Diminishing the Hate

The divisive ideological culture that we have in the U.S. appears to be getting worse with time.  It’s been growing on my mind, that more than anything else this might be the biggest problem we face in this country.  Because that “other side” isn’t going to magically disappear, and the very serious problems we face in this country are only going to be solved through coming together and bridging the gap that separates us.  I’ll admit that I am at a loss at how to effectively do this, but one thing has caught my eye, that I think might help.

One thing is that I think we have to stop posting things on social media that are just negative sound bites of what politicians or what celebrities say.  I think just the absolute large exposure of hateful and/or negative messages legitimizes the hate more than it does make it go away.  And the exposure might get around to some people that might not normally have seen it and those people might say “Hey, I actually think this hateful message might be right and not hateful.”  More importantly the key is how do we diminish the impact of such messages, I think one of those things is to literally ignore it.  Some of these things are so ridiculous that we literally waste our time sharing it and trying to shame the message.  There is a blogger on patheos that I follow called the Friendly Atheist.  As well-meaning as he is, he often brings up ridiculous things that are being said by small time pastors in small communities in the south, and now all of a sudden people are seeing it all over who follow him.  Now most who would follow this blogger will be like yeah, this pastor is an idiot, but some people follow atheist bloggers to argue, and to show their followers the ridiculous stuff the “other side” is saying.  Now a story that might not have gone beyond a local community or anywhere is bring spread around the country.  That’s not good.

Now I know you are probably saying, “well it’s important that these terrible ideas are challenged, and thus we must say something!”.  I don’t mean to argue that we shouldn’t oppose such things, and so before I address this, I want to add one more thing that is also I think unhelpful and leads into what I think is a better way to oppose.  The inspiration for this post came from an article that a friend posted yesterday.  A very compassionate and comparing individual, and I am sure we all know such people and the article was titled “While Trump Spews Hate, These Muslims Just Raised $100,000 for San Bernardino Victims”.  Now compare this to this article “Muslims Raise Funds for Families of San Bernardino Victims”.  Can you spot the difference in the titles?  Not only that, nowhere in the second article do we see an attack on those who are prejudiced against Muslims.  Now you might say well shouldn’t a good article represents both sides?  Not necessarily, because this article is simply reporting a reaction by the Muslim community to help the victims.  This is objective reporting.  Now if there were Muslim communities that were cheering, than yes it would be important to report that too, but my point is that when you read the headline of the first article there is an attack on Trump and his supporters.  Those who support Trump will immediately have a physical reaction that will prevent them from effectively ingesting the good works done by the Muslim.  I have written about this before and this is sometimes referred to as the “backfire effect”.  Now I am not saying all hateful messages shouldn’t be addressed, but most sound bites are hardly substantive.  We make all sorts of rational arguments about why they are wrong, but the sound bite itself (which sometimes is even out of context) contains no substance and thus from a rebuttal standpoint requires little substance in return.  And when we post that message it makes those who might support that message simply feel attacked and thus less likely to listen to all your rational arguments.  But when hateful or negative messages are spread with substance, by all means a substantive response is important.  But maybe this is best addressed in an op-ed to your local paper, or a blog rather than Facebook or Twitter.

What I suggest is simply posting the positive message when you are outraged by something.  Don’t post an article about what some hateful pastor has said in a rural community in Alabama, but perhaps post an article about what more progressive pastors are saying that would lead to increased tolerance and inclusion.  Post the rational arguments instead of only posting them in response to something ridiculous that is said.  If what you consider to be a negative and/or hateful message has merit, force those who support it to make their own substantive arguments to rationalize it.  Force them to think.  What I find is that even if I agree with you, I might get angrier and such an emotional state does not help me either in terms of seeing us a group who has to work together and I feel more helpless at how divided we are, even if I do feel that my friends are on my side.

My thoughts here are not meant to be judgmental, but rather a call to action for others as well as myself because I know I have been guilty of this at times too.  It’s easy to let our outrage get the better of us.  There is a lot of it out there today.  But most people, I think, would rather get along with their fellow man and a friend than an enemy.  This is one thing we all have in common.  So the next time you get upset, think about how you can spread the rational and the positive, without spreading the anger, the outrage and the remarks that attack rather than inform.

Banning religious practices – a bad idea

In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis the anti-Muslim propaganda has been coming out strong. And my home country of Canada has been no exception. It is personally sad for me to see this, because one of the things I most value about growing up in Canada is its tolerance towards other cultures and its celebration of diversity. As a result of this tradition I think it is no surprise that Islam in Canada is more progressive than any other countries. This declaration made by the Canadian Council of Imams speaks volumes to what Islam means to Muslims living in Canada. And I am sure you can make arguments about passages in the Koran supporting violence towards non-believers, and I can answer back with as many in the Bible so let’s put that aside and simply say that in the march towards a more humane society religion must evolve even if it doesn’t dissolve.

Of course there is much that is troubling in terms of the practice of Islam worldwide. You can find countries where people are killed for simply expressing dissent against the Islamic government, committing blasphemy, committing adultery, being gay, etc. There are of course the acts of terrorism which seem at times unending and of course have impact European countries and the U.S. and a big way. And of course there is the oppression of women, which is horrible and profoundly sad that we still must contend with such disregard for the rights of 50% of the population in this day and age. Some Islamic apologists will argue that this is not the way of Islam, but that being said it is certainly part of the cultural practice in many Islamic countries and I don’t hear a lot of Muslim clerics or imams in those countries saying “Hey let the women go to school and drive, this isn’t what Islam is about!” There are perhaps a lot of reasons to be worried about extreme Islamic practices, and keep in mind that many of the things that we think are extreme such as the oppression of woman, is common place in some countries.

So the question becomes, what do we do about it? Even though most Muslims are not violent and never will be, they have some very unsettling practices that they think are justified according to their religion. Many of them are just as indoctrinated as any of the evangelical community here in the U.S. when it comes to their views on women, foreigners, homosexuals, blacks, etc. So there are some people everywhere who could use some enlightening and so how do we go about doing that? And can in happen sooner than later?

Let’s start by identifying what doesn’t work and that is the banning of religious practices. Though France has banned the burka or niqab, and Switzerland has banned minarets, these practices have not been shown to impact cultural shifts in Islam and have only served to alienate and discriminate portions of the Muslim population, not only in those countries, but have angered Muslims in other countries as well. Isolating and alienating religious communities only builds resentment and will only increase the danger from Islamic groups that the laws seek to avoid. This blog post does a very good job of laying out the argument and I don’t want to repeat too much of what is said here, but any laws restricting religious practices at best do nothing and at worst, make the conflate the problem with archaic religious practices.

If history has taught us anything it is that oppression of a religion is a bad idea if we want to actually stop it. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and Europe. At least some of that may be due to the attempts at suppression of religious practices. Anti-Christian laws during Roman rule shortly after the time of Jesus actually led to an even faster spread of Christianity throughout Europe and Asia. It’s human nature that once you start persecuting somebody or some people for what they believe it causes a lot of people to start to ask questions, especially those who don’t trust the government. What is so dangerous about these ideas?  Why should we fear them? In general we are compassionate people, and when we see people suffer by not having the freedom to practice their beliefs (regardless of whether such beliefs are just) we tend to side with them. The last thing we want is a lot of people being on the same side of some unjust ideas.

I know for many of my readers, you have gotten into some arguments with people who have strong beliefs. How did those discussions go? We often think the more brilliant and final are arguments are the more impactful we’ll be.  As I wrote before this tends to not work so well because of the “backfire effect” and so if it doesn’t work very well on an individual level, such things tend to not work so well at a group level either. If our western society is to have any superior morality it comes from practicing the values that we think our important. If freedom is one of them than freedom of religion must be part of what we embrace. Giving people the freedom to practice their religious beliefs is something we want, because if the state starts making laws to ban religious practices, there is nothing to stop them from banning yours if they see fit. By valuing freedom we set an example that as a society that we respect other people and want them to enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoy. And of course there are other important values we must practice to which is tolerance, equality, compassion, justice, etc, so that if religious practices don’t value you those things we can show them how well it can work. If we want such people to convinced of a better worldview and a better way to live, we need to show that our values leads to a greater empathy, less suffering, and an overall increase in happiness. No words or laws are going to convince people unless they are shown. Part of why they may believe what they believe is that they’ve been indoctrinated against other cultural practices and have never seen any other way of life work.

Racist, and not a particularly helpful solution to terrorism.

I believe if anything is going to erode fundamentalism from any religion it is by showing those people the effectiveness of the values that we hold most dear. It is about embracing those people while at the same time showing them diversity of thought and ideas. It is about offering them a high level of education for their children, to help them think critically about the ideas that have been indoctrinated into their culture. It is about being humble enough to recognize that even if there many values that we do not share, they may even have something to teach us. We say we want these people to respect the laws of our country and yet this seems like much to ask if we exclude and not include. So instead of memes that enhance Islamophobia, why not spread memes that empower those that are oppressed to take advantage of the freedoms they would have in our country? Why not merrily shout out what rights they game by coming here? Why not greet them as friends instead of treating them like the enemy?  It is likely that to truly raise the consciousness of many of those indoctrinated it will take the course of a couple generations as children are born into a freer and more equitable society.  So let’s those children also growing up seeing the compassion and tolerance their parents did not have the freedom to enjoy.

Maybe a more positive meme as a way to empower Muslim women