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Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief 
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Post Re: Suicide bombers
The suicide rates in Islamic countries are MUCH lower than in the USA and UK: accordng to WHO. Does this indicate that Islanm provides more meaning to life than Western Culture? The other low rates appear to be in the Carribean. So sun-soaked beached sipping Tequila, or Mohammed - take your choice ::01 Or could Rastafarianism give you the best of both worlds?




Tue Apr 18, 2006 6:40 am
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Post Re: Suicide bombers
riverc0il: But if life is undesirable, that would seem to indicate a desire to end life?

Bingo. I suspect that the order of importance begins with the desire to escape life. It starts as a dissatisfaction with one's current circumstances, and expands as the person begins to see less and less hope of escaping from those circumstances, or as they build a conviction that moving to a new set of circumstances will do little to decrease their satisfaction. To some degree, this probably ends as a wretched sense of self. It's too pat to say that the suicidal person hates him or her self -- that may be true in some cases, but in just as many cases it's probably more on the nose to say that the one circumstance that they see as most inimical to their satisfaction is some unchangeable element in their own being. As such, I'd say that suicide is rarely seen initially as a transition from one set of circumstances to a better set of circumstances. It's simply an escape, just as some creatures will run off the edge of a cliff rather than face a particularly dauting opponent.

Second in the order of importance is some ritual or process by which that suicide is given some sort of meaning, and I think that is most effective when it is perceived to act retroactively. That is, when the act of one's death confers some sort of meaning on the whole of the person's life. In doing this, it may be perceived that they have somehow bettered the circumstances of their life, even as they left it. That gets into tricky territory, though, so I'd take the previous sentence with a grain of salt.

In an Islamic culture, I suspect that it's absolutely essential to confer meaning on one's own suicide. The injunction against suicide (is there one? can anyone confirm that?) may put so much moral force against the act that very few Muslims would actually commit suicide if it weren't given some sort of roundabout sanction.

I'm not arguing that so many Muslims are suicidal that they reinterpreted the Koran in order to allow it. What I'm suggesting is that jihadists like al Qaeda have found a way to unleash suppressed suicidal feeling as a weapon. But without that already present and suppressed feeling, I doubt that suicide bombings would be feasible for sheer lack of a candidate pool.

mal4mac: The suicide rates in Islamic countries are MUCH lower than in the USA and UK: accordng to WHO. Does this indicate that Islam provides more meaning to life than Western Culture?

Doubtful. Without having any hard evidence to back it up, I would say that the difference probably lies in the weight of the moral injunction against suicide. Cultural factors seem to predominate in considerations like these. The suicide rate in Japan, for example, may seem inordinately high to us. But quality of life is not necessarily the primary determining factor -- the fact is, that suicide has a different cultural history in Japan. There is a certain moral weight in favor of suicide as a way or maintaining personal and familial honor that still resonates in Japan, to the point that it is almost viewed as an obligation in some circumstances.




Tue Apr 18, 2006 1:20 pm
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Post Re: Suicide bombers
This discussion is infinitely more interesting than the chapter that inspired it.

Quote:
I suspect that the order of importance begins with the desire to escape life. It starts as a dissatisfaction with one's current circumstances, and expands as the person begins to see less and less hope of escaping from those circumstances, or as they build a conviction that moving to a new set of circumstances will do little to decrease their satisfaction. To some degree, this probably ends as a wretched sense of self...


MadArchitect, I think you're pathologizing suicide bombers unneccessarily. What you're suggesting is logically similar to arguing that all Germans participating in what we collectively call the Holocaust (so sorry for invoking Nazis but Harris did bring them up first!) were a certain kind of person either vulnerable to their leader's schemes, unaware of the full extent of them, or coerced into their actions. Harris quotes from Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners that these German's were instead ordinary citizens -- a product of their culture. (I hope that's an accurate summary of Goldhagen's book. I've heard him speak but haven't read the full text.)

Given Islamic religious culture and the quotes Harris provides from the Koran in a later chapter, I don't think suicide bombers need to be pathologized as either especially unhappy or unsatisfied with life -- beyond the degree to which their religion sows the seeds of dissatisfaction, that is. And I think it's dangerous to say, "well, these people were unhappy," in the same way it's dangerously inaccurate to say the terrorists of 9/11 were all poor and uneducated.

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Sat Apr 29, 2006 2:48 pm
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Post Re: Suicide bombers
blue lily: MadArchitect, I think you're pathologizing suicide bombers unneccessarily.

Perhaps, and I may have been a bit unclear as to where the line is drawn. I wouldn't say it's at all likely that suicide bombers are, other than an inclination towards suicide, good little citizens. Even if jihad didn't offer a way out of the Islamic prohibition against suicide (again, can anyone confirm that prohibition? -- I'm worried that I may be assuming too much about the culture) these inidividuals would probably be lining up to serve the cause in one way or another. And that's to be expected -- the factors that lead to the sort of hostility that we see in jihadists are mostly the same factors that would lead Middle Easterners to feel grave dissatisfaction with life.

That said, I've seen a number of articles on failed suicide bombings and they sometimes convey the impression that the intended bombers were not, themselves, convinced of the righteousness of their mission. So there likely are some people who sign on for these sorts of missions with a less than assured connection to its political or religious intent. Suicide bombers are probably not all confused and manipulated, but some probably are. Either way, it seems reasonable to me so suppose that both the confused and the assured are acting out of a common emotional drive, one that directs them towards suicide. The bombing is secondary to them, while being, naturally, primary to those of us who may suffer the consequences.

What you're suggesting is logically similar to arguing that all Germans participating in what we collectively call the Holocaust (so sorry for invoking Nazis but Harris did bring them up first!) were a certain kind of person either vulnerable to their leader's schemes, unaware of the full extent of them, or coerced into their actions.

There is some similarity, but I'd put the emphasis on the latent historical and cultural causes at play. Nationalism was the defining concern for the majority of German Nazis. That cause derived from a deep level of dissatisfaction with Germany's recent history, a longing derived from the myth made of more extended German history, and the perceived position of Germany and German culture in relation to the rest of the world. Those factors cannot be extended to 100% of the German population, but there's been enough quality research and work to confirm that it's true in broad strokes. I'd say something of a similar sort is at play in the Middle East, though, thankfully, it's not as comprehensive as Nazism became in Germany. I'm not arguing that your average Joe Nazi or your average suicide bomber are unusually susceptible to coercion -- what I'm suggesting is that there's something within the cultural mileau that portions of the population feel in common, and that certain elements in the culture have erected institutions or forms of conduct that have a great appeal for those who hold that feeling in common.

Ultimately, what I'm saying is that, given the fact that so many people have chosen what is obviously an unusual form of conduct, one that is marked by certain consistent elements that you don't necessarily find in other cultures, there is likely some common thread that unites most, if not all, of them.

And secondly, that if we were looking at suicide in almost any other cultural context, we'd assume almost as a matter of course that the intended suicide was extremely dissatisfied with the circumstances of their life. It's interesting to me that we don't assume it here, and that so many people are so willing to draw a causal link between the suicide and religion when religion itself is presumably explicit in its condemnation of suicide.

You do, I think, make a very valid point in saying that religion may be one of the factors that has contributed to this malaise. In that regard, I think it's worthwhile considering that Islam may have played a part in shaping the mentality of suicide bombers. That is, at least, a more fruitful and reasonable way of looking at it than assuming that Islam has explicitly mandated and justified suicide bombing.




Mon May 01, 2006 8:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Ok...I know I am late...but here goes...


RivercOil:


Quote:
Is this just a Western and Middle East problem? How about faiths in Japan? Just a thought.


I think that Western and Middle Eastern faiths are the crux of the problems we are facing today more than other faiths. Maybe Harris should have made it clear he was talking about 2 of the 3 MAJOR faiths that are influencing the world of yesterday and today. And not only that...but he might have done better to emphasize that it is the extremes of these faiths that presents the real problems of a faith based existence.

Any faith that can make it possible, and once possible OK, to burn people because someone thinks they are a witch is a dangerous faith and deserves to be scrutinized to the fullest. Just because Christianity, Judaism and The Muslim religion may produce people and actions that are good does not necessarily excuse the potential ludicrousness and dangerousness of these faiths.

Yes...without faith, people may behave badly...but I feel it is a duty to point the finger at any unjustified, unprovable belief that can make it easy for such crimes against humanity to occur. Lets get rid of as much as possible that makes it justified to persecute other.

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There is much science has left unanswered and I belief faith that leaves open possibilities where science has no answers is legitiment belief in the sense that Harris suggests is rational even though I remain an athiest.


This is "God of the Gaps" no? How can we say this is legitimate? When we look back, we can see that now that we know the answers to some questions that we did not know before, the faith that was applied then was not legitimate...it was an acknowledgement of ignorance. I do not see that as rational. I see admitting that we do not know as rational...but we will continue to explore. There is no reason or imperative to slip in the god-shaped placeholder.

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Faith can exist, and does exist, without reliance on ancient scripture advancing acts of hate and aggression.


But those same dangerous aspects of faith have remained with many people over the past few thousand years. In fact, the religions that are most prevalent today are the religions that were founded on these ancient scriptures. They still persist. SO we have every right to question them and expect answers and explanations.

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Faith outside of organized religion isn't even paid lip service by Harris, it is out right ignored, which I contend is a major weakness in the book and I would love to see addressed.



Perhaps...but I am more concerned about those faiths and religions that are making my life difficult to live and killing or hurting others for being who they are. Maybe Harris aimed too high...but I appreciate much of what he is saying.


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Edited by: misterpessimistic  at: 5/19/06 4:07 pm



Fri May 19, 2006 3:01 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
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Maybe Harris should have made it clear he was talking about 2 of the 3 MAJOR faiths that are influencing the world of yesterday and today. And not only that...but he might have done better to emphasize that it is the extremes of these faiths that presents the real problems of a faith based existence.

Yes indeed! Harris should have limited his over broad crusade ::04 against faith to specifics. But I am more convinced than ever that Harris has erred in his judgement on Islam. There are too many other factors and other major religions were once as hard core as Islam is currently but they reformed their belief based on society and technology and scientific discovery (to a limited extent) to the point that they were no longer overtly dangerous. If anything, Sam Harris has done the complete opposite he set out to do from this reader's perspective. Before I read End of Faith, I had suspcions that Islam might be a major driving force in terrorism. Now it seems it is just manipulated and used as a justification. Political and Religious leaders now have the ball in their court, but they are playing into the hands of the terrorists. This has more at issue with social organization and the bad aspects of religion and governence becoming too involved. My biggest conclusion after reading Harris is that our founding father's did an amazing thing when they stipulated no state sponsored religion could be legal and the judicial precendent of seperation is one of the most important ideologies ever created. This has less to do with a specific religion than it has to do with the sociological implications of group think and political and social marriage with religion.

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Perhaps...but I am more concerned about those faiths and religions that are making my life difficult to live and killing or hurting others for being who they are.

I think you should be less worried about the people's faith and religion and more worried with the socio-political justifications used by the select few extremists who seek to further their cause through religious justification and manipulation. Religion is only the justiciation, the sacred text manipulated to read in their favor to justify. Without that religion or sacred text, these whack jobs would find other reasons to kill people to further their own ideology and belief.




Fri May 19, 2006 7:29 pm
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