April 29, 2010

Religious thuggery

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

I have written repeatedly about the absurd levels of sensitivity of some religious people, who immediately get up in arms if they feel their religion is being mocked in even the mildest way. A catalogue of religious absurdities would range from the farcical to the tragic and even criminal. Most of the time, the protests merely make religious people look silly but sometimes things get ugly and even deadly.

Saudi Arabia has to be the leader in carrying Islamic sensitivities to absurd lengths, even seeking to execute 'sorcerers' because it considers reading horoscopes and fortune telling to be un-Islamic. Yes, in the 21st century there exists a government that does not realize that horoscopes and fortune telling are merely swindles designed to separate gullible people from their money. Saudi Arabia also planned to execute a witch.

Somali Islamists have stoned people to death for 'adultery', a charge so broadly defined that it is even leveled at children who have been raped.

The latest example of the absurdity of religion and the consequences of giving undue deference to religious beliefs involves the creators of the cartoon TV show South Park who have been threatened by some Muslims with a fate similar to that of Theo van Gogh because they supposedly planned to air an episode showing the prophet Mohammed in a bear suit. I did not see the episode. There is some confusion about exactly what was shown in response to the threats, whether any self-censorship was exercised and if so, whether it was by the Comedy Central network or by the South Park creators. Jesus and Mo have something to say about this.

The creators of South Park are hardly heroes in the fight over free speech. Over at Pharyngula, P. Z. Myers takes them to task for shallowness and an unwillingness to stand for anything. But even shallow speech like theirs has to be protected from religious thuggery. Those Muslims who threaten violence against those who mock their religion are taking advantage of their right of free speech to deny free speech to others.

Pat Condell tells them where to get off.

Of course, issuing threats because they are offended is not the province of only Muslims. They are abetted in their sense of entitlement by people of other religions who try to claim some kind of privileged status for religious beliefs in general. American Christians, in addition to the deadly violence they use against abortion providers, can be as eager as Muslims to threaten anyone who offends them. Glenn Greenwald lists Jewish and Christian religious people who murder because they think their god wants them to. He describes the case of Yaakov Teitel who was charged with two murders, three attempted murders and other acts of violence. "It was a pleasure and an honor to serve my God," said Teitel at the Jerusalem courthouse. "I have no regret and no doubt that God is pleased."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that:

Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel.

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, who heads the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement, wrote in his book "The King's Torah" that even babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the nation.

Shapiro based the majority of his teachings on passages quoted from the Bible, to which he adds his opinions and beliefs."(my italics)

In an NPR interview recently, a young woman in Pakistan said that people who commit violent acts cannot be 'true' Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace. Christians and Jews often say the same thing when confronted with people who commit similar acts in the name of their god. But such people are missing the point. It does not matter what they think. The people who commit these acts of intimidation, thuggery, and murder think that they are the true believers. This is why religions are so dangerous. True believers actually take their religious texts seriously and think they are being faithful to their god's commandments by doing these unspeakable acts.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart on the South Park incident

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I once worked for a defense contractor and knew a salesman there who often travelled to Saudi Arabia. He told me that he saw with his own eyes a woman being stoned to death for adultery--right against a fence at the airport. Tragic and amazing!

Posted by Norm Nason on April 29, 2010 10:42 AM