Saturday, March 8, 2008

Attack on the Idea of Religious Diversity

Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene. There are still a number of cultures in which the germ theory of disease has yet to put in an appearance, where people suffer from a debilitating ignorance on most matters relevant to their physical health. Do we “tolerate” these beliefs? Not if they put our own health in jeopardy.

Even apparently innocuous beliefs, when unjustified, can lead to intolerable consequences. Many Muslims, for instance, are convinced that God takes an active interest in women’s clothing. While it may seem harmless enough, the amount of suffering that this incredible idea has caused is astonishing. The rioting in Nigeria over the 2002 Miss World Pageant claimed over two hundred lives; innocent men and women were butchered with machetes or burned alive simply to keep that troubled place free of women in bikinis. Earlier in the year, the religious police in Mecca prevented paramedics and firefighters from rescuing scores of teenage girls trapped in a burning building. Why? Because the girls were not wearing the traditional head covering that Koranic law requires. Fourteen girls died in the fire; fifty were injured. Should the Muslims really be free to believe that the Creator of the universe is concerned about hemlines?

Sam Harris
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

I think this is a very interesting point. ;)


LisaM said...

It's interesting, but I think it misses the (albeit skewed) point of the closeminded souls involved. It is not "simply" a matter of wearing bikinis and burkas, but a matter of obedience and respect for authority, and for morality, as they see it. The man bashing a cross over an atheist's head and the man breaking the cross in two are both narrow minded, thinking that these physical symbols and words are what it's all about - that if somehow we can demand adherance to our point of view everything will be fine. The deeper problem is not one of making a general physical law and then fighting for it, whether it be clothing, communism or who gets to control the oil - the problem is that many people don't get to the deeper problem, and stay sitting on the shallower obvious symbols of things, like clothing or lack thereof. - Oh, I just ranted on a total stranger. Sorry. Delete at will. :)

Chris Bradley said...

Delete? Pish. You converse, not attack, so why would I delete? ;)

But I think the point of the Harris quotation is that people are close-minded about a great number of things. We do not admit very much discussion about the hygiene. Likewise, almost none of us would agree that it's fair to be "open-minded" about torture or pedophilia. All the time we close our minds to an idea.

What I go out of the quotation is that religions can't demand of the atheist (or atheists of religious people) to cease their attacks on each other based on some argument of "respect" or "open-mindedness". It's not about that. It's about preventing harm that dangerous ideas demonstrably do. As such, arguments of open-mindedness aren't very good - they're a kind of fallacy, or a conversation stopper to deflect the real issues. And Sam Harris' real issue is that religious injunctions against clothing really, really kill women, and cause uncounted more uncounted griefs of all nature, including murder.

I'm also curious what you think the "deeper problem" is?

Anonymous said...

the deeper problem is religion and the idiots follow it blindly. Religiion is poison

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