Hyperbole Much?

I’m not going to say that Salon assistant editor Joanna Rothkopf jumped any toothy aquatic predators with her post this morning at Salon, Anatomy of a 2014 villain: Bill Maher, but I will suggest that the fish is smacking its gums in anticipation, the water skis are waxed, and the boat is revving up its engine.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I think it is perfectly acceptable for liberals and progressives to disagree on certain issues.  Lasting solutions do not come from a bunch of people nodding along in unison, they come from argument and debate, from conflict, as each side pokes holes in the ideas of the others until something survives the process.  We can even disagree about Islam.  It is an open question how much of the turmoil in many Islamic majority nations can be attributed to religion versus secular issues such as poor economic prospects, a western super power that insists on sticking its nose, violently more often than not, into the nations attempts at self determination, and multiple other issues that would turn this into even more of a run on sentence than it is already.  I personally think anyone who would deny the effects of US intervention and other secular issues and blame Islam as the only problem in the region sound as completely out of touch as Rene Aslan does when he says, “Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent.”

I’m not going to turn this post into an argument indicting Islam or any other religion.  You know my feelings on the issue by now; Islam is not the problem, religion is the problem.  As much as you want to argue against it, the fundamentalists of any religion are closer to the original doctrine than the majority of moderate believers who have sacrificed a myriad of beliefs in order to live in our 21st century societies.  Only time will tell if the current resurgence of fundamentalism is just its final death throes or the beginning of a revolution returning the world to a more original faith.  You can question their true intentions all that you want, you can assume they were already violent individuals if it makes you sleep better at night, but you can not deny that whether the act is the bombing of an abortion clinic, the execution of a doctor at a church service, the peppering of a girl with bullets as she rides a bus, the taking of sex slaves, or the decapitation of western journalists, religion is held up as the justification.  FGM, the denial of education for women, the denial of driving rights to women, the punishment of rape victims, and the practice of honor killing all lack secular justification, and still exist because of religion.

As we end a year that included horrific school shootings, an apparent open season on young black males for those carrying a badge, a crisis in Russia that is ignored by the vast majority of Americans, the continuation of the War against Women, a political party using a disease that shut down multiple African nations as a scare tactic to gain political capital, a midterm election where a small percentage of the electorate voted a party into power that is against all the issues that same electorate supports in public opinion polls, a “news” channel that continues to straight up lie to their viewers with no consequences, and the actions of ISIS, terrorizing the citizens of territory they take control of , killing Westerners publicly, and luring the United States into yet another air campaign sure to lead to unforeseen consequence, just to name a small smattering of the non-good news of the year, Joanna Rothkopf pens a piece calling a comedian a “villian” for having a view on Islam that dares to place some of the blame for the atrocities committed in the name of Allah at the feet of the religion.

I fell for another shameless Salon clickbait article.  Sadly, it seems that the majority of posts there nowadays are of the clickbait variety.  I once loved my visits to Salon.  Now, someone will have to let me know if Joanna follows through in her attempt to leap a large relative of the stingray.  I’ll find someplace else for my progressive viewpoints.


9 thoughts on “Hyperbole Much?

  1. I agree with a lot of your views especially the part when you mentioned about personality affecting religion. On a fundamental level Islam is a peaceful religion and does promote peace but time has changed how some Muslims view different aspects of Islam and there are misconceptions of the religion. This is why some Muslims are peaceful while others are violent and their personalities usually correlate their beliefs.

    • The argument that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people who only want to live and be left alone would be more believable if a majority didn’t report that death was a reasonable punishment for apostasy.

      • The violent ones are the loudest they attract attention by showing the work their beliefs, the peaceful don’t feel the need to attract attention

      • Rene Aslan and many of the liberal defenders of Islam compulsively commit the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy. Someone just hacked a reporters head off? Not a true Muslim. That group just took a bunch of women to use as sex slaves? They are interpreting the Qur’an incorrectly. A woman got attacked for not wearing a burka? Obviously her attackers are not properly following Allah. Flying planes into buildings? Stoning rape victims as adulterers? Denying women the right to education? Threatening apostates with death? Declaring jihads over editorial cartoons? Not one of them is a real Muslim. Every damn one of them has tragically misunderstood the tenets of the religion they hold so dear. What a shame.

        Of course that is bullshit. Aslan and other more liberal scholars of Islam can explain how they interpret specific passages of the Qur’an and explain why the fundamentalists are wrong until the proverbial cows come the fuck home, but that doesn’t change one very important point about religion: there is no actual right or wrong answer.

        We are dealing, in both the Bible and the Qur’an, as well as with other sacred Islamic texts, with books written literally in a different age. God, for those who believe them to be written divinely, is not answering our questions, and the men who actually wrote the words on the page are not available for questioning as to their true intent. The authors of these holy books are as different from modern day humans as possible while still being of the same species. Their everyday concerns, their long term worries, their goals, their dreams, are alien to the eyes and mind of a 21st century westerner. The sheer mass of time separating us from the authors is just the first obstacle we face in interpreting their words. Their society was different, their culture was different, their norms were different, everything was different. They wrote books that dealt with the problems of their time, the issues of their day, and then they mixed metaphor with literal statements. The resulting books are at times beautiful. Some truly important moral lessons can be found within the pages. Some of what is included, however, is repugnant and indefensible, even though their are apologists willing to tackle even the most genocidal passages. A large amount is just irrelevant to our time. But perhaps the most damaging and frightening aspects of holy books is their malleability. As someone who has studied the Bible, I am much more familiar with the way its words can be twisted to support practically any conceivable position, but as Aslan, a virtual army of liberal apologists for Islam, and the impossible to ignore mass of radically fundamentalist Muslims prove, the words of the Qur’an can be similarly employed.

        I do not believe that Christianity is better in any way than Islam. The differences I see between the ways the fundamentalist branches of each is expressed owes much more to the state of the societies and cultures than any tenet of either religion. While Islam kept the light of knowledge burning during the European dark ages, the societies went in drastically different directions from that point forward. (Why each culture went the way they did is a dissertation worthy subject, far too complicated for me to even touch during an already book length comment to a post I wrote.) Europe and the west experienced the Enlightenment and their society moved towards industrialization and urbanization, eventually leading to the liberal democratic societies of the western industrialized nations. Christianity remained a vital part of the west culturally, but parts of the religion that interfered with the advancement of society were quietly set aside. My favorite example personally is how the teaching of evolution was quickly reinserted into the curriculum once the USSR passed the US in the space race. Religion is valued, but reality wins in the end. You still have people who bomb abortion clinics, or who shoot doctors who provide abortions. You still have people who want children to be willing to lay their lives down in defense of Christianity. (See Jesus Camp.) You have families birthing tons of babies to be “arrows in their quiver” in defense of Jesus. People who would love to be able to stone adulterers and homosexuals to death. The fundamentalists are still here, and in America the electorate continues to give them frightening amounts of power, but on the whole, while religion is important, the real world is more important than the spiritual for most of the west.

        I do not know enough about the Middle East to make blanket statements about their culture. I know that polls show majorities holding very disturbing religious viewpoints, even though Aslan disputes the poll results, as he disputes every thing that doesn’t support his points. When I see things like women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia, the denial of education to women, death being seen as a proper punishment for leaving Islam, and rape victims being punished for adultery, I see a society without whatever it is culturally that stops the nasty aspects of religion from taking control. I don’t know if I am wording this correctly, I really didn’t expect to get this involved, but I hope you understand what I am saying. Both the Bible and the Qur’an can be read to justify the execution of adulterers, yet currently only one of those religions is actually doing the act. Based on the texts, non-believers should be inching their ways to the door when confronted with a room full of believers of either religion, yet only one of the religions is actively chopping off heads. Ugandan anti-homosexuality laws bear witness that the dark side of Christianity is still there, under the surface, ready to return as soon as a culture is ready to embrace it.

        Religion is far from the only thing causing the turmoil in the Middle East currently. (I understand that much of what I have been saying, and this next part in particular, are going to sound culturally elitist. I’m honestly not sure how not to do that. Coming from a western nation that places so much value on personal freedom and education, I really don’t know how to look at a culture that denies women equality in so many different ways and not make a value judgement on which culture is superior. For the true cultural relativist I really don’t have much to say, other than; “would you choose to be a woman in a Islamic society?” Know however that making value judgements about what culture is “better” than another makes me uncomfortable. With that out of the way…) Western interference, be it for oil, anti-communist reasons, or whatever other purpose, is part of the recipe for today’s Middle East, but it is definitely not the only ingredient. Now, cultures that once kept the flame of knowledge burning bright while Europe experienced its dark ages are badly in need of an Enlightenment of their own. If pushed from the outside, there will always be cultural resistance pushing back against it, especially with the prior history of western interference, so it would ideally spring from within, from people such as Malala Yousafzai, but even coming from inside the society their will be pressure against it. When Christianity experienced its dark age, there wasn’t weapons of mass destruction. The Islamic enlightenment will have obstacles never dreamed of by European Enlightenment figures.

        We are living through a strange, scary, and interesting time in history. The internet has freed knowledge up for anyone who seeks it out, and it will have far reaching effects on all cultures. The Arab Spring is just one example of the new world social media and instant information has unleashed. Religion will fight against knowledge. It always has, and it always will. Too many westerners see religious belief as a personal issue that doesn’t harm anyone else, a belief that is private and protected, because for the most part, westerners are only exposed to a neutered form of religion. They forget the days when women died as witches, and Jews died as Christ Killers. When the word of the priest could condemn a heretic to death. Perhaps Rene Aslan’s interpretations of the Qur’an are the correct ones, and all of the militant Islamists have it wrong. I’m sure if he would explain that to the members of ISIS, they would behead him as quickly as any random western journalist. Islam being a problem has far less to do with the religion itself and much more to do with the time period we are living through. It is not a neutered religion that has lost the culture wars, with fundamentalist members making a last stand against irrelevance. For progressives especially, it is difficult when watching so many abortion restrictions pass in to law to remember how little power religion has in the west compared to history, and perhaps because of that we assume religion has the same place in other cultures. We are wrong. Sharia is a reality. Islamic theocracies are a reality. Suicide bombings, stonings, beheadings, all reality. Aslan may say they are not proper Muslims, but the deeds are done in the name of Allah all the same.

        Religion is the problem. It is up to them to spark their own enlightenment and escape its clutches. It is up to us not to get too complacent and let religion take back too much power in the west.

        Religion poisons everything.

      • Exactly. I have no desire to get into an argument over whether Islam is “worse” than Christianity or any other religion. This next statement is tricky and full of potential landmines, but each society/culture is in a different stage of development. While there are without a doubt many individual Christians for whom religion is the be all end all of their existence, (listen to any atheist podcast that deals with current events for proof of that statement) collectively Christianity has seen its influence on western culture wane for a long time now. I am not just speaking of its influence on government either, more of the way it affects everything; film, novels, businesses, shopping centers, music, everything. Christianity is still a culturally relevant touchstone, but it is not an all encompassing juggernaut that is impossible to avoid or forget. Religion is still important to Americans, but matters of the soul are not the most important thing. I hope I am coming across clearly here and not contradicting myself. Rather than ramble into a huge reply like my last, instead I will cut myself short. Here:

        In the west, while religion can still have great importance on the individual level, its influence on culture and society has been on the wane for a long time. The fundamentalism you get in western nations is largely backlash against the march to cultural irrelevance staring religion in the face.

        There, I can actually make a point somewhat concisely.

        Islam however, has a much greater effect on Islamic cultures and society. Sharia and theocracies are actual realities in places. Laws with only religious justifications are enacted. Imams seem to be given much greater significance than priests or pastors in western nations. Once again, I am going to remember this is a reply, not a post, and keep this short. To my view at least, in these cultures and societies Islam not only has great meaning on an individual level, but on the collective whole as well.

        An important thing to remember is that this is not a trait of only Islam, of only Muslims. Christianity used to be wedded just as tightly to western culture. Inquisitions, witch trials, crusades, manifest destiny, and so on (short, cause its a reply, gotta keep reminding myself…) are but a few examples. The priests word once carried as much clout as the modern Imam, and blasphemy could get you killed. My late father would tell me stories about some of the anti-Catholic prejudice he experienced in the Navy during the Korean War and in the small town where my mother and I still live. The right set of circumstances could throw our culture back in to those days. (Maybe another 9-11 during a Santorum presidency with a GOP super-majority in the Senate? ) The point is we are not that far from those days; the waning took a long time. It was far from overnight, in many cases it is still occurring. It is far from only the lone nut who longs for a reconstructed Christian theocracy.

        The problem isn’t specifically Islam or Christianity or Zoroastrianism for that matter. The problem is religion. It is believing that God, whatever name you happen to give to him, had his almighty words and wishes written down by his prophets, and that we have those words in the Qur’an or the Bible, or in The Cat in the Hat if that is your thing. It is taking these works of literature (which is giving much more credit than is deserved in some cases) that were clearly, after any study at all, created by flawed humans, and instead declaring them infallible, an act that locks your system of morality into an ancient time and place. These books create an automatic out group; non-believers. After all, if you truly believe, then you believe that the creator of the universe set his wishes down in writing, that you and your fellow believers have the truth and all other people are at least wrong, if not also actively fighting against the wishes of the almighty.

        We can argue endlessly over whether Islam is a religion of conquest, if it is more warlike than Christianity, if there is some inherent problem inescapable within its tenets. That, to me, is missing the forest for the trees. Every fault held against Islam I can find as well in Christianity.

        Religion is the problem.

      • Yes, I fully agree with that, religion is the problem, there are some who take it too seriously and there are some who ignore it completely.

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