Think For Yourself Already: Discussion With Muslims

I've been attending many religious discussions on campus including "Perspectives on Scripture" and the "Interfaith Awareness Series." I attend these discussions because I want to learn and ask questions. Unfortunately, I can't stay long at the Perspectives on Scripture discussions because I have work an hour after the meetings start, but I've been able to stay for the full duration of the "Interfaith Awareness Series."

King's College allowed a student to host these series of meetings along with a campus minister. Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, and others come to King's College to discuss their traditions. Great. I'm all for it...but for some reason, King's is stonewalling my debate challenge that was accepted in early October! Allow and facilitate discussion with Muslims and Hindus, but god forbid (pun intended) facilitating something an atheist wants to do. In my third year, I also wanted to form a club for secular students, but this was denied because King's felt that it's against the mission statement although the Knights of Columbus and their sister group grossly violate the rules of the college because they only allow Catholics to join.

This week's Interfaith meeting was two-fold. The first part was discussion with two female Muslim students at King's and the second part was a trip to a local mosque to discuss topics with a group of practicing Muslims.

I asked the students why they believed in the metaphysical claims of Islam and got the usual "I was born into the tradition and it works for me" with no argument or reason for belief. I asked a student if she knew who Ayaan Hirsi Ali was. She said no. I asked the student what she thought about female genital mutilation in Islam and almost immediately got "this has nothing to do with the discussion" from the student organizer of the event. I retorted that it does because many claim that FGM is warranted because of Islamic teachings and got no response. A simple answer that was expected was, "I'm not in favor of it." Even if it had nothing to do with the discussion, the answer should have been given quite promptly. The group also heard about how people in Islam choose to wear burkas because this is how they view modesty. After some other discussion about how the extremists are twisting the religion [no true Scotsman, of course] and aren't correctly representing Islam and some bullying the students encountered in high school, we left and headed to the mosque.

Upon arriving, we were nicely greeted, all sat down, and a call for prayer was announced. We all proceeded to the prayer room, took our shoes off, and watched people pray for about ten minutes. We then received refreshments and were asked to "ask any, any, any questions" about Islam. Unfortunately, three Islamic apologists took up about 95% of the discussion that mainly consisted of preaching, but was informative.

The Muslims leading the discussion announced that they were creationists [God literally created Adam and Eve: dust from nothing, Adam from dust, and Eve from Adam's rib] who believe that God made everything, God made humans "special" and that they believe this "as Muslims." It seems very odd that they used this "we believe this as Muslims" line throughout the discussion because it reeks of intellectual dishonesty. Why not say, "We believe this" without the "as Muslims line." Of course they provided no evidence for this claim after I told them, "Many religious scholars and academics reject what you say, think the garden story is a parable, and accept evolution. What do you have to say about this?" A Muslim woman on the other side of the room committed intellectual suicide and said "If evolution is true, then why don't we see humans coming from monkeys today?" I was so shocked...but maybe I shouldn't have been after three others announced that they literally believed in the Adam and Eve story. Thankfully, I was able to rebut for all of ten seconds...

After much discussion about the Koran being the word of God that was "never changed and is still the same as it was when it was revealed by God," the Muslims leading the discussion talked about "the day of judgment." They explained that God chooses who goes to the hellfire and who goes to paradise. I asked them, "Do you think that non-believers and apostates deserve to go to Hell" with very careful word choice (notice I said do you think they deserve). I heard about ten minutes of mental gymnastics and silly stories and an overall avoidance of the question. One of the talkative Muslims said something to the accord of, "If someone asked told me that I was going to the hellfire, I tell them 'Where are you going'!" Another said, "It's up to God to judge, not me. He makes the rules! You have to account for your sins in front of God."

I told them that they didn't answer the question and repeated, "Well, what do you think? Do non-believers deserve to go to Hell" and got some nonsense about how our power has limitations and we can't say who is and who isn't going to Hell or judge people. I repeated that they didn't answer and some woman said something to the accord of, "Well, if you owned a business and one of your workers didn't show for a whole week, wouldn't you fire them? You make the rules!" I replied, "Well, punishment ought to be justified. I think I would be justified in firing this worker who failed to show for work, but I wouldn't be justified in putting him in my basement and torturing him. God poses infinite punishment for finite crimes...and I don't even think anyone should go to Hell if it existed. I don't believe in any Hell and can't." An all-loving God is impossible to reconcile with the concept of Hell.

Some others asked questions such as "Tell us about the pilgrimige to Hajj," "Explain what your prayers mean," and "What do you think about Jesus." I wasn't interested in these questions, but certainly listened to the responses. I was very unsatisfied that my question went unanswered. I'd discuss more about the discussion, but I don't want to write a book here... The discussion came to a close and I invited the group to attend an NEPA Freethought meetup.

Some King's students were very upset with me and started to strawman me by saying, "You say you want harmony, but you make people very uncomfortable when you ask questions! You come off as very arrogant and make people feel threatened! Respect peoples' beliefs!" I told the student that I promote harmony, but asking fair questions is fair game and should happen. Discussion is a path to reaching understanding and simple questions should be asked especially when people invite discussion. Another student said that they would be "sinning" if they answered my question because God only has the power to judge people. I told them that thinking shouldn't be restricted and that all sorts of questions should be asked. Belief in a god shouldn't bar you from asking important questions. Someone else asked "Why was the question so important?" I said that the question was important because if the answer is yes, then this God and the person are immoral for thinking this and you should probably give up your religion if God sends non-believers to Hell just because they are non-believers.

People don't understand what the word tolerance and unfortunately think that tolerance is not challenging wild claims and just agreeing to disagree. This terrible attitude is probably what causes so many problems in society to being with. We need to discuss critical issues and come to understanding. We need to prioritize learning and have intellectual honesty in searching for the truth. All too often, students I meet never give reasons for their beliefs and just seem to believe just because it makes them feel good. Students were also promoting truth relativism and the wishhy washy "truth is what you believe it to be." I fiercely objected and brought up arguments in my "Truth About Truth" post.

If you can't give an answer to "Do you think that non-believers deserve to go to Hell" and insist that "you can't give an answer to the question," you should seriously rethink your religious beliefs and your moral priorities. Thinking and answering questions should not be restrained in any way. Think freely and have real discussion instead of throwing up smokescreens and doing mental gymnastics. Atheists aren't bad for asking questions and challenging beliefs.