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Austin Cline

Religious Extremists Not Responsible for their Own Violence?

By July 22, 2008

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Conservatives and especially religious conservatives tend to portray themselves as the ostensible defenders of traditional religious morality and social order. As part of this, they are usually the ones most likely to insist that people take personal responsibility for their actions. rather than deflect blame on to society, childhood abuse, substance abuse, etc. They are the ones most likely to claim that modern society has undermined this sense of personal responsibility. Why, then, do some of the most extreme of them insist that they aren't responsible for their violent behavior?

A couple of years ago, Ed Brayton pointed to an argument made by Yehuda Levin on the site Jews for Morality about the stabbing of a gay man in a gay pride march by a Jewish extremist:

What do you think? Who caused the bloodshed at the march?

Was it the young man, a quiet Talmudic scholar, father of five, with no police record, who stated that he acted "in the name of G-D..."

...Or was it the left-wing politicians and the left-wing judiciary, who forced this abomination on an unwilling populace?

So the young man who violently assaulted another human being wasn't really responsible for his actions. He doesn't need to take personal responsibility for his violence because the responsibility actually lies with liberal politicians who didn't enforce the things this man wanted and didn't restrict the civil rights of people this man deemed unworthy of equality. He didn't get his way, so he can't be held responsible for violently lashing out at others.

This isn't just an academic exercise, of course. We should be very worried that justifications for religious violence like this will be used proactively and not just retrospectively because there are an awful lot of religious extremists whose opposition to equality and freedom remains quiet but could break out violently if given half an excuse. Someone with a violent and bigoted nature could be easily swayed by such arguments into thinking that they can and should behave violently in the future.

July 22, 2008 at 4:52 pm
(1) tracieh says:

>Who caused the bloodshed at the march?

>Was it the young man…who stated that he acted “in the name of G-D…”

Answered. I don’t really care whose name he acted in. If I hired him to kill my spouse, he could honestly say he was acting in my name. Does that mean he’s absolved of his part in the crime? Can I commit any atrocity in the name of G-D and therefore be excused of accountability?

G-D may be kind to you in some netherworld for crimes against other humans, but so long as you’re in this world, it doesn’t excuse you from abiding by the laws in place and enforced here on Earth. If you don’t want to face, for example, the death penalty, best to maybe discuss it with god before you act. Let him know you’ll likely die for doing what he wants and make you’re both (you and G-D) OK with that. Mainly, make sure _you’re_ Ok with it, though, since G-D won’t stand trial or pay any penalty for your actions on G-D’s behalf.

July 22, 2008 at 9:59 pm
(2) Norman Doering says:

“Why, then, do some of the most extreme of them insist that they aren’t responsible for their violent behavior?”

That question got me thinking about what has been happening to PZ Myers and how he got death threats after Bill Donohue posted his email in a Catholic League press release.

Do you know the story? Is there a blog of yours on it?

And do you think it would be possible to get a lot of bloggers to do a big, group cracker abuse threat in support of PZ?

I was too afraid to make a real threat so I cloaked mine in attempted humor (it seemed funny at the time, but I seem to be the only one laughing):

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