Yet More Words

I’ve been thinking about one particular idea in the argument over that recurring (or ‘really tedious’) subject of the conflation of race and religion and how that conflation works to head off and prevent criticism. This idea:

whilst attacks on religions can be merely the stuff of enlightenment rationalism, they can also be the cover for nasty attempts to marginalise whole groups of people.

Well, yes, they can be, but then ‘attacks on’ or criticisms of pretty much anything can be that. Including, for example, attacks on atheism and secularism. I would in fact say that there is a concerted effort under way in the US right now to do just exactly that – to criticise or attack atheism and secularism in an attempt to marginalise atheists and secularists. And I would also say that it’s having considerable success.

In fact, surely one could argue that that’s one of the things religions have historically been most concerned to do: to marginalise people who don’t buy what they’re selling. Some religions and a lot of religious people have over time become much less keen to do that, but it’s obvious enough that in some parts of the world (including the US) that trend has been halted and turned around. That’s not a big secret, is it? Isn’t it pretty familar stuff, that that’s what religions do? Create ingroups and outgroups, Us and Them, Our Team and Other? The outgroup may be atheists, but it may just as well be other religions. (No! Really?) Sunnis and Shi’ites, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Catholic and Muslim, Hindu and Muslim – and on and on. They don’t always just calmly agree to differ and go their separate ways, do they. It would be nice if they did but they don’t. So where is the force in making some special claim that attacks on/criticism of religion or religions are peculiar that way?Surely that idea is in fact part of what inspired and motivated ‘enlightenment rationalism.’ Isn’t it? Enlightement rationalism isn’t just some whim, a hobby, something to do of an evening, a ‘lifestyle’ choice. There are compelling reasons for preferring rational thought to the certainties of faith, and the marginalisation of ‘whole groups of people’ is emphatically one of them.

And then, religions also marginalise whole groups of people internally, within the religion. That’s one thing religions are: codified systems for marginalising and subordinating large groups of people. For instance, half of the people in question: all the women and girls.

Which is not to deny the point. Yes, criticising religion does run the risk of diminishing the general respect for followers of that religion. But then, again, that’s true of any system of ideas. But the problem is more obvious in the case of Islam, because Muslims are the targets of hatred now, they are being marginalised. True. And therefore criticism should be carefully stated. But it shouldn’t be discouraged or, well, marginalised.

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