It occurs to me that two of the most corrosive elements in our public discourse right now are:
1) The seeming inability to distinguish between small groups of people with defined aims and beliefs and larger categories of people that include those small groups among many other different small groups; and
2) An ignorance, willful or otherwise, of history and the extent to which small groups of people with defined aims and beliefs are shaped by their local history and culture.
Given these two failures of reasoning, we have some right-wing Christians (and Donald Trump) failing to distinguish between al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Islam; we have some atheists failing to distinguish between Westboro Baptist Church, the Moral Majority, and global Christianity; and we have some religious people failing to distinguish between Nazism, communism, and atheism generally. Folks, ISIS is what it is because of its area’s unique history and politics; a Muslim astrophysicist in Jakarta or an Islamic feminist in Rabat share neither the concerns nor the perspectives of ISIS militants in Iraq or Syria; the astrophysicist in Jakarta and the activist in Rabat are working within entirely different histories and cultures. Similarly, a Pentecostal enthusiast in Nicaragua or an orthodox monk in Damascus are unlikely to care at all about young-earth creationism or issues of gay marriage; these issues aren’t even on their radar. They are concerned with entirely different cultural issues. Similarly, atheists in the US (themselves a diverse group) just don’t share many concerns, prejudices, or historical context with Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Chairman Mao, or your atheist warmonger-and-iconsmasher-of-choice. The people and organizations we fear are generally products of a very specific history. Until we realize this and learn to talk intelligently about it, no amount of us-vs-them’ing is going to make you any safer.
A quail preyed upon by wolves may decide to be afraid of all mammals and may squawk loudly that all mammals are latent wolves, undercover wolves, or potential wolves, but the quail’s aggressively anti-bunny-rabbit rhetoric and their anti-mountain-sheep policies aren’t going to make the quail safer from wolves, nor will they help the quail better comprehend and anticipate the wolf threat.