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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Watch Madeleine Bunting get totally owned ... this is good

Madeleine Bunting published a truly dumb (and nasty) attack on Ophelia Benson in The Guardian's "Comment is Free": watch what happened when the comments in response started flowing in.

Poor, dear Madeleine Bunting got totally owned on this occasion. Sometimes you just have to gloat at the misfortunes of others.

76 comments:

Steve Zara said...

Wonderful. Richly deserved. I find it shocking that this silly woman is associate editor of The Guardian.

Anonymous said...

My Dear Dr. Russel, if you would take the time to actually read your own blog you would notice that your little band of syncophants has been totally owned - by me.

Prehaps you would care to join them and particpate in the comment threads. I would so very much like to see your responses.

Ophelia Benson said...

I love the bit where she finally replies, and says yes she knows lots of people think her writing is rubbish, so what.

Well okay maybe 'love' isn't exactly the right word...

Michael Fugate said...

Anon,
It can't be your Christian humility that keeps you from using your name....

Anonymous said...

What makes you think I am Christian, or even a theist?

I may be an atheist who detests sloppy thinking and poor logic, neither of are lacking at this site.

Michael Fugate said...

You need to ask?

Nichole said...

Listen, annie, obvious troll is obvious.

J. J. Ramsey said...

I'm sorry, but I don't see the ownage here. Judging from what you had said, I would have expected the comments to show that Bunting got her facts about Benson's book grossly wrong, or that she pulled something horribly out of context. (JStangroom tries to argue the latter, but I don't see anything that negates Bunting's implication that Benson made an overly sweeping statement about religion.) I see some legitimate criticisms in the comments, but nothing to indicate that Bunting was wrong in describing the overall thrust of Benson's book.

Brian said...

Russell, can I be one of your sychophants? Please? Do we get a special membership lapel pin?

On topic, Bunting seems horrible. It reminds me of the Age here in Melbourne with that execrable Barney Zwartz.

Steve Zara said...

Brian-

I believe the term used was 'syncophants'.

Something to do with dancing elephants?

Brian said...

Steve, do I get a dancing elephant lapel pin? Is that like a diophantine number?

Brian said...

Actually, I want to be a psychophant.

Ophelia Benson said...

J J Ramsey

"I would have expected the comments to show that Bunting got her facts about Benson's book grossly wrong, or that she pulled something horribly out of context. (JStangroom tries to argue the latter, but I don't see anything that negates Bunting's implication that Benson made an overly sweeping statement about religion.) I see some legitimate criticisms in the comments, but nothing to indicate that Bunting was wrong in describing the overall thrust of Benson's book."

Did you really look? I pointed out:

"You don't mention what leads up to the stuff about the warthog in a party dress - you don't mention the stoning to death of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, age 13, for the crime of being raped. You don't mention the fact that her executioners said: 'We will do what Allah has instructed us'."

That's one place where she did indeed pull something horribly out of context, ignore pertinent facts, and misdescribe the overall thrust of the book. She did that with every quotation she offered. I didn't go into as much detail as I could and perhaps should have, because I didn't want to bore everyone rigid; the bit that I gave was meant to be representative (and also to elicit a response from Bunting, which it signally failed to do). She grossly misrepresented the book, I assure you.

I went into much more detail at my own place, where I feel more entitled to risk boring people.

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=2804

By the way it's not my book, it's mine and Jeremy Stangroom's.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "Did you really look?"

Yes, and an overstatement that follows a description of an atrocity is still an overstatement. However, this quote from you Butterflies & Wheels page is at least more on point:

"Religion, in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will, is in the business of dressing up what would otherwise obviously be tired old prejudices and hatreds and plain exploitation, and making them seem vaguely respectable. Religion is the whited sepulchre, the warthog in a party dress, the dictator in a pink uniform plastered with medals, the executioner in white tie and tails."

The first part of the quote, at least, would indicate that you aren't necessarily talking about religion in general. However, I don't think that is quite enough to sustain a charge that Bunting quoted you out of context.

I'm reminded of one of our host's blog posts where he points out that one can push a viewpoint while phrasing one's words carefully so as to avoid explicitly endorsing it. Now he was talking about the NCSE arguably doing this with NOMA. However, one can similarly argue that a book entitled Does God Hate Women? that details atrocities to women attributed to various religions is meant to imply the viewpoint that there is a necessary connection between religion and misogyny, even if it manages to avoid saying so outright. Given that, phrases like "in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will" look like half-hearted disclaimers that don't significantly subtract from the overall implication.

I noticed something at the end of your Butterflies & Wheels page about Bunting:

"I think she is intellectually dishonest for instance when she says of course religions can change, the Anglican church has begun ordinating women - when she herself is a Catholic and the Catholic church not only does not ordinate women, it treats the ordination of women as a crime deserving excommunication."

Let's see now. The Anglican church ordaining women is an example supporting the claim that religions can change, period. That Bunting herself isn't a member of the religion doing that change is irrelevant to that claim. So in arguing that Bunting is intellectually dishonest, you commit a fallacy, which is a bit ironic.

Steve Zara said...

So in arguing that Bunting is intellectually dishonest, you commit a fallacy,

Not really. Bunting can't use the fact that other people change their religious views to support her position if she personally supports stasis. Bunting's personal position is highly relevant.

Greywizard said...

Ramsey, you also quote Benson and Strangroom out of context. Ophelia gave you another paragraph about religion as protective colouring, etc. These two paragraphs belong together, and once you see them together, the single comment, which, by itself, may look outrageous, has a context. Religion provides fancy dress for arbitrary claims, prescriptions or prohibitions.

And it provides the same kind of shelter for Madeleine Bunting. She can shift from one religion to another, if it suits her - it's actually that arbitrary! - just to make her point about religion (in general). Calling attention to this shape shiftiing is not a logical fallacy. It's exactly what Bunting is doing.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Steve Zara: "Bunting can't use the fact that other people change their religious views to support her position if she personally supports stasis."

Sure, she can. It would make her a hypocrite, but it wouldn't make her argument unsound.

Also, you are making the assumption that she supports stasis from Catholicism (at least with regards to women) rather than tolerates it.

Greywizard: "Ophelia gave you another paragraph about religion as protective colouring, etc. These two paragraphs belong together, and once you see them together, the single comment, which, by itself, may look outrageous, has a context."

And the context doesn't make Benson's comment not say what it appeared to say in isolation. Contrast this with, say, this quote from John Adams,

"Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!' But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell."

which has often been misquoted as "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it." Notice how the misquote is 180 degrees from Adams' intent. The context of the quotes from Benson doesn't even come close to turning the meaning of the quotes around or even making them much less sweeping.

Ophelia Benson said...

I didn't say the context turned the quoted passage around. As for not making it much less sweeping - how exactly are you measuring that? What numerical value are you giving the degree of less sweepingness the context gives the fragments that Bunting quoted?

At any rate - if you're going to quote me, I'll thank you to give the whole quotation, not a selection that distorts it.

Ophelia Benson said...

And another thing.

"However, one can similarly argue that a book entitled Does God Hate Women? that details atrocities to women attributed to various religions is meant to imply the viewpoint that there is a necessary connection between religion and misogyny, even if it manages to avoid saying so outright. Given that, phrases like "in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will" look like half-hearted disclaimers that don't significantly subtract from the overall implication."

That borders on accusing us of lying. You're very presumptuous. We don't avoid saying anything outright: we spell everything out, which includes being clear about what we're not saying. We don't make "half-hearted disclaimers," we say what we do mean and what we don't mean.

"The Anglican church ordaining women is an example supporting the claim that religions can change, period. That Bunting herself isn't a member of the religion doing that change is irrelevant to that claim. So in arguing that Bunting is intellectually dishonest, you commit a fallacy, which is a bit ironic."

I call Bunting intellectually dishonest by way of reply to her calling me that, not out of nowhere. In any case, her claim wasn't "that religions can change, period," it was that I was talking incomprehensible nonsense in saying that an unaccountable god made change extra difficult. I think the fact that she cherry-picked a religion to support that claim is indeed intellectually dishonest.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "That borders on accusing us of lying. You're very presumptuous."

No, just cynical.

Seriously, though, what message are you trying to send? If it is a nuanced message that doesn't overstate, then so far, you haven't demonstrated this. You complain that Bunting quoted you out of context, but bits like, "Religion is the whited sepulchre, the warthog in a party dress, ..." stick out like sore thumbs even in context. They are rhetorical poundings of the table, piling one negative image on another, painting a picture of religion as cartoon villainy. It also does not help that your metaphors keep using the phrasing "Religion is [fill-in-the-blank]," as if you were talking about religion in general.

Benson: "In any case, her claim wasn't 'that religions can change, period'"

You wrote, "she [Bunting] says of course religions can change," did you not?

Greywizard said...

Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel! Come on JJ, you could probably, I think, do better than this. You say the additional paragraph doesn't help and then you quote Adams. Not very helpful. The context does help, in my view, at any rate, and you have given me no reason to think otherwise.

Religion is a cover for all sorts of things, from personal pride to tyranny, but it's just a cover, because no religion can justify itself in contradistinction to every other religion. So, when the Supreme Leader of Iran makes claims to some kind of exalted insight and authority, people see right through him to the naked power lying beneath.

So religion makes arbitrary power look vaguely respectable. Give us an example of when theocracy has been able both to justify its power and to use that power in a way that promotes human flourishing.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Greywizard: "You say the additional paragraph doesn't help and then you quote Adams. Not very helpful."

The point of quoting Adams was to show what a clear case of quoting out of context looks like. In Adams' case, the context makes it obvious that he does not really think that the world would be better without religion, contrary to the more abbreviated quote. By contrast, the context around a quote such as "Religion is the whited sepulchre" does not indicate that Benson's views on religion are much more nuanced than the quote would indicate. There are glimmers of nuance in the paragraphs that she quotes, such as the occasional references to literalists, or the acknowledgment that "[r]eligion doesn't necessarily originate ideas about female subordination and male authority," but these get drowned out by the repetition of her metaphors about sepulchres, warthogs, etc., which reinforce the idea of religion as a cartoon villain.

Greyvillain: "Give us an example of when theocracy has been able both to justify its power and to use that power in a way that promotes human flourishing."

Why should I? My point was that the claims of ownage were greatly exaggerated, and that Benson's defense of her book didn't help dispel the claim that the book indulged in overstatement.

Greywizard said...

Ah, well, JJ, if this is just an argument about a difference of literary tone about which you and I disagree, then I think it is really irrelevant to the present discussion. Bunting takes a quote out of context, without any of the surrounding text which makes sense of it. You don't think it's written sensitively enough. I think Ophelia's and Jeremy's point would be that that is precisely the point, that religion is not used with sensitivity, but is actually, in many many cases, the expression of a quite deliberate cruelty and insensitivity to human value. In such a case, you should not expect the authors to express themselves with the kind of gentleness and generosity towards those who act under the cover of religion as cruel and unfeeling dictators and tormenters of human beings.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Greywizard: "You don't think it's written sensitively enough."

Um, no. My point is a heck of a lot more cynical. Let's start here:

"Religion doesn’t necessarily originate ideas about female subordination and male authority, but it does justify them, it does lend them a penumbra of righteousness, and it does make them ‘sacred’ and thus a matter for outrage if anyone disputes them."

Ok, fair enough. But what follows implies something more:

"Religion is like the total body irradiation that destroys an immune system and lets an underlying infection take over. It’s like a pesticide that destroys some insect species only to let others, freed from predators and competition, explode."

These metaphors imply that religion not only enables sexism, but helps it "take over" or "explode." And the evidence that religion is that great an amplifier is ... what? How would you even go about establishing such a broad claim. Again, the literal statement is reasonable, but the metaphor implies a much broader point, and one that is harder to support.

Or take this point:

"Religion, in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will, is in the business of dressing up what would otherwise obviously be tired old prejudices and hatreds and plain exploitation, and making them seem vaguely respectable."

Ok, then. Religion is used to dress up cruelties and make them look respectable. Again, fair enough. But look at the next line:

"Religion is the whited sepulchre"

Ok, that seems ... hey, wait? If religion is supposed to be the thing that dresses up atrocities, then shouldn't it be the whitewash on the sepulchre, with the sepulchre standing in for the atrocities? This is even worse than a mere overstatement. Notice the shell game here. The literal statement is something far more modest, but the metaphor identifies the religion with the cruelties themselves. One can make a similar point with the other metaphors, such as "the executioner in white tie and tails." Again, if the metaphors are restatements of the original literal point that Benson herself made, then shouldn't religion be the white tie and tails rather than the executioner itself? The literal statement says one thing, but the metaphors, rather than amplifying the original point, change it, sending a different message under the table.

Greywizard said...

Whoa! JJ. You want a whole book instead of two paragraphs! I suggest that you buy the book.

Presumably, since the theme of the book is religion and the very real oppression of women, you will be provided with every opportunity to see how religion works, beneath the camouflage, to do all these things.

Is it religion itself or is religion just the cloak? How could you possibly tell? Especially, given the fact that religion is up to some pretty nasty stuff. It dresses up the atrocities and justifies them. People do horrendous things and say horrendous things in the names of their gods. And that's religion in action, folks.

But don't religions also do good things? Yes, of course, but you don't need a cloak for that. You don't need to justify kindness by saying that it is commanded by a god. But to justify really evil things - notice, to justify, not just to do them - it takes a god, or some equally farfetched and undemonstrable theory or ideology.

However, we'll take it as read that you don't like Jeremy's and Ophelia's literary style or use of metaphors. But they have obviously said what they wanted to say, clearly. You're the one with the cloak and daggers.

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Zara said...

For goodness sake, J.J. Ramsey, I thought I was pedantic!

There will always be quibbling over language. That can be fun, and it can occasionally highlight useful points.

But to rubbish so much based on what certainly are nothing but quibbles is absurd and not intellectually honest.

I have had problems with some of Dawkins' language. For example, I have never been comfortable with the idea of 'Mount Improbable'. I have been fortunate enough to have discussed this matter with him. But does this mean I would dismiss his books? Or refuse to buy a book which contained this language?

Of course not. That would be nothing more than petulance. It would not be a reasonable basis for such a decision.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Steve Zara, let me put it to you this way. Here's what I've seen so far.

1) Bunting rubbishes the book Does God Hate Women? as crudely overstating its case.

2) Benson accuses Bunting of quoting her out of context, but the context provided by Benson not only fails to support the accusation, but when examined more closely, appears to support Bunting's point about overstatement.

Let me ask you this. Judging from from what I've seen so far, should I really expect a fair assessment from Stangroom and Benson on the relationship between religion and misogyny?

Steve Zara said...

J.J. Ramsey-

To be honest, I haven't a clue. The way I would find out about the fairness of the assessment is to buy the book. You can never find out what is really going on by discussions over selected quotes.

From what Stangroom and Benson have posted here and elsewhere, I have decided to buy the book. Even if I disagree with some of what they say, I have no doubt it is going to be thought-provoking.

Ophelia Benson said...

"Benson accuses Bunting of quoting her out of context, but the context provided by Benson not only fails to support the accusation, but when examined more closely, appears to support Bunting's point about overstatement."

According to you. Other people, obviously, see it very differently.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "Other people, obviously, see it very differently."

Other people didn't take a good look at the differences between your literal statements and the metaphors that you piled on afterwards.

Ophelia Benson said...

According to you.

Greywizard said...

"Other people didn't take a good look at the differences between your literal statements and the metaphors that you piled on afterwards."

That's your claim JJ. But....

Not true. I took a look at them. I even read them over, to be more exact, and there aren't any real differences. The metaphors are apt, and your pedantry continues unabted. The point the authors are making is undoubtedly correct. Read more carefully. You need some lessons in reading skills. Time out, okay. This is going nowhere in a hurry.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Greywizard: "You need some lessons in reading skills."

My reading skills are good enough to notice the following:

1) Benson herself had already said that religion "is in the business of dressing up what would otherwise obviously be tired old prejudices and hatreds and plain exploitation."

2) In the metaphors that Benson uses, whitewash, a dress, a pink uniform, and a white tie with tails are all used to dress up ugly things, such as a tomb, a warthog, a dictator, and an executioner.

3) For her metaphors to be consistent with what she had already said, namely that religion dresses up ugly things, she should be comparing religion with other things that dress up ugly things.

4) However, Benson consistently compares religion to the thing being dressed up: the tomb instead of the whitewash, the warthog instead of the dress, etc.

If you can't see the inconsistency between Benson's literal words and the metaphors that come after, well, I can't help you.

Ophelia Benson said...

I should let this drop, because who cares, but that analysis is so clueless that I can't.

The point is that religion is ugly because it is used to dress up ugly things. Is that not obvious? The white tie and tails on an executioner are themselves ugly because of what they are doing. This is vastly more true of religion precisely because religion is supposed to be the heart of a heartless world, the fount of compassion, etc etc. Religion is made ugly by the many people who use it to justify cruelty. Bunting herself has seen this, briefly, in the wake of the Ryan report.

Think about it. Think about Aisha Duhulow up to her neck in the dirt with the rocks about to fly, hearing the militiamen tell her 'We are doing what Allah tells us to do.' Suppose she believes in Allah - and believes what the militiamen tell her - she gets to die in terror and agony believing that this is what Allah wants.

That is as ugly as it gets.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "The point is that religion is ugly because it is used to dress up ugly things. Is that not obvious?"

Actually, that doesn't make much sense at all, and looks like an after-the-fact explanation to justify a bad metaphor.

Benson: "Religion is made ugly by the many people who use it to justify cruelty."

Oh, please. Cruelty can be justified in the name of love, science, freedom, and so on. That hardly makes any of the latter ugly. If you want to show that religion is ugly, then demonstrate the causal connections between what religion is and the ugly things done in its name. That's not an easy task, of course, but there is plenty of research on what makes religion tick. (Pascal Boyer is one name on the subject that comes to mind.) You could always work from there.

"Think about Aisha Duhulow up to her neck in the dirt with the rocks about to fly"

Two words: "Emotional appeal."

Ophelia Benson said...

Godalmighty - you really do need help with reading skills.

Of course it's an emotional appeal - it's meant to be. It's the penultimate page of the book; it is indeed an emotional appeal. I've never denied that - and I said that, with the context, one could still say it was too 'strong or harsh or intense'; the problem was that Bunting made it sound like an arbitrary rant, which it is not.

"If you want to show that religion is ugly, then demonstrate the causal connections between what religion is and the ugly things done in its name."

What the hell makes you think we don't do that? What are you doing - assuming the whole book is identical to the penultimate page? What a brainless assumption.

I thought you were clever but partisan, but now I think you're just a random sneerer who can't read.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "Of course it's an emotional appeal - it's meant to be. It's the penultimate page of the book"

I was speaking of the emotional appeal in your earlier post, which looked like an attempt to get me to buy the claim "Religion is made ugly by the many people who use it to justify cruelty" in the absence of good evidence or argument.

Benson: "What the hell makes you think we don't do that?"

Partly it's that I have serious doubts that you could go from a working definition of religion like this from BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2004) 27, 713--770:,

"1. Widespread counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs in supernatural agents (gods, ghosts, goblins, etc.) 2. Hard-to-fake public expressions of costly material commitments to supernatural agents, that is, offering and sacrifice (offerings of goods, property, time, life) 3. Mastering by supernatural agents of people's existential anxieties (death, deception, disease, catastrophe, pain, loneliness, injustice, want, loss) 4. Ritualized, rhythmic sensory coordination of (1), (2), and (3), that is, communion (congregation, intimate fellowship, etc.)"

and get from this definition to a strong link between religion and, say, misogyny.

Partly it's that the literal statements in the end of your book--which I presume are your conclusions--don't indicate that the body of the book had argued made such sweeping causal connections. Rather, the conclusions more modestly describe religion as more of an enabler of pre-existing problems. (As I noted earlier, the overstatements are introduced through metaphors rather than stated explicitly.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Me: "don't indicate that the body of the book had argued made such sweeping causal connections ..."

Argh! I can read just fine. But my editing could use some work.

I'm going to bed.

Greywizard said...

JJ. I may indeed need a lesson to two in reading. Sometimes, like many others, I am careless, but not in this case.
But here it is you who needs to confine himself to basic English. since big words just crumble with your touch. It must ge verr galling, I amdit But read carefully and thy it on. You'd be surprised what a little evidence can do. You don't need to the a pendantic jerk all the time. I thought that this had come to an end in your disgrace, but you are so eager to dig you pit deeper and deeper. Never let it be said that I refused to let a man dig is own grave.

And leave out the 'bad metaphor.' We all have bad hair days. The point is that religion dresses up cruelty and oppression in fancy dress. Forget the die and tails. The point still remains. Religions dress up horredous thing and claim it is the wordo of God. Now, I'm a bit sqeamish about stoning women, and little girls. Perhaps you've got a strgoner stomach. So, by all means peedle you rnonsense, but leave off the pendanticism, will you? It really is more than a bit trying, it's downright boring. Let's take all this as read. It still hasn't criciticism Ophelia's and Jeremy's book.

Beside lacking elementary reading sills, is there something else you aren't telling us?

But the really devastiating (for you) aspect of this is that your criticsms are based on three paragraphs from a book. Three. But the book itself: why not read it careflly (if you can) and then come back and try it ont. If you haven't changed your mind a bit, you haven't really read.

Try it. Thinking is actually a lot more fun that it's given credit for.

Greywizard said...

JJ. I may indeed need a lesson to two in reading. Sometimes, like many others, I am careless, but not in this case.
But here it is you who needs to confine himself to basic English. since big words just crumble with your touch. It must ge verr galling, I amdit But read carefully and thy it on. You'd be surprised what a little evidence can do. You don't need to the a pendantic jerk all the time. I thought that this had come to an end in your disgrace, but you are so eager to dig you pit deeper and deeper. Never let it be said that I refused to let a man dig is own grave.

And leave out the 'bad metaphor.' We all have bad hair days. The point is that religion dresses up cruelty and oppression in fancy dress. Forget the die and tails. The point still remains. Religions dress up horredous thing and claim it is the wordo of God. Now, I'm a bit sqeamish about stoning women, and little girls. Perhaps you've got a strgoner stomach. So, by all means peedle you rnonsense, but leave off the pendanticism, will you? It really is more than a bit trying, it's downright boring. Let's take all this as read. It still hasn't criciticism Ophelia's and Jeremy's book.

Beside lacking elementary reading sills, is there something else you aren't telling us?

But the really devastiating (for you) aspect of this is that your criticsms are based on three paragraphs from a book. Three. But the book itself: why not read it careflly (if you can) and then come back and try it ont. If you haven't changed your mind a bit, you haven't really read.

Try it. Thinking is actually a lot more fun that it's given credit for.

Stuart said...

I have nothing to add except 40+ comments is a lot - new record on your blog Russell?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Greywizard: "But the really devastiating (for you) aspect of this is that your criticsms are based on three paragraphs from a book. Three. But the book itself: why not read it careflly (if you can) and then come back and try it ont."

I'll admit that the book could be a lot better than what Benson has indicated through her quotes and attempted defense of her work. Trouble is, the impression that I keep getting is that the point of the book is to parade a sample of atrocities done in the name of religion and then use that to justify abandoning it. If that's the case, then the book is fundamentally fallacious and not worth my time. I became an atheist to move away from fallacies, not towards them.

Now if the book really is better than that, show me. Show me that the body of the book isn't as careless and misleading as what I've seen so far. Cutesy unsubstantiated jabs on my reading skills are not a good defense of the book.

Steve Zara said...

and get from this definition to a strong link between religion and, say, misogyny.

There is a strong link between people who don't think that much and misogyny.

Religion tends to shut down the frontal lobes, and give power to the limbic system. Feelings are privileged over thought, and boy - are they privileged!

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
underverse said...

J.J.,

Your kung fu is strong, but you still might want to call for back up, or at least take some vitamin supplements, as Ophelia has linked to this thread from B&W.

I think there is a huge ideological obstacle to this dialogue being more productive. Ophelia (and her co-arguers) appears to have such a strong a priori belief that religion intrinsically causes evil outcomes that cataloging atrocities suffices, in her mind, to establish it as fact.

I don't mean to single her out; we all employ this mode of thought from time to time, generally unconsciously. That is: we all have prejudices.

But I'm a little startled to see that even in the face of your very thorough and patient pointing out of the fallacy (that bad works--no matter how many--done by and in the name of religion are not a sufficient argument in themselves to condemn a genetic religion qua religion) that you are being approached in this thread as some kind of denialist.

Those people in this thread who still consider themselves open minded would do well to take a step back and see what is actually being argued, and try to separate it from whatever Ms. Bunting may have said in the past that made her seem such a demon.

Ophelia Benson said...

Not accurate.

You're ignoring the post I linked to in which I gave more detail. I didn't want to insert the whole thing here because this is after all Russell's blog and I don't want to clog it with oceans of my stuff. But I'm tired of being called (by implication) a liar or deluded by people who ignore what we actually wrote. So I'll just insert the quoted passages in here after all.

"Religion doesn’t necessarily originate ideas about female subordination and male authority, but it does justify them, it does lend them a penumbra of righteousness, and it does make them ‘sacred’ and thus a matter for outrage if anyone disputes them. It does enable and assist and flatter moods of intolerance for all those who seek to challenge cultural and religious values and religious abuse of power. It does turn reformers and challengers into enemies of God.

Used in this way religion is like a matrix, a nutrient, a super-vitamin. It doesn’t necessarily invent, but it amplifies, and nourishes, and protects. Religion is like the total body irradiation that destroys an immune system and lets an underlying infection take over. It’s like a pesticide that destroys some insect species only to let others, freed from predators and competition, explode. It’s like an antibiotic that kills some strains of bacteria only to help resistant strains thrive and flourish."

And

"It’s also a kind of protective colouring. There is no very compelling reason left to treat particular groups of people as inferior. It used to be possible (just barely) to think that human groups were literally and essentially different in some way profound enough to justify inequality, but it isn’t possible any longer. All that’s left is a literalist idea of God’s will along with a conviction that God’s will must not be disputed or disobeyed. Without that, a defence of unequal rights just looks like what it is – a frank defence of injustice. This puts religion in the uncomfortable position of being that which puts lipstick on a pig.

That is uncomfortable but it is exactly the position religion is in. Religion, in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will, is in the business of dressing up what would otherwise obviously be tired old prejudices and hatreds and plain exploitation, and making them seem vaguely respectable. Religion is the whited sepulchre, the warthog in a party dress, the dictator in a pink uniform plastered with medals, the executioner in white tie and tails."

There are qualifications. The qualifications are important. It is true that we don't repeat them in every sentence, because that would be unreadable. You can fault us for that if you like - but what you can't do (if you want to be honest) is simply ignore the qualifications.

Furthermore there are other, more extended qualifications in the chapter and the rest of the book. Since I know they are there, I know exactly how inaccurate Bunting's account of the book was. You don't. You're not in a position to impugn my honesty or my ability to see what is actually being argued.

(In case anyone other than Chris Schoen or JJ Ramsey reads this - it might be of interest to know that Schoen has developed a habit of following me around the web so that he can rally and warn and encourage my critics, the way he does here. He's some kind of self-appointed Benson-scourge. Flattering but tedious.)

Greywizard said...

Chris, really, do you have to do this? Because you have made very little mileage over at Butterflies and Wheels does not mean that everyone who comments there is a mindless toady who thinks in mind-sync with Ophelia. And the condescending, "I don't mean to single her out; we all employ this mode of thought from time to time ...," is truly beyond belief.

Besides, in the very quotations that are being discussed here Ophelia explicitly says that evil outcomes are often dressed up by religion, whether or not they originate in religion. Whether, as you say, "religion intrinsically causes evil outcomes", is an entirely separate question, and not relevant here.

underverse said...

"...truly beyond belief."

Oh ye of little faith!

Believe it or not, Greywizard, I actually meant it that I consider the type of prejudice I attributed to Ophelia a common human failing, that I personally am guilty of more than I would like. Take it for what it is worth. The point was just that Benson is not a monster.

Ophelia,

Thanks for providing a more nuanced example of your views. If I implied that your writing was never free of hyperbole or oversimplification, that was not my intent.

However: the quotations that Bunting cites in her piece are not particularly softened by the kind of context that you provide here; they are just made inconsistent. When you write that:

religion is like the total body irradiation that destroys an immune system and lets an underlying infection take over. It's like a pesticide

the connotation is clear that "religion" in the final analysis is a bad thing. Not sometimes good and sometimes bad, but unequivocally bad. The additional context of the surrounding sentences may credit religion for not _innovating_ the evil in question (e.g. stoning) but it grants religion no positive power to ameliorate or even oppose evil, once introduced by whatever other social or biological forces that brought it to pass.

I think this proposition is easily falsified in the oversimplified form you present it. The Buddhist monks in Burma did not exacerbate the evil they encountered there; they opposed it at great sacrifice. The Quaker peace workers who spend part of their year in Ramallah or Baghdad do not exacerbate the evil they encounter there; they oppose it (also at great personal sacrifice). I'll refrain from making a tedious list, but the counterexamples are numerous: Dorothy Day & the Catholic Worker movement, the self-immolating monks in Vietnam, Tutu, Gandhi, King...

Now I notice that you have provided an example of the sort of qualification I am talking about when you write "Religion, in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will..." I give you credit for this qualification, while also noting that you employ it inconsistently. You write that you leave out the qualifications sometimes to avoid tedium, and perhaps this is so.

But to analogize this type of usage: If I were writing about the ill effects of a certain subgroup of extremist physicians or medical researchers, but chose to drop the qualifier in certain passages "because to repeat them would be unreadable," so that I ended up writing that "Medicine is ... the dictator in a pink uniform plastered with medals, the executioner in white tie and tails"--even though I only meant to refer to this problematic subgroup--I'd be exposing myself to the very justified complaint that I'd slandered the innocent.

If I were writing about such a subgroup (perhaps the zealous proponents of transorbital lobotomy) I would hope I would come up with a precise word that restricted my usage to just this group, to avoid such confusion. From what I've seen excerpted from your and Jeremy's book, and your writings on the web, you slide back and forth often without warning between the specific and general usage of "religion." Bunting's point, and Ramsey's, and mine, is that this attenuation does not take sufficient care to ensure the reader does not take you to mean that religion is a universally evil influence. Indeed, even now, I'm not sure which usage comes closer to your intent, and I am, for all my faults, a careful reader.

What, specifically, is the baleful element that explains why "religion" is sometimes a social evil, and sometimes a social good? Can you give it a name, and perhaps quantify it, and measure the way different quantities of this influence correlate to the evil effects you describe? That's the book I want to read. I'll probably even give it a favorable review.

Greywizard said...

Oh, dog, not all over again!

"...the quotations that Bunting cites in her piece are not particularly softened by the kind of context that you provide here ..."

Did you think that Ophelia and Jeremy wanted to soften what they were saying?! Good grief!

I'm still looking for the inconsistency. There is not a single sign that in the authors' view religious people cannot do good. Even you can do good! And, as I've said before, that doesn't take religion.

But to do something really bad and think that you're doing good takes something like religion, something that cloaks it under specious claims to goodness, justice, or doing the will of the vicar of some (good) god or other (or even being the outworking of some historical process that will end in the promised land). Finding inconsistency here is easy. It's the bad that so many religions call good.

Cromm said...

What, specifically, is the baleful element that explains why "religion" is sometimes a social evil, and sometimes a social good?

Religions usually encourage people to base their morality on superstition, ossified into dogma. They often encourage people to step away from critical thinking and embrace moral dictates on the basis of authority, rather than evaluate them on the basis of their benefits to humans.

The problem with religion, in other words, is essentially the problem with the Divine Right of Kings. Religions, as with dictators, may be benevolent, or they may not. It isn't sufficient, when arguing over the merits of Divine Right, to note that some kings were nice guys. The problem is that you're a slave.

J. J. Ramsey said...

underverse: "Your kung fu is strong, but you still might want to call for back up, or at least take some vitamin supplements, as Ophelia has linked to this thread from B&W."

And now she's made a second thread about me, insinuating how obsessed I am for posting on and off for a week in my own free time. Who's the one who started two threads, again?

I did notice one commenter asking a sensible question:

"I think what I'm missing here is whether the book actually seeks to demonstrate a strong causal link between religion and misogyny or does it just catalogue a list of doctrinal statements and religious abuses and infer a general association?"

I hope he or she gets a straight answer.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Sorry about the double post, but I took a closer look at the case of Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow. I had gotten the impression from Ms. Benson that what had happened to Asha was the normal injustice that one might expect in backwaters of the third world.

Upon further examination, it looks more like a case of corruption with a religious cloak. Asha reports a rape committed by members of a militia terrorizing the region and gets two members of this militia arrested. In retribution, the militia then intimidates the police and uses them to turn the tables on Asha, punishing her for daring to stand up to its lawlessness. If it weren't for the Islamist court, the manner of her death would probably be different, but at heart, this looks like gun-barrel thuggery.

If I had known this, I would have called Benson on it sooner.

parrhesia said...

I think you are entirely missing the point, J.J.Ramsey. Here's what I just wrote at B&W about the quotations from which you seem to be drawing such umbrage.

"From my impressions, the book (very explicitly) does not seek to demonstrate a causal link between religion and misogyny, it just shows how religion has been perfectly suited to the role of enshrining and codifying ancient injustices such as misogyny, because of the particular nature of religion. If "god" is both invisible and absolutely right, how can we argue with him / her / it to overturn these injustices?

Seen in this light, religion is clearly a pernicious social force, and therefore portraying it as the "heart of a heartless world" is a case of Orwellian doublespeak writ large. "Warthogs in party dresses" and "lipstick on pigs" are visual evocations of the concept of doublespeak. Particularly fruity and entertaining ones, in my opinion."

Hope that helps.

Russell Blackford said...

Stuart: I think my record for number of comments on a post is something like 180.

I do like having syncophants. Some sycophants would be good, too.

J. J. Ramsey said...

parhesia: "If 'god' is both invisible and absolutely right, how can we argue with him / her / it to overturn these injustices?"

"God" may not be argued with, but god(s) can and are reinterpreted to fit with the cultural "Zeitgeist." Razib on GNXP pointed this out, noting, for example, that "In other words, a Catholic in Germany tends to have the same attitudes as a Protestant in Germany, while a Catholic in Ghana has the same attitudes as a Protestant in Ghana."

Oh, and I see that on the other thread, Ms. Benson took the bait that Michael Fugate unwittingly laid. Wait until she finds out that P.Z. Myers used "insult my daughter" to mean pointing out that his daughter had called other people retards, and used "several times, after being warned" to mean once.

Russell Blackford said...

By the way, folks, I do welcome discussions like this. I'm not keen to get too involved, myself, in dissecting the details of Ophelia's (and Jeremy's) use of metaphor, but I find it all interesting enough.

I'll just say this. Bunting could have said: "Benson and Stangroom sometimes make statements that are reasonable, but then attempt to make them vivid by the use of metaphors that imply more than the literal statement. Thus, a stronger (and less reasonable) statement is insinuated to the reader."

I haven't gone back to read the passages, and I'm looking forward to reading the entire book. But for all I know maybe a claim like that would have been correct. Whether or not it's correct of Ophelia and Jeremy's prose, I'm sure it's sometimes true of mine. Indeed, almost anyone who writes something that uses metaphors to try to appeal to a popular audience, rather than writing something very dry and academic-sounding, falls into this trap from time to time.

But whether or not this precise charge would stick in the particular case, Bunting obviously goes a lot further than saying, "Look, here's a danger with all popular writing and I think Benson/Stangroom sometimes do this." If that was all Bunting had said, I doubt that there'd have been the kind of reaction we saw to her piece.

Ophelia has vigorously and ably defended herself even against this charge. As I sort of said, I'm not planning to adjudicate. But even if the charge were correct, it would not vindicate Bunting. Also, I'm not sure why this point is so important to you, JJ. You're right that I, too, am sensitive to such elements of tone, rhetoric, and nuance. If you were merely making this point, perhaps you could persuade me - at the least, I am open in principle to persuasion on such points. But it's not enough to vindicate Bunting. And sometimes it seems to me that you are obsessed with identifying such rhetorical overreach in the work of people who are, broadly, your intellectual allies.

That's fine. Maybe someone needs to be there to make sure that we don't go too far in our rhetoric, and so damage our credibility. if that's the aim, though, it would normally be wise to raise the point with said ally in private rather than undermine her in public.

Still, you're perfectly entitled to spend a lot of time doing this, and I won't stop you doing it on my blog, and you don't even have to explain why you do it. Generally speaking, I enjoy interaction with you. But I do wonder from time to time why this particular activity is so important to you.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Russell Blackford: "But I do wonder from time to time why this particular activity is so important to you."

Ed Brayton had mentioned that in his past,

"When I left Christianity now nearly 20 years ago, I did what many others have done in the same situation, I became one of those evangelical atheists one encounters in chat rooms and on message boards so often.... I would sit there in the chat room bashing anyone who dared to believe in anything religous at all. If you believed in God, you were clearly an idiot and that's all there was to it."

I never became that kind of atheist, but rather I was afraid that becoming an atheist would make me that kind of atheist. I had also seen atheists who used pseudohistory to blast religion, and often they were the same people as the jerkish atheists that Brayton had described. Part of becoming an atheist was distancing myself from atheists like those.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, there's no doubt that these kneejerk atheists such as Ed refers to do exist. Even PZ Myers finds them annoying, as we all discussed on another thread some time back.

But Ophelia is hardly one of them, and getting so focused on her metaphors to distance oneself from these other people seems obsessive. But that's okay, JJ. I don't really mind; I'm just a bit bemused.

underverse said...

But to do something really bad and think that you're doing good takes something like religion...

Graywizard,

Not the first time I've heard this, and surely not the last time someone will assert such a thing without resort to logic or evidence. (The most famous and pithy example being Weinberg's "for good people to do bad things takes religion.")

I guess you inserted the "something like" part so that we can include Stalin and Pol Pot. Which means that everyone, I suppose, is "something like religious" except for the small band of Kantian angels who only ever make important decisions based on the free exercise of reason, and never allow any of the passions to play a role.

I'm still looking for some kind--any kind--of cursory demonstraton of what makes religion different in this regard from human nature generally. We are all, as far as I can tell, prone to cloaking bad deeds under "specious claims to goodness," whatever our philosophical outlook. We are all tempted by fantasy and self-aggrandizement. If you have some kind of scientific evidence that religious beliefs potentiate this tendency more than non-religious beliefs, now is the time to share it.

Parrhesia,

I'm curious to know whether Ophelia will disavow your positive impressions of the book to the same extent as Ramsey's critical impressions, seeing as how neither of you (nor I) has read it.

Russell,

I agree that loading a metaphor with excessive amperage is a risk for every writer who wants her or his reader to take interest in the work. But it seems to me Bunting writes just the kind of critique you say she prefer she had. Here's your proposed language:

Benson and Stangroom sometimes make statements that are reasonable, but then attempt to make them vivid by the use of metaphors that imply more than the literal statement. Thus, a stronger (and less reasonable) statement is insinuated to the reader.

And here's what she actually wrote:

It's not that Benson doesn't have a point, it's that she overstates it with such crudeness and lack of insight that I'm staggered anyone wants to publish it.

Bunting's is much sharper, of course (and includes second guessing and ad hominem), where yours is more conciliatory. But outside of politeness I don't see a whole lot of daylight between "a stronger and less reasonable statement is insinuated to the reader" and "she overstates [her valid point] with such crudeness and lack of insight." (That's exactly what over-reliance on metaphor is: rhetorical crudity, for better or worse.)

These two statements say essentially the same thing, except one is considering its object as a friend, and the other an adversary. Which is interesting given that it's the "new atheists" who have apparently decided that good manners and warm feelings were just getting in the way of effective argument. If I didn't know better I'd suspect Bunting was trying to make a point about dishing it out but not taking it.

While I prefer a little more moderation of tone myself, I'm not sure on what grounds Bunting should consider Benson an "ally," except on terms proposed by other people, perhaps including yourself, who claim the only legitimate disagreement is between reason and superstition. That's not a statement all secular people are on board with.

Russell Blackford said...

No, Chris, I wasn't trying to say that Bunting should consider Ophelia an ally. I was saying that JJ should. As far as I know, JJ's actual metaphysical policy views are pretty much the same as hers, but he spends a lot of time and energy attempting to distance himself from such people if he thinks their rhetoric has gone beyond some pretty narrow bounds.

He's entitled to do so, and he's welcome to comment here, but I do wish he'd get over his fear of being, or seeming to be, one of those atheists.

And Bunting doesn't just say what you quote (complete with the additional sharpness, second guessing, ad hominem ... blah, blah). The whole piece is a very nasty personal attack. I mean, she could have just said the bit you quoted. Right? This is still nastier than the wording I suggested, as you agree, and even that wording may well be doing Ophelia an injustice. But she didn't even use her chosen wording on this point about metaphors and leave it at that. There was a helluva lot more, much of it unfair and offensive, which is why she got the kind of reaction she did from her readership.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

J. J. Ramsey

I'm not going to get involved in this beyond posting this one thing(mainly because I think it is absolutely absurd to try to guess at the content of a book from a few paragraphs that appear right at the end of the book).

This business of causality. Here's some stuff from Chapter 6.

"Therefore, it follows that the fact that non-Muslims practise FGM, and many Muslims do not practise it, does not rule out a causal link between Islam and FGM.

"However, it is important to understand that it is not ruled in here either. The significant point is that we cannot infer causality from these broad relationships: on their own, they tell us little about the link between Islam and FGM. The only thing it is possible to say with any certainty is that a causal link remains an open possibility.

"In fact, it will be very difficult to establish the existence of such a link - or indeed to show that there is no such link - just by looking at statistical data on the prevalence of FGM. To get a sense of the complexities involved here, it is worth briefly considering some of the findings of a UNICEF study titled... ETC, ETC."

If you think that I'm unaware of the complexities of causality, causal relations, correlation, counterfactual conditionals, etc., then you're wrong. Have a look at this posting, for example:

http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=31

(I wrote it!)

And lastly, READ THE BOOK, then criticise it. It's much better that way around. (And I have no doubt that there is stuff to criticise with regards to the complexity of the causal links between religion/misogyny: it's an enormously complicated issue).

J. J. Ramsey said...

Stangroom: "The only thing it is possible to say with any certainty is that a causal link remains an open possibility."

A while back, the Denialism blog pointed to an article about how repeating a myth by denying it can nonetheless reinforce people to believe it. Now what you are doing isn't exactly the same thing. You are referring to a common perception that Islam and FGM are related, but neither confirming or denying a link. Still, the effect is similar: You are repeating an allegation, and thereby reinforcing it in the mind of the reader. That's weaselly. If you don't have enough evidence to make at least a probable causal link--and you already admitted as much--you shouldn't bother even mentioning the issue.

Stangroom: "And lastly, READ THE BOOK"

With all due respect, I prefer to read books when I see signs that they are likely to be good. Every quote that I've seen from it so far--and quotes cited by the authors at that--show problems, and not just in tone but in content. How is this supposed to persuade me to plan on buying the book in the future when it comes out in the U.S., or if in a hurry, try to find a way to get a copy from the UK?

Jeremy Stangroom said...

Fascinating.

So what you're basically saying is:

(a) We need to be concerned about the difference between correlation and causality;

(b) A chapter long treatment of this issue is not permissible, unless we establish in advance that we're talking causality rather than correlation.

"you shouldn't bother even mentioning the issue."

ROFL!

Bang goes a whole literature on the the relationship between Islam and FGM.

You're a star, J J. An absolute star!

I'm outta here, but it was lovely to make your acquaintance!

Jeremy Stangroom said...

I shouldn't do this, I know I shouldn't. And I said that I was outta here. I'm bad.

But J J, I thought you'd be interested:

I don't konw whether you know this, but a while back, the Denialism blog - I've got no clue what that is, or why anybody would be interested in it, but hey, I'm on a roll here - pointed to an article about how repeating a myth by denying it can nonetheless reinforce people to believe it.

Now I'm very concerned you're being weaselly in suggesting that the idea there's a straightforward link between religion and misognyny is implausible.

I think what you're really doing is trying to plant the idea in the readers of this blog that actually such a link is *not* implausible.

You're very naughty, though I do like the cut of your jib.

Nevertheless, please don't do it again. We need to protect vulnerable readers from such heretical thoughts!

Hurrah for the Denialist blog!

Yours in Solidarity Contra Weaselliness,

Jerry

Parrhesia said...

JJ, you make it sound like a walk in the park: "god(s) can and are reinterpreted to fit with the cultural "Zeitgeist." It's been a momentous struggle for the West to arrive at a secular society. People have been threatened, ostracised and murdered for dissenting (or even merely appearing to dissent) against religion, if they were able to see through the brainwashing (which would have been hard when religion held more of a grip and there were little opportunities for education). Those "re-interpretations of the Zeitgeist" have come at great cost for many people, because of the fact that religion, by its nature, is hyper-opposed to the questioning of its tenets or actions, and will fight tooth and nail against it. We shouldn't forget our past and take our rights for granted, and denying the terrible historical report card of religion is to minimise the heroic efforts of those who fought against it.

The case of Aisha Duhulow is a tragically perfect example of the way religion is explicitly used to justify injustice: a horror like this could not be justified in a secular country. Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the point that there is a big difference between injustice being perpetrated in spite of the law, and injustice being perpetrated in accordance with the law. What happened to Aisha Duhulow was perpetrated in accordance with the law, a law based on the quran. That's significant.

I think the honourable thing to do is for us, in our privileged, wealthy and educated positions, is to help protect the vulnerable from fates such as Aisha's. If we are not honest in assessing how the tragedy came about, we won't be able to make it less likely to re-occur. In the case of Aisha, of course there were other factors at play, but her murder was successfully justified in the name of religion. Her murderers GOT AWAY WITH IT BECAUSE THEY DID IT IN THE NAME OF ALLAH. You have to question a system of belief that so easily lends itself to the justification the gruesome murder of an innocent rape victim who was only 13 years old.

Parrhesia said...

Underverse, you said "I'm curious to know whether Ophelia will disavow your positive impressions of the book to the same extent as Ramsey's critical impressions, seeing as how neither of you (nor I) has read it." She ignored my comment in favour of one directly after it, which exhorted JJ to read the book. So I took that not as an outright disavowal, but not as an avowal of agreement either. Neglect is next to reject.

Btw, I think your implication that Ophelia might only be affable toward people who don't challenge her is an unfair assault on the level of her intellectual sophistication. She very clearly accepted some points JJ made, but unfortunately he missed the opportunity to carry on the discussion in a less belligerent manner.

Ophelia Benson said...

Dishonestly selective quotation by J J Ramsey.

"Stangroom: "And lastly, READ THE BOOK""

That's dishonest, because Stangroom didn't say 'read the book,' period. He said

"And lastly, READ THE BOOK, then criticise it. It's much better that way around."

This is the point, obviously. Nobody gives a rat's ass whether Ramsey reads the book or not. The point is that it is dishonest to fixate on part of one paragraph in order to assert over and over and over and over again that the whole book is bad. Read in context, as part of the chapter in which it is embedded, the paragraph's intended meaning is clear enough. Repeated insistence that it isn't is worth precisely nothing coming from people who haven't read the chapter much less the book. This obsessive insistence otherwise simply looks like a bizarro vendetta. Like so:

"With all due respect, I prefer to read books when I see signs that they are likely to be good. Every quote that I've seen from it so far--and quotes cited by the authors at that--show problems, and not just in tone but in content."

With all due respect (which in this case is zero), what do you think you're doing? What can be your point? Do you generally embark on campaigns to insist that books are bad without having read them? If so, you shouldn't. It's epistemically ridiculous and ethically contemptible. If not, your vendetta against this one in particular is incomprehensible, and deeply suspect.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "This obsessive insistence otherwise simply looks like a bizarro vendetta."

This isn't a vendetta. This is a discussion that snowballed into an argument that snowballed into a case of SIWOTI syndrome.

Now I have most certainly screwed up. Pointing to a blog post entitled
"Science, religion, weasel words, and the meaning of life" was probably not the best way to note how one can push a viewpoint without saying it outright, since the "weasel words" part implies intentional dishonesty. I could have said that Benson's metaphors were inconsistent with their context without calling them a shell game. I could also have noted that Stangroom looked like he was likely to mislead the reader into thinking that there is a causal link between Islam and FGM without implying that he did so on purpose.

I also overextrapolated from the quotes from the book to the whole. It is one thing to note internal inconsistencies within a few paragraphs. It is another to assume that the book never puts forth a good faith argument to "demonstrate the causal connections between what religion is and the ugly things done in its name." That was stupid.

I have to admit that I was suspicious that Benson and Stangroom were trying to insinuate things that they couldn't prove, since I figured that a book entitled Does God Hate Women?, especially coming from an atheist derided as being "strident," would be alleging that religion leads to misogyny, a thesis that, if made, would be nonsensical due to the huge mishmash of conflicting beliefs that can be found in religion as a whole. Of course, that's hardly the only possible thesis such a book could have, and I was presumptuous to presume bad faith on the part of its authors.

I apologize for this much.

However, I do not apologize for saying that the way Benson pointed to Aisha Duhalow in her reply to Bunting was fallacious. There is a ways to go to get from armed rebel thugs murdering and claiming to do it in the will of Allah, and the broader vague claims that religion is a warthog in a dress, etc. She should have cited at least an outline of that chain of reasoning that got her from here to there. Now maybe her logic was clearer in her book, and obviously, I have no way of knowing that. However, her replies to Bunting both in the comments of Bunting's article and on her own blog are not part of her book, and if she doesn't bridge the gap between an emotional appeal and her conclusions, then all she's presented is an emotional appeal, and that's fallacious.

Also, it is strange for you to say that I look like I'm on an obsessive vendetta when you single me out three times on your own blog. Further, it is a bad move to be speculating on my motivations or say without any evidence that I am getting my jollies off of goading you, and worse, it's a bad move pointed out on your own site, albeit by Julian Baggini, not you. It's amazing how you got mad at me for assuming bad faith on your part, only to be quick to do it yourself.

Ophelia Benson said...

"Also, it is strange for you to say that I look like I'm on an obsessive vendetta when you single me out three times on your own blog."

No, it isn't, because we're not symmetrical. For the last week you've been slandering me and the book that Jeremy and I wrote on the basis of part of a paragraph on the final page, all the while defending the practice of slandering the book without having read it. After a few days of it, I finally wrote a post on the subject rather than clutter up Russell's blog any more. Then you got downright vicious, and I defended myself. You're not defending yourself, you're attacking. Repeatedly.

"It's amazing how you got mad at me for assuming bad faith on your part, only to be quick to do it yourself."

No it isn't; see above.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Parrhesia: "It's been a momentous struggle for the West to arrive at a secular society. People have been threatened, ostracised and murdered for dissenting (or even merely appearing to dissent) against religion"

I am going by my memory here--which is always dangerous--but the bloodshed that led to secular society came from wars amongst the religious, the kind that Jonathan Swift satirized in his story of the Big-Endians versus the Little-Endians. Laws on religious tolerance evolved from disgust and weariness of this carnage, and from religious tolerance, the framework of a secular society developed. I'm sure that I'm oversimplifying here, but you give the impression that secular society came about from the irreligious rebelling against the religious, which AFAICT, isn't what happened.

Note too that up until relatively recently, secular societies have been largely religious, that is, while the government is secular, the people in the society have religious beliefs of their own. The U.S. is still pretty much a religious secular society. The transition within various secular societies from religion to irreligion has largely been quiet and fueled more by apathy about religion than activism against it.

Parrhesia: "Her murderers GOT AWAY WITH IT BECAUSE THEY DID IT IN THE NAME OF ALLAH."

Take a look at what I had noted above from the BBC News article about Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow. Her murderers got away with it because they had the guns. There's a telling quote from a Guardian article on this:

"Inside the stadium, militia members opened fire when some of the witnesses to the killing attempted to save her life, and shot dead a boy who was a bystander."

It's not as if the witnesses were all standing idly and acquiescing to the supposed will of Allah. This wasn't regarded as legitimate even by the locals.

Parrhesia: "If we are not honest in assessing how the tragedy came about, we won't be able to make it less likely to re-occur."

I agree. As Scott Atran put it, "We've got to get real. We've got to get some data." Now to be fair, he was objecting to his fellows making all these judgments about religion from their own intuition. I'm not sure if you've read the book or not, so you may have more raw facts than the people to whom Atran was speaking, and the book may very well have provided decent arguments as well. (Ok, I personally doubt it, obviously, but I'm trying to be charitable and not overreach.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "No, it isn't, because we're not symmetrical."

You're right. You have a far more public profile than I do, and you can easily do far more damage to my reputation than I can to yours.

Benson: "For the last week you've been slandering me and the book that Jeremy and I wrote on the basis of part of a paragraph on the final page"

Pardon me for quibbling, but I count four paragraphs quoted from you, and then there is Stangroom's latest bit. Ok, you can argue that this is still not enough to judge a book by, but let's at least get the facts straight.

Benson: "Then you got downright vicious, and I defended myself."

Vicious? Pointing out how Aisha Duhalow's death can be used fallaciously, and saying that you shouldn't even try to do it? That's your idea of vicious? Calling you on using something right out of FallacyFiles.org?

And your defense of yourself involves mind-reading like this: "as if he's the cop on the beat, shoving my arm up behind my back until my shoulder breaks. The bossy note. That adds an extra level of deliberate offensiveness, as if he'd caught me picking his pocket or molesting his child."

And you thought I read too much into what you had quoted from your book?

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