In The Shadow of the Weaponized Rubble

Sana Ali

Sana Ali

Sana Ali is a fashion designer born in Pakistan and raised in New York with a Master's Degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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  1. Just a general note from Editorial.

    This was a personal piece on a sensitive subject. This is a bad thread for devil’s advocacy or “Just asking questions” contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake. We intend to have a heavier hand here than usual.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    The problem I have with Ilhan Omar is that she is Somalian by birth and yet she has such an axe to grind with Israel and obviously wants to make it one of her key issues at the start of her Congressional career. Unfortunately, I am inclined to assume that she is being driven primarily by her religious community, not necessarily by secular policy. I have a problem with any politician doing that, regardless of their faith.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      I know many people of many different backgrounds, including many Jewish people, who have an enormous axe to grind with Israel right now, many of whom didn’t have much patience for axe-grinding (very different from having grave concerns and strong hopes) until some tipping point occurred in their relationship during the last while that Netanyahu has been in power and pushing Israel further and further to the right, with all that means for their military conduct.

      Someone can be more aware of a problem or less able to put it to one side because of their religious context – which gives them insight into communities others might not equally consider or value – without being “driven” by their religion.

      I do think some of Omar’s comments were ill-considered, but that’s very different from jumping to conclusions about what one is “inclined to assume” about her motives. Or from choosing to focus on that particular aspect of things in this moment.

      OP, I appreciate that it took a lot to share this, and I thank you for bringing your perspective to the table.Report

      • Avatar pillsy says:

        All of what @Maribou said, but for this in particular:

        Someone can be more aware of a problem or less able to put it to one side because of their religious context – which gives them insight into communities others might not equally consider or value – without being “driven” by their religion.

        Omar’s comments have been very consistent with the American Left’s attitude towards Israel. Her more earlier comments early sounded unfortunately familiar to me [1], and after the apologies and pledges to improve, they’ve gotten much better.[2]

        And the partisan organs of the Right have gotten increasingly aggressive about parsing (and blatantly and dishonestly mis-parsing) her comments to find reasons to whip MAGAland into a frenzy against here.

        It’s instructive to contrast her treatment to that of JIm Moran, formerly D-VA8, who made much more unambiguously anti-semitic remarks blaming the push for war with Iraq on the “Jewish community”.

        He apologized and his transgression was largely forgotten.[2]

        He was white. Not sure what his religion was, but he certainly not a Muslim.

        He was, however, a Democrat, so the disparate treatment was not due to partisanship.

        [1] One thing that brought my to OT from prior haunts was that one of them had a couple popular and highly regarded members who, when the subject of Israel came up, would get low-key but unmistakably anti-semitic. This is also partly why I’m extra touchy about hints of anti-semitism here.

        [2] Which, by the way, is exactly what we should want!

        [3] Except by my parents who would complain about how anti-semitic he was every two years before voting for him again.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          The reason I am deeply suspicious of this is because of the timing. This doesn’t seem like even a Top 10 priority, but she started swinging as soon as she was sworn in. And yes, the Left in general seems to be dabbling in anti-Israel language these days, to what end I am not sure.Report

          • Avatar InMD says:

            Israel is one of those issues where mainstream actors (of which Omar is one) don’t know how to provide a principled critique because doing so requires questioning a lot of the bad assumptions behind US foreign policy more broadly.

            You can’t ask what it is the American tax payer actually gets out of propping up one side in this particular ethno-sectarian territorial conflict without asking the same question about a host of others in the ME and elsewhere. Huge institutional forces in the state and in the media weigh very hard against a conversation about that ever taking place.

            The result is instead of talking about the policy we talk about the morality of the belligerents, which given where the lines are drawn easily slips into anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim animus. It gets us nowhere but it fits right in with the identitarian tendencies driving politics at the national level.Report

            • Avatar pillsy says:

              I think in this particular case, you may actually be selling her short. She’s been much more harshly critical about our support of Saudi Arabia than is usual for either the US Left or mainstream critics.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                I did not know that but all I can say is good on her. People need to start asking these questions. Maybe eventually more citizens will realize there’s no good reason for it and any remotely plausible one left the room in 1991.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            Well yeah it probably doesn’t seem like a Top 10 priority to you.

            But lots of things Congressfolk decided are really important don’t seem like Top 10 priorities to me, and I bet to you as well.

            And even if you’re right… who really cares? Policy not motivation, right?Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              Normally I try to ignore potential motivations, but in the case of her language choices, her religion, her jumping on this issue first and the Left’s general flirtation with the anti-Israel lobby…I’m going to say the whole is worse than the sum of its parts. She’s on my Do Not Trust list until she proves otherwise.

              And to also be honest, I suspect if she was a lily white Congressman from the midwest even her own party would be censoring her more strongly, but she checks a lot of intersectional boxes.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                And to also be honest, I suspect if she was a lily white Congressman from the midwest even her own party would be censoring her more strongly, but she checks a lot of intersectional boxes.

                Definitely disagreed. When that happened (OK it was an upscale NoVA district but still) the lily white Congressman was largely forgotten after he was required to apologize.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                And she will still keep getting invited to speak in public. She’s one of the Fresh Faces. She’s going to get to keep talking until she really sticks her foot in her mouth.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Also you don’t think it’s problematic to suspect her on account of her religion?

                That strikes me as uncomfortably close to the dual loyalty trope that’s so often directed at Jewish Americans when the topic is Israel.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Why is Israel her primary concern?Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I don’t know why.

                You are saying, simply on account of her being a Muslim and that you disagree with her, that her political position is suspect.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I think the claim that Israel is her primary concern is ‘facts not in evidence’ …unless the evidence you rely on is the sort of trumped up Fox News stuff discussed in the OP.

                If anything, I’d say that there’s a media driven *appearance* that she says more about Israel because as one of the Fresh Faces who happens to be Muslim, she gets more questions from the press about Israel and therefore there are more quotes from her than from various lily white Christian congresscirtters.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            “because of the timing. This doesn’t seem like even a Top 10 priority”

            It may be instructive to consider that Israel *just* had an election and Netanyahu was *just* re-elected. (Literally this week.) So Israel is a huge priority to many people compared to where it might usually fall because of the timing of all that. And the bad stuff happening in Israel has been more prevalent / salient / intensified for the last 6-8 months because of that.

            Our own timing as a country is not the only thing that drives the timing of people’s foreign policy concerns.

            That’s without even getting into how the media (mainstream or not) distorts public perception of what is and isn’t a priority to individual congress folks depending on the narrative they’re choosing to tell about them and/or the examples they need for the larger narrative they’ve constructed.

            Or even more so, to return a bit to the topic of the OP, how various powerful actors like Trump and his campaign do that.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          “Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument has passed.”-Jean-Paul Satre, Anti-Semite and Jew.

          Change some words and it works today for what is going on with Omar. It actually gets “own the libs” down to a T.Report

      • What Maribou said. I’ve criticized Omar when she used ugly dogwhistles (and inaccurate ones; AIPAC’s influence is about the votes they can swing, not about money per se). But Likud just won a close election in which they bragged about suppressing the Arab vote. AIPAC’s uncritical support for the Israeli Right is helping to destroy not only any chance of peace but now Israeli democracy, and I’m 100% with anyone who opposes that.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        When it comes to Muslim critics of Israel, I have an extraordinarily difficult time taking the, seriously. One reason why the Israeli-Palestinian dragged on for so long is that large numbers of Muslims have decided the only just solution is the complete elimination of Israel. There are dozens of countries that official designate thememselves as Arab and/or Islamic to varying degrees, many much more so than Israel advances itself as Jewish, yet it is the one tiny Jewish state that is “evil racist imperialist one” in the minds of the Muslims and their Western allies because reason.

        For ay other oppressed and persecuted minority group, establishing their own country and reviving their ancient language would be seen as an act of triumph. Lots of people certainly have no problem romanticizing Black nationalists and other radical movements to. The Zionists, the Jews that fought for the rights of their own people, they get seen as worst than White racists by many. Until the world understands why Israel is really important to the vast majority of Jews, we are going to have this problem.Report

        • Avatar pillsy says:

          When it comes to Muslim critics of Israel, I have an extraordinarily difficult time taking the, seriously.

          I don’t see how this is any different than dismissing Jewish defenders of Israel and then citing the various maximalist positions taken by the Israeli Right.

          Stop it dude.

          I think you’ve got more than half a point about Israel and the general failure of the Left to extend their principles in a consistent way to anti-semitism and Zionism but this stuff is bad.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Your analysis would be more right than wrong if we were talking in the 90’s or the early aughts. Facts in the Israeli polity and on the ground have shifted now, though, and it’s no longer complete. Israel has an additional problem in that their right wing has become politically dominant and has no intention of doing a Sharon and pulling the settlements out of the West Bank to end the occupation. So Israel has a relentlessly ticking demographic and civil right bomb nestled in their collective bousum that can no longer be overlooked, excused or hand-waved away by talking about (the very real) fact of Muslim intransigence.

          If the Palestinians ever wise up and say “you know what, the two state solution is dead. We want our civil rights as Israelis.” Israel will be in shit deep.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            The Netanyahu style Israeli right is in ascendancy because of the Muslim intransigence from the 90s and early aughts though. From the average Israeli point of view, they tried a bunch of different strategies to make peace with the Palestinians and got nothing but war in return. So we have something of an endless chicken and egg problem.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              All well and good and more right than wrong but also utterly irrelevant. The settlers were there in the 90s and they’re even more there now. The Israeli’s have been trying to get the Palestinians to “pay” them to uproot the Settlements for ages. The Palestinians both don’t want to and don’t have the ability to.
              But if you have a bomb strapped to your chest it’s the height of madness to refuse to remove it unless your enemies pay you to do so. Why would your enemies do that? They’re much happier with that bomb strapped to your chest.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          The more that Jews code as white, the more that Israel codes as a White Ethnostate.

          And, on top of all that, the more that there is a push for Jewish Supremacy in Israel, the more that that presents identically to White Supremacy.

          That stuff could have flown in the days of South Africa being run by Prime Minister P.W. Botha*, but I’m not sure that it can fly in The Current Year.

          *these nutsReport

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            *deez nuts

            I think a little of it is Jews coding as white vs. not. But most isn’t.

            Some of it is that Israel has gotten more secure, and as it’s gotten more secure, the possibility of any sort of just peace with the Palestinians has receded further and further from view. That’s sort of a double whammy.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, there’s also the whole “root for the underdog” thing and you can only watch Jerry kill Tom so many times before you ask yourself “who is the underdog here?”

              (That’s why they put so very much effort into Bugs Bunny having a non-aggression-initiation principle.)Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              No, I think it’s exactly that many people code Jews as white for various reasons. The big one is that Jews don’t fit the Intersectional paradigm well. Coding Jews as white allows the Intersectional Paradigm to remain place without a re-examination.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                The messiness of reality doesn’t fit the paradigm well, and the messier the reality the worse the fit.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I know you do and I think you’re not correct.

                Jews actually fit the intersectional paradigm fine (really), it’s that a lot of people don’t want to, well, admit it because it will fuck up their existing blissfully simple opinions about Israel.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                That is a reasonable alternative answer. Jews are a persecuted people but admitting do makes Zionism an act of national liberation, which means they can’t really hate Israel as much as they want to.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                Not being Jewish I want to be very careful about how I phrase this, and if I’m clumsy about it I pre-emptively apologize.

                I think Lee is right with his comment re: a liberation movement. The situation in Israel/the Occupied Territories when grappled with honestly is as strong of a real world rebuttal to intersectionality/pomo identitarianism as I can think of. You have two groups of people who can legitimately claim the lower rung, Israelis because of the history of the Jewish people with the mid-20th century in particular as exhibit A, and the Palestinians because of existing facts on the ground, at least since 1967.

                The result is a nasty struggle over power, with each side radicalizing the other in perpetuity. What it ain’t is justice, social or otherwise for anyone involved, and it’s exactly the world we’d be in if everyone embraced pomo/identitarian/intersectional theories. Things would look more like the West Bank/Gaza or Lebanon or the Balkans. Accepting Jews into the hierarchy (anywhere other than on top anyway) requires dealing with that, something the ideology isn’t equipped for.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Not being Jewish I want to be very careful about how I phrase this, and if I’m clumsy about it I pre-emptively apologize.

                I appreciate you taking the effort, and I think it was entirely successful.

                That’s an extremely good point, and one I’ll need to think about for a while.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:


                I don’t think they fit the intersectional paradigm at all, and the pushback from the story that broke about the Women’s March was all the evidence I needed. Most of them aren’t being seen as Jewish women but as WHITE Jewish women.

                In the zeal of those that tried to make feminism more inclusive, they succeeded by eliminating any trace of what made feminism good and then added an anti-semitism problem it can’t solve for.

                I read my Jewish friend’s commentary when it’s on my Facebook feed and yeah, I have to say their pain infuriates me. Maybe I’m being too morally righteous for my own view but it is what it is.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                The Women’s March is not the first time feminism had a big problem with anti-semitism. In 1982 or 83, Ms. magazine had a feature about anti-semitism in the women’s movement.

                The story that many on the left wanted to tell since the mid-20th century was of a dualistic conflict between evil, capitalist white people and good oppressed people of color. It was part of the emphasis on race and gender, de-colonization, and third worldism that forms the modern Left over traditional class issues. Jews do not fit easily in this paradigm because while we definitely suffered more than our fair share of persecution, we couldn’t exactly put with the people of color for various reasons. Mainly that this meant Zionism would need to be seen as a legitimate national liberation movement and the Muslim world would not like that one bit. So the Left decided to just place Jews in the white column and ignore everything else.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      Mike, Some of her formative years were spent in an Arabic refugee camp. Those places often have levels of anti-semitism that are roughly equal to a Nazi rally.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      It’s possible to have legitimate reasons to be mad at Israel, just like it’s possible to have legitimate reasons to be mad at the Union in the American Civil War. In both cases, the illegitimate side has so thoroughly co-opted the messaging and language of the legit side that it’s extremely difficult to show how you’re separate from them. And nobody that you’ll be talking to has any interesting in listening to you.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        That exactly. I’d also make the analogy to current US policies.

        Yes, I am very critical Bibi and a lot of Likud policies and statements. I am also very critical of Trump and a lot of GOP policies and statements. In neither case should be be taken as me hating the country as a whole or wanting to see it destroyed. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, in both cases it becomes fraught with having legitimate concerns borne of love for the country confounded with those from strong antis on one hand and “anyone not 100% uncritically with us is against us” partisans on the other.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Thanks for sharing. I personally hold an identity that shouldn’t feel threatened, as I’m white, male, older, Christian, cisgendered, and heterosexual.

    So what happens is that every time he does that, it’s simply someone in my world that has the otherizing fall on them. It’s not the same as falling on me, but I still stand with them, whether it’s my trans daughter, my gay friends, my Muslim co-workers and the owners of the Mediterranean cafe where the daughter (and I presume the mother, though she doesn’t show up much) wears hijab. It’s also all the Mexican Americans in my life on a day-to-day basis.

    I stand with them. I stand with you. And you know what, everyone else is invited to stand with us, as far as I’m concerned.Report

  4. Good piece. We need to speak out against collective guilt whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. I’m the same sort of privileged fellow as Doctor Jay except for being Jewish instead of Christian, so my identity has never actually led to othering in this country. But the fear of it is never all that far away.Report

  5. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    What did Trump do now?….

    On Friday, Trump posted a tweet reading, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!” above a video of Omar’s remarks repeated along with ominous music, played over images of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames.

    Trump was replying to Omar softballing 911, and he’s highlighting that this is exactly what he’s doing.

    This doesn’t hit my radar as a call to violence, although it looks like the Dems want to treat it like that because it’s so effective. She potentially put her foot in her mouth (again) and Trump is making her eat that.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon says:

      And it rightly reminded a lot of people to dig out a video of Trump making light of 9/11 at the time it happened. I assume you’re okay with making him eat that?

      As to it being a call to violence, Omar has received numerous deaths threats. Some the usual kooks, but several credible enough to require followup and one so clear that it lead to an arrest. Pouring gasoline around a house may not be enough to charge someone with arson, but it certainly isn’t harmless.Report

    • She wasn’t softballing 9/11. She was saying that she, and Muslims in general, were not responsible for it, which is true.

      Likewise, I didn’t personally kill Jesus.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        If she wants to claim she’s not responsible then she can equivalate them to the KKK or the Nazis or whomever. She could even use the word “terrorists” if she just wants to be factual.

        “some people did something” is an effort to softball both what they did (spinning mass murder so it’s not that bad) and doing so because she doesn’t want to insult those “some people” by calling them terrorists.

        Clearly the actual problem in her worldview is the response to 911, not 911 itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thinks 911 was the United State’s fault for supporting Israel.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          “Clearly the actual problem in her worldview is the response to 911, not 911 itself.”

          Have you developed telepathy? Because if you haven’t that is one heck of a leap based on a single out-of-context statement. It says more about your worldview than hers.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter says:

            Dark Matter: “Clearly the actual problem in her worldview is the response to 911, not 911 itself.”

            bookdragon: Have you developed telepathy? Because if you haven’t that is one heck of a leap based on a single out-of-context statement. It says more about your worldview than hers.

            Her full quote is here:

            Her wiki of political positions is on line. So… what is her position on 911? Islamic terrorism? ISIS? We’ve got nothing. Given her focus on the middle East, it’d be extremely odd if she had no views on 911, ISIS, Islamic terrorism, etc. The only thing I’ve found even slightly relevant is…

            “In 2016, Omar wrote to a U.S. District Judge on behalf of a man convicted of terrorism offences, advocating “restorative justice,” rehabilitation, and leniency over a “long-term prison sentence.” (snopes).

            …dude’s crime was only trying to join ISIS (well, and helping others do so). So totally forgivable, understandable, and a perfect opportunity for “restorative justice” and the like.

            And that’s 3 years ago when ISIS was stronger than they are now.Report

      • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

        Likewise, I didn’t personally kill Jesus.

        Before we can believe that, we’re going to have to require that you denounce the ones that did. /sReport

  6. Avatar North says:

    Despite his incompetence and idiocy Bush junior got one thing laudably right which was his emphatic insistence that Muslims in America were not responsible for what their revanchist deranged coreligionists did on 9/11. No surprise that Trump lacks similar decency.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Ilhan Omar represents much more than the 5th district of Minnesota.

    Indeed, I think the weight of all else that she represents now rather dwarfs the weight of her representation of the district. This is the key fact that should be kept to mind consistently in all of this in my opinion.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “I along with many others will watch to see which members of the Republican Party follow suit and condemn the President for endangering the life of an elected official.”

    I…I really think we need to unpack this here. I know, Will, I know, I know, but…we’re really not supposed to push back on this idea at all? At ALL? We’re supposed to unquestioningly accept this analysis: “Trump said something, AND WE ALL KNOW Trump hates ‘Those People’, AND WE ALL KNOW Trump thinks people he hates should die, so IT’S OBVIOUS that his responding to Rep. Omar’s statement IN ANY WAY is a direct threat by him of violent retaliation.”

    Like…if you honestly believe that the President of the United States has a direct and deadly personal beef with a sitting Congressional Representative and wants that person to be killed right now then you need to not be Tweeting about it, you need to grab the cat and buy gold bars and head for Canada with the pedal to the floor.

    It is absolutely the case that there’s an entire speech around that one line, which provides important context, and it’s inappropriate to strip away that context for the purpose of a gotcha moment. (Would that the courtesy were extended both ways!) But it’s equally wrong to manufacture a context solely to create a panic. That is, in fact, exactly what the Representative was on about.Report

    • Avatar pillsy says:

      Except we do know Trump hates those people (or at least has made many statements to that effect even if he’s just bullshitting) and thinks those people should be murdered (or at least has made statements to that effect even if he’s just bullshitting) and is willing to incite his followers to at least non-lethal violence (or has made statements et c.)

      The problem is that Trump is so catastrophically full of shit that it’s easy to dismiss what he says and easy in part because it’s so often true that he’s just throwing shit out there because he wants to get a rise out of a crowd or because his brain is made of cottage cheese or if he’s just being his cruel bullying self and making people he detests anxious and upset for fun or if he actually means it.

      I’m hesitant these days to ascribe the term “gaslighting” to political rhetoric for a number of reasons, but this looks a lot like gaslighting.

      (I can dig up cites for the things he’s said if you like. I suspect some will end up being contentious if I do.)Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “at least has made statements to that effect even if he’s just bullshitting”

        If we’re dealing with unambiguous exhortation to murder a sitting member of Congress–which is, remember, what we’re told is happening here–then we kinda need more than “made statements to that effect”.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          Again, pouring gasoline around a house may not be enough to charge someone with arson, but it certainly isn’t harmless.Report

        • Avatar pillsy says:

          Here I absolutely disagree.

          If we’re talking some dickhead on Twitter with 72 followers, or for that matter some dickhead on Fox News with 3 million viewers, sure, we can argue back and forth.

          But he is not. He is the Commander and Chief of arguably the most powerful military in the world. He directs a very sizable law enforcement apparatus, and has demonstrated a shocking disregard for human rights in his past directives.[1] He is the de facto leader of a millions-strong conservative movement, which has a small-but-not-small-enough subculture of paranoid gun-toting weirdos. Oh, and he’s already been claimed as an inspirational figure by a Nazi who slaughtered 50 Muslims in their houses of worship.

          He deserves to be held to a much higher standard than probably anybody in the country because of the vast powers of his office.

          If he wants to go back to being able to talk shit like a C-List celebrity Twitter troll, he should resign.

          If the GOP wants to be free of the taint associated with his incredibly reckless, hateful rhetoric, they need to nominate someone else in 2020, or better yet, support efforts to impeach him now.

          [1] Even by the standards of federal law enforcement and past US Presidents, neither of which have very inspiring records.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        It is a call to stochastic terrorism.

        And it’s irrelevant whether it was a casual offhand remark or something well thought out.
        At some point recklessness and indifference to consequences becomes indistinguishable from intent.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Haw. I’ll see your death threats and raise you Congress members actually being shot.

        So, y’know, if you want to claim that vaguely-critical tweets are a call for “stochastic terrorism” then there’s a whole lot of people who should be going to jail now, and a whole lot more who should be there already.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Although I remember very similar conversations about Sarah Palin printing a campaign map with crosshairs on it, and how this obviously definitely totally inspired some nutbar to shoot Gabby Giffords in the head and she should be guilty of Transitive Attempted Murder. (Of course, a few years later, bullseyes on a map of political opponents were OK because reasonsReport

        • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

          I don’t ever recall cheering for Scalise’s shooting. I do think we should take someone who calls a congressman’s office with threats of death at his word.

          This is not a tit for tat game.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “this is not a tit for tat game”

            Your claim is that this situation is something totally new and different, something that we definitely should not expect, something that forebodes a nightmarish new reality in Trump’s Imperial White Cishet Christian America, and it’s worth pointing out that this is not the case.

            Even if you spin “Never Forget” into a call for violent murder–itself a feat requiring a great deal of slippery-slope reasoning–it’s not a new thing to suggest that outspoken members of the government will experience threats from crazy people, and that extremist rhetoric from those members’ political opponents can be seen as encouragement by those crazy people.Report

            • Avatar pillsy says:

              Would you say a promise to murder the families of Muslim terrorists is a call for violent murder?

              How about praise for (imaginary) war crimes allegedly perpetrated against Muslims in the past?Report

            • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

              Even if you spin “Never Forget” …

              I haven’t forgotten, and I suspect neither has Ilhan Omar.

              What lies at the heart of this post is this statement:

              …but the popular GOP interpretation would cast her as sympathizing more with horrific terrorists than her fellow Americans. The onslaught of intentional fear-mongering against her is underpinned by a history of the GOP’s anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiment, and will only lead to an increase to the high danger to her life and the lives of American Muslims.

              I’m 55 years old, and I can’t recall any prior president, including Nixon, who used the platform the office provides to spew the kind of invective Trump tweets out daily. Is he a danger to democracy? Who knows? I suspect we’ll move past this nitwit. What worries me is that this Archie Bunkeresque presidency has made it acceptable for rhetoric like this to come from the people who sit in the chairs of power in Washington. The words of Niemöller often come to mind, and it make me wonder if I’m doing enough.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “What worries me is that this Archie Bunkeresque presidency has made it acceptable for rhetoric like this to come from the people who sit in the chairs of power in Washington.”

                Ain’t disagreein’, but it ain’t what I’m discussin’, hoss.

                Let’s get back to the thing that is Definitely A Call For Ilhan Omar To Be Killed Right Now. At this point we’re bringing in vague accusations of bad behavior elsewhere, statements that aren’t relative to the question, and “well when you get down to it what IS truth, really?” Which, see below re: soccer moms and black men in places the soccer moms would prefer they not be.Report

  9. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    I would think intercutting footage of planes flying into the World Trade Center buildings with pictures of Ilhan Omar rises to the level of “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      There’s an entire Fighting Words doctrine that you need to get past before you can get there, friend.

      “Oh but he’s the PRESIDENT, he should be more CAREFUL” see above re: maps with bullseyes on them. “your rhetoric is dangerous” is an idea that you really don’t want to normalize because it’ll shut down so much more shit than you want to right in this moment. Trans rights are dangerous rhetoric, black lives are dangerous rhetoric, discussing whether people ought to impeach the President is dangerous rhetoric. So many things will turn out to be dangerous rhetoric.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        “There’s an entire Fighting Words doctrine that you need to get past”


        Is someone on trial in a court of law, that we need to be so scrupulous about the rights of the accused and presumption of innocence?

        Why not weigh the man’s character, in the context of his history?

        Again, this is a public servant, someone who is asking for our judgement of his character as being fit for another term.
        Why should we suspend our wisdom and judgement?Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “Is someone on trial in a court of law, that we need to be so scrupulous about the rights of the accused and presumption of innocence?”

          Haw. So when someone feels threatened by a Muslim doing algebra on a plane they’re stupid and wrong and we really should get all the facts before deciding and not just go by knee-jerk impressions, but when Donald Trump tweets “never forget” we can go right to “Ilhan Omar’s life is in immediate danger because of this statement”.

          Remember when facts didn’t care about your feelings?

          “Why should we suspend our wisdom and judgement?”

          …says the soccer mom calling the cops on a black man who’s standing kinda too close to her Lexus and maybe looking at her with a shifty sorta look.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            If the soccer mom wants to pass judgement on a black man, go right ahead and do so.

            No one is calling the cops on Donald Trump.

            As engaged citizens of a democracy, we have not just the right but a civic duty to evaluate his character and fitness by whatever criteria we deem appropriate.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “If the soccer mom wants to pass judgement on a black man, go right ahead and do so.”

              I can say, with complete honesty, that this was not at all where I expected you to go.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            Why do you think literally any aspect of this analogy applies?Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter says:

          Why not weigh the man’s character, in the context of his history?

          Because then we’re into “because Trump” territory and whether or not he actually did anything doesn’t matter.

          As far as I can tell, he wasn’t over the line here. Omar tried to spin 911 into something that wasn’t very important and Trump is calling her out on that. He’s not even going as far as putting her face in a targeting scope.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            Doesn’t he want us to judge him by his entire character and history?Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter says:

              Chip: Doesn’t he want us to judge him by his entire character and history?

              Yes, he does. He wants fact free allegations based on his personality, the more outrageous the better. He’d never be able to defend himself against a reasonable argument or evaluation so he makes sure the argument is as unreasonable as possible.

              So this time he gets accused of inciting murder for doing less than ordinary politicians have done to each other since forever.

              And Trump looks like the sane one in the room to everyone who doesn’t think “because Trump” is a reason.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One dynamic that I do find somewhat odd is that the tools that were so useful to dissect and investigate the claims of Christianity never really got used against Islam.

    Islam has a number of interesting theological claims.

    Even something as simple as something analogous to “goodness doesn’t consist of doing something for a reward, yet heaven is dangled in front of Christians who, presumably, wouldn’t be good without it!” tends to just not show up.

    Well, maybe that’s not true… a handful of right wingers periodically comes out and says “holy cow! Have you actually read what is *IN* the Koran?” and then gets shouted down for not reading it in the original Arabic, for taking verses out of context, and racism in general.

    I suppose it’s just easier and safer to argue about Israel…Report

    • Avatar pillsy says:

      One dynamic that I do find somewhat odd is that the tools that were so useful to dissect and investigate the claims of Christianity never really got used against Islam.

      Useful to whom? And to what end?

      Non-rhetorical questions. But I think addressing them seems like the kind of thing that might help sort out the question.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Useful to the atheists who dealt with Christianity. (This didn’t happen *THAT* long ago…) To what end? To pursue Truth.

        Oh, and dismantle hypocritical power structures.

        And other various “online Atheism” kinda things.Report

        • Avatar pillsy says:

          Some of those online (and aligned) Atheist types did go that way. Dawkins does sometimes, Hitchens did quite a bit before he died [1], and Harris still talks about it sometimes.

          So why didn’t a lot of other online Atheists go with them? I’m not sure. For me I was kind of bored with that train long before it got to that point. Religion went to being a load of silly bollocks to something kind of fascinating and, I dunno, aesthetically pleasing from a few removes? Like a lot of it looks kind of neat even if I have no interest in trying it myself.

          But I think for other people Islam just doesn’t present an imposing power structure that they recognize as a threat. These people don’t live in Islamic countries because, um, well atheists don’t have a great time there, but I don’t know if anybody is really good at that kind of consistency.[2]

          And in places where a lot of us are, politically activist Muslims are part of our coalition, and (importantly) generally support the socially liberal policies we like no matter what you might think they “should” do according to their faith.

          So that, I think, is a big part of why in the US. Not the only part, but a big part.

          In other places the answer differs.

          [1] And it overlapped with his idiosyncratic strain of contrarian Leftist neo-conservatism.

          [2] Another reason why so many arguments about Israel turn into marathon recursive exercises in whataboutism.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I know that I got into a conversation here where I opened with “according to my reading of the sacred texts” and moderation shut the conversation down PDQ.

            It seems to be a technique that is appropriate only against Christians, not against people of other religions.

            Which is very interesting.Report

            • Avatar pillsy says:

              I agree that it may be interesting, but I do not think it’s terribly surprising, or for that matter even entirely inappropriate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We can discuss Christian theology, but not Jewish theology or Islamic theology?

                This is alien to me.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I suspect that in this example Christianity represents the religion of privilege, so it’s fair game to critique it.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                More or less.

                And it’s really a question of why you’re discussing it: because of threat ambiguity.

                Here in the US Christianity has a lot of political valence that means there are essentially theological justifications for public policy. I doubt any of the three of us like it that much [1], but it means that people have a lot more investment and less suspicious reasons for doing it.

                I think Christianity is waning somewhat in political importance in the US. As this continues apace I think it will be less and less worth picking it apart.

                But I don’t know if the culture will follow along.

                [1] It wouldn’t surprise me if it bugs me less than either of you, FTM.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Ah, so motives for discussing theology need to be established before theology should be discussed.

                Is there a form that needs to be filled out?Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:


                Well, if you don’t establish them beforehand, people may infer them (likely erroneously) and said inferences may lead them to make negative (and likely unfair) judgements about your character.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I am fine with them inferring them erroneously if they are willing to read the same verses.

                If I can say “What does it say in Al-Baqarah?” and then talk about the verses, I don’t care if people think that I am bad.

                It’s when I am told “you’re not allowed to discuss what it says in Al-Baqarah” that I find myself wondering what in the hell is going on.

                We had an Enlightenment for a reason. We should be able to read holy texts and discuss them. And if someone else says “well, I think people who discuss holy texts are bad”, then… I’m not even sure why I’m supposed to see that as relevant.

                People might think bad things about me if I read the Koran and actually discuss what it says?

                I can see how that might be my *PROBLEM*…

                Maybe it’s a Gen X thing. I see doing stuff like “reading texts and discussing them” as a thing that is good in and of itself.

                If people have stopped being trained to do the same, then it’s part of my problem to get them back to a place where they see doing such a thing as possible.

                And the best way to do that is to do it.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:


                It’s when I am told “you’re not allowed to discuss what it says in Al-Baqarah” that I find myself wondering what in the hell is going on.

                Being able to freely criticize someone’s religious texts is a high trust activity and for a variety of reasons that trust isn’t there.

                I’m not saying that’s not an interesting state of affairs. I am saying until the state of affairs changes you are unlikely to have a ton of success getting people to read along with you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What’s weird is that criticism of Christianity is *NOT* a high-trust activity.

                I think it’s because of the demands for Intellectual Honesty. The *HIGHER* principle is to Truth.

                But it stops at the water’s edge?

                At the very least, that sort of thing should be pointed out vigorously.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:


                What’s weird is that criticism of Christianity is *NOT* a high-trust activity.

                It kind of is, but people are more trusting of critics of Christianity.

                It’s the threat ambiguity thing. Here in the US criticism of Christianity is much less likely to be a prelude to persecution and violence, and much more likely to be benign debate, part of a peaceful intramural political dispute, or justifiable resistance to Christian theology being used as an underpinning for unjust laws.

                If someone starts criticizing Jewish theology, the prior probabilities shift a lot. And I have absolutely zero investment in the theological content of Judaism. I’m an atheist! I’m still a bit salty that my parents made me go through a bar mitzvah!

                Is this fair to the various well-meaning people who just want to follow the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual curiosity wherever it takes them?


                Is that unfairness terribly high on my list of concerns?

                Also no.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Open Inquiry ends at the water’s edge.

                What Could Possibly Go Wrong?Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                A lot less than the alternative.

                If you want to change the status quo, or for that matter just get yourself to a point where you can freely debate Jewish theology without freaking people out so badly that it shuts down conversation, I can suggest numerous courses of action.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is a paragraph that covers ground like “I read the following in Genesis and then something else in Exodus. As someone raised in an evangelical household, I was told that this was literally true and that the following things follow from that.” really something that would freak people out?

                If so, I’ve gotta say that I cannot understand why the problem is mine.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                No, but it would probably mystify them, and because the comment seems so weird and beside the point, they would start wondering why someone who has no idea what they’re talking about is criticizing Judaism.

                And then they’d remember why people who have no idea what they’re talking about are often trying to get up to.

                Then maybe they would start to freak out a bit. And if you want to discuss the matter with them, the fact that they’re freaking out a bit really is your problem.

                So step one: do your freaking homework.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Do your freaking homework.”

                “Like reading the Holy Book?”Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                No, not like reading the Holy Book. Jews aren’t Fundamentalist Protestants. You aren’t going to figure out Judaism just by reading the Tanakh.

                If you go in using the fundamentalism you grew up with as a guide, you will come off as a Christian trying to convert them. American Jews tend to find this extremely off-putting, IME, both because Christians trying to convert us has a long historical tendency of going extremely badly for us, and also because many of us have horror stories of broken friendships, or at least very, very awkward and unpleasant conversations caused because a Christian just could not understand why we can’t get the whole Jesus thing.

                You said this else thread:

                Well, I think that the realization that Judaism is approximately as accurate as Christianity would benefit Religious Jews.

                You want to convince them that their religion is wrong. Why do you think that you could possibly do this without knowing anything about it beyond, maybe, that Jewish scripture overlaps with Christian scripture?

                Do. Your. Freaking. Homework.

                It will take a while. You’ll have to read books and stuff. Maybe talk to Jews about their religion without just trying to poke holes in it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I wouldn’t say that it’s wrong.

                I mean, Christianity isn’t *WRONG*.

                Unless we’re talking about stuff like the Existence of God and our relationship to Him.

                As for the whole “do your homework” thing, if you can’t get a grasp of the basics by reading the foundational texts, you’re suddenly in a weird place.

                It reminds me of arguing with Marxists back in the 90’s. Read another book, read another book, read another book.

                One pattern I noticed? People were allowed to debate if they agreed and it didn’t matter how much homework they had done.

                Homework was a requirement for people who disagreed, but not people who agreed.


              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Funny, I tend to get *more* homework when I agree with a rabbi, not less. 😉Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you’ve got a reading list, I’d love to receive it.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I have really long one actually. It depends on the topic, but it is skewed toward more liberal (religiously, as opposed to Orthodox) Judaism.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Apparently, I need to start with what I’d need to know for a bar mitzvah.

                So that.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                LOL. Then start with learning Hebrew and the prayers. (this prayerbook is similar to the one our synagogue uses. In some ways, I think seeing books of the prayers and services a faith uses says more about what followers actually believe, or at least what they emphasize most from their scriptures.

                (Note this is just for one regular morning service. The whole prayerbook is more extensive and covers all the holidays too).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Can we bring up Wittgensteinian interlingual and intersemiotic translation issues and skip the language learning?

                And, if not, why not?Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Lol. Honestly, I’m an engineer, not a linguist or theologian so I couldn’t speak to those.

                The best I can do is go with my gut response is quote the old Czech proverb: “Learn a new language, get a new soul.”Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                “f you can’t get a grasp of the basics by reading the foundational texts, you’re suddenly in a weird place.”

                Just a general note that
                1) This is fundamental to a part of the Christian evangelical worldview that you grew up with and still have – like I’ve heard this particular statement many times from Christian evangelicals and those raised in that faith tradition, but almost never from other people (including scholars of religion).
                2) this is the number one annoying thing that makes me not want to talk to you about religion on a personal basis, because you expect everything to work the way you grew up expecting things to work, or they might as well be marxism. It’s a false binary.
                3) what bookdragon said.

                (But to the rest of you, Jay’s read more than a few books, about Judaism as about many other religions. That ain’t, as far as I can tell, the thing that makes him frame things this way.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’d love to know what it takes to get a grasp on “the basics”, then.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:


                To get a grasp on the basics of any religion, one requires:

                Empathy, curiosity, and a wide reading of both classics and non-classics from different time periods in history, coupled with modern fiction and non-fiction works. Chosen as one unfolds one’s own curiosity about the religion, but also on the advice of the books themselves. Coupled with a fair amount, in this day and age, of being willing to sit back and watch scholars or deep practitioners of the religion argue and work things out (both successfully and not) among themselves while *resisting the urge* to jump in and defend a point of view or probe and Socratize them.

                In my experience anyway.

                And yeah, that might be a lot for “the basics”.

                But religions, especially if they’re older than a couple generations, are fucking complicated.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                PS It can help, but is not in my experience necessary and may be somewhat obnoxious to demand or appropriate (like, I haven’t and won’t do this with Mormons), to attend some sort of service and give oneself over to the participatory role of the lowest-placed (if that even makes sense, if there is a hierarchy at all) people taking part in the rituals.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                That’s a really good suggestion, btw. Just go and, for want of a better word, lurk. Sit in the back and watch and listen. Attend a Torah study and do the same. If you’re worried about feeling too awkward or obviously an outsider, talk to the rabbi or cantor ahead of time to get an idea of what to expect. One of the great things about Judaism is that no one will try to convert you.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                …if you can’t get a grasp of the basics by reading the foundational texts, you’re suddenly in a weird place.

                The big books are tons and tons of… call it dream analysis. Maybe it means what it says. Maybe it means the opposite of what it says and we’re supposed to figure it out. Lots of it is ambiguous or self conflicting or conflicts with other stuff.

                They’ve survived by being flexible enough to be read as though they totally endorse whatever it needs to endorse. If you want to endorse violence then we have Jesus with the money tellers, if you want to endorse non-violence then there’s turing the other cheek, if you want to endorse slavery then there are verses for that, ditto anti-slavery, ditto making money, ditto money is evil.

                If they’re flexible enough to be read as endorsing totally opposite concepts or ethics, then yes, we’re in a weird place.

                Various traditions which pick and choose whatever out of the books. It’s like how DNA can be used to create a killer shark or a rabbit even though they’re both using the same alphabet.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                This point of view is one that makes sense to me.

                Because it has foundational assumptions similar to my own.

                But the texts are the texts and while anyone who has discussed Constitutional Thought is familiar with those able to say “oh, it doesn’t mean *THAT*” when it comes to pretty much anything doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the text and see what it says ourselves.

                Nor that we are forbidden from looking at the years of stare decisis and seeing where the occasional dreadful mistake has been made (in perfect context with the time it was made, of course).Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Oh, we can read the great texts for ourselves… but there’s not much point.

                The first problem is the text is vague, confusing, contradictory, and takes all sides of all issues. There’re also allegories, parables, dream sequences and fairy tales. The second problem is the first problem doesn’t matter. That’s not the context in which believers engage with their books.

                Even the people who claim to take it literally can’t possibly take it literally.

                None of these beliefs can stand up to scrutiny by modern standards. That’s why they’re called “beliefs”. If they could stand up to scrutiny then it’d be science and they wouldn’t need belief.

                None of which prevents Christianity/Islam/Judaism from having power and real world effects. They shape culture, feed the poor, swing elections, and have wars.

                Most importantly, they also establish identity. Trying to convince someone their religion is factually wrong is like trying convince a trans person they’d be better off it they switched back (or if you prefer, arguing against someone’s long established marriage). You can lay down all the charts and graphs you want to prove you’re right and it’s still not going to go good places.

                On a side note this is why our politics are often pretty nasty, the two big parties are mostly about identity. Israel’s big issues are wrapped up in that too.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                @Dark Matter:

                The first problem is the text is vague, confusing, contradictory, and takes all sides of all issues. There’re also allegories, parables, dream sequences and fairy tales. The second problem is the first problem doesn’t matter. That’s not the context in which believers engage with their books.

                Yeah. Jewish scripture is a collection of different texts, written by different authors, across centuries, and belonging to wildly different genres. Some of this is out there in the open, and some is something we’ve come to understand due to more recent scholarship.

                Then the Christian Bible comes along and includes the Tanakh as a subset (more or less) and adds another big collection of texts, by even more authors, in even more genres.

                The texts themselves don’t really clearly tell you much about how you’re supposed to use them.

                So you have to rely on other knowledge (or tradition, or convention, or whatever) to find out.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                but there’s not much point.

                This is *NUTS*.

                The first problem is the text is vague, confusing, contradictory, and takes all sides of all issues. There’re also allegories, parables, dream sequences and fairy tales. The second problem is the first problem doesn’t matter. That’s not the context in which believers engage with their books.

                The point isn’t to become a believer. The point is to understand the texts.

                Seriously, these are books that have been read for hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

                There’s got to be a reason they’re so memetically robust.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I recall a speaker, a prof who’d written books on various aspects of the bible, say he found all the contradictions much easier to reconcile after he became a father.

                Why? Because his kids were so different. One was super Type A and so he was always trying to tell her to slow down, enjoy life, smell the roses…. The other was kind of a slacker and needed constant prodding to do homework, study, do chores, etc. He said that if someone wrote down all the things he had to tell them to do or not do, the advice the he gave each one separately, and all of that was collected together in one big volume with no distinction made between child was being addressed, anyone reading it years and years alter with no specific knowledge of his family would think he was schizophrenic.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                That’s a good take.

                The “Inerrancy” debate is one that I participated in as a kid and the argument for it, such as it was, is the whole “nose of the camel” thing.

                If there’s an error here, the argument went, then maybe there’s an error for the Resurrection. If there’s an error with the Resurrection, then Christianity is fake. If Christianity is fake, then… well, read these verses from Paul for what it means if Christianity is fake.


                The only people who believe inerrancy is important are fundies and former fundies trying to discredit the current fundies.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I think it has less to do with Truth than with the way Christianity has been used as the basis for arguing for certain laws and policies in the public sphere. If there were a powerful contingent of fundamentalist Muslims pushing public policy based on their interpretation of the Quran, criticism would become a thing requiring much less trust PDQ.

                But on the high-trust angle, I’ve seen any number of people insist they can expound on ‘what Jews really believe’ based on selective quotes from the Talmud. This frankly gets pretty tiresome, if not down right offensive, so there is a natural tendency to hear someone from outside Judaism start in with that and immediately want to tell them to back off. That is probably multiplied x10 for Muslims in the US lately.

                If the high-trust requirement seems absent for Christianity, I suspect that’s the result of having a gazillion or so denominations of Christianity and the fact that the vast majority in the US and the WEST in general have at least some Christian background, so there are a *lot* of people who qualify at least nominally as insiders when it comes to discussing/criticizing Christian interpretations of scripture.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But Christianity also argues for a certain set of Moral Theories and I’ve not only seen criticism of Christianity as legal theory but also of *MORAL* theory.

                It’s not like there aren’t countries that have Official State Religions of Judaism or Islam. Are we not allowed to criticize those governments now?

                This strikes me as stacking the deck, and obviously so.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Well, half my family is Christian, and from enough different denoms that if you shook my family tree various pastors who fall out and immediately start fighting, and it would probably be over interpretations of what is/isn’t sinful. However, I’m not entirely sure what Moral Theories you’re referring as being a basis for criticism. Can you give ma an example?

                On the other point, I think we are allowed to criticize those govts. I know a lot of Jews who criticize Israel based on things that violate their *moral* understanding of Judaism. Ilhan Omar criticizes Saudia Arabia on the same basis wrt Islam. And in general, anyone who has a working knowledge of the moral claims of a faith can certainly call a country claiming to be a [fill in religion] country of violating the norms of [claimed religion]. That strikes me as entirely in bounds.

                What seems out of bounds, is lifting a few verses from a holy book and, without any further study as to how those are viewed by actual followers of the faith, making statements about what that faith *must* stand for or require.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                However, I’m not entirely sure what Moral Theories you’re referring as being a basis for criticism. Can you give ma an example?

                Stuff as simple as “how ought we treat each other?” and “what is the meaning of life?” and “what is our relationship to the deity?” and other 101 questions are good jumping off points.

                What seems out of bounds, is lifting a few verses from a holy book and, without any further study as to how those are viewed by actual followers of the faith, making statements about what that faith *must* stand for or require.

                Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people of faith *MUST* believe this or that based on the book.

                There are a handful of things that strike me as being essential to Christianity. Like, if you don’t believe that Jesus was resurrected, you’re not a Christian in the religious sense of the term. (Maybe you can be a Christian in the *CULTURAL* sense of the term… Hitchens has a decent line about this. Phillip Pullman has a downright poetic one… but if we’re talking about theology, we’re not talking about culture… are we? Maybe that’s the problem. Without a deity, religions are nothing more than culture and it’s only okay to criticize cultures if you’re from them or if they’re powerful, according to the new Theology. Maybe we should, instead, debate the new Theology… though I wouldn’t be surprised if that were EVEN MORE forbidden.)Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Hmm. I’d tend to think of relationship to the deity and meaning of life as a theological rather than moral questions, so I’ll leave those be. On ‘how ought we treat each other?’ I can’t recall seeing Christianity criticized on moral theory except in terms of pointing out all many times and places where it has fallen very short of following the Golden Rule (which is shared by a number of other faiths, who often deserve the same criticism). Is there a different Christian moral theory on how to treat each other that I’m not aware of?

                I’m not talking about culture. In terms of criticizing a faith though, you ought to have an idea of what its followers actually believe rather than a basket full of assumptions based just reading a holy text. Or if not, then questions on it should be couched somewhat carefully in terms of “I’m try to understand X, and if I understand this passage in Y, it would imply Z, or am I missing something?” Because reaction will vary a lot depending on whether you come across as actually wanting to understand/discuss vs asking questions just as an overture to attack/tear down.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, Christians have *TONS* of moral theories on how to treat each other. How much time do you have?

                As for The Golden Rule, I, personally, find it easier to deal with The Silver Rule as a general guideline (and that particular phrasing is found in a lot more faiths than share the Golden one… including, from what I understand, Judaism (e.g., Hillel’s famous “one foot” story)).

                “What it’s followers actually believe”

                This is where an old Christian sermon (the one on the Mount) comes in handy, I think. Something about knowing the type of tree you’ve got by the fruit it provides.

                If we want to get into well, people can believe things but it doesn’t mean that certain actions necessarily follow from those beliefs… well, we’re in another weird place.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others.” Yes, that phrasing always made more sense to me.

                I have read the NT, so I know “I will show you my faith *by* my works.” That also makes sense to me, though if I understand the ‘faith alone’ and/or ‘grace alone’ camp, works don’t really count? And then there’s the whole predestination and double-d@mned predestination that the Scottish Presbyterian branch of my family bought into….

                But, I admit to being unaware of Christian moral theories on how to treat people that depart in significant degree from the Gold or Silver Rule.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I admit to being unaware of Christian moral theories on how to treat people that depart in significant degree from the Gold or Silver Rule.

                As far as I can tell, it involves going meta and doing what the speaker was inclined to do anyway and using “if I were in your situation, I would want someone to correct my wrongness!” and going from there.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Ah. So it’s like the mental gymnastics I’ve seen from some Jewish sources that insist on translating ‘stranger’ as ‘convert’ (despite the weirdness of that turning other lines into “for you were *converts* in the land of Egypt”) so that they don’t have to “welcome the stranger” or worry about the command not have different standards for how one treats strangersReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Pretty much.

                But my foundational assumption is that there isn’t a deity and so, therefore, I would make that assumption.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                ” but if we’re talking about theology, we’re not talking about culture… are we? ”

                “Without a deity, religions are nothing more than culture ”

                Again, statements like these derive fairly directly (not saying that’s where you got them, but in terms of historical context) from certain strains of Protestant theology (eg Barth) and it’s not at all a given for other faiths.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’d love to see the takes of other faiths on the proposition.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I’m not sure, but if I understand correctly, some Eastern religions don’t have a deity in the sense that Abrahamic religions think of that term. That is, the divine is not something you can have a personal relationship with, and is not analogous to a person or even consciousness, in some. But I am not nearly familiar enough with those faiths so say for sure.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @jaybird then you *should go find them*. or sit down with your wife sometime when she’s not at work and let her build you a reading list that she couldn’t even properly start on right now. But it works better to seek them out and find them yourself, IME.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Jaybird:…the demands for Intellectual Honesty. The *HIGHER* principle is to Truth.

                No. The days when Religion could claim to be a search for truth are long past. Modern Religion is the search for meaning. The answer needs to be “fulfilling”, arguably it also needs to serve the interests of society.

                The concept of truth-through-experimentation or truth-anchored-to-mother-nature is a VERY recent invention by religious standards. The scientific revolution didn’t even start until the 16th century, long after those religions were founded.

                Science separated Truth from Meaning just as Chemistry was separated from Alchemy.

                That said, there’s a lot of pressure/desire from the religious to claim their beliefs are “true”, i.e. “backed up by science”. Religion wants to claim everything that is good which is happening and disclaim everything which is bad just (exactly) like politicians want to do so.

                Jaybird: It’s when I am told “you’re not allowed to discuss what it says in Al-Baqarah” that I find myself wondering what in the hell is going on.

                These books are not factual and shouldn’t be viewed as factual. They’re cultural and their purpose is to support, uplift, and create a culture. Having gatekeepers of knowledge to “help” interpret scripture is somewhere between “by design” and “necessary”.

                There are “traditions” in terms of how to translate various aspects of the books and what you’re supposed to ignore or understand. A raw newbie with no education in what to do here could get very confused.

                So for example we’re supposed to pretend the Bible doesn’t talk about the Earth being flat, or support slavery, or have conflicting descriptions/instructions on various important cultural/factual matters.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Fun side note: I ‘came out’ as non-Christian to my brother this week, because he asked me directly when I was lukewarm on Easter brunch. In the process of doing so I said something along the lines of, “Knowing what I know about church history and the theology of the early Church, I just can’t accept the divinity of Jesus.” He then proceeded to tell me that I was being condescending by implying that he was a dummy for not coming to the same conclusion. So yeah, Christianity definitely has a lot of power…

                With that said, I still think what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we can blast Christians, we should be able to blast everyone else.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                @Mike Dwyer:

                If we can blast Christians, we should be able to blast everyone else.

                Personally I’d rather live in a world where we refrain from blasting Christians as well.

                But being able to be just as critical of other religions as we are as Christianity? I agree that would be much better, and fairer, than what we have now.

                I just think that there’s too much ugly past and present for that kind of fairness to be the chief consideration. It draws a lot more suspicion for pretty understandable reasons.

                (Like seriously a lot of anti-semitism draws on “criticism” of Jewish religious beliefs intended to prove Jews hate gentiles and want to enslave them all. Ugly stuff.)Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                But are we criticizing the theology or the faithful? Are we criticizing factual actions or conspiracy theories?It seems like the critique is fair if it’s kept on the right topic.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:


                Well when you get right down to it, a lot of faithful people (like your brother, FTM) tend to see an attack on their faith as an attack on them. People who are already under attack (or believe that they are) are less likely to be welcoming of such conversations as a matter of course.

                In practice, this means that even fair critiques likely to be discouraged, ignored, and chilled.

                I believe that everybody should be able to get essential healthcare without risking bankruptcy. But there are a lot of problems to solve before we’re there, and my belief isn’t going to do the guy without insurance a while lot of good when he’s wheeled into the ER.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Sam Harris stands by his application of the acid tin Islam, and still does it.

            He is widely reviled as a racist.

            That is why.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      No, I think its a great idea if the Chinese Buddhists and atheists were to investigate the claims and practices of Christians, in deciding whether to allow this potentially violent sect to operate in their country.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon says:

      Have you read a lot of sources from Muslim majority countries, or even countries with significant Muslim populations to be able to say this for sure? I’m asking honestly. I haven’t and so couldn’t say for sure.

      Since Islam hasn’t been the major driver the Christianity has in the West, it doesn’t really surprise me that Christianity has been subjected to those analyses and other faiths haven’t. For instance, I rarely see Judaism dissected for theological claims independent of Christianity, except within Jewish circles where more liberal movements are critiquing Orthodox stances/interpretations. So it wouldn’t surprise me if within Islamic circles more liberal Muslims or atheists from Muslim backgrounds were doing the same to more traditional or fundamentalist strains of Islam (case in point: Omar wears a head covering but supports LGBTQ+, which one wouldn’t expect based on strict interpretation of the Quran). But such discussions might be flying way under our radar.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I admit: my main experience with the tools of Internet Atheism being used against Islam is mostly limited to Salman Rushdie’s comic novel “The Satanic Verses”.

        The problem with the book is that it’s impossible to read outside of the context of it being An Important Novel. That said, the novel itself got unfairly compared to The Last Temptation of Christ.

        It should have been compared to The Life of Brian.

        We all know how the criticism of that particular slice of cultural criticism went.

        (I also know about the Documentary “A Jihad For Love” that does very well in US Universities and got the filmmaker labeled “Apostate” in the country that houses both Mecca and Medina.)

        We kinda tried to discuss theology here and here… And, in both, you’ll see comments saying that we shouldn’t be discussing the theology of others.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          Thanks. I asked because I get the sense from my kids (both raised in Reform Judaism) that the Muslim kids they know (a population here with new immigrants and 3rd, 4th, or more generations in the US) have a range of views and interpretations. Maybe this is a uniquely American thing, (certainly there are pressures against it existing openly in places like Saudi Arabia) but maybe it’s just not on covered much by media in our Judeo-Christian dominated market.

          Anyway, thanks for the links. Interesting discussion reading for later.Report

    • The same way that “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven”, read in context, means “invest in index funds”.Report

  11. Avatar pillsy says:


    I wouldn’t say that it’s wrong.

    Then what are you trying to convince them of?

    I have no idea.

    And I’m not trying to say, “Oh, you have a nefarious motive that I’m trying to ferret out!” No, I’m certain you don’t. But if you actually are interested in going about this conversation with religious Jews, well, you’re probably going to need a goal in mind if you’re actually trying to convince them of something.

    If you are interested in just learning more about Judaism, well, see above re: homework.

    One pattern I noticed? People were allowed to debate if they agreed and it didn’t matter how much homework they had done.

    That may apply to Marxism, but Marxism doesn’t advertise itself as a religion, despite what some of its more trenchant critics say.

    Judaism is a religion. It’s not merely a “religion” in secular clothing.

    And in Judaism, if you did agree (at least enough so that you actually wanted to join up) you would have to do so much homework. Like, at least as much homework as I was supposed to do [1] studying for my bar mitzvah. It’s not a proselytizing religion. Jews aren’t looking for converts, and don’t really streamline the process for them based on the idea that if they just get the very basics we can teach them the rest of what they need later on. If they end up not converting it’s fine for everyone involved. It’s not like we think they’re gonna end up in Hell.

    [1] “Supposed to do” because I hated it and avoided most of it. I’m afraid if you’re looking for a friendly Jew to talk about this stuff to answer your questions I’m probably not your huckleberry.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Then what are you trying to convince them of?

      I’m not trying to convince them of anything. I am interested in whether the beliefs can stand up to scrutiny. Truth is a funny thing. It can withstand interrogation.

      I mean, I was taught that it could. Maybe it can’t.

      It isn’t necessarily about changing the minds of Christians. (It’s not an Atheistic version of following the Great Commission.)

      That may apply to Marxism, but Marxism doesn’t advertise itself as a religion, despite what some of its more trenchant critics say.

      I also met a number of Christians who explained to me that Christianity wasn’t a religion.

      “It’s a relationship”, they told me.

      Judaism is a religion. It’s not merely a “religion” in secular clothing.

      Which means that its theological components can’t be questioned by anyone except those favorably inclined?

      That’s a good gig, if you can get it.

      As for the research requiring as much studying as you had to do for your bar mitzvah, does that include me having to learn Hebrew or can I merely read translations?Report

      • Avatar pillsy says:

        I’m not trying to convince them of anything. I am interested in whether the beliefs can stand up to scrutiny. Truth is a funny thing. It can withstand interrogation.

        OK. Shouldn’t you at least have a basic idea what they are before you question them? How will you even know what questions to ask?

        And look, the issue is not that you aren’t favorably inclined towards the underlying beliefs. I’m not either! It’s actually extremely common for Jews to be various degrees of not-favorably-inclined towards Jewish religious beliefs.

        The problem is that there is an incredibly long history of gentiles persecuting us for being Jewish, through forcible conversion, ethnic cleansing, grindingly oppressive second-class citizenship, and ultimately the murder of 6 million of us throughout Europe.

        And after all that we’re still not in the clear. There are a lot of people out there who have it in for us.

        All through this, there have been various justifications offered, but many of them involve twisted or outright libelous distortions of Jewish religious beliefs and practices. This means that a lot of questions are going to be treated with intense skepticism and suspicion.

        It seems that you think it’s an unfair burden that you can only discuss these matters comfortably after building up some real trust and reassuring people your motives are benign.

        But how the fuck do you think we feel?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          “How in the (heck) do you think we feel?”

          What am I allowed to use as evidence for what I think might be a good representation of what I think you* feel?”

          *”you” is going to have to be defined, defined, and defined again, I imagine. I wince when I think of coming up with the analogy for “No True Scotsman” (and that’s without bringing up Scotland) and without doing that, we’re setting ourselves up for failure before we even start.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            I dunno. You can maybe say what you think, and I can look at it and say, “Hey, Jaybird, yeah, I personally think you get it.”

            Or I can say, “Holy cow dude you have this completely wrong and are barking up the wrong tree.”

            And, knowing where you are wrong, I can be like, “Hey, here’s where you’re wrong!”

            And then maybe we can iterate if necessary.

            Because the primary evidence you have here of my mental state is my own words. If you don’t believe them, why even ask?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, my take goes anywhere from “criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism hiding behind a respectable mask” to “Those ultra-Orthodox in NYC who hold up signs talking about how bad Zionism is have basically got it right”.

              But that depends on who “we” is.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I’m not sure why that isn’t better than just saying, “Hey, this is how you feel.”

                Actually, “not sure” is nowhere near strong enough.

                I am completely at a loss how any of that is relevant.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What isn’t relevant? The feelings?

                Yeah, I tend to agree.

                Though I imagine that the extent to which the beliefs are structures built on feelings does indicate an inverse correlation to the extent to which the religion can withstand scrutiny.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                The feelings have very little to do with the question of whether the religious beliefs can withstand scrutiny.

                Tons of Jews who have no investment in the religious beliefs share the feelings.

                I mean I share the feelings and I think I’ve mentioned four times in this conversation so far that I’m an atheist. I don’t believe any of it.

                Why am I trying to protect religious beliefs that I don’t share from scrutiny?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I agree.

                I agree.


                This question is a lot more interesting to you than to me because I am not the guy who feels that questions about religious faith require a motivations questionnaire being filled out prior to the questions being answered.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Well, I’ve written several hundred words at least about why I feel that way.

                I’m not averse to writing more.

                But if the question is so interesting to you, could you at least elaborate on what my explanation is missing so I can address the lack?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Because if/when a feeling goes away, the arguments in service to any given proposition that rely heavily on the feelings also evaporates.

                At least when an argument in service to a proposition is based on other propositions, you can see what happens when the facts of the matter change, or new information is added, or a proposition gets falsified.

                If whether a belief system can withstand scrutiny is based on feelings, then something that could withstand scrutiny yesterday might not be able to withstand it today (or vice-versa) based on nothing more than a mood. Which is weird.

                I mean, if my argument was something like “Observant Jews have food taboos”, this is either right or it’s wrong or you can argue that, sure, some do… but there are other Observant Jews who don’t believe that the food taboos were a metaphor and then we can get into what it means to want to avoid shellfish.

                My theory is that the Ancient Hebrews were likely to be allergic to shellfish *OR* that one of the Patriarchs or Matriarchs of the faith had a nasty food allergy to shrimp and the food allergy was heritable to some extent (either genetic or created by a particular environment that was nigh-universal for the folks behind the folks behind the folks behind the writing of the food parts of the Laws).

                Now, I can easily understand that someone might argue that there is a moral component to avoiding tabooed foods and not want to discuss it…

                But, as someone with a shellfish allergy myself, it makes more sense to me to see the Leviticus laws as pre-modern engineering solutions to a handful of recurrent problems.

                And, hey, maybe there are better explanations! But I doubt that they’re based on feelings.

                Though I can certainly understand why feelings would be sufficient to not participate in the scrutiny of a world view… they’re not sufficient for a world view to be protected from scrutiny.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          @pillsy @jaybird This Callie Wright post I reposted on FB today ACTUALLY SEEMS (sideways) RELEVANT. If you look at “non-dominant theologies from the perspective of those who don’t suffer violent religious persecution” rather than queer/trans issues.

          “It’s very common for allies to ask for patience and grace when navigating topics like queer and trans issues. Cool. No one is born socially aware. We’ve all been the learner, and we’ve all been in positions of profound ignorance on important topics, yeah?

          Here’s the other side. This isn’t new to me. Its my life. So. As much as I’m doing my best to extend grace while you learn, its absolutely incumbent on you to extend me grace in dealing with your missteps. I’m going to get annoyed. I might even get angry. If you’re allowed to misstep, I’m allowed to have feelings about it. This is the other side of that conversation that’s not often had, but its just as important.

          Some of your education may come through gritted teeth, sarcasm, snark, and annoyance. If you want to do the work, this is a fact you need to accept. You’re trying your best to do the right thing, and I sincerely appreciate that. If you deserve grace when you fail, I deserve grace when I fail to extend infinite patience and get upset. Its gotta work both ways.”


          • Avatar pillsy says:

            Is there a link to the post? 🙂Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              i actually literally cannot figure out a way to link to that individual fb post though I can see a million ways to share it on fb (gee, i wonder if that’s purposeful on fb’s part). It’s from april 11th if you want to poke around on fb and attempt to find it.

              I did use my super editor powers to put in the missing quotation marks I should’ve though….Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          And honey (@jaybird) I know you are an atheist and atheists have been historically subject to religious prosecution, but – and I say this with full love and appreciation –

          You are the most Protestant atheist who ever atheisted. Or at least, of the ones who are *good* at it (I won’t go on a side tangent about what I think about most of the famous new atheist dudes, bc/…)

          You approach religion, afaict, from an uber-Protestant perspective…Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine says:

            “You are the most Protestant atheist who ever atheisted”

            Heh, I was going to try to find a way to say that, but you said it better and better it came from you. 🙂

            Has @Jaybird looked at Eastern Orthodox Christianity? Curious how it strikes him since it is more Ontological/Existential (in general) that the Textual/Legal West.Report

  12. Avatar pillsy says:


    Because if/when a feeling goes away, the arguments in service to any given proposition that rely heavily on the feelings also evaporates.

    Yup. If I were arguing that the feelings are support for the positions, well, you’d be absolutely right.

    I’m not arguing that, though. I am arguing that the feelings are a reality (an obstacle, if you will) that you will have to negotiate your way around if you want to have the kinds of conversations that you want to have with Jews.

    Not, like, me specifically as a Jew. I’m just not sure I’m the person you’re looking for because I don’t necessarily find the questions you’re asking terribly interesting. Not normatively wrong or suspect, but like… kind of boring at the moment. Maybe someday I’ll become interested. That happens a lot. But right now I doubt you’d get an interesting answer out of me.

    And anyway you seemed to be complaining about how that kind of conversation gets chilled out in general.

    Because there are tons of Jews out there who would actually love to have this kind of conversation with you. Seriously.

    It’s just that there is a barrier of distrust there that I’m pretty sure you would have to get past before it would happen with most Jews. This isn’t about my distrust of you. It’s why I think other people with similar experiences as I might distrust you if you started conversing with them the way you generally converse with people around here.

    It was, if you will, how pillsy-three-years-ago would have reacted to you. Before, you know, I got a sense of where you were coming from. But I figure you don’t want to spend three years going in circles on message boards with someone, so I was thinking I’d suggest some things that might be more efficient.

    Since you didn’t just ask, “Hey, what should I do?” but instead (to my way of perceiving) started challenging me about why you would have to navigate this obstacle, I tried to explain the nature of the obstacle. I was not trying to convince you that the obstacle is somehow true.[1]

    I was trying to give you information that I thought would inform your mental model of people who share my experiences and cultural background in relevant ways so you can navigate the obstacles successfully and have the kind of conversation you want to have.

    Does any of this help at all? Normally I wouldn’t care too much but this was a lot of writing and I’d like to know if it’s explained anything at all to you.

    [1] I don’t think emotional reactions can be true. In my case, the reaction is authentic when I have it, and I strongly believe it’s authentic in the case of other Jews I know to have that kind of sense of their internal state, but true? Nyah.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I mean, on one level, of course I understand “once bitten, twice shy”. “Every time I get into a theological argument, people end up screaming and slamming doors and why should this time be any different?” and, yes, I know that to overcome that, I have to demonstrate that I am not a screamer or door slammer.

      But I also know that arguments themselves give out a particular siren’s call to people with particular training. The discussions start and, next thing you know, you’re in them because you’ve had them in your own head and now this is an opportunity to actually test the arguments you’ve only thought about.

      Exploration of food taboos lead to discussions of sexual taboos. Have you heard of the documentary “Trembling Before G-d“? It’s pretty interesting. A discussion of Orthodox Jews who happen to be gay and how they deal with that.

      How to reconcile that with deep religious faith?

      I mean, let’s face it, you and I both know that these guys aren’t doing anything wrong. I mean, assuming everybody treats everybody with respect and maybe a short discussion of monogamy or polyamory and he importance of honesty in a relationship and whatnot…

      But you and I both follow some strange gnostic religion, don’t we? And we see what these guys are doing to themselves as a weird form of self-harm?

      And so on and so forth and the discussion itself is something that will call out to those who love Justice and see themselves as having an insight to it.

      I understand that the mental model of many who engage in theology discussions are some variant of the person with/against whom I argue is using a model of “I will convert you and defend against you converting me”, as Christians are trained to do.

      But I also know that there is a weird desire to know things that is out there… and I know that there is a type… a rabbinical type, maybe… who argues this stuff because they are compelled.

      And I can only hope that my reputation as someone who may be crazy (but not door-slamming crazy nor screaming crazy) is established by this point.Report

      • Avatar pillsy says:

        And I can only hope that my reputation as someone who may be crazy (but not door-slamming crazy nor screaming crazy) is established by this point.

        If it is? Yeah sure no problem.

        But if it isn’t because you’re dealing with people who don’t really know you or are new here or whatever, I think having the right mental model and whatnot can help you establish that you aren’t a door-slamming crazy with greater ease.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Actually, thinking about it some more, I can totally see why Orthodox might not want to discuss the gay thing. Heck, I could see why Conservative and Reform wouldn’t.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            OK this is one I can actually answer. Using my Reform religious education.

            I did not see this coming.

            So way back when I was in what we called Hebrew High School (post-bar mitzvah and actually way more fun than bar mitzvah stuff since there was no Hebrew [1]) someone asked one of our teachers about the injunction against homosexuality in Leviticus.

            And she explained that it was based on a number of obsolete and erroneous beliefs about homosexuality from a time before any understanding of modern ethics, explaining how it often involved the sexual abuse of children and/or was involved in the ritual practices of other religions.

            But it was definitely wrong now and didn’t apply at all. And gay people should definitely be allowed to get married.

            And this was back in 1992 or so, so gay marriage wasn’t even a completely accepted thing among liberals.

            You know, maybe they did a better job indoctrinating me than I thought.

            [1] My inept Hebrew was notorious among my friends and family. But since my grandmother didn’t speak a word of it, and the bar mitzvah was really for her, it worked out fine.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, I was more thinking that it’d turn into a “DENOUNCE THE ORTHODOX!” fight if it took place on campus, say. And if you can get one law overturned because of modern ethical theory superseding primitive ethical theory, there ain’t no stopping nothin’. Heck, even Woody Allen has been cancelled.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                One thing to note is that Judaism actually recognizes that here is moral/ethical law and ritual law. There are tons of arguments about whether things like homosexuality fall into one category or the other, and the extent to which they interact and reinforce one another (and the Orthodox will say that all of it still has to be followed. Period.) but for Reform and to a lesser degree Conservative, what is moral is required but observing ritual practice is left up to the individual.

                There can be a lot of analysis like what pillsy discusses above in terms of explaining a particular commandment in context of the ancient Near East. Plus some ‘okay, let’s think about this…’ like noting that the prohibition is specifically against gay sex and there is no mention of lesbians. Are we supposed to believe lesbians didn’t exist back then…?

                But there is another way to consider the issue. The commandment “Justice, Justice you shall pursue” sits square in the center of the 613 in the Torah, and that says ‘justice’ twice for emphasis. Even rabbis from well before Reform existed saw this a giving that one particular weight. One can argue that that commandment supersedes strict adherence to ritual law where there is a conflict. So, if discrimination against gays is fundamentally unjust, it is possible to argue that there is a religious imperative to oppose it.

                Note: there are a couple places in the gospels where I feel like Jesus is using the above when he goes against the strict interpretation from the pharisees. But then in 3 out 4 gospels there are a ton of places where Jesus comes across to me as a Reform rabbi waayyy ahead of his time.Report

            • Avatar KenB says:

              This is a reasonable socio-historical explanation for those injunctions; but for people who belong to a faith that’s (nominally) governed by the Bible, it raises the question of exactly when this hermeneutic approach is to be used and when not. Every passage and commandment in the text can be examined in this way, including statements about the existence and nature of God — if (generic) you are only applying this to passages you find problematic, then can you honestly say that the book has any authority for you? Or is it just a book of advice and wisdom, to be read when helpful and ignored when not?Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                It absolutely does.

                I’ve just never really thought about the answer because I’m not… invested in it?

                It was something I was doing to make my parents happy, and they were doing as much to make my grandmother happy as anything else. It’s mostly boring but some of the stories are good and some of the ritual aspects are fun or at least comforting.

                Since those religious teachings were never really used to justify anything to me, I never really felt much need to question them.

                I was able to recast this specific argument somewhat to give an Evangelical friend in college real pause though, so that was kind of neat.Report

              • Avatar KenB says:

                Sure, it’s a concern for the faithful, and especially the theologically liberal sort — inspiring satire like this.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “for people who belong to a faith that’s (nominally) governed by the Bible…if (generic) you are only applying this to passages you find problematic, then can you honestly say that the book has any authority for you?”

                The “textual literalism vs. contextual interpretation” argument has been had about basically anything that human beings have written down ever, so this isn’t really new.

                For example, we’ve managed to extend the Fourth Amendment to cover telephone calls and internet traffic, neither of which was even conceivable in the 1790s. And we’re still having a debate over what “a well-regulated militia” means when considering the capabilities of modern firearms.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                The word “regulated” has undergone linguistic drift.

                Back in the day it meant “has proper working order”, i.e. a clock would be well regulated if it told time well. Here’s a list of examples from dictionaries from that time period.

                Translated into a modern english “A well regulated militia” would be “A highly functional militia”. Regulation as “controlled” came from the regulatory state and regulatory agencies which came about in the time of FDR.

                Further the 2nd AM was written in a time when 90%+ percent of the country lived on farms and needing to worry about everything from wild animals to slave rebellions without a centralized authority was reasonable.

                The issue isn’t that it’s not clear, the issue is people don’t want it to say what it does… ergo it can’t say that.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                …needing to worry about everything from wild animals to slave rebellions without a centralized authority was reasonable.

                Indeed some would say this is a continuing premise of gun ownership.Report

  13. Avatar pillsy says:


    Seriously, these are books that have been read for hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

    There’s got to be a reason they’re so memetically robust.

    Maybe it’s their very vague, confusing, and self-contradictory nature are what make them so robust. It means they’re malleable, and can be adapted to a wide range of ends. Look how much variety there is among the beliefs of different Christian beliefs and practices despite working from very similar texts?

    It doesn’t seem to me like there’s plausibly a single understanding to the texts that’s available.

    Then again, maybe the answer is actually that the texts aren’t so mimetically robust, because no matter what they say, they are so easily mutable. The memes involved aren’t static at all, and the texts become delivery mechanisms for different memes.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I agree that they’re malleable and part of that is, I’m pretty sure, the fact that much of it is translated (and translations of translations and translations of translations of translations).

      That said, there are any number of cultural phenomena that were huge 100 years ago and are completely forgotten now. The stuff that sticks around has something at the core that the ephemeral doesn’t.Report

      • Avatar pillsy says:

        I don’t think that memetic content is the same thing textual meaning in the sense you seem to be reaching for.

        A lot of the stuff sticks because it’s appealing on an aesthetic level, or has an emotional hold on us. A lot of it comes down to stories that engage us, or poetic turns of phrase that stick in our heads, or even just simple rhymes that are easy to remember.

        And the Bible is full of stories. A lot of those stories are pretty good, I think, and on top of that we have had dozens of generations of artists, scholars, rhetoricians, and even politicians, many of them legendarily brilliant, using those stories as the basis of their own art, or study, or arguments.

        That sticks around, too, and helps make those memes even more appealing.[1]

        I’m just saying maybe understanding the texts isn’t about parsing out what they direct people to do or what moral system they lay out. Maybe it’s about figuring out why they appeal to people emotionally and aesthetically.

        [1] Consider how much the Christian conception of Hell was shaped by Dante. Or for that matter, a lot of us, myself included, are still reeling from burning of Notre Dame,Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “A lot of the stuff sticks because it’s appealing on an aesthetic level, or has an emotional hold on us. A lot of it comes down to stories that engage us, or poetic turns of phrase that stick in our heads, or even just simple rhymes that are easy to remember.”

          that is literally what memetic content isReport

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            That’s what I thought too. But Jaybird’s question suggested to me that he thinks the memetic content had to be something else.

            “Mary had a little lamb” remains a popular song after over a century. Nonetheless, virtually nobody singing it cares whether Mary was a real person or is she actually had a little lamb.

            Though she was, and she did.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I’m not looking for textual meaning, necessarily.

              I’m looking for what makes it take off more than merely engaging stories, poetic turns of phrase, or simple rhymes.

              I mean, some of it is merely survivor’s bias on our part (maybe there are some really good Aesop’s Fables that got burned at the Library of Alexandria, for example, and they never made it to us…).

              But some of it is due to the fact that there weren’t *THAT* many people who could read/write, they chose to transmit *THIS* story instead of that one. The people who couldn’t read/write chose to tell *THIS* story instead of that one to their kids.

              Some of the stories are more evolutionarily fit.


              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Yesterday on the Twitters, I saw a much RTed tweet of a picture taken in the burned out rubble of Notre Dame. It was a beautiful photo of a beam of sunlight striking a gold cross. I’m not joking about the beauty; I think it’s really great.

                The caption, however, was, um. Well it went something like:

                “I don’t know how you can see this and not believe in God.”

                Now, most people I think were RTing it because of the photo and agreement with the message. But some were dunking on it for obvious science reasons like, “Gold has a high melting point.”

                I went for a different dunk (which surprises me in retrospect, since dunking on faith isn’t usually my bag):

                “The most beautiful testament to the glory of your God on the planet, something so marvelous it’s transcended faith and is treasured by billions of people regardless of religion, only partially burns to the ground, and you think it proves God exists?!”

                I’m betting you’re seeing the punchline already.

                That, but unironically, is literally Christianity.

                God sends His only Son to Earth. His Son in addition to being divine is an amazing person with an incredible message. His message is largely ignored and reviled and then he’s executed in a (literally) excruciating fashion.

                Three days later He rises from the dead and it’s a miracle Christians celebrate to this day (and this coming Sunday).

                I mean that’s a really useful myth to have backing you up when everything has gone horribly wrong. It sends you looking for that one tiny bit of your church that wasn’t destroyed and lets you believe that it proves everything your church was built on is true.

                Your religion is stronger, and you are able to get back on your feet that much sooner to get on with your life.

                That’s one adaptive meme.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The curse at the bottom of Pandora’s Box flipped and turned into a blessing.

                Helped only by people telling the stories of how they survived, got through it, and that’s why they’re there telling the story today. Only a churl would ask “what about the other 99 people the bad guys killed?”

                Yeah. Awesome insight.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                God sends His only Son to Earth. His Son in addition to being divine is an amazing person with an incredible message.

                Ignore the message for a moment.

                The Roman Empire finds a guy who can break the laws of nature on a whim. He can heal with a touch to the point of raising the recent dead. Assume he’s “limited” to just that (plus walking on water and creating wine but whatever).

                So… clearly the Empire wants to be on the other side of that? No Roman nobleman has ever gotten sick or died? No emperor? None of their relatives? There’s no way to monetize this or cut some political deal? Gaining limited immortality wouldn’t be worth letting the Jews have their own religious leaders? Or even just just putting him in charge? Even in the context of what medicine was like 2k years ago?

                Seriously? That’s how the political and economic establishment behave in this situation?

                Religion claims to have super powers at their beck and call, and claims they want to be treated as though that were the case. However there’s a massive disconnect that and the observed reality.

                In our historical example, team “Roman Empire” treated him like he only had a message, i.e. and not super powers, which implies things worked then like they work now and everyone understood it.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I’m no expert in the gospel of Jesus but I think you’re misinterpreting it Dark. For one thing the Romans were most assuredly present in the person of Pontius Pilate but they were a distant and preoccupied government. Jerusalem was a backwater city in a backwater province populated by a troublesome people who were fighting among themselves and popping up religious messiahs constantly. The Roman response to your list of abilities would have been a world weary “Again?”. When the Jewish authorities dragged Jesus before Pontius Pilate he invited Jesus to perform miracles for him; Jesus declined. Pontius interviewed him and concluded that Jesus seemed ok and Pontius was inclined to let him go until the Jews raised a ruckus and demanded that Jesus be punished at which point an exasperated Pontius acceded and washed his hands of the matter.

                Had Jesus done some wine making, healing or water walking in front of Pontius the Romans probably would have done exactly what you say they should have done. But he didn’t (he had nothing to prove to Romans) so they presumed he was simply another in an endless procession of rabble rousing Jewish religious fanatics.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Jerusalem was a backwater city in a backwater province populated by a troublesome people who were fighting among themselves and popping up religious messiahs constantly. The Roman response to your list of abilities would have been a world weary “Again?”.

                Think carefully about that before claiming it doesn’t support what I said.

                But he didn’t (he had nothing to prove to Romans)

                So just like now, the claim is superpowers… except there’s much handwaving and goal post moving when they’d do things like save his life and/or free the Jewish people from Roman oppression.

                On a side note the historical Pontius was an unflinching monster whose response to Jewish petitions was to randomly kill some of the petitioners.

                Philo writes in the 1st century that Pilate had “vindictiveness and furious temper”, and was “naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness”. Referring to Pilate’s governance, Philo further describes “his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity”. (wiki)Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Hey I’m not carrying any water for the Romans in general of Pontius in specific. It was an ancient era and the idea of a default expectation responsible good government was not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye. I’m just pointing out that the Romans didn’t actually find a guy who could do all the things you’re talking about. Assuming Jesus could do all those things (big assumption for us atheists and agnostics) ; all the Romans (via Pilate) thought they found was yet another Jewish nut.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        Jaybird: That said, there are any number of cultural phenomena that were huge 100 years ago and are completely forgotten now. The stuff that sticks around has something at the core that the ephemeral doesn’t.

        The Priests are in charge and do what is needed to stay popular enough to survive. Note that’s not in the manual.

        You’re also engaged in heavy data selection by only looking at the memenic survivors. “Mythology” is a mass grave of failed religions and my expectation is most never made it into the history books so that’s a vast undercount.Report

        • Avatar pillsy says:

          Note that’s not in the manual.

          Speaking of the manual I have a question that I’m not really sure I have the right answer to, but where does the manual say it’s all in the manual? To take the Christian Bible, which I’m guessing is the (collection of) text(s) we’re most familiar with, it it even there?

          Like, it’s not really my background, but I’ve usually seen 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as the go to verse for questions [1] like this one, and here’s what it says:

          All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
          That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.


          This tells you what it’s there for, and what to do with it, but it doesn’t make any claims of completeness or even literal truth.[3] It tells you that if you know this stuff and think about it, it will help you be wise.

          [1] Cited by the sorts of people who like going to verses. I’m betting @Jaybird has a much better and more complete answer to this question than I do though.

          [2] I’m using the KJV because while it may not be accurate (not that I would personally know), aesthetics is a huge part of religion, and IMO it’s the prettiest.

          [3] The way certain Christians function on literal truth has always puzzled me a bit. They focus a great deal on what the Bible reports Jesus saying [4], and half the stuff he says is parables. Did a servant actually bury a bunch of silver in a hole in the ground? Does it actually matter in the slightest?

          [4] I’m generally pretty convinced that Jesus was a historical figure, which seems to be the consensus of scholars; I’m also convinced that the Bible does not record what he said with any accuracy at all. Look how many spurious quotes are attributed to, say, Albert Einstein.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “The way certain Christians function on literal truth has always puzzled me a bit.”

            I think this has more to do with Paul’s letters than the parables. People are willing to admit that maybe the parables didn’t quite go down exactly as they’re written (like, all sorts of exegeses exist for the Loaves and Fishes story) but a lot of what we consider Modern Uptight Prude Christian BS comes from Paul.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter says:

            where does the manual say it’s all in the manual?

            The default wasn’t supposed to be “everything is in the manual”, the default was supposed to be “Priests have special knowledge”.

            Let’s do a brief review of history. 2000 years ago basic literacy was far from universal, so your need for someone to read and interpret the book was obvious.

            Priests were the backbone of organized society because they were the educated class. Religion was science, political power, governmental administration, and how knowledge was transferred between generations. If the Priest says “X” is in the book, you have no way to argue with him. He could even make stuff up on the spot.

            Then the inventor of the printing press did his thing in the mid 1400’s. Literacy became common and so did books. The idea that everyone has access to the word of God is a magic meme although the Priests continue to claim they’re supposed to be in charge.

            Two centuries later, the scientific revolution raises the bar on what “facts” are and what “works” a LOT. Scientists greatly restrict God’s realm, lightning because electricity and not gods fighting, magic is greatly reduced. The Earth (despite what the Bible claims) is shown to be both round and not the center of the universe.

            The alternative to “everything is in the manual” (i.e. everyone has access to the words of God) is the Priests are superheroes with special powers and knowledge. “Special knowledge” worked for many centuries, however that’s not viable in a world with mass education, literacy, and the Priestly class not running everything.

            Some groups take “everything in the manual” to an extreme and that’s where you get the literal word groups, however that’s mostly posturing. Each group needs (or at least wants) to be able to claim they’re special and uniquely important. Often that becomes why their interpretation of the book is better than everyone else’s.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I kinda believe that The Priests are swept up in the stuff too. They don’t have the power to keep unpopular stuff popular.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter says:

            You’re overthinking it. If Nostradamus’ work had serious backing then we’d be listening to that. During the civil war, with both sides using the same book, I seriously doubt both sides had the same sections popular.Report

  14. Avatar pillsy says:


    By the time the Women’s March debacle happened, I was not shocked, or even really disappointed. It was a sort of dull, thudding disgust at something that seemed inevitable. And it seemed inevitable because I’d seen it happen repeatedly.

    And it wasn’t because of a real failure of the ideological and theoretical tools of the SJ Left (including intersectionality) to reckon with anti-semitism, since everything is really there and just needs some thought and care to apply, like more or less any non-trivial intellectual undertaking. I’d known people from that side of the aisle who’d done it, and benefited a lot for discussing anti-semitism with them.

    About 5 years ago, I started noticing an uptick of, if not open anti-semitism, stuff that was close enough to anti-semitism to make me feel uncomfortable, some from the Left, and some from the Right. It mostly made me feel hinky and gross without really being able to communicate what was up to why. And I just got a lot of reactions from gentiles that seemed really dismissive, and the SJ language actually helped me cross the communicational gap.

    So it helped a lot. And as there started being more and more open anti-semitism out there [1] I was actually heartened how many self-described SJWs were supportive. It was distinctly more than zero.

    It was also distinctly less than all. And time and again I would see some people just refuse to apply what seemed like very straightforward arguments to their natural conclusion because it was more important to deny that there was anti-semitism at all on the anti-Israel Left, or to deflect attacks on the Nation of Islam. Roland Dodds wrote about the reluctance to confront Farrakhan about a year ago; I got quite grouchy in the comments because serious fuck a bunch of Louis Farrakhan.

    But maybe I’m too jaded to really think it’s a failure the ideas when people don’t apply them because doing so would undermine their own cherished bigotries and self-interests. I’ve seen people do so much of it, left, right, and center, to think it’s strong evidence that the underlying ideas are fatally flawed.[2]

    The leaders of the Women’s March aren’t the first bunch of ideologues to make a bunch of self-serving exceptions when trying to decide whether to treat Jews decently; I’m depressingly certain they won’t be the last, either.

    [1] I’ve encountered much more, online and off, in the last two or three years than I had in my entire life before then, and of a different character. Which makes me somewhat more secure in my earlier unease, and confident in the intellectual tools that helped me put my finger on why.

    [2] Even when it comes to Trumpist conservatism, which I loathe possibly beyond reason, I think the sickness is more with the movement and the political coalition than the underlying ideas of conservatism. And I think most of the ideas associated with conservatism kinda suck.Report

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