Posts Tagged ‘Witch burnings’


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

 


by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

Know-nothingism has become fashionable on the religious right. Many right-wing fundamentalists insist that assertions contained in an ancient mish-mash of a book are every bit as valid as carefully arrived-at, repeatedly tested scientific theories and conclusions.

In a striking bit of irony, some go even further and (unconsciously) mimic academic postmodernists, insisting that all “opinions” (including scientific conclusions) are equal. Thus willful ignorance among the least educated mirrors willful ignorance among the most educated.

Given all this, it’s good to remind ourselves of why facts matter, and why science is superior to religious faith.

Failure to take facts into account has real-world consequences. To cite a trivial example, if you believe you’re invulnerable because you believe you are, test your hypothesis by stepping in front of a truck. To cite a sadder, all-too-real example, science has established that the similarities between human beings vastly outweigh the differences, and that there’s no basis for assertions that any race is superior to any other. So, are the opinions of racists just as valid as  the scientific conclusion that the differences between racial groups are trivial?

To cite still another example of why facts matter, in the Middle Ages in Europe, with science at a standstill, many believed that disease and bad weather were caused by witchcraft. End result? Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of “witches” were brutally murdered for “causing” storms and disease.

There are innumerable other examples demonstrating why facts matter. And, yes, you can’t absolutely prove anything, but probabilities are so high in so many cases that it’s reasonable to act as if the probablity is 100%.

So, facts do matter. But why does science trump religion?

1. The scientific method is the only reliable way to arrive at the most probably correct explanation of almost anything. Scientists reach conclusions by formulating hypotheses, checking those hypotheses against observed phenomena, devising experiments to test the hypotheses, checking them for internal consistency, and checking to see if the hypotheses can generate accurate predictions. Then doing all this over and over again, with different scientists repeatedly testing the hypotheses (“theories” if they consistently pass all these tests over a prolonged period of time) through experiment, observation, and analysis.

This is a bit different than pointing to a hoary book written by iron-age slaveholders and asserting, “This is a fact! It says so here!”

2. Science is self-correcting. Religion isn’t. Science continually tests and refines hypotheses and theories to arrive at more accurate explanations. Religion doesn’t.

A good example of this is provided by scientific exploration of racial differences between humans. In the 19th century, some scientists asserted that whites were superior to other races. By the middle of the 20th century, other scientists had definitively debunked those assertions through observation, experiment, and analysis. (Yes, there are still a few racist scientists, but their assertions are knocked down almost as soon as they make them, and the vast majority of scientists now accept, in line with scientific research, that assertions of racial superiority or inferiority are baseless.)

The overt racism of the Book of Mormon slightly predates the racist assertions of some 19th-century scientists, with the Book of Mormon itself referring to caucasians as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome” (2 Nephi 5:20-21); and as late as 1935, Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith asserted that “because of [Cain’s] wickedness he became the father of an inferior race.” (The Way to Perfection, p. 101)

Finally, in 1978, in response to widespread social condemnation (and undoubtedly a desire to increase the number of potential converts), then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball announced a new “revelation” that the church should abandon its racial restrictions on the priesthood (but not the “revealed” racist passage in 2 Nephi, nor the racist statements of previous “prophets”). That’s a bit different than the way science handled the matter, eh?

3. Science improves daily life. Religion doesn’t. One clear example of this is in the field of medicine. Scientists discovered the microbial nature of disease. That discovery led to use of antiseptics and the later development of antibiotics, which have saved the lives of untold millions.

In contrast, religion has led to no developments that improve daily life. (And please don’t start talking about the power of prayer and the peace it supposedly brings–we’re speaking here of demonstrable physical improvement.)

4. Science leads. Religion lags. A good example of this is our understanding of the universe beyond the Earth. Early scientists (Copernicus, Galileo, et al.) led the way to accurate description of the physical universe.

At the same time, the church was insisting that the sun revolves around the Earth, and hauling scientists who dared to state the opposite before the Inquisition.

Another example is the scientific versus religious attitude toward women. Science has established that while there are obvious and not-so-obvious differences between men and women, their intellectual abilities are almost identical (with a few end-of-the-bell-curve differences in a few specific areas).

In contrast, religion has insisted on the inferiority and consequent subordination of women from antiquity. To cite but two of a great many Bible verses denigrating women, “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) and “These [redeemed] are they which were not defiled with women.” (Revelation 14:4)

Today, some religions have acknowledged reality and accept the equality of men and women. Others have dug in their heels and still insist upon female subordination, though most are now wary of openly stating that women are inferior. And it’s safe to say that the more conservative the religion–that is, the more literally its members take their scriptures–the more likely they are to insist upon the inferiority and subjugation of women.

5. Finally, as Neil deGrasse Tyson famously remarked, science opens doors and religion closes them. Science not only leads to improvement in daily life, but to broader intellectual horizons; it encourages people to think for themselves, to question everything; it leads to one question after another.

Religion insists that all the answers are contained in ancient holy books, and that it’s wrong, dangerous to question those answers–that you have an intellect, but you shouldn’t use it.

It’s hard to conceive of anything more stultifying.