My sincerest condolences go out to all the victims and the friends and families of those victims in the Orlando (“Pulse”) night-club shooting. While it is still uncertain and under investigation whether or not there were any ties between the shooter (whom I won’t bother naming) and some Islamic extremist organization, there was in fact a proclaimed allegiance to such an organization voiced by the shooter himself to the police prior to the incident. Even if no direct ties are found between the shooter and this or any other radical Islamic extremist organization, the possibility will remain that this was a “self-radicalized” or “self-actualized” Jihadist Muslim. The man very likely knew that he was going to die one way or another that night (by police or otherwise) and so a belief in martyrdom and in an eternal paradise after death would have been perhaps the most powerful reason to not care about the consequences. And a person believing that they are carrying out the wishes of an invisible magic man in the sky, and that are doing so in order to achieve eternal paradise, has more than enough motive to commit this kind of heinous act.
Obviously we don’t know what the man was thinking and can’t confirm his alleged motives, but if we take any of his own words seriously, then this is yet another incident that demands that the difficult religious conversation that many people want to avoid be opened further. A conversation involving the topic of reforming Islam with the secular moderates that claim membership in that religion, and a conversation involving a recognition that when those religious texts are plainly read in their entirety, they clearly advocate for violence and oppression against non-believers. There may be some good messages in those texts, as there are in just about any book — but to deny the heinous contents that also exist in those very same texts and to deny the real religious motivations of these murderers who are inspired by those texts is nothing but intellectual dishonesty and delusion.
Regressive liberals aren’t making things any easier as they throw out accusations of racism and bigotry even in cases where it is only the religious ideas themselves that are being criticized, with no mention of any race or ethnicity. That has to stop too. It’s true that many conservatives that are also racists and bigots and that have racist motives behind their anti-Islamic agenda, are also some of the same conservatives that are mentioning the dangerous ideas in Islam. But as an intellectually honest liberal myself, I can both recognize and abhor those racist motives common to many conservative social and political circles, yet also agree with some of those conservatives’ claims pertaining to the dangers of certain Islamic religious ideas.
I suspect that one of the reasons for the origin of the regressive liberal movement and its commitment to eliminating any and all criticism of Islam is that it has conflated the racism and bigotry directed at Muslims that is often coming from conservatives (including political clowns like Donald Trump), with the criticism against Islamic ideas that make no mention of race. I suspect that because many of these anti-Islamic claims are also coming from the same conservative sphere, that regressive liberals have unfortunately lumped all anti-Islamic claims into the same category (some form of racism and bigotry against Islam), when those two kinds of claims should be in entirely different categories. There are criticisms of Islamic ideas that have nothing to do with race and there are criticisms of Muslims that are clearly racist — and the latter is what liberals and everyone should continue to fight against. But the former type of criticisms are simply a part of a reasoned discussion on the topic and one that needs to take place in the public sphere. I have propagated the former type of criticisms (based on reason and evidence, not prejudice or racism) and I have seen many other free-thinker and humanist advocates do so as well.
Bottom line — we have to begin to talk more about the dangers of believing in and relying on faith, dogma, revelation, and any other belief system not grounded on reason and evidence. These epistemological “methods” are not only demonstrably unreliable and fallacious, but they are also being high-jacked by various terrorist organizations that have their own aims. Even if the leaders of a dangerous extremist organization don’t actually believe in the religious ideas that they proclaim as their motivation, they know that if others do, and if others are already willing to die for their faith and to do it for such compelling reasons as eternal paradise, then those leaders can get people to commit heinous acts. As Voltaire once said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.” These words of wisdom still apply, even if the leaders that (initially) spread those absurdities don’t believe them. Now I think that many of the leaders that spread these ideas do believe them, but I’m betting that there are also many that do not. If people begin to see the dangers of faith and dogma and are instilled with an ultimate appreciation and priority of reason and evidence, then these radical recruitments will be far less effective if not rendered entirely ineffective.
Religious ideas don’t get a free pass from criticism just because people hold them to be sacred. Because, sacred or not, the reality is that this kind of muddled thinking can and has ended many innocent people’s lives throughout human history. Bad ideas have bad consequences and it doesn’t matter where those bad ideas come from. Despite the fact that we are living in a post-enlightenment age, not everyone has accepted that paradigm shift yet. We must keep trying to spread the fruits of the enlightenment for the good of humanity. It is our moral obligation to do so.