Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mind viruses

Here's an alarming story that's doing the rounds at the moment, it's about a Nigerian man called Mubarak Bala who has the misfortune to live in an Islamic region of Nigeria that has implemented Sharia law. Having openly declared himself to be an Atheist (sensible chap) his family had him committed to a mental institution where according to leaked accounts he has been beaten, drugged and held against his will; he may now even face a criminal conviction of some kind for apostasy (leaving his religion).

Such is the insecurity of the religious mind that unless checked by secular law seems to invariably end up implementing "groupthink" by force. This was obvious in the past and is still very evident in places where religion remains firmly in control, places like Sudan, Malaysia, Iran, Mississippi , Tower Hamlets and of course Nigeria. Many religious people hate it when atheists (particularly Richard Dawkins) use the term "mind virus" or "mental illness" to describe their intellectual position. I can understand how that might sound unnecessarily harsh even offensive to some, but in secular countries it's just an opinion that can be engaged with or ignored, for an Atheist like Mubarak Bala in a theocratic state it's a punishable crime. This is an important distinction many apologists gloss over when claiming persecution. If you zoom out and review sectarianism against the backdrop of the thousands of cases of imposed religious "groupthink" like the examples given here; it does in fact look from the outside just like some kind of infection presenting identical symptoms and behaviours, an infection that branches and evolves over time. The analogy can be stretched further if you consider how religion spreads in the vast majority of cases, i.e. by childhood indoctrination or outright conquest rather than by individual free choice.

Hopefully now that this man's case is being made public by secular campaigners here and elsewhere the Nigerian government might be embarrassed into action, although I'm not overly optimistic; there seems to be almost as many sectarian problems in that country as there are in Iraq and Syria at the moment.

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