Thursday, July 17, 2008

World Religious Leaders Praise Saudi King's Anti-Atheist Bigotry

Saudi King Abdullah spoke at a Madrid conference sponsored by the Muslim World League, and spoke against religious extremism. Good, as far as it goes.

Unfortunately, he whitewashed the role of religion in the world's problems. According to King Abdullah, religion (especially his) is blameless, claiming that "Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance". Ironically, the conference apparently took place in Spain instead of Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia is "the only Arab Muslim country to ban all non-Islamic religious practices on its soil, even though it has a large community of expatriates professing other faiths."

Instead, he chose to blame the world's problems on "secularism" and atheists: "If we wish this historic meeting to succeed, we must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely, deep faith in God, noble principles, and lofty moral values, which constitute the essence of religion" and that the world's problems are "a consequence of the spiritual void from which people suffer when they forget God, and God causes them to forget themselves." Despite blaming the world's problems on atheists, he also denied their existence, claiming that "we all believe in one God, who sent messengers for the good of humanity in this world and the hereafter".

Did any of the 200 religious and political leaders present speak against this anti-atheist bigotry? Nope. Instead, they fell over themselves to praise King Abdulalh. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, "said the conference was a 'significant and timely development.'" Catholic Cardinal Tauran called it "an act of great courage". Jesse Jackson apparently called the speech "a distinguished one in its contents and noble message" (may not be an exact quote). Abdullah Tariq said, "It is a great beginning of a valuable call from a generous King."

I'm really sick of hypocritical religious leaders telling me that not accepting their wild and unsupported claims about their deities is some sort of moral failing. It's religion that is to blame for Saudi Arabia's medieval treatment of women. It's religion that is to largely blame for the Saudi hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade towers on September 11. It's religion that is largely to blame for overpopulation and our worsening ecological crisis. Let's have some religious leaders forthrightly admit this, and then we can have some dialogue.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's religion that is to largely blame for the Saudi hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade towers on September 11.

While that's true, wouldn't atheists also consider suicide attacks?

Wouldn't people who believe God exists with probability ~ 0.5 be the least likely to consider suicide attacks?

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

...he also denied their existence, claiming that "we all believe in one God,...

Context might be important there. By "we" did he mean the entire world population, or was he referring to this meeting of religious leaders?

Anonymous said...

I usually agree with almost all of your positions, including those in this post, and my view is that religion is an outdated institution of control that should be left in the middle ages where it belongs.

However, is it really fair to say that religion is largely responsible for overpopulation? Doesn't poverty have a significant role in driving overpopulation as well, by forcing parents to have children so that they have laborers around to support them?

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bad idea to call it "bigotry". If one can be bigoted against beliefs, then PZ Myers can be called an "anti-Catholic bigot". He's not, of course, a bigot, any more than McCain is an "anti-Democrat bigot" or the Pope is an "anti-Protestant bigot". Myers disagrees with the Catholics about crackers, like McCain disagrees with Democrats about Iraq and the Pope disagrees with Protestants about the assumption of Mary.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

wouldn't atheists also consider suicide attacks?

I don't see why. Atheists regard this life as the only chance they've got, so they wouldn't throw it away so casually.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

By "we" did he mean the entire world population, or was he referring to this meeting of religious leaders?

It wasn't just religious leaders; there were also political leaders present, such as Tony Blair. I find it very difficult to believe that there was not a single atheist in the room.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

is it really fair to say that religion is largely responsible for overpopulation?

No, I probably overstated the case. But I think it is very important contributing factor.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I think it's a bad idea to call it "bigotry".

Bigotry is "obstinate and unenlightened attachment to a particular creed, opinion, system, or party" (OED). The key term for me is "unenlightened". PZ Myers is not unenlightend, but King Abdullah evidently is.

Eamon Knight said...

For my money, Ed Brayton did the best pwning so far of Saudi pretensions to ecumenical sweet reason, here (especially the last paragraph):
http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/03/an_unholy_alliance.php

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Stupid blogger software cuts off URL's if you view them by clicking the "comments" link. Here's Ed's piece with a shorter URL:

http://tinyurl.com/59ucce

Anonymous said...

I don't see why. Atheists regard this life as the only chance they've got, so they wouldn't throw it away so casually.

A depressed atheist might commit suicide anyway. Such a person might consider a suicide attack to accomplish some other goal as well.

An atheist might also take part in a suicide attack in the belief that such an attack would protect his/her family/country from an enemy.

In the presence of uncertainty about God, people would be too scared to participate in suicide attacks as they may be punished for doing so by God.

Eamon Knight said...

"Anonymous": you really are grasping at straws.

Depressives (or other mental illness) will do all kinds of stuff, with little rational or moral justification in terms the rest of us would accept. Soldiers (including guerillas and para-mils) are trained to take extreme risks , up to and including suicide missions to save their comrades, or inflict strategic damage on the enemy. If they are at all religious, that is likely to be subsumed into their devotion to The Cause (heck, even Jesus praised those who lay down their lives for a friend).

At most, you've made a weak argument that in extreme situations, atheist behaviour *might* be marginally different that of believers.

topologicalmusings said...

I pretty much agree with almost all the points you raised in your post, but I do think the claim about atheists/agnostics not contributing to violence is a bit incorrect. I would dare say that such a claim by atheists in general is also somewhat self-serving. Stalin and Mao were atheists too - communists are atheists, after all - and their policies directly led to systematic pogroms against their own people.

My point is that atheism is a very broad category that includes a range of people with varying sets of beliefs. Rationality is a characteristic that is certainly shared by almost all atheists (if not all) but by no means is it restricted to that particular group.

Having said so, I should of course add that I completely agree with your other arguments.

Anonymous said...

RE: "It's religion that is to blame for Saudi Arabia's medieval treatment of women. It's religion that is to largely blame for the Saudi hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade towers on September 11. It's religion that is largely to blame for overpopulation and our worsening ecological crisis."

It's not religion to blame for those things... it's either religious extremism or moral failing, depending on the circumstance.

crf said...

I don't know if Abdullah is truly unenlightened. Possibly he doesn't acknowledge that atheists are not inherently bad, and to be tolerated as much as any religion, because if he did, he'd likely be removed as king, and possibly executed.

Anatoly Vorobey said...

I don't see why. Atheists regard this life as the only chance they've got, so they wouldn't throw it away so casually.

"I don't see why" works just as well as an argument here as "I don't see how" does for a creationist.

There have been many, many suicide terrorist attacks carried out by atheists. In fact, modern terrorism is often said to have begun with Marxist/Socialist terrorist organizations in Russia, starting around 1870-1900. The terrorists in those organizations were typically atheists, and carried out quite a few suicide attacks, including the most famous of them all, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anatoly:

Really, you should make more of an effort to follow the argument and less of an effort to be insulting. "I don't see why" is not an argument; it's a statement of incredulity that the other person has made an effective argument.

No one is denying that some atheist might carry out a suicide attack. People are complex and their actions are based on many things. The question is, would an atheist do so because they are an atheist; that is, would an atheist be more or less likely to carry out a suicide bombing because of his/her beliefs. I think less so, and I said why.

Anatoly Vorobey said...

Jeffrey,

You're right; I was being needlessly confrontational and should have refrained from harping on a pedantic point. I'm sorry.

I think your criticism of the Saudi's king speech is spot on. Claiming that the societal ills he enumerated are caused by atheism is inane -- and especially galling in the case of "increase in terrorism", given the recent history of political terrorism.

paul01 said...

Well, if some atheists might carry out suicide attacks, then there might also be some atheists in foxholes.

I must remember that.

Anonymous said...

I don't think overpopulation should be solely be blamed on religion. While it is true that Catholics and some Christians don't believe in birth control, the same arguments have not been applied to Jews and Muslims. In fact it is possible to get birth control legally over the counter in Saudi Arabia.
I would blame poverty and ignorance for the rise in global population. India and China were one of the fastest growing populations in the last century, yet there is no religious basis against birth control in Hinduism and Buddhism, the major religions in the region. Sex is considered a taboo topic, and hence no discussion takes place in most of the Asian and African countries.