Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

June 11, 2017

Sarah Haider on Sam Harris’ show

Filed under: Religion,Sarah Haider — Razib Khan @ 11:55 am

In general I would recommend listening to everything Sarah has to say. She’s speaking for a lot of people. Also see what she has to say about free expression:

June 5, 2017

The issue is how you experience Islam

Filed under: Islam,Religion — Razib Khan @ 12:44 pm

Sadiq Khan: This sickening act has nothing to do with the Islam I know: To murder innocent people, especially during Ramadan, is a rejection of the true values of my religion. Since religion is made up I’ll take Khan’s assertion at face value and not dispute them.

The aspect that people like Khan are not emphasizing when they talk about violence having nothing to do with Islam is that most people are not Muslims, and most people (in the West) do not know Muslims in their personal life. So terrorist acts are quite salient as a representation of the religion when that’s the only time it comes to mind in a visceral sense.

This may not be fair to practitioners, but this is how human cognition works. As an analogy, there is a lot of diversity and range of experience for what it means to be an evangelical white Protestant. But for many young secular liberals the salient aspect of this religious movement is its attitude toward abortion and gays. All the charitable giving, or the incredible personal experience of redemption and reform of white evangelical Protestants, is not relevant in a broader social context to most people because these are two policy positions which are salient and distinctive.

Obviously for most Muslims their religion pervades their life, and most of their associations with the religion have to do with family and community. But non-Muslims are not generally part of this world, so it is not a major element of their perception of the religion in a concrete sense. So one strategy for disassociating Islam and violence would be further integration, so that more and more non-Muslims can experience the whole range of the religion. And yet even here it isn’t as if Muslim experiences are distinctive from other religions.

This does not address the elephant: Islam today as a religious civilization is in ferment and change, and a non-trivial element does engage in violent habitually, against other Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

Consider the lives of Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. The majority of Pakistanis would not condone attacks upon these communities, but a motivated minority of the Muslim majority are clearly targeting this two groups for persecution. From the perspective of non-Muslims in Pakistan it is the actions of the minority who are violent toward them that really matters, because their lives are on the line.

There are so simple answers here. Though in the public realm stylized simplicity dominates. That too is a human cognitive bias….

May 12, 2017

The dusk of Oriental Christendom

Filed under: Oriental Christianity,Religion — Razib Khan @ 11:45 am

In the last quarter of the 20th century environmental concerns were such that the dangers of the loss of habitat would be couched in terms of “tigers will go extinct in our lifetimes if we don’t preserve the the lands in which they live.”

In some ways it seems that the lot of Oriental Christians, those ethno-religious groups which inhabit the territory from Egypt through the Fertile Crescent, are similar. The first quarter of the 21st century is seeing the extirpation of whole communities.

Just another of the many stories of this genre you see, Christians, in an Epochal Shift, Are Leaving the Middle East:

The exodus leaves the Middle East overwhelmingly dominated by Islam, whose rival sects often clash, raising the prospect that radicalism in the region will deepen. Conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have erupted across the Middle East, squeezing out Christians in places such as Iraq and Syria and forcing them to carve out new lives abroad, in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

“The disappearance of such minorities sets the stage for more radical groups to dominate in society,” said Mr. Johnson of the loss of Christians and Jews in the Middle East. “Religious minorities, at the very least, have a moderating effect.”

Though many are concerned about rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West to the point of aiding and abetting apologia for the religion, the media is rather sanguine and straightforward about the role of Islam in creating a hostile and dangerous environment for Christians in the Middle East. The truth of what’s going on is just too obvious to obfuscate. Here are some interesting facts:

* A small suburb of Stockholm has become a sort of Mecca for Oriental Christians.

* The collapse of the Iraqi Christian community followed the American invasion under an evangelical Protestant president and democratization.

* The correlation between toleration of Christians and pro-American alignment on the part of the government is weak to non-existent. Saudi Arabia has no churches because public Christianity is banned, and they are an American ally. In anti-American Iran Christians live difficult lives, but arguably with more safety than in Iraq and Egypt, and with more freedom than Saudi Arabia.

* The period of mass movements since the Arab Spring has not been positive for Christians and ethnic minorities in general.

* The indigenous Christian communities in the Fertile Crescent (those from Jordan, Syria, and Iraq) will almost certainly congregate in Lebanon, where their numbers and power is great enough that they are not at the mercy of the majority in terms of their status.

* There are too many Copts (millions) to imagine that Egypt will lose its Christians within this generation, but the outflow is enough that major Diaspora communities will arise.

One dynamic to note is that once these communities relocate to abroad they will change in fundamental ways. The author of Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East wanted to record the lives of minorities in their traditional environments because he understood once they were transplanted they would transform, and eventually assimilate into the majority if the record of Arab Christians in the West is any precedent.

May 8, 2017

The lesson of Erasmus: the center that could not hold

Filed under: Culture,Erasmus,History,Religion — Razib Khan @ 11:35 pm

The return of the civilian

“On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which only is mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them”
-Niccolò Machiavelli

The sentiments expressed above are typical of Renaissance men, prone to archaisms and love of ancient learning. As all stylized facts are, the dichotomy between a dark Middle Ages and a flourishing Renaissance are clearly overwrought, and an artifact in some ways of the reality that the victors write history. A passionate intellectual such as Abelard is clearly a familiar figure despite the reality that he flourished in the early part of the High Middle Ages. And the period described in Aristotle’s Children was not lacking in brilliance on the whole.

But generalizations also have a basis. Henry the VIII reputedly wrote Defence of the Seven Sacraments as a rebuke to the assaults from the nascent Protestant tradition. For his services the Pope gave the king the title Defender of the Faith. It is no surprise that Thomas More “aided” in the composition, but the point is that a Renaissance monarch was expected to be a cultured individual for whom writing a theological treatise was not ludicrous.

Though one should not take the analogy too far, in some ways the polities of the medieval period in Western Europe exhibited a social structure not unlike that of the Bronze Age. Literacy was one of the hallmarks of Romanitas, and later of Christian civilization. But literacy was not broad-based in Western Europe, but rather concentrated in a particular caste, that of the priests. In the Bronze Age literacy was also defined by its caste association, that of the scribes. In contrast, kings fought. Their rule was by divine right, whether as living gods on earth, or as vice-reagents of the national deity. Similarly, monarchs during the medieval period ruled as representatives of the God on high.

During the Iron Age the antipodes of Eurasia were dominated by polities and civilizations which were predicated on military rule, but at whose peak civilian norms reigned supreme. Even as militaristic a figure as Julius Caesar was a cultural patron who also wrote The Gallic Wars. Similarly the Chinese emperors were manifestly civilian figures, who often also had personal skills in the arts which they cultivated. It wasn’t until the reign of the emperor Justin in the year 518 that Rome first had an illiterate ruler (and this is implausible enough that some historians attribute this claim as one intended to be scurrilous toward Justin and his successor and nephew, Justinian).

The fall of the Western Roman Empire ended this civilian ascendancy, which in any case was being eroded by the necessary rise of military emperors to defend the borders against barbarian incursions. Once the German tribes, Roman allies or not, took the reins of power there were deep fundamental transformations of the order of society. Though great rulers such as Charlemagne were patrons of learning and Roman civilization, he himself remained very much a barbarian warlord.

The ruling elite of medieval Europe were manifestly a military elite. The feudal system demanded that they provide service in the armies of their lords, and that service entailed outfitting themselves and a retinue. Martial skills were a necessity. The legacy of this physical aspect to being part of the ruling elite persists down to the present day. Both of the two young princes in the House of Windsor have had military careers, while hunting remained a major part of every nobleman’s life down to the early modern period (apparently Louis XVI’s diaries are filled with days which simply state “went hunting”).

The gun and the printing press

Events such as the Battle of Crecy, the rise of the Swiss infantry, and the ubiquity of the gun, heralded the end of the military elite as a necessity. Gentility of birth became a matter of mores and manners, and the reemergence of an almost classical model of education and cultivation took hold.

Along with the the rise of the gun, there was the printing press. The existence of ancient graffiti in Egypt and Rome tells us that we should be cautious about assuming that literacy was rare in antiquity, but we should also admit that it was not quite common (when men of the lower classes were allowed in the legions in the late republic there were accommodations made for the fact that many would be illiterate).

The printing press was a technology that made production of printed works much easier. And so Europe was indudated with pamphlets and books. This was not always due to the literate content, as illustrations were quite influential. But it is hard to deny that this spread of information technology probably triggered a blooming of the “republic of letters” not out of chance, but necessity. The intellectuals of the medieval period were by and large clerics, but now they were joined by newly emerged urban professionals and the leisured nobility.

The Age of the Princes and their Liberal Critic

As medieval Western Christendom entered into the final stages of putrefaction something new was ripening within it. I do not believe it is coincidental that the Iberian powers were pushing forward and exploring the world beyond Europe in the decades before Martin Luther, and during the same period new learning was overturning the long reigning scholasticism.

At the center of much of the cultural religious ferment was Desiderius Erasmus. Born in 1466, he was the illegitimate son of a priest, and became a priest himself. After a fashion he was man of the later medieval period, born of a cleric who violated his vows of chastity, in the decades after the papacy was riven between different claimants, and conciliarism attempted to throw the Western Church back to a more antiquated style of governance. This was the age of the Borgia and Medici popes.

Erasmus’ accomplishments are legion in the field of humanities. Today he would be a stellar public intellectual, as well as a productive research scholar. He was the prince of the republic of letters of his day.

Like many Catholic reformers Erasmus aimed to sweep the superstition from his faith, and mocked and criticized the corruptions that he saw in the Church. With his pen he attempted to reform Christian civilization in his own image, sincere of faith and theologically orthodox, shorn of the idolatrous excesses of the medieval Catholicism, with its cult of saints and Marian devotions, as well as contemptuous of the hypocrisy of the clerical class as a whole (though still reverential of its role in performing the sacraments).

Erasmus was instrumental in the rebirth of the liberal arts in Europe in his day. But it seems clear that Erasmus was also fundamentally a liberal person in his attitude toward deviation from what he himself thought was true and right. And, events at the end of his life also suggest that he was much more accepting of the imperfections of the institutions which he critiqued throughout his whole life than others would be.

The Age of the Zealot

The last 19 years of Erasmus’ life overlapped with the Reformation. At the peak of his fame and influence men such as Luther reached out to him, but Erasmus did not return their enthusiasm in kind. The Reformation unleashed atavistic passions, and much of the world Erasmus had known, that he had critiqued and chided, collapsed before him.

Where Erasmus inveighed against the corruption of the Catholic Church, zealous new converts to the Protestant cause destroyed church property and relics, and expelled priests from their territory. When the Jews did not convert to Luther’s form of Christianity, he attacked them. When the peasants rose up against their lords, analogizing their rebellion to that of Luther and his colleagues, he justified their slaughter. When Erasmus temporized Luther attacked him.

Though there were long periods of peace in the decades after Erasmus’ death, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre became emblematic of an age. The period of the Reformation is also one of the age of Wars of Religion. The whole map of Europe transformed due to religious disputes, and between 25 to 50 percent of the population of the German nation died during the Thirty Years War due to causes rooted in the war itself.

In Northern Europe they burned witches. In Southern Europe the inquisition was in full effect. In France Protestants and Catholics lived separate lives, until the French monarchy gave the Protestants a choice of conversion or emigration.

Ideas With Consequences

In Erasmus’ life and work we see the shadow of the future. Some figures just subsequent to him, such as Montaigne, echoed his liberality of spirit. But they were marginalized for centuries by the intolerance of Luther, the controlling character of Calvin, and the machinations of the Jesuits. The power of monarchs grew, as they dispossessed the Catholic Church, or claimed that the Catholic Church gave them divine right to rule.

Charity toward those with whom one disagreed with, a plea of Erasmus in his later  years, disappeared. And what reason had the Catholics to be generous to the Protestants after the iconoclastic attacks on their sacred sites and objects? Protestants when they were expelled or forcibly converted by Catholics? Reformed when they were driven out of Lutheran and Catholic lands? Baptists when they were oppressed everywhere?

The decline of the centrality of fighting as the primary task of nobles, and the rise of humanist and cultured values among the aristocracy, was coincident with wars which tore the fabric of Europe apart for generations, over and over.

The Exhausted Return

Of course as I write today in 2017 the figure of Erasmus strikes many moderns, whatever our religious inclinations, as an admirable one. His emphasis on heart, and the fact that his heart was in the right place, are appealing. His liberality of spirit, his low tolerance for hypocrisy and corruption, but acceptance of genuine disagreement due to human fallibility, are characteristics many of us would wish we could cultivate more.

But it’s nearly 500 years since he died, and it took about two centuries after he died for the long road to enlightenment to put us where we are now. Erasmus shows us that a moderate position, taking the middle path, speaking in the language of intellectuals, has difficulties with the zealots who spew the argot of the street. John Calvin had a humanist education, as did many of the Reformers were humanists, but that did not prevent him from burning a heretic and giving voice to his inner totalitarian (though I do understand that Geneva was not totalitarian in a way we would understand it today). Humanism became a tool, part of one’s education, as opposed to the broad liberal minded spirit with Erasmus exemplified.

When learning is instrumentalized, when it is reduced purely to a tool in the service of society, that enslavement saps something out of its spirit. The idea of truth, the valorization of it above other things, likely does have broader cultural consequences. Without truth, I believe that our species reverts to zero-sum and negative-sum “games.” That was our past. I believe it could be our future.

 

April 14, 2017

Modernity is not magic with Muslims

Filed under: Culture,Islam,Religion — Razib Khan @ 10:06 am

There are many reasons I have become very skeptical of the media over the years. Though I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory paradigms, it is obvious that the mainstream media often combines fidelity to precise narratives with a lack of detailed knowledge about the topics they are covering. In other words, they’re stenographers with an agenda. When you don’t know the topic they are expositing upon they can seem quite persuasive. But when you do know the topic they are addressing the emperor can be revealed to be naked. Naturally this warrants concern in most people who observe this, as if they are catching errors in the matrix.*

One area that this problem crops often for me is in regards to media coverage of Islam and and the Middle East. Most reporters don’t seem to really know much about their beat in a deep sense, so they are superficially taking in facts and putting them through coarse interpretative filters.

To name names, David Kirkpatrick covers the Middle East for The New York Times. I read his stuff, and he is not a bad journalist, but he clearly has no deep familiarity with the history of the Middle East to the details of Islam. His work is like a pop-tart; sweet, temporarily filling, but long on a sugar-rush and short on robustness substance. For example, he can talk about a contrast between peaceful Sufis and Islamist militants Libya, without knowing that Sufi orders were often militant organizations, and that Libyan independence after World War II was spearheaded by a militant Sufi order.

But readers of The New York Times “know” that Sufis are peaceful. So for prose contrast it makes sense that Kirkpatrick would bring that up. Never mind that this is so reductive to be useless in terms of getting people a better picture of reality.

In the interests of adding context, let me add something to the story about FGM in Michigan. A Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of practicing FGM on young girls. Though it is not emphasized in the American media (because it wouldn’t mean much), it seems she is from the Dawoodi Bohra of Ismailis. In India the Bohra community is well known, as it is a very distinct group from the majority of Muslims, who are Sunni, and even most Shia. Its origins seem to be among the mercantile castes of the Gujarat coast.

I have some “book learning” about this sect under my belt because I read Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras about 15 years ago on the recommendation of my friend Aziz Poonawalla, who is a member of this community. Mullahs on the Mainframe was topical in the post-9/11 era because it seemed to depict a community which was both modern and religiously orthodox and observant, with fewer tensions being a minority in the West than other groups of Muslims. I don’t want to rehash that line of argument too much; descriptively it is correct that Daudi Bohras are a well behaved minority who attain success, combined with adherence to traditional beliefs and practices (Daudi Bohras, like many conservative Islamists, tend to “look” obviously Muslim because of matters of grooming and dress).

But another aspect of the Daudi Bohra community is that it is one of the few in South Asia that practices FGM. I don’t know or care about the prevalence, extent, or origin of the practice. When I saw the doctors name, which seemed South Asian, I immediately suspected she was from the community (the type of headscarf seemed familiar too).

The point of this post is not to demonize the Daudi Bohra community; the vast majority of the worlds Muslims who engage in FGM are not Daudi Bohra. The Shafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence is the big offender in terms of numbers. Indonesian Sunnis are Shafi, so that nation often praised for its tolerant version of Islam, has a very high proportion of FGM. Rather, it is to point out that the neat narrative frameworks we prefer are often not descriptively correct nor predictively useful. Since 9/11 rather than a more complex and nuanced view of Islam it seems that opinion leaders have been converging upon the idea that the religion is either with the angels or the devils, rather than a man-made thing which occupies the area in the middle.

The reliance on theories and heuristics which appeal to our sensibilities as right and true misleads in many ways. The arc of history bends toward justice, but the path is winding. The Protestant Reformation was rooted in large part on the more literate and well off classes, and aimed to rid corruption from the Christian church. In the process it unleashed horrible intolerance, cultural genocide, and conflicts which resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Not taking a view on the Reformation as a whole, it is clear that its consequences are not so simply integrated into the Whig version of history when taken in full.

Ultimately we need to rush less quickly toward our preferred conclusions, which align neatly with our prior models. Rather, we need to explore the sideways and what we think are certainly dead-ends, because sometimes those dead-ends will open up startling new landscapes (by the way, I think the “rationalist” community is much better at this than the general thinking public, though that’s not saying much).

* When I was in grad school an acquaintance mentioned this in relation to Jonah Lehrer before his exposure. Lehrer was persuasive whenever he was talking about a topic he wasn’t familiar with, but was clearly out of his depth whenever it approached something he was familiar with.

April 2, 2017

The vast majority of Muslims believe that being gay is not morally acceptable

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Razib Khan @ 10:03 pm
“Do you personally believe that Homosexuality is….”
Morally acceptable Morally unacceptable Not a moral issue
United States 23 37 35
Britain 30 15 50
Russia 9 72 9
Turkey 4 78 12
Egypt 1 95 1
Jordan 2 95 3
Lebanon 7 80 11
Palestinian Territories 1 94 4
Tunisia 0 92 4
Israel 27 43 25
China 13 61 17
Indonesia 3 93 2
Malaysia 4 88 6
Pakistan 1 85 3
Ghana 1 98 1
Kenya 3 88 9
Nigeria 1 85 11
Senegal 3 68 26
South Africa 18 62 12
Uganda 1 93 5

Source: Global Views On Morality

For various reasons which I won’t get into there is in much of the West a developing Left-progressive/Muslim alliance. Alliances need only be situational and of the moment. But because of the nature of alliances and the feelings they endgender often one has to assert that one’s allies are somewhat different than they really are, so as to diminish the cognitive dissonance that occurs when there is deep divergence in views between allies.

One aspect that is really strange is the attempt by Left-progressives to diminish the anti-gay stance which is normative and dominant among Muslims the world over. Though it is true some Western Muslim communities are less anti-gay than the Ummah as a whole, as Muslims like to remind us there are 1.5 billion of the, and most do not live in the West. It is true there are LGBTQ Muslims. It is true that most Muslims are not extremists. But the existence of a vibrant community of LGBTQ Muslims is feasible in Western societies where Muslims are not the majority (as opposed to homosexual activity, which is common in Muslim countries). And by definition most Muslims are not extremists, but the typical Muslim in the world is basically anti-gay.

You can spend 15 seconds looking on Google. The above data are from Pew. I put in some non-Muslim nations for comparison. The fact is most of the world is anti-gay; the West is exceptional. But Muslim nations are exceptionally anti-gay.

As I don’t think there is any such thing as a religious essence I wouldn’t be surprised if Muslims change their views in the future on this issue. But, I’m kind of tired of the lying which progressives engage in with no shame on this issue (or they are deluding themselves). The anti-gay stance of Muslims the world over doesn’t mean that gay progressives shouldn’t stand up for the civil rights of Muslims in the West, even those who are anti-gay. People who deserve rights are not always people you agree with, or even people who like you personally. One of the insights of liberal democracy is that laws apply to us all, irrespective of who we are. You can defend someone’s rights without having to pretend they are someone they aren’t. But it seems today that people need to feel like one big happy family to treat each other with dignity.

Note: I know these numbers are well known .But sometimes I want to publicize them again because my Twitter feed gets tiresome.

May 13, 2015

Moderate Muslims are moderate in some things

Filed under: Bangladesh,Religion — David Hume @ 6:13 am

Bangladesh bloggers: Clear pattern to killings:

Since then, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appears to have reached an accommodation with Hefajat. The Islamist group has confined itself to the madrassa premises and the government has put five bloggers in jail for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Muslims.

The government now appears to be walking a tightrope.

There is little doubt the prime minister wants to pursue a secular future for Bangladesh. But she appears to have little time for atheists who are on a collision course with Islamists.

The bloggers don’t just want protection from killers and justice for those murdered – they also want to enjoy the freedom of speech that is enshrined in the constitution. The government does not seem to think that freedom should stretch to the criticism of religion.

And Islamist extremists want to strike terror into the hearts of such writers and bloggers through targeted killings.

Why is the government walking a tightrope? Because, as Omar Ali observes the majority of Bangladeshis are Muslims, and many of these individuals are wary of standing up for the rights of those who verbally attack their religion. Many “moderate Muslims” may enjoin peace, but won’t fight for it on behalf of others.

Overall, compared to a sectarian hell like Pakistan Bangladesh is doing well. But if it wants to continue to be an exemplar of liberal economic practices grinding away poverty one percentage point at a time it needs to also stand by principles of liberal social tolerance. It is difficult to have one without the other in the long term.

March 1, 2015

George Will on his relaxed atheism

Filed under: George Will,Religion — David Hume @ 10:22 pm

George Will on his relaxed atheism

Filed under: George Will,Religion — David Hume @ 10:22 pm

September 30, 2014

George F. Will, American atheist

Filed under: George F. Will,Religion — David Hume @ 9:55 pm

Several years ago George Will declared that he was an agnostic on the Colbert Report. Last week he pulled no punches:

RCR: Do you believe in God?

GW: No. I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I see no evidence of God. The basic question in life is not, “Is there a God,” but “Why does anything exist?” St. Thomas Aquinas said that there must be a first cause for everything, and we call the first cause God. Fine, but it just has no hold on me.

RCR: Were you raised with any religion?

GW: My father was the son of a Lutheran minster, and therefore he was an atheist. What I mean by that is — he went to so many church services, his father preached in many churches up near Antetum, eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania — my father had had his full of religion. He used to sit outside his father’s study and listen to him wrestle with members of the church over reconciling grace and free will. I think that’s where my father got his interest in philosophy.

I majored in religion in college. I was very interested, but I just came to a different conclusion. I’m married to a fierce Presbyterian and she raised our kids fierce Presbyterians.

I’m an amiable, low-voltage atheist.

RCR: Does that present a problem for you as a conservative?

GW: No. The Republican Party’s base is largely religious. It would be impossible for me to run for high office as a Republican. Since I have no desire to run for office, it’s a minor inconvenience! I think William F. Buckley put it well when he said that a conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion. Russell Kirk never quite fathomed this, which is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of The Conservative Mind. For him, conservatism without religion is meaningless.

RCR: Your friend Charles Krauthammer likes to say he’s an agnostic.

GW: I think he’s an atheist. He flinches from saying it. I saw what he said: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.” Oh, please!

August 4, 2014

What is Europe’s anti-Semitism problem about?

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Islam,Religion — David Hume @ 3:08 pm

In SlateEurope Has a Serious Anti-Semitism Problem, and It’s Not All About Israel:

recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that 24 percent of the French population and 21 percent of the German population harbor some anti-Semitic attitudes. A recent study of anti-Semitic letters received by Germany’s main Jewish organization found that 60 percent of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans. So this isn’t just a problem with young, disaffected Muslim men.

After all, the two worst recent incidents of violence against Jews in Europe—the killing of three children and a teacher in a 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse and the shooting of three people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in May—took place during times when there wasn’t much news coming out of Israel. Continentwide statistics on anti-Semitic incidents leading up to the most recent uptick don’t show much of an overall trendin Britain, anti-Semitic violence is becoming less common while online abuse is becoming more frequent—or a correlation with events in Israel and Palestine.

antisemitismThe perpetrators of the two incidents in question? 29 year old Mehdi Nemmouche and 24 year old Mohammed Merah. That’s what I call chutzpah. Or, the author of the piece is flying under the radar of the implicit red-lines of what is permissible in Slate by inserting those links which actually support the idea that anti-Semitism is a problem of disaffected young Muslim men. Mind you, I grant that anti-Semitism has broad, but shallow, roots across much of Europe. The key is whether mild antipathy flips into politicized violence. Because of the Arab-Israeli conflict people of a Muslim background often have casually anti-Semitic views above and beyond what you might expect. Some individuals take the political dimensions very seriously, and the drum beat of vociferous coverage of the actions of the Israeli state bleeds into perceptions about Jews as a whole.*

Though the American media seems to be taking an antiseptic attidue toward the demographic composition of anti-Israeli rallies which have become anti-Semitic in a cartoonish sense, they haven’t censored the photographs. It’s rather obvious that young men of Middle Eastern heritage are prominent at these rallies. They aren’t a representative slice of the populations of France and Germany, to name two countries.

* To be even-handed, some Jews elide and erase the distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli.

December 17, 2012

Conservative atheists not rare in South Korea?

Filed under: Politics,Religion,South Korea — Razib Khan @ 11:30 pm

In a few days South Korea will have a new president, and this is very important because of how large North Korea looms in geopolitics. An interesting aspect of this race for Americans is that the candidate of the conservative party, Park Geun-Hye, may be an atheist, running against a Roman Catholic liberal. I say may be because there are some confusions over Park Geun-Hye’s religious identity. Her parents were Buddhist, she was baptized as a young woman as a Roman Catholic, and seems to have drawn without much discrimination from a variety of religious teachings to inform her world-view. It wouldn’t be shocking if Park Geun-Hye was an atheist. According to the World Values Survey ~25% of South Koreans are convinced atheists.

I was curious if atheists in South Korea leaned to the Left or the Right, and from what I can tell there’s no strong correlation. This may surprise Americans, but the historical experience of the two nations is very different. Until recently South Korea has had weak institutional religions, and a substantial portion of what we might term “progressives” were Christians, in particular Roman Catholics. Below are the results for the USA, Great Britain, Sweden, and South Korea for the World Values Survey using religious identification and political self positioning. Percentages and sample sizes are included.

 

N Religious person Not religious person Convinced atheist
Great Britain 854 49.90% 39.10% 11.10%
Left 30 40.00% 36.80% 23.20%
2 24 39.60% 36.40% 23.90%
3 70 40.30% 34.60% 25.10%
4 78 41.20% 48.70% 10.10%
5 340 50.20% 42.20% 7.60%
6 129 56.30% 38.30% 5.40%
7 80 48.40% 43.90% 7.60%
8 56 55.50% 28.40% 16.10%
9 23 59.70% 18.60% 21.70%
Right 24 70.80% 15.80% 13.30%
United States 1175 71.80% 24.70% 3.50%
Left 21 51.10% 33.70% 15.20%
2 18 67.90% 27.10% 5.00%
3 70 50.80% 41.00% 8.20%
4 96 62.80% 31.20% 6.00%
5 418 72.30% 26.60% 1.10%
6 233 71.10% 25.80% 3.10%
7 130 77.00% 16.90% 6.10%
8 104 82.90% 11.70% 5.40%
9 43 97.50% 2.50% -
Right 43 69.00% 31.00% -
Sweden 953 33.10% 49.70% 17.20%
Left 26 25.70% 49.20% 25.10%
2 36 26.80% 36.40% 36.70%
3 137 28.40% 54.10% 17.60%
4 132 27.30% 51.80% 20.90%
5 139 32.70% 51.20% 16.00%
6 109 42.50% 47.80% 9.60%
7 156 32.70% 49.00% 18.30%
8 149 32.50% 53.20% 14.30%
9 41 48.70% 39.50% 11.80%
Right 29 45.90% 37.50% 16.60%
South Korea 1195 30.10% 41.40% 28.60%
Left 18 17.00% 56.30% 26.70%
2 32 28.00% 31.70% 40.30%
3 148 41.70% 30.00% 28.30%
4 145 34.60% 37.20% 28.20%
5 245 22.10% 50.10% 27.90%
6 142 30.20% 40.20% 29.60%
7 169 26.00% 38.20% 35.80%
8 182 36.80% 39.80% 23.40%
9 62 27.20% 51.90% 20.90%
Right 54 20.40% 51.20% 28.30%



December 15, 2012

Merry Christmas, hold the Hanukkah?

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 2:02 pm

It’s that time of the year, and I quite like “the Holidays.” I am, of course, looking forward to my daughter’s first Christmas. Though no one in our family believes in the religious justification for the holiday, it is still an important time of the year, for reasons I have outlined before. But for the first time in 16 years I am going to a “Hanukkah party,” and my feelings about this are a little mixed. The reasons is that the more I heave learned about Hanukkah, the more I’ve become irritated by the fact that this minor Jewish holiday just happens to align well chronologically with Christmas. Most people are aware that as a religious matter for Jews Hanukkah bears no equivalence to what Christmas does for some Christians. But most non-Jews, and even many Jews, know little about the festival aside from the miracle of olive oil.


In The National Post David Frum highlights the salient aspects which concern many Jews. In short, Hanukkah is a  celebration of rebellion, violence, and realpolitik. There is no gain in reducing these ancient events into simple truisms, but a Jewish friend of mine expressed the heart of the matter when she stated that “in antiquity the Jews were al-Qaeda.” In relation to the Maccabee revolt one only needs to follow up on the broad outline of the Wikipedia entry. In a positive light one might frame the Maccabees as religious nationalists, but in a negative light they were reactionary chauvinists.

The story of the Maccabees is the first chapter in the ancient conflict between Jews who were ambivalent toward Hellenization,* and those who were unabashed synthesizers. The Maccabee response to those factions who wished to debase what they viewed as Judaism qua Judaism was to decapitate and disembowel them. The savagery and cultural intolerance of the Seclucid tyrant in this case seems to be easily explained by the rhetoric and behavior of the anti-Hellenists. When it comes to the old dichotomy between Athens or Jerusalem, I clearly sympathize with Athens. More broadly I think most modern Westerners would see their own world view much more in the Hellenists than their enemies, whose victory Hanukkah celebrates.

Ultimately this isn’t going to make me a grinch about Hanukkah. We don’t celebrate the real Hanukkah, we celebrate a Jewish holiday which happens to be near Christmas in timing, and so accommodate what we perceive to be legitimate sensitivities while a good time is had by all. And in an ironic twist the particular party I am attending is dominated by gentiles, with the only Jews present being those who are in relationships with gentiles. So I suppose in the end we make our reasons for this particular season.

* Though some Reform Jews claim to be heirs of Hellenistic Judaism, ultimately only the Pharisees who opposed the Hellenists maintained cultural continuity from that time down to the present. I say ambivalent because traditional Judaism itself has been influenced by Greek thought.

October 16, 2012

Atheist conservatives and libertarians are not rare

Filed under: atheism,Religion — Razib Khan @ 10:45 pm

A generous definition of rare I would think is 10% or less (you might argue for a more stringent threshold, but let’s work with 10%). So what are the politics of atheists? I bring this up because someone named Bridget Gaudette is looking for conservative and libertarian atheists to ask them about their views (so naturally I came up), but prefaced her inquiry to me by the assertion that “conservative/Republican” and “Libertarian” individuals in the “Atheist community” are rare. I don’t think this is empirically valid, depending on how you define the atheist community (e.g., atheist activists are probably to the Left of the median atheist). But even among the types who are motivated enough to attend secularist conferences, a substantial minority are non-liberals. I know because many people approached me after I spoke about my conservatism at the Moving Secularism Forward event last spring, and expressed their libertarianism, or specific conservative heterodoxies. Many of the young male atheists who I encountered in particular tended to be libertarians. Genuine self-identified conservatives are moderately rare, to be fair.

Nevertheless, to probe this question let’s look at the GSS. The variable GOD has a category which includes those who ...

October 9, 2012

More atheists in the Age of New Atheism

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 12:14 am

Pew has an important new report out, “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation. Here is the bottom line in terms of numbers: over the past generation the proportion of Americans who explicitly reject a religious affiliation has doubled, from ~10 percent, to ~20 percent. In addition, the, the proportion who hold to Christian fundamentalist religious views has also declined. The United States of America is still a very religious nation in the context of the Western world, but 1990-2012 has been as second period of secularization after the “pause” of the 1970s and 1980s (after the initial wave of defections in the 1960s).

And these numbers apply not just to those with no religion, but atheists & agnostics as well. There has always been a tendency for more people to hold to atheistic and agnostic positions than those who would admit to being atheists or agnostics. That gap is closing. Why? I have no idea, but I do think that people need to stop talking about how terrible the New Atheism is for secularists. I doubt this wave of secularization has anything to do with the ...

August 11, 2012

Hindus invented the missionary religion

Filed under: History,Religion — Razib Khan @ 4:31 pm

A comment below:

To be honest with you, being of a Hindu background I’ve never ever understood the concept of conversion. It seems so alien to me and seems to be prevalent only among the monotheistic religions, to me it seems to be a sort of rejection of the other.

Two qualifications. First, by “Hindu,” I mean Hindu-as-Indian, not Hindu as the set of native Indian beliefs which matured and crystallized under Turco-Muslim and British Christian hegemony. Second, inventing a missionary religion is like inventing the hypertext link or “one-click purchasing.” Someone was going to invent this. People of “Hindu background” seem to routinely forget that the first non-tribal religious system with universalist aspirations arose on the soil of India, Buddhism. This makes some sense because most people don’t know any history.

Below is a map which illustrates the nations which the Indian king Ashoka reputedly sent missionaries. One does not need to take this literally in all the details. Rather, it does establish the likelihood that Buddhism, which was a native Indian tradition, sent out missionaries across much of the civilized world centuries before Christianity in any form existed. In fact, it is almost certainly the case that Buddhism was a presence within China proper when Christianity was still self-consciously a Jewish sect, in the 1st century.

Of course, it must not be denied that Hinduism as a recognizable religious tradition has engaged in proselytization. The Cham Hindus of Vietnam and the Balinese are both relics of a vast domain of Southeast Asian Hinduism, which stretched from Cambodia south to Java.

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July 25, 2012

Hindus earn like Episcopalians, vote like Puerto Ricans

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 9:24 pm

A few years ago I pointed out that as among American whites religious affiliation was often the best predictor of voting patterns among Asian Americans. The Republican party is for all practical purposes the white Christian party, but the minority of Asian Americans who are conservative Protestants are quite congenial to the Republicans. Their common religion transcends the racial gap. It is also no surprise that the two most prominent Indian American politicians who are Republicans are both avowed Christians (converts). It is unlikely that a non-Christian Indian could achieve national prominence as Republican; they would have two strikes against them, their race and their religion.

Pew’s new report on Asian American religiosity, Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths, highlights this well. American Hindus are stridently partisan Democrats. In contrast, evangelical Asian Americans leaned toward John McCain even in 2008 (though not as much as white evangelicals). People have made comparisons between Indian Americans and Jews before, and in some ways this is facile, but when it comes to socioeconomic status and politics the similarities are striking. Like Jews, American Hindus are well off and well educated. And like ...

May 27, 2012

Why blasphemy matters

Filed under: blasphemy,Religion — Razib Khan @ 12:39 pm

Via Facebook I stumbled upon a page where an ex-Muslim Pakistani female expat has a picture posted of a Koran placed in front of her vagina (she’s naked). Whether you think this sort of behavior is juvenile or courageous or boring depends upon your perspective. But it does illustrate the power of blasphemy and symbols. Blasphemy as a concept and cognitive reflex is deeply rooted in our mental super-structure. The reflex may be the same, but the stimuli can vary a great deal. For example, Hindu statuary which elicits reverence from those who follow the Sanātana Dharma may be repulsive and blasphemous to believers in the Abrahamic religions or Arya Samaj. Actions which may seem meritorious for one perspective may be blasphemous and disrespectful from another. Blasphemy is not objective, but subjective. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have real consequences and concrete & valid results.

The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan was a shocking act of offense and destruction from the perspective world at large, and in particular Buddhists, but from a narrow iconoclastic Muslim viewpoint it was only a recapitulation of thousands of years of idol-smashing on the part of the heirs of Abraham. The destructive actions which Abraham and Muhammad are reputed to undertaken against the idols revered by their peers seem to be acts of righteous piety in hindsight, but in the context of their times they were profoundly shocking and transgressive. But you now comprehend where Abraham and Muhammad stood in relation to their motives; by their very belief and practice the pagans of their age violated norms which these two men held sacred.

The actions of radical atheists may seem shocking and blasphemous, and they’re meant to be seen in such a manner, but they’re also done with purpose. That purpose is the same as that of Abraham and Muhammad, to testify to the falsity of delusion which they perceive in others by a symbolic act. The truths which you hold dear may be the lies of another, and vice versa. But in a multicultural society the problem is that individuals with contradictory positions live cheek-by-jowl. Many Muslims, and South Asians more generally, don’t understand that in the West the norms are such that this contradiction is resolved by acceptance that communal beliefs are not sacred, because beliefs vary across communities. Rather, they attempt to import into the West Islamic and South Asian norms where communal harmony, where it is maintained, is obtained by an equilibrium of mutual distance and adherence to a wide set of taboos.

And that is why “blasphemy” is critical. Until people understand this radical norm, they need to be reminded by the act of subjective transgression.

Addendum: Muslims make great noises about the blasphemies to which they are subject, but they naturally don’t acknowledge that they are among the most thorough blasphemers the world over, disrespecting & neglecting the patrimony of generations past. Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Oriental Christians who see their ancient holy sites and relics fall into disrepair and disuse in Muslim lands must accept that as the way of the world, but this does not negate the offense and hurt which they feel. Though many Muslims can at least empathize on one level: Salafi ideology has been transforming historic Mecca into a giant mall. By profaning what other Muslims hold to be holy the Salafis believe that they are discouraging shirk.

May 10, 2012

Collective “honor”

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 9:16 pm

Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse:

The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.

Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. And, he said, the mother of a child in a wheelchair confronted Mr. Jungreis’s mother-in-law, saying the same man had molested her son, and she “did not report this crime, so why did your son-in-law have to?”

Sound familiar? I accept the importance of ethnic pride and collective consciousness as normal parts of the human experience. But clannishness can become unbalanced. This is clearly the case among many South Asians, who seem to lack any moral compass when it comes to outgroups. Because Hasidic Jews today tend to be inward looking this group’s own internal morality comes under less scrutiny from the outside, but some transgressions, such as sexual abuse, pull back the veil for moments.

May 6, 2012

Every tribune a Rick Santorum!

Filed under: Islam,Religion — Razib Khan @ 12:03 am

After the power of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt made itself felt, and current domination of Iraq by Shia political parties, and the likely strength of Islamists in Libya, the media finally has become more cautious about pushing any narrative which makes them look as prescient as Paul Wolfowitz about the nature of the Arab body politic. So, for example, this article surveying the Islamist strands within the anti-Assad coalition in Syria. The problem for the Islamists is that Syria is “only” on the order of 75 percent Sunni, and they do not want to project the image of chauvinist exclusivity which has come to the fore in Egypt, lest the religious minorities dig in in their strongholds (e.g., along the coast). But I think it needs to be pointed out here that in Iraq the Shia Arabs are only somewhat more than 60 percent of the population. In other words, there is no question that a democratic order will result in the regression of minority rights in Syria if the Islamic Brotherhood wishes this to the the nature of things.

Why are we even talking about this in ...

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