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What would Mohammed do? -- Women and Islam.(54 posts)

What would Mohammed do? -- Women and Islam.czardonic
Dec 4, 2002 4:13 PM
Salon has a very informative interview with a author who talks about the role of women in Islam. It dispels (or at least offers reasonable and seemingly informed rebuttals to) many of the myths that are repeated ad nauseum by agenda mongering demagogues (both Muslim and otherwise). Most interesting, to me, is discussion about how the barbarism that has become emblematic of Islam to the West is often held over from earlier cultures that incorporated Islam into their own societies.

The interviewee basically confirms that Islam, like any religion, is subject the interpretation of its followers. As the interviewer puts it: "Turn the prism one way and you get outspoken religious feminists in Iran and the mosque down the street. Turn it another, and you have Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed to raise their voices, lest men find it alluring."

Among other things, Sex, Adultery, Iran, Feminism, Saudi Arabia and Wahabbism are touched on.

A preview:

"There are so many contradictions between what the Koran says and these places where you get a completely different interpretation. It's baffling.

"I know. I think that's what happens when a religion falls into the hands of misguided teachers. The thing that makes me optimistic is in Iran, after the revolution, women who would never have been able to have a public life under the Shah because their families would have seen it as a godless system, were allowed to get educated. In fact it was required, and literacy shot up into the high 90 percent for women.
Now you see the younger generation coming up -- they are very self-confident, and they can't be challenged Islamically, they know their stuff. They've read the Koran, they've won prizes for reciting it, and so you have these women who are respected teachers who say, "This isn't what it says, and here's what it does say, and this is an Islamic state so you have to live by what it says."
They've managed to actually change a lot just through doing that, and nobody can really argue with it because it's not some secular politician trying to pass a law. They don't have to pass a law, because it's written in the Koran. So they've managed to achieve a lot in Iran, in terms of getting a better deal for women legally. And I think that women's literacy has been the key to that. And also the fact that in Iran women do have a public voice. It doesn't exclude them from the public sphere."
Here is a link to the interviewczardonic
Dec 4, 2002 4:34 PM
re: What would Mohammed do? -- Women and Islam.sn69
Dec 4, 2002 5:50 PM
As with any religious philosophy, mankind begets that which he interprets. Is Islam in and of itself masogonistic? That depends upon how one defines Islam, although Christians and Jews had best take a hard look in the historical mirror before they jump to conclusion.

And that, for me at least, is a critical issue that is often overlooked. The vast majority of Muslim countries are still steeped in fuedalism and suffer from appalling poverty and squalor, which in turn lend themselves to anger and agression. The situation is not unlike that of the waning days of the pagan Roman Empire when early Christianity appealed to the uneducated, downtrodden masses. So to does Islam today.

Still, the ideaosynchratic nuances of each region's cultural norms notwithstanding, Islam has offered little forward progress for its faithful since the rise of Wahibism. Don't forget, it was Muhammed's Islamic world that gave us scientific architecture, algebra and vastly increased our astronomical database. While today's homicidal anger does not necessarily define the three predominent sects, the tendancies towards violence, intollerance, sharia and masogeny dominate the radical fringes that have come to characterize masses that subscribe to born-again Islam. Demagogues come and go, but the dynamics of a religion meant to control the impoverished, agnry masses remains and seeks to exploit their tendancies to lash out against oppressors, both real and imagined.

In the case of current global dynamics, the fuedal and totalitariam regimes that run the hotbeds of Fundamentalist Islamic unrest seek to divert attention from their own piss-poor governance in order to maintain their grip on power.

America doesn't enjoy a spotless record, nor does Israel. Still, our activities in the global community don't merit the degree of irrational hatred that we've engendered throughout much of the Muslim world. One can argue the specifics back and forth about imperialism versus socio-economic egaliriansism, but one cannot deny that much of the Muslim world lives in a state of self-imposed, self-defined dictatorship where women are dumped on, the Shiites hate the Suuni, the Sunnie hate the Shiites, and large numbers of them seek to create a magical panacea for their misery by blaming their woes and hurts on the "Crusaders and Jews."

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a brief by a Muslim Navy chaplain who ministered to the prisoners in Gitmo. He confirmed what I believed, specifically that the vast majority of them were fed lies from their youth about America and the west. Not only were they shocked at their relative humane treatment (medical attention, no torture, three meals per day, unlimited water, Qu'rans, spiritual freedom), they were shocked to learn that captivity in no way meant that they would be deprived their right to worship, as evidenced by the convergence of DOD's Imams.

It's like Toby said on one "West Wing" from last season: "They'll like us when we've won."
Would Palestinians be where they are today ifeyebob
Dec 4, 2002 6:33 PM
50 years ago they decided to try to spend their energy on economic and peaceful political development instead of fighting the Israelies? Someone on this board mentioned this a few weeks back and I've thought about it ever since. At the very least, they have to recognize how destitute they are and how that hasn't changed since modern Israel was born. Or is their fight for recognition such an opiate?

Would Palestinians be where they are today ifsn69
Dec 4, 2002 6:42 PM
FWIW and speaking as someone of the Jewish faith, I honestly believe that the Palestinians deserve a nation of their own, and that they deserve respect and dignity.

That said, it's odd how they never ask why their "brethren" in the regionhave never offered them territory from their own lands. While that doesn't absovle Israel of their role in this, particularly the West Bank settlements, it nonetheless demonstrates how the Palestinians have allowed themselves to become the patsies of the other totalitarian, nationalistic regimes in the area. The Palestinians are the Fundamentalists' best asset, for they provide a focus point for hatred.

Like I've asked before, what would happen if the Israelis and Palestinians could achieve a lasting, equitable peace?!?! What then, Mr. Bin Laden? What if they had adopted Ghandi's non-violence? The Israeli gov't would have found far less international support, that's what.

At the very least, it makes for compelling discussions.
A big piece of the problem.Sintesi
Dec 5, 2002 6:03 AM
I think the Mid-east peoples are becoming increasingly aware of how the rest of the developed world lives, how the affluent live as opposed to the vast majority of the population. There is a rage that is being siphoned off and funneled towards the west. "Somebody is responsible for Allah's people living at the bottom and the evil west enjoying such in-your-face opulence." A conspiracy, an infection, a corruption from the west has destroyed their way of life. Nostalgia for past glory on one hand and hard reality on the other.

Economic suffering and hard lives breeds severe religiosity. People use religion to pacify their own impotence, as in "Allah will justify us in the end." If you can't make a go in this world then the next will make up for all of this present suffering. All the rights will be wronged. It reminds me of Roman Catholicism's static and corruption affirming morality of the middle ages. Kings were chosen by God and the rest of the populace must walk this "veil of tears" before they reach salvation. You were SUPPOSED to suffer. What a ludicrous justification for evil.

I basically think an awakening is going on, and this western directed hate and terrorism are a sign of this awareness. The problem is that these people are so far behind the curve they are yet to reach the Enlightenment period we had back in the 18th century. They're still not brave enough to put Allah behind them were He belongs.
Individual and societal accountabilitysn69
Dec 5, 2002 6:54 AM
There an interesting facet of religious fundamentalism, at least in mono-diestic religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Specifically, the individual is effectively absolved of personal accountability in the events that shape his/her life. If something good happens, it is the will of God (Christ, The Big G, Allah, whomever...), but if something bad happens, it is the work of evil, the devil, the infidel, etc.... It's never the peoples' credit or the peoples' fault.

This in turn presents an interesting study in arrested societal development. Lest I get labeled a bigot, I need to qualify my particular definition of "societal." I'm not referring to Western standards of societal norms; rather, I'm talking about behavioral standards fundamental to the human critter. If you wanna get along with the other kiddies at the playground, then you've gotta play nice-nice.... Simply, don't do bad things to one another in whatever your societal unit is. That behavioral standard is a common thread in every societal unit/group of mankind. How the standards are measured and enforced are inconsequential to the greater social good that is performed.

If you absolve yourself of these norms or warp them somehow through the application of selective parochialism, then you also absovle yourself of the requirement to live peacefully within the aggregate. Our "friends" living in the world of Fundamentalist Islam largely justify the 9-11 attacks by refusing to admit the culpability of bad people who happen to be Islamic and who cloak themselves in the righteous sanctity of fundamentalism. Some blame the Israeli/Federal Gov't conspiracy as a means to further persecute "Allah's people," while others simply refuse to admit that there are bad people out there who also happen to be Islamic. (And yes, there are bad Christians, Jews, Hindus, Bhuddists, Wiccans, Druids...every group has a dark side.) In short "It's not our fault because we walk with God."

Is that any different than us saying that we're right? Yes and no. Czardonic, it concerned me at first when you said "when they win." Is that what you want? Again, I ask you this question: if we win, will we force them to stop being Muslim or to adopt Western culture? No, and I think most Americans would be repulsed at the suggestion that we would. If they win, can they offer the same assurances to us? I doubt it. Don't forget, the Taliban and their AQ pupeteers did some horrific stuff in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with our silly, mismanaged proxy war in the 80s. They systematically destroyed the nation's remaining educational and medical infrastructure ("work of the infidel"), they intentially destroyed the water system that equalled the Roman's (it predated Islam and was therefore "the work of the pagans"), and their activities with the country's women are horrific by any standards. They took a culturally diverse country and tried to standardize/enforce their own Pashtun/Wahib belief system upon everyone under pain of death and threat of torture. Likewise, isn't it ironic that AQ, who constantly cite "the Crusaders," are themselves an imperial non-government entity trying to enforce their will to shape the govnerments of nations that they have deemed rightfully theirs?! Cloaking oneself in the self-righteous air of religious piety no more excuses that behavior than does the assertion of one's economic sphere of influence.

Again, Czardonic, I'm not quoting this from a position of assumed piety--I willingly and shamefully confess to our excesses and incursions against peoples of this and other lands. Still, that doesn't excuse what they did internally or externally in the name of God.

I agree with Sintesi that there is a general awakening going on. For severl years the Naval War College has labelled this as the awakening of the 3Ps--the Pissed off, the Powerless and the imPoverished. There are aspects of this war that elude a great many people,
Individual and societal accountability, part 2sn69
Dec 5, 2002 6:56 AM
There are aspects of this war that elude a great many people, most of whom assume that it's simply about kicking ass. It's not limited to military action, however. There is also a substantial human element that we must account for by empowering other nations to adequately take care of their people. The caveat to that is that we cannot do that by forcing them to assimilate into our culture.

Still, the starting point has to be accountability. One cannot hide behind the viel of pious, righteous indignation when it is the constructs of man that do evil and good. They do not need to stop being Muslim, but the tennants of Fundamentalist Islam need to change to allow their followers to celebrate Allah while also enjoying the fruits of their labors and while taking responsibility for their wrongs.

...Sorry...waay too much coffee this morning.
You're on a roll. : )Sintesi
Dec 5, 2002 9:28 AM
Good stuff.

This festering 3P's you mentioned needs to be sublimated into something positive. The only way that arises is political empowerment of the disenfranchised. How does that happen except with the toppling of the current mid-east regimes and installation of constititutional democracies? Benign dictator? I DON'T THINK SO! Rights have to be guaranteed by law, not decree. I wouldn't advocate the US attacking countries for this reason (well, maybe I would if they would guarantee follow through), but the cold war is over the US should be turning their backs on these brutal "friendly regimes." Saudi Arabia can go first.
Dec 5, 2002 1:10 PM
The 3P issue was described to me by one of the senior profs and NWC as the most perplexing problem they and severl other think tanks (right and left) are trying to reconcile. I can understand why. Yes, I think you're right that they need constitutional democracies, and while ours is a grand design, it by no means limits the possibilities. That's probably the toughest nut to to help democratic freedom spread while still honoring the dignity of native cultures. Way beyond my feeble, less-than-average brain.

Saudi? Not high on my list; never has been, but I acredit that as much to my personal exposure to them as to their subtle complicity in this mess. By way of comparison, some of the most delightful, fascinating people I've ever spent time with were Pakistani and Iranian.

On a different note, if you look at the Rennaisance Bicycles website, specifically in their new arrivals, there is a 58cm Colnago Crystal that I'm in deep, deep lust with. Chrome, lugs, great atypical 'Nago paint job (beige to burgundy). Oh, the temptation is great. Maybe if I simply buy it without first consulting the Missus I can blame in infidel. Oh,...wait...that's me.

Tee hee.
What I meant by "when they win".czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 11:47 AM
I was not talking about the twisted, as you say, "Fundamentalist Islam" that iforms terrorists and despots. "FI" and fundamentalism in general will always be relegated to the destitute and a few elites who use the ignorance of others to their advantage.

Islam in general is growing quickly, and through immigration and to a lesser extent conversion, it is spreading to the Western World. While this spread has brought with it some very bad apples, I think that the vast majority of Muslims in places like the US, Canada, Australia and the EU are peaceful, hard workers who are looking to better themselves and the futures of their families.

So, when I say "when they win", it is an acknowledgment that Islam will continue to grow and (beyond our lifetime) possibly eclipse the other religions. In places where Christians are still murdering and raping in the name of Christ and others rape and murder in the name of their chosen gods, Muslims will do so in the name of Mohammed. These are the unfortunate facts of life in the desperate quarters of the world. In the "civilized" world, modern, enlightened Islam will prevail.

Islam has presided over very tolerant, cosmopolitan societies. Christianity has also presided over some very repressive, regressive societies. Yet do we judge Christianity on the Inquisition or the Crusades, or the various "Christian" white supremacist movements?

When I say that we will like them, I mean that compared to the Bible the tenets of Islam could as easily coexist with an elightened, liberal society as Christianity, if not more so. Islam is a non-proselytizing religion that teaches tolerance of other faiths, racial equality and sexual liberty. As a non-Christian, that hardly seems a worse alternative.
tolerance of other faiths, racial equality and sexual libertySteveS
Dec 12, 2002 1:16 PM
Interesting points, however, I recently read the Koran, specifically the Suras written after Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, therefore the "Medina" Suras. Where these suras conflict with the earlier written "Mecca" suras, the Medina scriptures are considered to abrogate the earlier writings.

What that all boils down to is that in my reading, I do not at all find the claim of "tolerance of other faiths, racial equality, and sexual liberty" to be at all true. Mohammed rails against anyone other than someone who has submitted to Islam, says to not make Jews or Christians as friends, encourages raids and taking women prisoners as concubines, and establishes either immolation or 100 lashes for prositutues. Death penalty for adulterers; compare this with Jesus'. Beheading is still the penalty for fornication in Saudi Arabia and do a search for "honor killings" to see how families deal with sexual libertines in the Islamic world. So, it appears to me that there are quite a number of wishful fairly tales about Islam being put forward out there, but my reading of the most recent part of the revelation of Muhammad, tells me that the above claim is not true.

It appears that Islamists interpret much of these Suras much as they are written, not as Westerners wish they were interpreted. Tolerance? During the Abbasids rule, Christians had to wear emblems of dogs on their clothing and Jews had to wear emblems of pigs...a culture of debasement to differentiate non-Muslims. As recently as this fall, Muslims on Al-Jazeera have promoted the concept of Jews as actually descended from apes or pigs.

P.S. I forgot to mention that Muhammad repeatedly approves of slavery. However, my opinions are based upon my reading of the Koran for myself. And I was not very positively impressed.
But, what might one assume Christianity after reading the Bible?czardonic
Dec 12, 2002 5:25 PM
How does the Bible council on the treatment of women, slaves, adulterers and criminals?

I guess certain beliefs about sexuality and gender equality have been insinuated into our secular system. Nonetheless Christianity, an absolutitst and prostheletyzing religion, manages to coexist with secular, liberal society. And it is not as if it was forced to do so. Most people around at the time of the founding of this country were Christian in some form or another, and that remains true to this day.

I submit that the retrograde practices and totalitarian systems of the Islamic world would exist even if they were not Muslim. There are plenty of predominantly Christian countries where brutatlity and intolerance are common-place. If some death squad in Central America claims that its cause is "democracy", do we condemn democracy or do we condem the tarnishing of a noble concept for material or political gain?

On the other hand, there are millions of Muslims who get along quite nicely in secular, liberal societies. Are you suggesting that the Muslim communities in Australia or North America are pining for sharia law? Why is it that Muslims are so anxious to leave the M.E. for the "free world". Are they traitors to their faith?
Thank youSteveS
Dec 12, 2002 8:45 PM
Thanks for the ingress. Though I am not a Christian, since you posited your question this way, one would read the New Testament to see how one was to treat women, slaves, adulterers, and criminals. Without going into any scriptural detail, let's just take adulterers..."He who is without sin, cast the first stone..." No death penalty here as in Judaism..Then, Jesus tells the woman "Go and sin no more." Thats it. Slavery? Not condemned, but Paul gives some pretty tolerant treatment advice in his Epistles. That should be compared with the Roman treatment of slaves. Etc, etc.

For what it is worth, and do a search on the internet, there was a presentation recently at an Australian University by Muslims only (no else could speak) about establishing Shariah Law in Australia, specifically to deal with Lesbians and gays by the application of Shariah approved death penalty. Don't know whether that is stoning or not. (See Andrew Sullivan's website and do a search). And, less than 3 months ago was a meeting in LONDON of Muslims wanting to push for Shariah to be established in Britain. And finally, there are repeated reports of two madrassahs in Virginia teaching Wahabi approved, and Taliban/Al Qaeda loved, anti-American doctrine. Did I skip the Dar-Es-Salaam mosque in Seattle (?) that wanted to set up and Al Qaeda camp on a nearby ranch?

Guess those 6 second generation Yemeni-Americans of Al Qaeda leanings weren't being traitors, to Islam that is. Thank Allah they were arrested before they had a chance to kill some infidel-Americans.
Speaking of Adultery.czardonic
Dec 12, 2002 10:08 PM
Since you have recently read the Koran, I wonder what your opinion was on the interview that I posted at the start of this topic ( The author says that many of the more reprehensible aspects of sharia law have no real basis in the teachings of Mohammed. Of the death penalty, she says:

"The Koran does not proclaim stonings. You're supposed to shut her up in a room alone, that's supposed to be the punishment. The stonings -- I'm not sure what the origin of that was. It was certainly in the old Hebrew tradition that you would stone adulterers, and Mohammed had a lot to do with the Jewish communities in Arabia, so it may have come into the Islamic practice that way."

She goes on to note that even under sharia, the death penalty is practically unenforceable because the sex act itself must be witnessed by four other men.

If she is right, there are a lot of people playing fast and loose with the Koran and even the sharia. This brings me back to Christianity (and I probably should have phrased the question about how to percieve it this way to begin with.) Leaving aside the Bible, what can one infer about Christianity based on the behavior of Christians? From crusades to inquisitions to witch burnings to abortion clinic bombings, Christianity has been used to justify some monumental abominations. There are certainly Christians who advocate the death penalty for Gays and Lesbians, just as there are certainly Christians in the United States who advocate a return to theocracy based on the Ten Commandments. And I hear the woods around Seattle are crawling with militant Christian fundamentalits. There are plenty of ranches devoted to the arming and trainig of Christian fanatics.

Nonetheless, do any of these assorted nuts speak for the billions that share their faith? And aren't we holding Muslims to a double standard? We don't assume that the local church is a hotbed of Militant White Supremacy, though there are probably dozens of churches that are exactly that. Why should every Mosque take the heat for a few bad apples? It would be insulting to demand of every Christian a personal disavowal after every abortion doctor murder or gay-bashing. Yet Muslims are considered complicit in terrorism unless the convince us otherwise.
Dec 13, 2002 8:29 AM
I read the Salon article and it doesn't seem too bad, as far as it goes. In no way am I am Islamic scholar, but in a discussion with an Egyptian friend, he has lent me his Saudi produced English language Koran to compare with my own text. So, here goes my opinion on a few things.

Locking someone female up in a room for adultery is shown as one of the original punishments and I don't know how they got to beheading. (Saudi princess about 15 years ago) Stoning is very much a copy cat of Jewish law under what Christians call the Old Testament.

The part about the 4 witnesses is after Muhammad's youngest wife (he married her when she was 9) is accused by Muslims of having a fling. He comes to her defense against calumy and demands the 4 witnesses. Probably nowhere in the Islamic world is this concept followed for obvious reasons.

Be care with "hadith", these are unreliable traditions and are not Islamic canon. They are believed and used throughout Islam but even Muslims have doubts about their authenticity.

Islamic theology seems to be autonomous with no established framework within the Koran. Still, the Koran is the root of their thinking. (as an unrelated aside, Muhammad definitely did establish veils for women, but that is not the same as a burkha or chador)

In terms of Christianity, I don't know of any church that calls for the death penalty for homosexuality, thats because there is no New Testament scripture to justify it. If someone wants to make an argument that way, then they have to do as the Muslims have and turn to the Hebrew Bible. The Ten Commandments? Sounds pretty good to me, it forbids lying, cheating, murder, adultery, etc. Life would be better for the vast majority of the world along those lines. Reality is, the linkage of a supposed Christian fanatic to that is Islamic terrorists just doesn't work. If some Christian violates the 10 Commandments and kills, what(?) a total of 3 abortion doctors, this hardly compares to Algerian fundamentalists slitting the throats of dozens monthly and thousands in the past 10 years, 180 or so killed in Bali a few weeks ago, attacks on hundreds of Hindus by Muslims, or the 3000 dead in 9/11. The comparison just doesn't wash. Its just a politically correct driven effort at "fairness."

What one realizes is that where thousands of Christian ministers would repudiate throat slitting murders in the name of Jesus, it isn't the same in the Islamic world. Their tepid response is quite obvious. Notice that a "fatwa" (death edict) was put on the woman who wrote the article in Nigeria about the Miss World (?) pageant, or even Salman Rushdie a number of years ago, not one Muslim cleric anywhere has issed a single fatwa against the Islamic terrorists. Not from London, New York, Riyadh, Algiers, Cairo, Damascus, or Teheran. So, who is really speaking for the billions of Muslims against terrorists in a clear and unequivocable voice? Their real silence is deafening. The disturbing reality is that there is a vast level of support for their actions. A few months ago a KUWAITI minister said he felt happy when he saw the Twin Towers destroyed by Muslims! Kuwait..isn't that a "moderate" state and ally? Something is wrong here.
Thus, what I was getting at.czardonic
Dec 13, 2002 12:30 PM
"Islam" is a catch-all phrase for a myraid of divergent beliefs. As such, it is unfair to tar one Muslim for the acts of another.

As for the attititudes of some Christians towards gays, I submit the Reverend Fred Phelps who travels the country to picket funerals and memorials of people who are murdered because they are gay. His message is that God hates them, and that therefore their persecution, even to the point of murder, is justified.

While the Ten Commandments does condemn some universal evils, it does not protect many of the freedoms that America holds dear.

More than anything, I think the silence coming from the Islamic world is a symptom of the West's obliviousness to Muslims and to their own predjudices. Ann Coulter can call for a crusade to take over the Middle East and convert all Muslims to Christianity, on national television no less, and American hardly bats an eye. But let some nut halfway around the world shoot his mouth off, and suddenly every Muslim in the world has a lot of explaining to do. Most Muslims don't speak out against these statements because they don't recognize any connection between their beliefs and those of these fanatics.

Ultimately, if there was as much support for their actions among the 1.2 billion Muslims as you imply, America wouldn't stand a chance. And, the events of last year notwithstanding, Christianity has far more blood on its hands than Islam, even in this country.
Its isSteveS
Dec 13, 2002 12:55 PM
It is unfair to stigmatize all of any group for the actions of some, whether they be Muslims or Christians in America, unless of course, all of the given group had participated in whatever injustice as been done.

No reason to debate The Ten Commandments, they stand on their own.

You give an example of one "minister" and that characterizes Christianity? I think not. Ann Coulter speaks for herself, thats the freedom of speech thing. Thus far, no one has slit the throat of a stewardess on Air Saudia (or whatever it is called) while yelling "Praise Jesus" and it ain't going to happen.

One estimation of the number of Muslims of an Islamist bent is somewhere along the lines of 150 million. Since the combined forces of Jordan, Syria, Palestinians, and Egyptians armed with the best weapons that petro-dollars could buy from the Soviets and French have failed each time they tried to defeat tiny Israel, I am not overly concerned. A Chinese friend pointed out to me several months ago the new future potential alliance of the U.S., Russia, India, and China, as they all are threatended by radical Islam. Time will tell if that transpires. If so, the Islamists don't have a prayer, even if they repeat it 5 times daily.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
The double standard is evident to me.czardonic
Dec 13, 2002 2:08 PM
Apparently, you disagree. Fine. I appreciate the very good points that you have made.
Case in point....sn69
Dec 5, 2002 7:51 AM

Our bestest buddies, the Saudis....
Credit for time served?czardonic
Dec 4, 2002 6:45 PM
Question: Is it fair to compare a religion that was founded less than 400 years ago to those which have had nearly twice the time or longer to iron out their wrinkles? People love to wag their finger at the "Medieval" Islamic cultures. But the Judeo-Christian world weathered its own Dark Age. Was it any more enlightened in 500 A.D.? I don't suggest that Islam should not be expected to learn from the history of religions that preceded it. Nonetheless, its obvious that these things develop in fits and starts. Islam has thus far been limited to regions where people would be lashing out anyway. As it is incorporated by people of more developed and enlightened societies, it will likely become more moderate.

Most people put Christianity, Judaism, Islam and sometimes Buddhism alongside each other as though they are contemporaries. However, the latter two are much younger, still developing and gaining popularity. Islam has a long way to go, but seems to have at its foundation a philosophy that could easily rival Christianity in terms of enlightenment, tolerance and inclusiveness. The Qur'an even recognizes Jesus as a great prophet and the son of God (3:59). Perhaps it is we who will like them when they have won.
Frankly I hope not.sn69
Dec 4, 2002 6:54 PM
And I say that because I'd be slaughtered on two accounts. A) I'm a Jew and a pig/monkey worthy only of death by their own numeours fatwas. 2) I'm a crusader, or so they say.

I'm not arguing the timelines or chronologies, and, if you read back, you'll kindly note my references to some very dark periods indeed in Christianity's and Judaism's histories. Let me ask you this, though. The Qur'an also refers to Jews and Christians as "people of God." How then have they come to be largely regarded as less-than-human infidels worthy of only death? Well, I supposed one could argue the merits of the various answers indefiniately.

I will say this, however. Of the religions you mentioned, only one of them has not launched 2000+ years of wars in the name of their God. You do the math.

Gotta run..."Taken" is back on. I'm such a nerd. =)
Observant? Reformed or Orthodox?McAndrus
Dec 5, 2002 9:52 AM
You may have answered my question elsewhere. If so, I apologize for not being able to find it. Are you an observant Jew? If so are you Orthodox, Reformed or what?

If you ware not observant, why not?

I ask out of curiosity and a desire to have some discussions regarding Christian and Jewish doctrines. I'm a Christian and I've posted before asking for Moslems, Jews, Buddhists or whatever with whom I can do some compare and contrast type discussions.
American Reformedsn69
Dec 5, 2002 12:50 PM
although members of my extended family are both Conservative and Orthodox. I was raised reformed and participated actively through my Bar Mitzvah. After that I became a typical teenager, interested mostly in booze and girls. As an adult I've been moderately observant, meaning that I celebrate the High Holidays and Passover, but not much else.

Interestingly, upon the occassion of my first deployment to the Persian Gulf, I was issued a special set of Catholic dogtags "just in case." I thought that was funny for more reasons than the obvious--namely because I attended a Jesuit high school when I was growing up in Texas. =)
Is that a fair characterization?czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 10:49 AM
This "Islam considers everyone else to be pigs/monkeys/crusaders" stereotype is exactly what I was getting at with the original post. That kind of rhetoric has nothing to do with Mohammed's teachings (from what I have read). It is an example of a racist culture that has adopted Islam, and is now using the faith to add a veneer of legitimacy to its predjudices.

So to answer your question, just as there are many Christians and Jews who despite their purported faith are racists, so are there Muslims who are bigots. I don't beleive that among educated Muslims (educated in the Qur'an and otherwise) one can say that these views are "largely" held.
Is that a fair characterization?sn69
Dec 5, 2002 1:00 PM
Well, I think your point is well taken among Western Muslims, but my direct experience with Middle Eastern, educated Muslims has been just the opposite. While serving on extended assignment at the Coalition HQ in Riyahd, I found most of my Saudi counterparts honestly believed that Jews the world over were involved in a massive conspiracy to control the globe and to oppress everyone else. Likewise, not a single one of them had any understanding of the Israeli political system, or that there is a sizeable left-wing/liberal political element within Israel emphatically opposed to the West Bank Settlements. Sadly, their world view was extremely limited.

Granted, many if not all of their opinions are shaped by a less-than-free media machine in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but let us also not forget that most of the monied elite of the Middle East are educated in the West. Thus, I think part of those sentiments can be accredited to information manipulation, but a lot of it is culturally bread under the false premise of FI. Again, I'm agreeing with you in the sense that FI has warped the promise and potential of the general religion just as fundamental anything does.

That said, I've now read a great deal of the Qur'an (Sun Tzu--know your enemy type stuff), and I've found it puzzling in some ways and profoundly enlightening in others. It's less of a series of allegorical stories like the Old and New Testaments and more of a guidebook. There are, however, some very direct, very plain references to the infidel and how they should be treated. Likewise, there are also references to Christians and Jews being like-minded people of "the one, true God." It's an interesting read, and something that I'd like very much to learn more about.

In response to your other post, yup, I agree--Islam is growing by leaps and bounds. My religion by way of comparison is dying. Times change, and I don't doubt that Islam and Hinduism will continue to grow over the next several decades. That neither worries nor concerns me. What does is that which always bothers me when people are manipulated into hatred and violence through the misuse of religion as a means to control....

Two hypothetical questions re. the rise of Islam.czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 1:30 PM
If Christianity and Judaism religion do wane and Islam, Hinduism and perhaps Buddhism take over, I wonder what the effect of the role reversal will be. It is easy enough to be peacful and tolerant of others when you are in charge. But what if Judeo-Christian culture become marginalized? Most religions have coinciding currents of tolerance and hostility to outsiders, and a sufficiently angry or fearful person could draw from the Old Testament inspiration for a lot of heinous acts.

Second, if Islam does "take over" I wonder to what extent it could (or would try to) exert control over modern society. The spread of modern, liberal democracy accompanied the spread of Christianity. But are the two correlated or just coincidental? One could fashion all kinds of repressive governments based on the Bible, yet the US is a secular nation. I ask this because it would be easy to claim that a free society is simply incompatible with Islam. But isn't the same true of Judaism or Christianity?
Global Distribution of Economic Freedom Map - linkCaptain Morgan
Dec 5, 2002 2:14 PM
Here is a link to a map which shows the relative level of "freedom" for countries of the world:

Interestingly, there appears to be a high correlation between Islamic countries and a low level of freedom. I do not think of this as an absolute, and I hope that in 20 years, this will all be a moot discussion. After all, who would have ever thought that Russia would not only become a non-threat to us, but also be an ally?
Consider the source.czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 2:34 PM
This is from the Heritage Foundation, a self described "think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

I don't know that one can completely conflate "freedom" and "economic freedom."

Besides, the map creates a skewed impression. The ME is mostly red and yellow because several large (in terms of area) countries fall into those groups. There are nonetheless several small (interms of area) Islamic countries that are green. Without comparing actual population numbers, I don't know that one can draw a meaninful correlation between Islam and "economic freedom", much less freedom in general. And that still leaves the question of whether these countries are repressed because they are Muslim.
Dec 5, 2002 4:27 PM
Your original question, I think, is a good one and very difficult to answer. Historically, constitutional democracy sprung from the advances made in fuedal England. One could try to surmise that since 12th to 13th century England was a "divinely ordained" monarchy, that Christianity has a direct link to democracy. I'm not sure I buy that though. There were others that came before Christianity. As long as your were a "citizen," the Roman Republic served its people quite well as a democratic governing tool, and they weren't Christians until the end. Judaism, by the way, was historically tribal in nature and never really had the chance to develop a sophisticated governance system.

By the other token, are Islam and dictatorship mutually inclusive? No, I don't really think so. The fuedal type of hard-line government that pervades the Middle East has been in exsistence long before Islam. A lot of SW Asia is Islamic, and they aren't particularly fuedal. That the Middle East never grew out of totalitariansim might partially be attributed to Islam insomuch as FI sought/seeks to purge anything not deemed purely Islamic. It's a means to an end--control. ...Thus the loss of so much intellectual advancement that region pioneered while Europe rotted in the dark ages, and, to a lesser extent, the willful destruction of the statues of the Bhudda in Afghanistan.

Think of it this way. Fundamentalist religion will naturally tend towards increased control and decreased individual freedoms. The various interpretations of those religions' laws/doctrine are inconsequential in the greater context of the substantially increased societal control afforded to the ruling class (holy neo-commies, Batman, sign me up!). Some aspects of this are seemingly trite or even silly by others' standards, such as the JW's reluctance to allow blood transfusions, while others are dubiously harmful, such as the Lubovitch Jewish practice of inter-marriage (which helped give us Tay Sachs). Some handle snakes. Others stick pointy objects through their flesh in yearly displays of self-flaggelation. Others still seek to destroy the very attributes of forward progress within society. Even this has varying affects. Do the Amish hurt themselves by eschewing technology? No, not really. But to burn schools, kill teachers, destroy water transportation infrastructure, etc in the name of one's faith...well, that's not only counterproductive, it's also wrong by those same generalized "how to get along with one another" standards I spoke of earlier. Need I even mention the willful murder of "non-believers?" Congratulations, Taliban and AQ, your bestest buddy Pol Pot would be proud....if only he was a fundamentalist Muslim.

Anyhow, that's my best and admittedly piss-poor attempt to answer your question. I apologize for not really getting there. As always, these are just my initial opinions, nothing more.
Dec 5, 2002 6:04 PM
As an atheist, I am always a bit skeptical of this or that religion's claim over principles of morality and governance when the virtue seems to me to be self-evident (in the "how to get along with one another" sense.)

Even if one did connect England's "divinely ordained" monarchy with the advent of constitutional democracy, was it nutured by that system of governance or was it a reaction to that system of gevernance? Ultimately, even if the latter is the case, (or if indeed earlier societies already provided proof of concept), that constitutional democracy flourished under Christianity can not be ignored.

Thus, even if one does not concede a religion's origination of a principle, its worth considering the degree to which it fosters that principle. There are societal principles that Christianity seems to better nurture, and those that Islam (a modern, enlightened Islam) may better promote. Buddhism, might trump them both. If only one could create a custom blend! (Unfortunately, blending tends to bring out the worst aspects of every faith involved.)
By the way,sn69
Dec 8, 2002 6:35 PM
I'm beginning to think more and more that Buddhism does, in fact, trump them all--at least for me. While I've never studied the religion with any detail or sophistication (beyond my freshman year Comparative Religions class), I've found an ever-increasing interest based on my amateur research.

Again, religion being what it is--a deeply personal thing with different meanings for different people--I find the central concept of a "path" or "journey" as a means to enlightenment quite pleasing. It sounds goofy as all get-out, but I even wrote a bit of Buddhist proverb into my wedding vows with my wife. She's an avid yogini, so it wasn't a hard sell.

...And that's had me thinking about the question you posed further down about the purpose of religion. Strange indeed.... What is it that makes man so vulnerable and so fragile that he instictively has to seek out something higher? Is it because of cognitive intelligence on our order or is it because we reside at the general top of the food chain? What, then, do the orcas look to for solace, particularly since a mounting body of evidence suggests that they are our closest equals in terms of intelligence and ecosystem dominance? How about domesticated dogs? Sure, they "rely" on us for food, but how much of that is them effectively "training" us to provide for them after 15000 years of sybiotic evolution.

Above all, remember this. If you were two inches tall, your cat would eat you. Your dog, however, would still love you.
By the way,eyebob
Dec 9, 2002 6:13 AM
"What is it that makes man so vulnerable and so fragile that he instictively has to seek out something higher?"

I would argue that a significant part of it has more to do with group acceptance than actually seeking something higher. I've posted this before, but I believe that most all humans are inately social animals that thrive when in a group, especially a group like the one's who go to church. I offer no proof, but I would suggest that because knowing whether God is for real or not is really too hard to know for most people it certainly makes them feel better to congregate with like-thinking (others who are not sure whether s/he exists either).

From what I understand in my limited "amateur investigation" of Buddhism one's path is just that, one's own path. The idea that you become enlightened mostly through your own work (meditation, practicing awareness, living your compassion/love, etc) appeals to those of us too skeptical to believe that you have to belong to a big group to get into heaven.

Having just re-read my post here, I suppose that the idea of following one's own path could be done by Christians and Muslims and Jews too. the idea of WWJD would be the simple way to be a practicing Christian but doesn't necessarily mean that you have to belong to a particular sect and go to a church (which argues against my group acceptance) theory.

Thus, the proverbsn69
Dec 9, 2002 6:20 AM
"The journey is the destination."

Works for me.
Economic freedomCaptain Morgan
Dec 6, 2002 6:50 AM
I think there is a high degree of correlation between economic feedom and personal freedom. Can you think of a country where those two do not coexist?

Also, of course the map appears to be yellow and red in the ME because the largest countries are the repressed countries. With Jordan at only 5.3 million, Oman at 2.6 million and Qatar at 618,000, for example, they would be specs on the map. That is the nature of geography.

I think some facets of the Muslim religion tend to contribute to the repression, but not necessarily causes it. For one, the allowance of polygamy adds to the repression of women, as well as separates the men into the "have's" and the "have-not's."

I think that a greater contributor is the totalitarianistic government systems in a number of them and the level poverty by the majority lower classes, which kind of go hand-in-hand.
What is it about the human psyche that makes so manyeyebob
Dec 4, 2002 6:23 PM
of us need to be in and or with a group. That's what religion is all about (to me). Important documents like the Bible, Koran, Torah, our Bill of Rights are always going to be interpreted in different ways, but how and why do you get such a wide range of interpretation that concludes that stoning is acceptable (like suicide bombing) on one fringe and not on another? And it's the same friggin religion! Well I guess that I could see how a few could account for the fringe interpretations but how could a few lead to a mass of followers? Are we as humans so scared of the unknown, so scared of the unknowable, and so scared to stand alone that we have to form collectives to pray and carry on time honored rituals even when these collectives ride so far from the mainstream tenets of our religion? By-the-way, lest I sound too negative toward organized religion, in America, sports followers are very similar. We pray and congegate in the great cathedrals of sport every Sunday in the Fall and Winter, and every other day during the Summer to watch, join in, and be comforted by being with the masses.

PS This is the second mention that I've seen you make to Who owns the site and what type of stuff do they usually cover?

In a word, yes.czardonic
Dec 4, 2002 6:53 PM
"Are we as humans so scared of the unknown, so scared of the unknowable, and so scared to stand alone that we have to form collectives to pray and carry on time honored rituals even when these collectives ride so far from the mainstream tenets of our religion?"

In many cases, I think so. I wouldn't put it quite so negatively, but I think that fear of the unknown drives people to those that offer easy answers (or at least simple ones).

Salon Media Group is a publicly traded company. They cover just about everything. I would concede that much of their political commentary is left leaning, but they are also an outlet for David Horowitz and Andrew Sullivan.
Your thought that religion is subject to intrepretationcarnageasada
Dec 5, 2002 6:54 AM
of its followers rings true for me. What I don't understand is how come there are such amazingly incongrous interpretations. Over thanksgiving I read a book called Founding Brothers, which details the lives of the people who helped found the US.
There's a chapter on Senator Jackson from Georgia (more than half the people in Georgia were slaves at the time) who argued with Ben Franklin about slavery. Jackson's primary defense for slavery didn't rest on economics, it rested on his interpretations of the Bible.
So I think I agree with you. If our own country has such a terrible record of interpreting religious documents . . . there is the hope that someday things will change for some of the oppressed women in Islamic countries. And not by our guns but from a light within.
Your thought that religion is subject to intrepretationcarnageasada
Dec 5, 2002 6:59 AM
of its followers rings true for me. What I don't understand is how come there are such amazingly incongrous interpretations. Over thanksgiving I read a book called Founding Brothers, which details the lives of the people who helped found the US.
There's a chapter on Senator Jackson from Georgia (more than half the people in Georgia were slaves at the time) who argued with Ben Franklin about slavery. Jackson's primary defense for slavery didn't rest on economics, it rested on his interpretations of the Bible.
So I think I agree with you. If our own country has such a terrible record of interpreting religious documents . . . there is the hope that someday things will change for some of the oppressed women in Islamic countries. And not by our guns but from a light within.
Dec 5, 2002 7:14 AM
for posting twice. Also should have said "The thought," instead of "Your thought." A bad intrepretation on my part.
What is the ultimate purpose of religion?czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 11:06 AM
I hope that I don't offend anyone, and I freely admit that this is merely an opinion, but. . .

Religion has always been a means to an end. That could be personal, economic, political, you name it. Quieting fears of the unknown, enslaving or depriving others for personal benefit, driving people from territory that you would like to control. Different "interpretations" of a given faith typically find a religious endorsement of whatever ambitions or conditions that the interpreter favors.

Jackson's take on slavery and the Bible is a perfect example. While he could have argued the economic rationale, that would leave him with a moral quandry. Deciding that the Bible endorsed slavery left him open to enjoy the economic benefits without any nagging spiritual doubts.

That is not to say that religion's sole purpose is to justify avarice. I am merely suggesting that when cultures compete for resources, their faith inevitably justifies their attempts at conquest. Where this kind of struggle has subsided, it goes on to serve other, hopefully more positive functions.
Some smaller questionscarnageasada
Dec 5, 2002 5:37 PM
Do we give up on religion when people like Jackson and Bin Laden and the Papal Borgias hijack our sacred beliefs? Do we stop flying when they hijack our planes? Is there a way to add security to religion to keep it from getting hijacked? Is that what we're doing now? Looking for prejudiced weapons buried in someone's baggage?

What worries me is that there might be a Heisenberg-like principle to studying and discussing a religion: the more we observe, dissect and protect our religions' positions the less we'll know religious velocity. What do you think?
Some quesitons are w/o answers. Some problems w/o solutions.czardonic
Dec 5, 2002 6:43 PM
Though I personally feel that one can walk a righteous path without a roadmap, it is also evident that religion inspires a lot of people to do a lot of good. The problem has always been keeping it from inspiring a lot of people to do a lot of evil.

The reason that this has yet to be solved is, I beleive, is due to organized religions roots in general as a means of managing society. In order to accomodate changing conditions there is maleability. In order to ensure compliance there is absolutism. Combined, you have a means to justify anything that you can pass off as divinely sacntioned and, necessarily, a degree of latitude reserved for those who do the sanctioning.

The absolutism is clearly a necessity. On can not have faith without that faith being absolute. But what of the maleability? A succinct canon that did not promote interpretation seems like a step in the right direction. That the unquestionable word of God is inevitably buried in a tome that is rife with contradictions is a recipe for anarchy. Shouldn't God be able to make his wishes 100% clear? Undoubtedly, but perhaps God also knows that this isn't practical. Tenets that were without ambiguity would have to either be broad enough to account for every progression of mankind, or proscribe progress itself after a point. The maleability must stay for the faith and the faithful to endure.

I think you are right about the Heisenberg-like quality of the issue. I think of it more like the Geological time scale. As much as it seems to us mortals that Earth has always been as it is, and always will be, we know that changes too gradual to be percieved are afoot. Christianity and Islam today are not what they were 500 years ago. Who knows what they will be 500 years from now?
I agreecarnageasada
Dec 6, 2002 5:52 AM
I always get stuck in the crosshairs between Joseph Campbell's idea that religion needs to be maleable, that is we need new myths that can guide us for today, and the problem that if we start making things up it becomes so obvious we're making it up that religion becomes a joke.
We need a new prophet but if he or she came to town I would probably be first to suggest they get back on the medication.
P.S. I like the religion as geologic time scale idea. Not quite as racy as throwing in Heisenberg but far more practical. I'm going to reflect on that awhile.
Dec 7, 2002 7:29 AM
For anyone who honestly believes in God the proposition of building a faith to pay homage seems reasonable. But humans cannot incorporate the answers to the big questions (why are we here? Is there an afterlife?) into that religion without it raising too many other questions. Trying to compel their points in a book is just impossible. I believe that you cannot necessarily explain faith to anyone. No one person "believes" like the next so how do you pass that along?

IMO, that's where the burning bush stuff comes in. When you're presented with the problem in your story where you don't have any way to legitimize your faith (because by definition you cannot, that's why it's faith) you play the Devine Intervention card so to speak. The Bible seems to me to be frought with too much that's unbelievable (parting of the sea, burning bush, etc...) which is why I think that so many people turn away from it. I also cannot believe that these stories were written necessarily as (intentional)allegories. If they were, and we were meant to take them with a grain of salt then I think that that would have been clearly stated in the Bible. Therefore, you cannot have it both ways in reading the Bible, to me it's either it was all supposed to have happened or it's all made up. Admittedly that's my best guess being a human and of limited ability to interpret these things, but like you, I seem to think that a God would make it easy for us to follow the story, not convelute it so much.

Likewise with a religion, it's damn near impossible to built a religion on certain edicts that don't also allow for changing times and thought. JUst like it's impossible to do so with any organized govt. That's why the Constitution is left for us to interpret. It's not the be all and end all. It's only a framework. I really begin to doubt a politician's effort at argument when they use the term "that's not what the framers of the Constitution intended." If that's what they got as far as an argument, then go back and do your homework.

Outstanding question53T
Dec 5, 2002 5:46 PM
I believe, after examining the central belifes of christian, jewish and muslim faiths that the central role of religion in the formative period of mankind was to preserve the species, much like other traits that evolve under natural selection.

It is true that today's religions were all founded long after the human race was well established, but each one is largely based on an earlier extinct religion. (The siliarities between christianity and the druids is striking, but upon relection not surprising.) It stands to reason that teh roots of modern religion stretch all the way back to the out-of-Africa days when humans did not call the shots and operated on the edge of extinction.

Excellent question.
Purpose of religionCaptain Morgan
Dec 6, 2002 7:16 AM
Your comments regarding religion are strictly on a macro level. First, if you think that religious organizations should be perfect, free from scandal, and free from manipulation from a few bad apples, then that is an unattainable expectation to have. Human nature creates these imperfections, and I guess it provides an adequate excuse for atheists and agnostics to criticize religion. To give up religion because of some of the bad that it creates would be akin to giving up sex just because sex leads to fights, divorces, rape, prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, etc.

A more important point I would like to make is that religion to me is on a very personal (i.e. micro) level. I could care less about what goes on at the macro level: the Catholic church, the Pope, etc. Its all about trying to become a better person, and raising my kids to be better people. Religion helps in that regard.

Looking at strictly the macro level, its hard to see the trees through the forest. I could debate with you using C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity as my material, but I thought using my own thoughts would make it more interesting.
You are right.czardonic
Dec 6, 2002 9:59 AM
I should have done a better job of indicating that I was talking about religion on a macro level, as you say. "Organized religion" is how I might have put it, but even that is probably not precise enough.

Realistically, it is unfair to hold religious institutions to a higher standard than other organizations. But that seems to me to be a defacto admission that religion is a human construct, rather than a divine one (which I think is true). After all, shouldn't an organization informed by God's own word be able to overcome human nature? Isn't that the whole point?

In the personal regard, I 100% agree.
Christianity as an exampleCaptain Morgan
Dec 6, 2002 10:17 AM
"shouldn't an organization informed by God's own word be able to overcome human nature?"

Christianity has persevered for nearly 2,000 years now. Seems to me like it has overcome human nature pretty well.
Not the best example.czardonic
Dec 6, 2002 10:54 AM
The term "Christianity" has lasted 2,000 years. During that time, it has been the poster child for every way in which faith can be twisted by human nature.
Infamous atheistsCaptain Morgan
Dec 6, 2002 11:35 AM
Using the same logic, I would say that a couple of (in)famous atheists include Charles Mason, Mussolini, and Pul Pot. Therefore, I could argue that your atheism is actually a dangerous form of freethinking which facilitates the killing of fellow human beings.
Even so, what does that prove?czardonic
Dec 6, 2002 12:19 PM
There are evil atheists as well as evil theists. If in the final analysis one must conclude that neither religion nor the lack thereof prevents this kind of behavior, it is a greater indictment of religion with all its pious affectations.

I'll take the freethinking ideology that may facilitate evil over one that is non-freethinking and also may facilitate evil.
Even so, what does that prove?Captain Morgan
Dec 6, 2002 1:17 PM
The point isn't whether it "prevents" evil behavior, but rather whether it facilitates good behavior. Seatbelts don't prevent deaths due to auto accidents, so maybe we shouldn't use seatbelts at all? Non-smoking doesn't assure you that you won't get lung cancer, so let's go ahead and smoke all we want (that's my mother's excuse for not quitting).

I admit that it takes more effort to find the good in things than it does the bad. Atheism is the easier route.
The easy route?czardonic
Dec 6, 2002 2:56 PM
I see comparison of ease as being a toss up. Religion provides simple answers -- do this or don't do that because God says so, and you will be rewarded. An athiest must not only put in the effort to find the good in things, but they must also reason for themselves why something is good and why it is worth the effort anyway. At the same time, evil behavior is an easier choice for the atheist than the theist, which is what I think you are getting at.

With seatbelts and smoking, it is obvious which choice offers the better odds. I don't know that one can say as definitively that being religious will make you a better person. It all comes down to whether or not people of faith are, on the whole, better people. Consider humanity's checkered history and the fact that throughout history the vast majority of people have professed some sort of religious belief. There have been good and evil people, both theist and atheist. The good athiests worked harder to be good, and the evil theists worked harder to be evil (when the evil was not sactioned by their faith). Again, what does that prove?

Ultimately, I don't even know if one can say that religion facilitates good behavior. Religion facilitates behavior period, which has ranged from charity to genocide. As an atheist, "good" and the virtue of pursuing it are as self-evident to me as the benefits of seatbelts and the pitfalls of smoking. Moreover, you could never convince me that stoning adultureres or bombing abortion clinics was "good".