Islam and the Future of Tolerance

 
NL.
 
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NL.
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06 October 2015 16:43
 

Is anyone reading Harris’s new book? I was already working my way through DMT: Spirit Molecule, but it’s rather slow going (I love you, Rick Strassman, you seem like an insanely hardworking idealist, but for God’s sakes find an editor. Why are there whole passage devoted to your interactions with the doorbell at the research center - There were days when, despite my better judgement, I did buzz more than once—I could wait in the hallway only so long. There also were days when I wasn’t quick enough to push open the door when the lock released, and I had to ring again. and details such as the fact that sleep masks were difficult to find at the local drugstore. I was halfway expecting the entire book to detour at that point into a saga of Rick’s Trip To Wal-mart to buy the damn masks, followed by a sequel about where his research volunteer got lunch that day.) So I downloaded Harris and Nawaz’s book at Panera, and then had an anxiety attack trying to cover my iPad because a Bible study pair sat down next to me to begin reading passages about Jesus and a young girl in a hijab was bringing my food at that exact moment. It was super awkward.


Anyways, just started the book, with some difficulty as I was trying to read it upside down whilst feigning that I was just dusting my iPad or something. Seems like it will be an interesting read though. Harris I’m familiar with, of course, and Maajid, assuming he’s really gotten beyond his troubled past, seems like a pleasant combination of warm, thoughtful, proactive, and cocky with just a dash of sagaciousness thrown in. I’ll be curious to read what they have to say.

 
 
EN
 
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06 October 2015 16:53
 

Why were you afraid to let the Bible study pair and the Muslim waitress see what you were reading?  Did you think the Christians would stone you with hard donuts and the Muslim would pour hot coffee on you?

 
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06 October 2015 18:44
 
EN - 06 October 2015 02:53 PM

Why were you afraid to let the Bible study pair and the Muslim waitress see what you were reading?  Did you think the Christians would stone you with hard donuts and the Muslim would pour hot coffee on you?


Sorry to get into stereotypes, but that’s a very male way of looking at it. Women don’t have to throw anything at you to make you feel horrible. Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with someone throwing a donut at my head than simple social derision.

[ Edited: 06 October 2015 20:06 by NL.]
 
 
GAD
 
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07 October 2015 14:18
 

I don’t read anything from Harris anymore. If you want to know what religion does just look at your fear of it while they walk around doing and saying whatever the hell they want.

 
 
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07 October 2015 17:10
 
GAD - 07 October 2015 12:18 PM

I don’t read anything from Harris anymore. If you want to know what religion does just look at your fear of it while they walk around doing and saying whatever the hell they want.


Well, in my case that would apply to any sociocultural attitude they might represent, so perhaps I’m not the best example.


Started the book btw. Harris and Nawaz have an interesting dynamic - I can see why he went to a different space in this conversation than in one’s he’s had with people like Aslan or Armstrong. Aslan and Armstrong strike me as lofty, ‘in their heads’ kinda people who are going to meet Harris, conversationally, at more or less the place where he’s starting and has already drawn conclusions. Nawaz seems more wily and pragmatic - not in a bad way, but he’s a bit of a politician. That seems a useful juxtaposition on some points - for example, when Harris tends to go with the idea that people support religion because of mystical states and spiritual experiences that seem to confirm their hypotheses about said religion. Obsessing over mystical states is, let’s be honest, something I would do, something he would do, something Aslan and Armstrong would probably do, but Nawaz seems like a guys guy who’s pretty happy with the sensory world as-is, not a spiritual seeker. So when he describes becoming radicalized, it was for largely worldly reasons - circumstances put him into a vulnerable place and there were people pushing this ideology that seemed to ‘solve’ this problem for him (and as he seems like a go-getter, probably gave him the opportunity to do something in life, in the same unfortunate way that teens get involved in selling drugs because it seems like the only opportunity for them.) So that angle is something new in Harris’s discussions on the topic - talking more about how ideology interacts with real-world circumstances. I think it’s worth reading, although I do wonder if the audience that is going to listen to these ideas is going to be a niche one in the grand scheme of things.

[ Edited: 07 October 2015 17:15 by NL.]
 
 
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09 October 2015 02:20
 

Well, I read the book, and while I am apparently the only one on PR, posting my thoughts anyways.


In some ways it was a difficult read for me, because I am very zoomed out “forest not trees”, and Harris and Nawaz were more zoomed in during this discussion. This made it hard for me to relate to either of their views, although people who are more into concrete facts may well find it instructive there. For Harris, it sounded to me as if he repeated a “single case study as evidence” mode of thinking over and over again, which, while I value Harris as a person, vexed me. Sorry. Going for blunt but honest. When I say single case study, I don’t mean, literally, a single case study - I mean the mode of thinking wherein you draw conclusions by looking at point A to point B, without looking at surrounding relationships. He states repeatedly that since religious people do things that are mentioned in religious text, the causal relationship is self-evidently obvious. This might be true, to my mind, if we lived in a world where they were the only people doing those things. As it happens, they are generally the only people doing various things while giving that specific justification, so religion applies to the justification, not the act. Saying religion must cause violence because you see religious people doing violent things in the name of religion would be like, to my mind, saying eating apples causes death because you see people who eat apples dying. The question is not whether people who eat apples die or religious people do violent things, the question is whether or not they do this more than other groups, proportionately, given similar circumstances. I think that if Harris wants to continue with this line of thinking he should advance his research and engage in meticulous comparison studies, not talk intuitions. I mean, I love talking intuitions, it’s fun and like the ‘brainstorming’ session at the beginning of a project, but at some point you have to get down to the boring, nitty gritty work.


For Nawaz I felt the opposite - that I was reading a lot of verbal gymnastics regarding a topic wherein I am in no way invested in said gymnastics. I mean, he’s good at it and he sticks the landing, so good for him, but the intricacies of how you could maybe sorta kinda interpret this religious passage to say this or that doesn’t even interest me in Christianity anymore, much less a religion for which I have little familiarity. Yes, at some point religions do go through that process of saying “Seeeeew… now this one thing that we said… means this other thing… because… reasons…” and I think that’s a necessary process. It interested me when I was a Christian. At this point, I feel like an outsider looking in on such things, and it just reads as, well, verbal gymnastics. It’s not actually clear to me why Nawaz isn’t more or less an atheist himself at this point - they didn’t go into that - I would have found that discussion intriguing, but maybe he thought that was too personal. On the positive side, he has an impressive amount of knowledge regarding the ins and outs of Islamic history and political process. Unfortunately I do not retain discrete facts so this style may be better suited to someone who processes that way, but I did enjoy going “Wow, look at that hella knowledge and facts and stuff, right there!”.


I dunno, I’ve enjoyed many of Sam’s other writings on other topics. The reason why I don’t like reading him so much on this one was highlighted for me when I read this passage from him: “And my fear is that when you have a fatwa like the one we circulated, pegged to covenants and treaties, the serpent of theocracy may be hiding somewhere in the shadows. I worry that if things were to change, and we had a Muslim-majority government, all pretense of tolerance would disappear and we’d be on a swift ride back to the seventh century.” Perhaps it’s a universal truth, perhaps it’s just been hammered into my head by Christian (lamb of God) and US (only light can do that) icons, but the theme of true goodness and progressiveness equating to something like martyrdom and putting others over self to an illogical (by worldly standards) degree featured heavily in my upbringing. Coming at things from a place of fear is never the answer, no matter how logical that fear seems at the time. I’m not saying that I could personally address any and all issues from a place of compassion, just that I think the voices that are ultimately transcendent in human history do just that.


Overall, interesting read, although Harris’s views I’d pretty much read before in other places. For Maajid, he seems like a good guy, although I know he has a lot of detractors. I don’t know enough about him to decide whether or not that’s warranted, but at a surface glance, I feel bad for him in that he seems like he’s an outsider on all fronts - scanning comments of reviews of the book and Harvard talk, it seems that many in the Muslim community oppose him for not “really” being a Muslim (because he drinks and had a bachelor party and whatnot) and those in the liberal community think he’s secretly a closet neocon. Again, don’t know much about him, but from what I do there’s not much one could point to empirically to make that case, it’s mostly a matter of distrust of his underlying motives on both sides. It seems as if we live in an age where there’s an odd dance between tribalism and the free market of ideas. It’s like a Costco model - you’re free to buy sell and trade, but only if you have an annual membership.

 
 
icehorse
 
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13 October 2015 04:14
 

Nah NicLynn,

I’ll catch up, I want to read it, I’ve just got a massive deadline looming…

 
 
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13 October 2015 14:12
 
icehorse - 13 October 2015 02:14 AM

Nah NicLynn,

I’ll catch up, I want to read it, I’ve just got a massive deadline looming…


Cool - it’s a super fast read. I’m a slow reader and even I finished it in a couple of days.


I enjoyed reading Maajid on this one, not quite as much Sam. I love reading Sam a lot on other topics, on religion he sounds like he’s in a perpetual state of annoyance over the fact that the universe doesn’t seem logical. For better or for worse I feel like I threw up my hands a long time ago on that one and said “Nope, the universe is not logical, however, it does contain cupcakes, which is often a good enough trade on the whole.” I’m sort of kidding - when I say logical I am referring to a certain brand of obvious, linear logic. Yes, people apply different standards when it comes to talking about religion. No, this is not, to my mind, as Sam analogizes, as if you went into a restaurant and ordered lobster and expected to get a salad - precisely because billions of people don’t do that. If billions of people engaged in the social convention of ordering lobster and expecting steak or salad or ice cream, then we would analyze the phenomenon of going into a restaurant and ordering lobster in a different way. Empiricism and logic have an odd relationship, to my mind - the minute logic thinks it has a predictive relationship all wrapped up, empirical evidence goes and does something weird and then logic either gets pissed off or tells what sounds like a just-so story for awhile until it’s pretty sure it has this predictive thing all wrapped up again and then empirical evidence goes and does something wacky again.


Sorry, that’s a little abstract. On that note, you may enjoy this book precisely because it’s a bit more technical and detail oriented, in regard to the specific avenues for decision making, reform, and consensus-building within Islam. Personally, I am not particularly interested in the legalese of a religion that I don’t belong to - I was more curious about the psychology of why Maajid did / does certain things. Why is he still religious; what does he see, ideally, as a positive way for his religion and culture to come to the table of secularism (I mean, we always hear about the West helping to reform the Islamic world - is he still a member of this religion solely to be better positioned to influence it toward that end, or does he see positive values in his religion that could be contributed in a reciprocal, pluralistic manner); how does he think religious thinking is either going to help or worsen the psychology that arises in what are essentially failed or failing states in places where that is happening (I do think that’s an interesting question - I mean, in the long run, which is worse - religious tribalism or drug cartels / militias?). I think he also has an autobiography, perhaps I’ll read that at some point - this was a more targeted discussion on the topic of avenues for change within Islamic thinking.

 
 
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13 October 2015 15:41
 

Now here I am asking for some cliff notes - feel free to not play along : )

Do they discuss the linkage between beliefs and actions? To me, a lot of these discussions come back around to this basic question: Do beliefs impact behaviors?

Sam always argues (convincingly to me), that the answer is yes. His opponents tend to obfuscate this discussion, e.g. “Well life is complex, you can’t blame religion for this action.” The rebuttal I’ve been using recently is to say: “Well if you can’t blame religion for X, then you can’t allow religion to take credit for Y.”

What I’m finding is that (for the most part), religious folks tend not to have particularly good answers to the question of how religion is beneficial. What I typically see is that they attribute to religion benefits that should probably be attributed to other influences, such as culture.

==

Is this discussion in the book?

 
 
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13 October 2015 18:44
 
icehorse - 13 October 2015 01:41 PM

What I’m finding is that (for the most part), religious folks tend not to have particularly good answers to the question of how religion is beneficial. What I typically see is that they attribute to religion benefits that should probably be attributed to other influences, such as culture.


I think that’s a fair point, although I think the question of pros and cons should be applied to every ideology. Any system - religious, political, philosophical or otherwise - sees it’s negative attributes as justified as a necessary part of a system that, on the whole, does more harm than good. I will admit that after becoming an atheist (and maybe for various other reasons in my life - getting older, not being a carefree partying 20-something anymore, etc.) - I probably err more on the side of “ideology apologism” for most all organizing frameworks and organizing ideologies. Ironically, I was probably less concerned about external controls when I thought God would sort it all out one day - to that end I can see how the ‘bad’ versions of Communism, which theoretically should have been so humanistic, ended up manifesting the worst kind of authoritarianism.

 

Is this discussion in the book?


You may interpret it differently but I don’t think so. Again, to me it was much more about the nitty gritty details of how one would go about changing various schools of thoughts in Islam (the process behind who does what and who can interpret what) and if there is any credible logical basis for doing that. I.e., if you can point to a place where a scripture contradicts itself, perhaps you have established a case for saying this particular piece of scripture must be interpreted more subjectively.

 
 
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13 October 2015 20:20
 
EN - 06 October 2015 02:53 PM

Why were you afraid to let the Bible study pair and the Muslim waitress see what you were reading?  Did you think the Christians would stone you with hard donuts and the Muslim would pour hot coffee on you?

Is this sarcasm? Because that’s how non-christians are treated in much of this country. I don’t have to take anyone’s word for it… it’s the community I was raised in.

 
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19 December 2015 16:32
 
Niclynn - 06 October 2015 04:43 PM

So I downloaded Harris and Nawaz’s book at Panera, and then had an anxiety attack trying to cover my iPad because a Bible study pair sat down next to me to begin reading passages about Jesus and a young girl in a hijab was bringing my food at that exact moment. It was super awkward.

Anyways, just started the book, with some difficulty as I was trying to read it upside down whilst feigning that I was just dusting my iPad or something.

Lol! I can definitely relate to that. I’m just glad to be living in the time of ebooks, Kindle and iPad. Before I bought my Kindle, it would have been difficult to hide my rapidly growing stash of atheist books.

[ Edited: 19 December 2015 16:36 by thought_bubble]
 
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24 May 2017 23:19
 
GAD - 07 October 2015 02:18 PM

I don’t read anything from Harris anymore. If you want to know what religion does just look at your fear of it while they walk around doing and saying whatever the hell they want.

Even better, look at how Muslims, e.g. Sunnis/Arabs, treat other Muslims e.g. Shias/Iranians or Ahedmiyyas (hanged in Pakistan). If they can’t accept other believers in Allah and want to cut their throats, how can they love anyone else? All the BS about Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance applies ONLY TO YOUR OWN SECT OF ISLAM. Members of other sects, not to mention other religions, are to be beheaded. Period. Civilized countries need to expel all Muslims who do not explicitly renounce the Sharia.

 
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25 May 2017 00:42
 
swamig - 24 May 2017 11:19 PM
GAD - 07 October 2015 02:18 PM

I don’t read anything from Harris anymore. If you want to know what religion does just look at your fear of it while they walk around doing and saying whatever the hell they want.

Even better, look at how Muslims, e.g. Sunnis/Arabs, treat other Muslims e.g. Shias/Iranians or Ahedmiyyas (hanged in Pakistan). If they can’t accept other believers in Allah and want to cut their throats, how can they love anyone else? All the BS about Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance applies ONLY TO YOUR OWN SECT OF ISLAM. Members of other sects, not to mention other religions, are to be beheaded. Period. Civilized countries need to expel all Muslims who do not explicitly renounce the Sharia.

Religion isn’t tolerant, it’s force, it only pretends to be tolerant until it is powerful enough to dictate.