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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Dozen Bad Ideas for the 21st Century

Here is a list of false beliefs and modes of thought which make it hard for people in the West to come to terms with the challenge of Islam today.  If you are deeply attached to any of these ideas or ways of thinking, you will have difficulty accepting the truth about Islam's teachings and their impact.
  1. The belief that all religions are the same. They are not.  Different faiths make different claims about what is true, and about what is right and wrong and produce radically different societies.  The same is true for different political ideologies: consider the different trajectories of North and South Korea.  Atheists have helped entrench this belief, because to acknowledge material differences between religions would undermine the atheist (and radical secularist) narrative.

  2. The belief that religion is irrelevant as a cause of anything.  According to this view, religion can be exploited or hijacked as an excuse or an instrument (e.g. of oppression – such as an ‘opiate of the masses’), but not an underlying cause of anything.  Marxist ideology has made a significant contribution to establishing this belief. In accordance with this assumption, security analysts all over the Western world presuppose that religion cannot be the cause of terrorism: so they and the politicians they advise must say that terrorists have ‘hijacked’ religion.

  3. The belief that we all worship the same God. We do not. Thousands of different gods are worshipped by people on this earth.  These gods manifest different characteristics, and make different demands.  The worship of them forms very different kinds of people and communities.

  4. The belief that one can justify anything from any sacred text. This is not true.  It is a postmodern fallacy that all meaning is in the eye of the beholder.  Certain texts lends themselves to supporting particular beliefs and practices much more than others.

  5. The belief that the Christian Reformation was a progressive movement. This is not true.  In fact the Christian Reformers aimed to go back to the example and teaching of Christ and the apostles.  Throughout the  whole medieval period reformatio always meant renewing the foundations by going back to one’s origins.   Understanding ‘reformation’ in this way, Al Qa'ida is a product of an Islamic reformation, i.e. it is an attempt to go back to the example and teaching of Muhammad.

  6. The belief that dispelling ignorance will increase positive regard for the other. This was the message of Harper Lee’s powerfull novel To Kill a Mockingbird (pub. 1960). Although it is true that racial hatred can feed on and exploit ignorance, accurately dispelling ignorance sometimes rightly increases the likelihood of rejecting the beliefs or practices of another. It is illogical to assume that those opposed to a belief are the ones who are most ignorant about it.  Ignorance can breed positive regard for what is wrong just as easily as it can breed prejudice against what is good.

  7. The belief that everyone is good and decent, and if you just make a sincere effort to get to know another person, you will always come to respect them. This is not universally true.  Holding this view is a luxury.  Those who have experienced life under evil governments or in dysfunctional societies are shocked at the naivety of this assumption.

  8. The belief that putting something in context will always produce a more innocuous interpretation.This is not true.  Attending properly to context can make a text even more offensive than it would otherwise have been.  Conversely, if you take something out of context you may regard it more positively than you ought to.  In reality, radical interpretations of the Qur’an, such as are used to support terrorism, almost always involve an appeal to a rich understanding of the context in which the Qur’an was revealed, including the life of Muhammad.  On the other hand, many have taken peaceful verses of the Qur’an out of context, in order to prove that Islam is a peaceful religion.

  9. The belief that extremism is the problem, and moderation the solution. Warnings against taking things to extremes are as old as Aristotle.  More recently the idea was promoted by Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer (pub. 1951) that mass movements are interchangeable, and an extremist is just as likely to become a communist or a fascist.  He claimed that it was the tendency to extremism itself which is the problem.  This idea has become very unhelpful and generates a lot of confusion. ‘Moderation’ or ‘laxity’ in belief or practice can be destructive and even dangerous, e.g. in medical surgery or when piloting a plane.  Ideas that are good and true deserve strong, committed support, and the best response to bad ideas is rarely lukewarm moderation. 

  10. The belief that the West is always guilty. This irrational and unhelpful idea is taught in many schools today and has become embedded in the world views of many.  It is essentially a silencing strategy, sabotaging critical thinking.

  11. Two wrongs make a right reasoning. E.g. Someone says that jihad is a bad part of Islam, to which a defender of Islam says ‘What about the crusades?’  Someone says the Qur’an incites violence, to which someone else replies ‘But there are violent verses in the Bible.’  This kind of reasoning is a logical fallacy.
    A specific sub-type of this fallacy is tu quoque reasoning:
    Tu quoque (‘you too’) reasoning: you can’t challenge someone else’s beliefs or actions if you (or your group) have personally ever done anything wrong or have objectionable characteristics. E.g. A Catholic says jihad is bad, but someone counters that popes supported the Crusades. This is a sub-type of the ‘two wrongs make a right’ reasoning: it too is a logical fallacy.
  12. Belief in progress: everything will always get better in the end. This is a false, though seductive bit of wishful thinking.  Bad ideas have bad consequences.  Good societies can easily become bad ones if they exchange good ideas for bad ones.  Bad situations can last for a very long time, and keep getting progressively worse.  Many countries have deteriorated for extended periods during the past 100 years.  It is not true that ideologies or religions will inevitably improve or become more ‘moderate’ as time passes, as if by some magical process of temporal transformation.  But things are not always going to get better.

16 comments:

  1. It's certainly about time somebody said all of this.

    Why is it considered "politically incorrect" to say that it behooves us to make a strong, worldwide effort to debunk Islam and to persuade its adherents that it is vital for their spiritual well-being to reject Islam, despite the physical dangers of so doing?

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  2. Finally somebody is speaking some common sense which is so rare these day's.!Islam can never be a part of a free and western society.Just like multiculturalism does not work and its killing us slowly, the politicians have their heads in the sand, because of the PC Gestapo.

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  3. Similar sentiments were expressed about Judaism in the 1930s. I wonder what the position of Roger, 1389, or indeed the author of the blog himself, would have been toward Judaism back in the days when these sentiments were widespread concerning that religion. Reading comments such as "it is vital for their spiritual well being to reject ...." and "... can never be a part of a free and western society" gives us a pretty good idea I would say.

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  4. Bill considers that what I write about Western secular worldviews is not worthy of a reasoned response, because he 'wonders' whether I would have been an antisemitic Nazi sympathizer in the 1930's. He has a 'pretty good idea' what the answer to his wonderment is.
    What a plum example of incitement to hatred and flight from reason on his part - those twin ills which beset so many in these confused times.

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  5. Ah yes, the "that's what people said about Jews" "argument."

    Let's see what Jews say about themselves: "We're planning on converting everyone to Judaism and taking over the world"? Nope.

    "Behead everyone who reject Judaism"? Nope again.

    Anyone can say anything about anybody. What matters is what they say about themselves.

    What Hitler said about the Jews was incorrect.

    What people are saying today about Islam is correct.

    Big difference.

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  6. 13. Belief that the Crusades were wrong. The Crusades were a heroic though failed attempt to restore a previously existing order, that is, the hegemony of Christian civilization all around the Mediterranean basin. That this happy state of affairs was undone 1400 years ago by the still-present invaders from the east should not make us resign hope of redressment. The Crusaders are heroes of our culture.

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  7. If I'm still an optimist, but agree with everything you just said, does that mean that I'm holding two incongruous ideas in my head at the same time?

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  8. David - me too, I am an optimist too. No - optimism is not incompatible with these thoughts.

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  9. Plus, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, so it's not exactly a great defense of the Jihadis to bring them up.

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  10. Bill's comment is also mistaken because in fact people did not make comments about Judaism in the 1930s, or earlier for that matter, similar to those critics of Islam make today.

    Few people - perhaps none of any influence - feared that Jews would try to convert the world, impose Mosaic law upon Christians and seculars, or bully everyone into Old Testament-style clothing. If anything, the popular press and ideologues associated Jews with secularism, agnosticism, and Communism, as well as undue influence in the sphere of international finance. Doesn't sound much like anything said about Islam today, does it?

    To these commonplace ideas, some of which might have contained a grain of truth, if no more, the Nazis added many nonsensical ones: that Jews were determined to seduce Christian girls and boys; that they were lustful and prone to rape; that they were parasites on western civilization; that the mixing of their blood with that of Aryans would weaken the latter and make them lazy and cowardly, and other equally absurd notions. Some of this stuff does sound a bit more like the accusations made against Muslims today. So I don't know.

    But whether critics are right or wrong about Muslims as a group, it is true that groups of people with widely varying conceptions of right and wrong, including beliefs about food, marriage, family, sexuality, and other fundamental matters, find it very difficult to create or maintain a functional society with a strong sense of the rule of law.

    That's the reason why relations between the Left and Right in the western world (especially the US) have become so difficult in recent years: the gap between what either side thinks is right and wrong grows too big for compromise and cannot be organized along political party lines. And that's why adding yet another group to this volatile mixture - radical or potentially radical Muslims - is not a good idea. Their presence may and probably will exacerbate an already fraught situation.

    LiseL

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  11. I so much agree with the ideas you express. And as a long-time college prof, I had to deal, semester after semester, with students adamantly holding onto the dozen bad ideas. In fact, that was one impetus for leaving teaching, and going toward a larger forum. It was so frustrating teaching one group, only to be faced with the same situation all over again.

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  12. This is a great post. One of the best on the web. May I cross post with links back here and full attribution? http://JudgeRight.blogspot.com

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  13. Judge Bob - you are welcome to do so. Let me know when you put it up. Mark

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  14. Good interview with Dr. Schieder.
    I get the language perspective: I'm not a native English speaker, so I have always listened a little closer for my own more accurate processing of what I heard.
    I have noticed, over the past 2-3 decades, that 'pundits' would minimalise that which they did not understand: "that's not what they meant" has become a catchall for lazy 'news reporters', especially in regards to islam.
    I also experienced what Dr. Schieder described of her classroom experience:students who just did not think, and ridiculed anyone who questioned anything. Frustrating!
    I appreciate Dr. Durie's interview for more historical information, and giving me a better perspective of this islam spreading across the planet. I will use the information in conversations with Christians, with the hoped for result that they think, and act on their faith.
    Thank you for an interesting and enlightening interview.

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  15. I believe that by educating women in the Islamic countries will bring on some changes. The women are being kept in the darkness by not being allowed to question anything written in the Koran. Ignorance is a very powerful tool when an evil is intended.
    Islam is being taught as an ideology that must not be questioned or understood, only followed.
    No one, in his/her right mind would follow an ideology so drenched in violence against the 'other' if allowed to question or depart from it. The reason there are so many followers of Islam is the threat of death for apostasy.
    I work with Muslims and any time I pose a question re Islam, I am vehemently shut down by a chorus of "...that is not true, read the Koran, it proclaims peace and love..." - but not one single time has anyone among them condemned the actions of the extremists! That alone speaks volumes and we better pay a close attention to it. Our political correctness and ignorance of their ideology and commands will be our undoing, as a society upholding democratic principles.

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  16. I think these dozen bad ideas for the 21st century are prescient with one exception. Extremists are folks who cannot tolerate viewpoints that challenge or contradict their own perspectives, regardless of realistic contrary evidence. Indeed, it is contrary evidence that sends them into a fury and they strive to silence the "offending" perspective, thought, theory or idea. In this way, extremists of the left and right are identical. They do differ in what those perspectives are. So communists espouse an unrealistic pseudo-equality ethic that was never practiced while Nazis espoused an unrealistic particularist ethic. Neither could tolerate expression of any counter-thought. And if you were not a Jew, Gypsy, or other "racially defined unter-mensch", life under both regimes was remarkably similar. Secret police, children informing on unacceptable parental conversations, propaganda taken as literal truth etc. However, the sine qua non common to both extremist regime types was the absolute intolerance of contrary thought evidenced in speech, writing or other behavioral expression. This is where "Political Correctness" is taking us today, but most folks don't think about it like that or they would be continually challenging groundless but politically correct pronouncements. . D.N. Toronto Canada

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