Once again Islam is in the news for reasons that have to do with violence and a clash of ideals with Western freedom of speech. Last week, two Islamic terrorists broke into the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and coldly executed several of is cartoonists and editors, killing a total of 12 people, including a police officer of Algerian descent. The motivation for the attack appears to be in retaliation of the paper's numerous cartoons portraying the Islamic religion and their prophet Mohammad in ways they consider offensive.
In the aftermath of the killings, thousands around the world have staged marches supporting Charlie Hebdo and free speech. "Je Suis Charlie" (I Am Charlie) became their motto. Pundits and talking heads from around the world have come out and given their two cents on the attacks and the problems with terrorism, immigration, and conflicting values the West faces with Islam. When people are killed over cartoons, it is every free speech advocate's duty to make those cartoons seen as much as possible. I really wished Hitchens were alive today as I have no doubt he'd have a lot of interesting things to say about the matter.
Someone who's opinion I also respect, and who is still alive, is Bill Maher, and he said over on Jimmy Kimmel recently, "I'm the liberal in this debate. I'm for free speech. To be a liberal you have to stand up for liberal principles, it's not my fault that the part of the world that is most against liberal principles is the Muslim part of the world." Another person whose opinion I admire is Sam Harris. He said on Real Timea few months ago (in a debate that got a lot of attention) that there are about 20 percent of Muslims who are sympathetic to the extremist tactics employed by terrorists. He was challenged over those numbers, and so I decided to take a look into the data that Maher, Harris and others often cite that shows disturbingly large percentages of Muslims worldwide holding beliefs that are antithetical to common liberal Western values.
In his criticism of Islam, Maher often cites a well publicized study conducted by the Pew Forum about the opinions of Muslims in various countries on a wide variety of issues, focusing on religion, politics, and morality. The study has raised some eyebrows in how alarmingly high the numbers of Muslims are who think that sharia (Islamic) should be the law of the land, adulterers should be stoned to death, and who think the penalty for leaving Islam should be death. But the numbers are a bit deceiving and Maher tends to exaggerate them when making his point, allowing his critics to an open door to attack him.
Let's take a look at that survey and crunch some numbers. I want to see if we can assess the overall extent to which Muslims around the world view sharia and and hold ideas that conflict with common Western values.
I don't think about atheism all the time, but I do think about it a lot. Recently, while thinking of atheism and what it means to me, I realized that atheism might just be a means to an end. Let me explain. Atheism may not even be the right term here, because after all, in its most disabused definition, it simply means lacking a belief in any gods. It's not even technically a worldview simpliciter. But definitions and proper usages aside, trying to increase the number of people who lack belief in any gods in a way, to me, is just a means to achieving an end, and that end is having and sustaining a peaceful, humanistic, liberal, free-thinking society, that employs the best of reason and evidence towards all modes of thinking, and one that lacks any religious, ideological and financial hindrances.
The way the atheist sees it, why should religion get a free pass when it comes to anything we honestly think is getting in the way of trying to achieve the best kind of society intellect can produce? I don't know exactly all the details of what that society looks like, but humanists like myself have a general goal that we're trying to achieve and we see that the goal posts are always moving and consider it a good thing.
If and when it's ever the case that atheism or agnosticsm becomes the dominant views in the world toward god, active atheism and counter-apologetics wouldn't really need to be a "thing." In such a world, my primary goals and interests would probably encompass a broader range of social and economic issues and I wouldn't really care so much about disbelief in god per se. Therefore, the real goal in sight is not a world in which active atheism really plays a significant part. Active atheism is merely a reaction to active theism and a strategy to decrease the level of religiosity in the world. Sure, it's still interesting to think about the deepest metaphysical questions the mind can conjure up. Naturalism, in and of itself, is pretty fucking amazing if you really think about it deeply. That we're giant bags of atoms that are mostly empty space, evolved and determined by the laws of physics, that have the ability to think about this very process and environment that it's a part of, is, in my opinion, just fucking mind blowing. (I've always liked to think that the ultimate nature of reality, whatever it turns out to be, is going to be mind blowing.)
But I digress...
The real goal secular humanists like myself have is a world that best fits humanist ideals. A world where evidence matters; a world where empathy and compassion are treated among the highest virtues and are not limited to fellow man; a world where freedom and equality reign supreme, where there are no dogmas or faiths that put limits on intellectual growth and moral progress. Atheism is just a means to that end, and is by no means the only mean; it's just one among many. We have to rid ourselves of religion and religious thinking if we are going to make this possible.
I've been debating with theists for years and the one thing I've learned is that there is never any shortage of interpretations of god and religion. For just about every position a theist takes on their religion, there is always a theist adamantly supportive of the exact opposite view within the same religion. This has led me recently to wonder why, if a god exists, and its primary goal is for us to have a relationship with it, it makes it so hard to "know" such a being exists and what its message is?
Many "sophisticated theologians" argue that the common understanding of their religions are wrong. In order to know the correct, or more probably correct versions of their religion, one has to do a tremendous amount of research into the history, culture, language, theology, philosophy and science that relates to their religion. One must know the original language that the religious texts were written in, and the historical and cultural context in which they were written in, because otherwise one is ignorant as to the true meaning of the text.
For example, the New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek, a language almost no one is familiar with today. Some words have multiple, ambiguous meanings, and translations can easily deliver the wrong message which can have huge theological implications. So in order to know what the New Testament really says, one has to know the original language and context it was written in, or at least be aware of a scholar who has done the necessary work. Another example, is the fact that Muslims claim that the Koran is only perfect in the original Arabic spoken and written in the 7th century. Any translation to another language degrades the message somewhat. Muslim apologists use this as an argument for their faith by arguing that only something divinely inspired could have been so perfect. That means that in order for me to verify this, I have to learn classical Arabic.
Then there's the science behind all the many arguments for god. Some of them rely on extremely complex physics, chemistry, and biology that the vast majority of people do not understand. Why should I have to have knowledge of things so complex, and so esoteric, in order for me to rule out or confirm god and a particular religious interpretation? In other words, why would an omni-benevolent deity, whose primary goal is that it wants us to know it exists, make its existence and message so highly dependent on complex cosmological models, chemistry, and biology? Why not make its existence and message more easily known? There is much debate in various religions on whether faith alone can guarantee salvation, or whether it is faith and works. Regardless, one has to first believe that there is a plausible religion and god out there in order to be motivated to do any works as a result of this god-belief.
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.