Mind Your Head

By skepticlawyer

On the very lengthy ‘charge the Pope‘ thread, there was some discussion in the comments of the moral content of different religions. There were suggestions that some religions may in fact be superior to others with respect to their social and institutional effects, even if on an epistemological level, all of them are equally untrue. To say this is unfashionable these days. Just as the 1960s was the heyday of seeing all religions as different paths towards the same truth, among modern atheists there is a widespread tendency to reject them all out of hand as equally pernicious, and thus worthy of identical mockery.

I have long suspected that this is a moral cop-out, involving as it does a refusal to compare and discriminate between categories, something at the core of any evidence-based discipline, be it science, law or history. Different religions affect societies where they predominate differently. Some of these effects are plainly deleterious. The ‘New Atheists’ point most often to conflicts between religion and science, but in terms of religion inspired conflict, the ‘religion v science’ shit-fight is relatively new and, as conflicts go, not particularly vicious. Far nastier are vast wars of conquest and subordination, alongside theological incompatibility with liberal institutions. Far more than in Buddhism, Judaism or the various historical and modern paganisms, Islamic and Christian claims to a monopoly on moral truth have always struck me as very dangerous and something to be fought as part of what I consider to be a wider ‘liberal project’. Part of living in a liberal world involves a gracious acceptance that one ought not try to bend the laws (or other institutions) to one’s religious will. Islam and Christianity, in a modern liberal democracy, have to give something up.

For a long time, I always paired Islam and Christianity as missionary monotheisms whose claims to a monopoly on moral truth were equally destructive. I thought that the only reason that Christianity was less horrid in western countries was because it had been domesticated by the Enlightenment, liberalism and markets. I looked back at the long periods of history when it had been in the ascendant, tallied the destructiveness of the various wars of religion and thanked my lucky stars that we had learned the error of our ways. I always assumed that the reason that Islam was so much worse was because it tended to predominate in countries that were poor or which lacked appropriate institutional frameworks. I was sure that, in time, Islam would also be ‘domesticated’ and rendered benign.

I no longer think this.

I was not persuaded of the nastiness of Islam by such books as The Clash of Civilisations, however. Just as Islam now has bloody borders, it is perfectly possible to track back through history and find other religious groups with borders as bloody. At various times, Jews, pagans and Christians all had bloody borders. People tend to forget that the all-conquering Mongols were often Buddhists and that the Romans were pagan. Indeed, at various times those who lived under threat from these two singularly warlike peoples referred to them as ‘the fierce people’, an epithet made famous by Napoleon Chagnon when writing about the violent Yanomamo.

What convinced me that Islam and liberal democracy will mix only with great difficulty was a lengthy stay in Turkey (which involved discovering Kemal Ataturk’s extraordinary measures to weaken the religion) and a growing awareness of Islamic theology. It really is different from Christian theology, not to mention Buddhist doctrines (I hesitate to call the latter theology). I don’t have the skill to conceptualise these differences neatly, but Lorenzo — who, as a medievalist, has the requisite period knowledge — does have that skill. Over at his place, he has written a detailed three(1) part(2) review(3) of Rev. Dr Mark Durie‘s The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom. At first I thought that a book written by an Anglican clergyman would be needlessly partisan, concerned only to criticize Islam from his own side’s perspective, but Lorenzo’s reviews and detailed understanding of the historical context have convinced me otherwise. For those interested, Durie also maintains a blog.

Durie’s book focusses particularly on the institution of the ‘dhimma‘, a subordinate status imposed upon Jews and Christians and later extended to Zoroastrians and Hindus (pagans) in lands that Muslims conquered. Significantly, Buddhists were almost always slaughtered; they were not even worthy of dhimmitude. The dhimma involved (among many other things) the payment of a tax (jizya), handed over in lieu of having one’s head chopped off. It often involved a symbolic act of ‘head loss’, where dhimmis would be hit or scratched on the neck when they went to pay it. It was a way of reminding members of subordinate faiths that, this year, they got to keep their heads. Durie considers the theology underpinning this, which Lorenzo discusses in detail. I haven’t yet read Durie’s book, but Lorenzo’s commentary stands on its own merits. I cannot recommend it too highly. It collects in a short space all my concerns with Islam, as well as echoing Richard Dawkins’s remarks to the Times not so long ago:

There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.

Religions do have different social and institutional effects. The sky-fairies in question may be equally fake, but some sky fairy systems kill and oppress more people than others. In short, if we want to keep our heads, we liberals may have to avoid feeding Islam, in part because it won’t domesticate.


  1. Posted May 2, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    SL wrote “we liberals may have to avoid feeding the beast, in part because it won’t domesticate.”

    However good a dog that shucks generations of domestication, that starts biting the sheep rather than herding them, you don’t stop feeding the beast. You take it on a one way trip out behind the shed.

    Remove that selective pressure, the breed will revert to the earlier stock, showing the behaviour of the wolf.

    Think fundy monotheism of any variety – the food is an ignorant population.

    But with your particular beast, the equivalent of taking it behind the shed carrying a 22 is unfortunately much less simple. Restrict the food supply by putting the prey in front of a blackboard – and not letting the wolves control the curriculum – for the wolves hate the evolution of ideas more than the idea of evolution of species.

  2. Posted May 2, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    There are few things more foolish than secularist multiculturalists presuming that Muslim communities with “adapt” and “integrate” while systematically undermining any incentive to do so.

    It can happen, of course. The Ismailis are a case in point. But they gave up any hope of ever being a majority group and so chose the rabbinical Judaism path. The Jews went down that path too, but only after being repeatedly horribly smashed by the Romans.

  3. Posted May 2, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Oh, and thanks for the plug, SL!

  4. Patrick
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    If it can make Richard Dawkins say nice things about Christianity then Islam must be a putrid pile if ever there was one…

  5. su
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins:”There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings.”

    Not to draw any equivalency between the different kinds of acts involved, but that statement is false – there have been bombings of abortion clinics for eg. And Loula Aboud was an orthodox Christian who blew herself up at an IDF post in 1985.

  6. Peter Patton
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink


    Without wishing to diminish the sheer horror and criminality of blowing up abortion clinics – I am myself very much an atheist and an unqualified cheer squad for a woman’s right to choose, and the state not to get anywhere near frustrating that choice.

    Nevertheless, I have been hearing this refrain about abortion clinics for nearly 20 years now. Does anybody know how many abortion clinics have been blown up in that 20 year period? And do the Xian splodies do themselves in at the same time? How many Xian splodies have been involved in these abortion clinic bombs? How organized is it? What has been the casualty toll?

    Again, not defending, just trying to get a picture of whether the phenomenon is a real structural danger of modern day Xianity, or just noise.

  7. Posted May 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins:”There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings.”

    Ummmm…. the Irish Troubles? It’s been quiet (thankfully) over there lately, but for most of my life… pretty darn horrid.

    Lessons learnt?

  8. su
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Just noise probably , but I don’t think it does anything for the overall argument to repeat statements that are demonstrably false. Yes Christians have bombed buildings for reasons inextricably linked to their faith and yes there have been Christian suicide bombers (all of them Lebanese in conflict with Israel as far as I know) but that is not an argument for the equivalency of abortion clinic bombings with 9/11 or an argument against the theory here that Islam is inherently unable to accomodate liberal democracy and I didn’t intent it as such.

    I don’t know whether that theory will prove to be correct BTW but I accept that Islam as it is currently practiced in Islamic states is in conflict with democracy. Now I’m off to read the linked post by Lorenzo.

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink


    Oh god. Don’t worry, we are at one on the equivalence argument. But I am suggesting even further, that maybe if it is just ‘noise’ then, even raising abortion clinic bombings in the same context might be a category error.

  10. Posted May 2, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    My understanding with abortion clinics was rather than bombing, Christians were inclined to shoot medical staff. The Tiller murder last year is an example of this. One of the reasons I sketched out the ‘monopoly on moral truth’ argument so carefully at the beginning was simply to remind people that any religion that claims a monopoly on moral truth has to give something up in a liberal democracy. Historically, Christians have also been bad at this and some of them are still bad at it. Northern Ireland and abortion doctors are two signal examples of this.

    Lorenzo’s posts indicate, however, that there may actually be theological reasons why Islam cannot be rendered benign in the way Christianity has largely been rendered benign in liberal democracies. In other words, things that make Christianity less vicious over time (prosperity, education, women’s rights) may not actually have that effect on Islam. I find that thought deeply worrying but, in light of Lorenzo’s three posts, entirely plausible.

    Note: I have linked Lorenzo’s posts in order in my post, so you may need to come back here in between times to follow the links.

    On Dawkins: I suspect if you pointed out Northern Ireland and abortion doctor killings, Richard Dawkins would gladly concede the point. He is the last person I could imagine engaging in the ‘No True Scotsman‘ fallacy.

  11. John H.
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    things that make Christianity less vicious over time (prosperity, education, women’s rights) may not actually have that effect on Islam. I find that thought deeply worrying but, in light of Lorenzo’s three posts, entirely plausible.

    Circa 50 years ago many christians perceived rock music as the work of the devil, today christian rock music is the biggest selling rock music demographic. There is absolutely no theological justification for the ordination of women, that has been achieved not because of a new special relevation but because christians are like the rest of us: masters of rationalisation. You only have to look at the way Roman Catholicism has been blended with everything from voodoo to Marxism to realise that. Someone once quipped that theology was invented so atheists could stay in the church. Christianity may invade cultures but cultures also invade christianity. That is perhaps the single most important reason why christianity has found a home in so many societies throughout the world.

    Great post SL. Excellent stuff.

  12. Posted May 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I am interested to follow this thread. Lorenzo has done a great job in his precis of my book The Third Choice.

    Northern Ireland-related terror was not a Christian equivalent of jihad terrorism. The IRA’s goals have never been religious, but revolutionary and political. IRA terrorists didn’t blow themselves up carrying verses of the Bible in their backpacks to inspire them. The IRA’s ideological statements were not packed with Bible quotations. Their military strategy was not determined by Christian theology. Quite a few in the IRA have been Marxists: atheists in fact. In the Irish conflict, religion was certainly a marker of difference and a criterion for enmity, but it did not provide the driving ideological foundation of the conflict, which was a liberation struggle between the Irish and the colonizing English. Unification of Ireland has been the goal, but this was not defined in religious terms. See e.g.

    [ADMIN: some of your comment appears to be missing, but alas I can’t find it in the spammer].

  13. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    There is absolutely no theological justification for the ordination of women

    Other than historical precedent pre-Nicea…

    The high point of the Anglican synod that finally returned women to their priesthood was a tv interview I saw with a VERY high church chap in a cassock claiming that women priests were an example of transvestitism.

    I remember thinking “that’s pretty rich coming from a man in a dress!”.

  14. Posted May 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    JH: The same process of cultures invading Islam also occurs. The Sufi traditions were full of that. The problem is that Islamic reformers come through periodically and “purify” Islam by returning to the texts. When people say “Islam needs a Reformation” it shows they understand neither Islam nor the Reformation. Getting rid of “pagan” accretions and going back to the original texts WAS precisely what the Reformation was about and occurs in Islam regularly.

    What Islam lacks is not Protestant belief in the primacy of scripture–on the contrary, Islam believes in that more strongly than the most fervid Protestant–but the Orthodox/Catholic notion of scripture as a product of the Church (the body of believers) and the world, as the direct creation of God, trumping Scriptures, as the indirect creation of God.

    Conversely, Islam entirely lacks the Protestant notion of final interpreting authority residing in the believers and their consciences. Instead, it has a more “Catholic/Orthodox” view of final interpreting authority residing in the scholars, the ulema.

    To put it another way, Islam combines the worst features of the Christian traditions (textual literalism and trumping authority) and lacks the best features (world-based reasoning and individual conscience).

  15. Posted May 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I entirely agree with Lorenzo’s comments about the meaning of ‘reformation’. In the medieval period this meant going back to origins. See my blog post “They ARE the Reformation” http://markdurie.blogspot.com/2010/01/they-are-reformation.html.

    In addition to the interpretative factors (e.g. textual literalism and trumping authority), there is also the great contrast between the life of Muhammad and the life of Jesus. Francis of Assisi was a reformer who went back and took Jesus’ command literally: he sold all he had and gave it to the poor, just as Jesus had commanded. Bin Ladin is a reformer who went back and took Muhammad’s command literally: he is fighting the infidel to make Islam triumphant, just as Muhammad has commanded.

    The secular liberal critique of ‘religion’ as if it were a monolithic category too often glosses over profound differences between faiths. Different religions do generate very different reformist impulses, and as a result in the longer term, they produce very different patterns of behaviour and types of society.

    BTW Skepticlawyer’s comments about moderating Christianity need to be balanced by the observation what where Christianity is flourishing outside of “Enlightenment” societies (such as in China, Nepal, across much of Africa etc), this does not usually produce violent movements. The persecuted Christians of China have not – for all their tens of millions – produced a terrorist movement or even a single incident of violent protest as far as I am aware. Ibn Warraq made this observation after 9/11: he noted that oppressed Christians around the world today generally do not seek to address their grievances using violence. This is irrespective of the cultural millieu in which the Christians are found. (There are exceptions, e.g. Sudan, Yugoslavia but they are not the norm, and the rationale for the conflict is not usually theological on the Christians’ side.). However wherever Muslims feel themselves oppressed (e.g. Chechnya, Philippines, Pakistan, Iraq, Thailand, China etc), this usually results in some kind of violent manifestation.

    I’m not trying to make a partisan “Islam Bad, Christianity Good” argument, but asking for a rational weighing up of evidence, and a deeper engagement with theology as a determining factor for the long-term impact of belief on behaviour of faith communities.

  16. Posted May 2, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Mark, for various reasons, I’d put China in the ‘Enlightenment’ basket, but that’s largely because I accept that Marxism and its offshoots are products of the Enlightenment. Lorenzo often makes a distinction between the ‘skeptical’ Enlightenment and the ‘radical’ Enlightenment (libertarians tend to just refer to the ‘Scottish’ and the ‘French’ versions), which I think has some play. Marxism comes from the radical tradition, liberalism from the skeptical one.

    The upshot of this is that China’s authoritarian capitalism is as much a product of the Enlightenment as our liberalism, but by dispensing with the liberalism and democracy, they allow themselves to butcher their opponents with impunity (just as Marxists did). This makes it very hard for anyone to resist the power of the state, be they Christian, Muslim or Falun Gong. We discussed some of these issues on this thread:


    I’d agree that large parts of Africa are untouched by either the Enlightenment or capitalism, which means that genuine theological difference does come into play.

  17. Posted May 3, 2010 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Skepticlawyer – I accept your point about capitalist China, but my observation about Christians in China being non-violent and apolitical (in ideology and practice) despite intense oppression also holds true for the pre-capitalist Maoist years. The real test would be if the Chinese leaders converted to Christianity: would they repent of their repressive ways, or would new-found power change Chinese Christian theology regarding the use of force? (As happened under Justinian).

    Another example – I forgot to mention – is Christianity in Nepal. There are now 500,000+ Christians and growing rapidly, the result of missions work since the 1950’s. There again, it is the Maoists who have been killing people, not the Christians. The examples could go on an on. There is a very large pentecostal Christian movement in South America (millions of followers) – but in all the violence of that continent, the only South American Christians I am aware of who have advocated violence are liberation theologians (whose theology has been strongly influenced by enlightenment values), and certainly not the more ‘fundamentalist’ Pentecostals. Likewise in PNG, where violence is widespread, I am aware of no Christian movements which promote violence on theological grounds. Again, the indigenous Christians of West Papua have sporadically defended themselves, but have developed no organized theologically driven violent resistance movement. The Christian Karen in Burma have been fighting, but again, they have developed no militant theology, and don’t see their war in religious terms.

  18. Posted May 3, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    There are the wannabe gay-killers and the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ of Uganda to think of, too, although I do wonder how much of that is US-backed and not representative of Ugandan society more generally. My impression is that the LRA people are more likely to have a mixture of African and Christian roots, while the ones who want to kill off TEH GAY are more obviously an American Christian phenomenon.

    The number of Christians in China is too small to have any influence on the broader culture. Any attempt to infiltrate the upper levels of Chinese society would result in similar treatment to that meted out to the Falun Gong, who are much more numerous and also authentically part of Chinese tradition. My strong suspicion is that without state backing, Christianity in Confucian cultures comes to resemble the host society’s existing practices far more than it does Christianity, much like this odd little grouping in Japan. I’m persuaded (based on Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans & Christians) that without Constantine, Christianity in Europe would have come to resemble something like what we now see in Japan.

    Also, Christianity being nastily oppressive didn’t start with Justinian; it started much earlier. Lorenzo has some good resources on that point here and here.

    I am not particularly sympathetic to Christianity, because it has evinced an historic tendency to make vast moral claims and then impose them on others. The ‘death penalty for homosexuals’ caper in Uganda and the shooting of US abortion doctors suggests that this tendency hasn’t gone away. What I don’t wish to do, however, is fall into the trap of assuming that it is always and everywhere the same as Islam. Christianity clearly has some good bits. Apart from Qawwali (Sufi music), I’m struggling to find many good bits in Islam.

  19. Peter Patton
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink


    Sorry, my question was at a much more subsidiary level., Just trying to understand what beast we are actually dealing with re the abortion clinics/doctors. Your broader point strikes me as incontrovertible.

    What I now have to think about regards a long-standing liberal democracy, whose history is inextricably linked with this or that or those particular religious traditions.

    If that/those religious traditions have already lost certain claims to superiority – either voluntarily or through the argy-bargy of the democratic process – and reached some sort of comfortable negotiated accommodation with the dominant/sovereign liberal democracy, what happens to new religious entrants?

    Are those new religious entrants simply classified as ‘religion’ and immediately given equal status to the longer standing religion/s, who have fought/negotiated with the liberal democracy, or must the new entrant go through the same process the earlier religion/s had to?

    Need to ponder that one a bit longer.

  20. munroe
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    There are the wannabe gay-killers and the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ of Uganda to think of, too, although I do wonder how much of that is US-backed and not representative of Ugandan society more generally.

    It’s neither representative of Ugandan society, nor is it US backed, nor is it Christian except in a degrees-of-separation derivitive sense. If you need comparisons, Koni and the LRA are more like pirates than anything else. Psychotic, delusional, sadistic pirates at that.

  21. munroe
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Religions do have different social and institutional effects. The sky-fairies in question may be equally fake, but some sky fairy systems kill and oppress more people than others.

    bingo. the money quote.

  22. Peter Patton
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Given China’s Goldman Sachs- like squid tentacles currently ensnaring Africa, one wonders if it would be in China’s broader global geopolitical interests to encourage sectarian conflict in Africa. Not so much to ‘divide and rule’ Africans – which is probably unnecessary to secure China’s geostrategic goals within Africa (oil and minerals) – but to ‘divide and rule’ not only the the Christian world, and the Arab Muslim world, but further excite tensions between the Islamic and Xian worlds.

  23. su
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    SL: “My understanding with abortion clinics was rather than bombing, Christians were inclined to shoot medical staff.”

    There is also a long history of bombings, arson etc dating back to the 70’s – a group called the Army of God was responsible for over a hundred incidents of bombing or arson in the US (according to Wikipedia). An Australian clinic was firebombed in January last year.

  24. Posted May 3, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Whilst I agree that Islam is inherently theocratic (and so is Judaism) and therefore will find it harder to gel with liberal democracy I do think there are things that it does better than Christianity. The principle advantages it has are pragmatism and the absence of deffinitive theological authority. It has Imams, it has a (much disputed) Caliphate but no Pope; no apparatus comparable to the Catholic Church. It is also pragmatic which is partiallly why it’s so backward. Rather than set impossible standards it sought to compromise with the world as it really is. So it acknowledged, for example, the necessity of slavery. Christianity did not, hence the hard-wired hypocrisy. Christinaty did, however, eventually repeal slavery.

    There was once upon a time an Islamic world that was more correspondant with modern liberal societies with strong market economies than its Christian equivelant. The change there came about as the result of a theological revolution which declared that all the answers can be found in one book. I think that’s the problem with any religion.

    A great and unacknowledged religious movement of the modern era is Romanticism. This, joined with recording technology and markets has had the perncious result of producing generations of spoilt brats. The self-esteem movement, the psychology industry, the mindless induglences of popular culture all start with Romanticism’s inward gaze.

    But it has a point because it starts from the acknowledgement that there are things we don’t understand in life and the stories and images we create to express the ‘truth’ we make out of this are actually true in a way that all the facts in the world can’t approach.

    The thing about Romanticism is that we know it to be fanciful. We relegate it to the world of dreams. What monotheism has done is bring this dream world to bear on the everyday, castigating whatever happens there that throws doubt on its dream world.

  25. Patrick
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    SL, what have you been taking? Was #18 an imposter? Or just very carelessly written? One way or another British academic life appears to be getting to you…

  26. John H.
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The thing about Romanticism is that we know it to be fanciful.

    Does the ideal of progress qualify as Romanticism?

    We cannot live by reason alone. We need our stories, and goals, our dreams of a better tomorrow. I wonder if other cultures create people with a different vision of being human. Don’t know.

    “Romanticism alone can seriously damage your mind, bur reductionism alone can seriously damage your soul.”

    The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World, [Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart]

  27. Posted May 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone know of TomCruise/JerryMcGuire-like “Show me the body count” graphs for different religions: total, adjusted for time since foundation, adjusted for adherents, century-by-century, and various combinations?

    (For an example of the simplest type, I’ve seen this graph of god v satan in the bible – http://www.thinkatheist.com/photo/who-killed-more-people-in-the – and half of satan’s victims (Job’s family) were given the nod by god.)

    If a religion-by-religion graphs were available over time, would the /shape/ of the curves have any similarity – especially if adjusted per capita.

    I think Christianity is the only successful religion to completely wipe out everybody of one sect (the Cathars), but then, they allowed women priests centuries ago, so they had it coming (and yes… I’m being sarcastic).

    One problem with the religion body count, however, is “discounting” for deaths in campaigns that had at least some element of property gain by the killing – so perhaps the ~20K of the St Bartholemews Day (Week) massacre could contribute more significantly than the ~150K of the Albigensian Crusade.

    Apparently during the french wars of religion, the population fell by a couple of million – some by direct murder, some from disease/famine that would have been exacerbated by the conflict. How should these be included/adjusted in the body count graphs?

    Can we consider the body count graphs, depending on how they are assembled, and how extrapolated into the future, good input to discussions such as this thread… or dare I say it… “evidence based policy” on how secular states should treat different religions (and life-guide philosophies like Buddhism, Taoism, or even Stoicism, etc)? Could an actuary crunch the risk numbers and cause adjustment of tax concessions (or imposts!) based on risk?

    I’ve no conclusions – just want to see what better heads than mine around here think.

  28. Posted May 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Does the ideal of progress qualify as Romanticism?

    Good question. It’s worth remembering that progress was an ideal of the Enlightenment and that Romanticism in part originated as a reaction against this. I think a lot can be understood by considering how people felt when the French Revolution went pear-shaped. Perhaps that can explain why, for a time, painters stopped doing portraits and started painting clouds.

  29. Posted May 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Patrick, I was starting to get a little bit pipped off with people engaging in the ‘No True Scotsman‘ fallacy when I’d already gone to the trouble of linking to the concept. If people act in your religion’s name, you may not like them but you are duty bound to do something about them. Moderate Muslims have failed to do this with their loopier Islamic brethren, and we rightly castigate them for it.

    I don’t thinking sloughing off the IRA or the LRA or the other weird and wonderful Christian offshoots does anything for Christians who point the finger at Islam. Christians have to live with the people who shit in their collective nest if they expect other groups to do the same. This also goes for liberals and atheists who don’t want to consider the extent to which Marxism is our kindred under the skin. If I came across as unduly grumpy in the British sense, put it down to electionitis (I’m covering the UK election for another publication; if I see the BBC seat calculator one more time, I think I’m going to scream).

    Are those new religious entrants simply classified as ‘religion’ and immediately given equal status to the longer standing religion/s, who have fought/negotiated with the liberal democracy, or must the new entrant go through the same process the earlier religion/s had to?

    A good question, and not just with respect to Islam; one thinks of Scientology and the Exclusive Brethren and other religions that don’t fall into any particular grouping or tradition.

    Adrien: I always thought Romanticism started up in opposition to the Enlightenment and Industrialization (those ‘dark satanic mills’). I’ve never seen it as religious, although individuals within it were deeply (if oddly) religious, eg William Blake. So you learn something new every day!

    Dave, I used to do a similar exercise. The figure that always appalled me was the 25% of the German population obliterated during the 30 Years’ War, along with assorted physical/geographical devastation. Adjusted for population, the 30 Years’ War was more destructive for Germany than WWI or WWII.

    Lorenzo on the myriad dangers of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy:


  30. Patrick
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    What has the LRA got to do with Christianity? They are just a nut sect which could be based in any religion at all, surely?

    I think the critical difference from the perspective of evaluating the broader religious philosophy is that I don’t know, or even know of, any Christian of any stripe who wouldn’t instantly without caveats and publicly denounce and condemn the LRA. Islam’s biggest problem is that the average muslim seems at best ambiguous about the whole terrorism thing.

    Btw, I was more disturbed by your insinuation, which was possibly just poor grammar, that the US was behind the LRA.

  31. Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    The LRA is not American-backed (or backed by anyone; one wonders where they source their weapons), but the ‘death penalty for gays’ bill has received (until they were exposed) strong support from US evangelicals:


    The LRA does, however, explicitly base its campaign against the Ugandan government on the ten commandments. Christians are better at avoiding ambiguity on groups like that, but they do engage in a fair bit of the ‘No True Scotsman’ when discussing them. Muslims, as you say, provide mealy-mouthed excuses for the appalling behaviour of their co-religionists, but do not deny that they are Muslims (with very rare exceptions). The latter is clearly worse than the former — which feeds into the point I was making in the post — but certainly does not absolve Christianity.

    Any group claiming a monopoly on moral truth is going to struggle in a liberal system. Christians manage it (with occasional lapses), while Muslims want to blow it up or make excuses for those who want to blow it up.

  32. Peter Patton
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    SL is spot-on on the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. If people are blowing up abortion clinics in the name of Xianity – and let’s face it, I am sure we can all understand that a Catholic could use Catholic religion to justify this – then the Catholic church has an absolute responsibility to public condemn this. If it doesn’t, the liberal democratic polity is quite right to presume the Church condones the splodie, and to issue that Church some very robust ‘please explains’ or risk a down-grading of our polity’s tolerance of that church, and any privileges/passes we have thus far extended to it..

  33. Patrick
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I can live with all of sl’s and PP’s comments except this:
    I am sure we can all understand that a Catholic could use Catholic religion to justify this – then the Catholic church has an absolute responsibility to public condemn this.

    No more than anyone can use anything. To make that statement at any greater level of specificity would be inane, in my view.

  34. Peter Patton
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink


    Oh I was using the abortion splodies as an example, not trying to deliver some overriding obligation/theory.

  35. Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Romanticism started up in opposition to the Enlightenment and Industrialization

    It kicked off before industrialization made itself felt. It starts with the generation that comes of age about the time the French king was losing his head. It’s not entirely anti-Enlightenment, a lot of it is based on Enlightenment assumptions. It’s just an acknowledgement that reason is not enough.

    I don’t think it’s strictly religious so much as coming from the same source as the religious impulse. It persists thru to this day and anti-industrialization is one of its sentiments altho’ rabid enthusiasm for the modern world is also en vogue at times. Consider the Italian Futurists and the English Mods.

  36. Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about the LRA but the IRA’s guns at one point came mostly from the Boston police dept.

    Ah Irish cops one reason why prohibition was destined to fail. 🙂

  37. Melaleuca
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I recall numerous media reports regarding the 1994 Rwanda massacre that indicated Christian clergy were much more likey than Muslim clergy to participate in the killings. As a result Islam has grown at a much faster rate than Christianity in Rwanda since the genocide.

    Islam is at present much nastier than Christianity but I’m not sure this is intrinsic to the religion rather than a result of circumstances eg. geopolitical dynmanics.

    Ultimately I’m with Dawkins, Hitchens etc.. – fuck the lot of ’em.

  38. Peter Patton
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    This is definitely one for SL: “Pagan Police Rights!”

    The Pagan Police Association claimed yesterday that it had been recognised by the Home Office as a “diversity staff support association” – a status also enjoyed by groups representing female, black, gay, Muslim and disabled officers.


  39. Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Ahh, fluffwicca, I know it well. Until I see some animal sacrifice to go along with the dogging, it ain’t something any classical, Germanic, Norse or Japanese pagan would recognise.

  40. Peter Patton
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Will Gordon Brown’s entrails suffice? 🙂

  41. Posted May 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I have taken my comment @14 and extended into a rather longer post here.

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