Aug 262013
 

This is horrifying… and fascinating: Third of teens in Amman, Jordan, condone honor killings, study says. Here’s the horrifying part:

Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, believe that killing a woman who has “dishonored,” or shamed, her family is justifiable, a study of teenagers’ attitudes published Thursday revealed. A third of all teenagers involved in the study by researchers at Britain’s Cambridge University advocated so-called honor murders.

Here’s the fascinating part:

A key finding was that support for honor crimes was not connected to religious beliefs, but is far more likely in adolescent boys with low education backgrounds from traditional families.

It’s easy to blame Islam for honor killings and other atrocities… but it’s not clear to me that such is true or fair. Alas, the case cannot be made by pointing to the violence in the founding of Islam or in its texts. The history and texts of Christianity or Judaism bear little resemblance to the ways that these religions are practiced today.

That’s not to say that I regard Islam in any kind of positive way. My point is simply that I don’t regard it as inherently or inexorably worse than any other religion. Like all religions, it’s influence will run from mildly bad to horrifically awful, depending on the ways in which people choose to attend to, interpret, alter, and apply its ideas.

People have free will, and they exercise it in all kinds of strange and unexpected ways… even with regard to their fundamental religious and philosophical beliefs.

Oct 232012
 

In last Friday’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, I recommended three books on the Holocaust that I’ve read recently. I thought I’d post those recommendations here, with a reminder that you can get the special offer of a free 30-day trial subscription with Audible at AudibleTrial.com/PA.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading — or rather, listening to — books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust.  I’m particularly interested in personal narratives: I want to know what it was like to live through that inhuman era, including the warning signs available to ordinary people of the coming disaster.

It’s difficult but rewarding reading.  I’m not just acquiring knowledge: I’m honoring the victims of the Third Reich by listening to their stories.

Here, I’ll just recommend three books:

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche (Amazon & Audible)

I’d strongly recommend this book as a from-the-ground overview of the Holocaust.  It focuses on people’s experiences of the Third Reich — drawing heavily on letters and journals — against the background of major political and military events.  It’s also an excellent intellectual history: it looks deeply at the ideology and goals of the Nazis, in order to make sense of their actions.  (Thanks to this book, I understand that so much better than ever before now.)  It includes thoughtful discussions of the moral culpability of ordinary Germans too.

Night by Elie Wiesel (Amazon and Audible

This was a painfully poetic personal narrative — and it’s a classic for good reason.  It’s short, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith (Amazon and Audible)

I just finished listening to this book yesterday morning.  It consists of small stories told by Holocaust survivors, organized chronologically and topically, with the narrator providing an overarching context.  In the audiobook, the stories are just segments of the interviews, and they’re often so much more emotionally moving as a result.  I couldn’t stop listening.

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Feb 242012
 

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed judging religions as better and worse. The question was:

Are some religions better than others? Do certain religions encourage rationality more than others? Do some promote better moral systems than others? I am curious both about different forms of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon, etc.), as well as other religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, etc.). Should rational atheists respect followers of certain religions more than others?

My answer, in brief:

Religions are better or worse in their core doctrines and in their effects on a culture. However, due to the complexity of religions – not merely as ideologies but also as a cultural movements – they can’t be easily judged as better or worse. Also, just because a person claims to be an adherent of a given religion doesn’t tell much about what he believes or practices, nor whether they are honest.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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