Does moderate religion promote the extremist version?

Again, Betteridge’s law of headlines suggests “no”, but an article in Quillette by Henry Rambow, identified as “a writer and teacher who formerly served as an evangelical missionary in China” argues that yes, moderate religion fuels fundamentalism.

Before I summarize Rambow’s piece briefly (and you should read the whole thing), let me recommend Quillette as a site you should be bookmarking. Think of it as Slate, but more serious, more intellectual, and without any Regressive Leftism. Its slant is definitely progressive, but its motto is “a platform for free thought” and it has articles like these (all are on the front page):Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.39.19 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.38.31 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.39.09 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.38.57 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.38.46 PM

The site is just starting out, and could use some traffic if it’s to grow. If you’re a writer, consider submitting there. But do visit from time to time.

Rambow’s piece, “The Josiah effect: How moderate religion fuels fundamentalism,” is the view of a former fundamentalist Christian who now feels that his own faith enabled even more radical brands of Christianity, right up to those brands that favor death for both gays and abortion doctors. This slippery slope, you may recall, was also discussed by Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great.  

I think Rambow is right, but not necessarily for the reasons he gives. Here are his three reasons why moderate religion fuels radical and extremist faith.

First, moderate religion primes children — by the millions, if not billions — from an early age to accept without question the authority of the very same books that serve as the basis for fundamentalist ideologies, and it teaches children that the gods described in those books are worthy of worship. This renders these children susceptible to fundamentalist ideology when, as young adults, they begin seeking a purpose for their lives.

Second, moderate religion propagates and legitimizes the vehicles of fundamentalist ideology — both the texts and the rituals. The fact that millions upon millions of Americans believe that the Bible is a holy book drives publishers to print millions upon millions of copies every year. Bibles are available in every home and on the back of every church pew. And all it takes for a fundamentalist to be born is for one lost soul to pick up a copy and find a powerful sense of purpose in a literal interpretation of the text. The same is true of the Koran.

Third, moderate religion lends credibility to fundamentalism by claiming to believe in the very same gods and the very same divinely-inspired texts that are exalted by fundamentalists. If not for moderate religion, the absurdity of fundamentalist beliefs would be much more obvious. But those beliefs are not as easy to identify as absurd when billions of people worship the same god and study the same scripture. The result is that fundamentalist beliefs are seen not as ridiculous, but as merely unorthodox or misguided interpretations of an ideology that is, on the whole, widely regarded as correct.

The first point seems a bit weak, for children brought up in “moderate-faith” homes are likely to retain that moderate faith.  Yes, some may become more radical if their religion has weakened their bullshit detectors, but I’m not sure that there are more converts from moderate to fundamentalist Christianity than the other way around.  I’m speaking here about Christianity, and am not sure if moderate Muslims, for example, are more likely to become Islamists or jihadists than vice versa.

The second point, the texts—and let us not pretend that the Christian Bible isn’t violent, misogynistic intolerant, and homophobic, at least in the Old Testament*—are a big worry for Rambow. That, in fact, is why he calls his piece “The Josiah Effect”, for in the Bible Josiah commits unspeakable acts in the name of God. But let us remember that while some Christians fundamentalists are intolerant (think Kim Davis), few turn to murder, and I doubt that you’d find as high a proportion of Christians damning homosexuality, urging the stoning of adulterers, or promoting the murder of non-Christians and ex-Christians, as you would among Muslims (see here). The fact is that Christianity’s worst aspects have been hugely de-fanged by the Enlightenment, something that hasn’t yet happened to modern Islam.

The third point is pretty much the same as the second, and I won’t say more about it.

Rambow’s arguments do make sense, but religious people would argue that he’s neglecting the good that religion has done.  While Rambo mentions the damage that fundamentalist religion does, and by proxy its supposed moderate facilitators, he doesn’t even consider the argument that, on balance, religion does more good than bad. Before you argue that moderate religion is bad because it promotes extremist religions, you have to show that the whole enterprise is bad for humanity.

I happen to believe that it is, but, as I’ve said before, I can’t prove it (nor can religionists prove otherwise), for how can you weigh the intangible benefits of faith versus the tangible deaths of gays, the terrorization of children, the oppression of women, and the endless faith-against-faith wars caused by religion? (Perhaps someone can at least tot up the lives lost versus lives saved.) But we can at least argue that it’s better to know the truth than believe in falsehoods, and I think even believers would agree with that. It’s just that they don’t have reliable ways to know the truth.

And that’s where I think Rambow misses the boat. While his three points above are reasonable, my own take is that moderate religion enables extremist religion because the former gives credibility to faith—to believing in stuff for which there is no evidence. That practice is common to both moderate and extremist religions, and is why the moderates are so loath to call out the extremists: they know that if one suddenly examines the evidence for religious beliefs, all ships sink immediately. And if you look at your own faith rationally, you’ll see that there is no more evidence for it than for those other faiths you consider false*.

It is the practice of faith; nay, the completely unjustified respect given to faith, that is the real reason moderate religions enable extremist ones. The sooner we banish from our planet the idea that it’s admirable to have strong beliefs without good evidence, the faster humanity will progress.


*Word for word, however, the Qur’an has at least twice as many violent passages as the Bible (the Bible has more violent bits but is much longer).

**See John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.



  1. Cindy
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    That practice is common to both moderate and extremist religions, and is why the moderates are so loath to call out the extremists: they know that if one suddenly examines the evidence for religious beliefs, all ships sink immediately

    And the extremists will likely murder them if they step out of line.

    Often I find myself criticizing moderate Muslims for not taking a stand, but then I have to be honest and ask myself if I would risk death and disability if I was in such a situation. It is easy to demand that others act bravely when it is not your own skin on the line.

    Thankfully, Christianity went through its own bloody reformation a long time ago. We were spared the horror.

    And yes, Quillette is great! I have it bookmarked along with Johnathan Haidt’s Heterodox Academy.

  2. Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Without reading the piece first the answer is unquestionably yes. The only argument there is to the contrary is the argument we often hear that extremists aren’t “true Muslims” that what they espouse is “contrary to the actual teachings of Islam”. Anyone who has even a minimal understanding of Islamic doctrine knows that isn’t the case. If as a moderate promote Islam by teaching your children that the Koran is the word of God, you share the responsibility when your child takes that teaching seriously.

    • jay
      Posted June 16, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Moderate Muslims are the apostates.

  3. Kevin
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Extremism is repugnant to most moderates. It is humiliating and disheartening. Admission, however, is all but non-existent.

    Educated American Christian moderates look inside themselves when they see fanatical acts and they confront a wholly despicable reality: “Is my faith apart of this?” The question is rhetorical and it should deliver shame to any who avoid answering it truthfully.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      I hope you’re right about moderates asking if their faith is part of the violence. Somehow I think most are just wondering what to wear to church next Sunday.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        If sufficiently oppressed, they mentally undress any clothed pew mates, regardless of attire. It’s the only thing keeping them awake during sermons.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          You must speak with the profound wisdom of experience.

          • Kevin
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            I slept, period. I now posses ninja power napping capabilities.

      • Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I don’t think the moderates ask that question, either. As far as they’re concerened, they’re on the absolute polar opposite side of the issue.

        There are none so blind…

        • Helen Hollis
          Posted June 16, 2016 at 1:27 am | Permalink

          I don’t know at what point exactly I was a moderate, or if I was one instantaneously. I was very young and decided that there were too many I knew that came from larger families that were in a state of disfellowship that there was no way that they could voice their mind without being homeless.

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the problem is that Protestantism not only holds that faith is a virtue, but that is the main primary virtue for a Christian on which the entire Christian life pivots. This is not true for Asian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

    This is one reason why it is relatively rare to find the religious practitioner who says their beliefs are a tentative “for now” working hypothesis but though they might be wrong, even though some Unitarians think in exactly this way.

    Some moderate religious communities have some tools of immunization against fundamentalism, but not IMO to a sufficient degree. This may be because some moderate religion is simply watered down traditional religion, while other liberal religion is more consciously and openly revisionist. (John Shelby Spong makes no bones about decrying classical Christianity as just plain wrong and destructive.)

    The two most liberal Christian denominations in the USA are Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ, but both are frequently characterized by a definite reluctance to thoroughly distance themselves radically from fundamentalist Christianity, in spite of their own strong affirmation of gay marriage and other values inimical to fundamentalists.

    • harrync
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      In my experience, the vast majority of Unitarians say their religious beliefs are tentative. I might also note that I once belonged to a UU congregation that was overwhelmingly atheist. In my current congregation [probably the most “spiritual” I have ever belonged to] over half self-identify as atheist or agnostic. Most of the rest are sort of Karen Armstrong kind of believers – god is a common consciousness, god is nature, etc. The problem with Unitarianism is that it came from a Bible believing origin – the early Unitarians accepted the Bible, just didn’t think it said Jesus was divine. So there is still a lot of religious type nomenclature – faith, worship, even God in the Hymns. [The transformation of this Bible-believing church into a “You can have any religious belief you want, and still be a member”, is very interesting.] But yes, I still worry that even a “church” as non-religious as the UU’s is in a way making all religion seem legitimate. Sort of like the way sane, moderate Republicans give a sense of legitimacy to a horrible political party.

      • Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink


      • Scott Draper
        Posted June 15, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        A visit to a Unitarian church hastened my journey to atheism. The service had removed all of the traditional Christian trappings, which made the whole silliness of it much more apparent to me.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        UU today, whatever may be its credo, is in no sense Christian. Both Unitarianism and Universalism began as ‘liberal’ Protestant Christian denominations but were quickly branded heretical by Congregationalists, Presbyterians, etc. Here and now, in the 21st century, UU religion is pretty thin gruel–a vague notion of transcendence and a tepid atmosphere of kumbaya.

        I agree with you, harrync, that even calling UU a church identifies its members with every poisonous religious organization in the world.

  5. Ian Clark
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    On the shoulders of enablers.

  6. Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    “The first point seems a bit weak, for children brought up in “moderate-faith” homes are likely to retain that moderate faith.”

    Certainly that’s true, but some will become extremists. How many religious extremists come from homes that aren’t at all religious?

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you have expressed my only disagreement with this post, which I find excellent. I think that, to assess the impact of moderate religion on future generations, we need both a positive control (children brought up in extremist homes) and a negative control (children brought up in homes of atheists of the same cultural heritage).

  7. fjordaniv
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    What a fantastic site. I hope they manage to get off the ground.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      There are some real gems there; worth bookmarking. 👀

  8. Scott Draper
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    FiveThirtyEight uses Pew data to show the following:

    According to Pew’s data on conversion rates, 10 percent of people raised Catholic wind up as evangelicals. Just 2 percent of people born as evangelicals wind up Catholic. The flow between mainline and evangelical Protestants is also tilted in evangelicals’ favor. Twelve percent of those raised evangelical wind up in mainline congregations, but 19 percent of mainline Protestants wind up becoming evangelical.

    That seems to indicate that more fundamentalist strains of Christianity are more appealing to moderates than vice versa.

    • Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      That’s compelling.

      Another way to look at it is where there are offshoots from various protestant denominations (including Mormons) are the more liberal or more radical? For example, Seventh-Day Adventists and Branch Davidians.

    • Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      This corresponds to what has happened in Latin America, too. There’s been (apparently) a decent exodus from Catholicism to fundamentalist Protestantism. Apparently this is because there is again better social systems, etc.

  9. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Christianity, right up to those brands that favor death for both gays and abortion doctors.

    Waiting on the Westboro loons (or other bunch of loons of the non-feathered variety) to start picketing gay abortion doctors with particular vehemence.
    And they’re going to go super-ballistic if someone does ever succeed in a getting a gay anatomically male person pregnant (with, presumably, a donated or engineered uterus).
    Actually, that would be an amusing stalking horse to flush the high-grade loons out of their rat holes.

  10. Paul S
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m probably repeating myself, but claiming religion’s good negates the bad is like claiming a husband who beats his wife is good if he takes the kids for ice cream.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      I like that…he beat her senseless but then later took her in for a check up. What a good husband he is and full of Christian love.

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      + 1

  11. Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Until the mainstream religions break up these bundles and explicitly disown the abhorrent verses, each new generation will have to rediscover on its own just how dangerous they can be — and that discovery will always come at a high price.

    But how on Earth are the religions supposed to do that?

    If you take the stance that the holy texts are, indeed, somehow holy, then it immediately follows that there must be some sort of divine inspiration to their origin. These gods are supposed to be capable of flooding the whole planet, raising the dead, and turning the moon to blood, and the texts are allegedly their authorized biographies. It’s flat-out incoherent to suggest that Jesus would turn water into wine and walk on water to convince people of his significance and of what he was saying, but then so completely bugger up the official record of the “facts.” Especially considering, for example, how often celebrities today tweet disapproval of press coverage about them. Muhammad doesn’t do social media…why, exactly? The only answer consistent with the premises of the religion is the official one: the Q’ran is perfect and Muhammad was the final prophet.

    So no extant religion can even theoretically revise its holy texts in the manner Henry suggests. It’d be blatant and obvious institutional suicide — with simply disbanding and embracing Enlightenment-based reason and Humanism the far more obvious answer, even to the religiously devoted. The “let’s pretend these verses don’t exist” approach is the only way the faiths can even hope to preserve themselves.

    Now, why the religions wish to preserve themselves…well, the answer to that should be clear, and related entirely to the funds deposited in the collection plates — not at all to the “eternal truths” they claim to preserve.



    • rickflick
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      “Now, why the religions wish to preserve themselves…”

      You’ve made good points I wouldn’t deny. It’s just that I think money in the plate is only one part of the impetus for self preservation. There is also the fact that these social movements possess extraordinary momentum. The psychology of the adherence is under the control of a swarm of viral memes which have as their key effect – never abandoning mother church, no matter what they may say against her. It would be like slapping your own mother.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Or murdering your father, in the case of the Mormon Church and its corporate patriarchy. Sure, rickflick, the meme strength of religious belief is very strong. But at the supreme top of the priestly hierarchy is a cabal of oligarchs who are dedicated to growing the power of their institution, and doing so for life in this world, and pace eternity. Much of that 10% tithing by loyal LDS members goes toward increasing the octopus megacorporation that this fraudulent religion has become.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 16, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          It’s kind of “chicken or egg”. Perhaps an “all of the above” scenario. You could consider the oligarchs as people who have risen in the church and found comfortable, self-serving jobs with big salaries. They are essentially parasites on the back of an otherwise thriving beast. Or you could say the priests and leaders are the main force dragging the aimless, somewhat reluctant membership along. There is just so much to motivate upholding the faith. If you were to eliminate one aspect it would probably not be enough to bring the beast to it’s knees.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      It is astonishing that an overwhelming number of Christians (at least 99% I’d say) do not know that there was no fixed canon of the Bible until at least around the 3rd century AD.

      Groups that tinker with the canon never do so for any convincing reasons. The Mormons have removed the Song of Songs. It seems that the sexuality of it bothers them, but the slaughter of foreign folk in other books does not.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Consider the site marked.

    I believe on whole that PCC is correct. You have to kill the entire concept of the religion and not get too wrapped up in moderate verses the fundamentalist. A character flaw of higher degree, kind of like the difference between a Cruz and a Trump — not much.

    The moderates are especially to blame for condoling the extremist or fundamentalist for several reasons and do so from fear, to knowing the crazies are not wrong. The Christians have managed to minimize the number of crazies within but they are still out there to a smaller degree, attacking abortion clinics and killing people. As soon as an attack takes place the moderate leaders say oh…that is not from our religion. We take a quick review and say, the hell its not.

  13. Zado
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    “One is continually told, as an unbeliever, that it is old-fashioned to rail against the primitive stupidities and cruelties of religion because after all, in these enlightened times, the old superstitions have died away… [But] the fact is that the bacilli are always lurking in the old texts and are latent in the theory and practice of religion.”
    -Christopher Hitchens

  14. Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article. Children hear plenty of people whispering in their ear that heaven is real and God exists and he will love/hate you if you do this… But for the most part they never hear the truth: “Well actually I haven’t got a clue about any of this. I’m just repeating stuff I heard.” It has to change.

    I wrote a blog post a while ago listing aspects of moderate religion that fanatics can easily use. The headings are fairly self explanatory — Divisiveness, Ownership and Personal Identity, Special Status for the Priesthood, Reward and Punishment, False Ideals and Denial of Human Nature, Surrender of Reason…

    As Rambow points out, such things that are fully primed and waiting to be used by extremists. By not pushing back against them in public life, we already cede to extremists their propaganda and recruiting ground.

  15. Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, some may become more radical if their religion has weakened their bullshit detectors,”

    weakening bullshit detectors is what religion does. that’s part of why it can work.

    “But let us remember that while some Christians fundamentalists are intolerant (think Kim Davis), few turn to murder”

    because of secular laws, not because Christianity is less vicious or that believers are any better people. There is no reason to think that if there weren’t secular laws that would punish them, they wouldn’t be out there doing their god’s “will”.

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I think this is an implicit comparison to Muslim fundamentalists, some of whom do not care about their own lives and, hence, secular laws. That is, the line in the sand is not murder but suicide. The most devastating attacks are done by people not caring whether they will survive (often deliberately becoming “martyrs”). Christian fanatics of this age rarely show such disregard to their own lives.

      • Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        oh my. Some Christians are just as idiotic as some Muslims and their religion is the basis for their idiocy. Each set thinks they will be a martyr for their god and what they consider the ideals of their religion (supported by the claims of their religion). They use violence to try to accomplish their goals and are both sure that they’ll get extra special presents if they die in the “service” of their respective gods.

        Yep, modern Christian fanatics don’t often use explosives on themselves. They just use bombs and automatic weapons. Golly, how much “better” they are. 😦

        • Posted June 23, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Well, I got it, Christianity = Islam for all intents and purposes. What a pity that so many people, including Muslims, haven’t got the memo and risk their lives to flee from Muslim-populated lands to Christian-populated lands.

          • Cindy
            Posted June 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink


          • Posted June 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            Yep, that’s what showing that religion does horrible thing, past, present, and likely future. All you are trying to do is excuse your religion and don’t want it mentioned that it has done as horrible things as anyone else and does continue to do this.

            Yep, people move from theocracies to secular countries, which happen ot have Christians in them. No surprise there. Happily, those countries don’t enforce the nonsense from the New Testament, like killing people who don’t worship their god, abandoning one’s family for religion, etc.

            • Posted June 23, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              On Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 3:05 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

              > clubschadenfreude commented: “Yep, that’s what showing that religion does > horrible thing, past, present, and likely future. All you are trying to do > is excuse your religion and don’t want it mentioned that it has done as > horrible things as anyone else and does continue to do this. ” >

            • Posted June 24, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

              You yourself used past tense when writing about Christian horrible things, and now you say “does continue to do this”.
              No, it doesn’t.
              As for the past when Christianity did do horrible things, I do not mind mentioning it, as long as this isn’t done to emotionally blackmail today’s Christians into submitting to Islam. But of course, this is exactly the case. Therefore, I am as interested in Christian atrocities as are the immigrants to Christian countries who are apparently very keen to receive their share of these atrocities.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 24, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                I watched this Stephen Fry documentary a few months ago:

                “Out There”


                Actor Stephen Fry has for two years seeking up some of the most homophobic persons in the world who spend most of their time fighting gays, and challenges their view upon their extreme homophobia.

                What’s interesting is, he spoke to an Iranian man, who, if deported from the Christian country of the UK, will face execution upon returning to Iran.

                Clearly, Christian homophobia is the equivalent of Muslim homophobia!!

              • Posted June 24, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Wow, surprise, I used past tense in talking about past things. Again, Maya, I used the past tense about past things and then use the present tense when pointing out that Christians do bad things now, because of what their religion commands.

                Ah, there we go, the real reason you are whining. You don’t like to be reminded that your religion is a horror show and you don’t want the responsibility for it, when you claim that your bible is true and your religion is true, the same bible and religion cited by all of those Christians, past and present, who do awful things. No one is wantng you to submit to Islam. It would be nice that you didn’t try to lie and pretend that Christianity has never done, never does and will never do just as horrible things as Islam.

                Again, nice try to move the goalposts. Again, where are these “Christian countries”? There are none. What these refugees are moving to countries that have humane laws and those aren’t based on the Christian religion. IF it were that laws in countries were based on the Christian religion, we would have non-believers killed, families abandoned if they weren’t of the right religion, etc. But we don’t, in the countries that refugees want to go to, religion is not the law. And that is what makes them livable.

              • Posted June 25, 2016 at 12:57 am | Permalink

                Claiming that “my” Bible and “my” religion is true?! Never. But you are right that I deny any responsibility for the Crusades and the Inquisition, and other things that have been over centuries before I was even born.

                “No one is wanting you to submit to Islam.”
                This is how I see your stance. When we are discussing dozens of innocent people murdered by a Muslim in the name of Islam, and you come up to say that we must instead repent for the sins of Christianity, I read it as an appeal to atone for the centuries-old sins of Christianity by doing nothing about Islam.

                “Where are these “Christian countries””?
                Europe, the Americas, Australia. The countries with majority of population of Christian heritage, where Christmas and Easter are celebrated as holidays. Of course, these countries are all ruled on a secular basis now, and most of them have a majority of atheists. But if you think that they can remain this way with an ever-growing proportion of Muslims, I think you are mistaken.

              • Posted June 27, 2016 at 6:26 am | Permalink

                Your bible and your religion still espouses the same claims as the Crusaders did.

                You may want to pretend that people want you to convert to Islam but again, no one has said this and your invention seems to be nothing more than a Christian wanting to make believe she is some martyr. As I have already indicated, and you have desperately tried to ignore, most, if not all, religions have done, are doing, and likely will continue to do horrible things because their holy books say that those things are approved by their gods.

                No surprise that you want to make believe that countries are Christian (and hate to tell you that Europe and the Americas aren’t countries). Again, the laws of the United States aren’t Christian or from the bible, they are from English Common Law, which was also not from the bible. Your ignorance of basic facts is unfortunately nothing new when it comes to Christians who want to make up nonsense. All you have is ignorance and the attempt to gin up fear to keep your religion intact.

              • Posted June 27, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                “…Hate to tell you that Europe and the Americas aren’t countries…”
                Absolutely. I meant the countries on said continents, but if one wants others to grasp what she means, she’d better type it.

                We cannot come to agreement not because of differences about facts – despite your claim that I am “ignorant of basic facts”, so far you have not reported a single fact unknown to me. We cannot agree because we want different things. I want to see the world in the best possible condition, based of course on my idea of this condition. I am not quite sure what you want, but from what you are writing, it seems to me that you strive for ethical perfection. Quite like the Stoics. If we both were brought back some 1,900 years back, I think you would keep your views largely intact, while I’d be strongly anti-Christian. I guess that I, like Tacitus, would be for death penalty for the Christians, just in some more humane manner than throwing to the lions.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 6:21 am | Permalink

                I do not think you did mean the countries on said continents at all since that would make your words meaningless.

                It is exactly because you cannot offer facts to support your claims that we cannot come to any agreement. You are indeed ignorant of basic facts, and you have been asked to support your claims, something you have refused to do.

                You do not want the world in the best possible condition. Making false claims doesn’t do that at all. You want to play pretend that one religion is so much worse than yours and you have to insist that no one bring up all of the horrible things that your religion has supported and continues to support.

                I am not for “ethical perfection” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. You are sadly wrong in your make believe about me and unfortunately very consistent in your desire to make believe you are some kind of martyr. I may indeed have the same beliefs 1900 years ago, that the facts matter and someone who tries to twist them should always be stood against. No idea why you think you’d be strongly “anti-Christian”.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 28, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

                What I have noticed is that you have done nothing but egregiously misrepresent Maymarkov’s arguments.

                Sharia Law is based on the Old Testament, btw. Both religions, in history, have certainly been equally terrible. The OT is pretty much pro-genocide. If we are to believe that the events depicted in the OT really happened, then the ancient Israelites were the ISIS of their day.

                But, none of that is neither here not there. The Bible is a shitty book as is the Koran. But there is one major difference that you are refusing to take into account. Talk to modern Christians, and you will find that even though they believe in the Christian God, that they are not bloodthirsty like many Muslims. In fact, the safest place to be a gay person or a woman is in Israel. The Jewish ‘bible’ is the OT – and other than a few ultra-orthodox crackpots, gays and women are not subjugated as a matter of course in Israeli society.

                And some more info on modern attitudes:

                24% of British Muslims say violence against cartoonists who draw Muhammad is justifiable


                You won’t find those same attitudes being professed towards people who mock Christianity or Judaism. Poll Christians in the UK, and you will not find that 24% of them endorse violence against people who mock their religion.

                Or take this:

                “. . . when asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed that homosexuality should be legal in Britain, 18% said they agreed and 52% said they disagreed, compared with 5% among the public at large who disagreed.”

                Get that? 52% of British Muslims want homosexuality to be made illegal in Britain—more than ten times the figure for the general population.

                “Almost half (47%) said they did not agree that it was acceptable for a gay person to become a teacher, compared with 14% of the general population.”

                “Nearly a quarter (23%) supported the introduction of sharia law in some areas of Britain, and 39% agreed that “wives should always obey their husbands”, compared with 5% of the country as a whole.”


                Yes, the Bible says horrible things. Christian and Jewish history is littered with corpses. The only difference is, modern Christians and Jewish people are no longer murdering those who merely disagree with them, unlike Muslims.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                evidence please, Cindy. Or are you as mistaken about that as you are mistaken that sharia law is based on the OT. It is actually based on the Qu’ran.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 28, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                Apparently, the Quran is often misunderstood, even by rank and file Muslims. According to the Skepic’s Society there is no mention of execution by stoning in the Quran. (The Skeptic’s Society is far from an apologist organization; they take a critical look at all of the holy books, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon.) What is not understood by many is the fact that much of Sharia law is derived from the Hadith, which was written by Muslim scholars. The Hadith was the scholars’ interpretation of what they thought Mohammed wished for his followers.

                So, how did all of those horrible punishments wind up in Sharia Law. Many suggest it was lifted from the Old Testament of the Bible, which contains the “law books” as written by Moses. Below, is a list of verses taken from the Old Testament. Does any of this sound familiar?


                Sharia Law is based on the Koran and many of the ideas within the Koran were taken from the Old Testament.

                Jews and Muslims have an aversion to pork.

                Adulterers are to be stoned to death.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

                oh yes, I do wonder, what do you think of “modern Christians” like the folks who blow up clinics, say that homosexuals deserve to die, say that our soldiers deserve to die because we don’t murder homosexuals, who try to keep the children of pagans and other non-Christians from their parents in divorce cases etc? Again, it seems you are quite ignorant on what Christianity actually says (abandon your family for the religion, kill anyone who doesn’t accept JC as king, Luke 19) and want to whitewash your religion so that no one can mention the horrors it has inflicted because of what it says God wants, what it continues to do and what it will likely do in the future. Sorry, dear, but your religion’s horrific acts aren’ t just in the past where you can falsely try to clam it was just the “culture” that allowed it, trying run away from the responsibity of the religion.

                You want to falsely calim that its just a “few crackpots” that want what the bible, OT *and* NT commands. However, that is not true and the only reason that many Christains, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims don’t do what they believe is that is rather inconvenient to be arrested and punished under a secular legal system.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 28, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                The stats that I provided do not lie. The general population – most of whom are Christian, not atheist – do not wish death upon those who disagree.

                You are pretending that crackppot Christians – like the few who attack abortion clinics – are the *norm* when they are not.

                You are pretending that modern day Christians and Jews follow the Old Testament – they do not.

                Your entire ‘argument’ has been nothing but strawmanning.

                And you should probably check out this new post by PCC on this very subject, of Muslim attitudes regarding Sharia Law – there is no parallel to that of modern Christian and Jewish attitudes:


                I suggest you look at the graphs. Modern Christians and Jews do not want to force OT law on the masses, unlike Muslims. Modern Christians and Jews do not think that it is heroic to murder gays and cartoonists who disagree with them.

                You are arguing incredibly dishonestly and I am appalled at your behaviour.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                Cindy, you want to hate people, that’s fine with me. What’s not fine is that Christians are no better than Muslims, despite your attempts to ignore your history. Happily, secular law hold most theists in check.

                I know that most Christians and Jews don’t follow their religion any more. they pick and choose, showing religion is nothing more than little people wanting to pretend that their hates and desires are shared by a magical omnipotent being. Thanks for pointing that out. Again, dear, modern Christians and Jews, are held in check because most countries aren’t theocracies, and will punish idiots who follow the hateful and ignorant commands claimed to be from a god. Thanks for ignoring my points.

                Why would anyone care if someone who make such arguments as you is “appalled” by my behavior? Again, still waiting for you to support your claims that I have misrepresented Maya’s nonsense. And now waiting for you to show where I used a strawman argument.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                You wrote:

                Again, it seems you are quite ignorant on what Christianity actually says (abandon your family for the religion, kill anyone who doesn’t accept JC as king, Luke 19) and want to whitewash your religion

                I am not a Christian. Neither is MayMarkov. As I said, you are trying to ‘win’ this discussion through outright lying. I am, in fact, an atheist, and have been all of my life.

                I agree with May that as, per the roolz, there is no point in continuing this discussion with someone who insists, *repeatedly*, on misrepresenting the views of his opponents.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                So, how do you know this about Maya, Cindy?

                Please do show where I’m lying. I’m waiting. You have yet to show where I have misrepresented anything. If you want to appeal to the “roolz”, please do get Dr. Coyne’s attention.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Two millenia ago, Western civilization was threatened by a cult of brainwashed, zombie-like religious fanatics who did not fear death and felt entitled to lord over others – the early Christians. And unfortunately, much of the elite was preoccupied not with saving the civilization or doing any other useful thing but with its own virtue and signalling it.
                Eventually, the Christian world somehow climbed out. Christian countries were secularized and reached unsurpassed level of development. This has not yet happened to Muslim countries, and there is no indication that it ever will.
                You said that I do not offer arguments. I did offer one, namely, that people flee Muslim countries to go to Christian ones. When I was young, the fact that people flee communist countries to go to capitalist ones always made communists unhappy. However, you do not accept “voting with one’s feet” as an argument. Therefore, I think you are interested in (your idea of) virtue, and signalling it, rather than the base facts of reality. After you dismissed this argument, I do not see any need to offer others to be similarly dismissed – you are not interested in arguments, only in writing how bad I am in order to feel good about yourself.
                Let me point out just another fact.
                You replaced my short, not quite accurate expression “Christian countries” with a longer, more accurate “secular countries with some Christians in them”. You, however, notably omitted to discuss why there are no formerly Muslim countries, with the possible exception of Albania, that have turned into “secular countries with some Muslims in them”. Moreover, import of non-European Muslims invariably brings violent religious zealotry of the type that had been long forgotten in the West.
                No matter whether I am one of the secular people or one of the Christians in a largely secular country, I know I have much to lose if my country is taken over by Islam. If I am Christian, I can suffer repression like Asia Bibi, and if I try to be openly atheistic, I can suffer repression like Ashraf Fayadh or be murdered like Nazimuddin Samad and others. I can be openly atheistic in a Christian-heritage country but not in a Muslim-heritage country (again, with the possible exception of Albania, but Albania is too small to accommodate all of us). Let me repeat: open atheists are safe in many Christian-heritage countries but in, at best, one Muslim-heritage country. To me, anyone who does not see this reality has too low cognitive ability for a meaningful discussion, and anyone who sees it but nevertheless denies it has something even worse than low cognitive ability.
                Because my society is not yet infected by Islamophilia, the above troubles are not likely to happen to me. So I am not claiming to be a martyr. All I have actually endured is the verbal abuse by you; but because I am voluntarily discussing, this is masochism rather than martyrdom. And I am putting an end to it. Anyway, I fear that by this long bilateral discussion we are violating the Roolz and stretching the patience of our host.

              • Posted June 28, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                Again, Maya, which countries are “Christian”? How can you tell? What Christian laws do they require to be followed?

                It is most curious that you want to invoke “da roolz”. No one has said “boo” about this discussion.

                It’s also great to see you try to claim that I am somehow “islamophilic”. Again, evidence for this please. And please do show where this “verbal abuse” is. Again, it seems you wish to play the martyr and are unable to support your claims. If you wish to discontinue the conversation, that is your choice.

              • Posted June 25, 2016 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                It seems that you think I am a believing Christian. I am not. But even if I were, this is irrelevant to the discussion.

              • Posted June 27, 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

                It is always rather suspect when someone who writes this “But you are right that I deny any responsibility for the Crusades and the Inquisition, and other things that have been over centuries before I was even born.
                “No one is wanting you to submit to Islam.”
                This is how I see your stance. When we are discussing dozens of innocent people murdered by a Muslim in the name of Islam, and you come up to say that we must instead repent for the sins of Christianity, I read it as an appeal to atone for the centuries-old sins of Christianity by doing nothing about Islam.” then claims she’s not a “believing Christian”.

                Again, Maya, it is quite pertinent to the discussion, for you wish to attack one religion, Islam, and do not like when it is shown that Christianity is no different.

                Again, what are these supposedly “Christian countries” when they do not use the bible or its commandments as laws?

  16. nicholas.v
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    “Never has so little afflicted so many for so long.” Religion, we do it to our children who in turn do it to their children.

    A child is conceptually and emotionally open and vulnerable. Religious indoctrination is the intentional process of crippling the child’s natural instincts for curiosity and investigation. By the time the child reaches adolescence, she is seriously compromised both conceptually and emotionally.

    Unable to reconcile her parent-given truth of god/satan/heaven/hell with either her own perceptual experience or the modern collective worldview, what path can she choose? Drop the religious faith and accept the modern worldview, or vice-versa, or a bizarre hybrid? This will neither be easy or quick for the adolescent, the entire sense of self is embedded within the conceptual structure and the emotional patterns. Neither are close to the recognizable surface for the adolescent.

    Why would anyone do this to a child? Yes, of course, because they also have been conceptually and emotionally compromised. And all to some varying degree.

    No doubt, as Henry Rambow suggests, some adolescents do find ‘renewed’ life and understanding in returning to the scriptures with a greater commitment than that of their parents, living by the literal ‘word of god,’ which now becomes both a trial and a badge of honor. Good question: do more extremists come from moderate, translate hypocritical, families than extremist families?

    At every opportunity, place religion in it’s proper category, especially the public venues. Adolescents can better decide for themselves when honesty and clarity about Bronze/Iron Age scriptures are commonplace.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I make similar observations below and wonder if the most sinister part of religion (even moderate ones) is it desensitizes the brain to originality and creativity.

    • Linn
      Posted June 16, 2016 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      I agree with your post.
      I would also add that even moderate religion has some insanely violent teachings that children are actually being taught in school all over the world.

      I remember my “moderate” christian teacher in primary school teaching us about the exodus and the plagues of Egypt. I still remember my horror at hearing her excuse the (luckily fictional) murder of all those egyptian children by saying that God had to save his chosen people.
      What is a child supposed to take from that?
      That killing is alright if you’re chosen and if those you kill are below you?
      How is that any different from what the extremists preach?

      And what were we supposed to learn from the story of Job that, I as a child, was also forced to read? That it’s alright for God to kill an entire family because he was bored and made a bet against Satan?
      Moderate religion is never truly moderate as long they cling to violent ancient teachings.

      I will of course still not blame moderates directly for the actions of extremists. I don’t think my gay friendly muslim friend is responsible for the massacre in Orlando.
      I will however blame them for the brainwashing of children and for hindering scientific progress.

      • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        I find the story of Job great. It shows God as “the most unpleasant character in all fiction” and gives moral and intellectual victory to the human (first Job’s wife, then Job himself, who I think is sarcastic when he says that he will bury his head in the dust.) I suppose the book has been sneaked into the scriptures by some secret atheist but nobody has mentioned.

        • Posted June 24, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

          The story of Job is one of the most vile books in the bible not just for how God is depicted, but for the helpless state it puts true believers in. I remember as a child, when my parents were on the brink of losing their house due to unemployment, them seeking solace in Job (when solace should have been sought in obtaining a lowercase job). What nonsense! While we prayed nightly rosaries for God to let this test past, we spent valuable time that could have been spent seeking a solution to our economic woes. While we are very fortunate to be in America, stories like Job can serve to perpetuate poverty for generations in less fortunate areas of the globe (as well as for the less fortunate here in terms of education and access to opportunities).

          • Posted June 25, 2016 at 12:42 am | Permalink

            I understand your point of view. You have been force-fed Job in a very unfortunate context. I have been brought up in an atheistic home in an officially atheistic country, so to me the Bible is a collection of harmless myths, and I like some of them. Most commenters on this blog have been raised Christian, with the Bible used as a tool to oppress their thoughts and their whole lives, and consequently they hate the book.
            In “Job”, I was amused to see God justifying his authority by claiming to know a number of facts about nature that can be found today in any encyclopedia.

  17. Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Islamic enlightenment came and went centuries ago. Look up: Ijtihad. That was when scholars could question and debate and arrive at reasoned conclusions. Before the hadiths were cast in stone.

    Christianity may have been “improved, refined” by the enlightenment, but it’s still all wrong.

    Bibles are in most western households, churches and motel/hotel bedrooms. However, go to a Goodwill sometime and see how many of them have ended up being “donated”, junked or thrown away. Very respectful treatment, eh?, for the word of God.

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      I think that a Western household should have a Bible, as it should have some book of Greek myths and (for English speakers) some Shakespeare.
      I do not think a child who has not been indoctrinated will suffer if he opens and reads the Bible. Very few youths decide to sacrifice heifers to Poseidon after reading the Odyssey.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 21, 2016 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        As a kid I tried to read it and hated it. I found it poorly written to my young mind. I liked much better Greek mythology, Shakespeare and various science fiction.

  18. nicholas.v
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Note that it appears the Orlando shooter was NOT living an extremist life until the decision was made to commit a singular and final extremist act.

    Whatever conflicts and difficulties the shooter was attempting to reconcile, the final extremist act was aligned with scripture, gaining forgiveness and heavenly reward.

    In the end, the conflicted adult returned to the religion of his childhood. At least that is one possible explanation. Many more will surface as time unfolds.

    Not intended to be cold, cruel, or prejudiced. Our hearts go out to the parents, family and friends of both the victims and the shooter.

  19. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The presence of authoritarianism in religion isn’t compatible with liberal secular democracies, which advocate the latter. I have no evidence, but I have to wonder if indoctrinating children in the supremacy of authority doesn’t cripple their minds to the point that their creativity and originality is affected. This, to me, if true, would be the root cause of all issues with religion and would explain the trend toward the lack of religion in liberal countries. After all, if you can think for yourself and question everything, why would you accept the sky dictator theory?

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      During adolescence, the mind is highly critical, reconsiders values, reduces parents to mere mortals. I wonder, why don’t all youths become atheists during puberty?

  20. Vaal
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I thought those three points from Rambow were quite good.

    As for this criticism: “The first point seems a bit weak, for children brought up in “moderate-faith” homes are likely to retain that moderate faith.”

    I don’t have specific data at hand but I thought it was a well known phenomenon that children often end up more conservative than their parents, sometimes politically, sometimes religiously. Sort of like a generation-skipping effect.

    I seem to remember reading articles that this is one of the problems the UK is having: That numerous kids raised by moderate Muslims have become more conservative than their parents (with some smaller portion even radicalizing).

    • Cindy
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      From what I have heard, many of these youth lead lives of debauchery until they decide to make up for their sins by engaging in violent Jihad.

      In this documentary, Warriors from the North, a young Somali man who, after years of drinking, promiscuous sex and trouble with the law, decides to join a Somali jihadist group in order to find meaning in life. Other men who joined the group to become suicide bombers etc all had a similar story – they were running away from the law, feeling guilty over a life of partying and so on…

      This seems to be a common theme. Devout, Koran leading Muslims are not the risk takers who become violent jihadists. It is, more often than not, thrill seeking, unhappy young men and women, all second generation, who are ‘looking for more’ out of life.

      • Linn
        Posted June 16, 2016 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        Many of them actually live a life of debauchery during their jihad as well.
        Hypocrisy is an integral part of religion, moderate as well as extremist.

      • Vaal
        Posted June 16, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        But that seems to fit in with Rambow’s
        first point, that raising people within a religious context

        “renders these children susceptible to fundamentalist ideology when, as young adults, they begin seeking a purpose for their lives.”

        After all, how many people raised atheist end up becoming Jihadists?

        It reminds me of several of my Jewish friends growing up. They did the standard rituals, and holidays, but in day to day living they were not religious or observant in the least. They were among my most “debauched” friends in terms of pushing the limits. And yet when they became adults it was like a switch clicked on, and suddenly the Jewish heritage that they essentially ignored became important to them (and they raise their kids as they were raised). They became quite conservative.
        It was really wild to watch how inculcation
        can travel under the radar for so long, but leave a current that can always take hold
        later on.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 16, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        This type of behavior seems to be fairly common. Rock stars leading lives of debauchery, hardcore gang members leading violent lives, hardcore addicts, etc., then suddenly becoming born again Christians or similar. As if they have reached a point where they have zero self respect, self loathing, can no longer bear what they think others think of them and fear imminent death, so they grab ahold of religion as hard as they can. They believe it can save them because they desperately need to be saved. These people are perfect raw material for religion. They are as primed as can be to accept just about any kind of bullshit if it means they will be saved.

        And, let’s face it. In some cases it does save them. But not as well as they could have been saved by secular methods that don’t include all the nasty baggage that comes with religion.

        • Linn
          Posted June 16, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          Allowing myself to be a little strident here, I would say they’ve replaced one addiction with another.

          • nicholas.v
            Posted June 16, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            Not strident at all. I think the measure would be in the resulting life change, dysfunctional or constructive.

            The Abrahamic religions do include a humanistic morality that can be a catalyst for positive personal change. The problem arises with the primary directive of pledging allegiance to the Absolute Truth of the Bronze Age diety Yahweh and the Word of God as handed down from the written records of four scribes in the time of the Babylonian captivity c.700-600 BCE.

            So the constructive life would emerge from the ability to separate the humanistic teachings from the primitive worship of a tribal diety and the talismanic regard for the associated scriptures.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 16, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

            That is verging on militant.🙂

  21. eric
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    But let us remember that while some Christians fundamentalists are intolerant (think Kim Davis), few turn to murder

    Yes, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? Any claim to have found some sort of determinant factor in religion for violence faces the problem of a large amount of false positives. Not to mention the false negatives of nonreligious violent groups. The contribution of religion to violence is empirically, stochastic.

    Personally, I would say that there are social structures that do fairly deterministically create violent actors. These social structures can (and often are) adopted by religious sects, but they can also be adopted by others, and not always adopted by religious sects. Look for structures that stress loyalty over division. That demand violent acts as an entry requirement or rite of passage. That suppress social relationships with outsiders, and that argue for an all-or-nothing ideological approach. I would be amazed if such a structure didn’t regularly produce violent law-breaking individuals. Do some Islamic sects fit the bill? Yes absolutely. They are, IMO, ‘gangs for God.’ Certainly we should call out those sects as contributing to the violent conduct of their members – just as we would any other gang. But can religions not be gang-like? I think the only empirically supported answer there is “yes.”

  22. Ken Pidcock
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    As a Christian nonbeliever, I was shaken by Sam Harris’s treatment of this topic in The End of Faith. “Wait a minute. Isn’t it opposition to fundamentalism that motivates my embrace of moderate faith?” It took me awhile to acknowledge that what actually motivated my embrace of moderate faith was a craven desire to be seen as a good person among my neighbors. Embarrassing in retrospect.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Trying to wrap my head around the idea of a christian nonbeliever. Care to elaborate?

      Nothing wrong with wanting to be seen as good so long as the things you do actually are good for others/society.

      • Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        I would guess “xian nonbeliever” has something to do with belief in belief.

        The point Ken is making is not that there’s something wrong with wanting to be seen as good, it’s that the reason most moderate theists give for being moderate is not true. They don’t embrace moderate religion in order to oppose fundamentalism; they embrace moderate religion in order to not be fundamentalist but still get points for being religious.

        • Alpha Neil
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

          I think I understand. Moderates use religion as a source of social bonding but without the beheading and whatnot. The extremists probably help the moderates feel like what they believe /practice is reasonable by comparison.

          I took kens being good comment to be more about feeling guilty about pretending to believe something that he doesn’t in order to gain favor with others. I’m certainly guilty of that.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        Trying to wrap my head around the idea of a christian nonbeliever. Care to elaborate?

        All I can say is that, if you were one of ’em, you’d know how common they are. The are legion among liberal Catholics and mainstream Protestants. Daniel Dennett’s believers in belief.

        • Alpha Neil
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure I’m married to one and I still can’t figure it out. Oh well, I wish you happiness however you define it.

        • Alpha Neil
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

          Wait, you linked to an article that explicitly states that your view is wrong. I’m totally confused but I like your style.

          • Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

            “Belief in belief” means a person doesn’t really think any religious claims are literally true, but going through all the religious motions is still very important, for some reason. Usually that “reason” is that being religious means you have greater moral insight or some other such nonsense.

            • Alpha Neil
              Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

              We’re on the same page. I understand the what; it’s the why that is beyond me.

    • Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:20 pm | Permalink


  23. Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    A fourth way moderate religion protects extreme religion is by insisting it’s ok to pretend to know things.

    If I could eliminate just one idea from the world, it would be the idea that religious faith is something good.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Could you imagine what society would be like if no one could pretend to know things? The entire system would collapse. To paraphrase Carlin, everyone is full of shit.

      • Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        Could you give an example of the kind of thing it’s ok to pretend to know? Why do I sense it will be something like “pretending to know what your kids want for dinner”? That’s not actually pretending to know. That’s simply acknowledging that ignorance on the particular matter in question is perfectly ok. Nothing important hangs in the balance. Would you drive across a bridge if engineers weren’t required to actually know how to design safe bridges?

        • Alpha Neil
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          “Why do I sense it will be something like “pretending to know what your kids want for dinner”?” You just pretended to know what I think. Stop pretending to know things that you don’t.

          I didn’t say it was OK, I’m saying there would be concequences to removing false confidence from society.

          • Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t actually pretend to know what you think. “Why do I sense etc” is an open ended construction. It allows that what I wrote and what you think might not be the same – we’ll have to wait for your response and see.

            Kind of proving my point. The things you want to call “pretending to know” are not actually pretending to know.

            • Alpha Neil
              Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

              I don’t know what point you are trying to make since I didn’t say it was OK to pretend to know things. But I’ll play your game. We cannot know the future yet we must consider the consequences of our actions. So we pretend to know what will happen and do our best to make good decisions. Consciousness is all about pretending to know why we did things. There is no such thing as perfect knowledge so we have to bullshit through the uncertainties.

              • Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

                No, that’s my point. We don’t need to pretend to know the future in order to proceed. In a lot of cases our best guesses will be ok. And even if some people think our best guesses are somehow more than just guesses, they’re actually still just guesses. There are an awful lot of circumstances where best guesses will serve us just fine. But we should acknowledge that best guesses are not knowledge, and we should acknowledge that there are very many contexts in which guessing is NOT OK, my example of bridge-building being only one of thousands.

    • Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      Well, crap. I commented after reading Rambow’s piece, not Jerry’s. I see now Jerry made just this point.

  24. Shep
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    “Promotes”, “fuels”, “excuses”, “allows”. We need to choose our words appropriately. I don’t know that it fuels or promotes extremism, but it does seem to allow and excuse it.

    • nicholas.v
      Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Actually “promotes” and “fuels” may be wrong in the sense that these words give a false security and impression about moderate religion as separate from extreme religion.

      Of course, the problem is not the majority-population of moderate-living religious people in our world. No one would dispute the beauty, value, and contribution of the billions of people with some connection to the Abrahamic religions.

      The danger is in the individual who chooses to act within the extremist foundations of the Abrahamic religions.

      To be clear: Moderate religion is born of extreme religion. The extremism is in the DNA of the religion. In a given time and place the extremism can be suppressed or deactivated, but it remains part of the DNA.

      The Abrahamic religions cannot exist without absolute allegiance to the God of Abraham and the complete talismanic regard for the scriptures. According to these scriptures, the failure to accept these requirements is social condemnation in this life, in some cases with corrective measures, and eternal condemnation by the God of Abraham.

      A better example of extremism would be hard to find in our time. And this is the foundation of moderate religion.

  25. Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Promote is a bit too strong for the most part, but a weaker “provide a toe in”, might do the trick.

    I think this occurs, in addition to the weakening of BS detection, by the paradox of tolerance.

  26. Posted June 16, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I also answer “yes”. Moderate believers promote extremism, because actually, there is nowhere a dividing line, but a continuum of views. Some believer might be fairly progressive about women’s rights, but have deeply held backward convictions on, say, homosexuality. For the next one it might be vice versa. Religion as a medium contains extremist ingredients that cannot be neatly cut out. While you can say certain views are extreme or moderate, I think this doesn’t necessarily neatly categorizes believers (this argument was best illustrated in a video by CoolHardLogic, in his “Testing” series).

    Religion as a whole is a kind of autotheism, that also uses certain features of cognition, thinking within certain frames, which enable extremist views, too. This is a variant of the second argument — the “package deal” aspect that are Holy Books combined with “ways of knowing” and thinking in certain paths open up extremism.

  27. Posted June 16, 2016 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I think arguing that moderate believers have faith, therefore it promotes acceptance of fundamentalist believers is both proving too much and widening the scope far beyond the reaches of religion.

    As a very prominent example, take Catholicism (the largest sect of Christianity on a global basis). The Catholic Church claims to be against superstition (this is a point I contest, but that’s another conversation), and they are vehemently against such forms of woo as astrology and the Quantum Bullshit the likes of Deepak Chopra push. The Catholic Church quite clearly sees the astrologer’s game and points out that the language in horoscopes in ambiguous, can be applied to broad groups of people, and is bound to ring true from many people on any given day. Yet, in removing the speck from the astrologer’s eye, they fail to see the plank in their own.😉

    The fact is, moderate believers do think they have evidence for their beliefs, whereas the fundamentalist, at least in Christianity, is more likely to fall into the trap of arguing that we should “just have faith.” Think of the bumper sticker, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” There’s a major bridge to cross from moderate belief to the blind acceptance of whatever bullshit you’re being fed.

    Also, from subjective experience, having grown up in a conservative Catholic family, I know that very conservative believers shun moderates. Dan Barker talks about this in his book, godless. Fundamentalists believe you should run hot or cold in your beliefs and that moderates are apostates of the worst kind. They certainly don’t care whether moderates believe in the same god that they do. So, no, I don’t think a lack of moderate believers would change the number of fundamentalists that exist.

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. In Europe, the native population is very secular and there are few if any attacks on abortion providers. The old Muslim minorities are also very secular and produce quite few extremists, comparable to the rate of extremist converts from non-Muslim populations.

      • Posted June 24, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        You disagree with which part?

        I don’t see how secular Europe with more liberal believers amongst the religious has anything to do with fundamentalist beliefs. Do liberal believers give cover to moderate believers? I think that’s a fair analogy when looking at whether moderate believers give cover to fundamental believers.

        A society that is more secular is likely to have fewer believers of all stripes, but I think we need more than simple correlation. (This correlation would also tend to explain the lower rate of attack on abortion clinics especially given that it’s a relatively rare thing even in the U.S. where 40% of the population is fundamentalist. 11+ deaths is hardly a sample size where its easy to draw broad conclusions about a group that includes more than 100 million people.)

        If you look at the philosophy of fundamentalism, they don’t care what moderates, liberals, or secular humanists think. If you put the Westboro Baptists in Brussels, for example, I don’t think they’d shift their thoughts one iota. Perhaps we’re operating under different definitions of “giving cover.” I’m interpreting it to mean that fundamentalists have their beliefs validating because moderates believe some of the same epistemic claims. My assertion is that fundamentalists couldn’t care less about this.

        • Posted June 24, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          I’ll also add that there’s a stark difference between fundamentalist Islamists and fundamentalists Christians. 11 deaths would be a very slow day in terms of Islamist killings, nevermind a decades long scale.

  28. Posted June 23, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I have this strange but acute suspicion that Henry Rambow is a pseudonym.

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