Why do they hate westerners?
Would they have been inspired to hate them without religion?
Would they have been motivated to destroy them without believing it was God's will?
Would they have been able to motivate others to destroy them without convincing them it was God's will?
Would they have been able to convince other to become suicide bombers without convincing them that it was God's will, and promising them virgins and an eternal afterlife in paradise?
If yes to any of the above questions... evidence?
I'm not really all that confident in my ability to write compelling counterfactuals, but I would go as far as saying that our man joe is painting a rather simplistic picture of the al Quaeda network's motivations here. Bin Laden was pretty clear in outlining his grievances with the US. Though I would agree that, in his case in particular, and in the case of a lot of Muslims more broadly, these grievences were informed by their faith, you really didn't need to submit to Allah to share their opinion that they were legitimate grievances at the time. So what were some of those grievences, you ask? Good question. Here's something from ye olde wiki machine:In 1998, Al-Qaeda wrote, "for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
It's clearly the case that there is religious language being used, but the problem that is being highlighted is the nature of the relationship of the United States to Saudi Arabia, which is something that plenty of non-religious people also found to be problematic. The same is true of a lot of his comments on Israel. Also from the wiki:n his November 2002 "Letter to America", bin Laden cited the United States' support of Israel as a motivation: "The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily."
Again, his problem here is the establishment of the state of Israel (and all of the conflicts with neighboring Arab states and the Palestinians that came with it). While being a Muslim can certainly play into one's feelings about the Jewish state, one needn't be a Muslim to think that think that what Israel was doing and had done was deeply wrong. For example, I know some Palestinians, Jordanians and Lebanese folks that are for the most part not very religious (and only a few are Muslim in the first place, most are marginally Christian or Druze) who have very little patience for anyone defending the Jewish state. This has almost nothing to do with religion and really everything to do with their family's having been displaced by the establishment of the state of Israel and its subsequent conflicts with its neighbors.
Now, maybe it would have been the case that Bin Laden et al wouldn't have identified enough with the plights of Palestinians, Iraqis or his fellow Saudis to plot against the US were it not for his religion. Maybe they would have instead pursued political solutions. Some of my aforementioned friends, for example, participate in protests and other forms of activism (a lot of "awareness raising") but aren't interested in hurting anyone physically. That could have been true of Bin Laden too. I don't know. And I don't think we really can know. But I think it is the case that someone living in the Middle East at that time and especially today, no matter their religious affiliation, could probably find some good reasons to hate the United States, with or without religion. We've done and continue to do terrible things in that part of the world.
That obviously doesn't justify what's been done. I'm just saying that it's not as if Bin Laden or anyone else in the region needed to dig into the Quran to find a reason to hate us. And with that being the case, no they didn't need God to lead them to hate the West, to conclude that it needed to be destroyed, or persuade others that they too should be down with their cause. In fact, I remember people having a sad about Noam Chomsky characterizing 9/11 as "blowback" back in 2001.
As for the last question, I'd say yes. In Tunisia, a man named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest a government that routinely abused and extorted him, making it impossible to support his family. About a dozen or so other men also burned themselves to protest their respective authoritarian regimes. What these cases show is that if you back people into a corner, you can theoretically convince them to give up their lives since, in life, they weren't worth much. Still, the 9/11 hijackers weren't exactly backed into a corner. They were privilaged people, studying abroad. So I'm not sure that this might apply to them. Still, it's not as if privilaged people don't occasionally do what they think is right in spite of the fact that it might cost them their lives. Track Palin, for example, was a privileged person if nothing else. His mother was the governor of his state. That did not stop him from enlisting and serving his country in Iraq.
So nah, this wasn't really as simple a thing as Bin Laden telling people that there's this God guy and he's super pissed at the West and if you follow him you get a bunch of virgins. The West was doing things that legitimately angered Bin Laden and a lot of other folks in that region. Bin Laden used a religious message to capitalize on those grievances. But it's not as if those grievances wouldn't have existed without Islam.
To sum this up, I think the good professor has it right:
But even in the Middle East, violent conflicts are not primarily religious. Religion is a way to identify your enemies, to encourage committment, and to rally your followers, but religious differences alone don't make people fight.
In any case, when I read this, I thought a little deeper and realized that this conversation can't go very far:
I just don't get how you can say things would have been exactly the same under wildly different circumstances. He was a "nut-job with an inferiority complex" because his drunk Roman Catholic father was a strict disciplinarian and beat him. Would his father have been the same man in a world without religion?
With this in mind, I think it's impossible to really make a compelling case one way or the other. We can't really imagine what a world without religion would look like because we don't live in one. It pervades our existence in a way that makes it difficult to isolate its influence and assess its harm. If I were to point to any atheist doing anything wrong as a potential example of how humans can be nasty to each other independent of religious motivation, joe could just as easily point to some theist putting that idea in their head because ultimately, everyone operates in a space in which religion is there to influence them in some way, shape or form. And even if I were to point to some ostensibly non-religious cultural factor, joe could still bring it back to religion if he felt like it, since it pervades every culture.
The Phelps' kids are raised to believe that "God hates Fags", if one of them were to murder a homosexual, how can you possibly say with such certainty that they would have done it anyway had they not been raised with those beliefs? What are the odds of an atheist murdering a homosexual because he or she a homosexual? It's possible, but to say that it is a certainty without explanation is completely ridiculous.
I'd point out first, that the odds of anyone, religious or otherwise, murdering a homosexual because they are homosexual is pretty slim in this country.
But to get to the heart of the matter, you don't need to be religious to be homophobic, even violently so. I know this for a fact because I've never been particularly religious, but I was, at one point, particularly homophobic. I'd say that it was cultural. I grew up "knowing" that gay men weren't really men in the way that I was a man (at all of 16) and that gay women had just been messing with the wrong men. Had they been messing with a real man, a man like me (at all of 16) they'd still be on the winning team. I never went as far as physically bashing someone, but, if I'm being honest with myself, I don't think it would have been something that was completely off the table back then. I was fucked up.
This had nothing to do with the church I grew up in, which I think technically
considered homosexuality to be a sin if you were to look at its official doctrine but didn't really make a point of bringing that up. I suppose that you could maybe argue that it might have been something I learned in the broader community I was raised in, which was largely religious and did include congregations that indeed promised hell-fire for sodemites and fornicators of all sorts. I'm sure that's a big part of the story. But I think that in my community in particular, a mostly black community, we have to also talk about the legacy of slavery and the apartheid state that followed. I have no doubt that this also warps our views of what black men and women should be. We occupy a strange place in the collective imagination of this country that I don't think is any less strange within the community itself. I'm not sure how exactly to express it, but I felt like there was always this pressure to conform to some sort of essentialized version of blackness. That sometimes had to do with religion. We're definitely supposed to have us some church. (Or at least the women are.) But a lot of times it didn't. My brother, for example, was often accused of acting white because he liked (and still likes) metal. \m/ And on a sexual level, we assumed that we were nice with it in a way that white dudes just weren't. And a lot of white women, as far as I could tell, seemed to have shared our assumption. And it's that kind of thing that makes me wonder if homophobia would have just been a part of our culture even if white folks never gave us the Jesus, since being homosexual is definitely a deviation from this essentialized version of blackness. But it's impossible to tell because it's impossible to isolate this experience from religion.
So yeah, I think that on the whole, I'm not prepared to say whether religion is something that's a net plus or a net negative for humanity. It's true that it can fascilitate hate and war, but it can also foster community and charity. It's also certainly true that we humans are capable of doing all of these things without religion or a religious justification. On the whole, as a guesstemation, I'd lean towards net negative personally, if for no other reason then religion can shame like nobody's business, but I tend to share some of jaimehlers' cynicism. It seems likely that religion is just one tool that we use to build and destroy communities. It could be the case that even if it were somehow rooted out, we'd just zero in on something else--like ethnicity or nationalism--organize ourselves around that and be just as cruel to each other. There's not really a way to know. It's been a part of us for as long as we've been around.
So I think that kcrady has it right when he writes that a world without religion is a world in which our nature is fundamentally different. With respect to his alternative scenario, I'd quibble some. He writes:
Would this have produced a better world, one with fewer atrocities due to the greater difficulty of generating public sanction for them in the absence of concepts like religious faith, gods who should be obeyed without question, the Divine Right of Kings, an afterlife, and so on? Even though I think there still would have been atrocities in such a world (e.g., Stalin and Mao were both able to perpetrate democide without religion, though it might be argued that both were able to cash in on the "benefits" of populations conditioned to unquestioning obedience by religion), I think there would have been fewer atrocities, and certain kinds (e.g., Aztec human sacrifices, people sacrificing their firstborn children to gods) wouldn't have happened at all.
I think that our war on terror, as well as our war on drugs are good examples of our ever present capacity to talk ourselves into some large scale and pretty appauling acts of violence based on mostly secular arguments. I mean, joe is correct in writing that Bush claimed to be guided by God in the Iraq War. But it's important to remember that this is not how the war was sold to the people at large or to those in power. We were supposed to be shitting our pants over yellow cake. And it's perhaps even more important to remember that people on Bush's national security team had been committed to removing Saddam Hussein and other heads of so-called rogue states from power long before GW so much as announced his candidacy. (See: the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance) And our drone war in particular is a good example of how some pretty bad things can be done without much of a need to be justified to the public in the first place. How many people know that we're bombing people in Yemen and Somalia? How many people would even care if they did?
And nah, the Aztecs were mostly sacrificing warriors from rival tribes. Even if no one ever dreamed up the need to pull dudes' hearts out they chest like Johny Cage, it would have most likely been the case that warriors from rival tribes would have been killed or enslaved by the Aztecs in some less dramatic fashion. That said, I don't think anyone would have been offering their crying children to Tialoc in the hope that it could rain.
As for the Communists, they make me think maybe there's just something in us that will always make us capable of doing all the sorts of harm to ourselves that religion does without a deity. Rejecting science, for example, is problematic. And it doesn't matter if your reason for rejecting it is on the grounds that it contradicts the first chapters of Genesis or that it is somehow "bourgeois." The communists show us that we can be cruel, anti-scientific and completely terrible to each other all while patting ourselves on the back for at least overcoming superstition.
Do you believe in God? You are not Jewish. You are of middle-eastern or north African descent. If you participate in Jewish cultural festivals, that still doesn't make you Jewish.
A lot of atheists decorate Christmas trees and hide eggs for their kids at Easter. That doesn't make us Christians, it only means we grew up in Christian culture.
I think that might have something to do with where these Christmas loving atheists are living. My guess would be the Americas or Europe, where Christians constitute the vast majority of people. My guess is that if they were say, Palestinians that came from Christian families, they'd still identify themselves as Christian even if they didn't accept Jesus as their personal Lord and savior. In that case, and in the case of a lot of Christians around the world, the label "Christian" is indicitive of a deeper group identity that goes beyond some personal belief. And even among Christians in Christian-majority places, you'll still find plenty of people that identify as Catholic or Protestant even if they're not religious. And that's because these labels aren't always about religion. They can be ethnic signifyers too.
So no. The word Jewish can describe a member of the Jewish faith. But it can also describe someone who is ethnically Jewish.