Over the years, I’ve noticed it’s rare for a skeptic to differentiate between the religions. So rare that when noted Atheist and comedian Bill Maher takes people to task for placing Christianity and Islam on equal footings when it comes to violence ‘in the name of’, it actually makes the news. And now that ISIS has taken to beheading Westerners, it is vitally important that we don’t ignore or blindly lump together religions with substantive differences.
For the most part, skeptics don’t ignore distinctions between religions for identification’s sake, rather, it’s when discussing the real or perceived evils done in the name of religion, or by adherents themselves. I’ve always suspected that this is an intentional blurring of the lines because I get the feeling it makes them feel intellectually insulated from having to fuss with the details. But the details are the most significant aspect of the religions.
For many skeptics, “god(s)”, a supposedly morally superior being, who is the single most important identifying factor, and therefore, it is “religion” — regardless of the specifics — that matters when talking about religious evil. There are at least two important distinctions skeptics fail to make that are foundationally important.
The first is the differences in the details of the religions. Since I like analogies, I’ll offer one. Cyanide, aspirin, and breath mints can all come in tablet form. If these three tablets are defined only by their similar shape and size, they do appear to all be alike. But would it be accurate to say the three are all pretty much the same? Certainly not. Their differences are more important than their single unifying feature: God.
In fact, it would be silly to blame Tic Tacs and Bayer if people started dropping dead of cyanide poisoning. To be sure, even skeptics would see such an equivocation as nonsensical. But for some reason, it seems perfectly rational to some of them to lump all religion together because they all come in “God” form. Post-September 11th, some skeptics started blaming tablets rather than cyanide.
The second problem, is the lack of differentiating between actions done in the name of an ideology, and actions done by a person who happens to hold a particular ideology. This might not seem to be a big deal, but the difference is immensely important. If the reader will indulge me in another analogy which I think makes clear the distinction.
Police officers are sworn to both uphold the laws of the State, and the policies of the department for which they work. If police officers started regularly pulling over citizens who speed, but then robs and assaults them, the officers are acting outside the set scope and boundaries of their sworn oaths. They become robbers and assailants who are police officers. They are not robbing and assaulting people in their official capacity of police officers even though they may be wearing a uniform at the time. However, if officers pull over citizens who speed and issues warnings or tickets, they are acting in accord with the scope and boundaries of their oaths, and they are being good officers.
Again I ask: Does it make sense to blame the occupation of police officer because of those who abuse their authority? Or do we rightfully blame the particular officers who abuse their power, acting outside the capacity of their official duties? This is one of the more important and precise distinctions. There is one religion in particular, that by prescription — and in context — advocates violence. In this case, the adherents who perpetrate violence in the name of their religion are acting in accord to its teaching. Other religion’s adherents who perpetrate violence, however, are acting outside the dictates and — though are members of the religion — are violent not in the name of their religion.
It’s my opinion, that these equivocations are made by skeptics in order to afford them — in their own mind — the intellectual satisfaction of their skepticism. If all religions can be reduced to tablet form, it’s much easier to fight against (i.e., “tablets are dangerous”). Getting in the lab and breaking down the tablets to examine and discover the ingredients takes a lot more effort.