Conversations: Political Correctness

We know that socio-economic factors explain most violence in societies.

This is true, but religion fuelled tribalism and bigotry should not be excused in its entirety. Consider the jihadist movement, how many more architects and engineers must hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics?

Good point. The exploitation of secular values, the demand for tolerance of misogyny and religious hatred, are not merely the result of broad socio-economic factors. Nor are forced marriages, honour killings, punitive gang rapes, or the homicidal loathing of homosexuals. Continue reading

On Western Civilisation

“What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea.”

– Mohandas Gandhi

On The Importance of Books

“It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.”

– Henry Jones Sr.

On the Capacity for Doubt

“The press and the public like certainty and affirmation of popular biases. But real science thrives on the capacity for doubt.”

– Wendy Kaminer

The Samaritans and Jesus’ Racism

Jesus: And he walked by on the other side leaving the man helpless, but then who should wander by, but a Samaritan, of all people, and he actually helped the man.

Disciple: Hang on, master.

Jesus: – No, he did, he went over and actually…

Disciple: – No, sorry…

Jesus: – No, no. I mean, this is what I’m saying. That a Samaritan, all right – so, have a good think about your attitudes – went and helped…

Disciple: – Yeah, no, I see.

Jesus: – No, no, stick with it. Because what I’m saying is that he was a “Good” Samaritan. That’s “Good Samaritan”, if you could imagine such a thing.

Disciple: Yes, yes, I can. I think we all can. I know there’s a lot of prejudice against Samaritans, which is terrible, but I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that there are loads of really nice Samaritans!

Member of the public #1: Yeah, some of my best friends are Samaritans.

Member of the public #2: Me and the wife went on holiday to Samaria last year, and they were lovely people.

Member of the public #3: – Couldn’t do enough for you.

Disciple: – Yes, so. What I’m finding offensive – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – is your unreflecting acceptance of this cliché that all Samaritans are wankers.

Jesus: No, I’m saying he was good!

Disciple: But you’re implying that “the fact that he was good” is worth a story in itself. It’s some kind of weird curiosity, like an albino Nubian.

Jesus: No, I’m saying that goodness comes in unexpected places.

Disciple: And I’m saying that the fact that you wouldn’t expect goodness from a Samaritan betrays your inherent racism!

Jesus: OK, OK. Alright, that’s a big word. Let’s just take a deep breath here. I didn’t mean to offend. That’s the last thing I intended. I didn’t realise there were any Samaritans in the room.

Disciple: – That’s not the point!

Jesus: Or Samaritan sympathisers. You know, Sammy lovers.

Disciple: – I can’t believe I’m hearing this.

Jesus: No, no, no, no. I didn’t realise it was such a PC environment here and I suppose I thought that having what was only intended as a fond pop at our Samaritan neighbours, friends even, if you like, would not be inappropriate in the context of a story which is after all about goodness, and at the end of the day, it is only a parable.

Disciple: – What? It didn’t really happen?

Jesus: – Of course not. A Samaritan tosser wouldn’t do that for his own grandmother!

That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006) Season 1, Episode 4. [No. 4]

Conservatism and Societal Health

‘Other analyses paint the same picture: the United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious adherence; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and infant mortality. The same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious literalism, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms. While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the “red states” are primarily red because of the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians.

If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don’t. Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in “blue” states and 38 percent are in “red” states. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, 24 percent in blue states. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the United States are in the pious state of Texas. The twelve states with the highest rates of burglary are red. Twenty four of the twenty nine states with the highest rates of theft are red. Of the twenty two states with the highest rates of murder, seventeen are red.

Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality—belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief. Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, however, these statistics prove that atheism is compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that widespread belief in God does not ensure a society’s health.

Countries with high levels of atheism are also the most charitable both in terms of the percentage of their wealth they devote to social welfare programs and the percentage they give in aid to the developing world. The dubious link between Christian literalism and Christian values is belied by other indices of social equality. Consider the ratio of salaries paid to top-tier CEOs and those paid to the same firms’ average employees: in Britain it is 24:1; in France, 15:1; in Sweden, 13:1; in the United States, where 80 percent of the population expects to be called before God on Judgment Day, it is 475:1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to pass easily through the eye of a needle.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15-16

Genocide and Dogma

‘Consider the Holocaust: the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued throughout the period. The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.[3] And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.

[3] The “blood libel” (with respect to the Jews) consists of the false claim that Jews murder non-Jews in order to obtain their blood for use in religious rituals. This allegation is still widely believed throughout the Muslim world.

Auschwitz, the Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia are not examples of what happens to people when they become too reasonable. To the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of political and racial dogmatism.

It is time that Christians like yourself stop pretending that a rational rejection of your faith entails the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. One need not accept anything on insufficient evidence to find the virgin birth of Jesus to be a preposterous idea. The problem with religion—as with Nazism, Stalinism, or any other totalitarian mythology—is the problem of dogma itself. I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.

While you believe that bringing an end to religion is an impossible goal, it is important to realize that much of the developed world has nearly accomplished it. Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Insofar as there is a crime problem in Western Europe, it is largely the product of immigration. Seventy percent of the inmates of France’s jails, for instance, are Muslim. The Muslims of Western Europe are generally not atheists. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations’ human development index are unwaveringly religious.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15

Evil Atheists?

‘If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers. In fact, they should be utterly immoral. Are they? Do members of atheist organizations in the United States commit more than their fair share of violent crimes? Do the members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God, lie and cheat and steal with abandon? We can be reasonably confident that these groups are at least as well behaved as the general population. And yet, atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States. Polls indicate that being an atheist is a perfect impediment to running for high office in our country (while being black, Muslim, or homosexual is not). Recently, crowds of thousands gathered throughout the Muslim world—burning European embassies, issuing threats, taking hostages, even killing people— in protest over twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper. When was the last atheist riot? Is there a newspaper anywhere on this earth that would hesitate to print cartoons about atheism for fear that its editors would be kidnapped or killed in reprisal?

Christians like yourself invariably declare that monsters like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung spring from the womb of atheism. While it is true that such men are sometimes enemies of organized religion, they are never especially rational.[2] In fact, their public pronouncements are often delusional: on subjects as diverse as race, economics, national identity, the march of history, and the moral dangers of intellectualism.

[2] And Hitler’s atheism seems to have been seriously exaggerated:

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison___as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.

Hitler said this in a speech on April 12, 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942).

The problem with such tyrants is not that they reject the dogma of religion, but that they embrace other life-destroying myths. Most become the center of a quasi-religious personality cult, requiring the continual use of propaganda for its maintenance. There is a difference between propaganda and the honest dissemination of information that we (generally) expect from a liberal democracy. Tyrants who orchestrate genocides, or who happily preside over the starvation of their own people, also tend to be profoundly idiosyncratic men, not champions of reason. Kim Il Sung, for instance, demanded that his beds at his various dwellings be situated precisely five hundred meters above sea level. His duvets had to be filled with the softest down imaginable. What is the softest down imaginable? It apparently comes from the chin of a sparrow. Seven hundred thousand sparrows were required to fill a single duvet. Given the profundity of his esoteric concerns, we might wonder how reasonable a man Kim Il Sung actually was.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 14