I meant this to go out on Saturday morning, but I pressed the wrong button and it went out late Friday afternoon. Apologies to those who receive this post twice.
Is there in these once United States any publication producing content as risible as Salon? Perhaps a contest is in order. It will be touch because competitors will have to sink below such offerings as “Evangelicals put to shame: Atheists tend to be more religiously tolerant than Christians” by Darren Sherkat.
Sure, it’s a “click-bait” title, designed to draw eyes searching for quick hit. But in this case, the author is also in earnest.
He’s also in a state of confusion. Before analyzing his “new research”, let’s see how he sets it up.
Tolerance is a hallmark of Western democracies. A core tenet of democratic societies is the freedom of religious and political expression, and even the most obnoxious and ridiculous views must be tolerated. Bad ideas are best conquered with good ideas rather than with repression.
By “tolerated” he means tarred and feathered and run out of town, proved by expressions like “Bake the cake!” and “Fire him!” Tolerance is one of those words that everybody uses but nobody believes. Skip it.
Sherkat says Christians and even some skeptics claim “radical Islam is best countered through jailing imams, preventing incendiary preaching, limiting access to radical Islamic literature and media, and discriminating against potentially radical Muslims.” He may be right about this. I’m all for discriminating against radical Muslims, and even radical Hindoos (to use the older spelling). Come to that, if I saw a Buddhist running amok with a hatchet, I’d be for discriminating against her, too. Or him. Only sexists think just men run amok. Skip that, too.
Anyway, Sherkat buzzed through the 2008-2014 General Social Surveys, which, like many sociology questionnaires, attempts to quantifies the unquantifiable. Let that pass. He looked at questions about “whether (1) Muslim clergy preaching hatred of the United States should be allowed to speak, (2) whether anti-American Muslim clergy should be allowed to teach in college, and (3) whether anti-American Muslim books should be allowed in the library.” He didn’t mention analyzing questions about suicide.
Now these questions were asked of norteamericanos below the 49th parallel only, and for us some words mean different things than for other English speakers. For instance atheist, for us, roughly means “strongly anti-Christian with anything from a vague dislike to a warm feeling for other religions.” Atheists here also tend to be “progressive” (attention Mr Orwell), and progressives are strongly prone to the (really quite silly) fallacy that Muslims are a race, and progressives love discovering new forms of “racism.” Thus, many atheists are anti-anti-Islam on the grounds of advertising their anti-racism. Many others are anti-anti-Islam because of their vehement anti-Christianity.
The plot at the top is Sherkat’s. That “tolerance” “scale” is the result of his cobbling together the questions listed above. The numbers themselves don’t mean much, except that they give some indication atheists are more pro-radical-Muslim—in the sense used in the questions listed—than are theists.
He also discovered Unitarians (defined as atheists who want somewhere to go Sundays) had higher scores than e.g. Mormons, Catholics, and Baptists.
In other words, not much, or really nothing, was learned. Sherkat could have asked any reader here about what to expect and saved himself the effort. Though we could have rewritten the title to “Atheists tend to be more welcoming of intolerant Muslims than Christians”.
Sherkat ends by suggesting that if “we accept and embrace even radical Islamists as part of our societies, welcoming refugees and respecting their rights” those accepted will become harmless. He says “Radical Islamists will be like the goofy street preachers carrying crosses on my college campus—they don’t convert anyone, they just look ridiculous.”
This is a charming view, utterly at variance with observational evidence. That some Muslims have and will move towards secularism is true, but it’s also been our experience that many will embrace more rigorous forms of Islam. This isn’t a problem for secularists like Sherkat, because you’re a racist. Or something.
No, I’m kidding. I have no idea why this isn’t a problem for Skerkat. I’m guessing he’d say that the Muslims who have on American soil turned murderous have done so because Baptists, Catholics, and Mormons, folks who share many similar cultural beliefs as Muslims, have expressed intolerance of radical Islamic beliefs, and that this intolerance on the part of Christians caused the intolerance of the misbehaving Muslims.
Psychologists surely have a name for this. Sherkat, and the Sherkat in other atheists, are absolutely blind to the idea that it is their own secularism that is problematic. Yet since that question hasn’t been asked, it can’t be “studied” by sociologists. What a strange position we’re in.