Religious beliefs – how they trick believers into spreading the belief

I’ve been having a dialogue with several Muslims who are busy conducting what some Muslims might refer to as an internet Jihad. In this context that basically means that they have established Facebook groups designed to reach out and convert non-Muslims, and have invited in all and sundry. Why do they do this, what motivates them to spend so much time?

Islam, like most belief systems, compels those that are infected with the belief to go out and infect others. The fact that this is going on is perhaps to be expected because Islam is an example of a belief being naturally selected due to its distinct characteristics giving it a survival advantage –  belief systems that can rapidly spread and infect others will indeed dominate and thrive. There are of course other attributes that enable the belief to survive such as “Death for any who quit” (yes really, most modern Islamic Scholars hold that view, they just don’t get too great an opportunity to put it into practise, but they would if they could). That by itself is a rather stark motivator for individuals to stick with it, even if such obedience is only lip service.

I should also point out that any survival advantage a belief might retain says nothing at all about the truth of the claims being made within that belief – reality is not something we get to vote on.

Anyway, the term that Islam uses for outreach is called, “Dawah”. It literally means “issuing a summons” or “making an invitation”, … but this is not just all about churning out more converts, it is also about encouraging fellow Muslims to become more holy and devout (translation: even more fanatical), so it looks both inwards and also outwards.

Now what is also quite interesting is that there are layers of complexity here that often remain hidden to outsiders. Islam is similar to Christianity, in that it is not one unified belief, but rather is an umbrella that shelters a very wide diversity of quite different beliefs. This ranges from the very strict Wahhabism in Saudi, all the way through to complete re-inventions of Islam such as the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. Externally a unified front is presented, but internally it is just as splintered as all other belief systems. The Wahhabies are so extreme that most other variations of Islam (about 99% of the Islamic world) consider them to be complete nuts. The Ahmadiyya, are so radically different that most other Muslims consider them not to be Muslim at all (hence the high degree of violence, discrimination and deaths inflicted upon the Ahmadiyya community). So Dawah is not only about the conversion of non-Muslims, or the attempt to encourage others within the community to become more devout, but is also all about encouraging those within the wrong variation of Islam to join the “right” one, similar perhaps to a Baptist attempting to convert a Catholic.

To illustrate just how diverse things are, all might indeed agree that they want to see Sahria law established, but there is no agreement on what that actually means. Each of the different sects will have a distinctly different view regarding Sharia. If you dig into just one specific variation of Islam, the “Sunnis” for example, then you will quickly discover that they have different schools of thought such as the Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki, Hanbali, and Ẓāhirī. Beyond the Sunnis you also have Shia Islam, Sufism, Kharijite Islam, Ahmadiyya, Quranism and others, each of which in turn fragments into many schools each with distinctly different thoughts on a wide range of topics. So they will not only be busy trying to convert you, but they will also be busy trying to convert each other as well.

OK, lets get back to Dawah and why it works.

Humans, with or without belief, generally strive to do what is right, so what is happening here is that the belief is leveraging this aspect of human psychology and thus tricks Muslims into spreading the belief because this is deemed to be a good thing to do.

That is not unique to Islam, most beliefs do something like this. Christians will (to use their terms) “share the gospel” and do “outreach” because they wish to do the right thing and help to “save lost souls”.

Today as folks arrive to attend the Olympics here in London, there are various incarnations of belief hanging around outside attempting to convert. Face-to-face contact like this works because sadly, those on their own are very susceptible to being sucked in. It is an opportunity to make friends, meet nice people and socialize, but to sup all that, you need to buy into the belief being sold. Some start out with the intent of just joining in so that they can socialize. Belief is tricky, it has been naturally selected over a period of many centuries, so it has learned how to slowly hook into human minds. Those that take the first step soon take another and then another and before they know where they are, they have accepted some crazy beliefs (which would by then be seen as obvious truths) in exchange for becoming part of the tribe – no actual evidence required.

Interestingly enough, within the online world where there is no face-to-face contact things appear to be a bit different; logic and reason appear to prevail. The believers are compelled to be there to share their flavour of truth, but the rational are free to jump in and rapidly debunk daft nonsense. The rather odd theistic response to that is to simply pretend it never happened and  carry on. Claims such as the debunking of non-belief float about, or assertions that god or Allah has closed the hearts of the non-believers and blinded them to obvious truth get repeated, almost as a mantra or defence against the sound verbal thrashing they receive on a regular basis.

I do ponder why the Internet is different. I suspect it is perhaps because it levels the playing field and so you do not meet the religious on their terms in their natural habitat. Because of this they lose control of the agenda and also lose the opportunity to deploy music to psych up and manipulate the crowd. It is rather interesting however to see how they attempt to frantically evolve and adapt to this new environment. I find attempts to deploy terms and phrases that have no doubt been tossed at them. Only yesterday I was advised that I was wearing a tin-foil hat, a term more commonly reserved for crazy UFO believers, but in this instance was deployed by a Muslim against me. Why? well because I was crazy enough to suggest that the “insanely daft neo-darwinian pseudo-science disproven by maths and physics” just might actually be a rather sound scientific theory. Least you failed to decrypt his rather weird description, he was a creationist attempting to dis evolution.

Yes indeed, a true master of bullshit, so I can see the term “tin-foil hat” being deployed by many in the past against him … a term he now attempts to embrace and own. This perhaps is a tiny example of how it works, they not only wish to claim the phrases you deploy, but they also wish to claim you; the belief needs to take up residence within your mind if it is to survive.

Sorry, not today, nor any other day. I’d far rather spend my time finding out the things that are actually true. I do hope you will join me. There is a great deal we know, but there is also a great deal we do not know, I’d far rather acknowledge the things that I do not know and so become motivated to go find the right answers, and am not content to settle for made-up answers.

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