Woolwich and faith

Following the attack in Woolwich yesterday, there was an interesting debate taking place on Facebook around the nature of Islam, violence and the problem of tarring all muslims with the same metaphorical brush. This is what I had to say on the matter.

The problem here is faith. Faith is considered a virtue and something that should be respected, but that is the complete antithesis of an intelligent, critical thinking human being. Are all Muslims the same? No, of course not. The British Council of Muslims has come out and condemned the attack that happened in Woolwich yesterday. However, all Muslims, all Christians, all Jews, all Buddhists etc etc believe that it’s ok to believe in something for which there isn’t a single iota of evidence. They believe and respect Faith. So how can ANYONE who has faith condemn the attackers yesterday, or the 9/11 terrorists, or the London bombers, or the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or Hamas, or Hezbollah and so on, when they are all acting on Faith? I’m reminded of a great quote from Derren Brown, of all people; “Moderate religious people may of course express distaste for such violence, pretending that the clear calls for grotesque and violent behaviour in their sacred book aren’t there and cherry-picking the nice bits. But they are still guilty of not opening up the subject of belief to rational discourse, and in doing so are part of the machinery that leads to all the ugliness caused by fundamentalism.”

Let’s not forget the main difference here. If a serial killer decides to murder a bunch of people, or a rapist indulges in his particular dark art, they know that it’s wrong. They hide it and try to get away with it. The difference is, religious extremists genuinely believe that what they are doing is morally right and that they are commanded to do so by their particular god. Everyone condemns their acts, but very few people condemn the manner in which they reached the desire to commit their atrocities, namely, religious faith. Of course there are bad atheists too, but I defy anyone to find a single act of terror committed in the name of atheism, and therein lies the difference. As Steven Weinberg said “With or without religion you will have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

As for ‘kicking them out’, you can’t deport someone for being an idiot – no matter how appealing that may seem – and complaining that idiots can claim benefits etc is just as bigoted and intolerant as the religion one seeks to condemn. We should of course deport the likes of Abu Qatada, who is wanted to stand trial for terrorism elsewhere but due to the nature of the threat, we can’t just worry about terrorists that are home grown. It is a global problem and should be treated as such. As for anyone who commits crimes in this country then they should of course face the full extent of the law, and I’m inclined to agree with the train of thought which says that sentencing in general in this country is far too lenient. If there are foreign born criminals, the question of whether we lock them up here or deport them to a country where they will be free to commit further crimes is quite a moral and ethical dilemma and one that I’m not sure I have the answer to. But you can’t deport people for believing in a god any more than you can for denying evolution or believing in fairies.

For any apologists that have somehow found their way here, I would leave you with a thought experiment devised by the late great Christopher Hitchens, to which there has yet to be an answer:

First, think of an immoral act that could only have been done in the name of, or because of, religion.

I daresay you’ve got a few.

Now, try to think of an immoral act that could only be done by someone of no religious faith whatsoever.

Answers on a postcard.

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