Thursday, February 01, 2007

Forgot I'd Written That

This is a piece which I wrote a few months back and never posted. Probably could use a bit of editing but I've got an important committment today. I hope you enjoy it.

The Left Doesn’t Owe The “Brights” A Phony, Unnecessary and Potentially Damaging Conflict

ince Sam Harris sort of indicates it was Sept. 11th and the religious motives of the suicide terrorists that knocked him off the horse to Damascus let’s consider that one.

Harris asserts that religion is dangerous because wars and violence have been motivated by religion. Yes they have. The attacks on Sept. 11th were motivated by religion, at least in part. The religious excuse used by Osama bin Ladin played a large part in recruiting for, planning of and carrying out those attacks. We can be fairly confident that there was a religious motive in the men who actually made the attacks.

Bin Ladin wanted to destablize the Saudi oligarches and establish a fundamentalist state because he says that the rigidly conservative Wahabi establishment is insufficiently Islamic to have control of Mecca. To do that he wants the American infidels who play a considerable role in propping up the corrupt ruling family out of the holy land. That’s what he says. But there isn’t any reason we should assume that he is telling the whole truth. It is entirely possible that his real motives include other things, like wanting power over a large and rich country for reasons of his own, personal edification. Stranger things have been known to be true.

We have the testimony of many that bin Ladin is a deeply religious man but we have also been assured the same of just about every autocratic ruler of every country except officially communist ones where purported ideological purity takes the place of religion. Some of those stressed the scientific nature of their ideology. Is it worth going there in search of yet more dangers to humanity from scientists? How accurate bin Ladin’s publicity about his religious adherence might be is unknown. Many of the other publicly devout public figures have feet of clay, religion wise and science wise when exposed full-length.

But arguing that the Sept. 11th attacks and other violent acts mandate the destruction of religion invites other factors in the identity of the attackers to be considered for eradication. An objective and impartial identification of those factors and the call for those to be expunged from the species would seem to be required, following Harris’ line.

They were all males. Why doesn’t this mandate the end of all males? Most of the violence in wars and in daily life is committed by males. But I don’t see Harris or others calling for any curbs on the production of men. Is the fact that males constitute about half of the population the decisive fact in their preservation? Well, religious believers constitute considerably more than half of the species so the numbers argument wouldn’t support men being tolerated any more than religious believers.

If we add that they seem to have all been hetero-sexual males that makes the numbers argument more interesting. Maybe it’s hetero-sexual males that need to be suppressed.

Oh, and let’s see. Some of the 9-11 attackers, Bin Ladin and a lot of the other Al Qaeda terrorists also had training in the sciences, yes, there seems to be a problem here too. Considering the role played by scientists in the production of armaments, well, it must be too dangerous to tolerate.

But maybe the continued tolerance for the existence of heterosexual males with training in the sciences can be defended because some of them aren’t so bad, some are even rather nice, rational and pleasant to be around. Some are downright good people who do good things and don’t do bad things. But the same can be said of religious believers so Harris’ proposition would fail on that account. That might be too big a chance to take. Religious moderates are not to be tolerated, according to one of Harris’ admirers who I argued with a while back, because if maintained they have the potential to spawn dangerous religious fanatics. Ok, if that’s true then looks like that’s it for straight scientists of the male gender.

Looking at the bios of both Harris and Dawkins they seem to have shared more than just gender and sexual identity with the 9-11 attackers. They also all seem to have come largely from the middle and upper classes of their societies. This is a trait they have with everyone who gets to decide if there is going to be a war, they inevitably either came from or successfully joined the upper class. Yet economic leveling of society doesn’t seem to enter into their programs. Surely there isn’t a personal motive in this neglect. Being ready to take on the entire Islamic world, from the front lines of North America Harris certainly couldn’t be afraid to take on the monied interests here.

Organized war by states is certainly the most violent, most murderous, most destructive form of violence and those are always begun and continued by economic and political elites. I am trying to remember a war called by religious authorities in the past century and am having a hard time. Even in the Iraq-Iran war it was the secular leader that started it. There is violence with religion as a feature, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka (sad to say that the non-theistic, Theravada Buddhists seem to be one side in that one), various other horrors, are all fought on the basis or religion. But notice this, around the world there are places where mulitple religious communities have co-existed with minimal trouble for decades or centuries.

Wars and violence have had many different stated motives and even more clear though unstated ones. Is religion the most insidious one of these? Clearly not these days. None of the major wars the United States has fought have even had a stated religious motivation. While there has been support by religious leaders for every one of these wars there have also been opponents to them, on both sides, who based their opposition squarely on religion. Most crimes of violence have absolutely no religious motive attached unless it is directed against a person on the basis of their own religion. It doesn’t seem just to require that the victims of crime give up or suppres their religion because of the opposition of bigots to it.

Motives of enrichment of the ruling classes and their continued rule would seem to be the primary motive of just about all modern war. The tools of bigotry and resentment of ethnic, religious and ideological ‘others’ is just about always a means of talking a populace into fighting a war for the benefit of their rulers, not the real reason that the war is brought. Ignoring that in all western societies and in some others there is religious opposition to these wars is relevant. I’m prepared to go out on a limb and guess that your typical Catholic Sister or Tikkun reader has done more to oppose war and violence than your typical “bright” has in the past half-century. If that is correct it is highly relevant to an objective view of this struggle for the minds and hearts of the left.

Reason itself has never shown a commitment towards genocide.

Religions are; well, unreasonable. That is perhaps why the founding fathers banished religion from our own Constitution.
I'm not so sure that this is always true, either entirely as in the Bahais or Unitarian Universalists or in the case of many individuals.

The "founders" knew from the experience of the preceeding centuries that it is a really bad idea for religion and politics to mix. I am an absolutist in the question of separation of church and state, no money or anything else should go from the public sector to anything religious. If some religious institutions can make a clear wall in some charitable areas, then there might be room for the state to give them grants. But the walls have to be there and fully maintained.
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