Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Obama's Muslim Cat and Other Irrationalities

I was having an interesting discussion with someone about perspectives on other people's religious affiliation (or lack thereof). I'd like to share and pontificate on that discussion.

The easiest starting point is the question: am I jewish? The answer is that it depends who you ask.

Let's start with my opinion. On one hand, my mother is jewish and in jewish culture, if you're mother's jewish, at minimum, you start out being jewish. On the other hand, I never had a bar mitvah, I wasn't really brought up to be jewish, I don't believe in god and the related dogma of the religion, and rarely attend services. On the third hand, I enjoy jewish holidays (Chappy Chanukkah all!), have a jewish extended family, have more jewish friends than statistically random, and while the kids were interested in the religion thing, we took them to jewish services and enrolled them in a jewish Sunday school. Waving all those hands, my internal perspective is that I'm non-religious but culturally somewhat jewish. I feel comfortable in jewish settings, have a bit of natural affinity for jewish events and gatherings, and sort of feel a slight attachment to jewish history and myth.

But it doesn't matter what I think when it comes to others' perspectives. Some of my family and friends think I'm jewish; some think I'm not. Some have bothered to ask what I think, but, in general, what I think doesn't seem to much matter to them as far as whether or not they think I'm jewish.

It's sorta like Schrodinger's cat. I'm simultaneously jewish and not-jewish until somebody observes me. However, my observed state of jewishness is completely dependent on the perspective of the observer and not really tied to any objective or quantum reality.

Now let's switch topics a bit.

Is Obama muslim? Some say yes, most say no (including Obama). Many who say no say that those who say yes are delusional but I think that's inaccurate. Each person observes and then forms a belief based on those observations and his or her perspective. Just because our beliefs are wrong doesn't mean they're delusional.

My observations lead me to believe that it's exceedingly unlikely that Obama is muslim. However, I won't say it's certain that he's not a muslim. Why? Because I don't trust anything he says and I can't get inside his head and heart so I can't completely eliminate the possibility that he is somehow a secret muslim by some definition of muslim. Extremely unlikely, but not absolutely, positively impossible. Therefore, it's almost, but not quite absolutely provable that Obama is not a muslim.

But who cares, anyway? Well, the person I was having the discussion with certainly cared. It's only a small exaggeration to say she considers it a great evil that some people think Obama is muslim because, in her opinion, irrational beliefs like that can lead to great atrocities (like the holocaust, for example). I think it's a bit of a leap from believing that Obama is muslim to a genocide event, but hey, what do I know?

She's an atheist (self-described). So I asked, "which belief is more evil, belief in god or belief that Obama is a muslim?" She wasn't sure and said she would think about it. I'll let you know if she gets back to me on the matter.

I think that if great atrocities occur even a small fraction of the time a group of people has an irrational belief then we wouldn't've made it this far. That's because each and everyone of us is full of irrational beliefs all the time, even if we're unaware of those beliefs. And that's ignoring the fact that rational beliefs sometimes cause us to do atrocious things as well.


Clovis e Adri said...


And that's ignoring the fact that rational beliefs sometimes cause us to do atrocious things as well.
That one is pure gold.

It is related to the other side of that coin. Irrational beliefs sometimes cause us to do wonderful things as well, both as individuals or groups.

Peter said...

Just as "evolve" has become synonymous with "change", so "irrational" now does overtime duty as "unsubstantiated" or even "wacky". However, one would think that a real rationalist would worry less about who thinks Obama is a Muslim and more about whether Obama believes in God. I mean, who has the nuclear codes?

Apparently he does, although it seems to be the god liberals can live with. He doesn't punish anyone for anything and is thought to secretly root for the Democrats.

Harry Eagar said...

The Enlightenment freed people to believe in a standoffish god -- god lite, if you want -- who set the clock ticking but is not constantly demanding that, for example, we kill all the Canaanite men and marry or rape their wives.

Nobody worries about people who believe in that kind of god, except people (like Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum, Fiorina etc) who believe in the old preEnlightenment god.

They are scary because they are delusional in the service of an angry god.

Peter said...

Uh oh, Harry's doing theology again. Everybody take cover.

Harry, are you sure those fourteen years of religious education weren't correspondence courses with a mail-order outfit?

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "...Fiorina..."

I'm surprised you lumped her in with the others. She believes in the "old preEnlightenment god?" That's news to me.

erp said...

... probably news to her too. :-)

Harry Eagar said...

Most people who call themselves Christians today would not have been accepted as Christian 300 years ago; and the same goes for a large proportion of Muslims, only for them the changes toward mdernism started 200 years ago.

Secularism has changed everything, all for the better, too.

Peter, I suggest you read Pascendi gregis.

erp said...

Secularism? Another great Newspeak word for the narrative, which in reality is its exact opposite and when you say it made everything better, the reality is it made everything worse.


Harry Eagar said...

You lived in Connecticut. Were you compelled to attend Congregational services on Sunday and pay a tax to support the Congregational church?

No, but the conservatives managed to compel both until more than 20 years into the constitutional era. Thank the secularists for saving you from the Christianists.

And nobody try to suggest it wouldn't happen again. We know the Christian bigots are maneuvering to impose theology again. You might be the one they find unorthodox, erp. Then it would be the whipping post for you, if you're lucky.

Clovis e Adri said...


I know you so much wished we were in the 18th century to prove you right, but sorry, won't happen.

erp said...

The only theology we need fear is fascism and its latterday bed partner Islam and those who stopped the whipping would weep at the thought of being among that cohort.

erp said...

Harry, tsk tsk, for an historian you got your metaphors mixed up. In those good old days they didn't whip people like me, they dunked them in the river. Those who drowned were proven not to be guilty, the ones who survived were burned as witches.

BTW, I've always considered myself a Barbara Fritchie kinda girl.

Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.

If it ever came to it, I'd consider it an honor.

Harry Eagar said...

' we were in the 18th century'

19th. The Land of Steady Habits did not comply with the First Amendment until around 1808.

Clovis e Adri said...


Unfortunately, Mrs. Fritchie did not wave that flag.


I don't think those Connecticut folks, back then, could defend their forced taxes for the Congregation based on Christian tenets either.

I am - and so are you too, I believe - in a tough spot on that one, though. We both look to believe in the power of the State to confiscate money from The People (we call it taxes) and give it to basic welfare programs. We probably differ on the extent of such programs, but even our Libertarians here were in acceptance of some sort of minimum income arrangement.

So there you have it: in one form or the other, people are being forced into contributing to a religious Congregations they may well not believe in. And yes, this is a very good framing of the question, for the policy choices and preferences here are as much guided by faith as any typical religion out there.

erp said...

Too late Clovis. I memorized that poem in the 4th or 5th grade and thought it was the right thing to do then and haven't changed my mind over the last 70 years. The names are unimportant, it's the thought that counts.