"[T]here is a real lack of sophistication on both sides of the argument when it comes to discussing religion and violence.
On one hand, people of faith are far too eager to distance themselves from extremists in their community, often denying that religious violence has any religious motivation whatsoever. This is especially true of Muslims, who often glibly dismiss those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam as “not really Muslim.”
On the other, critics of religion tend to exhibit an inability to understand religion outside of its absolutist connotations. They scour holy texts for bits of savagery and point to extreme examples of religious bigotry, of which there are too many, to generalize about the causes of oppression throughout the world.
What both the believers and the critics often miss is that religion is often far more a matter of identity than it is a matter of beliefs and practices. The phrase “I am a Muslim,” “I am a Christian,” “I am a Jew” and the like is, often, not so much a description of what a person believes or what rituals he or she follows, as a simple statement of identity, of how the speaker views her or his place in the world.
As a form of identity, religion is inextricable from all the other factors that make up a person’s self-understanding, like culture, ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexual orientation. What a member of a suburban megachurch in Texas calls Christianity may be radically different from what an impoverished coffee picker in the hills of Guatemala calls Christianity. The cultural practices of a Saudi Muslim, when it comes to the role of women in society, are largely irrelevant to a Muslim in a more secular society like Turkey or Indonesia. The differences between Tibetan Buddhists living in exile in India and militant Buddhist monks persecuting the Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, in neighboring Myanmar, has everything to do with the political cultures of those countries and almost nothing to do with Buddhism itself.
No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives…
The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5).
How a worshiper treats these conflicting commandments depends on the believer. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs. If you are a peaceful, democratic feminist, you will also find justification in the scriptures for your point of view.”
“Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith. But failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture — and making a blanket judgment about the world’s second largest religion — is simply bigotry.”
Please complement with Karen Armstrong on the myth of religious violence.
Love, Hate & Other Difficulties in the Middle East
David McCandless & UniversLab created an interactive visualization of the relationships between countries and entities in the Middle East, along with those that exert influence on them.
Images from the Top: Those that hate each other; that that love each other; those that hate Syria (left); those that love Syria (right); and, probably, the most apt visualization, those whose relationships are “complicated” (bottom). Via Information is Beautiful. Select to embiggen.
The data and sourcing McCandles & Universlab use can be viewed via this spreadsheet, and they invite feedback and updated information as relationships evolve.
A recurring theme in rom coms: it’s a compliment when a hot guy doesn’t listen to your refusals. As Zerlina Maxwell notes, you see this trop in Say Anything, and The Notebook, and even in The Fault in Our Stars, which is very explicit about how the persistent, somewhat unwanted attention of a good-looking man is received by the teenage protagonist, Hazel, who muses that when “A nonhot boy stares at you relentlessly and it is, at best, awkward and, at worst, a form of assault. But a hot boy… well.” When a hot boy stares relentlessly, or shows up at your house and won’t take no for an answer, it’s a sign of how much he wants you. You’ll give in eventually, and you’ll be glad you did. The larger cultural implications of this are obvious: this is a soft sell of rape culture, and the intended audience is teenage girls.
Because we all need a bit of this magic in our lives.
In 2002, having spent more than three years in one residence for the first time in my life, I got called for jury duty. I show up on time, ready to serve. When we get to the voir dire, the lawyer says to me, “I see you’re an astrophysicist. What’s that?” I answer, “Astrophysics is the laws of physics, applied to the universe—the Big Bang, black holes, that sort of thing.” Then he asks, “What do you teach at Princeton?” and I say, “I teach a class on the evaluation of evidence and the relative unreliability of eyewitness testimony.” Five minutes later, I’m on the street.
A few years later, jury duty again. The judge states that the defendant is charged with possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine. It was found on his body, he was arrested, and he is now on trial. This time, after the Q&A is over, the judge asks us whether there are any questions we’d like to ask the court, and I say, “Yes, Your Honor. Why did you say he was in possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine? That equals 1.7 grams. The ‘thousand’ cancels with the ‘milli-’ and you get 1.7 grams, which is less than the weight of a dime.” Again I’m out on the street.
By most counts, Fadi Shihab enjoyed a comfortable life in Knoxville, Tennessee. A Palestinian by heritage, Shihab emigrated to the US from Kuwait with his parents when he was twelve, and by his early thirties, owned a house, held a good job at IBM, and together with his wife, Houda, was raising three children. But in 2012, Shihab decided to move his family from the security of Knoxville to Gaza City, which was, at the time, in the thick of heightening tensions between Israel and Hamas.