A few days ago I wrote about Sam Harris’ take on the Norway tragedy. Naturally, it elicited some responses, the most interesting to me were the ones that focussed on the necessity to take on the apparent evils of Islam.
First, it’s always interesting to see atheists use such moralistic absolute phrases as “pure evil.” While I don’t believe atheism necessitates a nihilistic moral relativism, and that objective morality can exist (when words like morality are defined in meaningful ways), absolutist language is still discomforting to me. I’d even go as far as to say that I somewhat see absolutism as part of the root cause of this atrocity, and something we ought to be very wary of.
This absolutism also neglects the large diversity in Islamic theology. It is true that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many other regimes are tremendously abhorrent, and I won’t for a second attempt to justify their actions. But what I will point to is the fact that not all Muslims are the same.
Case in point, this past Sunday, I marched in the Vancouver Pride Parade with the BC Humanists and CFI Vancouver. Directly behind our group was a queer Muslim group, including the (almost radically) liberal Ismaili Muslims. Perhaps the most famous Ismaili Muslim in Canada today is Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi who likely has more in common with Barack Obama then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I believe that Humanism and the positive atheism espoused best by PZ Myers teaches us not to see the world in simple black and white terms. Islam, like all religions, is bad, but there are worse aspects and less bad aspects. All are religions are based on unsubstantiated myths and promote uncritical thinking, but some are far more harmful than others.
Focussing on any specific religion can easily turn from critical analysis and consciousness raising to racist xenophobia. At the very least, focussing on the irrationality of the minority can miss the far greater threats posed by the irrationality in the majority. Just by a purely statistical argument, we ought to fear the latter more.
You probably have far more to worry about from your racist neighbour (or even the cops) than your new Iranian co-worker.
And I don’t just say that because most Iranians that I’ve met are atheist physics/engineering graduate students happy to have escaped.