There are many reasons Ex-Muslims have for not going public. For some, they fear retaliation because Islam instructs Muslims to kill apostates. For others, they are concerned that Muslims in their communities will gossip about them. And for some it’s about wanting to teach their kids morals while believing that religion is only way to teach morality. I'll explain why these last two ideas are wrong, and how they are both caused by another much more general problem that applies to all people, not just Ex-Muslims.
The first idea is about caring what other people think of you. It’s something people learn during childhood. It’s ironic because as parents we tell our kids not to care what other kids think of them, and we do this to persuade them to say 'no' to peer pressure.
So, clearly we know this principle that it's wrong to make decisions based on what others think. So, why do these same parents still care what others think of them? With respect to Ex-Muslims, they tend to care about what Muslims in the community are going to say about them. So, why is there this inconsistency in their thinking?
The answer lies in the fact that, like most people, they have conflicting ideas about lots of things in their lives. But surely a lot of people notice the inconsistencies in their thinking, so why don’t they fix them? Well, it’s because it’s not so straightforward, because many of our ideas are known subconsciously. How could this be? The answer lies in how people learn ideas.
We learn ideas mostly from society (which includes our parents). We also learn ideas on our own using our own creativity and logic. As for the ideas learned from society, a lot of these ideas are learned subconsciously, and are also taught subconsciously. To illustrate this, consider that a lot of people dress up nice when they go out for dinner; it’s a social norm. Their kids see this and what do they learn? That it’s important to look a certain way so that other people think about you in a certain way. Now some parents will deny this, stating that they want to look good for themselves not for others. But what they explicitly say doesn’t matter. What matters is that kids learn ideas using their own logic and the details of the situation they are presented with. So, say for example that mom asks dad how she looks in her dress. She is expressing that she cares what others think of how she looks. So that’s what most kids learn, to be concerned with what others will think of them.
So, parents teaches an idea while not being aware that they are teaching it (i.e. subconsciously) and kids learn that idea while not being aware that he learnt it (i.e. subconsciously). And these ideas exist subconsciously in the kid’s mind and they pervade a lot of his thinking without him being aware of it. And then he does the same with his kids, and the cycle continues. This is a serious problem so how can this be stopped?
The answer lies in the difference between people that care what others think and those that don’t. What's the difference between them? Well, society has an answer. They label the latter group as "asocial". This label carries with it a negative connotation, that there is something ‘wrong’ with them, and kids pick up on this. What is the implication? It’s that if you don’t follow society, then you are living immorally.
Notice that this idea presupposes that society is always right. But it’s common knowledge that there are many things wrong in society, in society’s social norms, for example Islam. In Islamic communities, the social norm is to believe in Islam. So this raises the question: Is it wrong to ‘break away from societies’ norms when you think society is wrong about a specific idea’? Of course not! So this contradicts the previous idea that ‘breaking away from society is living immorally’. And since these two ideas contradict each other, only one of them could be true. So which one is it? Well, one of them hinges on a falsehood while the other doesn’t, which is that society is always right. Now you decide. You judge for yourself, which idea is the right one?
So, why is it that some kids do what they think is right even if it goes against society? It boils down to how people judge ideas. Most people do it by popularity. But history shows us that this is the wrong way to approach ideas. A good example is that of the ancient view that the Earth was flat. So, when the first guy started saying that the Earth was round, should people have judged his idea to be false because it wasn’t the popular view? Of course not! So, judging ideas by popularity is false logic. That means you should never, under any circumstances, judge ideas by popularity. Truth cannot be determined by popularity contests.
So how should a person judge ideas? Should he judge by authority – like his parents, or teachers, or religious or political leaders? Well, they are often mistaken like society is often mistaken. So, judging ideas by authority is wrong too. But what about judging ideas by science? Doesn’t science have the answers? Even science is mistaken sometimes, actually often. For example, Einstein’s theory of gravity showed that Newton’s theory of gravity was false. Newton’s theory *approximately* (i.e. contains some error) works in some situations and it is completely wrong in other situations (where objects are moving close to the speed of light).
And there are many other instances in history where science was found to be wrong. This is why science uses the term ‘theory’ instead of ‘fact’. We don’t say Einstein’s Fact of Gravity. Why? Because we know that there is the possibility that in the future someone will show that it’s false. Einstein was wrong about Quantum Mechanics. And the early Quantum Mechanics theorists were found to be wrong by Everett about the implications of Quantum Mechanics on reality, which is that the Universe is actually a Multiverse.
The right way to judge ideas is the focus of epistemology, which is the study of knowledge and of how knowledge is created.
Ever since Aristotle created his epistemology, which is now known as Justified True Belief (JTB), philosophers and society in general have been using it to judge ideas as true or false. This theory claims that it is possible to know absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, that an idea is true. And if it’s not known to be true, then it’s not knowledge. Sound promising? Well, in the mid-20th century, Karl Popper showed that this theory is false.
Justified True Belief theory says that for an idea to be true, it must be justified by an underlying truth. So, what about that underlying truth? How do we know that that underlying idea is true. Well, we have to use the same logic, that the underlying idea must be justified by a truth. So, how do we know that that underlying idea is true? Well, we have to use the same logic again, that the underlying idea is justified by a truth. But where does this end? Well it doesn’t end because it can’t end. It runs infinitely. This is known as an infinite regress problem. And so this refutes the JTB theory. So, Popper showed us that an idea cannot be labeled as the truth by justification. So, we should not, under any circumstances, judge ideas by justification.
Interestingly, the vast majority of society uses Aristotle’s epistemology. You can see it in their reasoning when they have disagreements. They respond with statements like:
- “Why should I believe you… what are your credentials that prove that you know what you’re talking about?” -- Here the person is judging an idea by asking for justification by the authority of the other person’s credentials.
- “My Daddy said so, so you’re wrong.” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his father.
- “I saw it with my own two eyes, so I know it’s true.” -- Here the person judges his idea by justifying it by the authority of his senses.
- “I know she wouldn’t cheat on me because she loves me and I love her.” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his emotions.
- “I know your idea is false because it contradicts my entire life’s worth of experiences and the experiences of everyone I know and everything I’ve ever known.” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of experience.
- “I know it because I remember it so vividly.” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his memory and of his perceptions of his senses.
- “I know Allah exists because the Quran proves it, because the Quran is absolutely perfect, and no other holy book has this quality of perfection.” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of Muslim scholars who claim that the Quran is perfect.
- “I know Islam is right. How could a billion people be wrong?” -- Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of popularity.
All of these statements use this false JTB logic about how to judge which ideas are true.
So, how should we judge ideas? I already gave you the answer. I said to judge ideas for yourself, using your own reasoning. This is the only way that works, because it’s the only way that can correct errors. All the other ways of judging ideas causes you to adopt other people’s mistaken ideas with no possibility for correcting them. Will you be wrong sometimes? Of course! You’ll be wrong a lot. We are fallible beings. We can be mistaken about any one of our ideas. And from any one person’s perspective, everybody else can be mistaken about any of their ideas. So, no one should judge an idea to be true, just because other people believe it. Your parents could be mistaken. Your religion could be mistaken. Your doctor could be mistaken. Your perception of your senses, your emotions, your gut feelings, and your memory can be mistaken.
So, each person should judge ideas using his own best judgment. How does this work? When he notices a problem in one or more of his ideas, then he can use his best judgment to try to correct it. A problem is a conflict between two ideas. It’s a problem because one of them must be mistaken. Actually, both of them could be mistaken but this doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can work towards solving the problem by judging that one or both of those ideas is false, again using your own best judgment.
So, how does this work in practice? Popper explained that knowledge is created by guessing and criticizing. You guess an idea, and then anybody criticizes it, and then anybody criticizes those criticisms. And the guesses left uncriticized are considered the “truth”, for now. In the future, someone may come along with a new criticism of that “truth”, and the cycle continues. So, a "truth" is only an "idea" that I currently don’t have any criticisms of.
It’s important to note what I mean by "truth". I mean ‘conjectural’ truth, which is distinct from objective truth. Conjectural truth comes from our guessing and criticizing. Objective truth exists independently of us humans. Our goal is to evolve our conjectural knowledge towards the objective knowledge. Step-by-step, as a society, and each one of us as individuals, are evolving our conjectural knowledge towards the objective knowledge.
So, how do we know when we’ve reached it? How do we know when one of our conjectural truths has reached the status of objective truth? We don't. We can't. We can’t know which of our ideas isn’t mistaken. Any one of our ideas can be mistaken. So any one of our conjectural truths can be an objective truth, but we don’t know which ones. So, for example, it’s possible that our current moral theories about parenting are perfect, but we don’t know whether someone will come along in the future and find an error in it and correct the theory, or refute the whole theory altogether, similar to how the JTB theory was refuted altogether.
What are the real implications of this? It means that all truths are on the table. All truths are open for criticism. That means we are open-minded about every one of our ideas. All of them are open for debate. No idea is protected from criticism.
Does this feel pessimistic – that we can’t know anything for sure? The reality is that we always have mistaken ideas. And these mistaken ideas cause us to make mistakes in our lives. These mistakes are life problems, which are the sources of our suffering. And by living a thoughtful and consistent life, by judging ideas for ourselves, we are able to correct mistaken ideas and reduce the total number of mistaken ideas over time. And what comes with that is making fewer mistakes in life, which means less suffering. So, with each correction of a mistaken idea, one becomes a better person. This is very optimistic!
This brings me to the other reason Ex-Muslims don’t go public. They believe that religion has a monopoly on morality. They think that there is no other way to teach morality to their kids. But the reality is that morality is just a set of moral ideas, ideas about good ways of living. And so, these ideas too have to be created and evolved in the same way we create any other ideas, by guesses and criticism – not by justification by the authority of God.
As an example, consider the Golden Rule. It’s a moral idea that Western society believes to be true, but that Islam hasn’t adopted it. It says that we should do to others what we want them to do to us. But this is flawed because it presupposes that all people have the same preferences, while it’s common knowledge that people have different preferences. So, if you follow the Golden Rule, you could do something to someone that they didn’t want done to them, which causes suffering. This critical idea explains the flaw in the Golden Rule. And this is a problem, that there are two ideas that conflict each other. So what’s the solution?
We can create a new moral idea that uses part of the original idea and we can change the part that is problematic such that it is consistent with the new critical idea. So, the new moral idea is: Act towards others using common preferences, and be willing to find common preferences by rational discussion. With this idea, everyone gets what they want, so no one suffers. And suffering is what the Golden Rule is trying to address.
Now this does not mean that this new moral idea, called Common Preference Finding (CPF), was created by correcting a flaw in the Golden Rule. Ideas can be independently created by many different people from many different angles. For example, David Deutsch arrived at the idea of CPF by first understanding Popper’s theory of the growth of knowledge in science and in society. Then he realized that there is a deep, underlying epistemological theory there (and he wasn’t the only one to realize this). Then he realized that this has implications for how the mind works, and hence for education. Then he applied the epistemology to a knowledge-creating entity consisting of two or more people, such as a family.
The reality is that today’s moral knowledge is far more advanced than religious morality. Our current best explanations about people, how they learn, how people should approach conflicts, and how people should live good lives in general, is only a few years old as it evolves continually. But Islamic morality is frozen in time, which was engraved in gold 1,400 years ago, and stopped evolving since. Interestingly, Muslims says that one of the reasons we should believe it to be true is that it hasn’t ever changed, while other religions, like Christianity and Judaism, have changed over time. So, in the words of Muslims, Christian morality has been evolving with time, while Islam never evolves. That is a minus on Islam, not a plus. How ironic!
So, among the reasons Ex-Muslims use for not going public, there is only one that makes sense. If you believe that your life would be in danger, let’s say because you live in Saudi Arabia, then lying about your Ex-Muslim status is the preferred option. But if danger is not a problem for you, then what reasons do you have for preferring to lie about your religious beliefs?
Some of you do it because you are concerned about what others will say about you in the community. But does that actually hurt you? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Do you believe in this principle? If you do, and if you continue to lie that you are a Muslim, then you are teaching your children to be Muslims, to care what others think of them, and to live their lives with known inconsistencies. And no matter what you explicitly say to them, they are learning these ideas from you subconsciously.
And some of you don’t even tell your kids that you don’t believe in Islam because you want to teach them Islamic morals. But as I’ve explained, our best explanations of morality are far more advanced than any religious morality, especially Islamic morality.
You are your child’s role model. What moral ideas are they learning from you?
On a final note, there is an important reason that Ex-Muslims should go public. We know that Islamic thinking hurts people – themselves, their families, and others. We know that Islam teaches anti-liberal views. For example, it’s forbidden for people to have dissenting ideas. This is why Islam instructs Muslims to physically force people to convert to Islam and to kill apostates. We know that this kind of thinking promotes hate and that Islamic ideas directly promote terrorism. And by lying about being Muslims, we are promoting the replication of Islamic ideas to the next generation of young minds. Do you want your children to live in a world where people continue to turn to terrorism?
Rami Rustom's website: http://ramirustom.blogspot.com/
Further reading: http://beginningofinfinity.com/