A Salon Take on How Religion Harms

Ipaul elamt’s 9 degrees wind-chill today and I’m supposed to be swapping a window. Not thrilled. To get the work done I need to build up some energy. I also need to go get a truckload of apples for cider making that I have to keep from freezing overnight. I’ll be brief.


It’s hard for me to take Salon seriously right now after it published Paul Elam’s idiotic article “if we want society to advance we need to leave men alone to do their work.” My inclination is to remove the salon bookmark but I guess I need to know these idiots exist and be able to parse their arguments when other MRAs throw them at my face like week-old dead fish. One need only look at Elam’s eyes to see either he has a medical condition that needs to be fixed or is a raving lunatic that should not be allowed out, in public.  More so when he makes death threats but calls it satire, just good fun. Because that’s what real men do. Make jokes about raping alcohol-filled passed out chicks, killing opponents, and ripping the dicks off effeminate men. That’s how men work effectively together. Elam is delighted that Salon published him and brags because it makes him more legitimate–kind of like including Charles Manson and promoting “just a shot away” politics. He should be arrested and medicalized.

More  pleasantly Salon posted an article on six basic harms of religion. Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that theology can do no good. This facile take was better served by Hitch when he said religion poisons everything. The subtlety of which was that even if good is produced it taints the goodness by wrong motivation. If a person steals an apple and gives it to a starving person, do we care about the theft or about saving the person? It gets tricky. More obvious would be if a thief steals an apple from a starving person and gives it to another starting person. And these examples are the simplest of conundrums.

EO Wilson recently called Dawkins just a “journalist” and Dawkins responded with mentioning his 22 year-old book the Extended Phenotype. Of course Dawkins had slammed Wilson for his paper on social-based evolution, and gone right back to his selfish gene. Humans look a lot like individualists and ants look pretty damned social. And there’s a lot more out there. Dawkins and Wilson both have been venturing into pop science literature so there you have it. Good reason for me to have refused to participate in the smegma of academia.

These six points in the Salon article do resonate well.

  1. Religion promotes tribalism
  2. Religion anchors believers in the iron age
  3. Religion makes a virtue out of faith
  4. Religion diverts generous impulses and good intentions
  5. Religion teaches helplessness
  6. Religion seks power

I recently read a post by a woman who was feeling bad about her anger. I commented that anger has utility. We wouldn’t change the world if we were comfortable. As usual the trick is to be mad enough to fight the good fight and not so complacent that you want to stay in bed and watch endless Netflix.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Demanding Perfection

perfectionI am taking my daughters to the Concert for Valor in DC. Concerts are so expensive and our budget is so tight that our children have not been to concerts other than at small local venues. Seeing live music has become so expensive it has become out of reach for many. This concert is free but for gas and metro which is still a decent hit to our budget. I worked the weekend to take the day off. I suppose the concert is controversial because why support troops? Well because they die for a job and a cause many, even they, don’t believe. A recent interview of a returned soldier on NPR noted that most of his fellow soldiers don’t believe in the war they are fighting, but rather each other. The friendships soldiers form are often lifelong. When a fellow soldier dies it can be as devastating as losing a close friend or relative back home. The trauma remains for years and often life.

During the Vietnam war it was popular to shun soldiers, and burn draft cards, while wearing flags and military jackets. That was more a FU than a sympathy. Soldiers were supposed to go AWOL and recruits leave for Canada, as my wife at the time said I must do if my name came up. I find this troubling. Yet, protesting a war can be a way of wanting to save people from death and harm in fighting. Yet, it is near impossible to watch others die in political predating and not wish to help. I see ISIS and I want war. I see death and I wish our soldiers could stay home. I see immigrants crossing the border and I want to give them shelter. Another side of me wants to turn them around, give them an AK-7, and send them back to change their country. Of course, it’s never so easy.

A troubling aspect of growing political didacticism and partisanship is the demand for perfection. It is very much like the feminism with which I grew up. The importance of relationships and political purity almost demanded a predatorial like-mindedness. So and so isn’t really a feminist. We won’t associate with her or them anymore. I saw the same later in environmentalism where if you didn’t recycle you were some sort of bad person because it’s just so easy to recycle. Never mind that that person might have donated 10% of their income to an environmental organization, or just might be over the top in the world, barely able to make food after work.This movable line in the sand has grown deeper and wider over time.

Now, if someone screws up they should lose their job, lose their family, and be punished for life. Meanwhile they talk about love, tolerance, and restorative justice. I don’t see how incapacitating a person’s income or social potential for life is in any way helpful. Nor do I see how ostracism, excommunication, and social shunning are any different than the high school clique wars that so many complained harmed them–it would seem they learned and joined the dark side, just a different group shunning. How on Earth can there be rehabilitation if we have marked people for life and put them in a permanent class beneath us?

Tristan Madden notes this inconsistency in religion.

For a long time, I struggled over the question of capital punishment. It didn’t seem right to end a person’s life, but it was often for that very reason these people were condemned to die. Being raised Catholic, I had grown up in a culture of moral absolutism. There was no gray area, because God clearly dictated what was good and what was bad. And while I was taught to separate the sin from the man, I would have been ill-advised to express any kind of pity for a serial rapist, for example, outside the context of Mass or Sunday school.

I noticed that in Mass, people would nod eagerly when the priest spoke of redemption and forgiveness, but when it came to murderers, rapists and similar offenders, these people who had so vigorously nodded their heads in Mass often refused to extend forgiveness. And I was the same way.

I believed people should be given a second chance, but I felt there were some people who were beyond redemption. I believed all humans should have a chance to repent, but the kind of people who were being executed, I reasoned, were something other than human. They were monsters who had sacrificed their humanity when they committed their heinous crime.

As another popular example now. I hate rape. I don’t even understand it psychologically. Yet, the current move to expel rapists from their occupations, schools, and families ensures the continuation of the condemnation for life as an underclass, never to be worthy of any kind of respect again. No amount of prison or restitution matters. It’s just not possible. This is social justice? How they hell can anyone change in isolation? A victim can only recover if they know their oppressor has a scarlet letter emblazoned on their chest and better if they are sent to the streets never to be seen again in polite company. This isn’t closure. It’s revenge and vengance. Perfectionism creates an atmosphere of crippling fear.

It is a steroidal version of debates about atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and others where on various levels they have been found wanting and should no longer be followed or supported because they apparently have nothing to say to anyone any more of any value. The same with women who have ambiguous stories like Lena Dunham who many call a sexual predator and should now be excommunicated because everything she says or does must be poisoned. Let’s just impoverish her and make her homeless. We don’t even really know the facts of the case and yet we judge fatally with the rapidity of a tweet.

Maybe we should just shoot these people as studies have long shown than ostracism, shunning, and excommunication often feel, are, worse than death, and usually do lead to a kind of living death. Just as solitary confinement ruins people in prison for life and creates permanent criminals, psychologically screwed for life. One reason why shame-based cultures are even more powerful than guilt-based cultures.

The only thing that can come of this are lies, subterfuge, and the creation of private worlds that few know but all fear because we just don’t trust anyone anymore. it reminds me of a police ranger friend of mine who said everyone is a criminal. When called on it he said everyone has the potential to be a criminal. Isn’t the potential the point. Isn’t the ability to get over it why we don’t just shoot them?

My mother who helped form university-based child care and was an activist in women’s groups used to say the last perfect man died 2,000 years ago. She saw her friends getting swallowed in shame and guilt. I don’t think she really believed in Jesus at that point in her life but she got that demanding perfection of others harms all of us. At some point that gaze will come your way and no one can withstand it.

Jim Newman, www.froniersofreason.com

Atheism as Religion in Law, Cicero Lives

religionThis is the time of year where my get and go has done got up and went. Demotivation from work stress, increasing cold, and short days makes it difficult for me to even know about, much less achieve, the many things to be done. This spirals into depression where self-criticism rules and it becomes difficult not to see fault in near everything, and to feel how near everything really needs to change to make the world and me better.

That this midterm election was perhaps the most important one since Eisenhower didn’t help. The growing trend towards conservatism makes it worse in my case, since I have few leanings towards it anymore. That Obama has spent less money than any president since Eisenhower, as reported by Forbes, doesn’t help. One reason is it’s a bald-faced lie to say Obama has been the biggest spender in history and another is the recovery would have occurred faster and better if Obama could have injected money into the work force and created incentives for businesses to relieve their hoarding. Not to mention less tax relief for the uberwealthy.

Cicero’s brother wrote a little book “How to Win an Electiontelling Cicero to basically promise anything, appeal to the privileged, flatter all,  surround yourself with support, be a chameleon, and accuse opponents of sex scandals. This perhaps apocryphal book almost seems like a parody right down to it being written by a scoundrel brother to a politician that promoted honesty, virtue, and restraint. Yet, Cicero, in his later works speaks of ambition, ruthlessness, and temptation as constant motivations in his life. Note that Karl Rove recommended this book on the cover of Freeman’s edition but Garry Wills blasted the book for being disingenuous to real politics. What do you think? It seems the practice of honesty is a virtue only if you’re surrounded by like minded people…

Much like including atheist displays on public property as equal time with religious displays, a Federal District court allowed an atheist prison inmate to form a a humanist group.

In a decision issued Thursday, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that prison officials violated inmate Jason Holden’s constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, and moved to recognize secular humanism as a religion for “Establishment Clause purposes.”

This seems like a victory, a big victory. Especially since prisons use religions so strongly that there are virtually no atheists in prison. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there are no atheists in prison but you aren’t allowed to be one.

The case, co-filed by the American Humanist Association, marks a victory for secular groups seeking access to the same legal rights afforded to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims — all of whom are permitted to organize under the current federal prison system.

Making humanism, secularism and atheism religions does disservice to their definitions but it also supports the idea that specific social justice issues, or morality, are part and parcel of these groups–far beyond revealed or not. It also means the government lists approved religions for personal rights.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Haggerty cited a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, which referred to “Secular Humanism” as a religion in its landmark decision to prohibit state and federal governments from passing any laws that impose religious requirements on holding public office.

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” Haggerty, a Bill Clinton appointee, concluded on Thursday. “Allowing followers of other faiths to join religious group meetings while denying Holden the same privilege is discrimination on the basis of religion.”

The only way to defend against the insistence of religious-oriented support legally is to call them religions. There are no phrases like philosophy, world-view or social moral code in this kind of law. Everyone is a group, much like zero is an amount or baldness is a hairstyle. All of which are true in some ways. It sidesteps the real misuse that government shouldn’t be in the religion business.

I suppose it is a wedge which allows the presence and acknowledgement of secular interests, but it only fuels fire to the idea that atheism is competing with religion in morality, when many atheists don’t want any specific morality included in the package–they just don’t want to be preached to or do theological therapy.

For now this is how it must be as a political tactic but I find it troubling and wonder if it won’t cause problems in the long run. It takes away from the point of a secular public space that allows religious tolerance. It gives credibility that atheism and theism are just two peas in the same pod.

It will be interesting to see secular groups spawn and form their own groups much like local, regional, and national churches. I wonder how the system will handle them when they want their own brand of support?

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Michael Sherlock’s Atheist Atrocities

gottMitUnsMichael Sherlock writes a rebuttal against the popular misconception that Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were atheists and had they been real Christian their atrocities wouldn’t have happened. If they were Christians, they weren’t good Christians.

Atheism is exploding into sects, branches, and social syncretes of the tautologous but facile idea that atheism just means no gods. Yet atheists want to say they are more moral than the religious or at least as moral to show social and political acceptability. Social justice types go further and say that atheism must include some definitions of morality, or that atheist groups must pay attention to other issues, often member oriented, besides the constant screaming of there is no god.

The easy thing is to pick through history, find the tyrants-conquerers, and then discern whether they were really religious or not. The difficulty of this is that those who follow a religion rarely follow all of it; they prefer to follow certain parts of their faith and reinterpret others. The easy ploy, like “it’s all faith,” is kin to claiming “that’s not my religion.” In conquest the balance of using local religions versus imposing another is difficult. A new religion is like having a common ally against others–the alien theory of social cohesion where everyone bands to gather to fight or endorse yet another party. Or conquer lightly and infiltrate over time.

We have to look over the manifold expressions of a religion to discuss the dogma, or ideology, of the religion. If there is immorality there, then it has to be excised or others can at any time refer to the ideology as support, even, or especially, when many don’t follow that particular part. The difficult part is the response to Hitch, that atheists can’t be moral because they do not make a covenant with god. That’s why religion is systemically poisonous–its premise is no matter how you behave, unless you do it for Jesus you’re immoral–natural morality can be followed with praise but you will not be saved.

Want to make a difference? Take a small part of a religion and elevate it to high status. Old followers see commonality and comfort in familiarity and radicals see the newness and progress towards what they value. All of the time insisting that these truths are absolute and revelation or divinely inspired intuition has motivated the epistemic change.

Hitler is a fine example of a conflicted religious follower. It is unlikely that he was a devout Christian, in the common sense, (does avoiding communion mean you’re not Catholic?) though he does claim such, he does work with the papacy, and he does claim to follow god in his wars to elevate true Christians to world dominance. He mimics Luther’s hatred of Jews in a long history of Christians hating Jews. They were the Christ killers, and they were a competing religion that was having too much success yet were insular, conversion not allowed.

“Besides that, I believe one thing: there is a Lord God! And this Lord God creates the peoples.” [1] ~Adolf Hitler

“We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out” [2] ~Adolf Hitler

It would be impossible to deny that John was antisemitic.

From all of the evidence available in the volumes of historical works, both Christian and non-Christian, it is clear that there is an unbroken chain of hatred, intolerance, and racism toward the Jews, which began with “John’s” Gospel (see also the Synoptic gospels) and continued all the way down into the twentieth century, ending with Hitler’s bloody campaign against the Church’s most despised enemies. [7]

More than a few bible scholars have made mention of the virulent anti-Semitism of John’s gospel. This anonymous and falsely named piece of work goes beyond its synoptic counterparts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to directly accuse the Jewish people of being the “sons of Satan” (John 8:44), thereby demonizing the Jewish people and opening the door to a millennia of Jewish suffering at the hands of credulous Christian maniacs.

But we can better blame Luther for having created World War II against semitism. It goes back through all of the wars before.

“If we wish to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought on the world, I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country, is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther.” [24]

Hitler was the logical conclusion of a particular kind of German destiny. In a sense he was a perfect pawn. You can be sure the US didn’t join the war for Jews though. They joined because the Germans and fascists were including Americans as part, a haven, of Jewish culture.

If Christians don’t believe it could be true that a people would consider themselves world leaders or the bearer of good news to all, let them look to their own motivations to have everyone saved, or that only through Jesus can one be saved. “With god you can do anything.” Is this really helpful? Psychs say a sky daddy gives strength. Yes, including world domination. “With democracy you can do anything.” “With kindness you can do anything.” “With economic support you can do anything.” The structure becomes meaningless–all that is heard is “you” and “anything” until reflection and then it is the subjective god.

Indeed, the heavy castigation of atheists being so militant is that atheists show the totalitarian and fascist aspects of the religious. Even though atheists are hardly represented in politics even the hint that the religious aren’t the world’s most saved and blessed people is too much to bear. It’s still a huge competition for world domination by religious factions. To disarm the very premise of this causes the religious to ban together. At least some religiosity continues the competition–the only thing worse than losing is being told the competition is invalid.

A big reason atheists hate to claim an inherent morality is many do not want an absolutist morality other than vague abstractions like reason, evidence, and science. One of the reasons many older atheists are *difficult* is that they rebelled against authority and religion long before it was popular and they never cared for any particular moral climate that was impressed upon them. They don’t want to create yet another authoritarian morality. Let atheists be democrats or republicans they say. Yet, politics is the point and always has been. Knowledge without according action is empty. Atheism must show some sort of way to action or it is utterly meaningless like “how many angels on a pin.” Reason has to show itself to morality or why use it?

Sherlock provides a good summary that so called atheists dictators were religious either self avowedly or for reasons of conquest. An ideology of conversion, good news, and idiosyncratic salvation, helps subdue people.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Atheism as Quasi-Religion

religion as politicsI am adding foam between the framing of a shed to be converted into a play house or for overflow sleeping. It had been going to be a shop but the owners realized that was unlikely, and they really needed a separate space for visiting kids during holidays. They had considered building a yurt but that was equally expensive and less versatile for their needs.

Cutting out squares of foam so they fit and then spraying liquid foam to hold the pieces in place and fill voids is not a difficult task. It is pleasant compared to working with fiberglass batting which is one of the worst construction chores possible.

Though cheap, fiber-glass insulation should be banned. It creates silicosis-causing dust, is extremely itchy, hard to install properly, provides vibrant nesting material for insects vermin, and holds a fair amount of water after water intrusion.

It’s popular for many to call atheism a religion. A News24 post pretty well sums it up.

I believe that atheism, like Islam currently, is also concerned with politics. In politics, secular belief systems, especially, have the character that the world must be changed in order to achieve the perfect state – a secular state. Why else do secular humanists want a secular state if atheism is not a belief system?

I conclude that we deal with much more than a denial of something here and that atheism, shorn of all its semantics is in my opinion a belief system akin to religion and if you look at the nature of the beast you see nothing but a quasi-religious belief.

By this measure my proselytizing that fiber-glass insulation should be banned is quasi-religious. Or do I have to have written 10 posts against fiberglass, or gone on a speaking tour with a new book?

Does a String theorist who spends his life battling against the Classic model a religious proselytizer or just quasi-religious?

Does promoting universal health care or a political party display a religion? Are politicians religious? Educators?

If I am a pain in the ass to my friends, does correcting them when they make errors in critical thinking, memory, and observation make me really just more quasi-religious? Or just an annoying personality, or an oppressed personality that is still privileged enough to complain?

Is the climate change battle a religious battle on the face of it? One world view battling another? Was the morality of women’s and race’s suffragism a religious morality play? There are certainly religious inputs and justifications. Certainly there is prayer for guidance.

When religious dogma has advice on how to live life or what life-reality is then countering those claims do not create another religion. It is too easy to conflate religion as the top, umbrella, world view and every other world-view is a subset. These are epistemic or ontological questions, not choosing a religion.

It gets really tiring that in atheism anyone having a strong opinion, or wearing their opinion on their sleeves is religious. I suppose that makes all of those people wearing pink or yellow or red bands as jewelry religious expressionists, and not just promoting gay, MIA, or breast cancer research.

The more tiresome phrase, “it’s all faith,” tells us nothing about what to believe but attempts to make choosing impossible, there is no ultimate true faith, just mine and yours, no real proof, stop asking. But when a faith, just like a material, causes harm then demanding it to be banned or removed is nothing more than consideration of harm and benefit, along with mediation to freedom and privacy.

If we were talking taxes and why one tax system is better than another would that be a religious discussion? Tax systems embrace nearly all parts of our life including issues of social, government, and moral goodness and worth. Not just money, but ideology. The money lender fables are ubiquitous. The castigation to belief and faith is political and insular. Nothing more.

I saw this idiotic style present in computer wars where one side says they will never use Windows and another side says they will never use a Mac.  it became an all encompassing world view including the work environment (no Macs/PCs here), the real environment (the Green/Ruinous machine), and the user environment (ease of use, versus expert efficiency–doer vs tinkerer). More people spend time on their computers than in church by far. After awhile I wanted to make both of them use an abacus and pencil again.

Football, sewing circles, book clubs, all become quasi-religions by this measure. Which is nonsense. Religion is not the definition of social structure, it is an example of it.

When you hear someone whine faith or belief it is nothing more than a shield to halt discussion.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com


The Myth of Religious Violence

religious violenceRebuilding windows yesterday, a neighbor came over and said our horses had got out again. Our fences are difficult to maintain with deer breaking through them, trees crashing down, and lightning strikes destroying fence charges. I got them back without using halters. They are like little kids prancing around me, fighting for position close to the snacks I brought. I wish I had the time to spend with them. They enjoy the company and like to work. Today I must go chainsaw up the fallen trees and repair fence. Yet, I linger on this device unhappy that Karen Armstrong’s big reviews are almost always positive.

With 2-3 politicians openly atheist, it’s hard to imagine that atheists are such a cultural problem. With so much damnation that if secularism were true it would catch on like a smart phone… With popular atheists acting as wrongly sexist, and more so than the general population, her arguments will no doubt appeal.

It is quite unlikely that I will read “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t agreed with what she has said so far. Perhaps, it is because I am on a limited budget or what seems limited to me. The reviews of her book appear in the Guardian, the Spectator, Kirkus, the Telegraph, the Scotsman, and whyevolutionistrue. The Scotsman states her premise

Armstrong is right – very right – to point out that all societies are founded on theft and intimidation, and that a systemic violence underpins and upholds the concept of civilisation itself. That we have science, art, culture, engineering, cities and philosophy at all is bought by the blood of billions of anonymous humans who died tens of thousands of years ago.

The growing trend of excusing religion and attacking secularism often pins on the insistence that cultural, political, material, and biological reasons create the massive violence, xenophobia, misogyny, and general dishonesty in the world.

The difficulties ensue. If religions don’t foster violence, or provide cover to violent urges, how do we begin the discussion with those who say their violence is most definitely for religious reasons?

Relating that religions were never separate from culture before the axial age is a bit like saying there has always been science even in hunter-gather culture because they saw things and made hypotheses, tested them, and then kept what was true or useful. It’s true but doesn’t describe the evolution of science in culture. Perhaps we should eliminate the word religion and call the phenomenon “world view” and religion an industrial world view or commodified world view or politicized world view or what? It really doesn’t matter in helping decide whether modern or old religion is a cause of human violence and suffering. Certainly the trust in a shaman or sorcery that caused harm still caused harm just as the trust that a jealous god demands no competition creates harm.

Armstrong maintains there are secular wars that have nothing to do with religion, which is true in some cases. But saying Germany and Hitler had nothing to do with Judaism or religion is just plain false. Based on the belief that the Jews had a disproportion of wealth and intellectual accounts doesn’t mean Hitler and others did not see this religion as both a means of identity and a scourge. He certainly didn’t forgive marginalized, disenfranchises, or Jews that were by relation only. He certainly didn’t go after wealth, the means of achievement, or the basic support of the system that created the wealth. He went after a people, and a religion, because they were religious, and the people followed that hook.

Too many say that it is the action that is unsupported and the knowledge-base is irrelevant. Thievery is bad and whether they do it for need, religion, or life-vitality is most relevant. It is convenient to do this to allow some sort of acceptance of contrary views, or those who have left a view but value its tradition, but at some point you have to acknowledged that it is the knowledge base that empowers, delineates, and formalizes the action. Would Christians have gone for Jerusalem if they didn’t have a Christ they thought born there? More importantly what other outlet would there have been for their cultural and political issues? Certainly more peaceful outlets could occur. An individual, when losing their temper, can beat their spouse, kick the cat, go for a run, chop wood for the fire, meditate, or seek their therapist. Which you do makes all the difference in the world, and which you do depends on the culture that uses their religion or world view to define what is appropriate. Much like TV may not create violence but violent acts are copycated. If they had known a positive resolution they likely  have imitated that.

Religious rituals can embrace material causes. Marvin Harris rightly noted that pigs were hated after their habitat was gone. The aggressive and surviving animals wrecked havoc on cities, and became so great a nuisance, and so quick to replenish, that some massive cultural change was needed to prevent any outliers from starting the whole problem over again. A modern example would be to use religion to create universal vaccination without exception, or climate change prevention. This is why religious people call big tent issues religious. They seem all embracing, and evidence of a basic world view.

But this isn’t what secularists are saying. They do not say religion is bad because everyone follows one to create universal change. If the manifold and many religions of the world collide together there must be some sort of means of resolution to get things done that must be available to to all. Democracy requires a majority to agree, and that the balance of that tyranny is met by rights. The only way to do this with modern mobility is to not allow any one religion, culture, or politics to dominate. Does it matter if you call it a religion? If the people who vote say they are voting because their sacred text says so or their religious culture says so you do have to take them at their word. Yes, the religious view can be deconstructed to other causes to help the case; your religion says to stone adulterers, we don’t do that now. But there had better be some good reasons not to other than it just seems better not to, or my religion says no to stoning. Discussion has to center around whether stoning is effective or desired, and why, in a way that everyone can relate to, or make some sort of effective opinion, or create change. Reasoning must have a place or we might as well stop talking.

Reasoning itself is an antidote to outright violence. Religions deny the value of reason for sorcery, magic, and the primacy of the subjective experience as universal.

The push against essentialism and biology holds to a point. We wish to avoid stereotyping and not treat individuals as such. Why? It is easy to mistake the motivations and reasoning of the person(s) involved. If there are 10, 20, or 100 variables that make up a person’s decision process, focusing on the ones you think they may be jumps to conclusion. Yet, acknowledging that biological anger (if it exists) or patriarchy (if it is cultural) are very real systemic or endemic problems helps inform remediation and restoration. If a culture shows great evidence that sexual predation has a high recidivism then those crimes and restitution would be different than thievery which shows to have low recidivism. That this is a state or dynamic issue acknowledge that it could eventually be different and require knew rules and processes. It is also wrong to assume that every sexual predator will be recidivistic. If you don’t know the actual reasons you have to have multiple resolutions until you do. And some things become so serious they monopolize the conversation.

The modern difficulty is the abstraction of knowledge of the individual to laws that apply to all. In once case Jill makes a bad mistake, really knows better, and will unlikely do it again. In another, Joe may be going to do it again without question. It’s one of the reasons that analysis of character applies in sentencing and even in assessing guilt. In societies where people no longer closely associate with each other it is near impossible to provide good analysis. The easiest solution is the demand to follow authority, whether it’s a person, a people, a law, or a culture. Indeed the current trend to virtue ethics is just that. To divorce the individual from having to reason, which is time consuming. It makes sense as a way of treating people as whole units and not judge by ether personality, situation, or motivation. We simply don’t care because it’s about building a character that generates good action.

But that may not be helpful in the long run. Virtue of care, healing everyone becomes dust when care is met by retaliation, destroying the caregiver. People, need their reasons and so called emotions. Change also creates outliers and outlier communities that are going to create friction. Mobility has to give way to creating consensus for decisions that affect multiple disparate groups and some will not be pleased. A misogynist being told they are naturally that way, or that their sacred text caused them to be that way, is not going to create the change until they recognize themselves that they are even misogynistic. You have to sling a bunch of causes to them and assume that what sticks is at least a start. We have to deal with individuals, their individual reasons, and somehow create a coherent, effective,  society that spans across religions, cultures, politics, biology, situations, and environment.

If a religion says to do something for some reason we must address that just as secularists must address their own issues of, for example, embedded sexism. If atheism really means “no gods” and nothing more that is as vapid as saying everything is field and energy. How are you going to grow corn with that? There is a way. It means understanding the structures entailed by the ideology as it is experienced now and observed by others.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com