Following the publication of my most recent column (“Stop defending Islam as a religion of peace”) came a maelstrom of misinterpretation, hateful scorn and cries of “Islamophobia.” I had, of course, expected some commotion—it is, after all, a touchy subject—but I had never expected such an outcry, considering I had written about religion in the past.
I had hope that I would not be misunderstood and labeled—very simplistically—a “racist” or “Islamophobe.” Unfortunately for me, I was very wrong.
Of course, when you write about religion—and other taboo subjects—as much as I do, you run the risk of being labeled every callous pejorative under the sun, and, no matter how incorrect and tactless my critics may be, I knew that risk beforehand. (Though, with the amount of ridicule I’ve received lately, it only serves to further illustrate my point that many people of faith not only refuse to listen to criticism, but will aggressively oppose it, and, because of this, instead of having an intelligent and well-informed discussion, religious debates often devolve into spitting matches.)
Despite that, I’ve decided to write this column in order to clarify some of my previous points, introduce some new ones and address some of my readers’ concerns.
1. I am not defending Christianity as nonviolent.
In the column—though I later edited it out due to confusion—I wrote “While there are numerous verses in the Bible which call for similar acts of violence and hate, we do not see the sort of real world manifestations of these beliefs in Christianity (or in any other faith) as in Islam.”
Quite a few people took this to mean that I believe Christianity is or never has been violent, and it is easy to see how it might be interpreted in the wrong way, because, admittedly, my wording was fairly poor. However, what I meant was that we do not see the same severity or scale of violence and hate sanctioned by those who follow Christianity as we do those who follow Islam. That is not to say that Christianity is peaceful, as it also endorses intolerance, hatred and violence just the same. Though, possibly with the exception of Uganda, we do not see entire countries which identify as “Christian” executing people—based on the laws of their religion—for their sexual orientation, adultery, apostasy, blasphemy, being a rape victim or being an atheist.
That was, ultimately, my point. That, while I may receive some intolerance and hate for my non-belief here in the U.S. (though, admittedly not a theocracy), in places like Pakistan I’d be executed and something like 80 percent or more of the people there would support that, judging from the polls cited in my previous column.
Now, let me clarify and emphasize that I am speaking about right now. Today in the 21st century. Not the crusades, which was a time in which millions of Christians and Muslims both committed heinous acts of religious violence. Not the Inquisition, which caused the brutal deaths of thousands. Not the Christian justification for slavery and not the Holocaust. Right now, Islam is the most violent of all the world’s religions (and citing past atrocities of one religion does not excuse the current madness of another).
2. I am not labeling all Muslims as violent or terroristic.
While my column was critical of Islam and its influences over some of its believers, it certainly was not an anti-Muslims piece. There is an extremely important distinction between criticizing a belief or ideology (and its affects) and personally attacking someone for those beliefs.
Many people have, unfortunately, interpreted my column as hate speech against Muslims. Some have even compared me to Donald Trump, claiming that I hate Muslims and want to treat them as second-class citizens. Though, if any of these people had read any of my other columns they would know, without a doubt, that not only am I an active critic of Trump, but I also rally against the mistreatment of anyone simply because of what they believe.
It amazes me that people would read my column and somehow come away with the feeling that I hate Muslims, despite the fact that I state the contrary multiple times. For instance, the second sentence in my last column reads: “It’s one thing to condemn violence, hate and prejudice against and/or by Muslims, but it’s another thing altogether to claim that Islam is a religion of peace.” Which means that I understand and support the condemnation of violence, hate and prejudice that is directed at Muslims—as I also condemn the same when it is directed toward non-Muslims. If people had bothered to actually read the column, instead of reacting to it, they would’ve understood right away that I was not writing negatively of Muslims.
I also say in the column that “I am not calling for people to hate Muslims, nor am I calling for violence against them. I do not support any sort of bigotry or intolerance towards the Muslim community, but we need to stop ignoring the reality that Islam is no better than Christianity was during the Inquisition.”
Later on, I even provide verses as examples of the good that is in the Quran: “Now, I have never met a Muslim who has judged me or who seemed radical. My intention is not to smear the average Muslim who believes in peace and kindness and all the good teachings and lessons found in the Quran. Verse 5:89 of the Quran, for instance, tells Muslims to feed and clothe the needy, 7:199 says to be kind and forgiving toward one another, 42:42 states that it is wrong to oppress people.”
The main point here is that Islam—the religion—is not peaceful. That does not necessarily mean that all Muslims are not peaceful.
What I am not saying is that all Muslims are immoral and violent. What I am saying is that many Muslims, because of their religion—be it directly or indirectly—support immoral and arcane laws and violence. In other words, otherwise good people are corrupted by the philosophies of misogynistic, violent, bigoted and oppressive scripture.
3. I consistently and indiscriminately criticize religion and believe that it should not be shielded from scrutiny.
It is the mark of a truly open society when every idea, every belief, every philosophy is scrutinized, questioned and tested. It is, however, the mark of an unfree society when beliefs become protected from ridicule. When criticism is treated as hate speech, liberty is replaced with tyranny.
Since so many people seem to think I am a Christian who hates Muslims, I suggest that you read my other columns in which I discuss religion. You’ll find that I am an atheist and I quite often ridicule Christianity. Does this mean that I hate Christians? No. Does it mean that I have some sort of phobia of Christians or seek to spread hatred for them? Absolutely not. As such, the same goes for Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans or any other person of faith.
In my column “The U.S. is not a Christian nation,” I discuss the secular nature of our government and how it was intended as such. I also dispel with the claims that most of the Founding Fathers were Christian.
In “Religious extremism is a global issue,” I talk about how attacks on the western world grab the attention of the media, but attacks in other areas of the world often remain in the background, ignored. Towards the end of the column, I say that “We are not at war with Muslims—we are at war with ignorance.”
My column “Religion is human nature” posits that religion is a naturally occurring phenomenon. I claim that throughout history, when we were unable to explain certain events, we often filled the gaps with the supernatural or divine.
In “Religious liberty does not justify bigotry,” I talk about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a bill that would make it legal to “refuse service to anyone for any reason so long as that reason is based in religious belief”—and how disgusted I was by it.
“American religiosity in politics is terrifying” was a column of mine in which I wrote about the religious fundamentalism of many of our politicians and how that should scare the American public.
The last column on religion that I wrote, before the one on Islam, was simply titled: “Religion is nonsense.” I think that is self-explanatory.
After reading all those columns, if you still think I’m doing anything more than simply exposing religion for what I believe it to be, then I have nothing else that will convince you and you’re just looking for something to be offended by.
4. Much of Islam promotes violence and illiberal principles (but that is not to say that all Muslims do).
I have never met a Muslim who has promoted hatred, intolerance or violence. But, that is not to say it doesn’t happen. I’ve also never met a Buddhist who has endorsed such things, yet there are some who have attacked and killed Muslims and burned down Mosques in Burma, according to the BBC.
The message I intended to get across is that religion has a tendency to corrupt the human spirit, especially when said religion is predicated on such things as violence and the subjugation of women.
Of course, Islamic extremists—terrorists—represent a very small minority among Muslims. But, there is still a frighteningly large number of Muslims who support Stone Age “justice,” as I cited in my last column.
Many Muslim countries put apostates to death. Many Muslim countries put homosexuals to death. Many Muslim countries stone women to death for adultery or for being victims of rape.
This is not a small fringe of Muslims. In places like Pakistan and Egypt nearly 90 percent of Muslims support executing people for these “crimes,” according to Pew Research Center.
Killing people for no longer wanting to be Muslim is not peaceful. Killing people for being gay is not peaceful. Stoning women to death for being raped is not peaceful.
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and an often outspoken critic of religion, said this in a column from The Huffington Post: “According to a literalist reading of the hadith (the literature that recounts the sayings and the actions of the Prophet) if a Muslim decides that he no longer wants to be a Muslim, he should be put to death. If anyone ventures the opinion that the Koran is a mediocre book of religious fiction or that Muhammad was a schizophrenic, he should also be killed. It should go without saying that a desire to kill people for imaginary crimes like apostasy and blasphemy is not an expression of religious moderation. A moderate Muslim will see no problem with another Muslim deciding to become a Christian, or a Jew, or an atheist. The essence of religious moderation is the understanding that a person should be free to interpret the data of the universe for himself, without fearing that he will be murdered for reaching an unpopular conclusion.”
It’s evident that Islam is in dire need of a reformation, which begins with moderate Muslims admitting that Islam is violent and working with reformers.