Life as a Sam Boy: From Inside the Creepiest Cult of our Time

I would’ve never described myself as a believer per se. Perhaps better put, a non-active believer. I was given religious instruction at primary school (elementary) – which is infuriating. My parents had me don a pretty white dress for my Christening, not because we were religious, but because it was what people did. And although I never attended Church nor had I read the bible, I accepted the truth of God, Jesus’ existence and the afterlife, uncritically. I was never told any different, and from primary school onward, I never really thought about God or religion, all I knew was, I got chocolate and received gifts on Jesus’ birthday and resurrection. What kid would question that! When my uncle died – he had no legs due to the type II diabetes that killed him – I placed a letter in his coffin, confident in the belief he would read it in heaven.  In the letter I wrote, “Don’t be sad uncle, now you’re in heaven, God will give you back your legs”. So in retrospect I guess I was quite the little believer. I’m not too hard on myself for this, evolution makes credulous creatures, and I trusted in the consensus of others. Overcoming credulity and shedding bad ideas is one of most liberating endeavors a person can undertake. It began for me at 20 years old, after a break-up. I read the bible, trying to find some meaning in life. I was an atheist by the time I finished Leviticus. I then read Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, was then introduced to the work of Christopher Hitchens – one month after he died – and of course, through them I came across my dear leader Sam Harris.

According to some I’ve just described how I was brainwashed and became a member of the “creepiest cult of our time”, led by the messianic Sam Harris. Our cult has been wittily dubbed The Sam Boys – a play on the term fan boys – but I assure you, that’s the extent of their wit. And what about the females that defend Sam against blatant obscurantism? Well, they’re the most brainwashed! The cult keeps them around to guard against charges of sexism, but they’re confined to the basement – brainwashing chamber – with the House Arabs, who are used to cloak our white supremacist agenda, don’t worry we pay our native informants a wage. Sound bat shit? Read through the twitter feeds and articles of regressive leftists and their supporters. This is the picture they want to paint. Not quite Picasso, more Pollack flinging his own feces. The scary part is, they’re quite good at this technique. When I read the regressive view of Sam’s thought experiment on nuclear war, I had to double-take. Did he say that? What an asshole! Their distortionism led me, someone who knows Sam’s views, to believe – albeit briefly – their version. I then picked up my copy of The End of Faith and saw the claim for the excrement it was. See here and here to see for yourself if you can’t stand to read the book. Also, if you want a laugh see what someone sent me, when I asked him what criteria people have to meet to be considered a member of this “cult”. Notice the tactics described actually apply more to the regressive left than “Sam Boys”. I begged him to write an essay on how Sam meets the criteria for cult leader because it would be hilarious. He said he might just do that, I sincerely hope so!

“Of course, Sam Boy owns The End of Faith and refers back to it like the bible!” Well I’ll admit, and I hope I’m not shunned by my fellow cult members here, that I don’t own the entire canon. I own The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, Free Will and Islam and the Future of Tolerance. I have read The Moral Landscape and Lying – something Cenk Uygur should read, and if he has already, maybe he should re-read it – but I’m not particularly interested in Waking Up – blasphemy! Although I did watch the lecture. In all honesty, until recently I stopped paying attention to Sam because I felt I knew his views so well, and paying too much attention to him, meant I’d miss out on following other worthwhile thinkers like Ali A. Rizvi, Faisal Saeed al-Mutar, Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani and so on. I don’t think my dear leader would begrudge me that? Alas, here I am, a full-fledged Sam Boy and avid defender. Because there’s one thing I can’t stand, intellectual dishonesty. So if it makes me a Sam Boy to stand up for intellectual honesty and integrity so be it, but don’t try to deny my agency like you do others. According to regressives, ex-Muslims and reformers are brainwashed House Muslims/Arabs and/or native informants, Islamists don’t act, they REACT to the Wests behavior, and therefore aren’t really responsible, and now they would have people believe, that agreeing with or defending Sam Harris, means you must be brainwashed and a member of his tribalistic creepy cult. Well, get Donald Ducked!

Regressive’s purposefully distort to get people to believe outlandish claims about Sam and the issue of Islamism, but given the accessibility of information which enables investigation into their claims, failing to see their tactics for what they are, doesn’t mean you’ve been brainwashed, it just means you’re being dishonest. I said at the start, overcoming bad ideas is one of the most liberating endeavors a person can undertake. The regressive left is, to quote my dear leader “the mother lode of bad ideas”, or rather “A mother lode of bad ideas”. It is no surprise they have aligned themselves with purveyors of Islamism. They have set the war of ideas back decades and must be challenged, ridiculed, and defeated. No, they’re not brainwashed. Unlike them, I’ll leave their dignity intact – even though they seem determined to tear it asunder – because that’s not an escape route I am willing to leave open to them. Because when the world looks back to see when and how we got it so wrong. They should be held fully responsible for their blunders.

Advertisements
Life as a Sam Boy: From Inside the Creepiest Cult of our Time

A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

Caveat: I know Maajid is not an apostate! I say it tongue and cheek.

Islam and the Future of Tolerance gives readers something which feels almost alien – a cordial, open, honest conversation about the challenges of reforming Islam. As I turned each page I found myself anticipating (perhaps wanting?) to see a cataclysmic locking of horns (Infidel vs. Apostate). This epic cage match never eventuated. In fact the only part in the book remotely resembling an impasse, pertained to the reading of Islamic history in the sections ‘Nature of Islam’ and ‘Finding the Way Forward’. The disagreement was of little consequence to the overall discussion. What was particularly gratifying was seeing Sam’s eagerness to learn from Maajid, demonstrating again – unlike some of his opponents – just how open he is to new ideas. Initially Sam took the backseat in the conversation, and adopted more of an interviewers’ style, seeking clarification around the concepts and definitions on offer. When one reads the book you come to understand Sam’s admission that he was the one most changed by their conversation, which makes the suggestion that Maajid is Sam’s lapdog, simply absurd.

The conversation becomes more even-handed as you read on. Still – although I didn’t do a word count – it seemed Maajid got the bigger slice of the dialogue. I was quite happy about that, I read Sam all the time, and I know his views fairly well. Maajid has one other book – Radical, a memoir which I highly recommend – and his public appearances and articles, provide a pretty clear picture of his own views. However, the depth and nuances of those views really come to the fore in this book and it was all the more gripping for that reason. There is a feeling throughout that Sam is being cautious, as if he’s half expecting a backlash of the sort he has become accustomed. He rather amusingly even “bends over backwards” to articulate a position held by his detractors to gauge Maajid’s reaction (surely, Maajid must, at the least, agree with his opponents here, this conversation is going too well, with a little too much agreement!). If that is indeed what Sam was doing, I certainly can’t fault him for it. Too often people appear liberal and interested in honest discussion and turn out to be just another religious apologist. I too found myself reading Maajid, waiting for something to object to on those grounds. Thankfully that moment never came to pass.

Maajid does a great job demonstrating the nuances in scriptural interpretation and how literalism doesn’t necessarily equate to bad (a view Sam understands as his Jainism example shows). As an example he used the stance of the Hanafi School – which were closest to the time of prophet – regarding the prohibition of khamr (alcohol). In essence the word khamr relates to alcohol derived from grapes, so the prohibition therefore, only relates to wine. Maajid points out this is a literalist argument, making the blanket ban on alcohol an interpretation that was successful in supplanting the traditional view. In regards to the murder of infidels he asks, does “smite their necks” translate to “smite their necks today?” Good point, however, I would ask, if God thought it permissible during the war against infidels of the period – and clearly many Muslims feel history is repeating itself – what are the chances an omniscient deity would have a different view in 2015? Do we really need another prophet to tell us whether that edict is applicable today? It’s when you start tying scripture to actual concepts of God – what He is and what powers He possesses – that you run into problems. A better way to allow reform to grow, would be to divorce the two, which sadly can’t be done.

The alcohol example actually indicates both a solution and a problem. The solution being there is wiggle room here. The problem being that it hinges on arguing for interpretations which, whether scripturally viable or not, have to, at least, be better argued than current interpretations enabling the problems we see, and will need to be argued for as long as Islam permeates the religious landscape. Whatever one takes away from the alcohol example, one point has to be that the interpretation which bans all alcohol won over many Muslim communities. Also, Sam rightly points out that some interpretations are more plausible than others, and even if reform was achieved; if someone or some group in the future reads the texts uncritically, and is anchored to the concept of God and the belief that the Quran is the inerrant, eternal word of God – in line with the Asha’ira school – then religious barbarism can be renewed again and again. So whilst I agree it’s certainly unrealistic to apostatize 1.6 billion Muslims; can even Maajid deny that it would be a hell of a lot easier? Again it comes back to what people believe is at stake. The interpretations that get you a more liberal Islam are not just difficult because the cases are not well argued, or there isn’t scriptural justifications for them. It also has something to do with the consequences of getting it wrong. If you believe in God and read the Quran and Hadith, it is understandable why you may conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t dovetail with modern society. Whereas if you misinterpret Shakespeare – unless you’re an academic and have written a patently ridiculous interpretation of Shakespeare’s works, that draws ridicule from your peers – then there is not much at stake.

With all that said this book was a thrilling read and – if you will allow me this cliché – a breath of fresh air. They cover a lot of ground from the role of foreign policy to the Regressive left and the differences between Islamism, Jihadism, and conservatism among the world’s Muslims. They touch on belief as drivers of behavior, the challenges of having this conversation in other contexts and locations, what it means for women to have this conversation and so on. You won’t read this book and come away with all the answers to your questions or a blueprint of how to reform Islam. Rather you will go away with a better understanding of the issues, a renewed hope in civil discourse, and the knowledge that you were a small part of what will be seen as the kick starter, for the reform of Islam. Not to take anything away from the many men and women – in some cases children – (Muslim and non-Muslim), who have been working on this front, but I would not be too begrudging if these two gentlemen were most remembered as the founding fathers of this effort.

Two asides:

  • Maajid says in the book that doctrines are the construct of human beings which is true. However, one of those human beings is thought to be a prophet. This legitimizes his interpretation of the word of God more than any ensuing theologian. And if God came down tomorrow and said “hey, ISIS has the right of it, stop bastardizing my words with your liberal interpretation”. What then? This may seem like an insincere question but I assure you I am wholly sincere. After all people readily buy into the idea that God has come down from the heavens on different occasions to deliver his word to the people, utilizing prophets like Moses and Mohammed. If it were to happen again, and that was his message, would we or would Maajid as a Muslim, tell him to go fuck himself. Or would, or rather should we be joining ISIS to defeat the infidels and re-establish the caliphate?
  • Maajid highlights what I consider to be a loophole that gets Muslims out of some the more undesirable edicts in Islam. He mentioned that in one tradition, the prophet Mohammed channeled the word of God and addressed believers stating “Oh, my people if you don’t sin and repent, I will bring a people more blessed than you who will sin and who do repent, because I want your repentance”. This he says led some schools within Islam to advocate for their right to sin. Well one could simply appease Him here. Sure I will drink and attend a strip club in the infidel’s homeland and for this I will repent. Then tomorrow, I and eighteen of my brothers will wage Jihad against the infidel, and if my interpretation of scripture is wrong in this regard, well then I may simply repent for that too. Of course, if God did indeed say that, well what is he playing at? This is another reason why I can’t bring myself to believe in Him. He seems such a contradictory, inconsistent, emotional, reactionary character!
A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo

The headline of this Guardian article written by Ijeoma Oluo certainly sets the tone. The agreeable content therein seems to have been inserted to lend credence to a slew of non-sequiturs. Yes, I agree my atheism does not make me superior to believers. But is atheism really a leap of faith? Hardly. Even the late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him), Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, readily concede, an atheist cannot disprove the existence of god. But rather nature as far as we can comprehend her, and truth as far we can discern it, using science and the humanities – which are yet to produce evidence that comes close to satisfying the adage “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – renders the sustained belief in deism untenable, to say nothing of theism. To compare belief in a disinterested prime mover, let alone an omniscient and omnipotent deity that interferes in terrestrial affairs, to non-belief resulting from a lack of evidence or indeed, even contrary evidence, is a stupefying leap of reasoning. This argument is straight out of the apologists’ handbook. To investigate the above and still come away with the notion that the claims, and too often murderous convictions of believers, is on equal footing with non-belief is deeply confused. There’s nothing cocky about non-belief, it’s a humble position to adopt in light of the above and it needn’t require debating believers. Debates between atheists and believers, whether online or at events, are (or should be) geared towards combating obfuscation. For example, the bastardization of science by apologists attempting to legitimize their belief (who when defeated invariably abandon ship plunging headfirst into the murky waters of faith), or to highlight the consequences of such beliefs in wider society and challenge religious denialism. The headline is just my first objection.

But atheism as a faith is quickly catching up in its embrace of divisive and oppressive attitudes. We have websites dedicated to insulting Islam and Christianity. We have famous atheist thought-leaders spouting misogyny and calling for the profiling of Muslims. As a black atheist, I encounter just as much racism amongst other atheists as anywhere else. We have hundreds of thousands of atheists blindly following atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, hurling insults and even threats at those who dare question them.

Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia. But when confronted about this bigotry, we say “But I feel this way about all religion,” as if that somehow makes it better. But our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original.

Where are the links for the websites referred to? I don’t deny they exist but examples should be provided if Ijeoma wants to use them to argue atheists are catching up to the faithful in divisive and oppressive attitudes. Quite frankly, she should be ashamed for saying so. Why? In the 21st century (keep that in mind), in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawai was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and one-thousand lashes, cartoonists have been targeted and/or murdered in democratic societies like Denmark and France, and Bangladeshi bloggers have been hacked to death by machete wielding religious thugs – all for insulting Islam. Atheists have much ground to cover to justify such a charge. One could (as many have) write a book on the divisive nature of religious belief and the way it anchors people to those divisions due to the potential – albeit false – cost of non-belief, namely consequences in the hereafter. Of course I concede atheists are not immune to discriminatory attitudes. As Ijeoma points out, such attitudes stem from human nature. Indeed they must because religion is “man-made”. Prominent atheists, from which Ijeoma claims others take their discriminatory cues, are also humans and therefore not immune to those attitudes either. However the attitudes in question can not be extracted from non-belief. Religion on the other hand – depending on the doctrine – can legitimize or indeed mandate discrimination, and because of what’s at stake – salvation vs. damnation – shedding these attitudes is significantly harder for believers than non-believers. Moreover, the differences between certain religions is an additional – and ridiculous – kind of divisiveness the world could do without. In other words, misogyny, racism, homophobia etc. stem from human nature, religious doctrines contain those attitudes because they’re created by humans, said doctrines are then touted as the work of a powerful creator thereby legitimizing those attitudes, and any resulting doctrines which appear diametrically opposed, adds religion itself to that list.

In addition, any atheist that believes non-belief is more moral than belief is confused about what atheism means. There is no morality attached to atheism. The confusion comes from the following argument: if a believer does good in order to curry favor with the lord and gain a seat in the kingdom of heaven, and an atheist does good for goods sake then the latter is more moral. This is true but it’s not solely applicable to believers and atheists. It’s true wherever motivation matters. Imagine a man has befriended a woman who is going through sincere heartache after another failed emotionally abusive relationship. He provides the woman a shoulder to cry on, he takes her out of her gloomy one bedroom apartment and takes her to the carnival, he buys her dinner and offers her constant reinforcement through support, advice and endless compliments. As a result the woman believes her new friend to be the loveliest man she’s ever met. She even considers making a match for him with a girlfriend who would be perfect! Now imagine he is doing all this to manipulate the vulnerable woman into bed. Is he now less moral than a person who would do all of the above out of pure kindness? Of course he is. This scenario is very plausible and may sound familiar to female readers. How many times have you had a “best friend” that is like your “little brother” comfort you after a bad breakup and then as soon as he feels it’s time, much to your surprise, he puts the moves on?

Faith is not the enemy, and words in a book are not responsible for the atrocities we commit as human beings. We need to constantly examine and expose our nature as pack animals who are constantly trying to define the other in order to feel safe through all of the systems we build in society. Only then will we be as free from dogma as we atheists claim to be.

I am sorry this may be dogmatic on my part but faith is absolutely the enemy. It is by definition irrational. To believe something without evidence. Deciding to oppose gay-marriage, to tell children if they’re born gay they’ll burn in hell, to mutilate the genitals of children, to murder blasphemers and apostates, to deny woman reproductive rights, or indeed basic human rights, or to wage war because your interpretation of faith places the almighty on your side, are all actions done off the back of claims without evidence but which are asserted with the greatest conviction nonetheless. Is there anything more grotesque than that? It’s not exclusive to the religious either. Psychics, guru’s, conspiracy theorists etc. all operate on faith. Although they offer evidence to support their position, faith is their real refuge and it can’t be said enough. Atheists and/or skeptics are not congregating under the same shelter.

I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo