No true Scotsman

by John Quiggin on March 31, 2010

It was not surprising that the group recently arrested and charged with plotting to kill police officers, then those mourning at their funeral using IEDs have nowhere in the mainstream media been referred to as “terrorists” or even “terror suspects”. After all, they aren’t Muslims. But, that’s not enough for the political right. Apparently, on the “No True Scotsman” principle, it’s also unfair to refer them as “Christians“.

{ 121 comments }

1

Craig 03.31.10 at 12:56 am

I’m a bit confused – the linked article makes a reference to rising right-wing terrorism, refers to the group as “part of a group of apocalyptic Christian militants” [citing the Justice Department], and includes several other references to Christian extremism and militant activity. This is the NY Times, surely this is mainstream media?

2

Tom T. 03.31.10 at 1:56 am

“Militia” is pretty much understood to mean “white terrorists,” though.

3

mcd 03.31.10 at 2:17 am

I don’t know if ‘militia’ has that connotation with many people – it’s got those links to the language of the Second Amendment.

I expect some rightwingers to argue the militia is either innocent or not rightwingers. On the ground that everyone knows rightwingers Support Our Police.

4

Alex 03.31.10 at 3:14 am

“No true Irishman” would probably be a more apt term for these types of things.

5

jacob 03.31.10 at 3:14 am

I for one am waiting for personal denunciations of terrorism from the so-called “moderate” Christians–if they even exist.

6

El Cid 03.31.10 at 3:17 am

This one really pisses me off. If those Miami Haitian fops who were tempted into uniforms and boots by federal agents could be called “terrorists”, how is it these f***ers who [reportedly, allegedly] wanted to slaughter police agents in search of a wider anti-government uprising are NOT “terrorists”? I mean, other than “BUH THEY’RE WHITE RIGHT WING XTIAN AMURKANS!”

7

Peter 03.31.10 at 3:26 am

On a somewhat related note, I get a laugh out of newspaper crime reports that describe the suspect as, say, “a man in his early 20’s, approximately six feet, 175 pounds, wearing jeans and a red T-shirt.”
Gee, is something missing?

8

Esteban 03.31.10 at 3:39 am

The NYTimes never ever called the IRA “terrorists”. They were freedom fighters for a long while .. can’t remember what they called them after the Manchester bombing.

9

Jack Strocchi 03.31.10 at 4:18 am

Multiply posted comment deleted – Jack, please confine yourself to my blog

Summary to make responses comprehensible: Christian militias haven’t killed anyone yet, therefore aren’t terrorists

10

Ian Whitchurch 03.31.10 at 4:34 am

Mr Strocchi,

Does the date April 19, 1995 mean anything to you ?

Does the name “The Alfred P Murrah building” perhaps ring a bell ?

11

Jack Strocchi 03.31.10 at 4:48 am

Deleted

12

W.P. McNeill 03.31.10 at 5:07 am

The militia movement first came on the scene in the 1990s, so that the equation of the term “militia” with “white American survivalists who advocate violence against the U.S. government” was well-established before 9/11 came along and awakened a broad American interest in defining exactly what constitutes a “terrorist”. So calling this group that just got arrested in Michigan a “militia” rather than “terrorists” can be chalked up to habit as much as sinister framing.

That said, these people are terrorists—or at least terrorist wannabes—by any reasonable definition. I only care about the nomenclature inasmuch as their capture demonstrates that the American legal system is perfectly capable of handling terrorists without military tribunals and Guantanamo Bay and the rest of it. I mean, we got Timothy McVeigh, right?

13

Substance McGravitas 03.31.10 at 5:36 am

You might want to note that Timothy McVeigh did show up at militia meetings – though he was not much of a joiner – and that catching terrorists before they blow stuff up, as has happened with a good many militia members, is nice. The dividing line between those guys, lone nuts, and other aggrieved white folks with guns is awfully slim.

14

John Quiggin 03.31.10 at 5:39 am

Jack, please comment on my blog. I’m deleting the comments here.

15

Ombrageux 03.31.10 at 6:33 am

I just can’t deal with the treatment of “terrorism” any more. It’s all a load of manufactured horseshit: a sort of weird hybrid of 1950s-style McCarthyist scaremongering about “Islamists” (the new totalitarians) to justify militarism and imperialism with race-baiting about the insidious, proliferating “eternal Muslim”. ****ers!

16

alex 03.31.10 at 7:33 am

@15: except, obviously, for the part where people try to blow up airplanes in the name of Allah. That did actually happen, several times, recently – or did it not, in your moral universe?

Right with you on the McCarthyite scaremongering, but then the USSR existed too, and so did the KGB.

17

Ombrageux 03.31.10 at 8:32 am

alex – And…? The Soviet Union was one of the most conservative empire in existence. For 40 years after WW2, they never expanded beyond their “sphere of influence” in Europe with the exception of Afghanistan. Otherwise, they did nothing, nothing but give aid to INDEPENDENT governments and movements (Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua). They had enough trouble keeping the Eastern Europeans in line despite millions of soldiers on their doorstep. They never had any prospect of lasting control beyond those areas.

All this was known and obvious to individuals with a minimum of intelligence and common sense. The Americans – McCarthyites and Cold Warriors – liked to deny it because the Cold War – a reality in Europe a useful lie elsewhere – was necessary to maintain its arms industry and ability to terrorize the Third World into submission (Vietnam, Angola, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Congo, Iran, on and on).

“Islamic Terrorism” today serves the same purpose: justifying whatever policy happens to be the order of the day in Muslim country X or Y.

18

ogmb 03.31.10 at 9:13 am

For the practice of wearing a kilt without undergarments, see True Scotsman.

Completely off topic, but sometimes ya gotta love Wikipedia…

19

alex 03.31.10 at 9:37 am

@17 – see, this is where you go off the rails. You can’t distinguish between asserting that a reaction to a threat was exaggerated, and denying that the threat itself existed. See, for example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Soviet_spies_against_the_United_States

Though I do admire your ability to determine that a state of armed confrontation that was a ‘reality’ on one continent became, as if by magic, nothing but ‘a useful lie’ elsewhere. I guess the Cuban Missile Crisis never happened, then?

20

Hidari 03.31.10 at 10:30 am

I agree with the point of the original post, but surely this is simply straightforward Orientalism?

That is, this results from the West’s propensity to divide the world into two (or to make binary divisions, in other words), in which one of these (ours) is privileged.

Whatever else one might think of his work, I think Jacques Derrida has written about this (someone who knows more about his work than me, which wouldn’t be difficult, can doubtless correct me on this).

So ‘We’ have ‘militias’ and ‘They’ have (or are) ‘terrorists’.

We ‘abuse’ , but They ‘torture’.

They ‘deliberately target civilians’ but We ‘make mistakes’ (collateral damage).

They start aggressive wars for absolutely no reason but We only ever act in self-defence.

We are ‘rational’, They are ‘irrational’ (or barbaric, or psychotic).

We are ‘good’, They are ‘evil’.

And so on.

Counter-examples can always be explained away, not just by the One True Scotsman argument but also by what I call Whistler’s Logic.

The anecdote goes as follows.

Whistler is sitting having tea with Oscar Wilde, and they are sitting about and engaging in witticisms and bantering about philosophy and art and generally being insufferable.
Suddenly Oscar Wilde spills his tea all over himself.

‘How like you, Oscar!’ chides Whistler.

And then after more banter, a few minutes later, Whistler spills his tea all over himself.

‘How unlike me!’ he exclaims.

[I have a vague memory that this is an attributional bias and that experimental evidence has been provided to show that this is, in fact, how people think, but as I can’t remember the ‘scientific name’ I can’t find it].

But it’s true: when we see, e.g. these Christian loons, or Abu Ghraib, or similar Western atrocities, helped by the Corporate Media, our thoughts are almost always ‘how untypical of us!’. Whereas when we see Islamic terrorism we almost always think ‘how typical of them!’.

The ‘other side’ of course, see it in exactly the opposite way.

21

Iorwerth Thomas 03.31.10 at 10:35 am

“[I have a vague memory that this is an attributional bias and that experimental evidence has been provided to show that this is, in fact, how people think, but as I can’t remember the ‘scientific name’ I can’t find it].”

Is it the Fundamental Attribution Error?

22

ajay 03.31.10 at 10:42 am

this results from the West’s propensity to divide the world into two (or to make binary divisions, in other words), in which one of these (ours) is privileged.

A propensity that is, of course, completely unknown in the rest of the world.

23

alex 03.31.10 at 11:05 am

Indeed; dar al-Harb, anyone? Gwailo? Gaijin? Shibboleth? “Those guys from two villages over who can’t say ‘Na’ properly”?

I see Hidari adds “The ‘other side’ of course, see it in exactly the opposite way.” But in that case, it isn’t “simply straightforward Orientalism”, because that schema presupposes an essential power-relationship at the heart of the unequal polarity.

24

NomadUK 03.31.10 at 11:49 am

I guess the Cuban Missile Crisis never happened, then?

Yes, that certain sprang up out of nowhere, and had nothing to do with repeated attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro or stationing Jupiter IRBM missiles in Turkey .

So, yes, useful lie pretty much everywhere else.

I for one am waiting for personal denunciations of terrorism from the so-called “moderate” Christians—if they even exist.

I think moderate Christians should be forced to demonstrate that they’re responsible members of society by denouncing Christian extremism and working to prevent young Christian men from becoming radicalised. Maybe there should be government-sponsored groups of moderate Christians tasked with bringing this message to Christian communities. Of course, not all of them speak English, so that might be a problem….

25

alex 03.31.10 at 12:17 pm

@24 – eh? Now there’s only one side in your Cold War? Is the USSR allowed to arm proxies in Africa and Latin America, but the USA isn’t? I’m not saying, I never said, the USA was right, but you really do have to allow that they thought they were in a fight.

26

stostosto 03.31.10 at 12:56 pm

“The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”

27

chris 03.31.10 at 12:58 pm

the West’s propensity to divide the world into two

The East, of course, has no such propensity, because it’s as different from the West as yin and yang.

28

NomadUK 03.31.10 at 1:02 pm

I’m not saying, I never said, the USA was right, but you really do have to allow that they thought they were in a fight.

They may well have thought so, but it was a fight largely of their own making, starting with the invasion of Archangel in 1918, at the request of the British and French, and continuing unabated for the next 70 years.

29

soru 03.31.10 at 1:05 pm

Before people start getting worked up about double standards, I thought the US military generally described those shooting at them in Iraq as _insurgents_, as distinct to the _terrorists_ who shot at/bombed civilians instead (or as well).

Kind of a fine distinction, especially if you are the one getting shot at, and one the law doesn’t really recognise (because shooting the police really isn’t supposed to be legal).

30

John Protevi 03.31.10 at 1:22 pm

Before people start getting worked up about double standards, I thought the US military generally described those shooting at them in Iraq as insurgents, as distinct to the terrorists who shot at/bombed civilians instead (or as well).

Does the phrase “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” ring a bell?

31

alex 03.31.10 at 1:29 pm

Well, I guess George V should just have got over the fact that the Bolsheviks murdered his cousin and his whole family, realised the game was up, and handed over the keys of Buckingham Palace to the TUC, but if you’re going to descend to that level of absurdity then there’s really no point arguing, is there? OTOH, if what you really mean is that anything the USSR did to bring about global revolution was fine with you, and anything the USA did to resist it was illegitimate, you ought to say so, because then it isn’t a conversation about the facts of history any more.

32

NomadUK 03.31.10 at 1:43 pm

I guess George V should just have got over the fact that the Bolsheviks murdered his cousin and his whole family, realised the game was up, and handed over the keys of Buckingham Palace

Yes, because, clearly, the Bolshies were going to be invading Britain any day.

OTOH, if what you really mean is that anything the USSR did to bring about global revolution was fine with you, and anything the USA did to resist it was illegitimate

Why, of course, that’s exactly what I was saying. How very perceptive of you.

33

novakant 03.31.10 at 1:54 pm

I’m looking forward to alex defending the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

34

Stuart 03.31.10 at 2:02 pm

alex seems to be a Glenn Beck style troll, where he gets to make up anything he likes, and respond to strawmen whenever challenged. I can’t see discussion with him/her being very productive.

35

Aulus Gellius 03.31.10 at 2:37 pm

Going back to the use of “militia”: it really isn’t in any way a good-enough substitute for “terrorist.” There are quite a lot of militia members in the US, and though they’re all quite nutty, and all theoretically prepared for the day it becomes necessary to defend themselves by violence against the government, they do NOT all go around plotting to set off bombs at funerals and so forth. Using “militia” interchangeably with terrorist would be like using “Muslim fundamentalist” interchangeably with “terrorist”: there’s certainly overlap, and the connections are significant, but the difference between people who try to commit mass murder and people who don’t is pretty important.

36

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.31.10 at 3:05 pm

If Cristian/wingnut terrorists are like Muslim terrorists (and I agree that they are), then shouldn’t we look into the root causes, instead of assuming that they’re just nuts? You know, to explain is not to justify…

37

novakant 03.31.10 at 3:13 pm

shouldn’t we look into the root causes, instead of assuming that they’re just nuts?

Nothing wrong with that.

38

toby 03.31.10 at 3:14 pm

Rachel Maddow at least emphasised the group’s Christian affiliations. good interview with Ed Brayton.
http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/03/video_of_maddow_appearance.php

Brayton’s best (spoilers)
“The Hutaree remind me of the Hakauwee tribe from F Troop. I keep expecting Larry Storch to appear.”
“These are the wingnut’s wingnuts”.

39

Substance McGravitas 03.31.10 at 3:30 pm

the root causes

Magnets.

40

JoB 03.31.10 at 3:33 pm

Or, more sophisticated: magnetism.

41

Ginger Yellow 03.31.10 at 3:36 pm

Those guys from two villages over who can’t say ‘Na’ properly”?

The knights who say ‘Ni’?

42

gmoke 03.31.10 at 3:42 pm

My understanding of Taoism leads me to believe that yin and yang were known to be the unity of duality, that one could not exist without the other, and that they changed into each other under certain circumstances. There is the possibility of a fluidity there that is not completely evident in the Western concept duality.

My readings in addiction also indicate that strict dualism, all black and white with no gray allowed, is a characteristic of the addictive mindset. Whether that is cross-cultural as a symptom of addiction I do not know.

43

roac 03.31.10 at 3:43 pm

“Root causes” — I don’t think you can extrapolate much of anything from this particular bunch. If you look at their website, and their pictures, it is evident that they are way out on the tail of any bell curve you might draw. Or to put it another way, very stupid and not remotely in touch with reality — to the extent that the “mainstream” militia types wanted nothing to do with them.

Obviously the FBI has had somebody on the inside of this group for a while, and whatever discussions prompted the roundup are on tape. Which is encouraging, because if the Bureau bothered to penetrate this one, presumably it has penetrated most of them. I would guess that the ambush/funeral bomb plot came up recently and unexpectedly, and the US Attorney’s office decided they had no choice but to play it safe and pull the plug.

(I have been following this closely because I have relatives by marriage in Lenawee County, where the ringleaders live, and have spent some time there — and not at the country club either, but in bars and trailer parks full of laid-off blue-collar workers. I may post about it later, but for now I will just say that I don’t think that is where the Tea Party Rebellion is going to start.)

44

John Meredith 03.31.10 at 4:12 pm

We’re not just missing the ‘terrorist’ designation typical in these sorts of cases, we are missing the usual ‘liberal’ demands to understand how ingrained social injustice has driven these unfortunates to hatch their desperate plot. Where are the calls in the leftish mainstream press to consider ‘root causes’ instead of simply dismissing them as murderous, thick-headed morons?

45

lemuel pitkin 03.31.10 at 4:31 pm

nowhere in the mainstream media been referred to as “terrorists” or even “terror suspects”.

I thought this was (acceptable) hyperbole but a little googling suggests, to my surprise, that it is literally true. I’m sure there must be exceptions, but as far as I can tell the only news stories with Hutaree and terrorist/terrorism are think pieces on why the former isn’t called the latter. Interestingly, terror (as in terror plot, etc.) seems more acceptable.

Also interesting: the one mainstream use of terrorist with reference to Hutaree is via a quote from the Michigan Militia taking the No True Scotsman principle a step further, and denying they were a real militia.

46

dsquared 03.31.10 at 4:45 pm

Where are the calls in the leftish mainstream press to consider ‘root causes’ instead of simply dismissing them as murderous, thick-headed morons?

Michael Moore has been doing this one ever since “Bowling for Columbine”, fwiw.

47

lemuel pitkin 03.31.10 at 4:52 pm

We’re not just missing the ‘terrorist’ designation typical in these sorts of cases, we are missing the usual ‘liberal’ demands to understand how ingrained social injustice has driven these unfortunates to hatch their desperate plot.

Tens of thousands of men and women are training, with weapons, for what they believe will be the ultimate confrontation with the government. Although most of them are motivated by racist beliefs, a lot of their sympathizers are just the average Joes who live next door to you. But not for long. The bank has foreclosed on their house and repossessed their car and the money they had put away to send their kids to college is now used to buy food, clothes, and maybe someday a few semi-automatic weapons. They have, in essence, snapped. It’s one thing to have always been poor and never possessed those niceties of middle-class life. It’s a whole other thing to have enjoyed those privileges and then have them taken away… When that happens, many idnividuals who are already on the edge and can’t figure out how to respond politically are going to one of two things: (a) Take it out on themselves (sit in the dark and drink), or (b) Take it out on you. In Michigan alone, the birthplace of downsizing, there are over fifty militia groups…

There is a rage building throughout this country and, if you’re like me, you’re scared shitless. Though most people are somehow able to keep their wits through these hard times, I believe thousands of Americans are only a few figurative steps away from getting into that Ryder Truck. How terrifyingly ironic that the vehicle now chosen for terrorist acts is the same one used by that vast diaspora of working-class Americans who have spent the last decade moving from state to state in the hopes of survival. …

Timothy McVeigh couldn’t get a decent job in Buffalo, so he joined the army and got the “first kill” of his unit in Iraq during the [first] Gulf War. We gave him a medal for that kill, that taking of a human life. That kill was sanctioned because he was doing it on behalf of Uncle Sam… The next year he was unemployed, hanging around Niagara falls. … I was there at the falls, prepping my film Canadian bacon, at the time… I of course, have no recollection of seeing McVeigh there, because who was he then? Just another son of a GM worker who couldn’t get a job, not even as a toll-taker on the bridge to Canada. He had scored highest on the test; there just weren’t any openings.

— Michael Moore, Downsize This!

48

novakant 03.31.10 at 5:01 pm

I’m sure the FBI is trying to understand the root causes for the actions of terrorists, serial killers or paedophiles every day – otherwise they couldn’t do their job. Is anybody here arguing that they shouldn’t do this and instead just call them evil and stupid?

49

roac 03.31.10 at 5:07 pm

Rereading the initial post, I have to demur a little: If the murderous aspirations of these idiots are automatically to be debited to the account of the Archbishop of Canterbury, don’t we also have to reject the protests of “official” Muslims that Elijah Mohammed’s followers have no right to the label? It may be, and is even likely, that some sect that would be recognized as Christian is responsible for fostering these guys. But at this point, we don’t have any information about if and where they went to church.

To put it another way, I gather Idi Amin considered himself a true Scotsman — does that make cannibalism is a Scottish trait? (Mass murder, certainly.)

50

Alex 03.31.10 at 5:12 pm

this results from the West’s propensity to divide the world into two (or to make binary divisions, in other words), in which one of these (ours) is privileged.

You mean there are really only two kinds of people, the ones who think there are only two kinds of people, and the others, who are right?

51

Substance McGravitas 03.31.10 at 5:12 pm

I’m sure the FBI is trying to understand the root causes for the actions of terrorists, serial killers or paedophiles every day

I dunno. Seems to me you could do your police work just as well by looking for symptoms and not causes.

52

parse 03.31.10 at 5:16 pm

Perhaps the post pre-dates the stories I found, but a check on Google news shows references to the Hutaree as terrorists on CNN.com and UPI.com.

53

lemuel pitkin 03.31.10 at 5:30 pm

Parse- Both those stories are quoting the militia member saying they were terrorists as opposed to a genuine militia. He seems to be the only person quoted in a news story willing to use the word. And what you absolutely do not see is terrorist/terrorism used outside a quote, as a simple description of what the militia is accused of. Literally never. The contrast with equivalent accusations against Muslim groups really is extraordinary.

54

noen 03.31.10 at 5:32 pm

“it’s also unfair to refer them as “Christians“”

The no true Scotsman defense is also heavily used by the New Atheists. They will claim that religion is teh evril force oppressing all humanity and yet you can never criticize atheism in general nor any particular atheist. Their argument is that basically, atheism doesn’t exist. There is no such animal, no organization, no set of general beliefs, no dogma, no nothing. The upshot then is that in debate the New Atheist gets to lodge the most sweeping generalizations against all of religion while remaining immune from any and all criticism.

The device that they use for this is the idea that they “lack belief”, which is ludicrous on it’s face but it does allow them to adopt a superior pose from which they feel free to hurl the most outrageous claims.

Example: I have lost count of the times that I have been told that Marx, Engels and indeed the officially atheist states of the former USSR and China are not “true” examples of atheism and anyway it doesn’t matter because the debater didn’t personally belong to those movements and therefore there can never be any criticism of atheism because no such organization exists. Seriously, that is the response I get most frequently.

This is why I’m agnostic.

55

novakant 03.31.10 at 5:43 pm

Seems to me you could do your police work just as well by looking for symptoms and not causes.

That’s simply not sufficient – you really need to understand why people are taking certain actions or have a certain worldview, both in law enforcement and foreign relations.

56

Platonist 03.31.10 at 6:54 pm

“it doesn’t matter because the debater didn’t personally belong to those movements and therefore there can never be any criticism of atheism because no such organization exists. Seriously, that is the response I get most frequently. This is why I’m agnostic.”

The a-unicornists are always pulling this crap, too. Which is why I’m an agnosticornist.

57

Steve LaBonne 03.31.10 at 8:29 pm

Which is why I’m an agnosticornist.

Well pooh on you. I’m an agnosti-last-Thursdayicist, like all sensible people.

58

Gareth Rees 03.31.10 at 8:59 pm

The no true Scotsman defense is also heavily used by the New Atheists … This is why I’m agnostic

It’s the ARGUMENT FROM ATHEIST JERKDOM

(1) Many atheists are jerks
(1a) Especially Richard Dawkins
(2) Therefore, God exists

59

soru 03.31.10 at 9:08 pm

The contrast with equivalent accusations against Muslim groups really is extraordinary.

Perception can be a strange thing. A brief search of cnn.com showed the first 30 or so entries referencing _Hizbollah_ and _terrorist organisation_ are indirect quotes (commonly a variant of ‘ designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department’).

No doubt Fox News is different, but I am short on brain bleach so I am not going to go read 30 articles there…

60

chris 03.31.10 at 9:19 pm

“we are missing the usual ‘liberal’ demands to understand how ingrained social injustice has driven these unfortunates to hatch their desperate plot”

Perhaps because they are white Christian men in the United States, and thus (for the most part) living lives of privilege and abundance? Liberals think that kind of thing matters, you know. Ingrained social injustice was entirely in their favor, and they somehow managed to squander that and drive *themselves* to desperation.

Which is not to say that I’m averse to analyzing the root causes of their behavior, either. But rhetoric about personal responsibility is a little less hollow when applied to someone in their position, compared to an illiterate Afghan goatherd.

“If the murderous aspirations of these idiots are automatically to be debited to the account of the Archbishop of Canterbury”

They aren’t — that would be collective responsibility, which most people now disclaim. You can say that their status as Christians isn’t very meaningful because Christianity is a large and diverse group, and I agree. You can say that their actions are contradictory to the teachings of Christ, and I’ll have to sit that one out because I’m not qualified to decide which interpretations of Christ’s teachings are right or wrong. But if you say they’re not Christian at all then you are simply lying, and should be called on it. (Not that you personally have said that, it’s more of a generic “you”.)

61

roac 03.31.10 at 9:40 pm

“Privilege and abundance?” Compared to your Afghan goatherd, no doubt, but didn’t you see the pictures of the rundown trailer where the ringleader lived? White skin notwithstanding, these are clearly people living on the margins in a chronically depressed area. (Try mentally transposing them to eastern Kentucky, if that will help.)

No, I did not say that these people aren’t Christians; I professed a lack of knowledge on the issue. I said that you don’t become a Christian, or a member of any other religion, by pinning a label on yourself. I refer you once again to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Mainstream Muslims vehemently deny that their practices have anything to do with Islam, and I think non-Muslims are bound to respect that position.

62

lemuel pitkin 03.31.10 at 9:46 pm

Perhaps because they are white Christian men in the United States, and thus (for the most part) living lives of privilege and abundance? Liberals think that kind of thing matters, you know. Ingrained social injustice was entirely in their favor, and they somehow managed to squander that and drive themselves to desperation.

Chris is speaking for a small minority of liberals here, I think. Most of us are not so silly as to think that merely being white — or even white and male — means that ingrained social injustice goes entirely, or even mostly, in your favor. Michael Moore and Tom Frank are two of the best known left writers in the US, and both of them have devoted large parts of their careers precisely to exploring the root causes of the anger of folks like the Hutaree.

63

christian h. 03.31.10 at 10:09 pm

Well the assertion that the root causes of right wing violence aren’t discussed on the Left (certainly the capital L Left) is quite simply false. It’s true that the mainstream media don’t – but then they ignore ordinary people in general, and they are not left beyond some vague social liberalism. Anyone reading actual Left blogs or publications could not miss the abundance of analysis out there.

By the way, this from alex: OTOH, if what you really mean is that anything the USSR did to bring about global revolution was fine with you,

made me, as a trotskyist, laugh. If only the USSR tried to bring about global revolution! They most definitely did not. From China 1927 to Cuba in the fifties… Moscow tried to prevent revolution wherever possible. Not to mention Europe (remember the “British road to socialism”?).

64

Hidari 03.31.10 at 10:11 pm

Ha! Found it. It’s called the Black Sheep Effect.

http://www.psor.ucl.ac.be/personal/yzerbyt/Marques%20et%20al.%20EJSP%201988.pdf

65

noen 03.31.10 at 10:49 pm

@ Platonist – 56
“The a-unicornists are always pulling this crap, too. Which is why I’m an agnosticornist.”

The prefix “a” is not a logical not operation. The claim that is it places you in the “everything is black or white” camp. (So thank you for making my point for me) We do not discover the meanings of words by examining their lexical definition only but by looking to it’s usage and history.

@ Gareth Rees — 58
‘It’s the ARGUMENT FROM ATHEIST JERKDOM”

Try reading me again. What I said was that many atheists, including Dawkins and Harris, commit the fallacy of scientism and this casts doubt on their claims. Therefore I identify as agnostic to indicate that I have severe doubts. But this is off topic, what my original comment points to is the hypocrisy of saying on the one hand that Christians should denounce other Christians when they do wrong but then on the other the New Atheists never accept that they should do likewise.

This is how ideology functions today and you can see it here in this thread. Whether it is atheists denouncing Christians or liberals denouncing the right or the right denouncing Islam, no one ever seems to pause and think about how they are often doing the very things they decry in others.

“They do not know it, but they are doing it”

@ gmoke – 42
“My readings in addiction also indicate that strict dualism, all black and white with no gray allowed, is a characteristic of the addictive mindset. “

Yes, you are correct. In the recovery community it is also known as “stinkin’ thinkin'” and if you are in treatment or a group one of the first things they’ll do is to try to get you to abandon that mindset and adopt a dialectical way of looking at events, people, beliefs, facts and to stop thinking that everything and everyone must fall into some predefined Either/Or camp.

On the internet and in blogs (this one is better than most) this is very difficult to get people to understand because many of the commenters are techies or geeks with a rigid dogma of received truth (scientism) that reduces everything to matters of black or white.

@ lemuel pitkin — 62
Michael Moore and Tom Frank “have devoted large parts of their careers precisely to exploring the root causes of the anger of folks like the Hutaree.”

It shouldn’t be that hard to understand. There are no jobs, period, and the ranks of the middle class are being decimated. I don’t think it’s fair when some blame them for voting for the wrong party. The upper middle class in American share a good part of the blame. They were complacent, many still are, and simply didn’t give a fuck or actively helped to advance the neoliberal agenda because they got a piece of the action.

Detroit and much of the midwest resembles a third world country. Who’s to blame? Well, we all are aren’t we?

66

bianca steele 03.31.10 at 11:01 pm

noen, thanks for the clarification–I, at least, thought you were saying something else: that those atheists are annoying who assume you can’t be a good atheist unless you’ve grokked and rejected precisely the religious tradition they were raised in.

67

lemuel pitkin 03.31.10 at 11:34 pm

It shouldn’t be that hard to understand.

And yet, evidently it is, since you are convinced “we all are to blame” for decisions taken by, and for the benefit of, a small group rich individuals and those who work for them.

68

piglet 03.31.10 at 11:48 pm

I heard the term “Christian militia” this morning on NPR and was surprised that they used that terminology.

69

noen 04.01.10 at 1:49 am

@ lemuel pitkin – 66

Help me to understand. Isn’t the whole point that we are all one humanity and what I do or fail to do affects us all? It may be infinitesimal but I think that I share in some of the guilt.

70

Platonist 04.01.10 at 2:12 am

“The claim that is it places you in the ‘everything is black or white’ camp…

We do not…only but by…
many… Therefore…
This is how…
Whether it is…or…
no one ever…
you are correct…
abandon that mindset and adopt…
stop thinking that…
many of the commenters are…or…
There are no jobs, period…
Who’s to blame? Well, we all are aren’t we?…

everything and everyone must fall into some predefined Either/Or camp…
with a rigid dogma of received truth (scientism) that reduces everything to matters of black or white.”

71

Natilo Paennim 04.01.10 at 3:02 am

I’m not completely sure where this discussion is going, but for what it’s worth, the government is more than willing to consider any organizing by left-wing people as “terrorism”, regardless of whether there is any intent, or even any possibility of harm coming to human beings. The corporate media usually puts those allegations in direct quotes, or paraphrases, but the word is still used. By contrast, the government usually only moves against right-wing activists when there is a clear and undeniable propensity and capacity for violence against people present. Can you imagine what would have happened in the late 1990s if the Murrah building bombing had been the work of 3 0r 4 left wingers? The Palmer Raids would have looked like a Keystone Kops short! And what actually happened to the militia milieu that spawned McVeigh and Nichols? Very little. The media spotlight made them tone it down for a little while, but there wasn’t any far-ranging effort to find and prosecute people who were up to similar activities. And if it had been Muslims? Well, we know what that’s been like. The US is a country where, in the very recent past, a group of peaceful demonstrators can be attacked by gun-wielding Klansmen, and the survivors prosecuted for incitement to murder. In the US, two environmental activists can be attacked with a car bomb, and then prosecuted for building it. In the US, police can drop bombs from helicopters and burn down entire working-class, African-American neighborhoods and get medals for it! So no, of course a bunch of white guys who want to kill dozens of cops are not “terrorists” — that’s what we call bad people.

72

noen 04.01.10 at 6:07 am

@ Natilo — Life isn’t fair.

“there wasn’t any far-ranging effort to find and prosecute people who were up to similar activities”

I’m pretty sure you don’t know that to be true.

73

John Quiggin 04.01.10 at 6:36 am

Responding to noen and some others, identifying the suspects in this case as Christians implies that some Christians are (accused of being) bad people, and this, I take it, is the grounds of objection.

It doesn’t imply a particular obligation on other Christians to denounce them, any more that Scots are obliged to denounce criminal actions by other Scots or terrorist actions by Scots nationalists.

But, to the extent that people have used rhetoric similar to that of the terrorists, it is reasonable to ask them to clarify their position. For example, the large minority of Republicans who think that Obama is/may be the Antichrist might be supposed to have some sympathy with the accused in this case. Similarly for Scots nationalists given to incendiary rhetoric in the analogous case.

74

noen 04.01.10 at 7:03 am

Announcement:

In regard to human consistency in action, thought, emotion, intention,
performance, preference—consistency in these or in anything else is
impossible and any expectation of any consistency in these matters is
the root of all self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

In our next series of announcements we will explain why this is the
case. We will also discuss the notion of the will, and “freedom of the
will” and the Nicene creed. “ — John Fahey

People will do as they please, always have, always will. Why throw yourself upon the rocks in the vain hope that this time you will be the one to force humans to obey?

75

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.01.10 at 7:27 am

And what actually happened to the militia milieu that spawned McVeigh and Nichols? Very little.

In fact, iirc, after the Oklahoma-city bombing they held militia hearings in congress, with prominent militia leaders invited to air their grievances. As a result, the FBI procedures changed; incidents like Waco siege and Ruby Ridge stopped happening, and the next wingnut standoff (some Texan secessionists or something; ‘freemen’?) went on for months and ended without violence. They know how to defuse tensions.

76

bad Jim 04.01.10 at 8:00 am

For what it’s worth, the Hutaree members have been charged with “seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence” rather than terrorism.

77

Phil 04.01.10 at 9:11 am

soru: I thought the US military generally described those shooting at them in Iraq as insurgents, as distinct to the terrorists who shot at/bombed civilians instead (or as well).

For what it’s worth, their fanboys at the American Enterprise have been happy to apply the label more widely (link goes to a discussion of the sentence “Many thousands of terrorists were killed, with comparatively little collateral damage.”)

78

Hidari 04.01.10 at 9:28 am

“Many thousands of terrorists were killed, with comparatively little collateral damage.”

Comparatively? Compared to what? Compared to other times when ‘we’ killed far more civilians?

79

Gareth Rees 04.01.10 at 9:49 am

many atheists, including Dawkins and Harris, commit the fallacy of scientism and this casts doubt on their claims

Perhaps you prefer the ARGUMENT FROM ATHEIST CONSISTENCY:

(1) Many atheists are wrong about subject X
(2) Therefore, they are wrong about religion, too
(3) Therefore, God exists.

80

Platonist 04.01.10 at 11:47 am

“(1) Many atheists are wrong about subject X
(2) Therefore, they are wrong about religion, too
(3) Therefore, God exists.”

I believe this is forbidden as “black and white” thinking. It goes something like this:
1. Things are not black or white.
2. Therefore, theism is neither true nor false.
3. Therefore, atheism is absolutely false.
4. Therefore, only agnostics are teh absolute awesome.

81

Mrs Tilton 04.01.10 at 11:51 am

Noen @54,

Their argument is that basically, atheism doesn’t exist. There is no such animal, no organization, no set of general beliefs, no dogma, no nothing

And they are right. Atheism is, precisely, that: a negative character, an absence. I am not saying that you are wrong to criticise Dawkins & Co., but rather that what you are criticising about them isn’t their atheism.

I am an atheist. I used not to be, because I held a certain subset of the myriad things that humans have thought about divine entities to be true. With time, though, I came to see that I had no good reason for holding those thoughts true. I didn’t substitute some new set of beliefs, did not knock a god or gods off a pedestal to be replaced by Not-God. I simply no longer believed that the stories I’d been told about one particular god had any truth to them. And there was and is no emotional content to that lack-of-belief; it is not something that defines me as person in any way because it is not. Since I came to understand that there was no point wasting time thinking about gods (as real, exisiting entities, not as, say, literary figures or cultural artefacts), well, I have not wasted much time doing so; just as I have not wasted much time thinking about dragons, perpetual-motion machines or compassionate conservatism as real, existing entities. And I imagine that this is how it is for just about all atheists, however far apart from each other they might be on other religion-related questions.

What you seem to be attacking in Dawkins et al. is not atheism but, for lack of a better word, anti-religionism. And that is a different thing altogether. Unlike gods, religions are real (all too real, many would say). And although all atheists would agree that the fundamental premise of (almost) all religions is unsupported, their other thoughts about religions are all over the map. Some hate them all. Some would be happy to live and let live, if only religions would take the same stance (and some of them do). Some quite like at least some bits of some religions, and atheist magistrates, we’re told, find all religions equally useful.

(Me? I wish that religions had no role at all in public life, and a vastly reduced role in life in general; in very broad terms, I’m in sympathy with Dawkinsian views. But I also find Dawkins, when he is in believer-bashing mode, a bit zealous and sometimes, frankly, a bit tiresome. And when the spirit is upon him in all its power, as when he pronounces that parents raising their child a Roman Catholic are guilty of worse abuse than the priest who rapes him, I am overcome with the urge to suggest he have a nice lie-down until he is feeling better.)

So about religions, as about pretty much everything, atheists do have affirmative views. But those views vary wildly, and none of them are really peculiar to atheists. The only thing that unites all atheists is not an affirnative thing at all; it’s a mere absence of belief that certain things exist.

Now, if you genuinely think that the existence of or otherwise of a god or gods is an open one, you should by all means identify as an agnostic. (I don’t mean simply that you are not absolutely, technically certain there is no god. I’m not. So far as I understand, Dawkins isn’t either. Similarly, I am not truly certain that the water bottle on my desk as I type will not slip suddenly through the desk’s surface to crash on the floor below — indeed, that could, conceivably, happen. But still, I find it a useful working assumption that the bottle will stay atop the desk, and that there are no gods.)

But if you have no more belief in gods than I do, but still shun the label “atheist” because Dawkins commits the fallacy of scientism, or is rude to a large group of mostly harmless people, or simply will not put a sock in it, well, that’s unfortunate. Not least because, even granting arguendo that there are many, many things about Dawkins that are genuinely irritating, his atheism sensu stricto is not one of them.

82

alex 04.01.10 at 12:00 pm

@81: indeed, but also worthy of note is that for many believers, it seems to be axiomatic that being atheist means that there is something wrong with you, in some cases to be interpreted quasi-literally as an absence of some mental/spiritual quality that opens you up to the experience of the divine. [For Calvinists, this would evidently be ‘election’, for Catholics, a receptivity to ‘grace’…] Thus, like blind people intruding into a conversation on the aesthetic qualities of a sunset or a ceiling fresco, atheists should just shut up because they don’t know what they’re talking about. Though, obviously, no aesthete would actually be that rude to a blind person. But religion is so much more important, and merits passion…

83

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 12:58 pm

But religion is so much more important, and merits passion…

Though for at least some people knowing more about it, curiously, doesn’t seem to increase conviction, quite the contrary in fact:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/Non-Believing-Clergy.pdf

84

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 1:02 pm

By the way, Mrs. Tilton, are you prepared to defend the proposition that teaching a young child that he is going to burn in Hell forever if he doesn’t maintain the “correct” belief system is NOT a pretty serious form of mental abuse? Perhaps you should talk to some ex-fundamentalists and listen to them explain how screwed-up they were left by their upbringing and how hard it was for them to overcome that trauma.

85

engels 04.01.10 at 1:57 pm

The things are not black and white argument is very popular on the internet, and goes roughly like this.
1.p
2.Some people have argued not-p on the grounds that x,y,z.
3.But things are never black and white. Nothing is certain.
4.Therefore p.

86

alex 04.01.10 at 2:10 pm

@84: I rather think the lady was saying that publicly equating religious ‘education’ with arse-rape doth not for constructive ecumenical discourse make… And also, many people seem to survive being lapsed Catholics with equanimity; victims of pedophilia, not so much.

87

Mrs Tilton 04.01.10 at 2:14 pm

Steve @84,

thanks for your helpful suggestion, but I have sufficent personal experience of extreme religious upbringing that I don’t really need to canvass the unfortunate denizens of Jesus Camp.

As I have never proposed, upthread or anywhere else, that ‘teaching a young child that he is going to burn in Hell forever … is NOT a pretty serious form of mental abuse’, it’s odd that you ask me to defend the proposition. If you really think that is what I am arguing, you want to work on your reading comprehension skills. Why look, you can start in this very forum, with this. By me, as it happens. About the whole “what’s worse for a child, Sunday School or anal rape” thing. I don’t think you’ll find support there for your ignorant and offensive assertion that I believe ”teaching a young child that he is going to burn in Hell forever … is NOT a pretty serious form of mental abuse”. But knock yourself out trying to find some.

88

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 2:15 pm

And also, many people seem to survive being lapsed Catholics with equanimity

And some don’t, and many victims of more fundamentalist creeds don’t. Your point being?

Oh, and is talking publicly about priestly child rape not also unconducive to ecumenical discourse with the excuse-making variety of Catholic? And I should care about that why, exactly? So why should I care about being “ecumenical” in other contexts where I see real harm being done?

89

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 2:19 pm

As I have never proposed, upthread or anywhere else, that ‘teaching a young child that he is going to burn in Hell forever … is NOT a pretty serious form of mental abuse’, it’s odd that you ask me to defend the proposition.

Then I trust you will stop bashing Dawkins for also declining to defend it. Which is all he, or I, have done, despite your bizarre attempts to put words in both of our mouths. This kind of thing:

About the whole “what’s worse for a child, Sunday School or anal rape”

really won’t do if you expect to be taken seriously.

90

Mrs Tilton 04.01.10 at 2:40 pm

Sorry, Steve, but you don’t get to play the arrogant arsehole if you’re unwilling to do the homework to back it up. What I am bashing Dawkins for is saying, tout court, that raising a child catholic is worse than sexually abusing that child. If you weren’t too lazy to follow the link I gave you, you’d have found Dawkins saying, explicitly, that which you fondly imagine I am putting in his mouth. (And the only thing I’m “putting in your mouth”, you dolt, is a direct quotation from you.)

Dawkins, by the way, has since backed down and admitted his “catholic upbringing/sexual abuse” statement was in the heat of the moment and poorly expressed. It’s thrilling that you’re made of sterner stuff than he, though.

BTW, the word you’re looking for @88 is not “ecumenical” but “irenical”. Oecumenism is difficult for non-believers, no matter how nice they might be to believers.

91

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 2:49 pm

It’s thrilling that you’re made of sterner stuff than he, though.

Somebody who continues to lie shamelessly about what I’ve said (and who, in passing, was moments ago continuing to bash Dawkins for a careless remark that she herself admits he’s long since withdrawn), is in no position to call anybody else an “arrogant arsehole”. But feel free to continue your noble quest for truth and justice, or whatever.

92

mds 04.01.10 at 2:52 pm

If the murderous aspirations of these idiots are automatically to be debited to the account of the Archbishop of Canterbury

No, because the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t combine the John Birch Society with apocalyptic fundamentalist Christianity. Tim LaHaye, nominal author of the bestselling Left Behind Series, does. As do many of the fundamentalist Christians to whose “forces of God under seige” mentality Fox News caters so avidly. On the one hand, right-wing Christians hear from the pulpit repeatedly that we are living in the End Times, with Satan working overtime to oppress believers; on the other, they hear from their news channel repeatedly that the godless forces of socialism have seized control of our founded-as-conservative-Christian government whenever Democrats control at least one branch of it. So, yes, I’d like to see a few of the putatively “respectable” conservative Christian figures like Rick Warren or Franklin Graham come out more firmly against such violence in word and deed in the name of their faith. Instead, Franklin Graham provided a plane to help fly Sarah Palin to one of her book signings. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, throws kerosene into the lit fireplace instead?” [Large show of hands by the Christian Right]

So it’s those Christian figures who themselves are guilty of ceaseless incitement to violence that should be called to account for it, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the United Church of Christ, or that nice old lady down the street who tries to live by the Golden Rule. And dragging how mean Richard Dawkins is into things doesn’t change just how much of modern American Christianity is composed of moral monsters.

93

alex 04.01.10 at 3:01 pm

Ah, Steve, if only there were not so very many religious people in the world, and if only their institutions did not wield such power, your bitter rage might be productive of something more than your own high blood-pressure. And also, it’s only a blog.

94

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 3:03 pm

Ah, Steve, if only there were not so very many religious people in the world, and if only their institutions did not wield such power, your bitter rage might be productive of something more than your own high blood-pressure.

Ah, alex, if only you could put your superpowers of analyzing people’s emotional states over the internet to more productive uses.

95

roac 04.01.10 at 3:14 pm

Since the quote about the Archbishop of Canterbury was mine, I should say that I fully agree with both Quiggin at 73 and mds at 92. I have read all I could find about this case, and I am satisfied that the milieu that spawned the “Left Behind” series was the main influence on the mental processes (to use the term loosely) of the accused. My earlier post was a protest against making that assumption in the absence of evidence.

So yes, I agree that LaHaye and Jenkins ought to do some public soul-searching. Let me know when they do.

96

Natilo Paennim 04.01.10 at 3:29 pm

I’m not going to respond to noen’s obvious trolling.

However, I think comparing “atheism” and “terrorism” as broadly-misused terms is fairly salient. If we use a fairly neutral definition of terrorism as something along the lines of “politically motivated violence by non-state actors”, then of course most of what is described as “terrorism” by the corporate media is just that. But so is quite a bit of other activity that never gets stuck with that label. By contrast, rather than limiting the definition of atheism, many commentators tend to broaden it to include virtually everything outside of religious devotion. That would include apostasy, anti-clericalism, agnosticism, apathy, ignorance, heresy, etc. Let’s not forget that the Catholic Church (among many other religious bodies) has a long tradition of smearing any criticism of itself as “atheist”, whether it’s coming from card-carrying Communists or devout Protestants. I’m reminded of an anecdote a friend told me: He was in a thrift store in a medium-sized Midwestern city, purchasing a few items, one of which happened to be a copy of The Witches of Eastwick. The clerk looked at the book with undisguised horror and asked “Isn’t that about Satanism?” To which my friend replied, “Yes, sort of.” The clerk grimaced and said, “Well, isn’t that illegal?” That interaction typifies what passes for most public discourse around politics and religion in the US. It’s a little sad to see that even Crooked Timber is not outside of it.

97

Platonist 04.01.10 at 3:46 pm

engels 04.01.10 at 1:57 pm
“3.But things are never black and white. Nothing is certain.
4.Therefore p.”

On the interwebs, this is called getting “Sør-owned.”

98

piglet 04.01.10 at 4:01 pm

Well said, Mrs. Tilton.

99

Harald Korneliussen 04.01.10 at 4:13 pm

roac: Your Idi Amin response to the “no true scotsman” accusation is worth an internet or two. I may have to remember it and use it myself.

It’s also rather amusing to see the agnostic noen get accused of idiotic God-proofs. It rather neatly makes his point (I agree with noen, and I’ve often wanted to make the very same point myself, but when you see how even an agnostic gets treated by that crowd…)

100

noen 04.01.10 at 4:45 pm

@ Mrs. Tilton – 81
“what you are criticising about them isn’t their atheism.”

What I am criticizing is the hypocrisy of demanding that all Christians are somehow responsible for every act by every fringe sect like the Hutaree while at the same time claiming that one is immune from any and all criticism because one shouldn’t hold whole groups i.e. the New Atheists, responsible for the acts of their individual members. I object to such rank hypocrisy. The only way around the charge of hypocrisy is by claiming that you don’t exist:

“And they are right. Atheism is, precisely, that: a negative character, an absence.”

Which is obviously false since the social phenomenon does exist. Humans are just as capable of forming a social identity around an absence as they are around a presence. Atheism as such clearly does exist and those identifying as atheists do form groups, organizations and even churches complete with priests. Therefore you do not escape the charge of hypocrisy.

@ Gareth Rees
1.p
2.Some people have argued not-p on the grounds that x,y,z.
3.But things are never black and white. Nothing is certain.
4.Therefore p.

This is not my argument. Please represent me fairly. I do not assert 4 and I never claimed that “things are never black and white”. Please scroll up and read what I actually said in context to whom I was responding. Nor did I ever assert that as a consequence nothing is certain.

One would think that the usual blog commentor habit of misreading one’s opponent and then projecting onto them one’s own fantasized Other and then attacking that would be less in evidence on Crooked Timber. Apparently not.

101

Steve LaBonne 04.01.10 at 4:53 pm

“Atheist vs. agnostic” cage matches are so boring. Does anybody claim to be able to demonstrate conclusively that Russell’s teapot doesn’t exist? No. Does anybody actually take the possibility of its existence seriously? Again, no. The rest is word-chopping.

102

Gareth Rees 04.01.10 at 5:17 pm

noen: I didn’t write the material you quoted, Engels did.

But anyway, you said explicitly (in comments 54 and 65) that you are agnostic because of atheists’ poor arguments and poor behaviour. I doubt that you can really have meant what you said there—it would be absurd to accept or reject a position on a matter of fact on the basis of the behaviour of other adherents to that position—so I think mockery is the best response.

103

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.01.10 at 6:04 pm

@102 It’s not absurd. If a term gets hijacked, appropriated by a clique you find particularly unpleasant (assuming, for the sake of argument, that is the case with “atheism”) – why not pick a different label, with pretty much the same meaning?

104

mds 04.01.10 at 6:06 pm

So yes, I agree that LaHaye and Jenkins ought to do some public soul-searching. Let me know when they do.

Touché.

105

Geoffrey 04.01.10 at 9:50 pm

For jacob @ 8 – I’ve pretty much both owned that these folks are Christian and been quite vocal in my own denunciations of this kind of thing. Not that you might care. . .

106

Gareth Rees 04.01.10 at 10:17 pm

Henri: but surely “agnostic” is not just a label for an atheist who doesn’t want to be associated with Dawkins and the like? If you insist on using the word that way, then it’s bound to lead to misunderstanding (as perhaps in this thread). As far as I know, “agnostic” normally has two senses, the Huxley sense (OED: “one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and, so far as can be judged, unknowable”) and the modern sense (OED: “a person who is unpersuaded by or uncommitted to a particular point of view”; in this case, someone who is unpersuaded by either the theist or atheist views). They both seem like perfectly reasonable positions to me, but it’s not reasonable to adopt either position on the basis that atheists on the Internet are a bunch of jerks.

107

noen 04.01.10 at 10:28 pm

@ Gareth Rees — My mistake, sorry about that. “It would be absurd to accept or reject a position on a matter of fact on the basis of the behaviour of other adherents to that position”. You see, I just don’t think like that. I don’t take what people say in ordinary conversation literally. It seems to be a disease of the internet to parse what people say as if every word they used is meant to be taken in it’s most strict and absolute sense. So duh, of course I didn’t mean that. I meant that it was one of several factors that taken together weighed against rather than for.

BTW I am not trolling, I am not doing this for lolz. There is a genuine disagreement. I think it is hypocritical in the extreme to say that one can criticize some groups but that the group one belongs to is beyond criticism because it has super duper special powers of logical invisibility. In addition if one is going to claim there is no such thing as group responsibility well then you’d better be fair about that and not apply it to say Teabaggers. In fact, you’d be forced to take the side of Marks in this video when he claims:

“Tea party should not be accepting responsibility for this. [threats of violence] The Republican Party should not be accepting responsibility for this. […] The Democratic Party should not be accepting responsibility for this. Individuals need to accept responsibility.” [Emphasis mine.]

However I highly doubt that those who disagree with me will side with Marks against Alan Grayson and that tells me all I need to know. This pose that “we are beyond criticism because of X” is just that, a rhetorical pose for which the reasons justifying it are created post hoc.

So it seems to me that there are a couple of options. One can either say that groups can be held to account for the behavior of some of it’s members under certain conditions, in which case that applies to oneself. Or one can rigorously apply the rule that only individuals should be held to account for their behavior and their’s alone. But that rule should be applied evenly across the board regardless of whether or not one finds it politically convenient or if their beliefs are repugnant or not. Including the Palestinians and Israel, Islamic terrorists and US militias, Teabaggers and Code Pink.

And to be honest I agree with the former not the latter. I think that groups can be held to account, i.e. criticized, for the behavior of some if there are good and compelling reasons to do so. The justification for my position is that if the collective intentionality of the social group is such that it leads to morally unpraiseworthy acts then yes, I think we are right to criticize the group and to question it.

Therefore we are right to blame the Hutaree because it was their collective intentionality to commit crimes against the state. We are wrong however to demand that other Christian denominations should denounce the Hutaree because those denominations did not share in their intent to murder policemen.

108

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.02.10 at 8:34 am

Atheism, if defined as “the absence of belief in god”, is not much different from “unpersuaded by or uncommitted to a particular point of view”. You then clarify: “unpersuaded by either the theist or atheist views”; but in order to have “atheist views” you probably need to define atheism as “belief in the absence of god”, which sounds like anti-theism, the sort of thing he doesn’t like.

109

bad Jim 04.02.10 at 8:50 am

At some point someone will either launch a tiny teapot into orbit around the sun between Mars and Jupiter, or name some asteroid “Russell’s Teapot”, vitiating that metaphor just for fun.

110

JoB 04.02.10 at 11:57 am

Or – we could just rename the moon “Russell’s Teapot” such that we can point to it (most of the time, it can retain some misery the rest of the time). We could further try our luck by thereafter convincing Tea Party hooligans that the party is at Russell’s place and that they have to go there with a self-made rocket.

Considering all the rest of the crap they do believe, it’s worth a shot I’d say.

(for the remainder: one should be awfully careful not to ask those with a common characteristic to feel responsible for what some idiots with that common characteristic do unless of course the idiocy is one of the common characteristics – can we all agree on this because I’m fed up with all these Tough Left guys that get into trouble with muslim extremists – and then demand that all of the average muslims need to take a step forward and say ‘I’m not an extremist’; this distracts me of my goal of convincing average muslims to focus on their sex life rather than on religion)

111

chris 04.02.10 at 2:53 pm

demanding that all Christians are somehow responsible for every act by every fringe sect like the Hutaree

Please provide at least one well-documented example of someone actually doing this.

Clearly, the degree of coherence and top-down control in an organization is a significant factor w.r.t. what responsibility the leadership does or does not have for actions of the rank and file. A military commander or the Pope have great influence over their subordinates’ actions in a way that Dawkins just doesn’t.

On the other hand, one member of the rank and file may have little influence on another; holding the Pope responsible for the actions of priests is very different than holding an individual parishioner responsible for the same actions of the same priests. But the individual members *do* (usually) have the choice to stay in the organization or leave it, so depending on the magnitude of the organization’s crimes (assuming they are known), staying may have some moral weight. (This only works if the organization *is* an organization; it makes no sense to abandon a *belief* merely because an evil person shared it. If enough people leave the organization, but keep the beliefs, then you have a schism.)

There may well be religious groups that are more like atheism in that respect than like Catholicism — Taoism, perhaps, or some forms of Buddhism. But the degree of central control of an organization *is relevant* to what you seem to be denouncing as a double standard, and it’s difficult to argue with the fact that atheism has no formal structure or creed.

People who belong to hierarchical religions (and very many religions implicitly have a hierarchy with a god at the top, even if one mortal doesn’t take orders from another mortal) *very often* have trouble grasping the idea of a non-hierarchical group like atheists, so they mentally shove someone like Dawkins into the “pope of atheism” slot in their brains. But it doesn’t work that way.

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roac 04.02.10 at 3:14 pm

Chris, I have seen no information about what church these people attend or attended. It is very unlikely however that they would consider themselves accountable to any hierarchical structure whatever. One of the fundamental splits within Christianity — possibly the most fundamental — resulted from the Puritan rejection of the idea, embedded in the DNA of the Catholic Church and its “mainline Protestant” offspring, that the individual needs accredited priests as intermediaries between him/herself and God. (This is what the English Civil War was all about.) The Hutarees, to the extent that intellectual concepts operate in their skulls at all, are almost certainly part of the tradition that recognizes no religious authority higher than the individual congregation.

Which is not to deny, as I said earlier, that people who promote the concept that Jesus is coming back to take bloody revenge on sinners and will invite the faithful to pitch in and help, are accountable for any idiot who decides it is time to put the concept into practice.

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NomadUK 04.02.10 at 3:47 pm

One of the fundamental splits within Christianity […] resulted from the Puritan rejection of the idea […] that the individual needs accredited priests as intermediaries between him/herself and God. (This is what the English Civil War was all about.)

Was it indeed? Fascinating.

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noen 04.02.10 at 8:31 pm

@ chris – 111
“Please provide at least one well-documented example of someone actually doing this.”

Let’s keep agreeing

“I can’t tell them [the Hutaree] apart from the Christians!

I’m afraid the Hutarees were Christian, real-live testifyin’ preachifyin’ Jebus-lovin’ Bible-readin’ Christians. “

PZ Myers lumps all of Christiandom throughout all of history together and then uses examples of atrocities committed a thousand years ago to smear everyone living today who proclaims themselves Christian.

“A military commander or the Pope have great influence over their subordinates’ actions in a way that Dawkins just doesn’t.”

True but that doesn’t exempt him from criticism over the influence he does have. The forums on his domain were a cesspool of hate and intolerance until he finally had to close it completely.

“it makes no sense to abandon a belief merely because an evil person shared it.”

Really? Because I distinctly recall much wonderment across the secular landscape that people remained Christian following the exposure of fraud by Evangelical pastors in the last few years. Now you tell me that just because there are bad men in positions of leadership it doesn’t mean one should abandon their belief. What’s going on? Could it be that both sides apply their “rules” however it seems favorable to them? Naaawwww.

“the degree of central control of an organization is relevant to what you seem to be denouncing as a double standard”

What I’m talking about is “Atheist Exceptionalism”. I have been told many many times by atheists who agree with Meyers above that all Christians living today are guilty of the crimes committed over a thousand years ago. While at the same time no atheist living today can ever be held to account for crimes committed by any other self professed atheist ever and that the reason this is so is because, as Mrs. Tilton agrees, there is no such thing as atheism, and the correlary to that is there can never be any criticism of it either.

In the context to the above I strenuously object to the demand that all Christians should denounce those like the Hutaree just as I also object that all Muslims or Jews or anyone else should denounce their own fringe sects.

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chris 04.02.10 at 8:38 pm

@112: You may very well be right about the Hutaree belonging to a bottom-up tradition, but since I have yet to see anyone blame the Pope, Jim Wallis, Fred Clark, Ted Haggard, or even Jeremiah Wright for their actions, so what?

If the Hutaree adopted and acted on the beliefs of LaHaye and that actually influenced their violent, arguably terrorist plans, then there is definitely (IMO) room for a discussion on how much, if any, responsibility LaHaye should have for that. AFAIK, nobody is trying to spread the net of responsibility wider than that (and you have not provided a counterexample).

I think we actually mostly agree on the Hutaree, except that you seem to me to be determined to be offended by something nobody is saying.

The rest of my post was not specifically about the Hutaree but was in response to your hypocrisy argument expressed in, e.g., 107. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. Specifically, I was taking the idea of “groups can be held to account for the behavior of some of it’s members under certain conditions” and exploring it: one of the most important conditions, IMO, is centralized control and structure, of which atheism has nearly none to absolutely none. Therefore, IMO it’s entirely appropriate for atheists to deny collective responsibility for each other, even if they also point fingers at organizations that *do* have centralization and structure and are doing bad things *as organizations*.

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jacob 04.02.10 at 8:43 pm

Geoffrey at 108. I apologize that my irony was unclear. I was attempting to take the oft-heard comments about “moderate Muslims” and terrorists and change it, mutatis mutandi, to Christians. Indeed, I have no question that the vast majority of Christians reject terrorism, just as the vast majority of Muslims do. Apologies that this was unclear.

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chris 04.02.10 at 8:55 pm

@114: I think you are seriously misinterpreting Myers. He is not saying that all Christians are responsible for the deeds of all other Christians, but merely that they can’t attempt to whitewash Christianity by defining the criminals out of it; essentially the same thing as the OP, but with more listing of past and present bad things done by Christians.

it makes no sense to abandon a belief merely because an evil person shared it.

I should qualify this statement slightly: if the main reason you *held* that belief is that you trusted that person, and then you find out that person was evil and unworthy of trust, then you should reconsider the belief you adopted based on that person’s authority and persuasiveness.

Of course, in a more general sense I would say you shouldn’t adopt beliefs based on particular people’s authority and persuasiveness in the first place, but it’s a pretty common practice, even though it makes you susceptible to fraud and imitation of other people’s mistakes.

I have been told many many times by atheists who agree with Meyers above that all Christians living today are guilty of the crimes committed over a thousand years ago.

I’m surprised, but in case it’s not obvious by now, I disagree with them (although I think this is not Myers’s actual position). There are some people in a tradition who may revere previous evildoers and evil deeds within the same tradition, without examining them particularly closely, and I think this is at least mildly reprehensible (although not so much as the original crimes themselves).

While at the same time no atheist living today can ever be held to account for crimes committed by any other self professed atheist ever

I don’t agree with that either, but you would need more than just their common atheism.

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Dave2 04.02.10 at 9:54 pm

@noen: I don’t think the reading you say you meant is an improvement over the literal reading Gareth adopted. The literal reading, recall, was that the reason why agnosticism is to be preferred over atheism is that some atheists misbehave. But the reading you say you meant is that one reason among many for why agnosticism is to be preferred over atheism is that some atheists misbehave (“I meant that it was one of several factors that taken together weighed against rather than for”). Clearly this is not an improvement, for the misbehavior of some atheists is completely and utterly irrelevant to the relative merits of atheism and agnosticism. It’s like saying one reason why agnosticism is to be preferred over atheism is that 17 is odd, or that English is a Germanic language, or that Stravinsky eventually gave serialism a try: such considerations are completely and utterly irrelevant to the relative merits of atheism and agnosticism.

Thus if the literal reading was so absurd as to be uncharitable, as you insinuate in reply to Gareth, I think the reading you say you meant is also so absurd as to be uncharitable.

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piglet 04.03.10 at 12:37 am

“I distinctly recall much wonderment across the secular landscape that people remained Christian following the exposure of fraud by Evangelical pastors in the last few years.”

I don’t recall this. One straw man argument after the other, SIGH.

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chris 04.05.10 at 3:20 pm

@119: Good point. Anyone who can stomach the Inquisition and remain a Christian isn’t going to be bothered by the pettier sins of Ted Haggard.

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james 04.06.10 at 2:15 pm

“Apparently, on the “No True Scotsman” principle, it’s also unfair to refer them as “Christians“.” –

This occurs for the same reason ELF attempted fire bombing are not labeld “evornmentalists “.
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/04/05/us/AP-US-Arson-ELF.html?_r=1.

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