Another misguided attack on Richard Dawkins, calling him a bigot for considering modern Christianity as a “more decent religion” than modern Islam

It’s very strange that there are some people who claim that there is no real difference in the harmfulness of different religions as practiced during our day. As nearly all the Four Horsemen maintained (and Sam Harris continues to do so eloquently), Islam is the faith that, as practiced now, causes more harm than any other faith, and certainly more harm than does Christianity. And yes, I freely admit that between the 12th to the 18th centuries—the period of the Inquisition—Christianity was the world’s most harmful faith. But we mustn’t forget the Aztecs, who routinely engaged in mass and gruesome murders of both their own people and prisoners.

But now the most pernicious faith seems to be Islam. Certainly many Muslims (and I know some) practice their faith benignly and even charitably. But many others don’t, and they enable harms throughout the world—harms that were never produced by Christianity or that have been largely abandoned by them. Here are some practices promoted or exacerbated by Islamic doctrine:

  • Islamism: the desire to dominate the world with Islamic doctrine, including sharia law
  • The codified oppression of women. In many places women must be veiled, put into cloth sacks, can’t go out without a male guardian, can’t go to school or get many jobs, must walk behind their husbands, can be beaten (or divorced) by their husbands without sanction, can be stoned to death for adultery (a practice just resumed by the Taliban in Afghanistan), and so on.
  • Honor culture: killing of family members who supposedly sully a family’s “honor”
  • Female genital mutilation, which is encouraged in many places by Islam
  • Sharia law, which is also oppressive. For example, the testimony of women under sharia law counts only half as much as a man’s
  • The oppression of gays, including outright murder in places like Gaza and legal execution in places like Iran.
  • Blasphemy laws, under which you can be killed for insulting Islam or burning the Qur’an
  • The demonization and sometimes the killing of apostates or atheists
  • The issuing of fatwas when Westerners insult Islam, sometimes calling for killing those perceived to insult the religion (Charlie Hebdo, Salman Rushdie, etc.). This is connected with the blasphemy laws mentioned above
  • Divisiveness within the religion that leads to war and death: Sunnis kill Shiites and vice versa, so there are internecine killings as well as cross-cultural killing
  • The propagation of hatred of Jews and propagandizing of the young
  • Favoring religious teaching in madrassas above secular teaching
  • The suppression of freedom of speech in general, particularly that which criticizes the government, often an explicitly Islamic government.  Masih Alinejad, for instance, fears for her life in America because she criticizes Iran, which has tried to both kill and kidnap her in separate incidents. Why? Because she’s against mandatory wearing of the headscarf (hijab) for women.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here so I can finish this post.

While I suppose you can find instances of some of these practices among Christians (e.g. honor killings, Orthodox Jews inhibiting secular learning, the demonization of gays), you would be a fool to say that the harm caused by Islam, as instantiated by the acts above, is as serious as that caused by Christianity in our era. There’s simply no argument to be made for it.

Except, of course, by P. Z. Myers, because Richard Dawkins has just defended Christianity against Islam in the way I have above, and we all know that P. Z. Myers is obsessed with criticizing Dawkins. And so Myers does, in a deeply misguided and logically confused piece on Pharyngula called “Banality and bigotry“.  The point Myers wants to make is that Dawkins, as a “cultural Christian” who also sees modern Christianity as morally superior to modern Islam, is thus bigot against Islam—an “Islamophobe”, if you will. (I prefer to think of “Islamophobia” as “fear of the consequences of Islam, which isn’t bigotry.) I won’t psychologize Myers, as I just want to rebut his argument, but I’d suggest that he reflect on his obsessive animus against Dawkins.  In this case, the animus has forced Myers to twist the facts to imply that Christianity is precisely as bad for the world as is Islam.

Myers’s jihad comes from the video below, in which Dawkins conveys an “Easter message” of the moral superiority of Christian behavior over Muslim behavior—comparing behaviors based on religious dictates. The interlocutor is journalist Rachel Johnson, and the venue is LBC, originally the London Broadcasting Company. It’s an interesting discussion, for Richard also queries Johnson about her own beliefs, sometimes making her squirm.

But the main error of both her queries as well as Myers’s article is to claim that because there are bad behaviors inspired by both Christianity and Islam, they must be equally bad. And if you say that, you’re a bigot. The error, of course, is the neglect of the real issue: how often do bad behavior promoted by the two faiths occur?  Further, says Myers, both the Bible and Qur’an promote some bad behaviors, so the two faiths again must be pretty much equally bad. Here I’d disagree, maintaining that the Qu’ran is full of more hatred, animus, and oppressive dictates than is the Bible. (Yes, I’ve read both.) But that’s really irrelevant to the question at hand, as most modern Christians don’t follow the bad parts of the Bible, while the Qur’an hasn’t been equally defanged.

Click to listen:

Dawkins mentions some of the bad behaviors inspired by Islam that I’ve listed above, including hostility to women and gays. He adds that “If I had to choose between Christianity and Islam, I’d choose Christianity every single time. It seems to me to be a fundamentally decent religion in the way Islam is not.”  It seems clear that he’s referring to behaviors emanating from the religions today, which is further clarified when Dawkins says that, if given a choice, he’d prefer to to live in a culturally Christian than in a Muslim country—though he “doesn’t believe a word of Christian faith”.

I’d agree, and I’m betting that, given a choice of living in the U.S. or U.K. on the one hand or Iran or Afghanistan on the other, Myers would choose the Christian countries. You don’t have to believe the tenets of Christianity to make that no-brainer choice, nor do you have to believe that liberal democracies are the inevitable result of Christianity. It’s simply a matter of the average well-being in a country taken across all of its inhabitants.

Here, however, is how Myers deals with Dawkins’s claim that he’s a “cultural Christian” because he likes church music and cathedrals, even though he entirely rejects Christian doctrine:

 It’s meaningless and trivial to say that we have all been shaped by our environment…although, of course, many Christian believers think that this is a huge deal and are acting as if Dawkins has renounced his unbelief.

He has not. What he then goes on to do, though, is to declare his bigotry, and that is what I find disturbing.

He likes hymns and cathedrals and parish churches — fine, uncontroversial, kind of boring, actually. But then he resents the idea that people would celebrate Ramadan instead of Christmas. Why? They both seem like nice holidays, that some people follow a different set of customs shouldn’t be a problem. Then he goes on to say that Christianity is “a fundamentally decent religion, in a way that Islam is not.”

How so? Because Islam is hostile to women and gays. He goes on to talk about how the Koran has a low regard for women.

Jesus. It’s true, but has this “cultural Christian” read the Bible? I don’t see any difference. The interviewer tries to bring up the record of actual practicing Christians, and he dismisses that as only those weird American protestants, as if jolly old England has no gay baiting, no murders of young women, and as if JK Rowling were just an open-minded, beneficent patron of the arts. Many American Christians are virulent homophobes who treat women as chattel, but his equally nasty culturally English Christianity has people and organizations that are just as awful.

70% of women teachers in the UK face misogyny. The British empire left a legacy of homophobia. The UK is so transphobic that some people are fleeing. Cultural Christianity does not seem to have made Great Britain a kinder, gentler place, but Dawkins must have some particularly rosy glasses that he wears at home, and takes off when he looks at any other country.

Dawkins has come out as sympathetic to Christianity, but only because it justifies his bigotry. At least he’s being open and honest about both biases.

Here Myers makes the two mistakes I mentioned above. First, he sees no difference between the proportion of bad stuff in the Bible and the bad stuff in the Qur’an. I do see a difference (I presume Myers has read both, as I have), but, as I said this is really irrelevant.

The main question is where one wants to live: in a Christian or a Muslim country, and whether Islam has more pernicious effects on the modern world than does Christianity. Which religion promotes behaviors that lead to a better, more desirable society?  To me the answer is clear, but apparently isn’t to either Myers or his faithful acolytes.  For crying out loud, America doesn’t systematically execute gays (yes, very rarely one gets killed). And yes, some Christians are “virulent homophobes”, but it’s insane to argue that, across all Americans (or American Christians), homophobia or oppression of women are just as bad as they are in Muslim societies. Perhaps 70% of women teachers in the UK have faced sexual harassment, a figure that is 70% too high, but in Muslim countries women can’t even become teachers, nor can women and girls become students. If you followed John Rawls and, behind the curtain of ignorance, had to choose whether you’d grow up as a women in a Muslim or Christian country, knowing nothing else about your circumstances, I think the choice would be clear.

The British empire left a legacy of homophobia? Well, I don’t know much whether that was a ubiquitous result of colonialism, but for the sake of argument I’ll agree. The point, however, is that homosexuality is a capital crime in many Muslim countries.  That’s why the notion of “gays for Palestine”, seen on some banners and placards, is so ridiculous. Below is a map showing where homosexuality is legal versus illegal.  Notice anything?

From Statista and Equaldex

Myers ends by accusing Richard of bigotry, presumably because Dawkins thinks that Christianity breeds better societies than does Islam. One can look up the data on various indices of social well being, happiness, and so on (the situation for gays is in the map above), and I’ll let the readers investigate, but the bullet points I’ve given already show that there are very great harms in some Muslim countries that one doesn’t find in majority Christian countries.

To conclude that Dawkins is a bigot, then, you have to not only cherry-pick the data and add confirmation bias, but also decide that making a rational argument supported by data is an instance of “bigotry”. This is the same error as concluding that it’s “Islamophobia”, a form of bigotry, to argue that Muslim societies are more dysfunctional than Christian (or atheist) ones.  In reality, you can hold the argument I’ve made above without being bigoted towards individual Muslims. “Islamophobia” should be a term for “fear of what Islam does”, rather than a form of bigotry.

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