Ten needless deaths

That’s ten needless human deaths on top of 30,000 needless goat deaths.  NPR reports today that ten Indians were killed in a bizarre religious episode:

An argument over sacrificing goats during a Hindu festival triggered a stampede that killed 10 people Sunday in a packed temple in northern India, officials said.

More than 40,000 people, many inebriated, had taken their goats to the Tildiha village temple in Bihar state to offer sacrifice and prayers to the goddess Durga on the last day of the Navratri festival.

As the worshippers lined up before the butcher, a scuffle broke out and some people were trampled, Banka district spokesman Gupdeshwar Kumar said.

“People were vying with each other to get their goats sacrificed first, and they had a verbal duel with the butcher,” Kumar said.

Four women and six men died in the stampede, and another 11 were injured, three of them critically, Banka district police director Neelmani said. The injured were being treated in hospitals.

Villager Umesh Kumar, 35, said the temple was so full, “people didn’t have any place to walk around … and there was a commotion when people tried to have their goats sacrificed.”

The district spokesman said some 30,000 goats were sacrificed at the temple on Saturday.

The 10-day Navratri festival honors Durga, the Mother Goddess in the Hindu religion.

The village in Banka district is about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Bihar’s state capital, Patna.

It’s hard to impute this tragedy to anything other than religion.  People like Robert Wright and Robert Pape can claim (wrongly, I think) that foreign occupation is the overwhelming cause of suicide bombings in the Middle East, implying that maybe those deaths would still occur without religion.  Others claim that the troubles in Northern Ireland resulted from historical/political and not religious divisions.  But it’s hard to see how any of these deaths—human or goat—would have occurred had there not been a need to propitiate gods.

57 Comments

  1. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “It’s hard to impute this tragedy to anything other than religion”

    I have to strongly disagree. The DEATHS have nothing to do with religion.
    Only with lack of crowd control.

    Blaming these deaths on religion is EXACTLY the same as blaming the 19 deaths in Germany’s recent stampede on ‘love, dance and electronic music’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Parade_stampede

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      I mean, the exact same thing could have happened in a mostly atheistic country, where a crowd was gathered to celebrate the ABSENCE of religion.

      I’m sure you wouldn’t have reacted to this hypothetical, but not unrealistic, case with “Atheism caused the death of these people”.

      • Jacobus van Beverningk
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        (Pat Robertson most likely would… but okay…)

      • Tim
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Do stampedes break out at non-religious events? Yes. Do all religious events cause stampedes? No. So how is this anything more than a coincidence, where a stampede and a religious event happened to occur at the same time?

    • Edwardson
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Nevertheless, goats can most certainly blame religion.

    • scottconrad
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      I’m going to have to agree, here. It was a crowd of drunk people. Of course, you probably wouldn’t have atheists in this situation, but that’s quite beside the point. That’s not to say you can’t have drunken atheist trampling deaths, as well.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I blame it on stupidity, but I agree with Jerry because the goats and people wouldn’t have been there if not for religion (though the goats would likely have been killed and eaten).

      As for Germany it wasn’t a case of lack of crowd control, it was a case of greed and stupidity. There simply should not be that many people in a tiny space. Just wait until someone starts a fire in one of the world’s large stadia.

  2. Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Although the cause for the gathering was religious, it doesn’t seem that different from similar tragedies at rock concerts or sports events. Except of course for the poor goats — but as a nonvegetarian, my hands aren’t clean on that score, either.

  3. Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    “An argument over sacrificing goats.”

    …would not even be an issue if the disgusting (and hopelessly pathetic) religious idea of animal sacrifice had not been historically introduced in the first place.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

      Almost makes me want to say they (the human victims) got what they deserved. Only thing better would have been an armed uprising on the part of the goats.

      • Posted October 17, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        I’ll say it for you.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      For that remark you will need to kill 2 chickens and a goat to please me.

  4. WingedBeast
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    To be fair to the tradition of sacrificing goats, I’m sure that goats are delicious.

    Otherwise, I’ll have to agree with other commentors. The gathering was religous. The stampede was a lack of civility that escelated with a lack of crowd control. No more caused by the religion in question than soccor causes riots.

  5. Insightful Ape
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I am terribly sorry, I don’t think I will ever come
    to an agreement with my fellow liberals, as long as they try to whitewash or downplay the crimes of religion.
    Islam has a culture of martyrdom that goes back all the way to prophet mohamad himself. Those who blame phenomena such as suicide bombings on “imperialism”, “colonialism”, etc only put their own ignorance on display.

    • WingedBeast
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      I’m all for putting religion on the line for its crimes. You want me to say that the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, the Wacko from Waco, the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria, a multitude cases of horrific treatment of women, and even 9/11 on the religions that inspired/condoned them? I’m all for it.

      That’s not what happened here, though. The gathering was religious, but according to the article it started with an argument over who got to sacrifice their goat first and it got out of hand.

      I work customer service. I know a little about what can happen when people are so focused on a short term goal that they don’t even consider whether their actions are going to achieve it. When people start getting loud, obnoxious, or otherwise abusive in an argument, they don’t stop to realize “this isn’t a good idea” they keep on escelating every time it doesn’t work. This keeps going, on the phone, until they request a supervisor or they hang up. In person, it can keep escelating until they resort to violence. In the middle of a crowd full of people all probably angry that this is going on at all and holding them up, it can keep escelating into a riot.

      Religion isn’t necessary for people to be thoughtless and stupid. That’s not to say it doesn’t help. It’s just not necessary.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        Very well put. Having once been in customer service, my hat’s off to you.

        • WingedBeast
          Posted October 17, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          So, you got out… how? Help me. :`(

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

            lol. I SO understand.

            I was promoted to management; and not management of a customer service department, but of an operations division, which was orders of magnitude less stressful, despite having to be on call 24/7 and being fully responsible for all screw ups.

            Less than a year later we lost a large government contract and the newest managers were then eliminated; I was offered my old job back but chose unemployment instead!

            So sorry, no blueprint to offer. To this day, tho, I tend to judge a company by its customer service, and when I run into someone who clearly knows how to do it well I not only tell them, I try to tell their management as well; and sometimes even company officers.

            I even tell those guys in Mumbai (whom I often can hardly understand–an Indian accent just affects me that way, I’m embarrassed to say) how impressed I am with their skills & patience–when appropriate, of course. Plus, anything that humanizes the exchange makes it so much more pleasant on both sides, IME.

            Obviously you, too, know the “secrets.” It amazes me that defensive, short-trigger types are still so prevalent in customer service. One of those times you wonder, “why doesn’t everyone know this?”

            (Sorry for the long off-topic ramble, all.)

            • WingedBeast
              Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

              Largely, the reason a lot of short-temper types exist comes to two reasons.

              1. People will hire just about anybody with a pulse for customer service.

              2. We deal with customers every day. Customers are like the worst customer service agents, only you can’t do anything about them!

              Often-times, I consider writing up a tutorial for customers in dealing with customer service to explain such things as “I’m polite, but I still don’t care how long you were on hold.”

            • Daniel Murphy
              Posted October 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

              @Diane G

              “Plus, anything that humanizes the exchange makes it so much more pleasant on both sides.”

              Having stopped by after reading through yet another interminable argument about “new atheists” and “accommodationists” and “confrontationists,” I’d just like to say that is very much on-topic, for a lot of topics 😉

      • Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        not necessary, but absolutely sufficient.

        • WingedBeast
          Posted October 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. But, it’s not necessary. In this particular situation, religion provided the context. People provided their own stupidity.

    • randy
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I don’t think any of your liberal friends are attempthing to “whitewash or downplay the crimes of religion.” On the other hand you seem to want to oversimplify the issue by assuming that there is only one cause for all these tragedies – religion. Human behavior is not so simple it can be reduced to such simplifications. Yes, religion played a significant role in some of the worst events of human history. But not all of these tragedies are solely the fault of religion. Imperialism and colonialism are to blame for some of what ails and plagues humans. Furthermore, you seem to be arguing in this instance, by way of ignoring the point of those who posted previously, that this example offered by Coyne is most definitely not the fault of religion. If you are going to charge religion with crimes, and I agree that it is guilty of some whoppers, then stick to the ones for which it is actually culpable.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I do not have a very strong opinion about this particular incident. The reason is that I don’t know if the conditions at this temple were required by the Hindu religion. The Islamic hajj pilgrimage, for example, has requirements (such as the demand for every single Muslim to make it, and the time during the year) that makes crowd control next to impossible.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      “Imperialism” is the favorite scapegoat though. It has been decades since many colonies have been granted their independence and yet they have hardly improved – it’s not the fault of the local people for being corrupt and all that of course, the long gone generation of colonialists are to blame.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Precisely my point. From Zimbawe to Pakistan, whenever the local dictators/tribal chiefs/etc are criticized for brutalizng thier own people they dismiss their critiques as imperialists.

  6. Posted October 17, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I’d like all y’all to remember this discussion the next time the topic of Jesus as the First Cause arises.

    Were the deaths caused by poor crowd control, or by the religious nonsense that caused the crowd to gather in the first place?

    The very notion of causality only makes sense if we impart a dualistic intentionality to phenomenon which are clearly mindless.

    Similarly, the notion of “free will” is equally absurdly ill-defined. Events can be random or deterministic (or random within probabilistic limits or chaotically deterministic). “Free will” only makes sense if there’s a ghost in the machine. But is that ghost deterministic or random?

    See? Makes no sense.

    On the subject at hand…I have to wonder about all those goat carcasses. If they are to be eaten, I don’t have quite as big a problem with the ritual. But if they’re to be left to rot, that to me would be by far the bigger tragedy.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted October 17, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      But is that ghost deterministic or random?

      Neither. The ghost is controlled by another smaller ghost, which is in turn controlled by a yet tinier ghost, etc. Turtles all the way down!

      • Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Ghost turtle riders in the pond?

        b&

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted October 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Ouch! Recursive pondering.

    • steve oberski
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      On the subject at hand…I have to wonder about all those goat carcasses. If they are to be eaten, I don’t have quite as big a problem with the ritual. But if they’re to be left to rot, that to me would be by far the bigger tragedy.

      If they are eaten I don’t think it counts as a sacrifice.

      Eating them would be tantamount to admitting that your invisible sky fairy actually doesn’t exist.

  7. Preston
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    How about next year they just run a 5k to propitiate Durga and leave the goats alone? (I had to look up “propitiate” and I kinda wanted to show off.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Show off! (I had to look it up as well.)

      • Preston
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I thought it would be propitious (increasing my word power) to build upon their already-demonstrated inclination to run in groups (stampeding) and give it a more constructive outlet. Perhaps we could start with “run with your goat to propitiate Durga day” and then gradually phase out the goats.

  8. Stephen P
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Incidentally, what evidence would convince you of the existence of the goddess Durga?

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      That is the wrong question to ask to those who believes that she is just the personification of the ideal of strength and that her slaying of the demon Mahishasura represents the triumph of good over evil.

      • Saikat Biswas
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        ‘believe’

  9. Caligula
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “People like Robert Wright and Robert Pape can claim (wrongly, I think) that foreign occupation is the overwhelming cause of suicide bombings in the Middle East, implying that maybe those deaths would still occur without religion.”

    Hmm. Religion is a (pernicious) motivational enhancer in these cases for sure. But it is pretty clearly not the only motive. I think that there is a very good case that foreign occupation is a necessary condition, although perhaps (without religion) not a sufficient one.

    However, it seems rather unlikely that religion alone, without the grievance of foreign occupation, would be a sufficient cause.

    More evidence has recently come up of the importance of foreign occupation as a motivator: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/10/12/terrorism/index.html

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Religion, like nationalism, ethnocentrism, or allegiance to any other ‘ism (say a form of governance/economic philosphy–communism, e.g.), is simply one instance of the same (no doubt evolutionary) propensity for tribalism, an impulse that was no doubt strongly selected for by conveying selective advantage for a social animal. We just developed the brains to allow us to exploit such tendencies culturally, rather than simply heritably. There will probably always be humans with a tendency to demagogue and others with a tendency to bleat.

      Tribes, inter-tribal competition, shortage of resources, power in numbers–all the ingredients needed to set the stage for conflict after conflict. (Or just, out-of-control crowds after out-of-control crowds.)

      The only real solution would be selection (natural or un-) for critical thinking. (But would that be adaptive on a large scale?)

      There, solved that one. 😀

      Lucky for us, atheism is one ‘ism that isn’t so prone to demagoguery, suggestibility, deference to authority, etc.

      Trouble is, reason has yet to triumph over warfare. Or even demagoguery. See U.S. politics.

  10. Zuropa
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    People like Robert Wright and Robert Pape can claim (wrongly, I think) that foreign occupation is the overwhelming cause of suicide bombings in the Middle East, implying that maybe those deaths would still occur without religion.

    First, get rid of that implication. Neither person suggests it. The correlation between foreign occupation and suicide bombing is overwhelming. Just look at the data. On what evidence do you claim it is wrong? For crying out loud, bin Laden listed the American bases in Saudi Arabia as his motivation.

    We assume religion is a factor, though we cannot quantize it. We assume the Qu’ran is implicated, though we cannot directly assess the degree. Fortunately we don’t need to continue that handwaving because we have tangible, compelling evidence upon which to act. Occupying foreign countries is bad for American security and, incidentally, for the American economy.

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Correlation is not causation. Do you really think foreign occupation is the culprit when someone blows up a school bus carrying girls?

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Well. Not exactly.
      For one thing, “occupation” means different things to different people. For instance, the presence of US forces to some people like bin laden is occupation. Why isn’t the presence of the same forces in Germany or Italy considered occupation? Turns out, for ideological reasons: they are infidels in the land of mohamad.
      And that is only the beginning. The vey existence of the state of Israel to such people constitutes occupation (infidels have no business having a nation in an historically Muslim majority land). Even better, it has come to light that they had planned an attack on Spain prior to Sep 11. The reason? “Al Andalus” (present day Spain) was Islamic prior to1492. And britons of Pakistani descent carrying out attacks in London in response to the Iraq vertainly had no motivation other than religion. These actions were religious in nature.
      On the other hand, suicide attacks are not the type of response you get when there is actual and not imaginary occupation. Case in point: Vichy France.

      • MadScientist
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        You do get suicide attacks in genuine occupations as well.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted October 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          Do you have an example in mind?

      • Zuropa
        Posted October 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        What are you arguing against? I said religion is a factor. The Qu’ran is a factor. Foreign occupation is a factor. Of those factors, we have direct control over exactly one of them: occupation.

        Yes, religious people are fucking stupid. But you know what is also fucking stupid, and (generally) immoral? Occupying foreign lands. And let’s not quibble over definitions. The presence of permanent military bases in foreign countries has the same effect whether you call it “occupation” or “cream cheese”.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted October 17, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          So “presence of foreign forces” equals occupation? It still doesn’t explain to me why this “definition” is true in Saudi Arabia, but not
          Germany or Italy. Neither does it tell me why someone who nation is not “occupied” (like the Egyptian mohamad atta) should get so worked up about the “occupation” to carry out the awful act that he did, while French and polish resistance fighters didn’t. The reality is simple: Islam, by its very nature, lends itself to interpretations that make suicide attacks against the perceived enemy permissible. Occupation is the minor contributor or, in some cases like Spain not being muslim, enitrely made up.

          • Zuropa
            Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

            IA, the point was that it doesn’t matter what you call it. Surely that should be been clear?

            The difference between Germany and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the Islam factor, is that in Saudi Arabia our presence props up a flagrantly oppressive monarchy which steals from the people while advancing American interests.

            I repeat for the third time: Religion is a factor. Islam is a factor. But occupation is a factor over which we have direct control. Furthermore, occupation is like shining a big Extremism Laser Beam at the whole country. It increases the extremism which is already present. So you have elements of stupidity which are more or less under the surface, but occupation brings them out in spades.

            Fast forward 100 years. The United States has crumbled under its own weight of corruption, debt, and overextension. China is the new superpower, having dealt the final economic blow to the U.S. after demanding payment their aquired U.S. debt (just look at the stats now). They decide to “set up shop” in the U.S. with a bunch of military bases and prop up a repressive government. Do you seriously think the (former) U.S. population will not turn extremist? Wouldn’t you expect bombing, riots, etc? Wouldn’t you expect a little Christian fundamentalism suicide bombing? Good on ’em, I say. Resist the occupiers.

            You do know how the United States of America began, right? Weren’t some people, like, pissed that a foreign land across the ocean wanted to control them?

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

              It’s all so simple, isn’t it? 😀

              Wait–only 100 years?

              Wouldn’t you expect bombing, riots, etc?

              Heck, we had that during the ‘Nam draft.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted October 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

              You may have some points. However, I should repeat, again, that as long as Israel or even Spain exist, the crazies will not relent, because to them, “occupation” extends way beyond Saudi Arabia; and further, even in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi regime in charge has textbooks that teach hatred against infidels. Which is why I am highly skeptical that things would get any better if tomorrow all US forces packed up and left; if anything, to the extremists, this would be the greatest accomplishment ever, which would give them a big morale boost to carry out more attacks worldwide.

            • Zuropa
              Posted October 18, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              IA, your point is similar to one of the most idiotic arguments from the Bush era. We need to stay in Iraq because leaving means the terrorists win. Worse, that we need to stay in Iraq because U.S. soldiers have already died in Iraq. But you know how the terrorists really win? When American soldiers are needlessly and uselessly killed. When we shovel a TRILLION dollars (look it up) into a black hole of military involvement in foreign countries.

  11. Posted October 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I personally have more empathy for the goats in question than for the religious idiots.

    • Zuropoa
      Posted October 18, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      That is an horrific comment.

      • Paul W.
        Posted October 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        I dunno. You have no idea how fond Norm is of goats.

  12. Filippo
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    No reason given for why it is so important for ones goat to be the first sacrificed. Perhaps supplicants are afraid the goddess will become fatigued and bored with all the blood and gore.

    (Reminds me of the school kid who places such value in being first in line going to wherever. Or such a big deal, it was, in vacation bible school to carry the Christian or U.S. flag into the sanctuary.)

    Maybe with such a crowd there, and the very likely paucity of porta-potties (assuming the prospect of relieving themselves in public gives them pause), perhaps it wasn’t so much crowd control as bladder and bowel control – the medulla oblongata won out over the cerebral cortex. Who knows what one won’t do when in the throes of acute sphincteritis?

    I’ve noticed certain South Asian cultures enjoy shooting their guns in the air during weddings and other celebratory events. Prior to the invention of and their access to guns, I assume that they threw rocks into the air. Or maybe goats.

  13. Larry Delaney
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    After reading your list of religiously motivated evils at the end of your post, I thought you might have added the Japanese Kamikaze suicide bombers of World War II. After all, their Emperor was a god and the name we know them as means ‘Divine Wind’.

  14. stvs
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    People like Robert Wright and Robert Pape can claim (wrongly, I think) that foreign occupation is the overwhelming cause of suicide bombings in the Middle East, … it’s hard to see how any of these deaths … would have occurred had there not been a need to propitiate gods.

    Neither religion nor occupation determine military strategies. Because direct confrontation is a losing option for every underdog insurgency, each must choose to pursue a policy of either Gandhian resistance or terrorism. Though religion can be used in the service of either strategy, it is not the cause of the strategy; if it were, we would only see suicide bombings restricted to specific faiths, but clearly do not.

    Rather terrorism is used simply because it can be an effective policy, no matter what we think of terrorism itself. If it were not so, terrorism would not be used, for nowhere else do we observe natural selection acting as quickly as it does on the strategies used in human warfare.

  15. Kevin
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    You know, just the other day, I was talking about the need for crowd control at the monthly atheist baby roast…

    Mmmm….roasted baby liver. My favorite.

    This is an example of what you might call the proximate cause. For example, the proximate cause of most heart attacks is the last meal the person ate (put DOWN the bacon cheeseburger). But before that, years and years of eating cheeseburgers were the contributory cause.

    In this case, the proximate cause may be drunkenness. But religion is clearly the contributory cause.

    Negligent homicide, not second degree murder.


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