Hoffmann coddles Islam, calls for Pastor Jones’s arrest

I hate to give blog traffic to R. Joseph Hoffmann, one of the nastier and haughtier instantiations of atheism, but his recent post at The New Oxonian, “Bloody Fools,” raises issues worth discussing—or dismissing.  Hoffmann writes about blasphemy, contrasting P.Z. Myers’s famous “cracker episode”, in which P. Z. skewered a communion wafer and discarded pages of sacred books in the trash, with Pastor Terry Jones’s recent burning of the Qur’an, which triggered Muslim riots in Afghanistan that led to the deaths of 21 people.  Hoffmann dismisses Myers’s actions as a stunt without any conviction behind it:

. . . Myers’ action only succeeded in cementing his hard-crafted persona as a jerk.  And even as a one-off expression of jerkiness, the actions of 2008 did not rise to the standard of blasphemy, which is usually understood as an interreligious act designed to malign or humiliate a religious opposite.  Secular “blasphemy” against religion is more problematical, and Myers’ showpiece proved it. That is because there was no real conviction behind the act.  ”Religion is sooooooo stupid” is not an impressive bumper sticker.  The defense of free speech is only relevant and brave when free speech is actually abridged, not when threats to its exercise are manufactured.

But Hoffmann claims that Jones’s act, because it intended to inflame Muslims, was deadly serious—that Jones, in fact, should be arrested for murder:

Jones is a different story.  A more dangerous one.  He is the ugly Id unchained from the soul of an America I’d hoped had died.  It is moronic, armed, and dangerous.  It does not question the ontological correctness of its religious and political views.  It burns a book in Lake City, Florida, and Muslims (and others) die in Afghanistan and soon Pakistan and elsewhere.  Jones does this knowing they will die, praying to his defective God that they will die, in order to prove his belief that the devil is with us.  He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder.  His name is Terry Jones.

Well, I expect that P.Z. will defend himself soon, but I disagree that there was no real conviction behind his act. Of course there was conviction: the man has criticized religion for years.  Was it “cowardly”, as Hoffman states, for P. Z. to desecrate the Qur’an in Morris, Minnesota but not in Lahore? Not cowardly but prudent—who wants to die that way?  The fact that it’s imprudent to insult Islam in Lahore is not the fault of Myers; it’s the fault of Islam, which is so easily insulted and inflamed.  But more on that in a minute.

You might well argue, as Hoffmann does, that his buring of the Qur’an was likely to cause trouble.  Because it in fact led to murder, should Jones himself be indicted for murder?  I don’t think so, and there are several reasons:

  • First of all, Jones didn’t violate any American laws; his acted was protected by the First Amendment.  He can’t be arrested for murder, so Hoffmann’s call is fatuous.  However, it did inspire the murder of people in Asia.  Does that make him morally culpable?  Maybe just a tad, but not guilty of murder for the following reasons.
  • The act does not fall under the courts’ designation of the type of speech that is not protected: speech that was intended to cause clear and imminent danger.  Jones did not call for murder, nor was he performing his act in front of an inflamed Muslim mob.  Hoffman recounts Jones’s own reasons: he intended “to bring the book to justice for violence and murder ‘it [sic] had perpetrated.’ Unliike Myers, who began with the view that no book is sacred, Jones is of the opinion that Islam’s holyd book and Islam itself is ‘of the devil’.”  Jones’s act is not the equivalent of the classic violation of free speech: falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  That is expected to cause an immediate riot, but not a riot in which people try to murder others.   Burning a sacred book, even assuming that it might cause trouble, is not the same as standing in front of an inflamed, post-mosque mob and shouting, “Kill the infidels!”
  • There is an obvious upside to permitting both Myers’s and Jones’s act: the protection of ideas, especially unpopular ideas like the criticism of faith.  There’s no similar upside in allowing people to deceive others about fires in theaters.
  • There are far more innocuous acts that also have a reasonable expectation of causing trouble, like Geert Wilders’s and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s criticism of Islam.  They now need police protection because they’ve “insulted” Islam.  The threats against them were absolutely predictable.  If they are murdered by Muslim extremists, as was Theo van Gogh, are they responsible for their own deaths?
  • In 2005 a Danish newspaper published caricatures of Mohamed that led to Muslim riots and many deaths. Should the editors of the newspaper not only be denied this kind of expression, but also be tried for murder? After all, the riots were just as predictable there as with Pastor Jones’s act.

In all of this Hoffmann misses the real problem, which is not the inimical effects of protected speech, but the fact that Islam is such a violent faith that even the mildest criticism, like naming a teddy bear “Mohamed,” can inflame Muslims and lead to murder.  Sam Harris, in his essay “Losing our spines to save our necks” (reprised in a post on Sam’s new “blog”), hits the nail on the head:

Wilders, like Westergaard and the other Danish cartoonists, has been widely vilified for “seeking to inflame” the Muslim community. Even if this had been his intention, this criticism represents an almost supernatural coincidence of moral blindness and political imprudence. The point is not (and will never be) that some free person spoke, or wrote, or illustrated in such a manner as to inflame the Muslim community. The point is that only the Muslim community is combustible in this way. The controversy over Fitna, like all such controversies, renders one fact about our world especially salient: Muslims appear to be far more concerned about perceived slights to their religion than about the atrocities committed daily in its name. Our accommodation of this psychopathic skewing of priorities has, more and more, taken the form of craven and blinkered acquiescence.

There is an uncanny irony here that many have noticed. The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we will kill you. Of course, the truth is often more nuanced, but this is about as nuanced as it ever gets: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do. When they burn your embassies or kidnap and slaughter your journalists, know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for “racism” and “Islamophobia.”

Pastor Jones is a religious nutcase, and I have no respect for him.  He’s nearly as nuts as Islamic extremists, though I doubt that Jones will be killing anyone.  But he did nothing illegal or, I think, immoral.  I agree with Harris’s conclusion, which is that we need more criticism of Islam, not less.  And not just Islamic extremists, either, but criticism of those Islamic “moderates” who, by refusing to speak up against the violence and insane hypersensitivity of their coreligionists, create a climate in which Islamic extremism is tolerated.

Hoffmann seems to be one of these coddlers too.  Nowhere in his post will you find him indicting the murderers themselves for the murders!  He spends all his time blaming Pastor Jones instead. In fact, he spends more time criticizing atheists (he just can’t resist that) than criticizing the kind of faith that makes people kill:

Re some of his readers’ assertions that Jones and the murderers are “cut from the same cloth”, and that neither is culpable, Hoffman says this:

I find that kind of response both uninformed and worrying. Very worrying coming from nonbelievers, and maybe because it raises in my mind questions about whether a certain level of atheism isn’t also an impediment to moral reasoning–specifically that kind that finds all religions “naturally” guilty of atrocity and hence no one at fault and no one innocent of crimes.

Which atheists, by the way, think that? I don’t know of any.  And there’s this:

Myers’ antics made him the dark darling of full frontal atheists, those who hold to the curious view that the angrier you make people who believe in sacred books and objects, the likelier you are to win over people who hold a weak or no opinion on the subject.

Desecration, confrontation, Yo-mama style insult and blasphemy are tangible blows for reason, the commandos believe.

And, showing his characteristic hauteur, in which he assumes his readers are dumb, Hoffmann adds this:

To my atheist colleagues, I say: please, before you snipe, try to understand.  We are not yet at the point where atheism is the “cure” for anything, least of all for the kinds of violence these acts have made manifest.

When I first read Hoffmann’s piece, I thought that he was offering food for thought. And he did, for we constantly need to rethink the vital issue of free speech, and how or when it should be curtailed.  But on rereading the post I see that it’s also an excuse for Hoffman to attack atheism, to tout his superior wisdom (really, the man is quite arrogant), and, most important, to exculpate Islam. He proffers not a word of criticism of the kind of faith that sees criticism as grounds for slaughter. If Hoffmann thinks that the Muslim murderers themselves were guilty of murder, why didn’t he say so? He lays the whole issue at the feet of Pastor Jones.  That, I think, is simply one more attempt of liberal faitheists to excuse and coddle the Religion of Violence.

The inevitable next step: Hoffmann will appear and assure us that of course he believes that the murderers are guilty of murder—that it was implicit in his post.  But I don’t see it, since he spends all of his time whaling on Jones and Myers.  For an atheist, Hoffmann is curiously reluctant to criticize Islam.

139 Comments

  1. Egbert
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Hoffmann is clearly himself irresponsible in his unreasonable and ridiculous claim that Pastor Terry Jones is responsible for murder. In fact, he is as equally irresponsible and ridiculous as Terry Jones. That is why we don’t take such people seriously.

    However, in the Islamic world, such ridiculous people are taken very seriously. Perhaps both Hoffman and Terry Jones would do better, if they became a Mullah in Afghanistan, where they can get all the attention and power that they so crave.

    • Paul W.
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      I can’t wait until some unusually kooky Muslim in the U.S. decides that Florida isn’t inconceivably far away, and drives or flies over and kills the benighted Pastor—because after all, Hoffman says he should be arrested for murder, and justice is not being served, so somebody’s got to do it.

      Should we then have Hoffman arrested for murder, because he vilified the kooky Pastor and inspired such behavior?

      Hoffman is just a pretentious, self-important ass, so no.

    • Matt
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      I too agree pastor Jones didn’t break the law because of his 1st amendment rights (and he is protected), however, was he really exercising his 1st amendment rights? If you think about it, he burned the Koran out of secrecy, but did that also not give the right for people to exercise their 1st amendment rights to oppose him, because he did it privately? He knew there were going to be sever ramification and he chose to do it without letting his opponents know so they can’t exercise their rights to protest against him. I guess what I’m saying is, he seems to have purposely used his 1st amendment rights to spread his message of hate out of secrecy (to protect his own twisted, hateful agenda)!

      • Daniel Lafave
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        This analysis doesn’t make any sense. Jones produced expressive conduct which is protected by the First Amendment (under Brandenburg), provided that it was not “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action”. Even if someone knows that their speech could cause imminent lawless action, it’s protected unless it is directed to that end.

        • Matt
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          But it did create violent action because in a way, the whole ceremony with the burning was not done where anyone can see, except for his followers. It wasn’t until they uploaded online and the media the coverage people heard about it! This was more of a personal attack than freedom of speech!!

        • Matt
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          If you make a recording of yourself on video, saying one of your classmates pissed you off and you decide to make a video of it by dressing like your classmate, and telling lies about your classmate, and you share it online like facebook and youtube, what do you think his classmate would do? This was clearly a personal attack just like Pastor Jones and his followers did by sharing their recording online!!

      • iknklast
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        How do you “spread a message” out of “secrecy”? Usually spreading a message requires something OTHER THAN secrecy!

        • Matt
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          What I’m saying is, even though he’s protected by the 1st amendment, I just feel like he was attacking a particular group by recording the ceremony privately and having it online irresponsibly. If he is all for 1st amendment rights, why didn’t he allow his opponents to be there at time of the burning to exercise their 1st amendments rights against him?? He’s a coward, only trying to get attention!

          • Kiwi Dave
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

            Very strange arguments.

            You seem to be arguing that people can exercise their 1st amendment rights only when others who disagree are physically present at that time.

            And how does recording something privately and then putting it online make it an attack on a particular group?

            • Matt
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

              And how is not a personal attack when just about everyone was saying there would be sever consequences. What I’m saying is his actions didn’t become public until they uploaded online and from media coverage. I didn’t hear about it until days later, did you? I don’t know, you’re probably right, but pastor Jones actions feels more like an personal attack all because his supporters (besides his followers) and his opponents were not there to exercise their freedom of speech at the time of the burning and when someone was uploading it online.

            • Matt
              Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

              I do not believe just because this idiot is protected by his 1st amendment rights that his intentions were necessarily lawful!

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                But if he does something which is protected by law, his actions are lawful. Are you appealing to some higher law than our Constitution? Are you suggesting that he be subject to some World Court action?

      • MosesZD
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        Stupid speech is still speech. Otherwise the Internet would be barren…

  2. Insightful Ape
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    So…the threat against freedom of speech in PZ’s case was manufactured?
    How about the death threats he got? Or calls for his sacking?
    Hoffmann’s piece: not so much food for thought. More like emetic for thought.

  3. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    I think the reason that Hoffmann doesn’t criticise islam is because he is islamaphobic (he has an irrational fear of islam).

    • Microraptor
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      Is it really irrational to fear people who are likely to try to kill you if you insult them?

  4. Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I read Hoffman’s “Bloody Fools,” article last night and kept going back to one phrase he uses to describe P Zed Myers, “Myers, simply an atheist showman,” and, worse, in the comments, Hoffman says “I don’t know whether PZ Myers can be considered Gnu, certainly EZ. . . . Hoffman’s comments show that he knows very little about Myers but feels qualified to write about Myers.

    • Michelle B
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      I am beginning to think the only reason why vocal atheism has drawbacks, is that it gives a chance to bloated slugs like Hoffman to leave their opportune slimy trails.

      Hoffman is way nastier than Myers ever was/is, and yet he insists that the problem with vocal atheists are that they are nasty. With Hoffman his style is not only virulent, but the content is threadbare (unlike the snarky vocal atheists).

      This jerk thinks I am his ‘cousin?’ Hoffman’s personality, one of defending his precious but quickly eroding turf and his appalling intellectual dishonesty makes him a bad ‘relation.’

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Can someone point me to a link that explains what “EZ Atheist” means? Somehow I missed the advent of that term.

      • Microraptor
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        I think he’s got delusions of cleverness and is making a parody of PZ’s given name and “easy,” possibly trying to claim that PZ isn’t doing anything hard in the name of advancing atheism.

  5. Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Blowing up a post office in reaction to stamp desecration will always be a disproportionate reaction.

  6. Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    If Jones could be prosecuted and convicted for murder, that would amount to a de facto establishment of religion (Islamic religion). How can Hoffmann consider himself an atheist after proposing that?

    I personally don’t agree with what PZ or Jones did – I don’t see the point in being deliberately offensive. However, in a nation where free speech and non-establishment are core principles, it is important to protect their rights to do what they did.

    • Tyro
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Personally, I think that when one group reacts so disproportionately to any criticism then it is almost an obligation to criticize them. We can see this with what PZ, Hirsi-Ali, and van Gogh did but I think it’s also why we now have the Streisand Effect and Scientology protests. When a bully tries to intimidate us (through law suits or violence), we can either give into them which will encourage them to make wilder demands or we can stand up and show that their bullying will backfire.

      Again personally, I think your bland description of PZ as being “deliberately offensive” is cravenly caving to the Muslim demands. When he defaced “The God Delusion” or even the Bible, no one calls this “deliberately offensive” yet surely it is exactly as offensive, except modern Christians and atheists have learned how to take criticisms and react with words.

      This is incidentally why the Cracker Incident was so important – people were being threatened with expulsion and some blowhards were even threatening legal retaliation. That’s some serious bullying and to quietly accede should offend everyone who values freedom of speech.

      But no, you’re cool with that. You say that standing up to bullies and asserting our rights is offensive. Coward.

      • Kirth Gersen
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        @Tyro — Yes, exactly. Give an inch and a bully takes a mile; the only way to stand your ground is, when pushed, to push back just as hard.

        • randy
          Posted April 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Push back, yes. But be there yourself to take the return push if it comes. Instead, Jones’ action had the unfortunate consequence of putting others in his place. It was others, who had no voice in the decision by Jones to burn the Koran, who were subjected to the return push.

          • Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink

            Yeah, that’s my gripe, too. Jones put others, not himself, into harm’s way.

            But the right to burn a copy of a book — that one already owns! — is just free speech, and it has to be protected.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      What’s inevitably overlooked in most conversations about Crackergate is the fact that PZ was largely acting out of concern for the death threats and threatened University retaliation to Webster Cook, the UCF student who unwittingly caused a scene by disrespecting a cracker…It was not just some random publicity stunt but directly intended to illustrate the patent ridiculousness of the original brouhaha.

      And the furor that erupted could not have better made his point. By ignoring both the antecedents and the subsequent reactions Hoffman is SO missing the point.

  7. Jeff D
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree that Pastor Jones’s actions (as a perfectly lawful expression of free speech rights) were not “immoral.”

    To me, the public burning of the copy of he Quran, and the descriptive frame that Jones put around it, were ethically reckless, because of the mismatch between Jones’s chosen action and his stated objective to show the substantive deficiencies or wrongfulness of Islamic doctrine. Of course, if Pastor Jones had really wanted to show that Islamic doctrine is inherently intolerant and dependent on threats of violence, he would have released a video containing some close textual analysis and reciting some proven history. And he could not do that without illustrating some uncomfortable parallels with the Christian Bible.

    I just listened to two of the Sunday morning TV pundit shows as the murderous protests in Afghanistan were discussed. Every commentator focused on Pastor Jones; no one said or asked anything about what it is that makes Islam different, to a deadly degree, than the other monotheisms. Sam Harris got this issue right:

    Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn’t, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do.

    • Alan Hope
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I see the difference as one of motive. Myers trashed both the Quran and the Bible to show that “sacred” books are no such thing; Van Gogh and Hirsi-Ali made a valid critique of Islam; the Mohammud cartoonists were making the point that depiction is not desecration. Jones, on the other hand, was attacking one foolish docrtine from the point of view of another, in the full knowledge that 1) his critique has no basis and 2) his action would lead to violence — but NOT against him. Why should he worry about 21 people dead on the other side of the world? He wasn’t even addressing them, or those who killed them.

      His act may not be unlawful under the catch-all First Amendment, but it was certainly reckless to a degree that, in moral terms at least, was just as reprehensible.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        He would be hard-pressed to burn the Bible at the same time he did the Koran. It would unleash the hypocriticality of his religioso peers.

  8. peddiebill
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Even if Pastor Jones is doing no more than fanning the flames of hatred it is still a most unfortunate action to burn a Quran when it is clear it is a sacred book in the eyes of those who follow the Islamic faith. It tells Islamic people that Jones as a representative of Christianity is an intolerant bigot and the fact that he was allowed to get away with it sends a message that his actions may even be acceptable to other Christians. The huge demonstration it caused in response was so intense it got out of hand and some UN workers were killed.
    Those wishing to condemn the small proportion of Islamic fanatics who are suicide bombers as typical of Islam should reflect that it only takes a few nut cases like Jones to send an identical message about Christianity.
    http://billpeddie.wordpress.com

    • Tim
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      No, it isn’t “a most unfortunate action to burn a Quran when it is clear it is a sacred book in the eyes of those who follow the Islamic faith”. Sacredness is bullshit – the fact that Muslims might be offended by the burning of the Koran is of no interest – what they choose to be offended by is their problem. The burnt Koran was a book: pages with ink on them. The US Constitution is a far more admirable document; if you burn your own copy of it, you’re a jackass and I’m the fool if I am offended by that. The fact that Muslims take offense at Jones’s burning of the Koran is a result of their own religious idiocy. What Jones did was unfortunate and immoral (I disagree with Jerry here) because Jones knew that there was a likelihood that people would be killed as a result of his actions and there were no countervailing factors that would justify his burning the Koran in the face of that knowledge.

      I think that everyone (Jones, Karzai, the mullahs, the rioters) in this sorry episode to share some of the guilt.

      • David
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Its immoral to try to place any blame on anyone other than the perpetrators. There is not a scrap of blame left over for anyone else. There should be no equivocation on this.

        This is not a complicated nuanced issue, its perfectly black and white. Someone does something to offend them and they go kill someone totally unrelated to the incident, worse they murder people who were specifically there to help their people.

        The pastor may be a bigot an idiot a racist and countless other things but what he did is not related in even the smallest degree to what happened in Afghanistan.

        My oldest child will sometimes try to justify bad behavior by pointing to his little brothers bad behavior. Any time he tries this his punishment is doubled we teach him that his actions no matter the cause are his alone and he is responsible for them. The equivalence here would be if we came home to find his little brother dead and his excuse was that his little brother made a noise while he was playing a video game so therefore he had to die.

        • Tim
          Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          I just don’t agree. Of course, the perpetrators bear the overwhelming weight of responsibility for their actions and I can see that my post might lead one to think that I thought otherwise. I am in full agreement with Jerry (and in complete disagreement with Hoffmann) about whether Jones is or ought to be legally punishable for his actions. But that isn’t the standard by which I judge the morality of my own actions, and it isn’t the standard by which judge Jones’s actions. If I had precipitated this episode of lunatic violence as Jones did, I would consider that I had committed an immoral act. By the same token, the difference between Jones’s actions and PZ’s communion wafer stunt is, in my opinion, that PZ probably never thought he would set off a killing spree – if he had, then my opinion of PZ’s actions would change from ‘asinine, but not immoral’ to ‘immoral’.

          • David
            Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            Where do you draw the line? If I tell you that if you ever post on the internet again i’ll murder a random person and I convince you i’m serious. Ia it now your moral duty to abridge your rights because of my threat?

            • Tyro
              Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

              Exactly. Far from blaming those to stand up to bullying threats, I think that the people who sit silently and acquiesce to these demands bear some responsibility. They reward the behaviour which encourages it in the future.

              It’s not easy to speak out in the face of death threats but that’s the way to put an end to them.

            • Tim
              Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

              Slippery slope arguments are great, but they often don’t settle matters (consider the abortion wars, for example). I guess the answer is that I draw the line where “countervailing factors” would suggest that the greater damage is done by shutting up than is done by speaking up. Look, it’s a personal judgment – I’ve drawn a distinction between morality and legality – Jones can do what he did, but it shouldn’t shield him from moral condemnation. Just because I can say what I want, doesn’t mean I should say what I want.

              If was so important to Jones that he put lives on the line to make his twisted “point”, he should hop a flight to Afghanistan and burn the Koran on a street corner in Kabul. Then he can martyr his own sorry ass rather than sacrifice the lives of some schmuck policemen stuck with containing the riots fomented by unscrupulous mullahs and a craven president (Karzai).

              • David
                Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

                I want to condemn him because I don’t like what he is, but his actions are no different than if I burned a Koran in protest of the things said in the book. If I had a phone book and Koran and i was out of toilet paper I would use the Koran because at least the phone book has redeeming qualities.

                If his thoughts were “heheh ill burn this and innocent people will die hahahaha!” then yes its morally repugnant but you can’t possibly be suggesting that that was his motivation.

                As with most fanatics his motivations are probably exactly what he said they were, hes disgusted with the Koran as most of us are. He may be a hypocrite because his holy book is barely any better. But that doesn’t change why he did what he did.

                Oh, there there was no “slippery slope” argument. It was an exact equivalent.

                If it would be a one off incident I might agree he should curtail his actions. but its not a one off thing if they didn’t go out and murder over this they would have found something else to go out and murder people for.

                If the entire world was Islamic and followed strict sharia law they would still go out and kill each other over trivial things. eventually they would kill each other for being too short or too tall or too pale or too dark, or speaking to loud or too soft. For saying Mohammad with an accent for wearing the color blue or not. They don’t need a valid reason and this certainly wan’t one. How many times do they do this that its not reported in the news. It was only reported this time because of the link to the book burning and it was sensational. These same people go out on a regular basis and declare someone an enemy and attack without an enemy to attack the sheep might realize what the bearded guy is saying is moronic.

              • David
                Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                Wow, I need to take a writing course thats practically unreadable sorry.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                Human moral intuitions certainly do take foreseen, yet unintended consequences into account, contrary to what David is saying.

                Suppose I reach for a glass on a shelf near your face, and slip and accidentally slap you. You would be upset, but you wouldn’t consider my action to have been immoral. It was just an accident.

                Now imagine that I know that I am a clumsy person, and these sorts of accidents happen around me frequently. I have been reprimanded by friends multiple times for being overly careless and causing undue harm to come to the people or the environments around me. Also imagine that I’ve noticed the floor near the shelf in question is wet and slippery, and yet I have nonchalantly stretched my body into a precarious position as I reached for the glass.

                Now when I slap my friend in the face, he gets angry not just because of the pain, but due to some moral outrage as well. I know that I’m a careless, clumsy person, and as such I am frequently bringing trouble to those around me (imagine Steve Urkel). I should have known better than to put myself in such a precarious position over a wet floor with other people’s faces around. This accident was perfectly predictable,albeit unintended. It’s no wonder that people constantly admonish me to be more careful. Given my history, I have a moral duty to do so.

                So you see, under normal circumstances “an accident is an accident.” However, we hold people morally accountable for accidents that could have been foreseen and avoided if only they’d been taking more care. Steve Urkel, if you remember the character from Family Matters, is the type of person who humans will consistenly blame for being too careless, given his known failings of agility.

                Of course, knowing this about Steve Urkel, another person could legitimately be blamed for asking Steve to carry a giant pot of stew through a kitchen strewn with obstacles. Asking Steve to carry it is just asking for trouble. Even though the spilling of the stew was an unintended consequence of your perfectly moral and legal action (asking Steve to do it), you still hold some responsibility for the completely foreseeable, disastrous outcome.

                So to answer David’s question, “where do you draw the line?”, the answer is somewhere. There is a line, as all humans acknowledge. It depends on how strong the link is between doing something that is morally permissible, and knowing that that thing will have some morally impermissible result (even if you’re not the one who perpetrates it). If you’re sitting outside at a cafe, and a man grabs a child from a nearby woman, points a gun at the child’s head, and tells you that if you continue eating your sandwich he will shoot the child, you can hardly blame the mother for being morally angry at you (as well as the shooter) if you continue to eat your goddamn sandwich.

                So I’m not saying I agree with Tim on this particular case. But our moral intuitions do work the way he describes, and therefore I know there will be cases on which we do agree.

              • David
                Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

                I think I missed the point of that long post. You slap someone by accident but its an accident you should have, and could have predicted so your morally responsible for the accident? OK I get that, don’t see how it applies here unless I then go and rape and muder a 4 year old because you slapped me. Is that it? Did I do that because of the slap and are you now on the hook for those crimes?

                And are you calling all muslims Urkel? I think they might kill someone if you are so becareful because if they do you’ll be responsible.

                All kidding aside I think you may be stretching things a bit.

                Those people were going to kill someone regardless of whether that book was burned or not. This is not a guess, there are murders for trivial reasons practically on a daily basis there. The burning was just an excuse they couldn’t pass up. Granted the targets would have been different but thats irrelevant.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps you missed something because you didn’t read carefully.

                I already stated that I don’t agree with Tim’s moral conclusion on this particular matter; I only agree (as do all humans) that there are circumstances under which people are morally responsible for the unintended yet foreseeable effects of their actions.

                In this case, the pastor’s action is analogous to reaching for the glass on the shelf. It’s a morally permissible action. However, it has a negative consequence. How foreseeable that consequence is and how strong the causal link is between the action and the consequence will determine how responsible a person is for that action.

                Since you like your examples to involve killing, I’m not sure why you ignored my example about the gunman and the sandwich, unless you purposely wanted to weaken my argument.

                Or is it that you’re willing to argue that the woman shouldn’t be mad at the man in cafe for trading her child’s life for a lousy sandwich?

              • MosesZD
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                But that’s what you’re doing… You’re making a slippery slope for Jones instead of holding those that did the crime responsible.

          • GordonWillis
            Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            “If I had precipitated this episode of lunatic violence as Jones did”

            Tim, I really can’t agree. Jones didn’t do anything of the kind. It would be better to blame Karzai, a few stinking mullahs, and all those hateful opportunists. Anyone can be a pretext, to those with sufficient malice. Jones was just an ignorant stupid pastor making his stand against the devil and all his works. So bloody what?

            Jones, however, does know one thing: no copy of a sacred book is the original, and nor can it be deemed “holy” in itself. The muslims know this perfectly well. The murderers are guilty of their own crime of idolatry. But of course, that’s not what this is about, is it? It’s about opportunism and oppression.

          • Marella
            Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

            If you’re going to blame Jones then you have to blame women who are raped for ‘asking for it’ by wearing skimpy clothes (as indeed muslims do). Either people are responsible for their actions or the excuse ‘he made me do it’ is acceptable. It isn’t.

          • Bruce Gorton
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            So in other words people get to dictate what you can and cannot do simply by threatening other people’s lives?

            Nah come on man, that’s not moral. The rioters were adults, they are responsible for their own actions.

        • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          Its immoral to try to place any blame on anyone other than the perpetrators.

          Man in shackles: Your honor, she was asking to be raped — I mean, did you see the way that dress revealed her ankles?

          Judge: Absolutely right. Case dismissed — and fifty lashes for the whore for her licentious behavior tempting honest men to indulge in their carnal nature. Next!

          Bailiff: We have three men who killed dozens of schoolgirls in response to that nasty bookburning incident in those faraway heathen lands.

          Judge: Why are you wasting my time with this nonsense? Case dismissed! Next — and this had better be a good one. You promised me a hanging offense this morning, and, by the Profit’s Beard, I’ll have one!

          Bailiff: Well, I suppose we could move on to that foreign slut who performed “mouth-to-mouth” on your junior wife after she fainted last week from the beating you administered after she let some of her hair slip out from under her veil.

          Judge: OFF WITH HER HEAD!

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Tyro
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        If every time someone burned a Koran, people immediately died then maybe you might have a case. Maybe.

        But if someone burns a Koran and then on some occasions, weeks later, people unpredictably riot and kill I think we have a very different case. I’d be looking for the consistent influence. It isn’t the Koran burning, it’s the mullahs who go out of their way to find incidents then stand at the head of a crowd and try to rally them into a hate-filled mob. It’s them we should be blaming.

        Ask yourself what would happen if people stopped burning the Koran.

        And stopped making cartoons.

        And stopped making critical films.

        And stopped depicting Muhhamed in any images.

        And stopped implying Muhammed was in an image (even if it was hidden, like in South Park).

        And stopped questioning Islamic teachings.

        And stopped allowing women to go out in public without a male owner, like some sort of pet.

        And stopped sending girls to schools.

        What do you think would happen in this not-very-hypothetical world that’s been beaten and cowed by threats? The treats don’t stop, they just get wilder. The deaths don’t stop, they just get more arbitrary. People have been attacked for throwing away business cards with the name Muhammed on it or for naming children’s play toys Muhammed (probably as a sign of respect but since when is consistency an issue). Girls are still killed, rape victims are beaten, and the perceived insults still happen at the same pace but are increasingly trivial.

        Do you really think that giving into these threats will stop this retaliation? Are you blind or just stupid?

      • Alan Hope
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        But JOnes, unlike Myers, doesn’t believe sacredness is bullshit, and that was anything but his intent. He believes his version of sacredness is sacred, and the rest are bullshit. Were it not for the fact that the police in Florida are probably fairly effective, I have no doubt he would happily slice the throat of anyone who dealt with his sacred book the way he dealt with that of others.

    • Bryan
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      “Those wishing to condemn the small proportion of Islamic fanatics who are suicide bombers as typical of Islam should reflect that it only takes a few nut cases like Jones to send an identical message about Christianity.”

      I would say that while “Muslims are suicide bombers” and “Christians are book burners” are both false statements, they are not “identical” messages. Burning a book is far less destructive and insane than carrying out a suicide bombing.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      What do you mean, “he was allowed to get away with it”?

      Do you think Jones should have been prevented from burning the Koran, or do you think he should have been arrested after he burned it? You’re implying that the State has some sort of duty to act, yes?

    • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Those wishing to condemn the small proportion of Islamic fanatics who are suicide bombers as typical of Islam should reflect that it only takes a few nut cases like Jones to send an identical message about Christianity.

      The problem is one of proportionality.

      Jones is a nutcase pyromaniac, yes, but he’s responsible enough to only burn his own property and in a manner that presents no more danger of getting out of control than a backyard barbecue.

      In contrast, we have innumerable muslims, including heads of state, who are not only nutcases but who are rioting and mass-murdering people who aren’t even vaguely theoretically connected to Jones — and this is, so they say, what they view as the most appropriate reaction to the offense Jones has caused them in his choice of kindling.

      What you’ve done in equating the two is comparable to an ER physician performing triage and devoting equal resources to the patient with MERSA lesions and bacterial pneumonia and to the teenager upset over a pimple on the tip of his nose.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Kudu
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      “It tells Islamic people that Jones as a representative of Christianity is an intolerant bigot”

      I certainly dont see how burning a book, a gesture that is merely symbolic, rather than being a violent or even practical act or repression, can be considered intolerant.

      • MadScientist
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        OK, here’s a lesson in Hasty and Stupid Generalizations 101: Anyone who burns any sort of book is a Nazi because the Nazis burned books. The Nazis were intolerant, so anyone who burns a book is intolerant.

        • Bodhi
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Suprised it took this conversation this long to get Godwined :)

      • Kevin
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        …and if someone outs themselves to you as a bigot and an idiot and a representative of an intolerant religion, do you…

        1. Call him out publicly, noting where he is being bigoted and wrong?
        2. Find some innocent bystanders and MURDER them.

        It’s not Jones’ act that is the issue here. It is the reprehensible response to that act.

        Frankly, the response to Jones’ act proved Jones’ point with regard to Islam not being a religion of peace.

        That doesn’t lend any weight to any assertions with regard to Christianity, of course. Just because a blind pig finds an acorn, that doesn’t make it an expert acorn-finder.

        But the lesson learned here is not that one shouldn’t criticize an intolerant religion. How does THAT promote tolerance? Doesn’t. Promotes capitulation.

        Different things.

  9. Melody
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Hoffman changes his mind depending on which way the wind blows. He deletes as many blogs as he posts and pretends they never happened.

    • Felix
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      Interesting.
      It seems from his current post that he has received way more comments than he has published.

      I can’t say I that I found his response to my post particularly useful. :-)

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Felix

        I read your post, which by the way is the last comment Hoffman posted yesterday. Hoffman posted steph’s comment(April 3, 10:29 am. probably because steph begins his first comment (April 1) by saying,
        “This is a brilliant post. I agree with everything you’ve written passionately. Thank you with all my soul for all you have said.”

        PS He has posted my comment posted at 11:08 today

        • Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          Steph cracks me up. (Except when she comments at my place; then I just want her to go awaaaaaaay. But at other people’s places she’s hilarious.)

          • Josh Slocum
            Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            She’s supremely irritating, and it’s calculated. You were totally right when you called her on her bullshit “nice” persona at your place some months ago.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      FWIW, I’ve challenged him on his modding policy, and this comment of mine is still in moderation there:

      “and I won’t post “dialogues” that turn into major debates between me and readers–there just isn’t enough time” (a quote from RJH’s previous response to me at his blog)

      (and my response:) If you aren’t intending to provoke and inspire thought, commentary and debate, why post at all?

      Additionally, the debate to which you refer had already taken place, and was already posted on your blog. You cannot possibly be arguing that you removed the posts to save you time.

      • Helen Wise
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Yeah, Hoffman never let the comment out of moderation.

        There’s is no need to regard seriously anything he writes again.

      • Daniel Lafave
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        He can moderate however he likes, but his practice of silently deleting text that he has already published can only be considered academic dishonesty. He published a particularly ill-informed legal analysis based on a law which was repealed 91 years ago. I commented on it, and poof, the paragraph containing the legal claims disappeared. It along with my submitted comment had gone down the memory hole.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

          That is awful. If I were you I’d use the WayBack Machine to find an original version and keep a copy, just in case it comes in handy sometime. Like now. :D

          • Daniel Lafave
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

            I already checked the Wayback Machine, but they didn’t have it. I noticed Hoffman’s silent revisions as others did, and I don’t feel the need to waste any more time dealing with him. Anyone who conducts himself that way should not be taken seriously.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

              Well, I must admit I’ve never looked for “archives” that were that recent.

              And you’re right that the point stands, anyway. So arrogant (or is it narcissistic? Insecure?). In contrast, many a time I’ve seen JAC or PZ graciously acknowledge and act on a correction.

  10. Felix
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    The original title of Hoffman’s piece was “Arrest Terry Jones: The Abuses of Blasphemy”

    It is now on it’s third title.
    Whilst I have no reason to portray this as in any way underhand I can only say that it seems at odds with general web etiquette were amendments are made explicit in order to level the playing field between author and reader.

    • Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Hoffman has posted an update.

      • Felix
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        I don’t see one. Please excerpt a few words so that I can identify or locate it.
        Thanks

        • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          Maybe it was there earlier when I looked about an hour ago, but I didn’t see it.

          It starts

          UPDATE:

          “It has been amazing and distressing to me that responses to this blog from a cadre of readers have focused only on the twin lunacies of Islamic extremism and Christian triumphalism.”

          It is to this statement that I address my comment, which became #13.

          • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

            Concerning my above garbled comment,

            I may not have noticed Hoffman’s comment because when I accessed his site, it was only to do a word search to support my comment @ #4 @ 6:57 am.

          • Felix
            Posted April 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

            Yes, that’s been there for quite a while.

  11. Posted April 3, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Someone might decide to maybe at some point that what Jones did was to add insult to injury, and then possibly consider the very real injury that America and the West has done to Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries over the last few decades. That view has the possibility to place proper blame for the murders on the murderers, to show that the influence Jones actually had was nearly nonexistent, and to put the entire incident in a larger historical context.

    Otherwise, we find ourselves in some sort of strange Orwellian universe where history begins wherever the media decides to join the story, and ends when they move on to the next batch of sensationalism.

    • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      You have a point, save for the fact that the rioters are complaining not of American imperial oppression but of the bookburning. And for the fact that the rioters are not attacking American military and political targets but innocent unrelated bystanders in their own country.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you can separate one from the other. Note that there were no riots or murders over this anywhere else, at least not that I’ve heard about. If you soak something in gasoline and someone else lights the match and starts the fire, you can’t pretend that you and the gasoline had nothing to do with the fire.

        It is simplistic almost to the point of… well, something negative?… to pretend that these people committed murder over the burning of a Koran on the other side of the planet. That was the match, not the gasoline.

      • tomh
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Ben Goren wrote:
        You have a point, save for the fact that the rioters are complaining not of American imperial oppression but of the bookburning.

        While it’s obviously true that the bookburning triggered riots and deaths, the AP story this morning, about thousands of protesters burning American flags and killing police, says the protests, “appear to be fueled more broadly by the resentment that has been building for years in Afghanistan over the operations of Western military forces, blamed for killing and mistreating civilians, and international contractors, seen by many as enriching themselves and fueling corruption at the expense of ordinary Afghans.”

        • Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Yeah…

          But let’s also not minimize the ways that the imams have exploited the misdeeds of the West to solidify their own power, and push Islamic extremism. Fundamentalism fuels extremist behavior, which fuels excessively forceful responses, which fuels fundamentalism in a vicious circle. Add in the support that various extremists have gotten from external powers using the Middle East as a pawn in larger geopolitical schemes, and now you’ve got a vicious circle made out of barbed wire.

          And in the same way that Earth might look flat from the perspective of a single person standing in a field in Kansas, it is easy for people to ignore the larger picture and just say “Muslims murdered people because Terry Jones burned a Koran” and leave it at that.

  12. Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Then why can’t some of us put out that film noting the evils done in the name of Allah [God in Arabic] based on Haught’s two books that I haven’t read. ? That would be the appropriate venue to reveal how religion blasphemes morality and- humanity!
    My principal objection to religion is that it is the emotional and intellectual and pecuniary scam of the ages!

  13. Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I’m still struck by how the riots occurred in Afghanistan 10 days after the event. NPR reported that the delay was because most Afghans get their news from their Imams.

    Which begs the question, why didn’t Muslims in the US, who surely would have had much easier access to the target of their ire, riot as a result of the offense?

    I propose that the reason is that US Muslims are better informed about the nature of Islamic hatred in the US–namely that the majority of us may have an opinion but we’re not out for the destruction of the religion. Imams outside the US, with limited other sources educating their followers, can easily frame this one act as an attack that is part of a larger war, one that must be fought.

    I hope that this kind of event helps to drive a division between liberal muslims and the rest. Just maybe some of them will view the overreaction as insane, but wholly justified by their book, and that maybe they should reevaluate other proscriptions made therein. Then they can also be voices against Islam.

    • rhetoricaltyro
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      It’s a good point. The legal standard for incitement in the US is that it is likely to produce imminent illegal action (no longer ‘clear and present danger’ as I understand it). By no reasonable definition can ten days later and thousands of miles away be considered imminent.

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        No one could prosecute Terry Jones for that anyway, or else they’d be locking up rabid Christians right and left across the USA.

  14. Josh Slocum
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  15. Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Dear oh dear – I don’t understand the “cowardly” accusation at all. Is everything that doesn’t risk murder therefore cowardly? Do we all have to either move to Lahore or fall silent?

    To be sure, Hoffmann taught at a university in Pakistan recently (which frankly made me nervous on his behalf); maybe that colors his thinking. But if so…well it shouldn’t. In a way soldiers have a right to think of civilians as cowardly, but in another way…they shouldn’t act on that thinking, and they should try to get past it.

  16. CheckOut
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    That pastor expected violence and even murder and that was his intention. That’s what I read. I don’t know if he prayed for murders, but if that’s true -and he really believes in his Big Brother- he intentionally requested murder. The question is whether that is illegal since praying for such things would be a thought crime. In a theocracy it should be illegal, if asking for murder were illegal.

    That pastor didn’t burn a book in front of crowd physically, no. But he did broadcast it live with subtitles in Arabic. He also blew all kinds of whistles before to be sure he would be heard and seen. That’s quite provocative. That doesn’t change if his intention was to convert people.

    I’ve never heard of that Hoffmann guy. Way too much text to say some simple things. Calling names is childish and assuming that the majority of atheists blames every religious person for atrocities sounds a lot like what religious fanatics claim. I found that also in the ‘atheism is no cure’ claim. I mean, wtf. Of course atheism isn’t a cure. Who claims that anyway, apart from some religious fanatics?

    Atheism is no religion either. Some people believe in many gods, some more believe in one god and not in all the others, and some believe in no god at all. That’s the definition of atheism.

    Since I’m already ranting now, a religious person is ‘atheistic’ regarding gods of other religions. Keep that in mind when you read statistics. ‘X% of a population is religious/believes in god” or even “x% believes in jesus” doesn’t mean a single thing. Even within a single church opinions on how their god looks likes or what he wants differ fundamentally which makes that followers are even atheistic to the deities of their fellow believers. Looking for common nominators or assuming there are not really different opinions is a mind trick to make a religion look strong while it is in fact a sign of weakness.

    If any religion had only one single piece of universal truth in it this religion would dominate the entire world, all other religions would have been abandoned long ago. Yet no religion has managed that. On the contrary even, every successful religion splits up in branches with fundamental different opinions on the most fundamental things. That tells me enough.

    • rhetoricaltyro
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      While it may be provocative to do what Jones did, it doesn’t at all imply that he bears any sort of moral responsibility for the killings. Even if that was his intent, and he could reasonably have predicted it would happen, there is too much time, and too many steps between his action and the outcome for him to be said to have incited it.
      The Imans at the mosques who whipped their worshippers into a frenzy can definitely be said to have encouraged an imminent illegal action, and so be held responsible, but there are too many steps, too many moments for reflection, and consideration, and moral reasoning for the killers for anyone to be blamed but them and their immediate encouragers. Foul though Jones is, he is not morally responsible for the murders, anymore than PZ is responsible for the death threats that he got for the cracker incident.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        While it may be provocative to do what Jones did, it doesn’t at all imply that he bears any sort of moral responsibility for the killings.

        I agree that what Jones did is not incitement, but neither is it an act of resistance. If you intentionally provoke violence, you can bet your ass that I will hold you morally responsible. I wouldn’t require that you were complicit in the violence to make that judgment.

        • Tacroy
          Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

          Pray tell, what is the difference between Jones’ provocation to violence and (say) a woman wearing revealing clothing’s “provocation” to rape?

          Obviously in the latter case you would not hold the woman morally responsible for a crime someone else committed, so what exactly are the defining characteristics that separate these two situations?

          Is it the fact that Jones was not, himself, in much danger? Would you have still morally condemned him if he’d been murdered? What if there was only a good chance of him being murdered?

          Do you, perhaps, believe that Muslims are not as in control of their actions as Americans, and as such are easier to provoke to criminal acts?

          Maybe the rape of one person is a far worse crime than the murder of twelve others, and this leads to a tipping of the balance?

          I’m seriously puzzled by what I see as an odd dichotomy.

  17. Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    PZ is not a jerk, nor has he “worked hard to craft the persona” of a jerk. He takes a hard line with his principles, and doesn’t put up with bullshit. If nobody took a hard line, nothing would get accomplished!

    Jones may well be a jerk, but as many upthread have pointed out, his symbolic action can’t be blamed for the very NON-symbolic (read: people are actually DEAD) actions of the perpetrators of this massacre. I’ll burn any damn book I please!

    • ckitching
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. The only moral failing I can credit Terry Jones with at this time is the fact these acts feed the racism and bigotry of his congregation. However, until one of them decides to go and burn down a mosque (or something else reprehensible) after one of his sermons, I find it the claim that he should be punished for this preposterous.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Would you say that there is enough of a track record of Muslim sensitivity that one could reasonably predict the response that occured? Precautionary Principle and all that? Would it have been wrong for Jones to give some kind of heads-up that he was going to do this, and to tell whoever needed to be told to stand by and make preps?

      I think he had that moral, if not legal, duty.

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        I would say Muslim sensitivity that manifests itself as murder is wrong. Orders upon orders upon orders of magnitude more wrong than burning a book – regardless of the motive.

        WEIT regular Tyro writes near the top of the thread:

        , I think that when one group reacts so disproportionately to any criticism then it is almost an obligation to criticize them. We can see this with what PZ, Hirsi-Ali, and van Gogh did but I think it’s also why we now have the Streisand Effect and Scientology protests. When a bully tries to intimidate us (through law suits or violence), we can either give into them which will encourage them to make wilder demands or we can stand up and show that their bullying will backfire.

      • Tacroy
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        Would you say that there is enough of a track record of Muslim sensitivity that one could reasonably predict the response that occured?

        Totally! And there’s also a track record of women who wear revealing clothing being raped, so we should require that they all hide their sexy bits in order to prevent this reasonably predictable response – maybe we could use some sort of baggy cloth, preferably of a dark color in order to hide them better.

        Oh wait no, that’s absolutely fucking nuts.

  18. Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Oo fatwah envy, haven’t seen that in a while! And from another atheist! How special…

    BTW, just as a pedantic note, this wouldn’t be considered a “hate crime” under any such legislation; “hate crimes” require there be a regular crime committed with a bias-intent, and only give out tougher sentences. The More You Know!

  19. Badger3k
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks for addressing this – you hit everything I thought of. Sad to see that it wasn’t a joke, though. Maybe Hoffman thinks that if he criticizes Islam, then he, like PZ, is acting “cowardly” and that to really make his criticism he needs to be in an Islamic country?

    Predictably, Josh from Kansas completely agrees with Hoffman in a post from yesterday. Although, I do think that he is being more nuanced, but I’m not sure he gets it either, although he does discus the difference between legal responsibility and moral responsibility.

    There is a difference between “wise” and “being responsible” – if I go to a biker bar and insult the largest guy there, I may be beaten or killed, but am I responsible? It almost seems like a “blame the victim” style of thinking.

    Was it smart of Jones to do what he did? Was it smart of Karzai to release the video? Whether the answer is yes or no, the ones responsible for the murders were those who committed them.

  20. Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Well, I expect that P.Z. will defend himself soon[...]

    He has. And it’s an absolute must-read.

    You won’t enjoy reading it. Nobody with a shred of humanity will. But it’s still an absolute must-read.

    b&

    • Posted April 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Yes, do read it. It’s usually difficult to comment at Pharyngula, so I’ll say it here– PZ’s piece is perhaps the most eloquent post he’s ever done.

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Where as Hoffman is playing a catchy tune on a cheap piano, PZ just finished a Sinfonia on a 4 manual pipe organ. Only way to make the comparison.

  21. Badger3k
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    While browsing my RSS reader, I ran into this, (http://heresycorner.blogspot.com/2011/04/pastor-jones-and-blame-game.html) which is also a good read on the issue.

  22. Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    This is why the solution is not to ‘moderate’ religion, but to marginalize it. Convincing muslims that their religion does not mandate violence or intolerance might (though there is not substantial evidence of this) prevent killings, but that would only be a bandaid fix. However, the real problem remains that they *would* kill *if* they believed their religion required it of them. The goal, however ambitious it may be, should be to make them no longer care what Islam demands of them, or at least be able to place other considerations above it.

    Note that this issue is similar in kind, though certainly not in magnitude, to the accommodationist approach to increasing acceptance of evolution among Christians. They suppose (though again there is not substantial evidence of this) that if they convince mainstream Christians that their faith does not conflict with science that will accept evolution. The problem, of course, is that this means that they *would* reject evolution *if* they thought their faith conflicted.

    • GordonWillis
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      It’s my belief that attempting to convince believers that their religion is “really” about something other than what they think it is will at the very most do no more than produce another sect, or possibly (if Armstrong is taken seriously enough) another religion altogether, while still leaving the rest to go their preferred way, and adding more chaos and confusion to what we already have. This is what seems to happen every time someone tries to establish a “true religion” or a “true interpretation”. It never replaces the old ones.

  23. Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    The head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that the only person who could be blamed for the violence was the American pastor: “I don’t think we should be blaming any Afghan. We should be blaming the person who produced the news — the one who burned the Koran. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from offending culture, religion, traditions.”

    If freedom of speech doesn’t include the freedom to offend people’s culture or religion or tradition, then what the hell is it good for?

    I’ve posted my two cents on this here.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      That individual might have said that to save their own head from getting chopped off, but more likely is just a bleeding idiot. Sounds like they are channelling the moronic view of many in the UN who want blasphemy laws. What a complete and utter pillock (to borrow a phrase from James May in another context).

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    the curious view that the angrier you make people who believe in sacred books and objects,

    Not a curious view but a respectable research subject, according to Rosenhouse:

    “Josh [the one who writes tosh] should be looking at the science of advertising. [Link removed.] If he did, he would discover nuggets like this:

    Other psychologists do basic research on social marketing. Curtis Haugtvedt hopes social marketers in the field will use what he’s learned about persuasion as a result of his laboratory experiments on recycling. So far, he’s found that emotional appeals–like the famous ad showing an American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he confronts pollution–work better than cognitive ones when it comes to persuading people to recycle. Emphasizing that “everyone else is doing it” also helps. (Emphasis Added)

    And this:

    Repetition is one way to increase visual fluency and hence appeal. The more people see something, the more they like it. “Advertisers intuitively know that exposing people repetitively to the same stimulus increases liking,” says Winkielman. “That’s one of the reasons they show the same ad over and over again.”

    Quite right. Obviously neither of these examples is talking about atheism specifically, but following Josh’s example I think the analogies are pretty clear, especially the part about repetition. As I see it, this is where the New Atheists are making a real contribution.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      D’oh! I cut the quote short:

      the curious view that the angrier you make people who believe in sacred books and objects, the likelier you are to win over people who hold a weak or no opinion on the subject.

  25. Sili
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    For an atheist, Hoffmann is curiously reluctant to criticize Islam.

    Of course. He’s afraid he’ll get fatwaed.

  26. Posted April 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    It is not surprising to me that Muslims react in such a violent way to any criticism and I too think criticism is needed- perhaps even required. But I wonder if fundamentalist christians would not behave just as violently if they did not have so much political clout. When christians commit acts of violence, their faith is not the defining issue that is discussed. No one talks about the nutty things the bible says that might have led the person to bomb an abortion clinic or abuse his wife. After a mother in Texas killed her children (having lost her mind) and it was revealed that they were fundamentalists who believed in having a quiver full of children, the father was a domineering ass by all reports. I was quickly shushed when I pointed out that the male hierarchy within the church supports this kind of behavior. And there are more incidents of christian violence that we just attribute to insanity or an individual act- not one that might have been encouraged (at the least!) by the bible.

    • David
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure those wacky christians are mentioned here and elswhere quite often especially when they bomb abortion clinics. To say that no one mentions it is kinda silly. I would say the far greater amount of criticism is directed at christianity than t is at islam.

      This is mainly due to the fact that western bloggers tend to focus more on western things.

      • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Think so? There are definitely websites and blogs where christian extremists are called out for their behavior but mainstream journalism in the US never connects christian belief systems to violence in the same way that they will Muslim extremists. Even eco-terrorists are called out for being what they are but you never hear the words “christian terrorists” and it’s not because they aren’t out there.

        My point remains the same that if christian extremists were in the same political position as muslim extremists, they would (and may very well soon become) just as violent. I just don’t think their faith is going to be the centerpoint for identifying them.

  27. Bodhi
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: violence as a response to an exercise of freedom of expression is never tolerable in modern civil society – ever. An attempt to appropriate any portion of the blame on anyone other than the person(s) who commit the actual act of violence is intellectually dishonest, whether that is legally or morally. In civil society, it is just not acceptable, period.

    I don’t think anyone here would argue that Pastor Jones could be legally culpable in this situation, and rightfully so. However, I’ve noticed several posters posit that his actions may be deemed immoral. Generally because those actions potentially led to the death of people that would otherwise be alive. Excluding the fact that we atheists should be well aware that morality is not an objective construct, but a subjective one, leaving any interpretation of “immorality” up for debate, I think this line of thinking is missing the mark of a much larger point: that the conflict between modern society and the current version of Islam is unavoidable.

    This conflict is going to end in bloodshed one way or another; and it is solely the shoulders of Islam that the responsibility for this bloodshed will fall on, deu of the very nature of the Islamic ideology. The only question is how we choose to face this conflict. This may be a false dichotomy I’m adducing here, and if so I’ll welcome criticism regarding this matter, but the only two options I see are direct opposition to childlike tantrums when a Muslim takes offence of a freedom of expression, or silent acquiescence, continued forfeiture of our rights, and further emboldening of future tantrums when a Muslim achieves his goal of intimidation and bullying to silence criticism.

    If we continue to be intimidated and bullied, then intolerant-to-criticism Islam will continue to spread like a virus that will spiral out of control. If anyone suggests this is a slippery slope, I suggest you think again. This will likely lead to an even higher death toll in the end once the world realizes that this problem must be dealt with decisively. This, of course, assumes that we don’t continue to forfeit our rights to the point of allowing Islam to take over the world, as sanguine Muslims are trying to do. (This is a slippery slope, but something to consider nonetheless).

    Direct opposition to intimidation is the only viable option. Yes, this will lead to bloodshed, and outcries of public insult. Apologists will claim that this is a result of religious intolerance or keep laying it at the feet of those dirty Gnu’s, all the while failing to connect the dots that the modern society that allows these hypocrites to openly condemn those actions, and Islam are in direct conflict. Bystanders who sit on the sidelines only enable the intimidation to continue. Bullies must be confronted. Even by ignorant bigots such as Pastor Jones who carried out his book burning for all the wrong reasons; the rest of the civilized world should be there to protect his legal and moral right of freedom of expression. Even if we do not all agree with his message or methodology.

    “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859”

    The governments, media, and populaces of the world need to unite and take a stand against the intimidation of Islam and say “enough is enough.” As Sam Harris so succinctly summed, “It is time we recognized that those who claim the ‘right not to be offended’ have also announced their hatred of civil society.”

    A final quote from Ibn Warraq: “It is perverse for the western media to lament the lack of an Islamic reformation and willfully ignore works such as Wilders’ film, Fitna. How do they think reformation will come about if not with criticism? There is no such right as ‘the right not to be offended.”

    The reformation of Islam will not be accomplished without open criticism and bloodshed: but it must be done.

    • Gibbon
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      Actually Bodhi, despite what Ibn Warraq suggests, it is necessary that non-Muslim critics of Islam be ignored in any talk of an Islamic reformation. The reason for that is simple: reformation must come from within. Any attempt by outsiders to reform the Muslim religion will at the least be seen as an intrusion and, quite likely, an assault on the Islamic world. That mistake has already been made twice by the West, so lets not do it again.

      • Bodhi
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

        Suggesting outside critics be ignored seems about as counterproductive as I could imagine in this scenario. A closed system will rarely change due to inadequate forces of internal pressure to overcome the status quo. The Islam that is attempting to immunize itself from outside criticism wants to become just that: a closed system. Completely cutting off outside criticism will only expedite this process.

        Outside social pressure is the primary mechanism to bring about a positive change in this instance. This is how it has always been throughout history. That you would argue otherwise, frankly, perplexes me. Consider the civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 60s, the end of slavery around the world, the feminist movement, and even the current LGBT movement. Each of these was predicated on two main sources of pressure: outside social pressure, and pressure from the directly oppressed.

        The oppressed rarely exert enough pressure alone to enable this type of change. It takes a partnership with outside social pressure to accomplish. And you want to rob the directly oppressed group of the lynchpin of their efforts to bring about positive change? Shame on you, sir.

        • Gibbon
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

          Bodhi, whatever changes are made to Islam as part of a reformation, they must only be made by Muslims. Non-Muslims should have no say in how Islam should be reformed and changed, and for very good reason: they aren’t part of the system that is Islam and any changes they try and contribute will be seen as foreign and intrusive. That is why the criticisms of Islam by non-Muslims should be ignored; those people should have no influence on the direction in which the Muslim religion evolves. It is Muslims and ONLY Muslims that should actively make changes to Islam; no one else.

          I’m not suggesting that outside forces can’t exert pressure, far from it. It is usually because of outside forces, generally those tend to be economic in nature; that the various groups seek to change the system they belong to. But it is pressure alone that the outside forces should contribute, they should not be making changes themselves.

          Let’s try an analogy. Whatever country you live in, you would no doubt not appreciate or tolerate another nation telling you how your country should be run. The same applies to the Muslim religion: non-Muslims should not be telling Muslims what their religion should look like or how it should be changed. The most outsiders should do in regards to any reformation, is show support for any attempt at change, but from a distance of course. The West cannot be seen as being actively involved in changing the Muslim religion, especially given the history of the relationship between the two.

          The whole point that I have been trying to make is: that outsiders should NOT try and make modifications to a system to which someone else belongs but they do not. More specifically, non-Muslims should not try and change the Muslim religion themselves. Leave it up to the Muslims to change their religion, and don’t whine if the result doesn’t go the way you want it to.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Just an observation:
      Those people in Afghanistan who rioted and killed have no evidence that a Koran was even burned…they were not there whenever it was that the alleged deed took place.

      How about all the un-reported burning of Korans? What will they do about them? What about all the idiots firing rockets into Kabul post-1989 Soviet withdrawal? How many Korans did they destroy? Perhaps the residents of Kabul would have saved their buildings, if they announced that “Holy Books” covered the rooftop surface of their buildings. A rocket purposely fired at such a building??!! Kill the soldier who would dare desecrate the holy book!

      Obviously this whole episode (were it not so tragic with the innocent lives lost) borders on the absurd. Reminds me of the Turks holed up in the ruins of the Parthenon in the early 19th century, fighting the Greek “freedom fighters”. The Turks were running out of lead for their bullets, and so started dismantling the Parthenon to get at the lead shim stock used between the marble blocks. The Greeks offered to give the Turks lead for bullets, just don’t tear down the Parthenon!!

    • Tim Martin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      An attempt to appropriate any portion of the blame on anyone other than the person(s) who commit the actual act of violence is intellectually dishonest, whether that is legally or morally. In civil society, it is just not acceptable, period.

      and

      …we atheists should be well aware that morality is not an objective construct, but a subjective one, leaving any interpretation of “immorality” up for debate…

      You’re contradicting yourself, stating as a fact that the Reverend is not morally culpable.

  28. Gayle Stone
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    What is accomplished by Burning? It doesn’t rid the world of the trash in either the Bibe or the Koran; just the same as the thousands of people burned in the Inquisition to get rid of imaginary heretical thoughts/witches. They are all, both sides,out of their cotton-pickin’ minds.

    • David
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Well if people burned or desecrated Korans on a regular basis they would eventually lose their ability to be outraged by it. At the very least it might make more trivial things like throwing away a business card with Mohammed’s name on it or naming a teddy bear Mohammed not an offense punishable by death.

      Kinda like interracial dating used to be a hangable offense in the south shove it in their face enough and eventually they just shrug and go back to their own business.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Burning is no good – it just puts more pollutants in the air. Just recycle and compost your bibles and korans if you don’t want them. Sheesh!

      • David
        Posted April 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        Well yeah, i’m sorry, burning is bad for that reason.

  29. tameka
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    From Pakistani online newspaper: A double suicide bomb attack outside a shrine in the central Pakistani province of Punjab on Sunday killed 41 people, a police officer told AFP from the scene of the blasts(…)Sunday’s attack is the fifth in as many days.

    http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/03/three-killed-in-blast-at-dera-ghazi-khan-shrine.html

    So much for ‘religion of peace’…
    I don’t believe people in those mosques were criticizing or doing anything against Islam and still they were not safe from suicide bombers…

  30. Filippo
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    What would happen if one announced that he refused to read the Koran? Is that something which would also offend the delicate Muslim religious sensibility?

  31. Badger3k
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    In a twisted way, doesn’t killing someone else for another’s crime make one like God? Granted, Jesus was supposedly willing, sort of, even though he/his father made the plan and couldn’t deviate from it? So aren’t the murderers emulating the Christian God, not Allah – so maybe they should kill themselves for blasphemy? Unless the subscribe to the idea that they are the same deity, of course.

  32. Posted April 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    And this is why atheist accommodationists are almost as dangerous as the religious extremists themselves.

    They would gladly weaken our hard won secular rights in order to appease fundamentalists, revitalizing blasphemy as a legitimate offense in the process.

    Truly frightening.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      And this is why atheist accommodationists are almost as dangerous as the religious extremists themselves.

      OK, without malice, I’m going to accuse you of employing accommodationist rhetoric here. Replace “atheist accommodationists” with “strident atheists”, and what you’ve written is something I’ve read dozens of times.

      Appease fundamentalists, harden fundamentalists, no atheist is doing anything of the sort.

      • Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        ‘Appease fundamentalists, harden fundamentalists, no atheist is doing anything of the sort.’

        Then what do you call attempting to scare people into NOT exercising their secular rights(or shaming into silence those who dare to do so by holding them responsible for murders they didn’t commit or plan) in order to meet the demands of fundamentalist muslims?

        If that’s not appeasement, than what would qualify in your eyes? Or does the word not exist in your accommodationist vocabulary?

  33. Kevin
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Well. Here’s my modest proposal.

    Every single day, someone should publicly burn a Koran. Don’t care if they’re a religious nut or not.

    At some point, after day after day after day after day after day after day of Koran burning, those who would be offended by such a thing will be inured to the “insult”. And then Koran burning will no longer be a “riotable” offense.

    Same with drawing Mohammed or whatever else gives offense. Do it over and over and over and over and over again. Pretty soon, they’ll come to realize that their petty rage is impotent — and that the reason for their hatred isn’t worth the cost of blood.

    We don’t have too much Koran burning (or cracker desecration or trashing of “The God Delusion”) — we have too little.

  34. Daniel Lafave
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I should point something out about Hoffman’s academic integrity. In his update, Hoffman wrote that government lawyers should look to the Sedition Act of 1918 for authority to prosecute Jones. I submitted a comment saying that the Sedition Act of 1918 was repealed in 1920 and Jones speech is protected under Brandenburg v. Ohio. When I checked back later, my comment wasn’t there, but the paragraph where Hoffman made the claim about the Sedition Act of 1918 had mysteriously disappeared. If someone is going to publish to a blog, they should know that unacknowledged revisions are a big no-no. You can’t just throw your mistakes down the memory hole when someone corrects you.

  35. MadScientist
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I think that Hoffmann had convincingly demonstrated that he is an imbecile. He obviously hasn’t got a clue about what happened with ‘crackergate’ – or else he is a charlatan and liar and wittingly ignores the origins of the protest. “No conviction”? What a twat. Some guy received death threats simply because he went to a church and got himself a god-cracker; I see no lack of conviction (whatever the hell that means) on the part of the person threatened or on the part of the good ol’ catholics who threatened him.

  36. Sigmund
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    “he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder. His name is Terry Jones.”
    Since conviction of murder in Florida can result in the death sentence is Hoffman calling for the ultimate accomodationist sanction?
    I think we need a new term: “declaring a hoffwa” – to signify calling for someone to be executed for exercising their first amendment rights in a way contrary to the beliefs of accomodationists.

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Terrific.

    • Bryan
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Hoffwa – brilliant.

      Of course, this creates the possibility that some other American pastors will develop “hoffwa envy” and start burning Korans of their own. If those incidents then lead to additional murders, Hoffman could be held accountable and himself become the target of a hoffwa. After all, the subsequent pastors would never have burned Korans without the media attention of people like Hoffman – the circle is unending!

  37. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    You know, Jerry, if you want to link without padding his numbers, use a shortened link, like something from Bit.ly, and put a rel=”nofollow” in the link. That helps to keep Google from thinking you’re linking to his article.

    Web gurus can correct me if I’m wrong.

  38. Tim Martin
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    There is a science of morality that everyone here seems to be ignoring. And no, I don’t mean The Moral Landscape.

    Most of us agree that there is no god-given morality, or moral rules woven into the fabric of the universe, so there is no objective morality in that sense. What there is is a moral intuition that all humans share – an evolved, usually emotional response to certain situations that makes us feel that some are “right” and some are “wrong.” This is still a subjective judgement, but there are great similarities among humans, and most rationalists seem to agree that our only bet is to work with what we have.

    The science of morality, which I’ve learned about largely through Marc Hauser’s book, Moral Minds, is based in part on surveying people from different cultures, religions, education levels, etc. and finding that despite their differences, their moral judgements are largely the same on certain basic things. All humans seem to think that murder (at least when it is unprovoked) is wrong, that stealing is wrong, that fairness is important, etc. Experiments have also shown that our primate cousins agree with us on some of these.

    Despite how everyone seems willing to state their subjective moral opinion as fact, it is an empirical question whether large numbers of humans consider unintended yet foreseeable consequences of otherwise moral actions when judging the morality of people’s behavior. I guarantee you that when the consequences are cut-and-dry enough, no one will fail to find fault with a guy who trades a child’s life for a sandwich.

    In the case of Pastor Jones and the mob in Afghanistan, the connection between act and consequence is not so cut-and-dry. But it could have been moreso, and as we concoct scenarios to explore this we are going to get closer and closer to a situation in which it is imprudent if not morally wrong to act. The fact that a collective of rationalist atheists such us cannot agree on this matter shows that there is a line to be drawn somewhere, and it’s not entirely obvious where. You can say it’s obvious, but what science do you have to back up your claims?

    Learning more about how the human moral intuition responds to cases like this will inform our own personal responses and help us to make more sound judgements.

    • Jonas Lee
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      I had not heard of Hoffman before. So I read this post and many of the comments to his post–and his comments to those comments. I don’t have anything erudite to say that has not already been said, so let me just go for the knees: he really is quite an arrogant prick. He’s the kind of atheist that would atheism a bad name.

  39. sailor1031
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    What makes anybody think that Hoffman is an atheist? Just because he says so? I think not! He is an apologist for religion (which does not require him to be religious himself).

    • Amii
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      That’s what I’ve been thinking. Walks like a duck…

      • Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        …and the 9/11 bombers weren’t real Muslims, the Murrah Federal Building bombers weren’t real Christians.

        I’ll take my Scotch on ice, thank you.


8 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Hoffmann coddles Islam, calls for Pastor Jones’s arrest: You might well argue, as [R. Joseph] Hoffmann does, that [Terry Jones'] burning of the Qur’an was likely to cause trouble.  Because it in fact led to murder, should Jones himself be indicted for murder?  I don’t think so, and there are many reasons: [...]

  2. [...] Jerry Coyne says, in a new post which came in just at this moment, the real problem is “the fact that Islam is such a [...]

  3. [...] estimable Jerry Coyne comments on the legality/morality of Jones’ [...]

  4. [...] Hoffmann coddles Islam, calls for Pastor Jones’s arrest I hate to give blog traffic to R. Joseph Hoffmann, one of the nastier and haughtier instantiations of atheism, but his [...] [...]

  5. [...] Jerry Coyne: Pastor Jones is a religious nutcase, and I have no respect for him.  He’s nearly as nuts as Islamic extremists, though I doubt that Jones will be killing anyone.  But he did nothing illegal or, I think, immoral.  I agree with Harris’s conclusion, which is that we need more criticism of Islam, not less.  And not just Islamic extremists, either, but criticism of those Islamic “moderates” who, by refusing to speak up against the violence and insane hypersensitivity of their coreligionists, create a climate in which Islamic extremism is tolerated. [...]

  6. [...] Hoffmann coddles Islam, calls for Pastor Jones’s arrest (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) April 3, 2011 No Comments Short URL Bosch FawstinEisner AwardGeert WildersInfidelIslamIslamic terrorismMedinaMuhammadMuslim [...]

  7. [...] received lots of feedback–mainly attempts to vindicate Jones and wondering why I am “coddling Muslims.”  I like the term feedback because it doesn’t discriminate as to the quality of [...]

  8. [...] saying these things. (Hint: everywhere)  I will be told that I don’t want dialogue, or that I’mcoddling religionists, that this post is a troll in some endless private conversation among certified [...]

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