I’ve been thinking about the recent discussions about Islam.

The issue seems to be: what policies are needed, if any, to respond to 1) the growth of Islam in the west and 2) Islamic terror from a Rationalist and/or Humanist perspective?

Here are my thoughts from a Rationalist perspective. Stand by for more on Humanism and Islam.

The impact of Islam on the west is very small. Islam in most western countries is a fragmented, somewhat marginalised and multicultural religion attracting few converts and with many apathetic members. It is not rational to devote a lot of effort to responding to this phenomenon and there seems to be plenty of evidence that Muslims become less religious as time goes on in western countries. There is certainly a risk of radicalisation of a small minority of Muslims and a smaller risk that such radicalised people will do harmful things. However the harm done to this point in western countries is tiny compared to things like road deaths and the impact on anti-science promotion in medicine. There have been many deaths in NZ caused by the latter and none by the former. Most Muslims oppose Islamist extremists.

The New Zealand response at the State level, of positive engagement with Muslim communities, friendly interaction and mutual respect seems to produce very good results. It is not hard to hypothesise that excoriation and abuse will produce negative consequences.

Islam also provides an opportunity to look at the range of responses to Jesus and his teaching. Christianity eliminated, often by war, many early forms of Christianity. Islam can be seen in part as a surviving variant or developed form of Christianity which takes on many Christian belief but not others. Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and will come again to judge the living and the dead. They also share many Jewish beliefs. Rational discussion of this and the origins of belief can assist in a rational understanding of religion and the development of doctrine.

Islamic cultures formed the basis of many scientific advances. In this respect Islam was until the enlightenment far ahead of Christianity and the cultures it influenced. This provides a point of common understanding between Rationalists and Muslims.

Some things advocated by some Muslims will be rejected by Rationalists. These include belief in God and other spiritual beings, belief in some events as historic, predictions about future events, and the benefits of secularism. These are very, very close to the differences between Rationalists and Christians.

Should I withstand the withering firestorm facing me after posting this I shall post again, this time on Humanism and Islam, the value of tolerance and freedom of belief and the need for consistency in our advocacy of freedom