Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 3, 2009

MUSLIM COUNTRY.... Perusing the New York Times' political blog this morning, I came across this headline: "Obama Says U.S. Could Be Seen as a Muslim Country, Too." I immediately thought, "Well, I guess we know what cable news and conservative blogs will be excited about today." From the NYT piece:

In an interview with Laura Haim on Canal Plus, a French television station, Mr. Obama noted that the United States also could be considered as "one of the largest Muslim countries in the world."

True to form, the right is apoplectic this morning. They need not be. Here's the actual quote from the president:

"Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples."

Greg Sargent explained, "Hard-core rhetoricians will note that Obama was employing an obscure tense known as the 'conditional,' and an arcane rhetorical device known as a 'hypothetical.' He said that if you were to take the number of Muslims in America, then one could see America as ranking up there with other Muslim countries -- in numerical, hypothetical terms."

This really isn't complicated. In fact, given the size of the U.S. population, and the rich diversity of our spiritual landscape, you can pick practically any faith tradition, plug it into the president's sentence, and it'd be true, too. If you took the number of Christians in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Christian countries in the world. If you took the number of Jews in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Jewish countries in the world. If you took the number of Hindus in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Hindu countries in the world. If you took the number of Buddhists in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Buddhist countries in the world.

That doesn't mean we're a Hindu country, or a Jewish Country, or a Christian Country, or a Muslim country, or a Buddhist country.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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Comments

Even if the president had said unconditionally and unrhetorically that the US is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, what's wrong with that?

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on June 3, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously anybody who isn't a knucklehead will understand the point Obama was trying to make, but it was a tremendously unfortunate phrasing. His point will be completely lost in the ensuing brouhaha. All he needed to say was that the US/West and the Muslim world need to do a better job of understanding the true breadth and character of both sides, and leave it at that.

Posted by: bluestatedon on June 3, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, isn't it maddening to have to explain this stuff?

Posted by: citizen_pain on June 3, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Ah...but your analysis requires too much thinking. America is also known as one of the largest trogolodytic countries in the world.

Obama is factually correct, of course, but now the Theocratic Ayatollahs must issue their Fatwahs...

Posted by: carbon4logic on June 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

It's just sooo... hard to remember that 'context' thingum. And this business of having to quote whole sentences. Cripearoony. What kind of commie-islamist-teleprompter-reader uses those 'sentence' things anyhow?

Posted by: MattF on June 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

i think the point of the wacked-out right on the tee-vee and elsewhere becomes more and more clear: incite violence

Posted by: neill on June 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

What do you expect from the president who refused to put his hand on a Christian Bible the second and third times he took the oath of office?

Posted by: Tea Bagger Jones on June 3, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

It wasn't too long ago that it was noted that the US is *the* largest Irish country on earth, by population.

Begorrah!

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on June 3, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

How many liberals complain when a conservative calls the U.S. a Christian country?

If you don't or haven't complained, then I guess you have no problem calling this a Christian country, right? Because contrary to what you think, there are more Christians in the U.S. than Muslims, Hindus, Jews and atheists combined.

The snark written above should explain why the right will go "apoplectic." The media and left have been castigating the conservatives who dare call this a Christian country.

But when Obama calls the U.S. a Muslim country - no harm, no foul. He's right, of course.

IOKIYAD

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Let them go nuts. For all we know, Obama said that knowing the right would go nuts. They're pathetic and impotent. No one else in the country cares about this stuff. It's like watching a dog chase its tail.

Posted by: NHCt on June 3, 2009 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite part was looking at one of these right-wing sites and seeing commenters ridicule the claim that Islam has been a font of progress.

They thought this was hilarious. "Name just one thing", they said.

I shouldn't be surprised that none of these jokers managed to get as far as algebra in school.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 3, 2009 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

If you look at the number of right wing idiots in this country, you could say that we were a "Right Wing Idiot Country"

Posted by: DR on June 3, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Only Christians matter. And maybe Jews.

Posted by: Franklin on June 3, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Every day it's a new crisis, a new cause for ginning up self-righteous outrage. Don't these people ever get tired? Shit, I'm exhausted just listening to it.

Posted by: beep52 on June 3, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

For geniuses like Stubby who can't tell the difference, when "conservatives" call the US a Christian country, they are almost always saying that the US and its laws must be based on Christian beliefs, which themselves are founded on Hebrew law. They're trying to knock down that aspect of the first amendment that prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

Obama's statement goes to the opposite, stressing that the US is a melting pot of religion as well as race. That's why there's no harm and no foul, Stubby Brain.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on June 3, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

I'm old enough to remember commercials (for Levy's rye bread?) that went something like "In New York City, where there are more Jews than in all of Israel..."

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on June 3, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

That doesn't mean we're a . . . Christian Country

Aw, damn, Steve, now you're in trouble. Suggesting this might not be a Christian Country. Watch those anti-WM tweets today!

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 3, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Ankh-Morpork is the biggest dwarf city on the Disk. Havelock Vetinari is proud of this.

Posted by: chris y on June 3, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Keith - you can thank Arabs for Alegbra, not necessarily Islam itself.

If you'd like a serious debate on whether Islam is really a font of progress, I'd love to engage.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

For geniuses like Stubby who can't tell the difference, when "conservatives" call the US a Christian country, they are almost always saying that the US and its laws must be based on Christian beliefs, which themselves are founded on Hebrew law. They're trying to knock down that aspect of the first amendment that prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

Nice strawman.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Even if you take the very highest estimates for the U.S. Muslim population, ~6 million, the United States is nowhere close to being among the world's largest Muslim countries.

Posted by: Peter on June 3, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

In fact, given the size of the U.S. population, and the rich diversity of our spiritual landscape, you can pick practically any faith tradition, plug it into the president's sentence, and it'd be true, too.

In fact, we don't need to restrict such statements exclusively to religion, for example:

"If you took the number of conservative shitheads in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest conservative shithead countries in the world."

Posted by: David Bailey on June 3, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Alegbra = device for firming up the gluteous maximus

Posted by: genome on June 3, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Even if you take the very highest estimates for the U.S. Muslim population, ~6 million, the United States is nowhere close to being among the world's largest Muslim countries.

Six million is a rosy estimate. Even with that, the U.S. wouldn't even scratch the top twenty Muslims countries in the world.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Note how the NYT put the "we’d be" farther down the piece? They started off with, Obama noted that the United States also could be considered as “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” Well, "could be" doesn't quite make the same point as "we'd be." I think many villagers are "careless on purpose," wink nudge.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on June 3, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the constant outrage is to keep their minions from calming down and allowing rational thought into their brains. If any of that were to happen, why then some of them might actually see the light and leave the party.

Oops.

Posted by: jcricket on June 3, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Stubby, those Arabs were Muslims acting as part of a wide-spread "Muslim civilization." Remember that in those days, religion and government were intertwined, and scholars grew up knowing both and being patronized in terms of religious institutions which ran almost all of the universities etc. What they produced is just as much a product of "Islamic civilization" as the logical work of Medieval scholastics is a product of "Christendom" despite being based on the work of secular Greek philosopher Aristotle, etc.

Posted by: Neil B. ♪ ♫ on June 3, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Hard-core rhetoricians will note . . . "

Well, the Glenn Beck demo either just dropped off, or now believe that Obama is in a porno.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on June 3, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

What they produced is just as much a product of "Islamic civilization" as the logical work of Medieval scholastics is a product of "Christendom" despite being based on the work of secular Greek philosopher Aristotle, etc.

You almost - almost - gave Christianity some faint praise, but decided to give it to the secular Greeks instead. That's fine.

But then you can't give Arabs/Muslims the full credit for algebra, either. Seems like the ancient Babylonians started, the Greeks refined it and the Arabs finished it. So no, it's not a Muslim/Arab invention/creation/discovery.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

This lsit, which estimates the US Muslim population at 4.1 million, puts the US at No. 41 out of 165.

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/rel_isl_pop-religion-islam-population

Posted by: rea on June 3, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

"Nice strawman."

How do you figure that? Do you know what a 'strawman' argument is?

The poster points out that to the right wing the term 'christian nation' means a lot more than demographics. It means cultural/legal domination.

Obamas' statement simply says demographically speaking the US has as many Muslim citizens as many other 'Islamic countries'. Therefore Muslims shouldn't regard the US as an enemy of their religion.

The two statements are very different... in reality, nearly opposite.

Something there you don't get? Just trollin' around? On a field trip from a RWA site?

Posted by: Buford on June 3, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Christianity would have withered and died without the Muslim clerics who, during the dark ages, diligently copied the texts and preserved them.

Posted by: realist on June 3, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Stubby, if you are excluding "finishing up" what someone else started, from being an accomplishment, or being created, then very little was ever created. There are precursors of almost everything out there, in math and the sciences. Even calculus had a start in those same Greeks taking infinitesimal triangles to show that the area of a circle was pi*r^2. The idea bothered them, but they recognized the concept and its practical validity. Few would then deny Isaac Newton and Liebnitz credit for "inventing calculus."

And no I wasn't trying to evade giving Christianity any credit for enabling some intellectual growth, that hands you a silly tit-for-tat excuse to take away the Muslims' ball too etc. You did a push-take on my take. Grow up, please.

BTW can anyone see the symbols after my name as real typo-pics and not gibberish? The latest should be a sun. It depends on the encoding, just curious.

Posted by: Neil B ☼ on June 3, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

BTW can anyone see the symbols after my name as real typo-pics and not gibberish? The latest should be a sun. It depends on the encoding, just curious.

I see a square.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

In any way of thinking hypothetically this is just plain dumb. There are only 2,000,000 muslims in the US. Thats it. And they are creating problems all over the country. I just wonder why O gave a press conference about the abortion doctor but did not say anything about the soldier murdered by a muslim the following day. He was a jihadist on American soil who studied in Yemen. I suggest you all read trhe Quran. Here is one of my favorite suras"Do not take the unbelievers as friends" Read the Quran and you will know why every muslim nation is backwards or like Maylasia is going backwards.

Posted by: joe on June 3, 2009 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

The poster points out that to the right wing the term 'christian nation' means a lot more than demographics. It means cultural/legal domination.

No, it hasn't. That's your strawman. No conservative has meant it as cultural or legal domination.

Obamas' statement simply says demographically speaking the US has as many Muslim citizens as many other 'Islamic countries'. Therefore Muslims shouldn't regard the US as an enemy of their religion.

As I and other posters have pointed out, Obam's statement is factually incorrect.

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

@ Chris y - THAT was an awesome reference. You win.

Posted by: DW on June 3, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Joe, get a grip on reality. You're stealing Michele Malkin's talking points now.

Posted by: DW on June 3, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

“If you'd like a serious debate on whether Islam is really a font of progress, I'd love to engage.”

No you wouldn't, you're ignorant and it shows. You'd be embarrassed in a "serious debate".

You clearly know nothing about the history of mathematics or you'd know that a) the person considered the father of algebra was Persian, not Arab, and b) that mathematics has always played an enormously important role in Islam and that algebra is very much Islamic in every sense.

I'm no expert on Islam. In fact, my education was the Classics, Western Philosophy and Literature, and the history of science and mathematics. But it's because of this education I'm aware of how much the west owes Islam. Islam safeguarded the accomplishments of the Greeks and generally kept the fire of science and education burning during the eight-hundred years or so when the west was more concerned with things like the Crusades and the Inquisitions.

In fact, the Christian Church has consistently been more an opponent to progress of any sort, including in science, than it has its friend. The reverse has been true of Islam—except, perhaps, most recently.

But I'm sure that won't put a dent in your insistence on being both a bigot and being pig-ignorant.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 3, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Neil: I see a sun and have seen previous musical notes in your sig.

Posted by: Marko on June 3, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, yeah, I get it now - thanks for the explanation.

So Barrak Hussein Obama didn't really mean what he said and he really wasn't sucking up to the murderous Muslims - what a relief!

Posted by: f on June 3, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

[IP check reveals this to be the same troll from yesterday. You are done here. --Mod]

Posted by: Stubby on June 3, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

“Seems like the ancient Babylonians started, the Greeks refined it and the Arabs finished it.”

This is false and obviously the result of Stubby quickly glancing at a Wikipedia page in the vain hope of supporting his argument.

The Greeks did very little work supporting the development of algebra. The only significant exception to this was Diophantus. Otherwise, the Greeks were essentially anti-algebraical. Their entire way of thinking about mathematics deeply resisted that degree of abstraction.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 3, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

No, it hasn't. That's your strawman. No conservative has meant it as cultural or legal domination.

I really wish I could cite day, date and time for you, Stubby. I have heard Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and Alan Keyes say, on several occasions, some version of the following: We are a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by the Christian men who wrote the Constitution that set up our government.

The usual context for that declaration has been a discussion of state-sponsored school prayer or the posting of the ten commandments on the courthouse square.

Straw man my ass.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on June 3, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Joe-

I live near Dearborn, MI, largest concentration of Muslims outside of the Middle East. I have associated with many of them for over 20 years, and never once had a single problem.

Where do you get your information from that they are "creating problems all over"? One incident does not equate to your statement.

-Franklin

Posted by: Franklin on June 3, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Joe,

Your statement that Muslims are causing problems all over the country may be true in a qualified sense. I have not seen the crime reports for every community. But, given that, it would be shocking to me if Christians and Jews were not also causing problems all over the country, as well. Christians and Jews also murder, steal, and jaywalk. And both Timothy McVeigh and Roedy: Christian.

Posted by: c4logic on June 3, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

stubby, i suggest you read "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," the award-winning book by Charles Seife.

it is not just that "arab" culture made huge contributions in mathematics (as was pointed out already, Persian Muslims should get more credit). the differences in religion mattered greatly. the Roamn Catholic Church treated key scientific and mathematical advances as heresy and suppressed them. the Muslim religion was not threatened by these advances, and allowed them to flourish.

it may be true that the Muslim faith did not affirmatively cause any of the advances (although the post-Reformation Catholic Church sure likes to take credit for the advances of the West), but the difference in religious treatment was a material cultural difference in the early advancement of science and math in Eastern and Middle Eastern societies versus those in Catholic/Christian societies.

No, you are not entitled to your own facts or history, even though you are a white, conversative, male American.

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 3, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

IP check reveals ["Stubby"] to be the same troll from yesterday.

Rhetoric check reveals "Stubby" even before that.

Posted by: Gregory on June 3, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

IP check reveals this to be the same troll from yesterday.

Duh.

Posted by: shortstop on June 3, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

As Carlos Santayana said, American lefties who do not learn from the mistakes of European countries are condemned to repeat them.

I can't wait to hear you all start squawking when Moslem immigrants start marrying your daughters.

Posted by: Myke K on June 3, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

"Keith - you can thank Arabs for Alegbra"

For the record, algebra comes from India originally and was brought to the Middle East by Arab traders. Like every other intellectual endeavor, the Arabs did a great job of advancing algebra, but they didn't invent it. India also invented "Arabic" numbers and the concept of zero. Oh, and "Damascus" steel. Strangely, one of the few things India didn't invent was Sanskrit.

"I live near Dearborn, MI, largest concentration of Muslims outside of the Middle East."

Umm, Jakarta would be a much larger concentration. But Dearborn is certainly a large one.

Posted by: fostert on June 3, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

I have to work and only have a moment. Almost all science,medecine and other advances came before islam. The zero is an Indian invention. There were only about five muslims that created anything of value on their own and they were agnostic or anti islam. They were also persecuted by the muslims in power. Islam is responsible for the African slave trade and murdered over 120,000,000 Africans. Niger just outlawed slavery in 2005. I will gladly debate this subject with anyone. But alas I must get to work. Take care and have a great day.

Posted by: Joe on June 3, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

In fact, the Christian Church has consistently been more an opponent to progress of any sort, including in science, than it has its friend. The reverse has been true of Islam—except, perhaps, most recently.

Well, yes, if by "recently," you mean the last eight hundred years. The universities whence came all that philosophy and stuff you studied were started by Latin Christians late in the medieval period, picked up a lot of that Islamic culture in the aftermath of the fall of Moslem Andulusia and Greek Christian Byzantium, then turned it into the modern humanist tradition way back in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Various reactionary elements aside, the Western intellectual tradition was started by churchmen and primarily sustained by them right into the 1800s.

Posted by: Midland on June 3, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

the Western intellectual tradition was started by churchmen and primarily sustained by them right into the 1800s.. . . and since that time they have tried about everything to undo it all.

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 3, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hoo boy, here we are having an arcane debate about the history of algebra (sadly occasioned by political preferences it seems.) Well, al-Khwārizmī certainly advanced the subject into what it is today (was he really a "secularist"?) From Wikipedia (I suppose fairly accurate, should I have checked Conservapedia too?) and without editing special fonts etc:

The word "algebra" is named after the Arabic word "al-jabr , الجبر" from the title of the book al-Kitāb al-muḫtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-ğabr wa-l-muqābala , الكتاب المختصر في حساب الجبر والمقابلة, meaning The book of Summary Concerning Calculating by Transposition and Reduction, a book written by the Islamic Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (considered the "father of algebra"), in 820. The word Al-Jabr means "reunion". The Hellenistic mathematician Diophantus has traditionally been known as the "father of algebra" but in more recent times there is much debate over whether al-Khwarizmi, who founded the discipline of al-jabr, deserves that title instead.[4] Those who support Diophantus point to the fact that the algebra found in Al-Jabr is slightly more elementary than the algebra found in Arithmetica and that Arithmetica is syncopated while Al-Jabr is fully rhetorical.[5] Those who support Al-Khwarizmi point to the fact that he introduced the methods of "reduction" and "balancing" (the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation) which the term al-jabr originally referred to,[6] and that he gave an exhaustive explanation of solving quadratic equations,[7] supported by geometric proofs, while treating algebra as an independent discipline in its own right.[8] His algebra was also no longer concerned "with a series of problems to be resolved, but an exposition which starts with primitive terms in which the combinations must give all possible prototypes for equations, which henceforward explicitly constitute the true object of study." He also studied an equation for its own sake and "in a generic manner, insofar as it does not simply emerge in the course of solving a problem, but is specifically called on to define an infinite class of problems."[9]

Also, Arab thinkers like Ibn al-Haytham greatly advanced optics and medicine. Wikipedia:
The Book of Optics has been ranked alongside Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in the history of physics,[5] as it is widely considered to have initiated a revolution in the fields of optics and visual perception.[6][7][8][9][10][11] It established experimentation as the norm of proof in optics,[2] and gave optics a physico-mathematical conception at a much earlier date than the other mathematical disciplines of astronomy and mechanics.[12]

Posted by: Neil B ♪ ♫ on June 3, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

the Western intellectual tradition was started by churchmen and primarily sustained by them right into the 1800s.. . . and since that time they have tried about everything to undo it all.

Could I learn about this Christain anti-intellectual crusade by reading Dan Brown novels? Or do you have your own conspiracy website?

Outside of noisy American Evangelicals, who is taking part in the anti-intellectual crusade? Are the Lutherans trying to outlaw physics? Are the Episcopalians banning chemistry and Baptists outlawing engineering? Are the Anglicans shutting down theaters and closing libraries? Is Notre Dame ridding itself of its departments of geology, philosophy, and modern literature?

Can you provide a quick list of any mainline Christian churches have any actual quarrel with evolution, geology, or cosmology? Not reactionary factions, but actual church establishments? Tbose with actual power anywhere?


Posted by: Midland on June 3, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

"noisy american evangelicals" don't have any "actual power anywhere?" they're not an "actual church establishment?" who's been doing all that anti-evolutionary pushing then? [and getting various school boards to pay attention] Episcopalians? Baptists? Anglicans? Notre Dame?

confused

Posted by: dj spellchecka on June 3, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, he's using the subjunctive and it's a mood, not a tense.

Posted by: The Fool on June 3, 2009 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to remember a particular beverage advertising that in a particular city that had more Poles than any city except Warsaw, more Germans than any city except Berlin, more ..., it was the best selling beverage of its kind. What does that say about America if there are more Poles, Germans, Italians, Swedes, etc. here than in Europe?

"What do you expect from the president who refused to put his hand on a Christian Bible the second and third times he took the oath of office?"

Are you counting Bush's times as governor or what? He only took the oath of office twice as president. Or are you referring to Reagan and his times as governor? I wasn't aware that those two cared at all about the sanctity of an oath given the way they both indulged in illegal and dishonest presidential conduct.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on June 3, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

"...given the size of the U.S. population, and the rich diversity of our spiritual landscape, you can pick practically any faith tradition, plug it into the president's sentence, and it'd be true, too. ... If you took the number of Hindus in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Hindu countries in the world. If you took the number of Buddhists in the U.S., we'd be one of the largest Buddhist countries in the world."

Umm, no. There were 827,578,868 Hindus (80.46% of India's population) as of their 2001 census, according to Wikipedia -- more than the total population of the USA. In fact, as of 2001, there were 22 Indian states (provinces) who boasted more Hindus than the entire USA.

Similar math applies for Buddhism. "...[R]ecent surveys put the total number of Chinese Buddhists between 660 million (50%) and over 1 billion (80%)..." (from "Counting the Buddhist World Fairly," by Dr. Alex Smith, also via Wikipedia). The USA comes 29th.

Posted by: Vaughn Samuels on June 3, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

“Various reactionary elements aside, the Western intellectual tradition was started by churchmen and primarily sustained by them right into the 1800s.”

As someone who has read all those books you're indirectly referring to, this is hogwash. The Western intellectual tradition was started by the Greeks, and the Christian theologians were mostly a small side-trip in rationalizing doctrine, not actually advancing much else.

During the entire period when the Church had a stranglehold on intellectualism in the West, very little was produced, with the notable (and not insignificant) exceptions of music and art. But math, science, literature? The Church did far more to stifle these than it did to promote them.

I'm not one to indiscriminately vilify Christianity or the Catholic Church. I've translated portions of the Bible (not hard, actually, if you've already learned to translate Attic and Homeric Greek), and I've read many Christian writers including Erasmus, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, and many others. There is a great many things of value that have come from the Christian tradition.

But the idea that the Christian tradition has been one of the world's bastions of intellectual development is simply false. Of all the world's major religions/cultures, it has been consistently and by a good margin anti-intellectual and especially anti-science.

I don't disagree that portions of today's Islam equal and exceed this anti-intellectualism; but this is neither the entirety of today's Islam nor representative of the majority of Islamic history. But this notion that you and others have of Islam—that it is a reactionary, regressive, anti-intellectualist influence—describes the Christian Church and Christian culture for much of its history. Today's fundamentalists are largely the exception among today's Christians; but they are the remnants of a much larger Christian tradition.

When your religious belief system deeply involves an imminent end-of-the-world, there's little need for the idea of progress and intellectual development. Eschatology accounts for a large portion of Christianity's anti-intellectualism and it's no accident that the branch of Christianity today which is the most anti-intellectual is also the most invested in eschatology.

Finally, a great many things were first discovered/invented in China and India, but that doesn't mean that they should be credited with all of them. Algebra has its origins in pre-Islamic cultures, but it was Islam that fully developed it. Prior work with it was rudimentary and limited. It's similar to the situation with regard to geometry: the roots of geometry are truly ancient and almost every culture prior to the Greeks made important contributions to it. But the Greeks went far beyond anything that had been done prior and fully developed it.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 3, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

It pains me to say it but Obama was factually wrong to imply we've got more Muslims than almost any other country (so is Steve for saying Hindus or Buddhists) -- yes, the US population is huge (3rd in the world, unless Indonesia has passed us recently) but it's also overwhelmingly Christian (or christian-on-the-path-to-agnostic).

The number of Americans of a non-Christian faith is comparable to, maybe smaller than, the number of Californians, which makes all of our non-Christians the equivalent of a mid-sized European nation. And remember, that non-christian group also includes Wiccans, Mormons, $cien+olo9ists, Odinites, and a bazillion crystal-related notions. None of the remaining groups amount to that many.

The formulation works for Jews (yes, there are more Jews in the US than in any other nation) but that's because the world doesn't actually have all that many Jews, and because most of them moved here a century ago when we weren't trying to kill them as hard as everybody else was.

As culturally and "racially" diverse as we like to say we are, we're really not very religiously diverse. Germany has more Muslims than the US does, for example.

Posted by: eyelessgame on June 3, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

It appears that the US is not even in the top 30 Muslim countries in the world.

We are probably in the top 2 Christian and Jewish countries. I don't know where we rank in other groups.

So, it seems Obama was WRONG

Posted by: neil wilson on June 3, 2009 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Jumping into the math debate...

Didn't the Maya invent the zero? Mayan math definitely has a placeholder that means zero. I can't remember how old it is, though.

Posted by: Ashley on June 3, 2009 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Steve nor anyone in comments noted the fact that the liberal NYT ran this deceptive headline on their blog. They pander to their readers and their anti-Muslim fears.

Good thing the NYT is some small circulation backwater newspaper, and we don't rely on them to inform us about events in the Middle East, cuz they'd probably be biased.

Posted by: flubber on June 3, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

I'm amazed by those who think that Islam (or any religion) is capable of delivering something like algebra (or anything like it) to humankind.

Individual people, yes. Religions, no. Religions do not contribute directly to human knowledge because they are non-empirical belief systems. Their data does not come from the physical world, but rather from supposed revelations. As such, they are no more likely to be right than random chance.

Religions may on occasion offer interesting hypotheses about the world or human behaviour, which someone might test, but then that's science, not religion.

Posted by: Daniel Midgley on June 3, 2009 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

"noisy american evangelicals" don't have any "actual power anywhere?" they're not an "actual church establishment?"

You are confused because you are taking bits of sentences from two different paragraphs and combining them in a statement that is the opposite of what I actually said.

Religious anti-intellectualism in the United States is being pushed, for the most part, by Evangelicals. The mainline churches are, if anything promoting intellectualism, fighting a rear-guad battle against a anti-intellectual secular culture that devalues reason in favor of self-indulgence and witless consumerism.

who's been doing all that anti-evolutionary pushing then?

Of the the churches you listed, the only one that has any grievance with evolutionary theory is the Baptists, and not all of them are as fundamentalist as the TV preachers who get all the headlines. The other Christian sects accepted Darwin's principles more than a century ago, more or less at the same time as the rest of educated Western society.

Posted by: Midland on June 4, 2009 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

I'm amazed by those who think that Islam (or any religion) is capable of delivering something like algebra (or anything like it) to humankind . . . Individual people, yes. Religions, no. Religions do not contribute directly to human knowledge because they are non-empirical belief systems. Their data does not come from the physical world, but rather from supposed revelations. As such, they are no more likely to be right than random chance.

Nice tautology, there. Religions are defined as incapable of learning from observation of the natural world, therefore they cannot possibly have contributed our knowledge of the natural world. If individuals with religious beliefs contribute something to human knowledge, you define that knowledge as coming from something separate from their religious viewpoint, and once again, religion is incapable of contributing to human knowledge.

Of course, you can glance over the writings and thought of every great religious thinker, and most every minister preaching a practical sermon next Sunday, and find arguments based on observation of the natural world.

Your definitions look at religion backwards. Humans invented religion tens of thousands of years ago as a means of explaining the world around them. Aside from a few philosophical elites in various cultures, this is STILL the way most people experience their religious belief. The purely abstract version of religion you describe baffles most people of faith. This is one of the reasons fundamentalism is still strong in modern society. It isn't abstract. It is something, for good or ill, you can feel and experience day to day.

Posted by: Midland on June 4, 2009 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

yall keep the faith in obama an see where it will get you!!

Posted by: buckshot on June 4, 2009 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

It's not tautological at all. If someone's doing observation, they're doing science. If they're doing theological naval gazing, that's religion. You can't know something without empirical observation, and it's darn hard even with it. This shouldn't be controversial it's the underpinning of the entire scientific method.

Of course, you can glance over the writings and thought of every great religious thinker, and most every minister preaching a practical sermon next Sunday, and find arguments based on observation of the natural world.

And then they say, "Therefore, God exists" or "Jesus loves you" or something else that is not backed up by any observation. At that point, they stop doing science.

I agree that religion (or supernaturalism) was a first try at understanding the world. The scientific method does a much better job.

Posted by: Daniel Midgley on June 4, 2009 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Please don't confuse "religion" with "Christianity". The difference is darkness and light. religion is a series of "must nots" "may nots" and "can nots" -- or-- on the other hand anything goes and all roads lead to god. Christianity points to and the Christian worships the one true Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, one third of the Triune Godhead, who left Paradise to come to earth as the Holy son of a virgin mother to live as a man, suffer as a man and die as a man to pay the sin debt of the entire world -- every person from every race, creed, religion, political belief, etc, has an advocate with the Father in Christ Jesus. All He asks is that we believe on Him and repent of our sins and confess that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Once you do that, and begin your walk with Him, striving to live a Christ like life, showing love to your fellow man (which is the ONLY true call of a Christian) the importance of all this worldly stuff begins to diminish in your mind's eye. When the focus of our lives is pleasing our Lord, we stop trying to justify obvious wrongs. We are not to hate the sinner, but we are to hate the sin. we are not to condemn the sinner, but the sin, we are not to cast out the sinner, but we are to tell him the story of the Living God and the One who died that we may all have life, so that all may come to know Him as their own personal Friend. I pray that each of you come to know and love Him and get a true revelation of His love for you. Each of you (along with every living thing on planet earth) will, at the appointed time, bend your knee and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. I just pray for you that you find your way to Him on this side of eternity. Love in Christ, T

Posted by: T on June 4, 2009 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, crap. I triggered a godbot. Sorry, everyone.

Posted by: Daniel Midgley on June 4, 2009 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, come to think of it, this is exactly what I'm talking about. You think the ramblings of T are going to lead to calculus someday? Or anything useful?

Posted by: Daniel Midgley on June 4, 2009 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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