This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Most religious people are moderate, and don't hurt anybody

Most religious people are moderate, and don't hurt anybody - Comments

sidfaiwu's Avatar Comment 1 by sidfaiwu

And if all were moderates and didn't hurt anybody, then I wouldn't have a problem with religion. But a sizable minority are harmful extremists that vote and shape harmful policies.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 11:51:00 UTC | #78175

Corky's Avatar Comment 2 by Corky

It is only the extremists who are the problem but there would not be any extremists except for the moderates from which the extremists found their roots.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 11:51:00 UTC | #78176

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 3 by Steve Zara

Even moderate people use religion to support their prejudices (such as homophobia). Supposedly mainstream and moderate religious leaders campaign on matters such as birth control, gay rights and so on, in ways that can definitely do harm.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 12:16:00 UTC | #78193

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 4 by Diacanu

The moderates give the wacko leaders their power base.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 12:30:00 UTC | #78200

Kinzuakid's Avatar Comment 5 by Kinzuakid

The simple response:
The extremists define the moderates, since after all the term "moderate" is relative only to the absolute limit. The only difference between those who hold the extremes and those in the middle is their willingness to act, not in their approval of the cause. This is evident through the sheer number of polls in so called moderate nation states where the believers approve of barbarism but would reportedly never engage in such behavior themselves. I make no such distinction between the end and the middle, both are guilty while none will act to counter.

But turn it back on them:
If we take the extreme view of a philosophy to be "violent" the moderate view is not "non-violent" but simply less violent. Notice how the moderate person does not outright repudiate the extremist, only looking on with some disdain. The views of the extremist are still valid to the moderate and simply distasteful in some sense (hence the hedging by claiming moderation). What prevents the moderate from acting to counter or escalate the violence (and thus become non-moderate)? Doubt? Fear? The "not a true believer" cop out? Any answer is an indictment of the middle. If it were a ground to be held with some cause it would be the extreme, and thus begin anew with the question: if the extreme is not in the "right", how is less of it any more correct?

Sorry, brevity is not my strong suit.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 13:16:00 UTC | #78223

Not the Messiah's Avatar Comment 6 by Not the Messiah

Most people are genial, emotionally stable and contribute positively to society, whether religious or not, so this is no great claim for the merits of religion. Sociopaths tend to be a minority amongst any arbitrary group of human beings.

(As an aside, I find it disconcerting when Christians, faced with a list of atrocities committed in the name of their faith, effectively respond with the defence "At least we're not as bad as Stalin or Hitler!" Can anyone think of a weaker boast?)

The point is that when you promote the idea that moral guidance can be found in ambiguous and contradictory texts written hundreds of years ago; or worse, that the man in the funny hat speaks with the full authority of God, then you create a framework wherein any action, no matter how despicable, may be morally justified in the minds of the perpetrators.

There is no dividing line between moderates and extremists, only a slippery slope.

.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 13:36:00 UTC | #78234

Clear_enGlish's Avatar Comment 7 by Clear_enGlish

There were lots of nice moderate Irish Americans who got quite a little kick out of putting something in the hat for "The Boys".

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 14:04:00 UTC | #78249

Mewtwo_X's Avatar Comment 8 by Mewtwo_X

"My argument is against religion, not the religious."

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 14:22:00 UTC | #78257

Crosius's Avatar Comment 9 by Crosius

I don't think any religious person self-identifies as an "extremist," even though many of the religious who advance this argument _are_ extremists by someone else's measure.

If you stood every religious person in a line ranked from most to least extreme, you'd only have one person in that line that everyone _else_ considered an extremist, and he'd probably protest that characterisation as "unfair."

If you then set the midpoint of that line as the dividing line between extremist and non-extremist, you'd still have many people in the "moderate" half who the rest of the moderates would _still_ consider extremists. You could slice the remaining non-extremists fraction in half again and still, there would be members of _that_ group considered extremists by the rest.

With only those two divisions, you would demonstrate that the total number of non-extremist religious persons would necessarily total something less than 1/4 of the total religious population of the world.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 14:42:00 UTC | #78274

Goldy's Avatar Comment 10 by Goldy

Some 36 per cent of British Muslims between the ages of 18 and 24 think apostates should be murdered.

I guess they're all extremists? From J hari's piece in the Indy - on another thread

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 14:46:00 UTC | #78277

EastCoastAtheist's Avatar Comment 11 by EastCoastAtheist

This has nothing to do with truth. A harmless delusion is still a delusion.

Also, the harmless deluded drones vote. And they vote the way they are told to vote. This is a problem, and it can have very negative effects on other people's lives. If only these people were taught to think critically.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 20:52:00 UTC | #78424

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 12 by Bonzai

steve99 wrote

Even moderate people use religion to support their prejudices (such as homophobia). Supposedly mainstream and moderate religious leaders campaign on matters such as birth control, gay rights and so on..


Actually you don't need religion to be a homophobe. I know quite a few very homophobic atheists. Usually they argue that homosexuality is a sickness or they object to the aesthetic of two men kissing, etc. These are not valid reasons, but they are entirely secular.

On the other hand there are Christians who support same sex marriage and gay rights in general. I am not just talking about the wishy washy moderates, there are committed Christians who genuinely believe that gay rights is an integral part of social justice and their faith demands them to take a supportive stance. While the C of E leadership is guilty of cowardice on gay issues, but the very fact that there is a threat of schism indicates the Church is not uniformly homophobic.

I don't think religious belief in and of itself necessarily causes social harm. It depends on the content of the specific beliefs in question. Religion is not a stand alone institution and religious people don't live apart from the society. Religion as practiced by most believers tend to get integrated into the ambient social zeitgeist to varying degrees. With very few exceptions, most believers don't run their lives according to an overarching religious agenda.

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 21:17:00 UTC | #78432

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 13 by Eric Blair

I'm surprised more people here haven't provided some numbers in reply to this question, challenging the idea that most religious people are "moderates."

A related reply is to question what the definition of a moderate is.

These are really the only valid responses. The rest, trying to establish a continuum between moderates and extremists, is simply opinion -- one way of looking at the facts of religious belief and believers.

To me, it's just as valid to say moderate Christians (and I do specify Christians) because they generally accept the post-Enlightenment notion of a secular "public arena" have more in common with humanists and liberal-democratic atheists than with extremist Christians or Muslims or Jews.

Sorry, this isn't really a rebuttal but then I agree with the headline argument. I also think, given the kinds of social and political issues related to diversity all our nations are facing these days, these debates may be amusing games but they don't add a lot to the key discussions that need to go on.

EB

Thu, 25 Oct 2007 21:37:00 UTC | #78441

MuNky82's Avatar Comment 14 by MuNky82

Copy and paste of a post I made today on a Facebook cause called "Keep God in Schools". There was some impromptu debate on the main page and the conversation line went to judgmental Christians. I paste my comment here even though I feel this can be used on different debate points too. Anyway:

"That is the problem I have stressed. Christianity has a lot of good things (heck, most religions do) But the problem is the good things are the hook, and thus The Bad Things (slavery, prejudice, bigotry, genocide) must be accepted/tolerated too. That is a point I am making - a moderate caring compassionate reasonable Christian will tolerate the hard lined bible-slapping fundaMENTALS because they are Christian too. How about you disperse the common denominator between the two? (I know it is a difficult proposition since we are talking about your faith and soul here) But you have to be frustrated with God/Jesus if he allow such perversion in His name. You have to remember too that the God of Abraham is also known as Allah, and some strong believers in Allah flew into some buildings a while back. Some of these believers feel it is alright to cut the throats of young children to get their point across. You cannot blame them, since their interpretations and religious morality is somewhat medieval - people did this in the name of Christ as well a few centuries ago. Luckily Westerners had some enlightenment of reason in the mean while. But still we cling to some of our beliefs, the same beliefs that not only allowed, but inspired so many horrors. You have to be frustrated with an invisible being, whose only actions seem to be indirect coincidences, for allowing such problems in His name. You have to maybe realize that these beliefs and faiths might seem a bit silly in the face of these evidence to the contrary. And if you say that things are improving, then what about the millions of innocent souls lost in the process? What happened to the souls in the thousands of years before Christ? What happened to the souls of those sacrificed on the Aztec altars? Doesn't the presumably strongest sentient force (which has been accredited with love and compassion) in the universe seem a bit horrible in this light? Think about it."

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 00:07:00 UTC | #78478

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 15 by Oromasdes1978

I have always thought that all the moderates I have ever met are wonderful, jovial and less harmless people but I still think they do provide the platform on which the extremists stand. Without their firm belief in the basics there would never be anything to take that one step further- the basics being firm belief in a God and adherences to the doctrines ordered by that religion. Its like saying "I believe in the God of the Bible, I just ignore the more ferocious parts of it".

What I want to do is stay very clear of generalisations, I hear it all too much about atheists to last a life time

However, I don't think moderate religion is anywhere near as harmless as they are made out to be. I think religion in itself is as BillySands coined the phrase "Mental Torture". Religion to me, I dont care what faith it is, is this belief that if you do what you think a higher power wants you to do in life, rewards will be given. Should you break one of these rules you are then putting the most unnecessary pressure on yourself, you are mentally torturing yourself because you have somehow offended this higher power. Be it the most minor thing, you can still blame yourself for your lack of adherence to the rules of that faith. So then you beg this higher power for forgiveness, worse still you pray to have this God to set things right. Which leads nicely onto prayer...

Prayer is a waste of sodding time, Yes, No, Maybe later is not the most convincing way of KNOWING that your particular God answers prayer. If it doesn't happen you are left thinking, "shit, I have offended Him somehow!" and possibly start inventing reasons why you have offended Him.

If things are going well, yippiee, a nice cosy feeling of well being and arent I a good believer!

All if this is mental delusion and this is the reason I think moderate religion is harmful, thinking that you KNOW what the invisible thinks is just positively nasty in my opinion, the rules are so ambiguous, nothing gets done and you can punish yourself for the most ridiculous of things.


Of course the obvious response to all this is "Oh but that's not how MY God works, noooo, its not like that at all!"

I say it is THEIR God, if they pray, if they believe in an invisible being who is supposed to have an effect on theirs or the whole world's population then there is some reason that they are mentally deluding themselves and possibly psychologically damaging themselves over nothing.

Moderate religion is fantastically harmless and should not be encouraged too much, if they have these basic beliefs then its no wonder some people take it several horrible steps further to the extreme and dangerous levels.

Ok rant over, apologies to all! Must be the fundamentalist atheist mindset I have :)

Philip

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 00:44:00 UTC | #78491

bitbutter's Avatar Comment 16 by bitbutter

Religious moderates prepare the ground for new fundamentalists, and shield the existing ones from open criticism, when they insist that all faith should be respected. While there is a taboo against criticising faith we can't adequately combat violent fundamentalism.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 01:21:00 UTC | #78500

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 17 by Bonzai

Religious moderates prepare the ground for new fundamentalists, and shield the existing ones from open criticism, when they insist that all faith should be respected


Very often the most vocal criticisms of the fundamentalists come from moderates. If religious people always close ranks simply because they share a nominal belief there wouldn't have been heretic burning and sect wars.

Instead of reciting canned responses from Dawkins or Harris like religious incantations atheists should filter them through their brains first. Afterall we are supposed to be "free thinkers".

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 01:28:00 UTC | #78503

Juleofdenial's Avatar Comment 18 by Juleofdenial

In my experience the moderates are harmless until confronted with atheism...then their true colors of being fundamental extremists come out.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 01:41:00 UTC | #78508

bitbutter's Avatar Comment 19 by bitbutter

@Bonzai

Instead of reciting canned responses from Dawkins or Harris like religious incantations atheists should filter them through their brains first. Afterall we are supposed to be "free thinkers".

[rolls eyes] And a fellow 'free thinker' should be prepared to allow that people who cite Dawkins and others may well be thinking for themselves and may have decided that Dawkins is right, and that his formulation of the problem is the most succinct one they've come across.

Very often the most vocal criticisms of the fundamentalists come from moderates.

I don't know if this is true. It certainly doesn't match my experience. Edit: Now i think about it you might be right, but the criticism from moderates is almost always accompanied by an attempt to protect religion from criticism "The attacker was not a real X". By deflecting the blame from faith in this way it may be that they do more harm than if they had just stayed silent.

In any case, even if it's true that moderates strongly criticise fundamentalists it's irrelevant to what I wrote:
Religious moderates prepare the ground for new fundamentalists, and shield the existing ones from open criticism, when they insist that all faith should be respected.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 01:56:00 UTC | #78512

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 20 by Bonzai

I have never heard any religious moderate saying point blank that all faiths have to be respected. I challenge you to show me any Christian who is not a member of the Westeboro Baptist Church who insists that we should respect Phelps because of his faith.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 02:07:00 UTC | #78516

bitbutter's Avatar Comment 21 by bitbutter

@Bonzai

I have never heard any religious moderate saying point blank that all faiths have to be respected.

Then you've never entered this google search "all faiths should be respected" school

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 02:14:00 UTC | #78519

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 22 by Diacanu

Know, I think a lot of us, if not most of us, could agree, that the problem with Islamofasm is faith itself.

Therefore, the cure to such things as islamofasm is to dry up the well of faith.

Yet, even knowing the cure for more 9/11s is atheism, the faithful kick and thrash and scream against it.

That lays it out plain and clear to me.
Given the choice between islamist thuggery and atheism, they'll keep the thuggery.

Ain't nothing a damned sight moderate about that.

.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 02:17:00 UTC | #78520

epeeist's Avatar Comment 23 by epeeist

Comment #82306 by Bonzai


I have never heard any religious moderate saying point blank that all faiths have to be respected. I challenge you to show me any Christian who is not a member of the Westeboro Baptist Church who insists that we should respect Phelps because of his faith.


Agree to a certain extent. But I don't think this is the problem.

Moderates are obviously going to defend their faith against atheists, and I don't have a problem with this. However, how do they do this and at the same time denounce the likes of the Phelps?

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 02:18:00 UTC | #78521

briancoughlanworldcitizen's Avatar Comment 24 by briancoughlanworldcitizen

#82306 by Bonzai

I have never heard any religious moderate saying point blank that all faiths have to be respected. I challenge you to show me any Christian who is not a member of the Westeboro Baptist Church who insists that we should respect Phelps because of his faith.


I'm pretty sure you are right. It's not a continuum, but a series of overlapping sets. However, the primary point still stands.

When I was a fundamentalist, there were fundamentalists I agreed with, and some that I didn't. I considered abortion a sin, but couldn't stretch to bombing clinics myself, but I could sympathise with a fundamentalist who would endorse such actions.

As I became more moderate, my universal "set" widened, it did so more in one direction than another, but nonetheless, views I had once held as acceptable or at least defensible in the context of religious conviction, were rarely removed from the set.

When I eventually gave up my faith, a massive chunk of previously acceptable behaviours quickly became unacceptable. With the justification of religious conviction removed, they fell into the category of dangerously deranged behaviour, as opposed to principled conviction.

Curiously, the more moderate you are the harder it becomes to outright reject other people of "faith", your very moderation has come about through a process of relentless inclusion, often over years or decades of personal growth. Worse still, one is often left with a sneaking admiration of people with such unshakeable "faith".

So from the inside looking out, with myself as a single datapoint, moderates are a problem. If you think your faith and convictions deserve respect, then it's pretty akward to insist that those of others don't, especially when a bald reading of the holy texts supports their interpretation and not yours.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 02:43:00 UTC | #78528

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 25 by Roger Stanyard

Message to Eric Blair

We at the British Centre for Science Education have done some estimates of the proportion of Christians in the UK who are fundamentalist (extremist if you like). A rough definition of extremism is that the accept Sola Scriptura as extended into all public domains. In English that means into science - creationism if you like.

On a head count of churches it is somewhere between 5% and 10% of all churches. In terms of individual believers it seems to be around 400,000 out of a regular church going population of 3.5-4 million.

However, it ain't no good asking people if they are fundamentalists. No matter how much they foam at the mouth about creationism and hell fire and brimstone, most of them will deny it.

Sadly, in any society there are a lot of authoritarian extremists. Seems to me that you only have to scratch a fundamentalist slightly and underneath they are all the same as hardline fascists, BNPers, white supremicists, Abu Hamza fans, Marxists, racists, homophobes, Trotskyites, Leninists, Maoists, Northern Ireland paramilitaries, KKKers - all birds of a feather.

They all have a 'worldview' that they want to impose on others without consent.

It is silly, though, to suggest all religious believers are of that ilk or that religion is the platform off of which extremism rides. It is like saying that communism is the natural outcome of the beliefs of people who are in the Labour Party or fascism of those in the Conservative Party. The overwhelming majority in both parties believe in liberal democracy, are pragmatic and not prone to authoritarian extremes. Same with religiou believers.

Roger Stanyard, British Centre for Science Education





done

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 03:56:00 UTC | #78541

bitbutter's Avatar Comment 26 by bitbutter

@eepist


Moderates are obviously going to defend their faith against atheists, and I don't have a problem with this. However, how do they do this and at the same time denounce the likes of the Phelps?

Precisely. And i think that what generally happens is that moderates do manage to simultaneously defend faith and denounce Phelps etc. But they do this by implying that Phelps' faith, or any faith that fuels hatred, can't be real faith--"it's a perversion of true faith". This approach means that faith itself is never held accountable.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 04:26:00 UTC | #78550

funkyderek's Avatar Comment 27 by funkyderek

The "extremists" are simply those who put their money where their mouth is. The Bible says "Do not suffer a witch to live" so, by God, they'll kill anyone they think is a witch. The "moderates" will hum and haw and wring their hands and talk about changing times and not taking things literally. But if the Bible is the word of God, then shouldn't it be followed completely and absolutely?
It's like calling a driver an extremist because he obeys every rule of the road while "moderate" drivers would ignore some red lights or overload the vehicle or break any of the rules that actually inconvenience them.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 06:46:00 UTC | #78586

m76's Avatar Comment 28 by m76

Moderates are both more arrogant and less rational than extremists. Both kinds of believer make the irrational and arrogant claim that there is a God and 'He has a plan for me personally'. But the extremist stops there, whereas the moderate goes on to pick and choose what parts of the Bible/Koran/Torah are to be taken seriously and which can be dismissed as 'out-of-date' or 'symbolic'. If one truly believes in an all-knowing, all-powerful God, then such presumptious cherry-picking from scripture is deeply arrogant in the face of God, and therefore deeply irrational (due to the potential of eternal damnation or just a lightning bolt up the arse). If one really believes in God, the only truly rational and humble thing to do is to fear Him and do exactly what he says. In this way, the extremists are more consistent and more honest than the moderates. (Although still utterly doolally.)

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 07:20:00 UTC | #78605

Flagellant's Avatar Comment 29 by Flagellant

The problem is that 'moderates' do not deal adequately with extremists. They neither 're-educate' them nor identify them to the police.

Most moderates – and this is particular true of Islam – tend to find more in common with fellow Moslems, whatever they do, than with their secular countrymen.

Thus, when pushed, many moderates will effectively side with, rather than denounce, their co-religionists. Try asking a representative sample of Moslems with whom they have more in common: bin Laden or Richard Dawkins...

This argument can be developed for other religions, e.g. for Catholics and abortion clinic bombers.




God is absolutely grott, merdeiful.

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 07:21:00 UTC | #78607

Aaron's Avatar Comment 30 by Aaron

My response:
Religions are belief systems that are meant to guarantee a peaceful society. Therefore any religion is unacceptable if, as a result of it, enough people act violently enough to disrupt peace in our global society. Obviously Christianity and to a bigger extent Islam are examples of this. Since both the Koran and Christian Bible contain passages that promote violence, inequality, etc any society that follow either of those texts will contain some violence, inequality, etc. This means Christianity and Islam are unacceptable as belief systems if a peaceful society is the goal.

If it is argued one should blame the interpretations of the passages in the bible or Koran that promote violence, inequality, etc it should be pointed out that to not have violence, inequality, etc as a result is impossible since at least some people will tend to read things literally.

My snarky response:
As an analogy consider a recipe for brownies that contains only 1% feces. It's only 1%, a small minority compared to the rest of the 99% chocolatey goodness. Is it the feces or the recipe that is the problem?

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 10:09:00 UTC | #78659