Category Archives: religion

unnecessary proscriptions — on the persecution of homosexuals the world over

How unfortunate.  For anyone who is interested in what caning looks like, you’ll find plenty of examples on YouTube. I would, however, advise against it unless you are cursed with the same morbid (and unfortunate) curiosity about the darker sides of human nature, and its evolutionary/cultural causes, that I seem to posses.

In general, I would just recommend that most of you simply take my word for it, and trust that when I say watching an elderly woman writhe over in pain for an offense as harmless as selling alcohol, a high degree of emotional empathy is not something one feels so fortunate to possess (at least not at that moment).
 
Anyway, there are a lot of seemingly stupid things humans do as a matter of course, even though there might be rational explanations for why we do them. Mostly, behaviors such as caning help to regulate society toward some end goal, often for reasons that appear at first to have little to do with the behavior being regulated.
 
For example, certain foods may be considered forbidden (and usually a religious explanation is given), but the real cause for why such foods lost favor in a given society has more to do with the fact that rival tribes consume them. To maintain group cohesion and regulate against out-group marriage, forbidding the consumption of the culinary delights of one’s enemies makes it more difficult for one’s progeny to engage in the “breaking of bread” with the “oh Romeo, oh Romeo” just across the way.
 
This is so because the emotion of “disgust” against foreign, but otherwise edible, food types emerges during childhood as an evolved way of protecting against food poisoning. We feel disgust for food that is more likely to be dangerous to eat, and the more disgust we feel, the less likely we may end up consuming that which puts us on our death bed (or heaved over the toilet). So the regulation against out-group foods takes advantage of disgust to reduce the likelihood that Romeo and Juliet will ever enjoy caviar under the moonlight, because Juliet would rather puke her guts out than consume caviar.
 
Anyway, proscriptions against homosexuality in religious texts probably also have similar evolutionary/cultural explanations. Mostly, in cases where a society needed to procreate at high numbers–such as during periods of military conquest, where changing the local demographics of an area was far more practical and advantageous than trying to rule, from afar, the out-groups who lived in those places–having every able bodied man and every able bodied woman getting it on in the style most likely to generate babies was the fastest way towards accomplishing the socially desirable ends of demographic conquest through demographic expansion. This is just one explanation, mind you, but it’s one I find compelling.
 
It’s also the only one that seems to make the most sense for why the Christian God and his Islamic variant, “Allah”, would want to forbid that which comes natural to approximately 3-10% of the world’s population, namely: “lying with a man as with a woman [when one is a man (and vise versa when one is a woman)].”
 
Obviously, there might be some more sophisticated theological reasons for why God/Allah would want to implement such totally unnecessary strictures, and of course those would offer some version of the “mysterious god” acting in “mysterious ways” argument — but really, in the end, I struggle to find why a just god would be so sadistic as to invent a whole sexuality that would develop in billions of his creation (including humans and non-human animals), and then outlaw it in the human animal only.
 
But needless to say, those verses were inscribed within these texts in a way that, today, results in an untold number of unnecessary brutality, in some countries, and tragically torn families in others. And while I am not a religious person, I would hope that, as more information becomes known about the natural causes for the great diversity in human sexuality (fact), today’s “tribal leaders” might soon find such unnecessary interdictions to be worthy of explaining away. Because the line of reasoning behind them rears it’s ugly head far too often around the world on a daily basis, and many millions of otherwise innocent, harmless people have their lives torn apart for doing nothing more than being who they are (and harming nobody for it). How sad that is.

backwards progress

Danish man finds himself in hot water for blasphemy.  He is being prosecuted (persecuted?) under an old Danish blasphemy law that was still on the books, but had not been used to prosecute (persecute) someone since 1946.  

Many Danes support the law, though, because they see it as a compromise between two values: freedom of speech and multiculturalism.  Both they hold dear.  But unfortunately, keeping the peace, at least to the Danes, takes precedence over freedom of speech.    

The defendant’s lawyer makes a valid point, ““The Quran contains passages on how Mohammed’s followers must kill the infidel, i.e. the Danes,” he said. “Therefore, it’s an act of self-defense to burn a book that in such a way incites war and violence.”” 

Many apologists will argue that such passages cannot be interpreted except through careful, expert exegesis, because they can otherwise be so easily taken out of context by the layman.  For example, Quran 61:9 says, “He it is who has sent His Messenger (Mohammed) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam) to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may resist.”  This could obviously be interpreted to mean, “Islam is a religion of peace”, or it could also be interpreted to mean, “Islam is a religion that may often manifest in violence.”  It’s all open to interpretation (resist could mean, “consent” or “comply”), so we’d be lost without the experts. 

In like fashion, the burning of a holy book could be interpreted to mean “open hostility towards a people”, or it could also be interpreted as a genuine embrace of freedom over the asphyxiating proscriptions of group dogma.  Who knows?

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.