culpability

Another day, another article about why we can’t assign some blame for negative human behavior to religious teachings that advocate for humans to behave negatively.

Certainly, with enough hand waving and motivated reasoning (along with motivated political science) one can remove from culpability any variable they’d like. While yes, human behavior is complex and functions within a complex system with many inputs and outputs, to say that the teachings of a religious text cannot be used to help explain an aspect of human behavior because “It’s only by looking beyond the texts that we can hope to understand why certain interpretations of them have gained currency among a tiny minority” is itself as shortsighted and ludicrous as saying that the texts are the only explanation for human behavior.

A better explanation is that certain behaviors are more likely to manifest as a result of certain religious teachings more than others. So if a text says “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out… And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.” Quran (2:191-193) People are more likely to manifest behavior that is in accordance with modern day violent jihad than if the text said more plainly, “never harm the unbelievers except in self defense, and even then only inflict the minimum harm necessary.” More likely doesn’t mean definitely, however. So said behaviors can also lie dormant for periods of time, even though they are within the toolkit of probable behavioral expressions of certain belief systems.

The idea that religion plays a role in human behavior isn’t a simple minded one, it’s a basic fact. The author of this piece argues instead that human behavior is complicated, and that in order to understand it we must take into account the “full complexities of the world” by considering how “politics – including military and non-military intervention by foreign powers – interacts with religion.” But then he does so by arguing that we must then remove religion from culpability, in the very same piece where he himself admits “Aspects of Islamic teaching do indeed justify some kinds of violence. Islam isn’t a pacifist religion.” In other words, the author proves himself unable to cope with the “full complexities of the world” even as he advocates for everyone else to do so.

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