Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I like video games, but one element of video games that I have always disliked is driving a vehicle. It is always maddeningly difficult to make a vehicle go in a straight line. Different games have different controls, and some of those are better than others, but the overwhelming problem is that the complexities of driving in a narrow, usually twisted path do not translate well to what are essentially left-right controls. As a result, I spend a lot of my video game driving turning too far left, then too far right and then too far left again, all in an attempt to compensate. A delicate touch is required for driving, which is why our real life vehicles have wheels that are moderately difficult to turn. But in video games, I usually end up with my vehicle perpendicular to the roadway and although it happens quite often, I have no real idea how I got there or how to avoid that problem again.

I feel like that with regard to Islam. I veer too far to one side and then I try to explain myself and end up overcompensating in the other direction. What I hope to do here is to slow down and make my points very carefully. I want to be clear about my position.

So to start, I will admit that I know very little about the actual teachings of Islam. I have not read the Koran or investigated the religion in any meaningful way. I am a "Christian atheist," if you will. I am not really concerned about the verifiable aspects of the Islamic faith. I have rejected religious philosophies and worldviews completely because I find that there is no use for them. When I gave up Christianity, I did not (and do not) feel the need to replace one faith with another. There have been so many faiths and ideas throughout the history of the world that it is absurd to imagine that we should examine them all before making a decision. I have seen enough to know that there is no scientific or factual merit to Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism or Hinduism.

As a social phenomenon, Islam is a bit more complicated, and this is where I typically start to swerve. As a liberal, progressive Westerner, I am inclined to accept all diverse philosophies and cultures as acceptable and valid. This is my mistake. As much as it pains me to say it, Islamic culture is objectively worse for its citizens than Western culture. I want to be clear that this does not grant Christianity any extra weight or value as a cultural force. I think that if Christianity (and Judaism) were observed as literally as Middle Eastern Islam is observed, it would be just as terrible. But Christianity has been effectively de-fanged by secularism. People aren't stoned to death for working on Sunday (or Saturday), even though the Bible (and Torah) specifically demand it. Christian apologists come up with all kinds of reasons for why these kinds of capital and corporal punishments are no longer required, but the truth (in my mind) is simply that they are more secularized and their morality has been improved dramatically as a direct result. Because this sort of secular dilution has not happened in Islam, their culture has not had a chance to improve. This makes Islam, as it exists today, a distinctly negative cultural force.

I feel comfortable saying this without the benefit of intimate details or experience. I can see practical effects of Islam. Even if I were to discount the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism that seem to occur on a daily basis as the actions of a lunatic fringe, there is still the suppression of women, the oppression of homosexuals and the generally immature and unhealthy attitudes toward sex, virginity and the idea of purity. These things are, again, objectively bad for society.

But what of Westernized Islam? What of those Muslims who live among us in the United States and Canada and Europe, who go to Mosques instead of churches and pray to Allah instead of Jesus but are otherwise indistinguishable from other citizens of a secular society? For those who do not think of or treat the women in their families as property, hate the Jews or have no interest in spreading their religion, then I have no distinct quarrel with them. Of course, I would still say that their religion is absurd and hopelessly outdated, providing no real unique benefit that cannot be obtained from a secular source.

Where does this leave me? Islam, purely as an idea, is no better or worse than Christianity. Islam, as it is practiced today by millions of people, is an endless source of potential evil. Not every Muslim taps into this source, but many of them do, and to different degrees. I just finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's phenomenal, shocking and heartbreaking book Infidel. That book is a perfect study in the varying degrees of danger that Islam can pose, from casual misogyny and Antisemitism to rape, theft and murder.

Do I hate Muslims? No, I absolutely do not. Many of them are prisoners of their own abhorrent ideology. But I do believe that Muslims (via Islam) pose a real and dramatic danger to secular society and citizens who value free expression and personal freedom.


Anonymous said...

Hirsi Ali is not a good source to understand Islam.

it you want to have an objective and truthful look at Islam---you should go to sources that are objective and truthful--not those based on fear, bias and myth.

Ginx said...

I don't know that the burden is on you to explore every faith imaginable. Rather, does Islam have anything unique and particularly divine to point to as evidence fo rtheir claims?

I am currently reading the Qu'ran and let me tell you: not worth it.

Anonymous said...

"Rather, does Islam have anything unique and particularly divine to point to as evidence fo rtheir claims?"----that is subjective---some may think so, some may not.

but that isn't the point----Why beleive?---what isthe purpose of Belief? ---belief is worthless unless it inspires in us the transformative power to have the right intentions that translate to right actions for the benefit of all of God's creations.
Therefore belief based on blind faith is simply superstition. Faith should be based on the use of our intellect and reason that brings about conviction.

nathaniel wallace said...

I want to be clear here: I am not, and have never been, interested in Islam as a religion. I am operating under the assumption that it is false. Many (if not all) of the same arguments that brought down Christianity for me also work on Islam and any other religion. So I am comfortable dismissing their religious claims out of hand. I'm an atheist. That's what I do.

Likewise, what goes on in the heads of religious people is of no concern or interest to me. People are free to believe whatever they like. What I am concerned about here is what happens when those beliefs and thoughts are translated into actions. I am interested in the way that a religion, as a cultural force, manifests itself in the world where I live.

Some Kind Of Funky! said...

HI! I enjoy your blog.

Ed said...

I think you may be correct that "western" culture is superior on many measures for the wellbeing of it's citizens, but without a clear side by side discussion of what those advantages/disadvantages are, I am hesitant to agree. Show me the stats. I would want to see life expectancy, infant mortality, education, voting %, number of incarcerations, crime rate, number of executions, discussion of human rights violations, number of wars waged, drug addiction, level of pollution/destruction of the environment, effect rampant consumerism has on nations and populations, examination of economic policies like USA farm subsidies and poverty, and so on all examined in detail first.

In many cases the USA stands on shaky ground here- we are one of the few nations that executes children, we have the highest rate (and largest number) of inmates in the world. Many of these incarcerations reflect racist policy and application of the law. The USA targets its own citizens for assassination while Afghans object.

The USA routinely murders noncombatant citizens of nations we are not at war with (Pakistan) as well as citizen of countries we were at war with (Iraq) Not to mention being the only nation to ever nuke another nation killing hundreds of thousands of innocent noncombatants.

Ok, so USA is not the whole of the western world, but are we really so sure our culture is better? Millions of Salmon disagree, the ice caps, vast stretches of clear cut forests, mountain tops removed...

You mention "the suppression of women, the oppression of homosexuals and the generally immature and unhealthy attitudes toward sex, virginity and the idea of purity. These things are, again, objectively bad for society." Are we objectively doing a better job with these things? Where is the objective evidence? What is the comparison of teen pregnancies, stds, abortions? Where is the comparison of a 12 year old in a veil as opposed to being in make up and a miniskirt? Prevalence of child abuse, divorce rates, domestic violence? What about Christian Ghana and homosexuality?

I am not claiming that you are wrong, or that the Christian/secular west is doing worse on any of these fronts-- I just want to see them examined. I need to see the evidence first.