Archive for March, 2016

Religious moderates license extremists.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Once when I was very young my father was making me porridge. Seeing him raise a saltcellar I asked for sugar instead. “You’ll have salt”, he insisted, “or I’ll tell your grandfather”. My grandfather was a Scot and, as any first-year student of philosophy knows, no true Scotsman would have sugar on his porridge. “I want sugar”, I countered, “or I’ll tell my grandfather you drink gin and tonic”. I ate sweetened porridge that day and have done so ever since, although now, in my 50s, I use slightly healthier honey in place of refined sugar. I also drink the occasional gin and tonic.

“No true Scotsman” is known as an informal fallacy, an attempted sidestep around the inconvenient fatal arguments of others. Religious moderates of all denominations use it to separate themselves from those at the other end of their religious spectrum who commit unspeakable acts of inhumanity in the name of that religion. (Yeah, yeah, atheists commit mass murder too, but they don’t do it in the name of atheism).

Many use the “No True Scotsman” defence when Islamists commit mass murder. Thus: no true believer would murder 2,000 men, women and children in cold blood by flying a plane into a skyscraper. No one properly religious would gun down a room full of cartoonists, or a theatre full of people or hack off someone’s head for the cameras, and do so in the name of god. Why not? Well, no true believer would do such a thing because Islam is a peaceful religion. See how it works?

Tony Blair says, “acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.” After the Charlie Hebdo murders, President Hollande of France said, “those who committed these terrorist acts, those terrorists, those fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” This side step has become the obligatory shuffle of politicians and most commentators, lest the religious be offended. The proposition froths down my Twitter feed after every fresh religiously motivated terrorist outrage. It may froth, but it’s a falsehood.