Guest post: Reza Aslan goes after Bill Maher

Just a short while ago I put up a post and video about Bill Maher going after Islam on his show. Maher’s words were prompted by the Pennsylvania kid who was arrested for “desecrating” a statue of Jesus; Maher’s point was that in a Muslim country (if they even allowed statues of Muhammad, which they don’t), the kid would have been killed. The video on that post has now been removed from YouTube, but another one has sprung up here.

On Monday, Reza Aslan, the Great Muslim Apologist, went on CNN to attack Maher and defend Islam, and a reader sent me the link along with a critique of Aslan’s critique.  Usually readers just send me links and a few words, but when a reader gives me a longer take, I always worry about unconscious theft of ideas if I post the link with my own commentary. If my take is similar to the reader’s, how do I know I would have had those ideas on my own? Therefore, when I got this reader’s commentary, I avoided all unconscious plagiarism by simply asking him/her to allow me to post the commentary. It is given below, along with a video of Aslan’s performance. You can judge whether Aslan pwned Maher or not; the reader (whose own website is given below), clearly thinks not. (By the way, you should go over and have a look at that website, which deals with issues dear to our hearts.)

First, the CNN video of Aslan’s lucubrations on the benign nature of Islam:

The guest post:

Reza Aslan’s “Takedown” of Bill Maher

By the reader who hosts The Uncertainty Blog

Last night Reza Aslan, unofficial spokesperson for liberal Islam and best-selling author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazarath, took to CNN to respond to Bill Maher’s recent “islamophobic rant” (Aslan’s words in a tweet). The rant in question was part of last Friday’s episode of Real Time, and you can watch it here. You’ll find at least part of Aslan’s appearance on CNN, accompanied by a predictably terrible headline from Salon, here: Reza Aslan Takes Down Bill Maher’s Facile Arguments on Islam in Just 5 Minutes.

Despite the hyperbole of Salon, most of what Aslan says in the excerpt doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, at least not if it was meant as a direct “takedown” of Maher. For example, right off the bat, it simply isn’t “empirically, factually incorrect” to suggest that female genital mutilation (FGM) is an Islamic problem. While some central African countries, like Niger and the others Aslan mentions, have Christians practicing FGM, it is empirically and factually true (to the best that I could find) that most recorded FGM happens in or near Islamic communities (see Mackie, 2006, American Sociological Review) and the justification is often religious in nature.

And when Aslan does make a good point in this appearance, it’s generally a rebuttal of something that was never actually claimed. For example, he spends a lot of energy making sure we understand that not all Muslim-dominated countries are like Saudi Arabia and that therefore it is “stupid” to generalize Saudi Arabia’s practices as being emblematic of Islam as a whole. While Maher does say that “the Muslim world” has too much in common with ISIS (perhaps over-generalizing a bit), his reference to Saudi Arabia was specifically about Saudi Arabia, not the Islamic world as a whole, and the point was not that all Muslims agree with the extremism of that country, it was that Saudi Arabia’s practices are in part influenced by Islam. It is obviously true that there are Muslim-majority states where women are not treated like they are in Saudi Arabia, but it also true that Saudi Arabia treats women the way they do, at least in part, because of Islam. But Aslan willfully denies that Islam has anything to do with extremism in every public appearance I’ve seen him make.

Case in point: Perhaps the most inane thing Aslan said during the interview (and one I still can’t get my head around) was the following,  “Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent.” What exactly is he saying here? That religion has no impact on one’s behavior? Even a positive impact? What could that even mean? A fun thought experiment: If I were to offer Aslan $10,000,000 (or whatever sum necessary) to desecrate a holy book of his choice in front of a group of randomly assembled devotees of that particular holy book, is he honestly suggesting he wouldn’t feel more nervous about desecrating the Koran rather than the Bible or Torah?

Finally (and maybe this is a cheap shot) it always bothers me that Aslan is touted as a “scholar” of religion during media appearances. That’s not to say he doesn’t have an expertise in the subject, but I don’t know that he’s contributed to the literature at all outside his popular books, which tend to summarize other peoples’ actual scholarship. He’s currently a professor of creative writing (according, at least, to Wikipedia) and has a Ph.D. in sociology, apparently focused on religion. He’s a terrific writer, but I think of him more as a religious journalist or author than a “scholar of religion”. You can read the opinion of an actual scholar of religion, Bart Ehrman, on Aslan’s credentials here.

There. Simple. In Salon speak, I just “UTTERY DEMOLISHED REZA ASLAN’S APOLOGETICS FOR ISLAM IN UNDER 700 WORDS!”

[Disclaimer: Obviously this wasn’t actually meant to be a takedown. While Aslan might not be a “scholar” in my opinion, he’s worlds closer to that title than I am. These are just slightly revised comments I sent to Jerry after watching the video and needing to vent. So if I’ve mischaracterized or misstated anything, please correct me, and apologies in advance.]

77 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

  2. Brygida Berse
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Oh, the old “you’re not sophisticated enough” argument. So tired, so obviously false, but that’s all they’ve got.

    Good analysis. Blog added to bookmarks.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Ditto to all of that.
      This was a great post and I also really liked your blog-post about the fatuous criticisms made against Richard Feynman.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        It links to Matthew Francis, which is a former physicist trying to make it as a journalist. He has the guns, but his guts seems to be in the must-make-clicks gutter.

    • KimmoK
      Posted October 11, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      It amuses me to no end how theologians and religious apologists brag about being sophisticated. Especially as they always do it indirectly, by labelling their critics as unsophisticated.

      -Cult apologists refer to critics of predatory cults as bigots who lack a “sophisticated understanding” of the phenomenon of “new religious movements.” Apparently ignoring the objective harm done by these groups leads to the kind of enlightenment which the apologists refer to as sophistication.

      -William Lane Craig chastises Richard Dawkins of lacking theological “sophistication,” as if it was necessary to understand all the intricacies of the theological tradition just to talk about God. Never mind that Dawkins doesn’t pretend to understand, or even care to understand, such nuances of imaginary matters.

      -Literary theorist Terry Eagleton at least has the good taste to avoid mentioning the word “sophistication” in his review of The God Delusion, but then he communicates the idea in so many words when he criticises Dawkins of not being familiar with all the works of theological luminaries from Aquinas to Moltmann.

      So it was completely predictable, but still kind of incredible, that the first thing to come out of Reza Aslan’s mouth was that Bill Maher is “not very sophisticated” in his criticism of Islam. What makes it sound even funnier is that Maher hardly intended to put forward a dazzling thesis on the subject but meant only to comment more generally on the problems in Islam and the moral cowardice of liberal silence.

  3. Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    ‘Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent.’ What exactly is he saying here? That religion has no impact on one’s behavior? Even a positive impact?

    Good catch. Theists want it both ways. Religion compels people to do good, but it’s somehow also behaviorally inert.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Yes, the big ethical problem in religion is that it redefines and reframes the facts in which one analyzes moral issues. They’re not working from the common ground which we discover and debate. If you place homosexuality and blasphemy into the “criminal” category because of your religion then even someone who is characteristically nonviolent will want these “crimes” treated harshly in order to protect the innocent. It has nothing to do with the inherent nature of the individuals.

      This reminds me of the assumption of faith, that one will choose the correct conclusion by opening one’s heart. If you see religious belief as basically a rational choice, however, you will understand how good people will do bad things.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      It seems that Aslan has this exactly backward. It is much more plausible that violent people are attracted to violence and oppressive people are attracted to despotism and it is no coincidence that we see such people embrace religions that contain violent, oppressive doctrines. You just don’t see droves of violent Jains – violent people just don’t go for peaceful religions.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        He did claim that there are violent Buddhists, which I wouldn’t doubt. But I strongly suspect those violent Buddhists are quite few and are reviled and denounced by the rest. Not so with Islam, as the surveys show.

        In fact, I suspect most of what Aslan claims is not completely false. I think he is like a used car salesman who has made the decision to ignore truth but who assiduously cultivates the semblance of truth.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          That’s why I picked Jains of all the Buddhists because they have an OCD like repulsion to killing anything.

          Other Buddhists are less peaceful and some advocate taking up arms to kill if necessary.

  4. Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Great post. I’d just like to add a brief note pointing out the absurdity of a “religious scholar” (whether we think that’s an apt descriptor or not) going on a news channel to make the point that a comedian is unsophisticated. This is all by itself a kind of bias. By framing the debate as between Reza Aslan, who has to say the least considerable expertise on the subject, versus Bill Maher, a comedian most famous for a) being deliberately provocative, and b) smoking lots of weed, the topic is skewed from the outset. There should have been another comparable “scholar” invited to give the “sophisticated” version of Maher’s comedic points.

    That would also have the effect of not allowing Aslan to so egregiously misrepresent Maher’s position as he did.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Ahh…where’s the Hitch when you really need him? 8-(

  5. Mac
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Not impressed with the response to Reza Aslan.

    “For example, right off the bat, it simply isn’t “empirically, factually incorrect” to suggest that female genital mutilation (FGM) is an Islamic problem. While some central African countries, like Niger and the others Aslan mentions, have Christians practicing FGM, it is empirically and factually true (to the best that I could find) that most recorded FGM happens in or near Islamic communities (see Mackie, 2006, American Sociological Review) and the justification is often religious in nature.”

    If the hypothesis is that FGM is an Islamic problem, it is only correlated with Islam by sharing proximity – no causal link can be established. And the argument against is Aslans in showing that such things do not happen near Malaysia and other Islamic countries.

    Going on to ask if people would be more or less nervous about burning a sacred text in front of one group or another isn’t exactly sound thinking either. Would love to hear a decent argument countering Aslan’s statements, but this one isn’t it.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      If the hypothesis is that FGM is an Islamic problem, it is only correlated with Islam by sharing proximity – no causal link can be established.

      I don’t quite follow your reasoning here. Of course, various elements of oppression towards women are older than Islam (or Christianity for that matter, or any extant religion) and can be traced to earlier historic or even prehistoric times. But different contemporary cultures deal with this unsavory heritage differently. Patriarchal religions still contribute heavily to perpetuating oppression against women and Islam is in forefront here. Islamic mullahs often speak in favor of suppressing women’s rights and they justify it by the teachings of the Quran. The Sharia law is heavily based on religion. Do you disagree with that?

      Regarding FGM specifically: in Islam, there are several schools of thought and jurisprudence. Some consider FGM mandatory, some recommend it as an option and some oppose it. All that is based on the diversity of their religious opinion. So to say that FMG is not an Islamic problem is just like saying that the Inquisition was not a Christian problem, because killing people happens anywhere in the world and anyway, the Hussites and the Amish had nothing to do with it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        +1

      • akismet-cbb330113107b1d10043c8cfac8d27ae
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Is Islam the only religious faith that has a large body of writing supporting FGM? I can see the argument that critics (like me) are making too much of the proximity correlation of FGM & Islam.

        But Islam does seem to have a huge body of jurisprudence finding FGM is compatible with their faith, even mandatory. I don’t think the “sophisticated theologians” can get away from that.

        • rickflick
          Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          Can you be more specific? I assumed FMG was largely or partly cultural and not necessarily specifically supported by the Koran and Hadith. Enlighten us.

          • Folie Deuce
            Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

            Three of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence recommend but do not require FGM. The Shafi’i school requires it. Prominent scholars like Yusef Al Qaradawi recommend it, which is part of the reason why it persists. Islam is the only religion in the world today with eminent scholars and clerics promoting and encouraging FGM.

            There are no references to FGM in the Quran and the Hadith supporting it are weak. I’ve seen some fairly convincing arguments made by Islamic critics of FGM that the practice should be discarded because the Hadith are weak. But this raises the question of why Islamic jurisprudence recognizes weak Hadith in the first place? Once you admit your own evidence is weak, doesn’t it belong in the trash can?

            Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that FGM is a pre-Islamic practice but still a Muslim problem because a majority of its victims today are Muslim and because of people like Qaradawi who encourage FGM. She attributes FGM in the parts of the Muslim world where it is practiced not to religious texts but to the Muslim obsession with controlling female sexuality.

            • rickflick
              Posted October 2, 2014 at 3:47 am | Permalink

              Thanks for the info. I think Aslan sound perfectly vile for ignoring this in public statements. One gets the sense that he would not defend FMG but is much more concerned that Muslim society not be criticized.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      I’m the reader who posted this. Agreed that it isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the interview, hence the disclaimer, so I do appreciate the dissent.

      With the FGM point, maybe I didn’t explain as clearly as I could have. If Aslan had said it was “empirically, factually incorrect” to suggest that FGM is ONLY an Islamic problem, I would have agreed with him. But he’s again suggesting FGM has nothing to do with Islam. The evidence that FGM is more correlated with Islamic communities than others and seems to be exacerbated by Islamic ideology suggests it does indeed have something to do with Islam, even if that is not the overriding factor. Thus I think it qualifies, or at least isn’t ruled out, as an “Islamic problem”.

      With the hypothetical, I’m simply asking the reader to examine for themselves what Aslan is suggesting about religion – that it does not have any impact on behavior, and therefore no religion is any more violent (or peaceful) than another. Personally, I would be more nervous about stepping on a Koran in front of a group of believers than a Bible or Torah. Maybe that’s because I’ve been brainwashed by “Islamophobia” or maybe it’s because where Sharia law is enforced, blasphemy is often violently punished (which suggests a clear influence of religion on behavior). I don’t know of any violent penalties for Christian or Jewish blasphemy in modern culture (though they were definitely there in the past) but that also suggests to me that today’s Islamic extremists can be argued to be more violent than other religious extremists.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        I’m simply asking the reader to examine for themselves what Aslan is suggesting about religion – that it does not have any impact on behavior, and therefore no religion is any more violent (or peaceful) than another.

        As Musical Beef noted above, they want to have it both ways: bad behavior is caused by human nature, good behavior is due to religion.

        Another variant of this argument, that Islam is the religion of a billion people and only a tiny minority are extremists, is also inaccurate. On this website, Jerry reported more than once on opinion polls on various political or social issues, taken among Muslims. Many of the views that we find unacceptable in a civilized society (for example, support for suicide bombings, stoning for adultery or the Sharia law in general) turn out to be quite common in the Muslim societies.

        • rickflick
          Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          So true. I was amused that the interviewers seemed very wary of Aslan and did pretty good service in pushing him on some of these issues. I dare say you, Brygida, could have done so much better holding his feet to the fire.

    • lkr
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      According to the source below, FGM has followed Islam throughout Asia, and was not known in the region before that — though the common form in Indonesia is said to be less drastic.

      This source also notes that Hadith have been cited in support of FGM.

      It’s reported elsewhere that FGM in its more drastic forms has been preached as required by Islam in Pakistan; also, IS may intend to extend this courtesy to all women in its “caliphate”.

      • lkr
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I’ve never figured out how to paste links. See ” A Tiny Cut: Female Circumcision in Southeast Asia”, in The Islamic Monthy, April 2013.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The point about nominally Christian African countries in which FGM and male circumcision are common today is that they spent centuries under Muslim domination, particularly for the purpose of slave trading, and still have large Muslim populations today. That is true of most of the east coast of Africa, and the west coast as far south as Sierra Leone.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        No! You mean Aslan was being intentionally misleading? 😉

        I was hoping someone would have the knowledge to contradict that blatant lie. Thanks very much.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      It shows at least that the moral system of Islam, such as iatt is, does not “morally immunize” very well against the behaviour.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      To pitch in, I found a younger Mackie (which seems to be a FGM expert) through Unicef.

      Of course religion is a correlative factor for FGM, which is enough to sink Aslan’s conceit that mohammmdeanism has nothing to do with it. But of course it isn’t the only factor.

      “An ethnic or religious explanation of FGM/C is not sufficient since, first, it is practiced in a
      wide variety of ethnic and religious groups; and second, the practice is not necessarily
      universal within the broad descriptive group, but is often practiced only within a number of
      subgroups. Take religion: there are both Christian and Muslim communities who practice
      FGM/C, often believing that the practice is required by the holy book. Yet, nearby
      communities of the same religion may not engage in FGM/C, and worldwide most Christians
      and most Muslims do not follow the practice. Religious obligation is an important factor in
      the decision to practice FGM/C, but it is typically just one of several elements within what
      one WHO report (1999) calls a mental map that incorporates the stories, beliefs, values, and
      codes of conduct of society, and which are in fact “interconnected and mutually reinforcing
      and, taken together, form overwhelming unconscious and conscious motivations” for its
      continuation.22

      The implications of this are two-fold. On the one hand, this suggests challenging the religious
      sanctity of FGM/C in isolation from other motivating elements may help change attitudes but
      will have little effect on behaviour, since religion is but one of several factors that maintain
      the practice. On the other hand, since these factors are “interconnected and mutually
      reinforcing,” this also suggests that disconnecting FGM/C from one factor may help to
      disconnect it from the others. For example, the basis of FGM/C’s traditional status may stem
      precisely from its religious status, or vice versa; and the connection between FGM/C and
      purity may stem from such religious interpretation as Seli ji.
      Alternatively, all effects –
      religion, tradition, piety, purity – may be disconnected from FGM/C by a single authoritative
      source, such as a charismatic local leader who authoritatively declares the practice to be
      unacceptable.”

      [My bold]

      If we look for root causal factors for FGM, Mackie draws parallels to footbinding. (Which is encouraging, because it supports his picture of possibilities of breaking the social convention.) The root cause seems to be empires:

      “In “Ending Footbinding and Infibulation,” Mackie (1996, 2000) hypothesizes that the
      practice of FGM/C, like that of footbinding, may have originated and evolved in the context
      of massive female slavery in a highly stratified empire, one in which the emperor and a few
      nobles used the practice to control the fidelity of their many female consorts: …”

      “We know, for example, that there were highly stratified empires in Nubia and in
      Mali, and further sources of extreme resource inequality across the FGM/C zone, and today
      the practice is most prevalent and practiced in its most severe form around the former centres
      of the ancient Nubian and Malian empires.11 The hypothesis that FGM/C originated in
      ancient empires is speculative, but is at least as plausible as any alternative hypothesis in the
      literature.

      In contrast to China, the FGM/C zone of Africa had several imperial centres, more variable in
      geographic scope and temporal duration, and more multiethnic in composition. …”

      The mohammedanist caliphate was “highly stratified empire, one in which the emperor and a few nobles used the practice to control the fidelity of their many female consorts”. In as much as these caliphates covered Africa (Egypt, Sudan), they cover one of the FGM hotspots. [ http://www.childinfo.org/files/fgmc_Coordinated_Strategy_to_Abandon_FGMC__in_One_Generation_eng.pdf ]

      [Sorry about the formatting]

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Oh, and I would also add if FGM derives from massive female slavery:

        Stop the slavery methods _now_!

  6. Posted October 1, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Jerry a lot of the links in your post link to a Chicago University mail system, such as https://xmail.uchicago.edu/owa/redir.aspx?C=RiSg1dY3u0-y7GuIksXxX-YSrc-SsNEIpD-f7Gyr-goM9DvogFZqDdSYcaz_YNs7TV32b3_xlNE.&URL=https%3a%2f%2ftwitter.com%2frezaaslan%2fstatus%2f516733545427914752

    I don’t think that’s right 🙂

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      My bad for not checking the links. Thanks for pointing this out; I think I’ve fixed them all now. If any such screwed-up links ever appear, I ask readers to call them to my attention.

  7. Jimbo
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    What I’d like to know is what kind of Muslim IS Reza Aslan? Does he pray 5x a day? Does he even believe in Allah or the divinity of prophet Mohammed (or Ali)? Or is he the Muslim equivalent of a Christian who only attends church on Xmas and Easter and likes the art and singing?

  8. Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    On the issue of Aslan being a scholar, how scholarly is it to attack a comedian? I would think that a true scholar would be focused on more substantial targets. Not that I don’t enjoy Bill Maher, I do. But when an ostensible public intellectual goes on cable news and attacks a comedian it smacks of punching below his weight class to me.

    • Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s fair to blame that on Aslan. He was invited by CNN to give his opinion. Why should he decline? I wouldn’t easily pass up an opportunity to weigh in on an important issue of particular interest to me, and I don’t expect him to do so either. The blame lies with CNN for inviting Aslan to on to “refute” Maher, rather than inviting two similarly “sophisticated” “scholars” to debate both sides.

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        That’s a fair point, but also consider the many good arguments that people made as to why Bill Nye should avoid debating Ken Ham. If Aslan is truly a scholar, why should he be moved by the opinion of a talk show host? Your criticism of CNN is accurate and well deserved, but then shouldn’t Aslan be above that fray?
        Maybe I shouldn’t criticize him for not being scholarly, maybe it would be more accurate to criticize him for being a media hack who engaged in the throwing of some red meat to an audience eager to have their biases confirmed.

        • rickflick
          Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          CNN were trying to be critical of Aslan. I think they failed by essentially throwing softballs. They really should have had a Jerry Coyne present to counter the drama.

  9. Nilou Ataie
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Reza Aslan is just another common con man for Islam. He denies women’s suffering in Islamic countries to support his religion. He is a sophist of the worst kind- using argument and smoke screens to deny suffering! We are on to you Aslan!

    • Kevin
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Hi mannerisms are frightening. He looks like a wicked rabbit filled with sophistry that can not be removed under any point of reason that would pierce his faith.

      • Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        “a wicked rabbit filled with sophistry”

        That’s awesome.
        Next time someone cuts in front of me in line at the grocery store I’m gonna say:
        “Hey! Stop bein’ a wicked rabbit filled with sophistry.”

  10. Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Okay, Reza. Explain how it is that, everywhere Sharia gets implemented, everything goes to Hell in an handbasket. Why is it that, the more Islam a society has, the more barbaric it becomes? Wouldn’t that tend to tell you that Islam is an horrific perversion of all that is right and good?

    b&

  11. wads42
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    May be of interest. Thanks for to-day.

  12. George
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    “If I were to offer Aslan $10,000,000 (or whatever sum necessary) to desecrate a holy book of his choice in front of a group of randomly assembled devotees of that particular holy book, is he honestly suggesting he wouldn’t feel more nervous about desecrating the Koran rather than the Bible or Torah?”

    Depends, I (and I imagine the same would go for Aslan and probably everyone else) would rather desecrate the Koran in front of Albanian Muslims than to desecrate the Bible in front of Nigerian Christians.

    • Larry Smith
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      How about making it into a game of chance, and picking random Muslims and random Christians? Would you care to roll those particular dice?

  13. Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    “…You can read the opinion of an actual scholar of religion, Bart Ehrman,…”:

    I have a bit of a problem when folks bring up Bart Ehrman’s credentials as a ‘scholar’ (especially when it is in the context of historicity of Jesus). Any training he may have received in historical methods is unknown to me and suspect, based on his CV:

    Princeton Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College

    He has a Doctorate in Divinity. I am not sure that someone with that educational history can rightfully be called a ‘scholar of religion’ except within his discipline – Biblical exegesis.

  14. darrelle
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Aslan is deluded about religious issues. He has a prior commitment that has nothing to do with rational assessment of evidence, but everything to do with rationalizing a story that fits the evidence to support his vision of religion. Though it is difficult to tell anything for sure by a person’s public identity, it seems likely that Aslan is a genuinely decent human being.

    Unfortunately he is fooling himself, and that leads him to lend his support to things, which good evidence clearly shows, leads to significant pain, suffering and injustice for large numbers of people. He denies a causal connection, yet if he were to follow the implications of his claim to its logical limits he would find that there is then nothing to support his oft proclaimed contention that religion helps people lead better lives.

    Your reasoning is clearly skewed by your bias Aslan. Being the scholar you are why is it so difficult to see when it has been pointed out to you so often? A commitment that is inspired by something more primal than rational assessment of evidence.

  15. Posted October 1, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    [I]What exactly is he saying here? That religion has no impact on one’s behavior? Even a positive impact? What could that even mean?[/I]

    I think that is what he’s arguing but I think we can come up with a lot of thought experiments that clearly refute it. Religious doctrines are just propositions and if genuinely good, kind people believe those propositions, it will affect what they deem a good, kind action to be. For instance, if someone is actually a great person, but they sincerely and absolutely believe that life on this planet only represents an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the eternity they’ll experience if they behave certain ways, and they sincerely believe this to be true for others as well, it will be rational and compassionate, given their beliefs, for them to go *extremely* far out of their way to ‘save’ others. In fact, it’s difficult to think of an action that would be too immoral, on this planet, to not be justified by the well-being that would be gained in the eternity after Earth. I think liberals like myself very often forget (or neglect to realize the implications of the fact) that at least some people genuinely believe the nonsensical propositions they purport to believe.

  16. Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Sub

  17. Posted October 1, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    How does anyone take someone who converts TWICE seriously! How hard is it to choose between two made up stories.

  18. pishta66
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Reza Aslan has a point. If African Christians also mutilate female children, then it’s obviously not exclusively Muslim problem. Also, Muslims realy don’t do it in Turkey or Indonesia. Islam like Christianity promotes violence and peace at the same time, so you can chose which one you like to at any time.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 2, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

      Islam like Christianity promotes violence and peace at the same time, so you can chose which one you like to at any time.

      Are you saying that a muslim is free to choose their interpretation of Islam “at any time”? I guess that’s true, if they don’t mind being hanged for heresy of course.

      • Damary
        Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        I think we need to tread carefully here. I am non-religious, and find it difficult to understand why young rational people believe in any sort of made up super hero in the sky … but having said that, I think it is essential to realize that in Islam, as in Christianity, there are religious fundamentalists, and people of a more tolerant and open minded faith. Sadly, in Islam, at this historic moment, the violent intolerant extremists are numerous, well armed, and seemingly gaining in strength. But I have, for my work, traveled to many countries where Islam is the majority religion, and have found that the people I met there are open, fun and not obsessed by religion. And, more importantly, are appalled by violence committed in the name of their religion. If we “label” all Muslims as violent bigots, we are doing them a disservice (and potentially pushing them towards intolerance ?). I think a more intelligent and realistic approach is to be open to discussion with people of any faith (or non-faith) who share open mindedness, and to help them influence positively their “co-religious” into a more tolerant disposition, and into stopping barbaric acts of violence.

        • Posted October 2, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

          * I think it is essential to realize that in Islam, as in Christianity, there are religious fundamentalists, and people of a more tolerant and open minded faith. *

          Who here doesn’t realise that?

          * If we “label” all Muslims as violent bigots *

          Who here is doing that?

          /@

  19. h2ocean
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    It is funny how for many religious people (and faitheists), the most “true” form of a religion is the one that is most impotent, bland, and completely unmotivating or impactful in any way. What does it say about religion when, at its best, it is “just religion” with no real impact on the world (as we are often told by people like Karen Armstrong)?

  20. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Have you ever had the feeling that debate or discussion of any kind with the religious will accomplish anything. It is unlikely with most and impossible with some one as far gone as Aslan. The brain washing is complete and the mind is full to the top. There is no more room for anything.

    It is not possible to understand any of his thinking and he is totally blind to anything laid out before him in the simplest terms. There are many who do not deserve the time or effort to deal with and he is among this group.

    To dissect the good from the bad in any religion must be done by the outsider, ie, the atheist. You can see that with Aslan it is just not possible.

  21. Davey
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I found it ironic that he kept using Indonesia as an example of a more liberal Muslim-majority country, as when he claimed it was a free and open society for women, contradicting Don Lemon.

    There was the case not long ago of a woman gang-raped by vigilantes after they broke into her home where she was with a married man. The authorities said they would take the gang-rapes into account but she would still have to be caned for breaking religious bye-laws about sexual relations.

    They’re presently deliberating on whether to make non-Muslims subject to Shariah law, and want non-Muslims women to cover their heads like the Muslim women are already expected to do.
    Included in these harsher bye-laws will be 100 lashes for gay sex and adultery.
    This has been in the pipeline since the beginning of this year, with increasing raids on the streets to reduce shariah violations, including by non-Muslims.
    Aceh province has a special status within Indonesia that allows it to implement Shariah as a formal legal system, yet Human Rights Watch had already voiced its concerns about violations of people’s rights back in 2010, before these harsher laws.

    This is a free and open society for women compared to what?

    • rickflick
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for filling us in. It confirms my suspicions that Aslan is a lying son of a bitch.

    • somna
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      i might have some things to say about this since i’m indonesian. it’s true we are not so liberal as reza had made it simply sound like. but it’s also important to know reza’s approach is not of a defend by an islam apologist, even if he might be one, he should be more of a religion apologist than only of islam. where i agree with him is that we cannot oversimplify religious problems into that of the religion only since there are many other contexts on top of another. in the case of our country, women’s inequality is as much of a big issue as in any other developing countries, but it has been there even before islam. just like in any other cultures that hold up into traditional values regardless the religion they have among the popularity. so as this is shared in the unconsciousness of our culture, the religion plays its role as a language. if there’s no islam, it would in no case mean thus women would stop being oppressed in our country. also it’s not taboo in our country for women to have high positions. we’ve had a woman for a president, of course it still doesn’t mean there are equally many seats reserved for women in our politic like for men.

      and i don’t know if it’s just to simplify islam in indonesia into that of aceh. there are only about 4 millions of people in aceh while there are about 10 times more in west java who identify themselves with islam. yes aceh has been a special case, since the first islam was spread in indonesia it has identified itself with islam very strongly and refused to be a part of the country unless it’s allowed to lead the sharia law. for 30 years fighting for their independency because it wasn’t granted, until recently we ended the conflict. so one is false to think they are practicing sharia law because they are special, and there, specially islam of which our country is proud of. if we think aceh is the mecca of our country, all moslems in java and all throughout indonesia have been migrating there yet we don’t and won’t.

      i don’t know if my explanation would be helpful, of course at the end one could say, ‘after all the more a community identify themselves with islam the more problem they bring up’. as far as i know the practice of sharia law is after all human-construct and differs in many countries, each adjusting to their own cultural values. in qur’an it’s a concept of a path, in the origin land saudi arabia back then it’s a political matter between the politicians and the mullahs. so either you find the fundamentalistic belief towards religions authentic to condemn islam as a religion is false, so is their god, or you don’t and don’t deny it’s a socio-political problem in the language of religion.

      • Davey
        Posted October 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        somna, it’s true that women’s inequality pre-existed Islam, but religion does codify that inequality and entrenches it.
        Religions takes aspects of human nature as they are and finds reasons to say that they ought to be this way.

        As far as Aceh, it doesn’t need to become a Mecca for Muslims in other parts of Indonesia. There are many accounts of more radical interpretations of Islam rising in other parts, such as Bekasi and Bogor in West Java. There are reports of increasing attacks on Christians and Ahmadiyah followers.
        There are accusations that the government is ignoring the threat of religious violence against Christians and their churches and the Ahmadiyahs, and portraying the causes to be other than religious.
        In 2011, five Ahmadiyah followers were injured and three killed by an Islamist mob. The police stood by, smoking and watching. The killers were not charged with murder, but with an offence called “assault causing death”. They were given sentences of six months or less. An Ahmadiyah survivor and witness in their prosecution was later charged with provoking the attack and also given a six-month jail sentence.

        It seems that the Religious Affairs Ministry tends to just deny that there are problems. So when a Christian church was barred from opening by local officials, despite a Supreme Court ruling it was “not about religious tolerance, it’s a land dispute”; violence against Ahmadiyah was not a religious problem because, “it’s not a religion, it’s a sect”; and a violent attack on a Shiite group in East Java was simply “a personal problem, it’s not about religion”.

        When you say, “the practice of sharia law is after all human-construct and differs in many countries, each adjusting to their own cultural values.”, you are right, but that is a two-way street and shariah laws can change the culture, making it adjust, and often towards more extreme views.
        Religions themselves are cultures and they are in competition with other forms of culture and will replace them if they can.

  22. William G
    Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see a debate between Aslan and the Saudi Imam Mohamad al-Arefe, who said in an interview on Egyptian TV:

    “There is no doubt that one’s devotion to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and one’s will to shed blood, smash skulls, and chop off body parts for the sake of Allah and in defense of His religion, constitute an honor for the believer”

    Actually, that debate would probably look better on Aslan’s CV than al-Arefe’s: Reza Aslan only has 70,000 followers of Tw*tter.
    al-Arefe has 9,500,000 followers, more than twice as many as the Pope and making him the most followed person in the Middle East.

    But, of course, he doesn’t speak for Islam.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      “al-Arefe has 9,500,000 followers,…But, of course, he doesn’t speak for Islam.”

      Superman, Batman, save us from these arch villains. I’m feeling nauseous right now.

  23. Posted October 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    🐾

  24. Posted October 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Uncertainty Blog and commented:
    Jerry Coyne was kind enough to share a short rant I wrote about Reza Aslan’s recent appearance on CNN. Here is the post is full. If you’re not already following Why Evolution Is True, you should be:

  25. Posted October 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Reza Aslan was quoted in today’s Religion News Service from his September 30, 2014 article: “Reza Aslan: Radical Islam is still Islam”:
    http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/09/30/reza-aslan-radical-islam-is-still-islam/34314.

    The quotation is as follows:

    “A Christian blowing up an abortion clinic can find justification in the Bible,” says Aslan. “Those blowing up a mosque can find justification. Jews killing Palestinians can find justification. The power of scripture can mean whatever you want it to mean. It’s up to the interpreter.”

    Interesting variations in Aslan’s messages.

  26. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 2, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    What an unbelievably condescending man Aslan is. I think the British equivalent is the worryingly ubiquitous Mehdi Hasan, whose fabulous political hypocrisy was exposed by the even more unpleasant Daily Mail after they unearthed a particularly bum-crawly job application from Hasan himself and put it online.

    Re. the F.G.M. argument – I think I’m with Aslan on this, for reasons of intellectual consistency. My response to the ‘atheism was responsible for the deaths of millions under Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.’ canard is to point out, as Dawkins has said, that yes, these were atheists who did bad things, but they weren’t motivated by atheism. There’s no reasonable case to be made that the gulags and the horrors of the stasi were a result of some non-existent atheist edict.

    I think we should therefore be very careful that we maintain the same standards when trying to determine if religion is to blame for someone’s actions. Is there a specific religious cause, ie. was it motivated by scripture or church doctrine, or was it simply the appalling actions of someone who also happened to be religious?

    At the time I remember being ever-so-slightly proud that no-one in the atheist community(as far as I know) tried to blame the actions of Anders Breivik on his Christian beliefs. That’s the way it should be, but I can easily imagine the response from certain religious groups if the guy had frequented, say, this website, and had a library shelf stacked with Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens.

    I understand the F.G.M. issue is not as simple as that, but it’s always struck me as rather unfair to blame it(I’d include honour killings too, as I believe they also happen in Hindu societies) on Islam. The question is whether Islam, in the Koran, in Sharia, in the Sunnahs(forgive the spelling), condones either of these things. If it doesn’t I think it’s lax to imply a causal connection where, at best, there is simply correlation, and sometimes not even that. It’s crucial to be scrupulously fair otherwise your own arguments fall apart.

    I suppose I’m trying to say that you can only occupy the high ground if you’re ruthlessly, rigorously even-handed, and, as much as I hate the phrase ‘occupy the high ground’, I like to think that atheism does.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 2, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I appreciate your position on FMG as larger (and older) than Islam, but the fact that a significant Middle Eastern Imam claims that it is required by Islam, and others encourage it without insisting, and many others apparently tolerate it, links FGM and Islam rather strongly. Furthermore, I suspect most practitioners believe FGM to be mandated by their religion, even if it’s not.

      • Posted October 2, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        I concur with your first point; I was going to reply to Saul along similar lines.

        Re “I suspect most practitioners believe FGM to be mandated by their religion, even if it’s not.” Well, it’s a plausible hypothesis; do we have any evidence to support it? If asked, most might say “it’s our tradition”, but by “our” would they mean “of us Muslims” or “of us [insert non-religious ethnic grouping here]”? I just don’t think we have the data.

        /@

        • rickflick
          Posted October 2, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          I picked that up, I think, from Wikipedia.
          They have a fairly thorough discussion.
          “Religious views on female genital mutilation”

          • Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            Ah. Some data then. I like the reference re Indonesia. That seems to undermine Azlan’s claim somewhat.

            /@

  27. Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Reza Aslan does a “Gish Gallop” in this video. The segment would have been better if it was actually Bill Maher instead of some CNN anchors who didn’t have the knowledge to counter his claims and instead are overwhelmed by them.

    Everything Reza Aslan says is just cherry-picked data mixed in with some logical fallacies, yet the Gish Gallop did its work so a lot of people online fell for it and now claim that Aslan pwned Maher and CNN.

  28. Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Aslan has a point.

    There are Muslim countries , like Turkey and Indonesia, where beer is brewed, sold and drunk.

    You can’t say that Islam forbids drinking alcohol, just by pointing to Saudi Arabia, which has no breweries.

    That is just a logical fallacy.

    Maher is just perpetuating the stereotype of Islam as forbidding alcohol, while people with a greater knowledge of Islam, like Aslan can prove that is just not true.

    Or perhaps it is Aslan’s logic that is wrong……

    • Posted October 5, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      Unless by “Muslim country” we mean a country with a Muslim government rather than one with a majority of Muslims but a secular government.

      /@

      Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

      >

  29. Posted October 7, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    The claim that FGM isn’t a muslim problem but an african problem is simply not true. The study that Reza cited focused on african countries, but lack of studies (and a resistance by the governments of those countries to conduct any) doesn’t mean FGM isn’t prevalent in the middle east. There are studies showing the prevalence of FGM in middle eastern (muslim) countries. There is also evidence of FGM practice in Malaysia and Singapore, and not only that, the practice is exclusive to muslim minorities and only appeared in that part of the world with the introduction of Islam. Combine that with the fact that islam is the only religion which does not outright ban it (2 out of 4 schools require the practice as an obligation, the other 2 simply recommend it), how can anyone say it’s not a muslim problem?

    I would honestly submit to an argument that FGM is partially a christian problem if I saw it practiced in other christian countries, like those in South America for example. But that’s not the case. We only see FGM practiced in those christian communities that are close to or surrounded by muslim communities. How can anyone claim FGM is a christian point?

  30. Posted October 9, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Scholar or not Aslan is wrong especially when he says that Islam religion does not promote violence. That statement is just completely nonsensical.

  31. KimmoK
    Posted October 11, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    It amuses me to no end how theologians and religious apologists brag about being sophisticated. Especially as they always do it indirectly, by labelling their critics as unsophisticated.

    -Cult apologists refer to critics of predatory cults as bigots who lack a “sophisticated understanding” of the phenomenon of “new religious movements.” Apparently ignoring the objective harm done by these groups leads to the kind of enlightenment which the apologists refer to as sophistication.

    -William Lane Craig chastises Richard Dawkins of lacking theological “sophistication,” as if it was necessary to understand all the intricacies of the theological tradition just to talk about God. Never mind that Dawkins doesn’t pretend to understand, or even care to understand, such nuances of imaginary matters.

    -Literary theorist Terry Eagleton at least has the good taste to avoid mentioning the word “sophistication” in his review of The God Delusion, but then he communicates the idea in so many words when he absurdly criticises Dawkins of not being familiar with all the works of theological luminaries from Aquinas to Moltmann.

    So it was completely predictable, but still kind of incredible, that the first thing to come out of Reza Aslan’s mouth was that Bill Maher is “not very sophisticated” in his criticism of Islam. What makes it sound even funnier is that Maher hardly intended to put forward a dazzling thesis on the subject but meant only to comment more generally on the problems in Islam and the moral cowardice of liberal silence.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Coyne has posted Resa Aslan’s response to claims that the Muslim religion is inherently bad labeling Aslan as “the Great Muslim […]

  2. […] Saudia Arabia and Iran—benign, even supportive of women’s rights.  And right before that, Muslim apologist Reza Aslan went on CNN to make the same points, also arguing that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not an Islamic […]

  3. […] that Indonesian women live in a free and open society. Many have refuted his claims (see here and here for example) and since he plays fast and loose with facts, it is easy to dismiss […]

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