In memoriam: Benazir Bhutto

I am shocked — but not surprised — by what has happened in Pakistan. I have been a fan of the former Prime Minister for many years. Early on I saw her as rational, educated, somewhat secular/Western, and yet able to talk to the more religious people of her society — perhaps a politician who might help create national unity behind a democratic government. And at 35 — please excuse the typically male response — she was also hot.

One of my commentators — apparently more familiar with the politics of Pakistan than I am — wrote to inform to me is that she was not as liberal as I had thought…that she had compromised with the religious fanatics and delayed reforms that would have democratized and westernized this country that is now careening backwards toward feudalism, militarism and religious fanaticism.

Religious fanatics never quit.

Well, OK, but even if she did accommodate to the religious right, it takes time, because religious fanatics never go away. Look at how difficult it is for rational, secular people to gain any influence in the United States, where it is impossible for an openly non-theistic person to be elected to national office, and in Israel, where religious parties actually have seats in the Parliament.

How much more difficult it would be in a Muslim country, where there are so many Orthodox believers — and, as we found out once again, they are violent and they mean business.

So maybe she just needed more time and more allies. Maybe she needed to solidify her relationship with the government and with the Army. But at least she was somewhat secular, somewhat rational, somewhat Western, in a country that is badly in need of all three qualities.

Humanists must speak out!

Once again I emphasize the urgency of Humanists speaking out and openly opposing religious orthodoxy and fanaticism. Murder is not an acceptable political strategy!!

(If it turns out the Musharraf was behind this, then that’s one more vicious dictator that America is supporting just because he’s the enemy of our enemy. Either way, it’s a victory for the forces of chaos and darkness.)

It’s not a question of our God versus their God. That’s a recipe for the destruction of us all. It’s a question of reason versus insanity. The Muslim credo “There is no God…” should stop with the first four words, at which point they’ve got it right.

So I mourn Benazir Bhutto, both as a person, and for what she represented. That hope is now gone. Literally blown up, she is a martyr, destroyed, most likely, by people who hate modernity and change.

Sickness, not religion

Whatever will induce a person to destroy him or herself, along with countless other innocent people, in exchange for an immediate trip to an imagined paradise, merely on the say-so of another deluded psychotic…such a thing is vile and poisonous and contrary to every principle of human dignity and well-being. Whatever the correct name for this culture of fantasy and death, this perversion, this sickness, it is definitely not “religion.”

Violent, fundamentalist Islam represents evil, the perfect nexus of inhumanity and insanity.

Which brings us to…

Will Smith gets in over his head, philosophy-wise

Actor Will Smith recently drew a lot of flak for his comments that because he believes everybody is basically good, even Hitler didn’t think he was evil but was doing “good” by his own twisted logic.

Of course, in our era of political correctness and hypersensitivity, this went down as a complement to Hitler, which, of course, Smith did not intend.

But he did get in over in over his head, in deep end of the moral-philosophy swimming pool, so to speak. “Good” and “evil” have been used so frequently about so many different people, deeds, and events…and they are so subjective, representing personal and cultural value judgments above all…that one should use them with extreme caution, if at all.

Everybody is NOT good.

Smith’s assertion that everyone is basically good is itself the fatuous pronouncement of a moderately talented individual who, by his own admission, has employed hard work to get where he is. Plus, he got lucky breaks. So he can now wax philosophical.

Smith has been treated well, so he thinks people are good. Or perhaps his innate trust helps people to be good to him. It works both ways. But not always. I know good people who have trusted but been passed over and screwed.

In any case, people are not basically good, as countless examples will readily show. Something goes wrong with their brains and they are able to practice irrationality, inhumanity, or both.

Irrational beliefs as truth

By “irrational,” I mean beliefs not supported by reality. The Nazi doctrine had not a shred of proof, yet millions of people accepted it as truth and used it as an excuse to wreak murderer and havoc on a continental scale.

Did anybody ever bother to investigate all the supposed crimes of Jews, all of their supposed conspiracies? Anybody bother to check whether the Jews actually did cause the plague by poisoning the wells…or made matzoh from the bodies of Christian babies? But why even ask, when it’s such a great excuse to persecute the Jews?

The “Jewish problem”

In the same way Europe grappled with “Jewish problem.” Hitler didn’t invent it. People had been talking about it for many years. What, exactly, was the Jewish problem? Nobody bothered to say, except that there was some unproven Jewish conspiracy, and a lot of Christians just didn’t like Jews.

From there it’s only a hop, skip and jump to the Holocaust. Sure, some Nazis may have believed they were doing the world a favor, and because of pre-existing beliefs about annihilation as a solution to the Jewish problem, they had every reason to believe they indeed were.

But many were simply sadists, racists, vengeful, obedient sub-humans, who gained prominence through violence and facilitated a murderous regime. It was truly a triumph of the worst, one of humanity’s darkest moments.

Verifiable concepts

So instead of good and evil, I suggest Smith familiarize himself with concepts that are somewhat more verifiable: inhumanity and irrationality. We know what these look like. Irrationality is belief in the imaginary or unproven. Inhumanity assaults human dignity or otherwise causes suffering.

The Nazis’ irrationality allowed their inhumanity; the co-occurrence of these two qualities we can call “evil.” A harmless eccentric is irrational, but not necessarily inhumane; on the other hand, murderers can be supremely rational, but they may lack any sense of empathy or humanity.

Of course, by these standards, theistic religions are by nature irrational, inhumane, and evil.


Alan M. Perlman has been a 25-year member of the Society of Humanistic Judaism. He studied secular humanistic Judaism with Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism. He is a secular humanist speaker and author of several articles and one book, An Atheist Reads the Torah: Secular Humanistic Perspectives on the Five Books of Moses. For information, go to

19 Responses to “On Benazir Bhutto, Will Smith, and good and evil”

  1. […] The Jewish Atheist wrote an interesting post today on On Benazir Bhutto, Will Smith, and good and evilHere’s a quick excerptOn Benazir Bhutto, Will Smith, and good and evil December 28th, 2007 by Alan In memoriam: Benazir Bhutto I am shocked — but not surprised — by what has happened in Pakistan. I have been a fan of the former Prime Minister for many years. Early on I saw her as rational, educated, somewhat secular/Western, and yet able to talk to the more religious people of her society — perhaps a politician who might help create national unity behind a democratic government. And at 35 — please excuse the ty […]

  2. on 29 Dec 2007 at 5:28 amed

    Goodness, like beauty, is in the “eye of the beholder”- whatever you define it to be.

    For religious people, its the law as laid down by the deity(s) and obedience to its will.
    For secular humanists, its the natural rights we have by virtue of being human.
    For the nationalist, is the nation, for the racist, its their race, for the culture snob, their culture, for the lawyer, the law, for democrat the will of the people, and for a selfish rationalist, their own wellbeing first and foremost.

    These “good” don’t necessarily agree with each other, don’t overlap. So how will once choose which is really good?

    While each group seeks to impose its views on the others, often with use of coercion and violence, and by this behavior destroy their credibility to understanding virtue.

    What really unifies everything good, and makes it what it is? Who’s version wins out- and why?

    “Good” is no good to dead people, violence doesn’t decide who’s right- only who’s left - as in left over; doesn’t prove anything, just shows who has more force. So why not give up this way of existing, the bane of humanity though history?

    The great hoards of zealot dummies are ready and armed to do the bidding of their crazed rulers. The longer the peace, the bigger the armies are in the next conflict, and the more potent the weapons, and the greater the carnage. All in the name of “goodness and peace”, “civilization and rationality”, “god and nation”, “saving and helping humanity”, “mom and apple pie”.

    We are our own punishment!
    Or our own salvation.

  3. on 29 Dec 2007 at 4:50 pmAlan


    Thanks again for a most thoughtful response. I particularly liked “good is no good to dead people” and especially “violence doesn’t decide who’s right - only who’s left.” I’m going to use that (and credit you).

    Unfortunately for the fate of humanity, religious zealots almost always get to the kids first, thus guaranteeing an endless supply of suicide bombers. “Society attacks early,” said B.F. Skinner, “when the child is helpless.”



  4. on 30 Dec 2007 at 3:35 amed

    Thanks Alan.

    Violence doesn’t resolve what should be philosophical debate, and that “do gooders” are willing to FIGHT (physically) then say winning combat makes them RIGHT in a logical or scientific argument , does far greater EVIL than any “good”. (Might doesn’t make Right)

    The phrases you like didn’t originate with me but have been in my thoughts going back to my childhood- however I can’t remember who said them first or the exact verbiage. (Hippies I think lol)

    You are welcome to use my material as its a response to yours- a conversation about issues in truth and society.

    My satisfaction is that someone might read it and pause to think.

    …more rants to come in the future lol…

  5. on 31 Dec 2007 at 10:08 amMichael Devolin

    “Violent, fundamentalist Islam”

    This statement is an imposture. What should have been noted is that violence is a fundamental tenet and the very essence of Islam. You want to make the world a better place? Don’t gloss over the fact that wherever there is terrorism is this world, there also is the religion of Islam. And you don’t publicly acknowledge this why? Because Islam is a so-called “ancient” faith? That’s equal to deeming homocide as permissible because “everybody does it.”

    Please don’t equate Islam with other, less malefic religions. Judaism doesn’t teach its followers to blow themselves up in public places of concourse or to fly airplanes into skyscrapers as a means of killing thousands of innocent civilians simply because, as Blaise Pascal pointed out, they come from the other side of the river.

    You became a humanist because you think this non-religious perspective gives you an extra measure of discernment? It seems you haven’t yet acquired that extra measure. The perceptiveness you would like to boast of seems to have escaped you. Either that or you haven’t the balls to acknowledge publicly the intended efficacy of Islam, which is violence against its detractors. I am referring here to veridical Islam: the Islam responsible for killing so many human beings and not the ideated Islam promised by its apologists and terrorists.

  6. on 01 Jan 2008 at 1:00 amAlan


    So nice to hear from you. I’m out of town and will reply at greater length when I get home. I wrote a reply, then hit a wrong key.

    Essentially, I said I agree with you. The question is: what do we do about it?

    (Excellent writing- Are you an academic?)



  7. on 01 Jan 2008 at 5:43 pmMichael Devolin

    What do we do about it? We start by telling the truth in public.

    “The civilized world–yes I do mean to say that–should find its own voice and state firmly to Muslim leaders and citizens that respect is something to be earned and not demanded with menace.” -Christopher Hitchens

  8. on 01 Jan 2008 at 6:09 pmMichael Devolin

    I meant to add that it’s nice to hear from you too, Alan.

  9. on 01 Jan 2008 at 9:35 pmAlan


    Now back at my home computer. I am second to none in my fear of and revulsion for Orthodox Islam. I agree with Hitchens that moderates are part of the problem, since they operate from the same vile and phantasmagoric text.

    I am also second to none in my insistence on action in the visible world of politics and media. Today, anything but obsequious regiosity is verboten, and that is a sad state of affairs. Can you imagine a prominent Muslim — or a prominent ANYONE — saying the things you said in your original note?

    Who’s the”we” that’s going to tell the truth and have it matter? Yes I have the balls, but it doesn’t matter, because I am a nobody. Where are the somebodies with the balls?



  10. on 03 Jan 2008 at 9:23 pmMichael Devolin

    “Where are the somebodies with the balls?”

    Exactly. There it is, in a nutshell.

  11. on 04 Jan 2008 at 4:48 pmAlan

    Yes…the way to defeat Muslim fanaticism is not with Christian fanaticism, but by challenging its very ideological roots and heaping shame on the clerics who encourage these destructive fantasies.



  12. on 05 Jan 2008 at 2:34 pmMichael Devolin

    “Yes…the way to defeat Muslim fanaticism is not with Christian fanaticism”

    I am not a Christian. I am a Noachide. (Do you know anything about Noachism? Many Jews don’t. It’s taught by Orthodox Rabbis.) I despise Christianity for many of the same reasons I despise Islam. “If the light is crooked, the shadow is crooked.”

    “Muslim fanaticism”

    It is not “Muslim fanaticism” but the religion of Islam proper, the very essence of which is malefic. The violence of Islam is not tangential of Islam but organic of Islam. Have you ever read the Koran? So long as you purport that the violence of Islam is not part of Islam but tangential of Islam, you exculpate the very culprit behind all terrorism and violence, which is the religion of Islam. This is the truth that has to be told. This is the telling that requires balls.

    “Go, tell the Spartans!”

  13. on 05 Jan 2008 at 2:37 pmMichael Devolin

    Alan, the last post is mine. I forgot to fill in my name. Could you fill in my name for me? Thanks.

  14. on 05 Jan 2008 at 6:39 pmAlan


    I wasn’t aware of your brand of Judaism. I hope it is Humanistic in nature. I respectfully disagree with any religion that involves divinity.

    I haven’t read the Quran, but I would believe anyone who says its main message is “malefic.” I HAVE read the Torah, and it has plenty of advice on war and ethnic cleansing. Most Jews have outgrown that crap and now read the Torah selectively, which, in my view, is hypocritical.

    For a host of historical and economic reasons (my historian friend says that “Muslims are good winners but very bad losers, and they’ve been losing since the 16th century”), Muslims have been unable to outgrow their mediaeval barbarism. Nobody would care, were it not for their oil and their high birth-rate.

    I would like to see a full-page ad in the New York Times, signed by hundreds of prominent Secular Humanists, not only condeming Islam as a destructive fantasy, but affirming that ALL theistic religon is inherently violent and should be humanized (as Jews have done) or marginalized to its proper insignifcance…AND calling for secular leadership in America as a key to the end of Islamic insanity.

    I would sign that. I wonder how many others would.



  15. on 07 Jan 2008 at 1:35 amAnonymous

    “I wasn’t aware of your brand of Judaism.’

    Noachism is not Judaism per se. You would have to ask a Rabbi. It’s actually seven basic laws compiled in ancient times and taught by Orthodox Rabbis to Gentiles on how they should live their lives.

    “I HAVE read the Torah, and it has plenty of advice on war and ethnic cleansing.”

    Alan, when was the last time you saw Jews blowing up over 300 Russian children in a schoolhouse in Beslan out of respect for their G-D? When was the last time you saw Jews leading Christian children to gas chambers in Sobibor? Jews did not learn their good behaviour from watching Mr. Rogers. They learned this good behaviour from their Torah. The same cannot be said of Christians and Muslims. In their case, the proverb applies: “A crooked light casts a crooked shadow.” Their New Testament and their Koran, respectively, taught them hatred against the Jewish people.

    “Most Jews have outgrown that crap and now read the Torah selectively…”

    Time will soon distinguish whether this “reading selectively” is truly wise or maybe just a wee bit unctuous (no offence intended). I was reading an anti-terrorist expert lately (Ajai Sahni) who referred to his friend’s prediction that extreme measures will be required to deter Islam’s madmen from their religiously inspired adherence to homocide and violence against those Western peoples whom they proclaim their Koran specifies as “enemies” of their god. From close up this prediction might sound like “ethnic cleasning.” Was Ajai Sahni’s friend prescribing “ethnic cleansing” as a deterrent against this type of relgiously inspired barbarity? From a distance this same prescription could also be construed as survival instinct. How to appellate such predictions?

    “There is no locus of terrorism. The locus of terrorism is wherever the ideologies of terrorism penetrate, where ever they find supporters and sympathizers. It exists where there is funding for them. The identification of the locus of terrorism with the transient geographical location where it finds the largest number of victims, is a strategic error in judgement. -Ajai Sahni

  16. on 07 Jan 2008 at 8:14 pmAlan

    Michael…(assuming that is you)…

    I will look up Noachism and find out more.

    I did not mean to condone selective reading of the Torah — I think it is hypocritical.

    I agree with you that Jews and Christians have largely outgrown their primitive holy texts, but Muslims, to the detriment of us all, have not.

    I have no problem with extreme measures that might be necessary against a psychotic enemy who doesn’t mind dying. I only suggest that there is an ideological battle as well, especially since, on religion, most people think what they are told to think, and contrary ideas are taboo.

    thanks for writing & Happy New Year,


  17. on 09 Jan 2008 at 1:16 amMichael Devolin

    Yeah, that was me, Alan. I’m having a lot of senior moments lately… :-)

  18. on 28 Jan 2008 at 1:30 pmMichael Devolin

    Alan, I’ve been wanting to ask you, Isn’t the appellation “Jewish Atheist” a contradiction in terms? Now there’s a discussion! :-)

  19. on 28 Jan 2008 at 8:01 pmAlan


    I have thought about this question for 30 years. My answers are in the link below.

    I’d rather be called a “Secular Humanist,” because atheism is a secondary concern. But it gets attention. The most important thing about a Secular Humanist is not his/her disbelief in God/Allah/Shiva/etc., but the humanistic habits of mind and character that LED to the disbelief.

    As for the Jewish part, please see .

    It’s really hard for me to accept that so many people believe the events in the Torah really took place, but people are free to be Jewish in whatever way they please (your religion must be consonant with who you are), as long as they don’t try to force their religion on me.



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