Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why religion is like a hammer

   There was a heartbreaking story on the front page of the New York Times Monday about a woman who fled the chaos of Myanmar with three of her four children, making the perilous sea journey to join her husband in slightly less chaotic Malaysia. It’s a long article, focusing on the child she left behind. But one phrase in one sentence leaped out at me. Let’s see if it leaps out at you too:
     “Her husband, who had raised shrimp and cattle, had been among tens of thousands who made the journey two years earlier, after Buddhist mobs rampaged through villages like their own, burning houses and killing at least 200 people.”
     “Buddhist mobs?” Rampaging and killing? I didn’t know Buddhists did that. What happened to the Eight-Fold Path? To saffron robes and shaved heads?

     When we think of bias, we think of negative prejudices. But positive biases can be just as misleading. It isn’t as if you need to think hard to find other examples of Buddhists betraying the tenets of their faith: monks in Japan in the 1930s, for instance, were almost universally supportive of that nation’s catastrophic march to global war.
     Not to single out Buddhists. Every faith has a litany of positive beliefs — God loves us all, we’re all part of His creation, do unto others as you would have others do unto you — that get swept aside when convenient.
     The mayor of Mundelein, Steve Lentz, drew attention — which is hard for a mayor of Mundelein to do — by turning his July 4 speech, normally a time of patriotic platitudes, into a denunciation of the “moral quagmire” society faces because we are more accepting of gays and unwed mothers. In saying this, he is viewing the world through one facet of the lens of his Christian faith. And that lens has turned the situation upside down as a lens will.
     Society easing up on its habit of punishing gays and single mothers is not an example of moral failure, but of moral clarity, a triumph of liberal compassion over the blurry forces of punitive religion. It’s closer to a miracle than a crisis. And while children raised by two parents indeed do better than children raised by one, that is a practical matter, not an ethical one. Drivers who wear seat belts also do better than drivers who don’t, yet nobody makes wearing a seat belt into an ethical issue. At least not yet.
     And not that morality is a poll, but most Americans find both gay marriage and out-of-wedlock childbirth to be acceptable, ethically.
     In the hands of people like Lentz, religious morality becomes a Divine Certificate of Merit to bestow on yourself and people exactly like you. It is a pass given uncritically to the home team. One they don’t deserve and one that hurts more than helps them. The surest sign of love isn’t a kneejerk pass, but careful attention and thinking. I adore my boys, but if they screw up, I’ll tell them. I think Israel is grand, but I also understand that Benjamin Netanyahu could start building concentration camps in Gaza and gassing the residents and a certain swath here would busy themselves explaining why that is OK.
     It’s very hard for people to grasp that the high regard they hold themselves in is not universally shared. There is a meme going around the Internet, a pair of photos. The top one shows a picture of robed members of the Klu Klux Klan.

     “No one thinks that these people are representatives of Christians,” it’s captioned.
     The next one shows a band of Islamic fighters under the black flag of terror.
     “So why do so many people think these people are representative of Muslims?”
     A point I heartily agree with. Still, looking at that top photo, I couldn’t resist.
     “No one?” I wrote.
     Because to me, Christianity, like every other religion, is the carte blanche that people give themselves to do horrible things. Murdering children in the name of Buddhism. Blowing up women in the name of Allah. Allowing millions to dwell in misery in the shadow of your land flowing with milk and honey. Shunning good people who have done nothing wrong in the name of Jesus’ love.
     I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Religion is a tool. Like a hammer. You can build a house with it. You can hit someone in the head. Your choice, not the hammer’s. But people are cowards, and the meaner they are, the more cowardly they tend to be. So they blame the hammer, thinking it excuses them. It doesn’t.

43 comments:

  1. Bibi could be operating death camps and it wouldn't be reported here......or it would be buried on page 39. But the internet is a bitch, it's becoming impossible to control the narrative with so much of that dreadful Free Speech on the blogs, cable channels and home made T.V. broadcasts. Sun Times editorials about the Middle East conflict read like a press release from the Israeli Prime Minister's office. Read "The Israeli Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt (West Point Graduate). BDS is picking up steam fast. It won't be long time and demographics are on our side.

    Julio Ayala

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    1. "Wouldn't be reported here" is a favorite meme of the far right, who don't seem to read the papers. I find every detail of Israel splashed across the front page of the New York Times. Perhaps you don't read enough.

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    2. Not every one reads the New York Times, much less any paper.

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    3. If one doesn't read any paper, hasn't one forfeited the right to complain about what does/doesn't get reported?

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    4. That's why they're dumbasses who should shove their anti-Semitic bullshit straight up their asses.

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    5. "Half of the U.S. population never reads a newspaper. Half never votes. One hopes it is the same half."
      --Gore Vidal

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  2. Advocate of the Anti-ChristJuly 8, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    "Israel" is fascist apartheid. Gaza is a concentration camp. Free Palestine now, and boycott all "israeli" goods. From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free--by any means necessary and every means possible. War without terms!

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  3. My Step=father, agnostic though he was, used to warn me that if I chose a religion I should use it as a shield and not a sword. I think you hammer analogy fits right in with that line of thinking.
    Love it.

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  4. Sorry World Workers Party, no righties here Neil! BDS workers of the world unite!

    Julio Ayala

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    1. The AMIDEX35 has returned 8.9% YTD, versus 1.2% for the S&P500. Wouldn't it be better living the good life? Is divestiture really worth the effort if it means you get to retire to a cinder block hovel, appointed with bullet holes in the wall?

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  5. BDS ALL THE WAY TO TEL AVIV!

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  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwgHQpAuPcA

    a pOEM!

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  7. Great column today! But what the heck is BDS?
    Barbara Maginnis Palmer

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    1. BDS is the slogan of the haters of Israel, who at least 95% are flat out anti-Semites, but hide behind the crap of we don't hate Jews, just supposedly evil Israel
      Anyway, it means: Boycott, divest & sanctions, meaning don't buy any Israeli products, sell off any stocks that have anything to do with Israel & ban Israel from everything.
      So you have the anonymous fools above & the advocate loon calling Gaza an "Israeli prison", except which also has a border with Gaza also wants as little as possible to do with it because it's run by violent, murderous maniacs.
      Nothing has been rebuilt since the last insane & useless attacks on Israel, which started by firing their junk rockets wildly into Israel & of course Israel hits back, somewhat humanely, in that they either call the intended victim on the phone or drop a dummy bomb on the roof of the house then after the people inside evacuate, they drop a real bomb on it.
      As far as I know, that's only happened once before in a war, in 1945, the US leafleted a town in Japan in late July & told them they would be bombed on a certain date & time. The authorities told the citizens it was a lie. The town & its citizen were obliterated.
      The reason was to determine if warning Japan about the A-bomb would work & this result told the War Dept. that it wouldn't & the two A-bombs were then used without warnings.
      But the reason nothing has been rebuilt in Gaza is because all the international organizations that have previously funded Gaza have finally figured out that the maniacs of Hamas which runs the place, uses all the steel they send for making more crappy rockets to fire at Israel & the cement to make concrete to line the walls of the tunnels they dig into Israel so they can send murderers into Israel to kill women & children & only occasionally attempt to kill soldiers.

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    2. And I forget, that the HQ of Hamas is in the basement of the Al-Shifra Hospital all the media go to to show the victims of Israel, but since Israel won't bomb a hospital, the leadership is always safe & sound, even though that violates the Geneva conventions on war. The weapons are usually stored inside UN sponsored schools which also is a violation of the Geneva conventions.

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    3. I agree Clark, that some who don't like Jews, pretend it's Israel they are mad at. You'd be surprised at the number of Reformed Jews though, who don't like Israel.

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    4. I'll still take Buddhists over more dangerous Muslim extremists anytime.

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    5. Who is more dangerous depends on your point of view; of course you are going to prefer the ones less likely to kill you even if they are killing someone else.

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  8. "That lens has turned the situation upside down as a lens will." Nice turn of a phrase there.

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  9. The loons have escaped yet again. There's always a jailbreak when religiion or "those chosen people" are deconstructed in any way. Your column is right on! If religion is the hammer, then we all are nails waiting to get struck down.

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  10. I guess some people forgot about the rockets that Palestine fires into Israel.

    And who is more a danger to the U.S.? Muslim terrorists & leaders are, not Bibi. We need Israel to help fight terrorism and vice versa.

    Good to see some new posters here.

    NS, interesting column- so much for the Buddhists being peaceful types. I learned something and that isn't being reported enough. It's funny when certain actors or singers claim they are Buddhists and now meditate more, what pool. Christian and Jews do a lot for charities, but I find in the modern day that it's the born agains that are most judgemental. Don't put all in one basket.
    The KKK, awful as it was, wasn't blowing things up all around the world. So I don't see that as a valid comparison, nor single parenting and not wearing seat belts. And don't forget how Hindus would treat widows, if they could.

    Please don't lose your temper so much, as you did with someone yesterday, or we'll have to call you Bugsy Seigel, wink. It's one thing to disagree but namecalling readers that follow your column is beneath you. However, you can disregard that nicety for ANA. He can be a jerk, even if a wise one at times.

    I know you try but you aren't going to convert everyone to become an atheist. Though I agree about religion being used in a bad way being a problem.

    Subscriber

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    1. Every time you mention a group you give it a trait which you then ascribe to the entire group. This is the definition of prejudice. You say do not put all in one basket, but watch your words closely. This is something we all do, myself included. If anything good can be said about religion, it will have to come from using it as a tool to measure ourselves, not others.

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    2. To anon at 7:49, oh shut the eff up, you are being pc and prejudiced to those who don't agree with you

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    3. Anon at 7:49/ maybe it's some muslims that are prejudiced against us infidels

      if you are so worried about them, please move to Saudi Arabia, see how you are treated

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  11. I have yet to listen to the interview that Greenwald did here with Max Blumenthal. For those of you who don't know who he is he is the son of Sydney who has a close relationship to the Clintons.

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/07/08/israel-gaza-anniversary-interview-max-blumenthal/

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  12. My Catholic friends always point to atheist dictators, whom slayed millions of people, whenever I bring up the slaughter by religious leaders throughout history. It seems important to point out the total number killed is far higher with the Hitlers, Pol Pots and Stalins than any combination of genocides led by religious excuses (though I believe they purposefully leave out the once daily slaughter by the Aztecs). And what about God wiping out the entire Earth during Noah's time?

    There's only one difference between a religious tyrant and an atheist tyrant. The religious tyrants believe killing is done in the name of whatever god they follow. The atheist tyrant believes he is god over whomever he rules.

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  13. well said and true on all historical points, Wendy

    people shouldn't put Aztecs on a pedestal either

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  14. Did I miss that Myanmar(formerly Burma) story in the ST or it wasn't in it? I guess the NYT might be more comprehensive but no thanks.

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  15. Ah, I see the topic of Israel has once again prompted "moderation" from the host for our comments today. In keeping with the fact that so many of the commenters are prompted to be immoderate by the issue...

    You know, one can interpret the "holy books" of some religions to find support for many actions that seem antithetical to the main thrust of the faith. With regard to Christianity, for instance, the Bible is a pretty long book, and there's a lot of stuff in there. If you want to stone an adulterer, you can cite chapter and verse to back yourself up. If you want to keep marginalizing gays, well, there's something about homosexuality being an abomination in there to offer you cover. But it might be helpful for some to keep in mind that Christ Himself, evidently more of a "spirit of the law" than "letter of the law" figure, tried to cut through the verbiage and make it easy for people to realize what the main message to focus on was.

    “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

    There's not really a lot of room for misinterpretation when attempting to decide what is more in keeping with the main message between going with the abomination citation or the Golden Rule when it comes to dealing with gays, or anybody else, for that matter.

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    1. No, it was just you-know-who. It's my blog, not his.

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    2. Some posters are upset about some little known run in with Buddhists against Muslims, but gee, guess who is more dangerous at marathons and airports and to tall bldgs.

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    3. Muslims are still more dangerous than Buddhists.

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    4. And let's not forget: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Although following that one would take a lot of the fun out of Christianity for some.

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    5. looks like you are the one judging, Coey

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    6. Coey, you missed your calling as a preacher.

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    7. True, to a degree. I am judging some people for a specific mind-set and behavior, as opposed to judging them by their membership in a group.

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    8. lol, you are so self-righteous

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    9. And you're such a jackass lol

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  16. Why does goofy A/N/A want to tell you what topics to write about??? He forgets it's your blog. Sometimes I like to get an opinion on current events but not some little known items, as he seems to push.

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  17. And the anti Israel bunch forget about Hamas building tunnels right under Israel to really import terror. They are worse than the Viet Cong.

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  18. I like buying that Tradition brand, kosher instant soup that they sell at Jewel. I'm not Jewish but it's better than other instant soups.

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