A frequent response to criticisms of religious ideologies, nowadays in particular with respect to Islam, is that we mustn’t regard the faith/ideology as “monolithic”, i.e, fall into an oversimplified essensialist trap. In particular, that means we are morally prohibited for offering a criticism of Islam per se, since no such thing exists.
Funnily enough, never is this argument brought forth when criticisms are given of the ideologies of “nazism”, “liberalism”, “racism” “socialism” or the nebulous “capitalism”, even though for every one of these ideologies (or pseudo-ideologies) surely the individual adherents have their own particular ideological concoction in their heads.
So, what is wrong here?
i) That we should extend this argument to these ideologies, too?
ii) That it is something fundamentally wrong or superficial with the argument as such?
Let us first grant a banal truth:
Of course, individuals individualize whatever belief systems or belief components they receive, and concoct their own particular mixture of it.
But, even though this is true, and that prima facie, we should expect that for any particular doctrinal element or moral attitude, we will find at least one adherent of it within any particular ideology, this only says that the DOMAIN of possible attitudes is the same for all humans, whatever their ideological adherence.
But the domain must not be confused with the range, or DISTRIBUTION of attitudes, i.e, the percentages of the adherents holding a particular doctrinal/moral belief (amongst others).
For example, we may assume that the overwhelming majority of social democrats hold that kindergartens should have state fundings, whereas an equally overwhelming majority of liberalists will hold that these should be privately funded.
But this does NOT mean you cannot find a social democrat that sympathizes with the idea that kindergartens should be privately funded, or that a self-proclaimed liberalist holds that there is much value in publicly funded kindergartens.
The latter point, however, only concerns the attitudinal domains of social democrats and liberalists, and we may regard it, for simplicity, to be identical.
But that means it isn’t the domain that describes the actual content of the sub-culture, rather, that is given by the DISTRIBUTION of attitudes among the adherents.
A sub-culture can then be defined as precisely that distribution, with regard to some particular domin of attitudes.
And, although we give allowance for individual variation, we are by no means prevented from criticising those elements within a particular sub-culture that seems to represent the expectation values of that sub-group.
Individual variations only concern the VARIANCE of attitudes, not the expectation value.
The fallacy of the “not a monolith”-argument is to confuse individual, aberrant utterances with the statististically significant properties of a sub-culture.
Now, as a conclusion, let us just consider the issue of variance with respect to different ideologies:
When comparing a religious ideology with a the ideology of a political party, we should expect that the variance within the religious sub-culture is significantly greater than within the party, since the religionists learn their ideology in informal, unthinking, unsystematic ways, and discussion, debate and scrutiny of principles are actively discouraged.
This means that local variations will flourish, often at odds with each other.
In addition, they are brought up within the ideological climate, rather than attaching themselves to the ideological community through mature, adult reflection as is more often the case with party affiliations.
But, even though we grant that the variance of attitudes among co-religionists are greater than in other ideological communities, expectation values of attitudes will no less occur, and we are at perfect liberty, and intellectually entitled to, criticize these as being emblematic of the faith community in general.