I’m an Alt-Right Muslim-Hating Misogynist Bigot. Or so the Regressives Believe

I used to not take the Regressive Left very seriously because I felt that they were an insignificant minority of the Left in general. However, over the last year or so I have apparently stumble across a few pieces of Leftist doctrine that I am not allowed to disagree with and have been excommunicated from multiple groups. This has led me to re-evaluate the RL. I still see them as a minority, but they are a much larger and more powerful minority than I had previously believed.

Guns

It started with guns. I made statements about how both the Left and Right were wrong on the issue; that more guns doesn’t lead to more or less homicide. I made sure to point out that I still supported new “common sense” regulations and better enforcement of current gun laws regardless, but that was not enough to placate the Leftists. I got flooded with responses making it clear that anything short of accepting guns as the all-powerful one thing of any value on the topic would not be acceptable.

Disclaimer:

Before I go any further, let me point out I identify as liberal, feminist, an LGBTQ+ ally, and a supporter of social justice. All that should be obvious based on my existing writings and statements, but I have to point it out so as not to leave anything up to interpretation for those looking in bad faith to disseminate calumny and misrepresentation.

Religion

In a group called Libertarian Memes for Neoliberal Teens I made the faux pas of mentioning that I identified as a liberal in a similar vein to Sam Harris. Unfortunately, this “libertarian” page made a violent swing into regressive leftism based on the mere mention of Harris’ name (apparently a trigger-word for them). They knee-jerked with the statement that “Sam Harris is an Islamophobic piece of shit.” I responded (sadly lowering myself to their level) by uttering a few choice swear words and appropriately pointing out that they probably knew very little about Sam Harris not acquired through biased intermediaries. I was instantly called a bigot and banned from the group. They said that calling Christianity and Islam barbaric was bigotry. A position that couldn’t be more wrong.

I should not have to say this (my history should speak for itself), but I am not Islamophobic. Another article I wrote elaborates on this, but I’ll explain again.

I consider most of the main religions man-made creations ascribing magic and superstition to things they don’t understand. It doesn’t matter to me if you believe silly things as long as those silly things don’t lead to violence, they don’t create avoidable problems for the rest of society, and they aren’t forced on anybody.

Using what I have described as magical beliefs, people long ago organized them into structured doctrines and religions, often used to increase social cohesion or control the masses.

Within religions in general are many schools of thought—think of Baptist and Catholic Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, or Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. Even within those schools there are endlessly more subgroups. Some subgroups cherry-pick out the bad of the original doctrines and are better people for it. But other subgroups are fundamentalists who take scripture as the barbaric bronze age and/or medieval authors intended, and as a result like to persecute to degrees varying as a function of their level of fundamentalism.

I consider all religions’ supernatural claims to be mere superstition, but I do not pretend like all religions and sects are all equally violent or harmful. Acknowledging the groups that are violent and reprehensible, while also acknowledging the mother-religion it is a part of is not bigotry against that religion overall—it is admitting the facts.

To keep this from being too long of a tangent, I’ll simply point out that my position on religion has led me to vigorously denounce religious atrocities while equally vigorously defending religious rights and opposing religious bigotry. I have been very vocal in my opposition against European and American Right-wingers who try to fear-monger about Muslim immigrants and refugees as a raping and killing invasion. I confront conservative lies about Muslims supposedly ushering in Sharia Law in France, Germany, and Dearborn, Michigan. I also spoke against the bans on “burkinis” occurring in places in France.

Ultimately, I can reasonably criticize any religion just like I could Communism, Post-Modernism, ultra-nationalism, Anarcho-capitalism, or any other belief system. And just like with those things, such criticisms would not in the least imply calls for oppression or hate against the people who hold those ideologies. The ideologies not causing harm or calling for violence against other groups can safely be allowed to live and let live. However, it would be immoral not to challenge and criticize the religions not content to live and let live.

Feminism

I have also been attacked by feminist brands of regressives despite identifying as a feminist myself and writing frequently in defense of feminism. One incident involves a woman named Sharon (I’ll only use her first name) who runs a group called Association of Libertarian Feminists and claims to have been affiliated with the Cato Institute.

Sharon decided that because the four inspirational quotes featured on the cover picture on the Against Unreason (then named Independent Thinking) Facebook page happened to be by men, I must be a misogynist who is uneducated on feminism. As a result, she suggested I read books by famous feminists I was already familiar with and respected (e.g., Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Wollstonecraft). After I informed her that I was already familiar with them and considered myself an active feminist, she doubled down and decided I was being too belligerent (I wasn’t), so I was still wrong.

Some of what she was referencing was a post on the page where she accused me of holding several positions of which I actually held the opposite positions (I provided links to previous posts as proof). Unfortunately, because she saw how belligerent and in-the-wrong she was going to look, Sharon deleted those posts before I thought to screenshot them.

All of this interaction was unprovoked. I suspect she was operating on libel other regressive-tinged people told her, then proceeded to barge into my sphere assuming she knew me. Considering how much she got wrong, I would say it didn’t work out so well. It is a shame too, since I followed, enjoyed, and respected her page previously.

Religion and Feminism

I eventually found a group called Feminists Without Religion. I thought, “hey, here’s some people whose name I can agree with.” Turns out, the “feminist” and “without religion” parts are limited to Christianity and misogyny within that religion. If you meander into criticizing any misogyny in Islam you will be swiftly assailed, straw-manned, and banned. I suggested hijabs may be a problematic misogynist tradition, and they interpreted that as me saying I hated people who wore them and that I supported oppression against women who continue to wear them (I believe quite the opposite actually, as I made clear in the article I linked to earlier).

In Closing

I’m still a firmly center-left liberal, but you would not know it based on the opinions of the regressive I have encountered. Bizarrely, some of these RL people are ostensibly on the Right. They seem to believe that hitching a ride on a few regressive ideas will help pull their Right-wing reputation to the edgy hipster center. I, on the other hand, would not sacrifice reason simply to craft an image. I could be wrong though, about their motivation; I’m just speculating.

If you still don’t believe I am not alt-Right, let me give you a list of people often associated with the alt-Right I am definitely not fans of: Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, Sargon (Carl Benjamin) of Akkad, Gregory Fluhrer (the Armored Skeptic), TJ Kirk (the Amazing Atheist), Phil Mason (Thunderf00t), and more.

I prefer people like Richard Carrier, Steve Pinker, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, Andrew Yang, Matt Dillahunty, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Hadfield (Potholer54).

Only Bigots Criticize Islam or Religion in General?

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.

My Criticisms

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.

Homophobia

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.

General prejudice

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).

Conclusion

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.

References

  • 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/10.1037/0022-3514.83.1.75
  • 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

Was the US founded on Christianity? What is Separation of Church & State?

The founding fathers, and in particular the ones who contributed most to drafting and writing the Constitution, had a long and consistent career of fighting the integration of religion and government with vigor; Thomas Jefferson and James Madison especially.

After the Revolutionary War was won, James Madison commenced his attack on theocracy in his home state of Virginia. Patrick Henry proposed making Christianity the official state religion; a move he though generous compared to the naming of a specific Christian sect, which had previously been the case in Virginia. That was still far from what Madison found acceptable; he wanted a complete separation, as he made clear in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:

The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men…We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority…

Notice also that Madison was fully cognizant of the dangerous inclination majority religions had to marginalize minority religions, and thus he wanted to protect the smaller ones from the tyranny of the majority.

Joining Madison in the fight in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson made a powerful case for the cause of complete separation as well. Coming from the same perspective as Madison, Jefferson argued vigorously for the Virginia Statute of Religious freedom, saying that it wasn’t just a matter of being prevented from practicing your own religion, but also to be protected from being forced to support someone else’s in any way whatsoever:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

In other words, freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

Did the 1st Amendment mean “Separation of Church and State?”

In a detached memorandum on the 1st Amendment, James Madison further elaborated what his understanding of it was. This essay is thoroughly permeated with references to the “separation between Religion & Govt” worded in many ways so as to leave his meaning unambiguous.

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history… The most notable attempt was that in Virg[ini]a to establish a Gen[era]l assessment for the support of all Xn sects… In the course of the opposition to the bill in the House of Delegates, which was warm & strenuous from some of the minority, an experiment was made on the reverence entertained for the name & sactity of the Saviour, by proposing to insert the words “Jesus Christ” after the words “our lord” in the preamble, the object of which, would have been, to imply a restriction of the liberty defined in the Bill, to those professing his religion only.

But besides the danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil Government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded agst in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations… The excessive wealth of ecclesiastical Corporations and the misuse of it in many Countries of Europe has long been a topic of complaint…

Eliminating any remaining uncertainty, in 1802, January 1, Jefferson made explicit his understanding of the 1st Amendment in a letter to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Jefferson’s friend Benjamin Rush certainly interpreted a complete separation to be Jefferson’s interpretation of the 1st Amendment, and indeed agreed with him on his position, as was clear in a letter he wrote Jefferson:

I agree with you likewise in your wishes to keep religion and government independent of each other… Were it possible for St. Paul to rise from his grave at the present juncture, he would say to the clergy who are now so active in settling the political affairs of the world: ‘Cease from your political labors your kingdom is not of this world. Read my epistles. In no part of them will you perceive me aiming to depose a pagan emperor, or to place a Christian upon a throne. Christianity disdains to receive support from human governments.’

The actions of President Madison in Office

When James Madison was president, he vetoed bills that were to allocate surplus land to churches. Madison’s reason was that “there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property…by ecclesiastical corporations.” Madison also voiced strong opposition to putting chaplains in congress to open sessions. He said “In strictness…the Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes.” Following this unmistakable trend, he was also against government-sponsored day of prayer; he said that it would “imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.” Madison’s actions spoke as loudly as his words regarding church ans state.

What the other founders had to say

  • On the topic George Washington says that we are well beyond mere “toleration” of other religions, but rather “inherent natural rightsThe Government of the United States… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Washington even specified that these inherent natural rights did not extend merely to denominations of Christianity, but all religions. In March of 1784, Washington saidif they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.”
  • John Addams was a Unitarian, known also as Liberal Christianity in his day. He had very little toleration for specific dogmas, and was even more against those who tried to impose them on others. He saidLet the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.” Addams was also the president that signed the Treaty of Tripoli, stating “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” What’s more, at the age of 85 Addams attended the 1820 Massachusetts constitutional convention to argue for complete religious liberty, and the disestablishment of religion in Massachusetts (a, b, c,).

Thomas Paine, deist author of the immensely historically significant pamphlet Common Sense, was a serious critic of all organized religion. But especially, he was against religion being in government because he knew it tended towards tyranny and persecution:

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion, but it is always the strongly marked feature of all…established by law.

Religious Beliefs of the US Founders

Most of the founding fathers did indeed believe in a god of one kind or another, but other than John Addams who was a Unitarian, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine all were far closer to deists than Christians; Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine were unambiguously deists.

Conclusion

So despite being religious to varying degrees, and several believing the doctrines of Jesus were beneficial to society in a similar way as a philosopher’s virtuous philosophies, all of the most influential founding fathers were uniform in their opposition to the government at any level interfering with, giving preferential protections to, or infringing upon the freedom of any religion or non-religion. This also means that one religious sect cannot be permitted to infringe upon the rights of others. There is no ambiguity in what the writers of the 1st Amendment meant by the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment.

When a person says that “the government of the United States was founded on Christianity” they are unambiguously wrong. If they say that most Americans were Christians back then they would be correct, though stating something largely irrelevant; most people back then held to many doctrines most today would consider absurd. Above all, even if the US government had been founded on Christianity, that would not be evidence in any way that that is how it should be. Questions of what should be must be founded on logical conclusions from facts, not appeals to tradition.

Lastly, when a person fails at all their other theocratic claims on the topic they retreat so saying that, at minimum, the founders were inspired by Judeo-Christian principles. While technically true, the founders were inspired as much by ancient Greek and pre-Christian Roman principles as Judeo-Christianity. Through Enlightenment philosophers even Chinese and Persian principles inspired the founders. Just to name a couple, Voltaire, writing on the Chinese,praised Confucius; Montesquieu wrote a social commentary on France from the perspective of two Persian noblemen. The founding fathers devoured Enlightenment books.

So the when someone says the US was found on Judeo-Christian principles, the more accurate claim would be that, of the many principles America was founded on, those of the Judeo-Christians are on the very long list.

Books I utilized in the article:

And probably several more I forgot.

Religion and Tribalism from an Evolutionary Perspective

Religious belief and adherence is a widely accepted—and often expected—component of many societies. Indeed, in countries such as America there seems to be a pervasive distrust and dislike for people who don’t believe in a god; and of those who don’t believe particularly zealously in one. For example, one study found that 54 percent of Americans surveyed held an unfavorable attitude regarding atheists (Zuckerman, 2009). Moreover, the same study found that 28 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of non-religious people in general. Several countries have gone as far as making the government a facilitator of a national religion: Egypt, in 1980, changed their constitution to explicitly state Islamic sharia law as the primary inspiration for legislation; Iran experienced a religious revolution in 1979 that led to the constitutional affirmation of velayat-e faqih (the rule of the jurist), which asserted that political statutes and regulations were based on Islamic criteria; and some countries such as Saudi Arabia have ubiquitously accepted a system of governing based on religious dogma since its founding (Schank, 2014). Even so, most developed and industrialized countries don’t exhibit the degree of religious belief and fundamentalism exemplified by the aforementioned examples. Given this, several practical questions may be queried: Is such religiosity bad; what drives one to be religious; and how can we explain the social development of religion? These are serious questions, and they may be best answered from a psychological and evolutionary perspective.

Within evolutionary psychology, there exists the useful concept of tribalism. Tribalism addresses, for example, the human propensity to divide into in-groups and out-groups, with some individuals systematically excluding other individuals to create a selective group dynamic (Shermer, 2015). This clustering together of like individuals may have been very beneficial to early humans and human-like hominids. Being in the in-group likely afforded group members many benefits such as pooling resources, dividing up tasks of labor, and gaining protection from predators and potentially hostile out-group individuals (McDonald, Navarrete, & Van Vugt, 2012). These traits would have helped the prehistoric ancestors of modern humans protect themselves and survive in their harsh environment. Indeed, this tribalism may be one of the reasons humans have proven to be so successful as a species. Tribalism is present in many other animal species as well, especially primates. Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and especially Bonobos can exhibit almost eerie similarities to many of the idiosyncratic ways modern humans interact with each other. However, even despite their similarities with humans—and their seemingly tribal behaviors—human tribalism (and the tribalism of more recent human ancestors) evolved to become far more sophisticated than even that of our closest primate cousins (Workman & Reader, 2014).

Religion and tribalism seem to be very closely related. Most religions by nature seem to make it a point to distinguish members from non-members—sometimes to the extent of xenophobia. Particularly for the modern orthodox/fundamentalist religious (as opposed to Moderates and Liberal religious individuals), this exclusivity appears to epitomize many of the xenophobic tendencies of many sects. Even in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, “love thy neighbor”—when taken in the full context that the Jews were by themselves in the desert, and thus had no neighbors but fellow Jews—applied only to other Jews. Indeed, “thou shalt not murder” evidently didn’t apply to the non-Jewish groups that Moses subsequently ordered his people to brutally massacre—including women and children. Today, many of the stricter adherents within religions still approach certain groups of people with distaste, distrust, and often malice. Predictably, religious fundamentalism has been shown to negatively correlate with tolerance for lesbians and gay men (Whitley, 2009). An example of this is readily observed by the backlash of fundamentalist venom after the US Supreme Court recently made a ruling that rendered gay marriage legal in all 50 US states (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015). Among many other statements on the subject, Supreme Court justice Scalia said that court decisions (such as the repeal of DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) undermine morality and US laws against bigamy, adult incest, fornication, and bestiality (Rains, 2015).

Similar to their measured predispositions on LGBT issues, highly religious people also tend to score much higher when measured for racially prejudiced beliefs (Hall, Matz, and Wood, 2010). Regarding religion and ethnic sorting, Hall et al. pointed out that in 1998 almost all American religious congregations consisted of only one racial group, and that merely 12% were comprised of even a moderate degree of racial diversity. There appears to be a general trend of intolerance from those who are exceedingly religious, particularly those who place a high value on orthodoxy. Indeed, throughout much of American history, the staunchly religious have typically been the last to accept the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, women’s rights and civil rights in the 20th century, and indeed, gay rights in the 21st century (Joy, 2013; Shermer, 2015). Not all religious congregations and denominations, however, display such exclusionary prejudice.

There is a minority of denominations in Christianity—and to a slightly lesser extent Islam—that are highly inclusive and supportive of human and civil rights. This may be attributed to a much more broad sense of Inclusive Fitness (Hamilton, 1964). The interesting thing about the human mind is that it seems to be able to take mechanisms that originally evolved for another purpose, and adapt them for other tasks that are more adaptive in a modern society. For example, with Inclusive Fitness, some people may broaden their perspective of “relatives” to the point where they consider most or all humans family, which—since humans share a considerably large percent of their DNA—isn’t all that hard to imagine (Shermer, 2015). With this interpretation, they have an interest in securing a future for everyone’s offspring and not exclusively theirs. It is still somewhat uncertain exactly what is responsible for this difference between fundamentalist and liberal religious sects, but, like many behavioral traits, it is likely a combination of biological predispositions and environment.

One trait that seems to be very prevalent among the tribal religious fundamentalists is Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Indeed, RWA itself has shown a highly significant correlation with religiosity (Mavor, 2011). Right-wing authoritarians tend to be especially willing to submit to authorities that they have identified as orthodox or legitimate. Moreover, they adhere relatively strictly to societal conventions and norms, and are inclined to be hostile and punitive in their attitudes towards people who fail to conform. RWA itself seems to bear a very close resemblance to tribalism. Tribes often have hierarchies that work best when the largest groups (those close to the bottom) submit to the authority figures. This can be observed in the highly structured hierarchy in the Catholic Church: The Pope is at the top, next are the cardinals, then the archbishops, then the bishops, the priests, and so on. Historically, one would be severely reprimanded for challenging the church’s authority on any issue. For example, Galileo was placed on indefinite house arrest for endorsing the heretical belief of heliocentric instead of geocentrism; Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for the same crime in addition to accusations that he was a pantheist.

Orthodoxy—a characteristic of RWA—has also been a central component to the development religion. This history of tribalism and orthodoxy (correct belief) has played out precisely as one would have predicted with the original formation of the Christian religion. In the beginning there were many tribes of Christians with radically differing beliefs: Some Christians believed in a fully human Jesus who was adopted by God at his baptism and died fully human at his crucifixion; some believed Jesus was fully divine and only appeared to be flesh and blood; some believed Jesus was a mortal who was possessed by the Christ at his baptism, and who was abandoned by the Christ at his crucifixion (hence the passage in most Bibles of him saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”); and some believed that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (Ehrman, 2009).

One may be inclined to make an analogous comparison between RWA exclusive religious sects versus the Inclusive sects, and the evolution of sexually versus asexually reproducing organisms. Asexual organisms tend to proliferate quite well when their environment is highly stable and doesn’t change very much. For example, a small still pond with minimal contamination that maintains a reasonable temperature for long periods of time would provide a perfect incubator for asexually reproducing organisms. It is not necessary for the organisms to adapt significantly, only reproduce. The downside is, however, when the environment changes, their lack of genetic variation may lead to an inability to adapt and ultimately to their extinction. Sexually reproducing organisms on the other hand, due to their genetic variation, are able to change with and adapt to more unstable environments (Workman, & Reader,2014). The pro/con dynamic is similar with religion. RWA tribal religious sects would do quite well when they do not exchange ideas, information, or otherwise assimilate with other tribes. This is likely due to the stability and organization of their hierarchal structure. The problem occurs when the social environment is more dynamic, and there are cultural and ideological exchanges between tribes. In these circumstances, inclusive tribes are able to adapt and change to accommodate new ideas from other cultures. On the basic level, this comparative model can help one understand the evolutions of tribes and religions.

As previously stated, members of some religious sects, like tribes, often treat outsiders as less than human, and thus not entitled to ethical treatment. Historically, most of the nations that exist today (including America) were the result of imperialist conquering and expansionism by various countries acting as large tribes. One example of this is the treatment of Native Americans in the United States. The European conquest of North America involves both tribalism, and religion. As the Europeans saw it, the Native Americans were savages and an obstacle to be overcome in their conquest. One of the faults that the Europeans saw in the Native Americans was their lack of belief in what the Europeans believed to be the correct religion. As an arguably very RWA tribe, the European society valued orthodoxy and “correct belief” extremely highly, and they certainly saw the Native Americans in violation of this. Because of this immediate determination that the natives were inferior on the grounds of religion, Europeans appeared to have no problem exercising any means of conquest, including the genocide of the natives. These conquerors saw themselves as privileged by their direct access to their god, and thus exercised their privilege to the point that natives were excluded from any meaningful human rights (Jacobs, 2010). They believed that they were divinely given the right to conquer all of the lands from the East coast to the West coast; Manifest Destiny.

In the example of the European conquest of America, it is demonstrated that many things which would normally be considered immoral when done to the in-group are not considered immoral when done to the out-group. In an article on morality, Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt (1999) indicate three specific spheres of morality: Morals of autonomy, morals of community, and morals of divinity. Two of these three spheres of morality appear to be especially related to tribalism, with Morals of divinity being most explicitly tied to religion. Morals of community address things such as social norm violations, disrespect to in-group members, violations of social hierarchies, and violations of the group orthodoxy. Morals of divinity refer to violations against things that people value as sacred or holy. These two conceptual spheres of morality may encompass a great deal of overlap between the traits of RWA, religion, and tribalism. This is to say, people who are high in RWA also tend to react to transgressions against Morals of Divinity and certain aspects of Morals of Community particularly harshly relative to people who are low in RWA. It is also likely that Morals of Divinity exhibit somewhat more over overlap with RWA than Morals of Community does.

Regarding transgressions in the realm of morals of divinity, a derogatory gesture made at a religious symbol may be considered sacrilegious, and punished with anything from social exclusion, to the death penalty. In many Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, victimless crimes such as homosexuality or apostasy are seen as abominations to their religious dogma, and are punishable by beheading, hanging, or stoning to death (Yuill, 2014). Similarly barbaric practices are proscribed in the Christian Bible, though usually not adhered to in most modern predominately Christian countries. For example, in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13, homosexual behavior is stated as strictly forbidden, and death is proscribed as the punishment for engaging in same-sex sexual behavior. In Deuteronomy 22:20-21, it says that if a woman does not show the evidence of her virginity on the sheets after her new husband takes her to bed, she is to be taken to the door of her father’s house and stoned to death. According to both Exodus 31:14 and Numbers 15:32-36, the punishment for doing work on the Sabbath (the symbolic 7th day that the Bible says God finished “creation”) is death, usually via stoning. It appears that many of the laws that are set forth in the Bible may have originally been Morals of Divinity that later were given divine backing to make more certain that they were followed.

Both Islam and Christianity base a great deal of their doctrine on the inspiration of martyrs. Workman & Reader (2014) state that martyrs are seen an inspiration by members of the in-group. Martyrs garner this reverence because they are willing to die as a vindication of the beliefs of the in-group. The Biblical mythology is based around one primary martyr (Jesus), and Catholicism includes many less prominent ones such as St. Stephen and St. Peter. It is believed that these Martyrs died defending the beliefs of their in-group, what were considered the correct or orthodox beliefs and interpretations regarding Jesus and the God of the Jews.

While Islam doesn’t seem quite as affixed to ancient martyrs, there are several modern extremist sects of Islam that consider suicide bombing an act of martyrdom. These sub-groups of Islam believe that martyrs will be rewarded by Allah in the afterlife with preferential treatment, and access to virgin wives. A Palestinian bomber who failed to complete his attempt at being a martyr said that he did not do it for revenge, but that he did if for “the love of martyrdom” (Harris, 2004). Of course most Muslims do not attempt to exterminate non-Muslims. The example is mentioned because it is relevant to illustrate the extreme tribal loyalty that religion can inspire in its adherents.

It seems that from an evolutionary psychology perspective, Morals of Divinity may develop in order to increase social adherence to already existing Morals of Community. Because of this apparently intentional behavior of making adherence to certain tribal norms more strictly mandated, one may intuitively suggest the connection to the aspects of RWA such as the marked emphasis on correct belief, orthodoxy, strict cultural norms, and draconian punishment for those who violate these standards. There are many conceivable evolutionary benefits for such rigid social norms and hierarchies: A tribe may be able to react more quickly and effectively to direct short-term threats. Strict expectancies of reciprocal altruism among tribe members would also invariably lead to a relatively reasonable living standard compared to individuals and tribes that were more indifferent to others, and thus less likely to return a favor. However, given some of these benefits, it is yet to be seen if these formerly adaptable features of human social evolution and development are still beneficial to modern society. Indeed they may in fact be maladaptive and possibly holding humanity back from further societal and evolutionary progress.

References

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