Empirical Insights on Terrorism and Ideology

angry atheism atheism religion

What should we make of the often heard reference to “religious terrorism,” coupled with the innuendo that religion is a uniquely dangerous influence when it comes to just how far people will go in the name of their God, even to the point of outright terrorism?

I know, finding rhetorically cute but terribly skewed and misleading comments on religion from the late Christopher Hitchens is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. It was his forte after all. But because it does dovetail nicely with the issue that caught my eye today, here’s a memorable gem from his book God is not Great:

A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America’s better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a “straight yes/no question,” and I happily agreed. Very well, he said. I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now—would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical. “Just to stay within the letter ‘B,’ I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.”

Yes, it’s a case of thinking quickly on his feet, and yes the examples he cites are probably fair game, given the actual scenarios he describes from the 1970s and 80s, and yes it’s made all the more punchy by the Sesame Street style “things that start with the letter B” approach, and there’s a rhetorically powerful (but terribly misleading) effect being elicited in the reader along the lines of “Wow, and that’s just the letter B! And there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, so that’s six times twenty-six…”

t’s a popular card to play. When you aren’t in the mood for offering arguments for the truth or falsehood of religious beliefs, just go all anti-realist and appeal to the harm done by adherents of religious beliefs (because you know, that tells us which ones are true of course). But it’s a very risky card to play. And I’m not even talking about the obvious: That one-off, large-scale atrocities were worse under secular regimes than under religious ones. We know that. But set aside the errors of the past, give everyone a blank slate, and ask: What’s going on in the world today? I’m not doing any of this to bash or malign any group of people (other, I guess, than those who make inappropriate generalisations about religion and extremism or violence). But I do want to draw attention to a couple of things: First, the fast and loose way that some people are inclined to use (and interpret) the word “religion,” and secondly, the way that this simple religious/non-religious categorisation doesn’t make the non-religious looks squeaky clean. Let me be clear. I do not endorse the tactic of besmirching a general outlook based on the misdeeds of its less sociable adherents (that’s a mild way of describing them). But given that this is a tactic that is used against religion as a blanket category far too often, it seems appropriate to draw on the empirical data to see if it tells us anything relevant (as one should assume that it would).

So here it is. Last year the National Counterterrorism Center in the United States released its “2010 Report on Terrorism.” (pdf file)

Have a read if it interests you – it provides all kinds of information about terrorist activity that it was aware of in 2010: statistics on places, methods of terrorist attacks, when they occurred among other things. One of the things it also documents is the number of such attacks (and the deaths caused by them) according to “perpetrator types.” Here, the number of deaths caused by Muslims, Christians, secular or non-religious people/groups, unknown affiliations, and “other” is displayed visually. This is what that visual depiction looks like:

At the risk of providing the opportunity for people to make generalisations – but in doing no more than referring to the actual data – I note the following:

  • Although people sometimes use the language of “religious” terrorism, as it turns out virtually all such (known) terrorism is violence perpetuated by Sunni Muslims.
  • Although such appeals to religious violence are (admittedly in my own personal experience) made in the context of discussions between atheists/agnostics and Christians, the category devoted to (known) non-religious terrorism is listed as responsible for more than six and a half times the number of deaths, in 2010, as that associated with (known) acts of terrorism carried out by professing Christians.

I can imagine some responses:

“But those ‘secular people’ are just the crazy ones.” No doubt. They are anomalies. Christians, naturally, make the same reply.

“But those secular people are idealogues. The fact that they’re so over the top and violent really makes it a secular religion (because such violent extreme tactics and outlooks are religious by nature). So they’re not truly secular.” But this is no more than circular reasoning (by assuming that if it’s violent and extreme, it’s religious), along with the “no true Scotsman” fallacy (by excluding from the category of “secular” any person or group who doesn’t fit a preconceived and contested theory about religion, secularism and terrorism).

What does this prove about Islam, secularism and Christianity? As far as truth goes, nothing, But what it does appear to establish is that some of the rhetoric I see about violence and religious ideology has been significantly misleading and in some cases, self-defeating.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 55 comments… add one }

  • colin April 26, 2012, 1:49 am

    What would be interesting would be to see the same chart as produced by an islamic nation. Whether something is a justifiable use of force or an act of terrorism is somewhat a matter of perspective.

  • Joel Gonzaga April 26, 2012, 4:20 am

    Very good find, Glen!!

  • Nick April 28, 2012, 8:12 pm

    This was very interesting. I have noticed that those who claim religious violence as being dangerous at times try to sneak some type secular ideology in the back door as a source of reasoning for a better world where tolerance resides. The statistics appear to question this. Maybe this gives everyone something to consider.

  • RWAhrens April 30, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Actually, to show that secular regimes have committed worse atrocities than religious ones, one would need to show that the purpose of the regime (and thus the atrocity) was secular in purpose. Given that both Pol Pot (in Cambodia) and Stalin (in Russia) both espoused Communism, which was a cult of personality virtually wherever it was practiced, and which absolutely forbade the existence of any groups which might challenge the supremacy of the Communist Party, the “secular” purpose of those two regimes wasn’t, strictly speaking, about secularism, but about Communism, and aiding in its continued existence.

    One can argue as to which is worse – a greater number of deaths in a short period, or the complete subjugation of the entire Western World for almost two thousand years, with all the misery, death and deliberately inflicted suffering extending over the population thereof for that entire time, but the fact is, the occurrence of one does not excuse the occurrence of the other!

    The two regimes which inflicted such widespread death in the twentieth century were opposed and destroyed by forces both internal and external, and neither lasted for a historically significant period – less than a hundred years for the longer, less than two dozen for the other – and yet, the “regime” apologists seek to excuse lasted for at least 1600 years, kept itself in power through force, intimidation, murder, genocide, child indoctrination, torture, summary executions and who knows what all else, and the result of its power was the destruction of the highest form of human technology and application of science the world had yet seen, with the forced subjugation of the entire population of a significant portion of the world’s surface for that entire period. The suffering that resulted from the destruction of human knowledge in the realm of health care alone is unmatched by anything the twentieth century could boast in the category of human cruelty to itself. To add in the loss of the rest of scientific knowledge the Romans had learned and used is to compound that suffering to an astonishing degree.

    I know of few humanists who would argue that a world without religion would be some kind of tolerant utopia. Humanity is still tribal in nature, and can easily be led into intolerant pathways. The point of having a world without religion is to put a reality check back in place. Religion has no reality check, since it is based on imaginary figures who cannot be detected.

  • Martin April 30, 2012, 8:58 pm

    Is that picture actually your bedside drawer Glen?

  • Glenn April 30, 2012, 9:01 pm

    Well, in theory it could be any of the drawers in my house! (I jest)

  • Glenn April 30, 2012, 9:07 pm

    RWAhrens: “Actually, to show that secular regimes have committed worse atrocities than religious ones, one would need to show that the purpose of the regime (and thus the atrocity) was secular in purpose.”

    Firstly, no you wouldn’t. In order to show that secular groups are responsible for more terrorism-related deaths, you only need to show that they are – in fact – responsible for more terrorism related deaths (remember the topic – terrorism deaths). But to jump over to your new topic, wrong again. In order to show that secular regimes have carried out worse atrocities than religious movements in the modern world, all you would need to show is that they had carried out worse atrocities than religious groups. That’s it. Once you’ve shown that, QED.

    Secondly, you go on to say that since a movement was about promoting communism, it wasn’t really doing what it did for a secular purpose. This seems to be simply wrong. Secular here means non-religious, and unless communism is a religion, you must accept that it is a secular cause – a cause free of religious belief.

    Lastly, it’s a waste of time using this as an opportunity to go off on a tangent about how religion is all about imaginary figures. This simply changes the subject. That subject is that while some people seem to speak (to Christians) as though religion is uniquely dangerous and can lead to awful things like fanaticism and terrorism, the empirical data shows that really there’s one specific religion of which this is more true than other movements (religious and otherwise), and when it comes to Christianity, non-religious groups have a worse modern track record (2010) than Christianity does. Ridiculing the truth claims of religion as you end up doing is simply irrelevant rhetoric. This is about the data and what it shows.

  • RWAhrens May 1, 2012, 10:41 am

    “Secular”, as argued by theists in this vein, is usually used to refer to atheism, and is used as a whipping boy to make atheism a purpose for the atrocities of Stalin, Pol Pot and most often, Hitler. My argument is that both Pol Pot and Stalin had another purpose that wasn’t related directly to “atheism” as a cause, and that purpose was Communism. Yes, that is strictly speaking, “secular”, but their purpose was not related to atheism, as an anti-theist cause, as is alluded to by this theist argument.

    It seems to me that you’re setting the bar to prove your point.

    Are you arguing ONLY the number of deaths or worse atrocities? On one hand, that makes the numbers much worse, because you are comparing atrocities which occurred at widely differing times with widely differing population totals.

    The number of people available to Stalin upon which to commit his atrocities was much greater than that available to the RCC, unless they were willing to completely denude all of Europe of people. Stalin simply quarantined Ukraine and let twenty million people starve to death. Easy to do within just a few weeks. He didn’t even have to waste bullets. The total number of people he had left in the USSR was more than sufficient to keep the country running, and, indeed, to repopulate Ukraine.

    During the periods in which the RCC had sufficient secular power to have committed such atrocities (and we all know they were fully capable of such barbarism), there wasn’t sufficient population for them to have affected that large a number of people. But the RCC had full control of Europe for at least 1400 years. In that period, they managed to take man’s knowledge of health care alone back to stone age levels. The numbers of people who died within that time, as a percentage of population, and as a result of that alone, would, I am sure, rival that of Stalin’s actions. Add in the rest of the body of scientific knowledge the Romans had and used (including running water and sewage, including indoor plumbing) and the affects on public health alone over 1400 years is devastating. The percentage of the population in Germany during the 30 years war (which was purely religious in nature) that died was very high in places, and several cities were completely wiped off the map, including women and children.

    Soviet control over the USSR topped merely 80 years, roughly. A blip compared to the RCC’s control of Europe.

  • RWAhrens May 1, 2012, 10:42 am

    Hitler, of course, was Catholic, and his views on Jews was informed by Luther’s writings, and the teachings of the RCC. The population he controlled was a mixture of Catholic and Evangälish (German Lutheran), which had been steeped for centuries in anti-jewish propaganda that was religiously based and taught.

    You are comparing apples to oranges.

    And no, my remarks were not a tangent, they are central to the issue. The fact is that, as religion is concerned with imaginary figures, and other ideologies are not (Communism, for instance, is an economic theory), it is reasonable to note that given the same amount of control over a similar population, religion would be worse, since there is no reality check. Eventually, Communism failed because it was concerned with earthly issues – economics – and it failed because it failed to pony up real world results. That failure came quickly, on a relative historical time scale.

    Religion has no such limits, because there is no check on what they can claim, which cannot be compared to real conditions, since their claims are imaginary in nature. In other words, you’ve gotta die to see if it works!

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone painting a group of people with the same brush as the extremists of that group. But my point isn’t against the people, it is against the ideology and what it is capable of. In other words, what it ALLOWS its adherents to do and what they have done as a result in the past.

  • RWAhrens May 1, 2012, 10:43 am

    Lastly, the OP is comparing modern terrorism stats, and those stats clearly show religion to be the hands down worse numerically. I don’t know why you separate christianity out, as it clearly has as little of a reality check as islam, it is merely extant in a more settled part of the world, where adherence to law (as opposed to monarchy or tribalism) is a widely held cultural value, where islam is extant in parts of the world which are much less socially advanced, and is more tribal in culture. Additionally, christianity has gone through an enlightenment which stripped much of christianity’s secular power which allowed many of the worse atrocities of that religion’s past, while islam has not, and thus, its fundamentalist nature is closer to mainstream and has a widespread base of secular power. This shows, again, what religion is capable of, given the secular power and/or cultural values to do so.

    If you are going to make a comparison, you need to allow for cultural differences, political differences, and differences in population numbers and density in order to level the field of comparison.

    This simple comparison of numbers is simplistic and means nothing.

  • Glenn May 1, 2012, 5:59 pm

    RWAhern

    “Lastly, the OP is comparing modern terrorism stats, and those stats clearly show religion to be the hands down worse numerically. I don’t know why you separate christianity out, as it clearly has as little of a reality check as islam,”

    As I said, this is purely about the data. Contrary to your suggestion, it was not I who separated the categories in this way. This is the way the source provided the data, and I have not manipulated the way it was presented.

    The reason this is significant was actually explained in the blog post. It is often the case that when atheists/agnostics seek to play the “religion is dangerous” card, they are actually in dialogue with Christians. What this data shows is that it is a mistake to lump together different religions as though “they’re all basically the same thing anyway.” This is as much of a mistake as treating, say, a Western liberal democracy and a fascist dictatorship as basically the same and lumping them in together because they’re both political.

    Lastly, if you think the raw data presented simply in terms of numbers “means nothing,” then I trust you are not someone who ever appeals to the numbers of people harmed by religion as though it shows something about religion. While I don’t think it shows anything about the truth of religious or secular outlooks, I do think shows something, namely that those who make this sort of attack when discussing religion with Christians are often quite ignorant of the facts.

  • RWAhrens May 2, 2012, 3:17 pm

    That was a rhetorical “you”, I figured that the data came that way.

    And I explained why your reasoning is wrong, and it is wrong because at the basis of their belief system, they all believe the same bullshit. They all believe in magic, invisible beings who have immense powers, and because they do, you’ve got to surrender your entire life to that power. That attitude is dangerous, and allows adherents of any religion, no matter how benign, to act as if their fairy tales are true, and that makes them do irrational stuff. Even if it isn’t killing people and blowing up skyscrapers, christians today are still doing things and causing one of the most damaging political fights in generations, since it is preventing us from acting rationally in fixing the economy.

    And yes, because moderate christians go along with the evangelical BS that you’ve got to vote for another christian harms our democracy, while it may not be adding to your precious death totals, the damage is worse than any single terrorist attack except perhaps 9/11.

    It isn’t the deaths that matter so much as the permission to act irrationally in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that religion permits. Yeah, yeah, non-theists can act irrationally too. But, like I noted, at some point, people making claims about earthly, tangible things at some point have to show proof that their claims make sense, or they begin to lose followers. Not so, religion.

    The damage is much, much worse when you can just claim that “god said it!”

    Which is why I said that the numbers you present mean, essentially, nothing, because harm isn’t just the death your numbers represent. Harm is also suffering, pain, poverty, and marginalization based on physical characteristics you cannot control, such as skin color, sexual preference and sex.

  • Glenn May 2, 2012, 10:27 pm

    “And I explained why your reasoning is wrong, and it is wrong because at the basis of their belief system, they all believe the same bullshit.”

    OK, well this is simply false, and is just an expression of your own bias – It’s all nonsense, which makes it all the same. Thanks for playing.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 3, 2012, 11:33 am

    “But the RCC had full control of Europe for at least 1400 years. In that period, they managed to take man’s knowledge of health care alone back to stone age levels. The numbers of people who died within that time, as a percentage of population, and as a result of that alone, would, I am sure, rival that of Stalin’s actions. Add in the rest of the body of scientific knowledge the Romans had and used (including running water and sewage, including indoor plumbing) and the affects on public health alone over 1400 years is devastating.”

    All historically false claims. Try reading a reputable medieval historian such as Edward Grant.

  • RWAhrens May 3, 2012, 12:19 pm

    “All historically false claims.”

    You don’t say what’s false vs. true. Do you deny that the RCC controlled Europe for at least that long? Do you deny that the state of medical knowledge during the Dark Ages through the beginnings of the Enlightenment was a bare fraction of what the Romans were aware of, based on actual published documentation written by Roman medical authorities?

    Or do you deny that that lack could have resulted in what is probably an unknowable number of deaths and suffering because of such lack of knowledge?

    Much of this has been documented by Dr. Richard Carrier, an expert on Roman science and technology.

  • RWAhrens May 3, 2012, 12:23 pm

    “OK, well this is simply false, and is just an expression of your own bias”

    And that statement is an expression of *your* own bias. Prove your assertion that it is. Try logic instead of a simple statement.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 3, 2012, 4:00 pm

    RWA given you simply asserted those claims you can’t really make that response.

    Your tactic here appears to involve making assertion about history to attack Christianity and then claiming that assertions about history are illogical. I am sorry but *that* is illogical.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 3, 2012, 4:58 pm

    You don’t say what’s false vs. true. Do you deny that the RCC controlled Europe for at least that long?

    Yes, the RC did not *control* or *dominate* Europe for 1400 years. For several centuries the Papacy lived in exile due to political opposition. By Régine Pernou notes this claim is a myth in “Those terrible middle ages debunking the myths.”

    Do you deny that the state of medical knowledge during the Dark Ages through the beginnings of the Enlightenment was a bare fraction of what the Romans were aware of, based on actual published documentation written by Roman medical authorities?

    That’s not what you said, what you said was that “they [the RC church]managed to take man’s knowledge of health care alone back to stone age levels.
    This is not the claim that state of medical knowledge during the Dark Ages was lower than roman times. It’s the claim that the RC brought this about and also that the knowledge was at stone age levels.”

    First, the picture of the early medieval history as “the dark ages” is highly disputed. Numbers and Lindberg note that recent historical research suggests that this portrayal of the early middle ages as “the dark ages” is a caricature. (David C Lindberg “The Medieval Church Encounters the Classical Tradition: Saint Augustine, Roger Bacon and the Handmaiden Metaphor” inWhen Science & Christianity Meet, ed. David C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003) 7-8). A conclusion shared by the studies of Henri Pirenne (A History of Europe from the End of the Roman World in the West to the Beginning of Western States, (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1958)) and Marc Bloch (Feudal Society, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1961)) and Richard Hodge (“The Not So Dark Ages,”Archaeology 51 (September/October 1998).

    Second, even if medical knowledge at this time was a “bare fraction of what the Romans were aware” it does not follow the RC church caused this. That commits the post hoc ergo goc fallacy The claim the church suppressed scientific knowledge during the middle ages is known as the conflict thesis and its pretty much rejected and discredited by historians today. It was popular in the 19th century but has been thoroughly discredited. Carrier is probably one of the few to defend anything like this. See http://bedejournal.blogspot.co.nz/2010_09_01_archive.html

  • Matthew Flannagan May 3, 2012, 5:44 pm

  • Glenn May 3, 2012, 6:22 pm

    “And that statement is an expression of *your* own bias.”

    No it isn’t. For you to say that since Islam and Christianity are both false they are both basically the same, you are in fact expressing your own bias against religion in general. That observation is not a statement of my own bias.

    And as for “proving” my own claims, I have already established their credibility with evidence. The specific claims that I have made in this blog post are backed up with empirical data from the National Counterterrorism Center. There is a link so that you can check for yourself.

  • Mark May 3, 2012, 6:31 pm

  • colin May 4, 2012, 2:15 am

    You guys are awesome, not you RWA.

    This thread is itself a perfect counterexample to the claim that rationality and reason are the domain of atheists, and emotional and fictitious outbursts are the domain of the ‘religious’. So thanks for that.

  • RWAhrens May 4, 2012, 10:57 am

    “For several centuries the Papacy lived in exile due to political opposition. ”

    That’s a laugh, to claim that the fact that the Pope couldn’t live in Rome meant he didn’t control his own church, and by extension, much of daily life around the known world at the time. Even at times when the Papacy was in flux or even when there were two of them, the bureaucracy of the church kept the daily functions going, and thus, the daily control over the lives of most Europeans.

    The fact is that for a period of at least 1400 years, Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe, enforced by church authority which at times lead to punishments such as prison, exile, torture, strangulation and burning. Among other “delightful” methods of bringing the sinners to Christ.

    Christianity was responsible for the forcible, violent expulsion of “pagan” religion from Europe and most of the Mediterranean known world. Don’t try to deny it, it happened.

    “That’s not what you said, what you said was that “they [the RC church]managed to take man’s knowledge of health care alone back to stone age levels.”

    Ok, a bit of hyperbole. But the fact is, medical knowledge WAS reduced, and the lack of medical schools, such as the Romans had, was responsible for that. I suppose you’ll deny that the church halted any teaching institutions that didn’t teach church doctrine now. That resulted in a reduction in public health that undeniably resulted in uncountable deaths, suffering and disease for centuries. The facts are that medical knowledge wasn’t advanced in any measurable way until the late middle ages, if not later. Heck, they were still bleeding folks in George Washington’s day.

  • RWAhrens May 4, 2012, 11:18 am

    ” That observation is not a statement of my own bias.”

    No, but your denial of it is an example of yours.

    I’ll try this again.

    All religions have one common characteristic. They make claims about the supernatural. Despite all of the differences in their specific claims, that one thing – that they make uncheckable, unverifiable claims about beings and places that do not exist in the natural world.

    I don’t care what your particular religious beliefs are, but to all other folks that DON’T believe like you do, your claims DO seem just as ridiculous as, for instance, Islam. I suspect that the Hindu of the world get a particular chuckle about certain aspects of the different Western religions, but then, you do about theirs, huh?

    So, that’s my point. ALL religions make unverifiable claims about the supernatural. Therefor, those claims are bereft of any kind of reality check. Any claims made by their adherents can be as outlandish as they wish, and nobody can verify or disprove them.

    The second point I made is that the numbers you cite are not adjusted for culture differences, different legal systems, social conditions or a dozen other things that would make them better for the point you wish to make.

    From the report’s disclaimer pages:

    “This report is provided for statistical purposes only. The statistical information contained in the Annex is based on factual reports from a variety of open sources that may be of varying credibility. Any assessments regarding the nature of the incidents or the factual circumstances thereof are offered only as part of the analytic work product of the National Counterterrorism Center and may not reflect the assessments of other departments and agencies of the United States Government. Nothing in this report should be construed as a determination that individuals associated with the underlying incidents are guilty of terrorism or any other criminal offense.”

    There’s more, and what it means is that they do not adjust the data for any kind of specific data analysis. It’s just raw data, and it isn’t even gathered in any particularly rigorous manner.

    Without the kind of adjustments I mentioned, the report doesn’t prove anything that you allege. It’s just raw numbers, and isn’t proof of anything.

  • colin May 4, 2012, 11:28 am

    “ALL religions make unverifiable claims about the supernatural. Therefor, those claims are bereft of any kind of reality check”

    Atheism is an unverifiable claim about the supernatural. Equally unverifiable, and equally used as a justification for behavior.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 4, 2012, 2:59 pm

    The fact they were in exile due to political opposition showed they were not in political control.
    But I note you are silent now about your original claim that the church supressed roman medicine. Of course given much of the decline in roman knowledge you refer to did not occur in the eastern empire which was controlled by Christian emperors tends to put a damper on your claims.

    The fact is that for a period of at least 1400 years, Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe, enforced by church authority which at times lead to punishments such as prison, exile, torture, strangulation and burning. Among other “delightful” methods of bringing the sinners to Christ.

    Actually that again is false, Canon law forbade forced conversions of pagans and they were prohibited by the church. In one of the few incidents where this occurred under Charlemegne the church authorities condemned it.
    The punishments of exile, torture, strangulation and burning, were introduced as punishments for *heresy* by secular kings in the 12th century. For much of the 1400 years you refer to such punishments did not exist
    Moreover for the few hundred years they do exist, they were not enforced by the church authority, the church only had the authority to try heretics, not execute them. The punishment of burning in fact came from roman law. Moreover, recent research into the Inquisition based on the actual archives as opposed to 17th century propaganda tacts show that even for those tried for heresy execution and torture was not the norm bad made up a tiny fraction of cases, in most cases people were not executed or strangled or burnt or tortured at all. This compares very favourably to the normal judicial practise secular law where torture and execution was far more common for many crimes.
    So it’s hard to justify the claim that such violence was imposed by the church on the secular culture by the church for 1400 years. It more accurate to say that such violence was in fact a normal part of secular civil law with regards to most crimes. After the 12th century, the church instigated tribunals which collaborated in the execution of heretics but which also severely mitigated the violence and abuses involved. Of course this was wrong, but that does not justify misrepresenting history, or the facts.
    And of course in the 500 years during which the Spanish Inquistion existed in Spain 5000 were executed by the tribunal. This is terrible, but its really

  • Matthew Flannagan May 4, 2012, 3:04 pm

    …small in comparison to the 44,000 killed in a couple of years when the enlightenment Deists took control of France. The facts do not support the discredited view of medieval history you sketch.

  • Ross May 4, 2012, 3:40 pm

    amazon.co.ukI thought I would throw this in for good measure.
    The following is a quote from this book which I have page 40-41

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-Historical-Atlas-Medieval-World/dp/0141014490

    “For most of the Middle Ages, popes had little authority outside Rome. The Church was largely run by bishops at regional level. This suited most secular rulers, who relied on their bishops to administer regional government since they, unlike most secular lords, tended to be well educated, and could not because of their celibacy, found dynasties…In time, the investiture ceremony, wherein a bishop was presented with the symbols of his office, came to include an oath of allegiance to his secular overlord. By the 11th century, the ceremony, and often the selection of the candidate himself, had fallen to imperial or royal representatives.”

    Far from the church ‘dominating’ Europe, it was far more often the case that European lords, and in particular the Holy Roman Emperor, dominated the church. If you think about it this should actually be quite obvious. Who, in general, is going to decide the appointment of the bishop? An old man in Rome or the local lord with his army?

    My authors, Andrew Jotishky and Caroline Hull, note this situation led to a ‘reform movement’ in the latter 11th century of the papacy, whereby reforming popes “…informed by monastic ideals rather than by the traditions of the secular clergy…” attempted to rid the Church of practices such as “…clerical marriage, simony (the buying and selling of clerical offices) and lay investiture of bishops.” Suffice to say this led to conflict with the Holy Roman Emperors (eg:Henry IV) who argued that “Our Lord Jesus Christ summoned us to kingship [Romans 13?]; he did not summon you to priesthood…” I think it is clear that Church institution was never run purely, or even mostly, by religious conviction per se. There was a lot more going on.

  • Hugh May 4, 2012, 4:17 pm

    “This report is provided for statistical purposes only. The statistical information contained in the Annex is based on factual reports from a variety of open sources that may be of varying credibility. Any assessments regarding the nature of the incidents or the factual circumstances thereof are offered only as part of the analytic work product of the National Counterterrorism Center and may not reflect the assessments of other departments and agencies of the United States Government. Nothing in this report should be construed as a determination that individuals associated with the underlying incidents are guilty of terrorism or any other criminal offense.”

    There’s more, and what it means is that they do not adjust the data for any kind of specific data analysis. It’s just raw data, and it isn’t even gathered in any particularly rigorous manner.

    Without the kind of adjustments I mentioned, the report doesn’t prove anything that you allege. It’s just raw numbers, and isn’t proof of anything.

    Did you even read this quote? It’s to do with the exact nature of specific incidents and how these can’t be inferred from the stats, not that the stats mean nothing. If you read the following paragraph in the report, you would have noticed

    In deriving its figures for incidents of terrorism, NCTC in 2005 adopted the definition of
    “terrorism” that appears in the 22 USC § 2656f(d)(2), i.e., “premeditated, politically
    motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or
    clandestine agents.

    So I don’t exactly see how or why adjusting the data for “cultural differences” or “social conditions” would make any meaningful difference to the data and hence to the observations made by Glenn.

  • Hugh May 4, 2012, 4:24 pm

    edit* inferred from the info in the report

  • Glenn May 4, 2012, 4:35 pm

    RWAhern:

    All religions have one common characteristic. They make claims about the supernatural. Despite all of the differences in their specific claims, that one thing – that they make uncheckable, unverifiable claims about beings and places that do not exist in the natural world.

    I don’t care what your particular religious beliefs are, but to all other folks that DON’T believe like you do, your claims DO seem just as ridiculous as, for instance, Islam.

    I get it. You think all religions are false, so you think it’s acceptable to treat them as the same. Understood. But to use this as grounds for saying that the report should be altered to reflect that judgement of yours, pushing all religions together as one, is allowing your bias to interfere with your interpretation of data – and that is the problem.

    Maybe this example will help: I believe that Islam is wrong, and atheism is wrong. Their stance on reality is false. But I would never dream of taking the licence to say “therefore they are both the same” and fudging them together in data sets so that nearly ALL terrorism was carried out by the group that includes secularists. That would allow my bias to skew the information I was presenting, which is what you’re doing when you say that this data should not be divided up, and the report itself should treat all religions as the same.

    See what I mean?

  • RWAhrens May 4, 2012, 5:25 pm

    “You think all religions are false, so you think it’s acceptable to treat them as the same. ”

    Not at all. Truth or falsity don’t matter. The point is they all have that same characteristic, which is the claim about supernatural beings or places. Those claims cannot be verified or falsified. Therefor, the claimants can’t be fact-checked, so there is no way for the real world to provide the reality check that all other ideologies, such as Communism, for instance, are subject to. Therefor, there are no limits to what they can claim or to what extremes they can go in defense of or to spread their theology. Of course, if one then examines the different groups for cultural and/or social differences, based on real world conditions, there will be differences in how they react from time to time. for instance, evangelicals in this country have taken part in a backlash in recent decades, that have resulted in a more fundamentalist reaction to the election is 2010, one that is completely in opposition to the majority of the voters in this country, according to poll after poll. But they defend it on religious grounds, not practical, political grounds.

    Don’t conflate that with my second point, which is that the data doesn’t say what you want it to say. I did NOT say it shouldn’t be “divided up”, I said that the data isn’t necessarily saying what you want it to say between the different categories. You are trying to take those numbers to prove that christianity is not as bad as Islam or secular/political/anarchist groups, but because of those pesky cultural/social/legal differences between WHERE the data is being collected, the data in one place doesn’t say the same thing about one group that it may about another. The report clearly notes that the reasons for the various attacks it reports on aren’t always clear or even reported on, and often may be missing entirely. The particular graph you cherry picked doesn’t even speak to motives or goals of the various individual attacks (only responsible groups), so you are simply showing raw data that hasn’t been examined or analyzed for the results you are looking to show. For instance, many of the attacks that Islamic groups are blamed for may be actually political in nature, against other factions of Islam, and may have no religious motives at all. This graph does not show that data. Only the group of origin.

    See what I mean?

  • Hugh May 4, 2012, 6:54 pm

    I’d first point out that you haven’t avoided the problem that atheism makes claims about supernatural beings (i.e. that there are no such things) which isn’t verifiable. Under your logic, this means atheists are also unable to be provided with a reality check and are thus unlimited in their potential to claim things or the extent they’d go to to defend their particular ideologies.

    But even if we excuse you here and grant your special pleading, there’s another gap in your logic here (which is kind of related to the first point). You say that religious claims about supernatural beings cannot be verified or falsified and thus not factually checked by the real world. Here you are just equivocating the “real” world with the “natural” world without justification and thus are begging the question for what constitutes the real world (I assume you think something like the scientific method is the only valid method of verifying what is ‘real’, which is a sad self-defeating view to say the least). Basically you’re saying that a particular world view/ideology must be compatible with atheism, ie secular, in order to safegaurd people from a supposed infinite capacity find motivation to defend it. Apart from a rather bad circular argument, you’ve given us no reason to think this.

    For instance, many of the attacks that Islamic groups are blamed for may be actually political in nature, against other factions of Islam, and may have no religious motives at all.

    I’m glad you acknowledge this point, whilst ironically missing Glenn’s point entirely. What you said actually complements the purpose of his post, ie to illustrate the problem of appealing to the idea that religion is especially dangerous in influencing terrorism. Glenn’s not trying to prove that Christianity is better than Islam or Secular groups, just that these stats show that the aforementioned appeal is a bad argument in the context of atheist/christian discussions. If anything you’ve highlighted the real culprit, ie politics, which is something relevant to everyone.

  • Glenn May 4, 2012, 7:20 pm

    “Glenn’s not trying to prove that Christianity is better than Islam or Secular groups, just that these stats show that the aforementioned appeal is a bad argument in the context of atheist/christian discussions.”

    Bingo. What we have here is someone who doesn’t want to grant this point so is trying to change the subject.

  • rwahrens May 5, 2012, 6:09 am

    “Under your logic, this means atheists are also unable to be provided with a reality check and are thus unlimited in their potential to claim things or the extent they’d go to to defend their particular ideologies.”

    Uh, no. Atheism is not a claim “for” something supernatural. It is a complete denial of such claims, so it deals solely with the real, natural world. Which is why such secular ideologies as Communism have to deal with those reality checks, and do, as it did, fail when they don’t deliver on their promises. Capitalism is another secular ideology which, so far, has met its promises, in large measure, and can be relatively successfully tweaked and controlled to continue to do so. As long as it meets its promises, it passes that reality check. No supernatural entity or places needed or promised.

    But when a religion makes a claim about salvation and something like heaven and hell, or a wheel of life, one cannot verify its claims, since the proof isn’t revealed to the adherent until after death, when it is too late to come back and inform the rest of us of its truth or falsity. No amount of experimentation, examination or observation by human senses can, or has, verified any such claim. So, the sky is the limit. Hell, christianity itself speaks of belief on faith, which its own teachings say is belief without evidence. Like when the Pope revealed recently that there is, after centuries of teachings, no limbo, and, apparently never was. One gets to move the goal posts without penalty.

    Which is kind of the point.

  • colin May 5, 2012, 7:18 am

    Hopefully that you can see that the claim that “no supernatural entity exists” is a supernatural claim, a claim about the supernatural.

    It is no more falsifiable or testable than any positive supernatural claim

    Therefore any secular ideology that relies on the truth of this claim will be in exactly the same boat.

    Now, an ideology that doesn’t rely on spiritual claims at all can be evaluated on other grounds, which is why you get capitalist christians, socialist christians, capitalist athiests and socialist atheists.

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 7:57 am

    “Hopefully that you can see that the claim that “no supernatural entity exists” is a supernatural claim, a claim about the supernatural.”

    I don’t see how one can evaluate the claims of Communism or Capitalism on a “supernatural claim ” of denial of the supernatural. Neither ideology depends on the supernatural either existing or not. That is simply a non sequitor. Both can easily be evaluated on real world conditions and whether their real world claims pass that reality check. In these two cases, one did, and one currently does. This has NOTHING to do with atheism, but is secular, or non-religious, in nature.

    Please show how this is wrong.

  • colin May 5, 2012, 8:12 am

    So you’re suggesting that communism was not influenced by or in any way dependent on atheism?

    And yet you don’t allow us to make the distinction between a political regime (thinly disguised in religious garb) and the actual teachings of Christianity?

  • colin May 5, 2012, 8:14 am

    Or put it another way, I don’t think you’d get any argument from anyone here that the political ideology of the RCC has at times been abhorrent, but that has little to do with christianity

  • Geoff May 5, 2012, 8:39 am

    RWAhrens:

    h, no. Atheism is not a claim “for” something supernatural. It is a complete denial of such claims…

    That is a claim for something supernatural. More accurately religion makes metaphysical claims (there is/are supernatural beings), and atheism makes a counter supernatural claim (there are no supernatural beings).

    And that makes Atheism, if it claims to deal with the “real natural world” (by that I am assuming science), false. If you only deal with scientifically testable, empirical, observable data, you need to avoid stepping out of that realm and making metaphysical claims, which are generally not scientifically testable, empirical, observable data.

    Evolution, for example, is a scientific theory, not a metaphysical claim about whether there is a supernatural being(s). The religious and anti-religious need to bear that in mind.

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 9:17 am

    “That is a claim for something supernatural.”

    No, it is a claim regarding the natural world, that there is all there is, and it is a verifiable claim. Test it, retest it, do experiments and make observations, and all you will ever see is a natural world. Period, end of story. If you want to prove a supernatural claim, go ahead, but you’ll never be able to empirically defend it.

    But my argument is not about “atheism”. It is about “secular” ideologies that make claims about the real world. Such as Communism and Capitalism. Both are secular, non-religious and do not make claims about the supernatural world. They are economic theories about human societies and how they work, and are bound by real world limitations.

    Don’t read more into my arguments than there is. I didn’t mention atheism, somebody else did. I said secular.

  • colin May 5, 2012, 10:57 am

    “that there is all there is, and it is a verifiable claim”
    What? No it isn’t. Are you serious? What experiment would you propose that I do to verify the non-existence of the supernatural?

    So just as atheism isn’t responsible for communism, neither is christianity responsible for anything done by a political entity that has nothing in common with christianity but a name.

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 12:24 pm

    “What experiment would you propose that I do to verify the non-existence of the supernatural?”

    I gather that you don’t understand how science works. You perform an experiment to try to prove something does. If it fails, then you’ve got an indication that it doesn’t. If it succeeds, you’ve shown it does. If you make a positive claim, you’ve got to provide some proof of it.

    “So just as atheism isn’t responsible for communism, neither is christianity responsible for anything done by a political entity that has nothing in common with christianity but a name.”

    Only if that entity is acting for secular reasons. If it excuses its actions on religion, then it’s on christianity’s ledger, just as it is with islam. Even if it is not officially affiliated with a specific church. If it uses religion as an excuse, then that religion is responsible. Even Hindus use their religion as an excuse to kill.

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 12:29 pm

    As for christian excuses for “It is against canon law”:

    Year: 391 Temple visits
    Theodosius prohibits visits to pagan temples and even merely looking at pagan statues becomes criminal offence. See: Milman’s History of Christianity, vol. iii., 64. Gibbon, Chap. xxviii or: G W Foote & J M Wheeler, Crimes of Christianity, London, Progessive Publishing Company, 1887, Chapter: 2, electronically published on: Source Link, last call on: 03/29/2008 (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 395 Paganism prohibited
    Theodosius introduces law making paganism criminal offence and orders banning of pagan events including Olympic Games. (See: G W Foote & J M Wheeler >> Crimes of Christianity , chapter: 2, on: Source Link, last call on: 03/29/2008. (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 415 Hypatia
    Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria (376-444), executes pagan philosopher Hypatia (375-415) for being woman going against God’s will by teaching men; Christian mob parades her mutilated body through Alexandrian streets. See: Sue Toohey, The important life & tragic death of Hypatia, by2003, on: Source Link , last call. 04/01/2008 and also K.Deschner, Opus Diaboli, Reinbek 1987, p. 19-25 (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 448 Book burnings
    Theodosius II (401-450) orders burning of all non-Christian books. Update: Among others, the book of famous ancient Greek philosopher Porphyry 232/3-304, “kata Christianos” (against the Christians) calling Christian gospels “no reports of occurrences but sheer contrivances.” (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 694 Jewish enslavement
    Fifth council of Toledo orders enslavement of Jews, their property confiscated and children forcibly baptized. (See: K.H. Deschner, K. H.Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn, Stuttgart 1962, p. 445, see also: islamkristen, ibidem (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 782 Charlemagne
    Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (c742-814) beheads 4500 Saxon rebels in one morning for refusing to convert to Christianity. See: William Manchester “A World Lit Only by Fire- The Medieval Mind and The Renaissance”. Little, Brown & Company, 1992 , or on: http://dim.com/~randl/tinq.htm“>Source Link last call on: 03/11/2008 (See: K. H. Deschner, Opus Diaboli, Reinbek 1987., p. 30, mentioned also on: [islamkristen] Fwd: Christian crimes against humanity throughout history, on: Source Link , last call on: 04/25/2008 (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 12:40 pm

    More atrocities:

    Year: 1095-9 First Crusade
    Urban II (1088-99) calls for European knights to march on Jerusalem under Christian umbrella to wrest Holy Land from Turkish Muslims. Jews and dark-skinned Christians also targets.

    Year: 1096 People’s Crusade
    Catholic preacher Peter the Hermit (c1050-1115) leads 1000s of peasants in holy war on Belgrade, chief city of Orthodox Church after Constantinople.

    Year: 1096 Yugoslavia
    Amid confused fighting, Peter the Hermit’s peasant army accidentally slaughters 4,000 Christian residents of Zemun, Yugoslavia.

    Year: 1096 Goose Crusade
    Scores of German Jews are hacked or burned to death by Christian fanatics who follow goose “blessed by God”.
    Year: 1096 Muslim slaughter
    4,000,000 to 7,000,000 Muslims die as Peter the Hermit’s peasants follow Christian knights into Jerusalem; crusaders believe killing Muslims “good for soul”. I, myself, doubt the size of this one, it is unattributted and the numbers seem high. RWA

    Year: 1096 Jewish slaughter
    Estimated 12,000 Jews are slaughtered during first crusade; Historian Dagobert Runes estimates 3,500,000 Jews are killed during seven Holy Wars. 1.) (See:Kelsos/Islamkristen, ibidem, referring: S.Eidelberg, The Jews and the Crusaders, Madison 1977) (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 1098 Antioch
    Historian H Wollschlger estimates 100,000 Muslims, including women and children, were slaughtered by Christian crusaders at Turkish Antioch. (See: H.Wollschlaeger: Die bewaffneten Wallfahrten gen Jerusalem, Zurich 1973, page 32-35) (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Year: 1098 Marra
    Historian H Wollschlger estimates 1000s were slaughtered by Christian crusaders at Maraat an-numan. (See: H.Wollschlaeger: Die bewaffneten Wallfahrten gen Jerusalem, Zurich 1973, page 36) (Thanks to contributing editor Hans H. Atrott)

    Ok, I’m going to stop here. I could go on, and a vast majority of what is here is sourced and attributed. The fact is that, regardless of the “Canon Law” cited above, the RCC has throughout history, violated that law whenever it felt it was needful. Even today, with the pedophilia scandals, it violated its own law by ignoring priestly sexual activity, in spite of the violations of celibacy alone. Benedict himself signed the church document, written in Latin, instructing his bishops to ignore local secular law and handle the issues internally.

    Even if forced conversion was illegal, it killed people for centuries for not converting.

  • Glenn May 5, 2012, 12:41 pm

    So nothing more to say about the data in this blog? Fair enough. Needless to say (but here I am saying it anyway), the blog post specifically states that it was talking about the contemporary world. Atheists can’t afford to play the “atrocities of the past” card, as you know very well, RWAhern.

    But if for some reason you wanted to, you could always make a cogent case that all of the above actions are consistent with Christian teaching. That’ll be something to see!

  • RWAhrens May 5, 2012, 12:46 pm

    Ok, that’s it.

    I’ve spent enough time and effort here. I’ve expressed my views, shown you where I think you are wrong, and I appreciate the fact that you and your other commenters have been civil and patent.

    Thanks for being nice!

    RWA

  • Glenn May 5, 2012, 6:04 pm

    “the data doesn’t say what you want it to say”

    If this is your claim, it is false. The data says exactly what I claimed, namely:

    1) Although people sometimes use the language of “religious” terrorism, as it turns out virtually all such (known) terrorism is violence perpetuated by Sunni Muslims.
    2) Although such appeals to religious violence are (admittedly in my own personal experience) made in the context of discussions between atheists/agnostics and Christians, the category devoted to (known) non-religious terrorism is listed as responsible for more than six and a half times the number of deaths, in 2010, as that associated with (known) acts of terrorism carried out by professing Christians.

    This is a true reflection of what the data says. By changing tack and talking about 1) past regimes (outside the scope of this blog post) and 2) Your own opinion on the rationality of religion (although you say you have nothing to say about whether it’s true, only about whether there are any reality checks), RWA, you may have drawn attention away from these two clear contentions of mine (the subject of this blog post), but this is what I claimed, and it is borne out by the available evidence. As far as I am aware as I scan through the comments, no cogent reasons have been given for denying either of these two contentions.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 5, 2012, 6:26 pm

    RWA, with those atrocities you mention, note first that spread out over the 1400 year period you refer to they are in fact sporadic. That is in fact what the evidence shows that forced conversions occurred sporadically they were not as you say imposed on Europe for 1400 years. Most of the atrocities you mention fall into the 5th century ( associated with the late roman emperors policies) and the 11th century (the crusades) for example there is often hundreds of years between them. That it was rare and sporadic and not the norm is actually what the evidence shows.

    Second, you also fail to note that many of the incidents you mention fact were not endorsed by the RC church and in many cases outright opposed by it. The fact Crusaders or fanatics killed Jews or other Christian’s for example does not mean the Papacy or the RC supported or endorsed the killing of Jews or ordered it. In fact the Papacy and church authorities frequently worked to prevent these progroms and condemned them. But of course you don’t mention that. Similary the fact Charlegmegne did something does not mean the RC church did it or endorsed it. To go from the inference that a group of professing Catholics did X to the claim the RCC broke its own laws, does not follow. By the same reasoning I could say that because several people who are NZ citizens murdered last year, the NZ government commits murder. Despite the fact the government has passed laws against murder and attempts to prosecute those who violate these laws.

    Finally, I can just as easily give a list of far worse statistics, for secular regimes which are much worse in the size and magnitude. Compare for example one year of the French Revolution to the Spanish Inquistion for its five hundred year history and you’ll find the Inquistion killed a fraction of the same number despite having the similar power avalible and significantly more time.

    You have done nothing to show that the church dominated Europe for 1400 years converting everyone at sword point and killing dissenters. That’s fictional propaganda not credible history.

  • Matthew Flannagan May 5, 2012, 6:42 pm

    Oh and on the Hypatia incident, I recommend people read this by an atheist who shows the issue was not the way RWA presents it.
    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.co.nz/2009/05/agora-and-hypatia-hollywood-strikes.html

  • colin May 6, 2012, 4:53 am

    “I gather that you don’t understand how science works.”
    Laughable considering what follows.

    ” You perform an experiment to try to prove something does. If it fails, then you’ve got an indication that it doesn’t.”
    A weak indication at best. Someone should tell the higgs-boson folks that they’re being unscientific.

    “If you make a positive claim, you’ve got to provide some proof of it.”
    If you make a positive scientific claim, then sure you should have evidence. If you make a negative claim and claim it to be a scientific one, then you should equally be required to provide evidence, only that is much harder to do. Remember that you were the one claiming your belief to be scientifically verifiable, not me.

  • colin May 6, 2012, 4:59 am

    “Even if it is not officially affiliated with a specific church. If it uses religion as an excuse, then that religion is responsible.”

    That’s hilarious. I’m going to go do some atrocities and use RWAhrens as an excuse. Hope you like prison.

  • Carl May 18, 2012, 3:16 pm

    “I gather that you don’t understand how science works. You perform an experiment to try to prove something does. If it fails, then you’ve got an indication that it doesn’t. If it succeeds, you’ve shown it does. If you make a positive claim, you’ve got to provide some proof of it.”

    Alright, so the fact that experiments seeking the Higgs boson have failed proves the Higgs boson does not exist? Better write a paper to CERN quick! Just kidding. You have failed.

    Before trying to correct someone else on ‘how science works,’ you’d better check your own claims to avoid public embarrassment. Just saying.

  • John Quin September 22, 2013, 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the links Matt and Glenn (However I did have trouble with the link in the article, Dead???)

  • Glenn September 22, 2013, 10:50 pm

    Yes, this is an old entry so the link may be dead by now John.

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