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GCU Dancer on the Midway
Paul Wright's blog
Link blog: islam, christianity, office, solitude 
20th Jan 2012, 10:15 am
When people ask why I have a problem with religion, it's hard to come up with a single answer... - Imgur

(tags: christianity islam religion)
Worrying developments for freedom of expression in the UK - Various - Various - RichardDawkins.net
"This thread combines a number of examples where atheists, humanists and/or secularists have been threatened or coerced into silence, both by Muslims and by institutions or other groups apparently subscribing to the view that 'If someone believes it, you must respect it'. All these examples have happened in the UK in the course of the last week or so. ... But the key thing to note in all these cases is that it is no longer just the religious who would inhibit our freedom of expression: increasingly, secular bodies are buying into this invidious idea too, all in the name of 'tolerance' or 'community relations' or 'respect'."

Fuck it, I'm joining the EDL.

Just kidding, I don't have the beer belly or the conviction for football hooliganism and I've never seen a "Muslamic raygun". Still, it is alarming to see these things happening in Britain. Who are the reasonable opposition? Can't leave something that important to the Nazis.
(tags: sharia speech freedom islamism uk islam)
Atheism isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship … with reality | Unreasonable Faith
A summary of blogged responses to that "I hate religion but love Jesus" video that's been doing the rounds. I made a comment at the bottom. Also good for the comment thread on Atheismo, the diety for atheists.
(tags: relationship with god video atheism religion)
Driscoll & Brierley on Women in Leadership « Cognitive Discopants
Well known complementarian and fan of big strong manly men, Mark Driscoll, recently did an interview with Justin Brierley of Premier Christian Radio. Driscoll came out with a few choice quotes about Christians in the UK (“guys in dresses preaching to grandmas”).

He then had a go at Brierley for going to a church run by a woman (Brierley's wife!) and not believing in penal substitutionary atonement and eternal conscious torment in Hell (Brierley is an annihilationist: we unsaved will be told off and then vapourised rather then being tortured forever). Fun times.
(tags: homosexuality premier christian radio complementarianism mark-driscoll religion church mark driscoll christianity women sexism markdriscoll)
The Rise of the New Groupthink - NYTimes.com
"Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption."
(tags: flow solitude groupthink team office work creativity)
20th Jan 2012, 10:41 am (UTC)
The problems with the "Jesus and Mo" issue are:

(a) Nobody with any braincells can deny that Muslims in the UK are mainly members of ethnic minorities and that large chunks of the secular "anti-jihad" element are motivated not by any principled opposition to religion but by camouflaged (or not) racism. Therefore, you cannot simply claim that a white atheist person with Christian ancestors attacking Islam in a crude and undirected manner is the same as the same person attacking Christianity.

(b) The representation of Mohammed visually is an absolute religious prohibition to the majority of Muslims. Cartooning Mohammed is not the equivalent of drawing a silly cartoon about Jesus, it is the equivalent of jumping up on the altar in the middle of an Anglican service and pissing into the ciborium.
20th Jan 2012, 12:55 pm (UTC)
that large chunks of the secular "anti-jihad" element are motivated not by any principled opposition to religion but by camouflaged (or not) racism

I agree that there are people who oppose Islam or Islamism as a proxy for hating brown people (the EDL being the obvious example). I would like to see some evidence for your "large chunks" claim: is EDL membership really that big?

I think Russell Blackford's posting sums up the situation pretty well.

you cannot simply claim that a white atheist person with Christian ancestors attacking Islam in a crude and undirected manner is the same as the same person attacking Christianity

Where did I claim that? Or, if the "you" is generic, I agree that there are differences between the two situations you outline, but only in general terms. That is, it's more likely that a randomly chosen WAPWCA attacking Islam is doing so from racist motivations than it would be if the same person attacked Christianity.

Nevertheless, I'd reject the sort of pro-forma American identity politics that seems popular on LJ: there is nothing inherently wrong (or "problematic", to use the approved jargon) with the non-racial-proxying WAPWCAs criticising the Islam. I think that British sceptic WAPWCAs are unlikely to be closet EDL sympathisers, so absent evidence that the UCL Atheists or Dawkins are proxy-racists, there's no particular need to bring race into that case. Actually, I don't even know whether the person who chose that picture was white.

Criticisms should be examined on their merits, because reversed stupidity is not intelligence (someone may decide they don't want to listen to the EDL at all, which is fine because the EDL are bastards and people's time is limited, but that doesn't make Islam any nicer, say: see previous discussion).

Cartooning Mohammed is not the equivalent of drawing a silly cartoon about Jesus, it is the equivalent of jumping up on the altar in the middle of an Anglican service and pissing into the ciborium.

It may be equivalent in terms of upset, but I don't think it is morally equivalent: the person who pisses in the ciborium has invaded a church service (the moral equivalent would be desecrating a mosque). I recognise a moral right to practise religion, I don't recognise that people have a moral right never to see things which offend them, especially when those things are in someone else's space (the atheist society's Facebook event). If I entered a mosque I might see or hear things which offended me, but this does not give me the right to ask the people there to stop offending me (I can ask, as one Muslim asked the UCL atheists, but I shouldn't be too upset when they refuse).

I guess the FB event is publicly accessible, but I think the same argument applies: if you don't like it, change the channel.
20th Jan 2012, 02:48 pm (UTC)
I was thinking about this recently, and I'm still very unsure. Have you read http://lesswrong.com/lw/59i/offense_versus_harm_minimization ? I don't agree with it 100%, and I think it may be still a bit ignorant of how people on the "stop showing me things I find offensive" side of the debate actually feel, but I thought it was a good explanation of why a rationalist shouldn't automatically be pro-pictures-of-Mohammed*.

More real world examples of "things that are sufficiently offensive people are likely have a problem with them even if they should be legal" than "salmon electrodes" might be things like: Fred Phelps; a video of oneself urinating on a bible; advocating that gay people shouldn't have civil rights. All those are offensive for different reasons, but everyone may have a different thing they react viscerally against and think "OK, it should be legal, but I reserve the right to kick up a fuss about it".

I'm not sure where I fall. I don't think pictures of Mohammed should be illegal, and I don't think that anyone who runs around making threats should be acquiesced to. But on the other hand, I don't think deliberately going out and doing what's most offensive to someone[1] is likely to make them change their mind about anything.

[1] Part of the problem is that the Jesus and Mo example is somewhere in the middle. Some people are -- for whatever reason -- depicting Mohammed specifically because its forbidden. I think Jesus and Mo is being lighthearted and irreverant, and people should be able to do that, but someone posting the comic inadvertently tripped the same feeling of people deliberately or inadvertently disregarding some people's feelings.
20th Jan 2012, 07:31 pm (UTC)
That's a great article! I don't think I'd noticed it before.

I think Vladimir M nails what I think the problem with giving in to offence is: offence is a (probably unconscious) power play and if you go with Yvain's strategy, you're going to be vulnerable to it. Consistently refusing to capitulate in the face of the drama becomes a way of committing not to be vulnerable.

The refusal to take down the cartoon is then a way of showing that the taking offence strategy won't work to increase the power of that Muslim group. Stuff like Draw Mohammed Days is arguably escalating (what the comment thread calls "poking with a stick"), though perhaps it's a bit like ensuring the Muslims face something like the Streisand effect: the more you try to suppress it, the more people will do it purely to show you that they won't be suppressed.

Getting the help of Dawkins and the atheist blog sphere isn't escalating in the same way, I think, since it's not producing more cartoons or whatever, it's just a way of encouraging the authorities not to give in to offence either.

Edited at 2012-01-20 07:40 pm (UTC)
22nd Jan 2012, 04:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I agree Yvain's article is way too simplistic as a guide to use for how to behave, but I thought it was useful for explaining why anyone should _ever_ care that someone else is hurt or offended by something they said -- something that most people understand instinctively, but is hard to explain in a rationalistic step-by-step way.

And I agree that a big reason not to avoid offense is what you quote, that it does let people "play the offense card". Eg. see, for instance, people of the majority belief system screaming offense when they see any public display of any other belief system at all, as an inadvertant way of maintaining the status quo.

And I agree that if you're threatened with violence, a sensible first response is to refuse to capitulate, especially if you were doing something comparatively innocuous (posting a link to J&M was most probably not deliberately designed to offend, likely whoever posted it had forgotten there might be any reason it might offend Mulsims more than Christians).

But I think the upshot of Yvain's link is that there is unfortunately no hard litmus test for what's ok. It's probably polite (and prudent) to avoid things that are very offensive to the majority of the population, unless you have a specific good reason for bringing it up. Eg. I should campaign for gay rights, even if Group X thinks gay rights are the worst thing ever. But I should not show gory pictures of sexual violence in order to sell toothpaste, because it's of mediocre benefit to me, but lots of harm to everyone else. Do you agree that, in principle, we unfortunately have to decide where that line is drawn? (We obviously do so with a lot of generic heuristics, a few legal, most cultural.)

Where it gets tricky is if a smaller group is massively, massively offended by something that most people see as innocuous? Sometimes what they'd like everyone to do is impractical, so there's little choice but for them to learn to live with it. But I propose that, in some cases, the harm done to a smaller number of people who care deeply about not doing X, is greater than the harm done to everyone else by abstaining from X, even if they would usually be able to do X.

Now I'm not saying anything that someone says they care deeply about falls into that category, nor am I saying it should necessarily be illegal. Nor am I saying that drawing disrespectful pictures of Mohammad necessarily falls into that category.

But I think it would be a good thing if people were aware that it might do. I've several times seen a similar controversy about Mohammed, and I've often been made uncomfortable by people assuming that (a) there's no reasonable reason for anyone to object and (b) hence anyone who does object is being stupid and selfish and short-sighted and practically evil and since some people respond violently it should automatically illegitimise any other complaints.

A comparison which is less violent but still a bit heated might be "if some people prefer Mx as a title to Miss, Mrs or Mr, should other people do that, or just ignore it as too much work?" It's probably impractical to expect people to learn everything about what might offend some class of people (even though for some groups it would be a very good thing), but if the people objecting can boil it down to a minimum couple of things other people can do if they want to be polite, I think it behooves other people to listen, if it seems the smaller class genuinely care about it and aren't just making difficulties. (That's obviously a difficult compromise to draw; you don't have to AGREE with what someone wants to think they genuinely care about it, but it's difficult to tell.)

I'm not saying this particular student group was wrong (I'm not sure), but I'm worried there's a gulf of misunderstanding that leads to people from both points of view getting polarised and intransigent...
22nd Jan 2012, 04:18 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, that got really long, and I'm not sure if it actually led to any clear conclusions. I don't have a clear idea of what the right answer is, but I'm worried that many people seem to assume the issue is cut and dried[1] in a way I find very uncomfortable.

[1] I think part of it came from what londonkds said about the differences between doing something hurtful to a majority religion, and doing something hurtful to a minority religion. You explicitly said you didn't deliberately equate the two, but I suspect that many people who instinctively support posting Mohammed cartoons are coming from a background where atheists (especially in America) have to fight to be taken seriously at all, and are regularly forced to do things that most people claim to find hurtful, because people are often literally offended by atheists existing and saying so and it's the only way to get our right to exist to be aknowledged at all. With that background, it's natural that a first assumption is that some religion's prohibition is nonsensical and should be ignored; that's usually the case.

Come to think of it, it may be like, when ANY two subgroups meet/overlap, there's often a lot of awkward jostling, because each is used to fighting to get its points of view aknowledged by the majority, so doesn't have much experience knowing when they might be problematic to another subgroup. Especially on the internet where it's not clear when someone's blog may be "part of one subgroup". Eg. internet shitstorms when atheist communities meet LGBT communities, or LGBT meet feminists, or feminists meets black people, or black people meet "average working class" people. I'm not saying this is as simple as that, but it's something that occurred to me, as it usually comes up when two groups unexpectedly clash worldviews.
20th Jan 2012, 12:55 pm (UTC)
(a) That's true, but there is nothing about the Jesus and Mo cartoon that suggests it is motivated by stealth racism, especially since it mocks Christianity at the same time. Are you claiming that because some people who don't like 'Islam' are really motivated by racism, nobody should criticise Islam? What you're proposing is a regime of censorship by idiocy, where nobody can ever do something that a racist might approve of.

(b) If Muslims are religiously prohibited from representing Mohammed visually, then that's a matter for Muslims. Nobody is saying Muslims are forced to draw Mohammed cartoons. But why should everyone else be forced to obey the prohibitions of someone else's religion?

Incidentally, it's not, in fact, an "absolute religious prohibition" - opinions about depicting Mohammed vary within Islam, since it's only banned in hadiths that aren't accepted by all Muslims.

There is far more agreement that eating pork is haraam, so, by your standard where we all have to obey the "absolute religious prohibitions" of every religion, publicly eating bacon is "the equivalent of jumping up on the altar in the middle of an Anglican service and pissing into the ciborium". So I hope you will abstain from pork from now on, and tell off anyone you see eating or selling pork, since it's clearly motivated mainly by camouflaged racism (not to mention anti-Semitism).

Besides, a cartoon on a Facebook page isn't the same as disrupting a religious service. The cartoon isn't preventing anyone from practising their religion. If somebody had burst into a mosque waving a Jesus and Mo cartoon, the analogy might have some merit. But nobody has done that. In fact, in the UCL case, it was a Muslim disrupting an atheist group's meetings with death threats.

Edited at 2012-01-20 12:57 pm (UTC)
20th Jan 2012, 01:06 pm (UTC)
Your pork eating analogy does not work because there are countless reasons why somebody might want to eat pork that have nothing to do with religious conflict, in the same way as that there are countless reasons why someone might want to have sexual relations with somebody of their own gender or to terminate a pregnancy. There is no reason why a non-Muslim should want to draw a picture of Mohammed except to breach Muslim taboos for the sake of it.
20th Jan 2012, 01:17 pm (UTC)
Ah, so you're not saying we shouldn't break the religious prohibitions of other religions, you're saying that we shouldn't break them without a valid reason (where you get to decide what a 'valid reason' is, and you claim that there's no good reason for a non-Muslim to draw Mohammed).

The very Jesus and Mo cartoon that we're talking about is a counter-example to your claim. It's not just drawn to "breach Muslim taboos for the sake of it", but to comment on the flaws of Islam and Christianity.

I take it that you at least accept that your problem (a) is not really a problem.
20th Jan 2012, 01:22 pm (UTC)
And also, reading the cartoon gives some people pleasure and enjoyment, just like gay sex and eating bacon do. Is getting pleasure a good reason to break the prohibitions of another religion? Remember, most Muslims would be appalled by gay sex and bacon.

So to be logically consistent, you have to either accept that the cartoon is OK, or start opposing gay sex and bacon as well. Which is it?
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