"Karen Armstrong is dangerous. She’s dangerous because her blanket of tedious verbiage hides the truth that she wants us to completely ignore the dangers of religious dogma.  It appears that for her, there is no harmful dogma that can be pinned on religion itself: it’s all politics, oppression, or nihilism. 

"Well, tell that to the Catholics who prevent women from getting abortions, couples from getting divorces, and who demonize gays and tell Africans that condoms won’t prevent AIDS.  Tell that to the Muslims who kill other Muslims because they think the head of the faith should be a genetic descendant of Muhammad, and who mutilate the genitals of their daughters because the imams insist it’s a sign of purity. Tell that to the Hindus and Muslims who butchered each other by the millions in 1947 even though they lived cheek by jowl and were genetically and ethnically similar."

"t’s a curious fact that people like Armstrong, Aslan, and Pape can so easily see how politics can motivate people to do bad things, but yet insist that religion cannot. I wonder what observations would really convince them that people’s religious (as well as political) beliefs can make them do harm. Can they tell us?  The jihadis’ repeated pronouncements of religious motivation is, apparently, misleading, for they don’t know their own minds. "

~ Jerry Coyne published an article on WordPress.

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Replies to This Discussion

In 2010, Sam Harris wrote a scathing criticism of Armstrong's polemic on him Hitchens and Dawkins. And her defense of Islam. It was worth reading 10 years ago, and it's worth reading again.

Harris' article here. 

Belief in demons, the evil eye, and the medicinal value of a cannibal feast are perversions of the real witchcraft—which is drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay.

hm, the practitioners of Wicca probably do feel it's drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay.

I suppose they will be here to stay. My hope is that if enough people make known the possibility of having a rich, fulfilling, meaningful life, without god or demons, our whole planet may survive. If not, the risk of death to all life is a real probability. 

The problem is religion. There is a belief that superhuman powers work and listen to petitioners to help solve complex, modern problems. Some people believe that god exists, that god fathered a son, that the son died on the cross for human sins, and that by accepting the son, they will get a pass into heaven. 

Come on now! Does she really believe all that? Does she believe there is a hell to which non-believers go, even if their lives have been lived honorably? Is she convinced that religion is the way a society can organize itself so that the health and welfare of all are supplied? Does she speak out against the vulture-humans who use and abuse other humans? Can she remain silent as some believe slavey is in the bible and therefore acceptable as a social system? 

I have never seen any evidence of "deliberately contentious and divisive discourse" from the well educated atheist. I have heard accurate descriptions of what happens in religious life, how religious conduct their affairs and what religious people say. To describe something that is real, that is a fact, that illustrates the description is "deliberately contentious and divisive discourse" is to believe difference is somehow unacceptable.

If I say the treatment of women, Blacks, LGBTs is not acceptable, I am accused of all kinds of things. I have been called names and my life has been threatened. One man read a post of mine in which I criticized what I now call "The Passive Gospel". He phoned me night and day, telling me that he was going to rape me with blow torch. 

To face such threats from a religious person, to dispute his claims by describing what I do not like is a mentally healthy, mature, adult way to live. Mr Blowtorch has his god glasses on and can't see how stupid he is, how ignorant, how silly. 

Yes, I read it in 2010 and it is worth reading. 

Sheeva, I'm an atheist and I agree, religion is deeply rooted in society.

Also deeply rooted in society are fear, bigotry, violence, mental retardation, and a few more behaviors and conditions that result in human suffering.

Of the world's many religions I know xianity best. Its morality--humility, obedience, passivity and more--is the morality of slaves.

To xian women: "Enjoy your slavery. Knowing it well may move you to free yourself from it."

Sheeva, I am very happy you are a part of our discussion and I welcome your perspective as a woman from an upper caste Hindu family. The more I know and understand your culture, the better I am able to understand our differences and similarities. 

I respectfully disagree with your teacher who said “it is equally important not to offend those who do believe in religion.”

Women have remained silent through centuries of being placed in a second-class human being status. They suffered under the tyranny of religious oppression. At no time has being patient brought about the kind of change that we need. 

Blacks can say the same and so can GLBT. Patience is not the answer, it is part of the problem of maintaining and sustaining the status quo. 

There is no reason to respect a liar, or an abuser, or a dominator, or one who is deluded into believing values that put others down into sub-human status. Respect has to be earned and it cannot be earned if there is a class difference. I choose not to yield, obey, turn-the-other-cheek, or submit to another. I am equal to everyone who is born. I have no obligation to bow to anyone or to any nation’s flag. 

I don’t know how you were treated as a Hindu (Hindi) woman when the British had political control over India. Perhaps you were regarded as equal to them. 

If a PM thinks liberation comes from accepting sub-human living or working, it is not a value I hold. In fact, I would resist such a value system. 

Karen Armstrong was a Roman Catholic nun who rejected catholicism. There was a time when she was a rebel and highly respected by others who value equality as a birthright. When I read her position on accommodation of christian and islam doctrine, I knew we had departed paths. 

I no longer see Karen Armstrong as a resource for my own journey. 

Being tolerant of intolerable speech and behavior is not a virtue. Accommodating domineering people has no value. 

If I tolerate and accommodate people who treat me as less-than-fully-human, or if they act toward others in a degrading way, I have an obligation and responsibility to speak my truth. They don’t have to like what I say. They don’t have to like me because of my thoughts and actions. My obligation is to equality as a birthright, and the four freedoms: 

Freedom of speech

Freedom of worship

Freedom from want

Freedom from fear

These Freedoms contain value for me and I affirm them every chance I get. If that is being disrespectful, then so be it. I am disrespectful. 

I hope my blunt language and thoughts encourage you to be blunt about what you think. There is no code here that we have to agree with each other. There is a code of being honest and thinking critically. There are a lot of other people here who will speak bluntly and you can perceive it as an opportunity to discuss and find common ground. Or you can feel hurt and run away. Whatever you choose to do, I am very glad you are here and I have the opportunity to learn from you. 

Karen Armstrong's point is that religion is meant as a spiritual practice, not as a belief system.  Something that someone does, rather than a pseudoscience. 

She is right in practice, often. 

Often when I talk with Christians, trying to disabuse them of belief without evidence, I bring up other religions.  I say things like "Plenty of people have converted to Islam and reformed their lives as a consequence and stopped using the drugs they were addicted to.  Does that mean Islam is true?"

Then they say something like"I would tell that person congratulations!  Your belief works for you.  For me, I will hold onto Jesus as Lord". 

In other words, their religion is a spiritual practice for them, not a statement of fact about the nature of reality.

They may not see it that way - but getting them to the point where they can see it that way, is the goal of my questioning.  So that we can get it clear that they aren't claiming something about reality - but rather, doing a spiritual practice. 

Karen Armstrong is already at that point.  She doesn't seem to be making any unsubstantiated claims about reality.

Atheists might actually find allies among such religious people who are just following a spiritual practice and are frank about it.  Criticizing them for what fundamentalists believe would be unnecessarily divisive. 

Karen Armstrong does seem wrong when she claims that religion in the past didn't make unsubstantiated claims about reality.  People do seem to have literally believed in the past, more so than nowadays. 

Laura point is interesting. Often when we discuss dogma with a believer, we often find that he is not familiar with the teachings of his sect, or that he considers them irrelevant to his practice.  He may just love Jesus, or use prayer as magic.  When we employ a knowledge of history, or science to refute the particular dogma of his sect, we are disputing beliefs he does not even hold!  We might be better served by pointing out that genuflection is bad on his knees, than that it is the historic expression of a slave to his owner.   

When I talk with believers, I try to use the Socratic method as described in Peter Boghossian's A Manual for Creating Atheists.

It questions the reality claims that religious believers make.  They "know" things they can't really know. 

Many of the more passionate believers say they were rescued from an awful life - drug addiction, spending a lot of time in jail, or whatever - by God. 

The trouble with this rescue is that it dominates people's lives.  They will adopt the value system of the Christianity they encounter, and Christianity becomes the focus of their lives.

This value system is given power by their feeling that there really is an all-powerful Being out there, dictating what they should do and think. 

It's a kind of rescue that's also a trap. 

Getting people to realize that what they are doing is a spiritual practice rather than knowledge about how the world works, could liberate them from this trap. 

We need people to be rational skeptics - thinking, questioning people - for the future of humanity.  And people who have accepted this rescue of religion, are prevented from being rational skeptics in order to be part of their religious group and believe their religion. 

The Socratic method encourages people to start thinking and questioning. 

It is beyond me how one who is religious can hold it as a spiritual practice and not also as a political and economic one. 

If a person thinks he or she is entitled to the goods and services of others, without regard for the cost the other person has to pay, then the behavior will reflect that thinking. 

For example, if a person thinks she is entitled to be dependent on others for all her needs, she will behave in a way that reflects that thinking. 

If a person changes behavior, for example, stops using illegal drugs, it is the person who stopped, not religion, regardless of what he or she thinks. Delusion starts with that belief. 

Sobriety is a practice that one becomes. He or she may think Jesus, or god or allah makes the change. It is the internal function of the brain that stops the drug use. 

Being spiritual, being aware of one’s choices and making choices that are healthy for them is personal, it is internal. No magic, no super-human being, no genie. A person does it on his or her own. Putting an imaginary person in the spot as being the power of personal responsibility only continues the dependence on something or someone else. 

Atheists can have a sense of wonder. It is within their being to recognize the beauty of life and the preciousness of life. They can see a sunset and marvel at the beauty. Atheists can watch a family of birds and contemplate the process that made it possible for that bird to reproduce, care for her chicks and raise them to adulthood. 

A great-grandmother can look into the eyes of a newborn great-grandchild and have a shivering surge through her body, realizing this child is part of her. Knowing evolution does not dim the wonder of it all. 

I can go back 15 generations of grandmothers and wonder. I can look at a great-grandchild and wonder. 

My daughter created a Generation Garden and has plants in it from my great-grandmother. Even my five great-grandchildren understand the garden contains plants from many generations before them. 

Whether Karen Armstrong claims that religious spirituality empowers people to stop using harmful drugs, for example, she does not understand that religion does not empower people. It is the individual who empowers him or herself. She does not hold religion responsible and accountable. 

John Coyne left out the Jews, who mutilate the genitals of their sons.  I can guess why. Circumcised men have great difficulty admitting that their parents harmed them, or that their bodies are not intact.


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