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These Terrorist Attacks Are Partly About Religion - response to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar @TIME

Kareem Abdul Jabbar These Terrorist Attacks Are Not About Religion TIME


For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.

Violence committed in the name of religion is never about religion—it’s ultimately about money. The 1976 movie, All the President’s Men, got it right when it reduced the Daedalus maze of the Watergate scandal to the simple phrase, “Follow the money.” Forget the goons who actually carry out these deadly acts, they are nothing more than automated drones remote-controlled by others. Instead of radio signals, their pilots use selective dogma to manipulate their actions. They pervert the Qur’an through omission and false interpretation.


When the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in a black family’s yard, prominent Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts. Most people already realize that the KKK doesn’t represent Christian teachings. ... It’s like bank robbers wearing masks of presidents; we don’t really think Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush hit the Bank of America during their down time.

We can’t end terrorism any more than we can end crime in general. Ironically, terrorism is actually an act against the very religion they claim to believe in. It’s an acknowledgement that the religion and its teachings aren’t enough to convince people to follow it. Any religion that requires coercion is not about the community, but about the leaders wanting power.

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Most religion is about leaders wanting power to some degree.  That is almost fundamental to the nature of religion: Priests/ministers/imams/shahs and their flocks of sheeple.  It is easy to see vast income empires, vast influence over populations, countries, and continents.  These are systems that survived, not necessarily the best systems that were or could be.  Most of them function well enough, arguably with a net benefit although this may seem tenuous to some.  The problem here is about a system that sees the benefit of violence.  That must be stopped as soon as possible, but a key question is are we somewhat reluctant to intervene in certain ways?

I don't disagree with most of Kareem's points.  However, the analogy of wearing presidential masks strikes me as far too generous to religion: Religion is directly responsible for deliberately preventing or softening up the ability to think critically and humanistically.  Even though most take their religion moderately or not at all, just like most drink moderately or not at all, there will be those that become abusers and addicts of irrationality: the fundamentalist mentality jihadists and terrorists for instance.  Absent religion, we might quickly recognize those who are drowning in the deep end.  With religion, they are a protected class that we politely abide until they charge across the line of decency; when it is too late.  As you are partially pointing out, the real villains are those that are indoctrinating and miseducating these perpetrators.  Although at the point they become active terrorists we can't save them or feel sorry for them, they are victims first.  I don't believe in prohibition.  However, we should focus much more intently and publicly on how these terrorists are being inculcated, by whom, and what the arguments are and why they are fallacious.  We need public exposition of these details.  We need universal shaming and historical record of the details of this insanity.  And we need to search for ways to inoculate whole populations against this type of thinking.

Here, there are dangerous, infectious memes that will continue to spread and mutate until the sources of the infection are rendered inert.  There are clear alternative memes that are very powerful.  Our politeness and self-imposed boundaries may be preventing our control of this infection.  Until we develop a strong resolve to stop treating these infections like untouchable private realms, we are going to continue experience negative results.  It is not easy to see how to solve this while maintaining integrity.  At this point, we aren't even publicly discussing what needs to be done.  Our collective public messages are on target, but unlikely to be reaching those most at risk.  Once we recognize the real problem, how do we solve it?

In fact, many of us do place part of the blame on Christianity, and religion in general, for groups like the KKK and the actions of various madmen.  Although the practice of Christianity as a whole is relatively mature and civilized now, it has been used, directly and indirectly, to support slavery[1], invasions (Crusades etc.), and other atrocities.  Often this is because the accumulated power of religious leaders over their obedient flock, being based on faith and following rather than critical thinking and science, is easily co-opted.  If you moderate religion with a modern humanistic philosophy as a baseline, also reachable with the best selective interpretations of Christianity, as most organized religions now do, there is a reasonably civil result.  However, literal interpretations of certain parts of the Bible, interpreted in another context, can lead in practically any direction.  As it is likely that many will remain religious in the future, we should be vigilant to provide gentle but firm curbs to those who are going out of bounds long before others are injured.


I think it's easy to confuse religion with people who use religion to justify bad things.

It's similar to science. Science can be employed to make weapons, but that doesn't make science bad.

True to some extent, but that's not quite a sound analogy.  Science polices itself.  Similarly, the use of science can be governed by science: someone making decisions can attempt to use scientific principles to make the best decisions, recognize errors and probabilities, and get better.  Also, weapons aren't intrinsically bad, they are just intrinsically dangerous.  But not having weapons can also be intrinsically dangerous, depending.  But nothing about science is about relinquishing control of your decision making and becoming a tool of a leader.  It is just the opposite: every leader is questioned and validated whenever desired or necessary, leading quickly to new leaders.  Religions however start and thrive with a demand to relinquish that self-control and self-determination while attempting to block out all other channels of knowledge.  This is what is dangerous. 

People who use religion to justify bad things are the main culprit, but everyone contributing to acceptance of religion and religious leadership in the absence of a full spectrum of science is enabling them.  A different path would be to start with science and humanism as fundamental methods and truths, adding religion as a back story, cultural framework, and to otherwise fill in the gaps for people.  As soon as it is taken as trumping science and humanism, it provides an uncontrollable slippery slope.

Let's say for the sake of argument that there is a drug that causes 80% of a population to work better but 20% to become insane, prone to any level of violence.  An employer (or, more likely, an evil dictator) who doesn't care about their employees mixes in that drug to the free meals they provide at work because they calculate a net benefit.  Considering the drug, the employer, and the employees, who/what is bad?  Clearly it is not the employee, although we may be forced to eliminate those now insane and attacking.  Clearly the drug would be considered bad because it does significant harm some percentage of the time.

But equating religion with drugs has been done, and is an imperfect comparison.  Memetic infection is closer to reality.  Infections can be fought, but epidemics can also be very stubborn.  The question is: in a given situation, are we dealing with a cold, flu, cancer, or ebola?

The cold vs flu vs cancer vs Ebola distinction is an interesting one.

So many types of infection!

Those that claim science being free from religion and therefore superior, one word, eugenics. 

As a devout religious person and teacher, and pacifist, all of those arguing about violence need to stop supporting violence. 

That is a poor argument.  Science without religion does not lead to eugenics.  Science under control of psychotics in the absence of empathics along with a very stunted and narrow view of sociology, psychology, and human nature leads to eugenics.  Simplistic conclusions like that first sentence is exactly the kind of narrow thinking that led to eugenics.  Adding religion to science probably causes more problems than it solves, depending completely on what religion is involved and how it is interpreted.  A modern well-educated person should understand scientific principles and what we know about human nature, psychology, sociology, and a good range of literature and other culture.  Reasoning successfully about people to make decisions requires that broad view.  I'm not saying that an advanced scientist who otherwise has a very narrow and incomplete view of humanity should be making political or moral decisions. 

At certain points long ago, religious organizations may have been the principle stable store of knowledge.  Now, we no longer rely on religion as the source of our knowledge and culture.  While religion is an inspiration or philosophical framework for some, it is no longer the central hub of knowledge for any successful and competitive society.  There is a lot of collected wisdom in religions along with things that are no longer so applicable.  People avoid taking much of the latter literally, but not enough.  The view that you can't arrive at as good or better humanistic decisions with broad spectrum scientific methods as with religion seems wrong.

The best practice of religion and the best practice of science will usually agree to a large extent.  It is also possible for thoughtful people to be religious without conflicting much with a scientific view of the world.  The interesting question is: Do well educated science-minded people tend to reliably make better decisions than those that put religion first and foremost?  That people who completely follow religious doctrine that is in conflict with science, humanistic ideals, and reality in general do worse isn't even a question.

Very long and absolutely delusional. 

A group of scientists that believe they can create a superior race of humans can become just as extreme and dangerous as any group of religious people. 

I rely on religion entirely for the source of knowledge.  Forget the we. 

You are speaking as a "science" worshiping fundamentalist as severe as as any other acting on their religion. 

You cannot prescribe what is "well" educated.  I have a long history of western education and I find it has marginal usefulness to my life compared to my religious education. 

Your second sentence seems to indicate that you missed my point: Well educated people would not try to create a superior race of humans. There are all kinds of ways that is bad and could go worse.

You say you rely on religion entirely as your source of knowledge. I wonder how that is possible. Did you grow up in a first world society, interacting with others? Did you learn about history, science, math, English (including logic), etc. in school? Did you ever watch TV or movies, read a newspaper / books / magazines? Most of us learn culture and many explicit and implicit facts about what works, what doesn't, what motivates people, how the world works, and what is important through these sources. Do you think that if you chose 100 people randomly in each of the other states, countries, and continents who profess your religion that they will make the same decisions and be as effective and successful as you? Do you think adding only your religion to a class of children in rural, still-primitive areas of Africa and to another class in Silicon Valley or New Jersey will make them equivalent?

Fundamentalist? Reality is fundamental: I'll admit to that, but it hardly seems the same. I don't worship or have religious faith in anything. Science is usually the most useful in modeling the world, so I use it. When adopting the wisdom of others, I attempt to determine whether they are well-grounded in reality & science or not. I have a solid philosophy of life and morals that are derived from straightforward basics, free of anything unprovable or mystical. Religion has not been useful to me and, by any measure I can see, it would not have and will not be a net positive for me in any circumstance. Other than, perhaps, entertainment value. There is something to be said about constructing a story as a framework for life for the entertainment value, but other than the FSM, I can't get behind it. I certainly wouldn't allow anyone to take it for real. (I'm looking at you L. Ron.) We do this explicitly with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Good lessons for children and a little fun.

I believe I _can_ proscribe "well educated": A well-educated person is able to consistently make decisions and preferences congruent with the best current knowledge of what, probabilistically, works and what doesn't. It is the presence of productive, humanistic, self-improving care for others and self with the absence of ignorance, superstition, tribalism, and unnecessary aggression. It is satisfaction and happiness gained through productive self-improvement, helping others, flow, and maximized positive experience with minimized worry, angst, and other negative experience.

Being exposed to "Western education" isn't enough: You have to understand, learn the right lessons, and internalize the right rules. And then maintain those in the face of new information. It is quite possible to pass classes on information while being certain it is wrong or otherwise ignore it. This could be because of a firm religious filter or personality characteristics: psychotics will sometimes learn completely different lessons than empathics.

What do you think constitutes a "Western education"? Did you cover the top 100 books, the top movies, TV shows, SciFi books, plays, comics? A modern person could vicariously live hundreds of years worth of emotional experiences in thousands of points of view. There are, at minimum, several movies, books, poems, and plays every year that significantly change the culture.

If religion is working for you, that's great. I doubt it is the best path for most. Some can make it work, but then some can make nearly anything work. Many will be poorly served, essentially wasting time and effort, ending up more unhappy than necessary. If the goal is to get as many people as possible to while away their lives quietly, then perhaps it is appropriate. I don't see that as a legitimate goal for most people most of the time.

Wow, that is a lot of verbiage.  You seem to confuse me with a person that believes this world you live in is real. 

I am not sure who you are trying to convince. 

What you do not understand is billions of people see this world as a passing stop on an infinite time horizon. 

Billions of people that do not want to be converted. 

Ps my education was ABD in environmental economics. 

I'm not sure why you say that I don't understand that.  I think I do.  I'm just saying it is a shame; it likely prevents the world from being a better place.  And that we should consider intervening when groups get into teaching things that will cause serious problems for the rest of us.  Like the present case.  The chosen intervention may be fairly innocuous, but doing something targeting what is being taught should be considered.

You do not understand because you think it is a shame. 

To billions this life is not even relevant.   Westerners generally cannot understand this.  

If this life isn't relevant, then why not make the best of it?  If it is just a life to use up, then why waste it? Why does it matter if this life is relevant?  If it matters to others, why not help them by making the world better?  Why take up space and soak up resources?  Entropy will happen without you.  Why do worse than that?

It all comes down to what is best. 

Best means how do I live my life to have the "best" next life.  Compared to how do I entertain myself for a couple of decades there is  wide range of ideas.  

You get entirely different ways of thinking that create cultures that will not be defeated or converted.  

More directly to my point. 

[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors. [2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Masjid, unless they attack you therein. If they attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers.[2:192] If they refrain, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.[2:193] You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship GOD freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.

Everyone believes they are defending their culture regardless of religion. 

While I know there is nothing to defend, all of you others need a time out.   

The Prophet told people what was going to happen, and prescribed a view to cope.  They are going to, they have to follow. 

The west on the other hand can leave but they won't because the culture is based on extraction of resources. 

How to beat Islam. - genocide- kill millions upon millions. 

How to beat the USA/EU? Wipe out their electrical grid. 

Which is more plausible?

You can turn any language into an excuse for a fight.  Here, simply define the Western way of life, free speech, etc. as an attack, then you can use self-defense as an excuse.  We don't really need resources like we used to.  Most Islamic empires can only offer oil, partly because they don't really have working societies.  A working, first world society requires an environment with working science knowledge and free speech.  So, they have virtually nothing else to offer.  We are at the end of the beginning of our path to be free of the tyranny of oil.  At some point, those societies will have to adapt or fade, maybe imploding.

While Islam has strong anti-attrition memes, such as threatening to kill anyone who tries to leave, it is inherently self-limiting.  Anyone who is aware of the alternative ways of life and is able to choose will be less likely to stay with Islam.  We're in the age of full information, education, and media for everyone, it is just not yet evenly distributed.  Soon enough, every person on the planet will have access to everything: imagine drone delivered Android phones connected by unlimited bandwidth LEO satellites, delivered for free just in case they'll become a future Amazon customer.  Or something like that.  These pockets of ignorance will take increasing effort to maintain while at the same time maintaining third world economics.  It is totally unsustainable.  Right now, it is fueled by oil, which is a temporary situational quirk.

The West (which is really shorthand for first world and those on track for first world) is very creative.  We will find antibodies for these problems faster than they can mutate.  It is inevitable.  The only question is the path, time, and cost.  The cost of not solving the problem is always going to be larger.

You can't beat the USA or EU by taking out the electrical grid.  It is too easy to fix and we're only a couple clicks from deciding to install neighborhood Thorium reactors or something.  Not to mention the near-term feasibility of solar+batteries for complete off the grid living for many.  First world societies can weather almost anything because it isn't things that make us strong, it is people with know-how, energy, and political / social / economic systems that can accomplish and rebuild just about anything.

We are a super-intelligence (educated well-functioning society, many people working smoothly together) battling a stunted sub-intelligence (poorly educated in every way, barely hanging together, mostly fear driven) who doesn't realize how out-gunned they are.

It is not ignorance to not want the life you desire  You are arguing racist cultural genocide. 

You do not even seem to begin to understand that. 

The fact that a subset of men control the rest of the population in such dire ways doesn't lead me to believe that even a majority of the populations are happy with what they have.  If most of a population is miserable, oppressed, and stunted, and if the society as a whole is dysfunctional, it will die eventually, whether I want it to or not.  I'd prefer that the path is optimized, minimizing negatives to us and them.  The psychology of some of these groups is that the more reality invades, the more they believe it is us doing it to them.  If we are to minimize pain of growth, we might as well be an active participant from the point of view of education, positioning terrorism properly, and being clear about the realities of the world economy and society.  Especially about what is acceptable.

Nowhere did I mention race or genocide.  "Cultural genocide"?  If a culture is sick, there is no reason to perpetuate it, especially not by outsiders who are being attacked.  More precisely, humanism trumps culturalism.  Ideally, modern principles are adopted while keeping the flavor of the native culture.  Whether that is possible is up to the people in that culture.  There are some cultures that couldn't make the jump.  An interesting contrast is Australia / Aborigines compared to New Zealand / Maoris.  The latter are substantially integrated, have a healthy cultural maintenance, and are arguably respected.  The language & culture is taken by 30% of high school students for instance.  In some major areas of Australia, you're lucky to find a boomerang, let alone any aboriginals or integration.

Wow, just wow. 

Like our nation's  Native Americans were integrated with children taken from their societies and relocated to reeducation schools and the bulk slaughtered. 

And the forced sterilization of native Americans that continued into the 1970s.

I think the culture of America is sick so can we stop perpetuating the genocides.   1970 and 2000s we are not talking ancient history. 

Where do you think I'm approving of the haphazard and terrible ways this evolved in the US?  I've walked the entire Native American Smithsonian on the Mall, read a bit, paid attention to bits of culture, attended Native American festivals, been to reservations, etc.: I have some idea of our history.  The European conquerors and early Americans, and some Americans until recently, had a terrible effect on Native Americans, some due to ignorance, the rest malicious.  Being well aware of this history is a key reason we don't condone that kind of thing here or anywhere else.  We try to prevent a repeat of our mistakes yet countries often act like petulant teenagers that just have to learn for themselves.  (Doesn't Russia of the last decade seem like the gangster era in Chicago?)  There were however plenty of cases of acceptance, understanding, integration, and respect between adventurers / settlers and Native Americans, in between military action, slaughters, and outright lying and illegal actions.  Just recently there have been articles about how the US Constitution was substantially inspired by Native American political practices and philosophy.

You are becoming more incoherent.  What are you trying to say?

Roughly a million people have been killed in the Middle East in the last 13 years. So I think we are repeating mistakes. 

I am stunned because you make arguments of death or assimilation to people and cultures "That don't keep up with modernization" which is basically the argument why Tibetan "pagans and dogs" are killed by the Chinese government. How nearly ever native culture is being destroyed and you may say we could have done it better but do not seem to think we should not have done it.  

I am pretty speechless by your socio pathology.  

I didn't make any arguments toward assimilation of people and cultures per se: I argued we should influence cultures that have become a threat to others by causing education to prevent things from getting worse.  If a culture isn't causing problems for others and they aren't committing genocide or major oppression, then there's nothing to do.

There is a sticky problem: If a citizen of a society feels they are oppressed and they want to adopt part or all of another culture, then we shouldn't go along with restrictions of that society just to keep it intact.  While it would be wrong to just try to cancel out a culture because we don't like it, we shouldn't hide from their population or support measures to control them.

I didn't make an argument either way about whether native cultures should have been assimilated.  Few were treated well, which is wrong.  When cultures meet, they usually naturally begin exchange of goods and mates that can lead to assimilation.  Whether that's wrong in a particular case is usually a difficult question.  Whether how it happens is acceptable is a lot easier to answer.  Anyway, the most relevant historical examples are more like conquests of the Romans and various religious upheavals.  The Middle East, for instance, has been remade many times.  There is nothing like an untouched American or Pacific tribe.

We (the West, first / modern world cultures) aren't really threatened.  If a society seems to have a better way of doing things, a new Nirvana, we'll be happy to imitate them.  This has happened many times in fact, which is why there are over 35 kinds of Yoga in San Diego.  China, North Korea, and Islamic groups are threatened by ideas and people living in free and open ways, not us.  We have open competition of all ideas, by law.  (Excepting poor past episodes, McCarthyism, etc.)  If Tibet was our territory, it would be a tourist trap rather than an object of oppression.

What exactly is my socio pathology?  You keep projecting and inserting these things I didn't say.  I don't think I've left any gaps that could be called a pathology.  Please explain.

This seems relevant:

"...they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false.

People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity. Two individuals can look at the exact same text and come away with radically different interpretations. Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text. That is the most basic, logical idea that you could possibly imagine, and yet for some reason, it seems to get lost in the incredibly simplistic rhetoric around religion and the lived experience of religion.

It seems like a logical viewpoint — if you are just a person who doesn’t know much about the history, philosophy, sociology of religion — it seems like a logical thing to say that people get their values from their scriptures. It’s just intrinsically false. That’s not what happens. People do not derive their values from their scriptures — they insert their values into their scriptures.

In the United States, just two centuries ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their conflicting viewpoints, they used the exact same verses. That’s the power of scripture, it’s the power of religion: It’s infinitely malleable. We do not read scriptures that were written 5000 years ago still because they’re true — we read them because they’re malleable, because they can address the ever-evolving need of a community, of an individual, because they can be shaped to whatever one’s political ideology is."

While what you say is often true about shaping views, it is not universally true.  I am an American Bonpo, a 20,000 year old Tibetan religion. 

It has faced near extinction many times but we keep it alive.  We keep it alive in the face of genocide because it has immeasurable value and yet such a minority view that people do not even know it exists. 

You should know and with this I am done, that your mind is an obstacle if not down right aggressor in the destruction of large pieces of humanity.  

We do not twist or rewrite.  We teach it as closely as we can manage given the multiple destructions  including the one that continues today 

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