SmartLX www

Two ways.

First is the simple idea that extremists can point to the masses of moderates who hold the same basic beliefs as them (just differently interpreted) and claim themselves justified and supported no matter how much the moderates protest to outsiders.

I think of the second way using a physical analogy. Think of an inconsistent attractive force (say, a randomly spinning magnet) hung very close to a large, immobile rock.

The force will attract small objects from all directions. It will draw objects towards the rock if they are on the opposite side. It will also attract objects near or on the rock towards itself, but it cannot bring them very far from the rock. It will probably swing the occasional object from either side right into the rock. The attractor itself may also be drawn towards the rock.

To be explicit, the attractor is moderate religion, the rock is extremism and the objects are people. For every hardliner who softens to a moderate stance, there are so many new converts coming in who might at any time swing to the extreme. Nothing stops the new moderates from reverting either.

Moderate religionists present exactly the same texts to their followers as extremists. I think all else follows from this.

Posted: November 19th 2007

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George Locke

My understanding of the argument is that absolute religious tolerance provides a protective shield behind which all manners of extreme or anti-social religious belief may hide; hence, when moderates promote this form of religious tolerance, they are protecting extremists.

Religious tolerance is on the one hand very valuable for a society that wishes to maintain diversity. Certainly, a government that lacks a hefty dose of religious tolerance can only be described as fascist. On the other hand, if I say that I believe X because God told me so, are there no circumstances in which my belief may be challenged, even by private individuals? According to convention, the answer seems to be no, but I for one disagree with convention.

Any and all ideas should be held to scrutiny, as to whether they are soundly reasoned and as to whether their application benefits society. Religious ideas must be held to the same standard.

Posted: June 24th 2007

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When looking to lay blame, there is an overly simplistic way to look at the connection between moderates and extremists, and that is to make the argument of causation, i.e. “Fundamentalism / extremism has to start somewhere – if there were no religious moderates, there’d be no extremists.” Personally I find this wholly unsatisfactory for the simple reason that it isn’t difficult to demonstrate the absence of moderate influence in the life histories of many of today’s extremists. To borrow an evolutionary metaphor; whatever the causal chain of ancestry one proposes, compared to moderates, today’s religious extremists are a species unto themselves.

Religious moderates might take some comfort in my view because it accords with their main position of disassociation, but they’d be wrong to do so. The moderate’s responsibility for sustaining the influence of the extremist lies in the contribution they make to the discourse surrounding the important issues of the day. Despite an absence of direct causation, religious moderates do play an active role in creating a haven for extremists. Moreover, it is a role that cannot be modified to do otherwise whilst still doing the job of defending the moderate’s position.

The voice of moderate religion is never more audible than when defending the individual’s right to believe whatever he or she pleases, without fear of molestation. For such moderates, religion so conceived is benign, comforting, life enhancing and inclusive; an unalloyed good founded on the principle of tolerance. As such, any and all criticism of religious belief runs contrary to this principle and should therefore be met head-on. Coupled with this is the view that the atrocities of religious extremists merely reflect the decidedly secular base elements of human nature. The moderate will actively deny the influence of religion in this regard (and often even prescribe religion as the solution), despite what the extremist has to say about the divinity of his inspirations.

A moderate belief founded on a liberal, multilateral policy of tolerance (despite the diametric sectarian opposition between the truth claims of the various faith traditions), is held to be the prescription against religious extremism and the way forward for humanity. For the religious moderate, defence of this trumps all other considerations. As Harris puts it, religious moderates “imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others.” It is this dogma – born of a desperate need to carve out a haven of immunity from criticism for their own beliefs – that keeps the moderate from dealing with the extremists within their own religious traditions and constantly hamstrings all genuine secular attempts to do so.

This is a brand of political correctness that according to Harris, modern society simply cannot afford; “When religion causes violence, its root claims must be challenged.” In defending their own preferred brand of faith, religious moderates actively and enthusiastically protect those “root claims” from assault and erect defences behind which religious extremists enjoy protection. Despite agreeing that fundamentalist / extremist views are deplorable, the extent to which religious moderates can be expected to join battle with the secularist against their common enemy terminates at disavowal. At which point they then turn their attentions to disarming the secularist attack on extremism by effectively defending the extremist’s right to fallacious beliefs.

The moderate’s sustained assault on rational discourse, their desperate pleas for immunity from criticism and their dogmatic refusal to acknowledge the foundational beliefs and vested interests that they share with the extremists makes them unwitting fifth columnists in the battle against religious lunacy.

Posted: June 22nd 2007

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bitbutter www

In the interests of peace—tolerant, civilised religious moderates call for respect to be accorded to all religious beliefs.

Perhaps in superstitious pre-modern societies, when there seemed to be no viable alternative to the religious explanations of the universe, this was a good idea; it allowed people of different faiths to live with one another without bloodshed, but in a modern secular society it’s not clear that this is still an appropriate strategy.

In our time, beliefs still enjoy a special protection from criticism as soon as they can be identified as being religious. While any other claim is a fair target for robust criticism, it is a taboo to challenge any idea that finds it’s origin in scripture.

In this climate, dogmatic faith, unfettered by evidence, can flourish. In fact the propagation of such dogmas sometimes finds help from governments keen to foster the growth of 'faith communities’.

The most devout among the faithful, accustomed to a free ride as far as their fantastical beliefs are concerned, react with loud indignation when their claims are openly questioned. The counter-response from a large part of our society is to deferentially sputter: We don’t want to offend, we respect your beliefs.

When devout members of a religion kill people, we scramble to find ways to divert the blame away from their certainty about the will of a god—and from the climate that has allowed these convictions to strengthen unchecked.

Taken together this all provides a fertile breeding ground for deadly fundamentalism.

See also the question about militant atheism and pluralistic tolerant society.

Posted: June 22nd 2007

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Stefan www

In our world today, we have a value called religious tolerance. It is supposed to be the resolution of all conflict between the religions. The idea is simple: Although we all have different “views”, we shouldn’t fight each other over it.

Now the practical problem with this is that religious ideas to an actual believer aren’t “views”, but truths. And that’s when tolerance doesn’t work anymore, because there can only be one truth and everyone else’s truth must be false and blasphemous.

There is not so much difference between the fundamentalist and the moderate: The fundamentalist can be seen as simply being more consequent than the “Cafeteria Christian/Muslim/etc.”

I think what Sam’s argument boils down to is that out of the giant pool of moderates every once in a while a radical emerges. So in order to get rid of the radicals one needs to get rid of the moderates.

Read the scriptures. The big religions are tolerant despite their beliefs, not because of them. Everyone supporting the Bible or the Quran is equally guilty, whether they actually read them or not.

Posted: June 21st 2007

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