; because it is surrounded by people whose mainstream belief is the eradication of Israel. The Law of both Jew and Muslim ultimately derive from the Torah. How does this fit the author's narrative? Why do the Jews not return hate for hate?

In short, Jews are tolerant of other religions because they have always practiced tolerance. The Law was given to tell a Jew what he should do; not what he should force others to do. Furthermore, to a Jew it's preposterous to assume that obedience to the Law has any meaning if that obedience is imposed by force. There is a reason that the Hebrew word "mitzvah" means both "good deed" and "commandment". Jews keep the 613 mitzvot in the Torah only because God commanded it. And God only commanded it of the Jews.

Even in ancient times, the Jews took the Torah to apply to Jews only. It was not their business to impose their Law on others. And Jews dealt with the issue by not associating with those they felt were not bound by the Law. This was a Big Deal in the founding of Christianity (documented in Acts 15), when the bulk of Christians were still Jews and James held influence. What of the Law applied to Gentiles? Did they need to be circumcised; did they need to keep kashrut? Acts 15:19 has the answer given by James: "Therefore, I have decided that we should not trouble these gentiles who are turning to God."

Jews do not hold that it's necessary to be Jewish to get into Heaven, believing that the righteous of all nations have a place. They consider the Law a blessing and a burden. They don't proselytize. If you ask a Rabbi about conversion, he'll tell you "don't bother". So long as you're not bombing him or trying to saw the heads off his children, a Jew has no interest in your religious beliefs. Thus, the conflicts of the Jews have been political.

When someone wants to castigate Christians for violence, they invariably reach back to the Crusades. Since then, centuries have passed in which Christians have demonstrated an increasing trend toward tolerance. Importantly, that trend is one toward the basic teachings of the religion's founder, Jesus Christ. Now keep in mind that Christianity sprang from Jewish roots, with important differences in doctrine and proselytizing.

As for doctrine, we've already noted that Gentiles are not bound by the strict requirements of the Torah, and they never have been. Today, most Christians are Gentile. A lot of Christians do quote the Old Testament and hold "the Ten Commandments" in high regard; but as we saw with James, from the very first they were told they weren't bound by the Law. And here it gets a little weird for Christians, with a great amount of usually civil disagreement in interpretation. Jesus himself said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
So the armchair analyst concludes that Christians have to adhere to the Law. Except that Jesus was talking to Jews, and we already know that the Jews considered the Law reserved for Jews. And in all of Matthew 5, Jesus says a number of things that align with Mosaic Law; but in every case he tells you what you should do; not what you should force others to do, and not what you should do to others. On that subject, he left a simple rule, in Matthew 7:12.
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
The attitudes of Christians have swung back and forth between active proselytizing ("the Great Commission" of Matthew 28:16-20). And tolerance. It has ranged from the forced conversions of the Inquisition to quiet acts of charity (it is forbidden for Christians to attempt to convert Muslims in Muslim countries. That does not abate their charity). The current state for most of Christianity is to do both... actively invite converts, encouraging them with good works. The days of Torquemada and forced conversions is long gone.

One might presume that the Holocaust of World War II was a religious atrocity, but I think the point is eminently arguable. The Nazis' bigotry was racially and politically motivated. The Holocaust was not limited to Jews, but included homosexuals and Gypsies as well. And, though most people in Germany were Protestant Christian, the leadership of the Nazi party were Atheist and openly hostile to religious groups except as a means of control.

Today the most intolerant of Christians, the Westboro Baptist Church, do not engage in violence. Rather, they voice their hate through picketing and media using deliberately offensive language. Other American Christians respond with their opinions, but none with bombs or guns.

You might want to consider the Samaritans, left behind in the Babylonian conquest and thus an example of Judaism that has been "arrested in development". A mere 760 remain. Where are the atrocities committed by them?

Of the "Abrahamic religions" as practiced and understood in modern times, ONE is violent.

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