When bad people happen to good things

This is a response to an OpEd published in the Chicago Flame written by Salwa Shameem titled Islam and the West: Take two.

People do bad things because human beings are flawed. The justification and reasoning for their behavior comes from whatever is handy. Sometimes the excuse for bad behavior comes from the (mis)interpretation of a religious edict as Salwa has pointed out here. No matter the religion, human beings seem to be masterful at stretching any idea to ridiculous extremes in order to justify their behavior.

One would think that in the absence of religion we wouldn’t have any of these problems. However, that also proves to not be the case as a careful look at recent modern history shows that atrocities have also been committed by the non-religious. To those who argue, “but religiously justified atrocities far outnumber secularly justified atrocities” I simply say this: If the population of the US included 10,000,000 whites and 100 blacks, all other things being equal, wouldn’t you expect whites to commit 100,000 more crimes? In the same way, the ratio of religious minded people to secular minded is quite lopsided, and all things must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The fact remains that with or without religion, people have always managed to constantly challenge the limits of human depravity.

You are probably not as likely to hear about a atheist falling prey to nihilism and killing everyone they know as you are to hear about a Christian shooting an abortion doctor – but both things happen, and both stem from the same depraved aspects of humanity. Religion, invented or not, more often than not makes top priority of trying to address this depravity and correct it. It seems to me quite silly to parade that one (often misinterpreted) religious teaching used to commit an atrocity as the reason why religion is “evil” and reject the one million other teachings that contradict that very evil you deplore while reinforcing (often informing without your realization) your own value system.

Experience has taught me some interesting things contrary to my indoctrination as a child. Growing up, I was taught that without a belief in an established religion, humans were depraved of moral intuition and “anything goes.” I was taught that atheists had no morals or moral compass. Then I met some REALLY nice atheists (some of the nicest people I know) and they certainly proved that idea wrong.

As a former member of UIC RAFT (Rational and Free Thinkers), I was often confronted with the challenge from non-theists that Christians cannot do hard science, they are closed-minded, and they cannot engage in rational discourse. It came as a surprise to many of my colleagues to find out that I believe in a God and that Jesus Christ’s deity. “I never would have guessed that you were religious – you seem so reasonable,” was a common response I received. It also comes as a surprise to many non-theists that many of the most advanced work being done in science and genetics is being done by very devout theists (the first mapping of the human genome was a project headed by a professing Christian).

There is nothing more closed-minded than thinking you’ve finally figured “it” out. “It” could be your ideas about a particular group of people, a particular religion, or even what kind of person someone you know is. If you truly want to be able to claim that you are open-minded, rational, and “freethinking” I encourage you to not just reject the chains of your indoctrination, but also the shackles of your own confident thinking and do less dictating about how the world “is,” and more seeking out and listening to the voices that challenge your own limited perceptions.

I offer this challenge to my Christian brothers and sisters as well as my Muslim brothers and sisters… to my religious brothers and sisters, and my athiest or “non-theist” brothers and sisters. We could all benefit from doing a little more listening and learning about “the others.”

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