AS74: Holy Codified Doctrine of Islam, Batman!

On this episode I first discuss the Ben Affleck Sam Harris Bill Maher video that has made some waves. Here’s a link:

Then, I spend a lot of time going back on the circumcision discussion from Monday. I received a ton of comments and unfortunately couldn’t get to them all, but I went through a few. Here are some links I referenced:

5 thoughts on “AS74: Holy Codified Doctrine of Islam, Batman!”

  1. I am un-circumcised and acknowledge that I am biased toward not circumcising non consenting people. As an adolescent I felt somewhat awkward being in this small minority but this reason alone is does not justify circumcision. I have asked women friends about their preference and most don’t care and some say they wouldn’t even know the difference if they saw it. That might say more about the women I know.
    With regard to the statistics my understanding is that certain health concerns are reduced significantly from a relative point of view, say 2 in 1000 to 1 in 1000 or 50% (example numbers only) but the absolute reduction is not nearly as persuasive. If we look at this issue from a statistical view only then routine mastectomies sound like a great solution to breast cancer.

  2. I believe that Sarah was referencing the rate of newborn circumcision in hospitals . Here is a good source on that (it does not show prevalence):

    So if you have a son I don’t think you need to worry so much about the being normal stuff. If things turn around or more adults get circumcised I can still see a bright side to being different. In a worthwhile relationship I can’t see being uncircumcised ending things, and personally I don’t think that kind of person is worth anyone’s time. Having less opportunities in this sense can allow for a better quality match.

    My understanding of the health benefits to circumcision is that most of it comes from eliminating foreskin problems which of course it would do (You can’t break a bone in your thumb if it has been amputated). The STI and urinary tract infection results seem promising but the numbers aren’t that persuasive (STI’s will be a problem regardless and UTI’s are rare in men already). I’m mostly put off that circumcision is looking for problems to solve. When doctors in Europe aren’t persuaded by the health benefits of circumcision I can’t help but see it as a cultural thing.

    On the Affleck stuff I agree with a lot of what you said, but I sympathize a bit more with Ben. I wish he hadn’t been so hostile and simply made the point that most liberals see disparaging Islam as fanning the flames of intolerance regardless of a critics personal feelings. I don’t feel Sam Harris is the biggest problem in that sense but by placing such a focus on religion he isn’t acknowledging the bigger issues. Changing a religion takes so much time and there is a lot more we could do to make a difference now.

    As a side note I was more put off by Affleck seeming to push for an isolationist America. That’s definitely not going to happen, we can’t just sit back and do nothing.

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful look at circumcision. It’s an argument I had over and over again with my wife (I’m against the practice) and never could get her to see my reasoning. Most of her counter arguments were the same as yours.

    To the point about the pediatric association, I don’t think the conspiracy angle is correct, but I imagine the political pressure may be a factor. Consider that it is common among evangelicals to reference America as a new Israel, and that they now have the covenant with god (at least where I grew up). That is a driver for the religious aspect to thrive.

    Finally, to the point about the uncircumcised penis looking weird and potentially off putting, by the time the penis comes out in a consensual encounter, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. (I’m paraphrasing Jennifer Lovejoy of Atheist Avengers podcast, formerly of Atheists on Air). For the locker room scenario, kids are little bastards who will find something to pick on each other about. If it becomes an issue, then the circumcision could take place after the child has developed enough to make a reasonable decision.

  4. Hello Thomas. I’m really enjoying your show and I’m glad it’s out there.
    I agree with on you on the Affleck thing but I would like to raise a couple of points that you missed.

    Firstly on the word Islamophobia: I always suspect people who use this word of having an hidden motive or of being ignorant. This is because the term Anti-Muslim bigotry does all the work that need be done. It puts the focus on the hatred of the people rather than the belief. Indeed most people who are racist or prejudiced in this way don’t care about Islam-they just don’t like brown people and will find any excuse. When people use the term Islamophobia it shifts the focus to the belief and thereby conflates criticism (or hatred) of the belief with hatred of a person. This presupposes a couple of things. Firstly that belief is not a choice that anyone can control-like skin colour or gender identity, secondly that this belief defines the person entirely and that there are no other aspects to them that may actually be more important. Lastly it gives credence to the idea that religion should never be criticised because such an act would be as bad as racism-something which many people would find very convenient. Furthermore Islam is not a race. Indeed it claims to be a universal creed. There are three nations in the heart of Europe (Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo) that have an established tradition of Islam among the indigenous population so when people like Affleck say that criticism of Islam is racist they are actually contradicting the faith itself.

    Secondly the opinion of many pseudo/fashionable liberals puts ex-Muslims (like me) in a bit of a quandary. According to sharia law we are all under a death sentence for apostasy and by shutting down debate such issues they are taking the conservative position on such issues. Basically they don’t mind if I die so long as they aren’t seen to be racist. They don’t seem to recognise that some people might want out of Islam for whatever reason. Indeed those people are often seen as inauthentic, tools of Western Imperialism or at the very worst a kind of Uncle Tom. There is a term over here in the UK for people like that-a coconut-brown on the outside, white on the in. This is one of the many ways the community uses to shame and persecute people who leave Islam or have different views on it. When these people come out they find that people like Affleck (who should be their friends) were siding with the conservative community all along. See the cases of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie for how this usually goes down.

    When Criticism of Islam is shouted down as racism it helps the extremists and jahadis and others because it silences apt analyses of how they came to be and it means Muslims won’t interrogate or adapt their own views.

    Though the main thing I didn’t like about Affleck’s comments was their smugness. It felt like he only said them to show how much of a groovy liberal he is and to massage his ego and the ego of those who think like him.

    That was a long comment-feel free just to skim it.

  5. Hey Thomas, long-time listener but first time commenter. I just wanted to throw something by you.

    Early on in this podcast you talked about the differences between Christianity and Islam, specifically why its hard to compare them and how it justifies the broader point of being able to criticize the terrible things Muslims do on the religion instead of the culture. You brought up the point of “reformation” and etc., and said something along the lines of how Christianity is more reformed, and it was reformed as a religion not just as a culture.

    I’d like to say that I think you’re looking at it the wrong way. Christianity’s schisms, and its “reformation” or “moderation,” *because* of the cultures of its adherents, not because the religion itself reached some tipping point.

    Essentially, the cultures of Europe (or Christendom, if you like) advanced socially at a quick pace over just decades, and the Church was forced to either try and tamp it down, co-opt it, or play catch up. The religion was dragged along kicking and screaming into reformation, not because it wanted to.

    Religion is simply an institution of culture and politics, like many things. If a society moves in a certain direction, the religion inevitably will as well; the example of Christianity is one, another is how Zen Buddhism was dragged along for the ride by Japanese nationalists and militarists, or how Hinduism is being dragged into the modern era in India right now.

    These are facts of history that I encourage you to look into. The fact is that the society and culture dictates where the religion goes, and all that interplays with it. And yes, religious values and doctrines can certainly motivate the direction of a society as well, but given the breadth of these supposed holy books and how they can be used to justify literally anything, it seems to me like those values and doctrines are just cherry-picked excuses rather than pure motivations (most of the time – there are exceptions to everything, especially on an individual level).

    That is why, when someone like Harris gets up and rails against Islam only, I recoil at it a bit. I don’t disagree with what he says necessarily – but I can point to the same things in practically every religion across the world. I find it better to smack them all down as silly, and look at the crux of the issues driving people to use these books as their justification for doing the horrible things they do.

    I’m not calling Harris or anyone Islamaphobic either, by the way – I don’t believe that for a second. Its just that, as an avid student of history and sociology, I feel like I’ve seen behind the curtain a bit. To blame one thing or another – as you said – is missing the point.


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