It obviously could not be less true that only bigots criticize Islam. There are certainly those who do criticize Islam out of bigotry, but most of them are Right-wing Christians who are simply willing to level any old insult towards Muslims in order to make them feel superior in their Christianity. I, on the other hand, am willing to criticize any idea or belief I feel is flawed or false. Christianity gets as much criticism as Islam from me.
The fact, however, is that I do not hold rancor against all religious people, and those who I do revile are not reviled for being religious; the people I oppose are those who are hateful or oppressive individuals motivated by their religion. Just as bad though, are good people who do bad things because they are motivated by their religious doctrines. Steven Weinberg was correct when he said that “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil, that takes religion.” I have seen many otherwise decent people who are willing to support any number of human rights violations against groups like LGBTQ+ people solely because they felt compelled to do so by specific religious beliefs.
In addition to not condemning all religious people, I also do not think all religious doctrines are bad. There are many good doctrines, but they are not good because they are attached to a religion, they are good because they are reasonable. Thou shalt not kill is an admirable concept (Exodus 20:13). Though, that is until you read just a little further in and find that the same person who delivered that message also demanded people to “slay his brother, his friend, and his neighbor” for the terrible crime of making a gold statue to worship (Exodus 32:28). Kind of takes the force out of it. That is why I prefer humanist principles independent of any particular dogma.
By saying all of this I am not claiming to be anywhere near as familiar with individual Islamic doctrines as I am with Christian ones (I am a former Christian). However, I know history enough to know the barbarous bloodshed between Christians, Muslims, and other groups, and their feelings of religious motivation. Christianity has committed as many atrocities as Islam, but Islam has its fair share too. The problem is that in modern America, it is taboo to criticize Islam at all—if you are a liberal. Admittedly, this is probably related to the fact that many of the people voicing the loudest criticism of Islam are genuinely bigoted conservative Christians. But that fact does not make any and all criticism of Islam bigotry.
Bigots and Religious Freedom
Indeed, despite criticizing Islam in a similar manner that I criticize Christianity, I frequently speak up in defense of Muslims. When European bigots decry an “invasion” by Muslims, I fact-check that claim and display all of the evidence disproving it. There is no invasion, and the Muslims who are immigrating generally commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Europeans.
Whenever conservatives whine about how dangerous France supposedly has become because of Muslims, I show them the stats that demonstrate that France is still a much safer place to live than America.
When an insatiable Fox News consumer repeatedly cites Dearborn Michigan to me (which has occurred more than once) I immediately point out their perfectly average crime rate, and the fact that the supposedly pro-ISIS rally that occurred there was actually an anti-ISIS rally.
When areas in France started banning “burkinis” I opposed it 100%. Religious freedom should be defended, and such victimless acts or customs as wearing a burkini or hijab should be protected. You should not hate, hurt, or think down on someone for such things.
That said, personally, I see burkas and hijabs as misogynist customs. The purpose—certainly by Saudi and Iranian custom—is to make women subservient and keep them from inflaming the passions of men other than their husbands (you know, since it is their job to not entice men rather than the job of men to control themselves). You would think most feminists would agree with me in this criticism, but because of the de facto ban on criticism of Muslims in Leftist culture, they attack me for this position.
I am not blind to nuance; I know some women may indeed find empowerment in feeling like they are pleasing their deity by wearing such coverings (a deity designed by men to put divine power behind their misogyny). I know that the custom may be practiced differently in different places. But regardless, it is difficult not to see misogyny ingrained in this cultural custom; whether that misogyny truly originates from Islam or something even older, it does not really matter—it has certainly become a part of many practices of Islam.
Right now I can see through space and time to your knee-jerks and mouth-frothing, so I will also mention that no, I do not promenade around judging people who are wearing head or body coverings. I am not attempting to tell them what to do by simply recognizing hijabs and burqas as potentially misogynist. In fact, it is using the time-tested feminists activist technique of “consciousness/awareness-raising.” It is insane that I have to explain this all out and work so hard to allay such knee-jerks because feminists should be right on with me making this criticism. But again, for some reason, Islam is off limits to criticism, while Christianity is largely not.
Islam like Christianity
Most of the things that I criticize Christianity for can also be leveled at Islam. Homophobia is rampant in both religions; anti-science is rampant it both; misogyny is rampant in both; willingness to oppress other religions is rampant in both; and willingness to fuse church and state.
Before you grab the pitchforks let me point out that I agree that the entirety of either religion is not like that (#notallChristians #notallMuslims). I am fully aware that there is a wide spectrum of people from progressive all the way to those of radical fundamentalist Right brands in both religions. My issue is that the radicals make up an alarmingly large minority in both religions, and that even the moderates of both religions are often complicit enablers of the more radical elements. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting every moderate or progressive has to apologize for the actions of the radicals. But withholding due criticisms out of some warped sense of solidarity is a problem.
I would be happy, however, to praise or partner with the more progressive elements of both religions. As long as they are willing to not deny the existence of the radicals in their religion, I am happy to fight along side the progressives. And most definitely, as long as they are willing to not look down on non-believers the same way that they would not like being looked down on.
Epistemology and magical beliefs
One of the other problems I have with many people in many religions is that they exempt a whole part of their life from critical analysis and falsification. They think “faith” inspired by childhood indoctrination and subsequent confirmation bias is a sufficient reason to believe something is true. If you told them their spouse was cheating on them they would ask for hard evidence, but if you told them God gave you a vision they would pat you on the back and say hallelujah.
Logically I have to criticize this type of perspective. I’m not going to go and harass them on the streets for their magical thinking, and I’m not going to bully them online either—in fact I’d help defend them from bullies. But just as they are allowed to freely express their opinions on the topic, here I am exercising my right to express my opinion in a non oppressive way (you are not being oppressed by me saying I think you are incorrect). My opinion just happens to based on observable and provable evidence, while theirs are usually based on appeals to emotion, appeals to authority, and so on through the list of logical fallacies.
And yes, “magical thinking” is a real concept in psychology, economics, and other cognitive and behavioral sciences whereby it refers to beliefs about causality absent of any empirical bases (e.g., Ganzin, Islam, & Suddaby, 2019; Nelson, Abeyta, & Routledge, 2019; Stavrova & Meckel, 2017; Zhong, Krueger, Wilson, Bulbulia, & Grafman, 2018).
Peer-reviewed Academic Evidence
One of the more serious problems I have with religion is the frequency with which it is either the origin of bigotry, or a convenient tool used to support bigotry.
Regarding prejudice against the homosexual individuals, Christianity and Islam seem to be the two most bigoted religions today, Islam somewhat more so. I base this opinion on—among many other lines of academic evidence—a study by Jäckle and Wenzelburger (2015) examining which religions exhibit the most and least homonegativity. Their study analyzes three characteristics from the several religions it looks at:
1. The writings of the religion relating to homosexuality. For example, the Bible, the Quran, etc.
2. How religious leaders and authorities position themselves relative to the topic.
3. How pronounced the fundamentalist versus progressive subgroups of each religion are.
Based on this they concluded that the most homonegative religion is Islam, followed by a three-way tie between Catholicism and a some types of Protestantism. The most accepting was Atheism, followed by Buddhism/Taoism/Confucianism.
Overall, there are a cluster of traits that consistently relate to most types of prejudice. What psychologists have referred to as Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and various shades of fundamentalist, orthodox, and evangelical religions expression. People high in the RWA trait emphasize respecting authority, respecting tradition, and respecting social conformity. These people are often willing to use punitive measures to enforce these their wishes. They are often “tough-minded” and have moderately lower levels of intelligence (Duckitt, Wagner, du Plessis, & Birum, 2002; Heaven, Ciarrochi, & Leeson, 2011). It makes sense, then, that this trait is related to religion; a world-view that so often bases itself a great deal on traditions and holy book authority.
Studies linking RWA and religion to all types of prejudice are innumerable (e.g., Altemeyer, 2003; Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992; Heaven & Bucci, 2001; Jahangir & Abdul-Latif, 2016; Laythe, Finkel, & Kirkpatrick, 2001; Mavor, Louis, & Laythe, 2011; McFarland, 2010; McHoskey, 1996; Mohammed Sulaiman, 2018; Saraç, 2015; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008).
None of this is to say that all or even most religious people will be bigoted (though a full 50% of believers seem to be bigoted towards non-believers according to Pew), or that all atheists, agnostics, and such are free from prejudice; that is not the case. However, religion is undeniably a source of many types of prejudice. Moreover, it is a very powerful and often deadly tool used conveniently by demagogues to stoke the flames of hate, prejudice, and oppression.
- Altemeyer, B. (2003). Research: Why do religious fundamentalists tend to be prejudiced? International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(1), 17–28. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327582IJPR1301_03
- Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (1992). Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest, and prejudice. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2(2), 113–133. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327582ijpr0202_5
- Duckitt, J., Wagner, C., du Plessis, I., & Birum, I. (2002). The psychological bases of ideology and prejudice: Testing a dual process model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 75–93. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168
- Ganzin, M., Islam, G., & Suddaby, R. (2019). Spirituality and entrepreneurship: The role of Magical Thinking in future-oriented sensemaking. Organization Studies. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840618819035
- Heaven, P. C. L., & Bucci, S. (2001). Right-wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation and personality: An analysis using the IPIP measure. European Journal of Personality, 15(1), 49–56. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.389
- Heaven, P. C. L., Ciarrochi, J., & Leeson, P. (2011). Cognitive ability, right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation: A five-year longitudinal study amongst adolescents. Intelligence, 39(1), 15–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2010.12.001
- Jäckle, S., & Wenzelburger, G. (2015). Religion, religiosity, and the attitudes toward homosexuality—A multilevel analysis of 79 countries. Journal of Homosexuality, 62(2), 207–241. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2014.969071
- Jahangir, J. B., & Abdul-Latif, H. (2016). Investigating the islamic perspective on homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 63(7), 925–954. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2015.1116344
- Laythe, B., Finkel, D., & Kirkpatrick, L. (2001). Predicting Prejudice from Religious Fundamentalism and Right-Wing Authoritarianism : A Multiple-Regression Approach. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40(1), 1–10.
- Mavor, K. I., Louis, W. R., & Laythe, B. (2011). Religion, Prejudice, and Authoritarianism: Is RWA a Boon or Bane to the Psychology of Religion? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(1), 22–43. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2010.01550.x
- McFarland, S. (2010). Authoritarianism, social dominance, and other roots of generalized prejudice. Political Psychology, 31(3), 453–477. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00765.x
- McHoskey, J. W. (1996). Authoritarianism and ethical ideology. The Journal of Social Psychology, 136(6), 709–717. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1996.9712247
- Mohammed Sulaiman. (2018). Between Text and Discourse: Re-Theorizing Islamic Orthodoxy. ReOrient, 3(2), 140. https://doi.org/10.13169/reorient.3.2.0140
- Nelson, T. A., Abeyta, A. A., & Routledge, C. (2019). Does meaning motivate Magical Thinking among theists and atheists? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 194855061982906. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619829063
- Saraç, L. (2015). Relationships between religiosity level and attitudes toward lesbians and gay men among Turkish rniversity students. Journal of Homosexuality, 62(4), 481–494. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2014.983386Sibley, C. G., & Duckitt, J. (2008). Personality and prejudice: A meta-analysis and theoretical review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12(3), 248–279. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868308319226
- Stavrova, O., & Meckel, A. (2017). The role of magical thinking in forecasting the future. British Journal of Psychology, 108(1), 148–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12187
- Zhong, W., Krueger, F., Wilson, M., Bulbulia, J., & Grafman, J. (2018). Prefrontal brain lesions reveal magical ideation arises from enhanced religious experiences. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 24(2), 245–249. https://doi.org/10.1037/pac0000336