Reza Aslan and Karen Armstrong are everywhere, and it’s not pretty

I can’t get enthused about discussing Karen Armstrong and Reza Aslan any longer. They’re both in the media spotlight because they coddle religion in an age when it’s eroding but some people desperately cling to faith; they’re both religious apologists, refusing to pin any malfeasance on faith; and they both say the same thing in interview after interview. So just let me drop a few quotes from Armstrong and move on. I’ll deal with Aslan tomorrow—if I feel up to it.

Karen Armstrong was interviewed in Salon (also known as “The Journal of Religious Osculation”), and, surprisingly, was handed a few tough questions, which she ducked.

She begins by saying that the distinction between religion and politics is a modern innovation, and continues by claiming that nothing, including suicide bombing, is solely or even largely motivated by religion (she cites discredited statistics by Robert Pape, misspelled in the article as “Robert Tate”). She argues further that humans need mythologies (i.e., religion) to give purpose and meaning to our lives:

Let’s try a different analogy: Perhaps our search for narrative and meaning is a bit like a fire. It can go out of control and burn people pretty badly. Seeing this destruction, some people say we should just put out the fire whenever we can. There are others who argue that the fire will always be there, that it has benefits, and that we need to work with it to the best of our abilities. And you’re sort of in the latter camp, yes?

I would say so … If we lack meaning, if we fail to find meaning in our lives, we could fall very easily into despair. One of the forensic psychiatrists who have interviewed about 500 people involved in the 9/11 atrocity, and those lone-wolves like the Boston Marathon people, has found that one of the principal causes for their turning to these actions was a sense of lack of meaning; a sense of meaningless and purposelessness and hopelessness in their lives. I think lack of meaning is a dangerous thing in society.

Armstrong apparently feels that religion is an essential source of meaning for modern people. And a lack of meaning, says Armstrong, plays a huge role in terrorism, for terrorists aren’t really motivated by religion, but by nihilism (WHAT?):

There’s been a very strong void in modern culture, despite our magnificent achievements. We’ve seen the nihilism of the suicide bomber, for example. A sense of going into a void.

The void clearly represents a failure to appreciate Armstrong’s notion of God as Love, Meaning, and the Ineffable Ground of Being, whereof we cannot speak.

But it seems to me that many of these terrorists clearly do embrace the “mythologies” that Armstrong sees as necessary for our world. They aren’t nihilists in any conventional sense of the word. She grudgingly admits that religion may be in the mix of terrorists’ motives, but, in the end, it’s really other stuff:

In fact, all our motivation is always mixed. As a young nun, I spent years trying to do everything purely for God, and it’s just not possible. Our self-interest and other motivations constantly flood our most idealistic efforts. So, yes, terrorism is always about power — wanting to get power, or destroy the current power-holders, or pull down the edifices of power which they feel to be oppressive or corruptive in some way.

Of course, she doesn’t consider that “power” might be “the power to impose your faith on others,” as in ISIS’s Caliphate and the actions of other Islamic extremists. She then goes on to blame Muslim terrorism completely on the West, though she neglects to discuss Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism, by far the most common form.  Somehow, I suppose, she’d also pin that on colonialism. But the worst thing she says is this:

When you hear, for example, Sam Harris and Bill Maher recently arguing that there’s something inherently violent about Islam — Sam Harris said something like “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” — when you hear something like that, how do you respond?

It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

There has always been this hard edge in modernity. John Locke, apostle of toleration, said the liberal state could under no circumstances tolerate the presence of either Catholics or Muslims. Locke also said that a master had absolute and despotical power over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time.

That was the attitude that we British and French colonists took to the colonies, that these people didn’t have the same rights as us. I hear that same disdain in Sam Harris, and it fills me with a sense of dread and despair.

This shows two things. First, Armstrong doesn’t want any criticism of religion, for religion is inherently good as a concept, and what bad things seem to spring from it come simply from misinterpreting true religion. Criticize it at your peril, for you’re being a Nazi when you do. (How lovely of Armstrong to play the Hitler card against critics of Islam!)

Second, she can’t distinguish between criticism of religious tenets and racism or bigotry. The Nazis were manifestly not saying that Jews should be killed because their beliefs were unsupported (though their supposed role as Christ-killers was certainly in the mix), but because they were Jews, and Jews were rats who deserved extermination. Further, the Nazis weren’t saying “Judaism is the motherlode of bad ideas.” They were saying “Jews are bad and should be killed.” You don’t hear Sam Harris or Bill Maher saying that Muslims should be exterminated.  They’re saying that bad ideas should be attacked. Perhaps Armstrong thinks that there are no bad ideas in religion, but then she’d be blinkered—as she is.

And here’s a lovely exchange:

. . . (Armstrong:) Fundamentalism represents a rebellion against modernity, and one of the hallmarks of modernity has been the liberation of women. There’s nothing in the Quran to justify either the veiling or the seclusion of women. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce, legal rights we didn’t have in the West until the 19th century.

That’s what I feel about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. It’s iniquitous, and it’s certainly not Quranic.

She should have a look at the hadith as well, for that’s part of Muslim tradition, and adds some iniquity. But at least she decries the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. By Gad, she’d better! However, she emphasizes that this misogyny is not based on authentic Islam. That leads the interviewer to ask a good question:

Where do you, as someone outside of a tradition, get the authority to say what is or isn’t Quranic?

I talk to imams and Muslims who are in the traditions.

What? Doesn’t she know that there is more than one tradition in Islam, and some of them are iniquitous? There is, for example the Quranic tradition that apostates deserve death. Doesn’t she know, too, that there’s more to religion than “tradition”—there is what the imams say now, how it’s based on the Qur’an, and how people follow their dictates? Her assumption that tradition is everything in determining religious dogma (which is wrong), and that any Islamic perfidy isn’t “traditional,” are just cheap ways of ignoring the bad religious dogma.

In the end, she simply admits that she’s cherry-picking scripture:

I think it’s easy to say, “Well the text isn’t binding” when you see something in there that you don’t like. But when you see something in the text that you do want to uphold, it’s tempting to go, “Oh, look, it’s in the text.”

Oh, it is. We do it with all our foundation texts — you’re always arguing about the Constitution, for example. It’s what we do. Previously, before the modern period, the Quran was never read in isolation. It was always read from the viewpoint of a long tradition of complicated, medieval exegesis which actually reined in simplistic interpretation. That doesn’t apply to these freelancers who read “Islam for Dummies”.

“It’s what we do.” That is, we can ignore the bad parts of scripture and pretend that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are based on just the good parts. And I doubt that many members of ISIS or Hamas have read “Islam for Dummies”. They have, however, read or heard the Qur’an.

Despite her constant self-promotion as an arbiter of compassion, Karen Armstrong is dangerous. She’s dangerous because her blanket of tedious verbiage hides the truth that she wants us to completely ignore the dangers of religious dogma. She thereby enables it. And it appears that for her, there is no harmful dogma that can be pinned on religion itself: it’s all about politics, oppression, or nihilism.

Well, tell that to the Catholics who prevent women from getting abortions, couples from getting divorces, and who demonize gays and inform Africans that condoms won’t prevent AIDS.  Tell that to the Muslims who kill other Muslims because they think the heads of the faith should be genetic descendants of Muhammad, and who mutilate the genitals of their daughters because the imams insist it’s a sign of purity. Tell that to the Hindus and Muslims who butchered each other by the millions in 1947 even though they lived cheek by jowl and were similar in most ways except for their faith.

It’s a curious fact that people like Armstrong, Aslan, and Pape can so easily see how politics can motivate people to do bad things, but yet insist that religion cannot. I wonder what observations would really convince them that people’s religious (as well as political) beliefs can make them do harm. Can they tell us?  The jihadis’ repeated insistence on religious motivation is apparently misleading, for they don’t know their own minds. Armstrong and Aslan know better.

 

 

118 Comments

  1. ploubere
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    In other words, if you’re motivated to harm others, it’s not religion’s fault, but if you’re motivated to be a good person, it’s entirely due to religion. Religion can do no wrong.

    • Scote
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Which is the same tack Christians adhere to: if it’s good, god did it. Thank you, Jesus! If it’s bad, somebod else, anybody other than the all powerful god, did it. Praise be to God that it isn’t worse!

  2. Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Her “History of Islam” book was terribly soft also.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes, so I heard.

      We do it with all our foundation texts — you’re always arguing about the Constitution, for example. It’s what we do.

      Are the Muslims always arguing about the Quran? How does that usually work out? Debate, persuasion and compromise? Or division, violence, and charges of heresy.

      Nice try trying to compare Islam to constitutional democracy. Yes, those things are so alike.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        In fact, it’s exactly the problem with Islam – there is no critical debate, All discussion is within strict parameters.

        • Jerry Madden
          Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          Noam Chomsky suggests that all systems that try to control people by controlling opinion structure debate to there likeing. Allowing vigorous debate within parameters but leaving many ideas completely out. Making these ideas seem invisible. It is a common strategy for religion, government, parenting any system of authority. The only other alternative is violence.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            I’d like to think there are ways other than violence to change things, although I understand why some people might contemplate it in frustration.

          • Rick
            Posted November 25, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            great quote Jerry: “Noam Chomsky suggests that all systems that try to control people by controlling opinion structure debate to there likeing. Allowing vigorous debate within parameters but leaving many ideas completely out.”… like the idea that there may be other influences in play to violence than just religion?

            I’m reading through some of the comments thinking that for a community that pride themselves on open mindedness and accepting of new ideas why is there such harsh backlash to the idea that “people of faith” are motivated by many different reasons and understanding those reasons can be the only solution to productive dialog.

            This is not directed at Jerry but maybe Karen Armstrong has a point – we should take it down a notch declaring every muslim a bloodthirsty terrorist (anyone else see the irony that WE also combine religious and political terms together) before “New Atheism” becomes synonymous with “Islamophobia”. Are we declaring the is no god or that we need to hate people that don’t think like us?

            The replies will prove if Norm is right…

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted November 25, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

              I’m reading through some of the comments thinking that for a community that pride themselves on open mindedness and accepting of new ideas why is there such harsh backlash to the idea that “people of faith” are motivated by many different reasons and understanding those reasons can be the only solution to productive dialog.

              Of course religious people are motivated by all sorts of reasons on all sorts of different subjects just like most other human beings.

              That’s a common human trait and most atheists( at least the ones I’ve met ) have personal relations with one or more religious members of our species.

              Productive dialog is fine and ongoing afaik, but there’ll always be people( Aslan and Armstrong comes to mind ) who’ll gain a profit from pandering to people’s feelings.

              It is much easier to keep pretending nothing’s wrong with your religion when people tell you that it is so.

              Does it make it true, though?

              This is not directed at Jerry but maybe Karen Armstrong has a point – we should take it down a notch declaring every muslim a bloodthirsty terrorist (anyone else see the irony that WE also combine religious and political terms together) before “New Atheism” becomes synonymous with “Islamophobia”. Are we declaring the is no god or that we need to hate people that don’t think like us?

              Can you cite any of the new atheists declaring every muslim a terrorist or are you buying the hyperbole?

              I can’t speak for everyone, but what makes you think we hate people that think differently and are you implying that atheists think alike?

              And finally, is the point ( if there is one ) of your atheism to declare there’s no god or is there a bit more nuance to you than that?

              • Rick
                Posted November 25, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

                i am not in the market for hyperbole but thanks for observing that it exists when authors such as Harris and Dawkins (I’ve read most of their books) – the banner carriers of “New Atheism” – declare religion is the sole and overreaching cause of ignorance and violence.

                “Are we declaring that there is no god or that we need to hate people that don’t think like us?” was a rhetorical question. The point being that atheism begins and ends at declaring there is no god. any crusade to wipe out disent, convert the holy or outlaw religion to increase world IQ scores is buying into the mindset of the theist (opposing theist legislation is a political fight not a religious war). There is certainly room in the atheist tent for Armstrongs ideas and value in her insight without the need to squash any attempt to understand the mindset of the majority of the people on earth.

                Peace

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted November 26, 2014 at 3:48 am | Permalink

                I find it ironic that you’re not in the market for hyperbole yet don’t hesitate to write “Harris and Dawkins (I’ve read most of their books) – the banner carriers of “New Atheism” – declare religion is the sole and overreaching cause of ignorance and violence.”

                I’ve never read or heard them say that, but I’m very interested in seeing it.

                Got Any links?

                “Are we declaring that there is no god or that we need to hate people that don’t think like us?” was a rhetorical question. The point being that atheism begins and ends at declaring there is no god. any crusade to wipe out disent, convert the holy or outlaw religion to increase world IQ scores is buying into the mindset of the theist (opposing theist legislation is a political fight not a religious war). There is certainly room in the atheist tent for Armstrongs ideas and value in her insight without the need to squash any attempt to understand the mindset of the majority of the people on earth.

                Your atheism may begin and end at declaring there is no god, but just like religious people we are all different. To me atheism is simply the knowledge that I don’t believe in any gods. Whatever it entails depends on the situation and there is no overreaching cause to it nor have I ever considered myself to be a part of a movement.

                Atheism ( or New Atheism for that matter ) isn’t a movement in the traditional sense despite some silly attempts at declaring it as such.

                There’s no official leaders or spokespersons and there’s no general assembly where atheists of the world convene and vote on what issues to address.

                Harris and Dawkins, for example, are just two of many and ignoring your claims about their totalitarian intentions for a second, I feel obliged to remind you that they only speak for themselves.

                Atheism is what you make of it so I reckon there’s plenty of room for Armstrong in it. My question to her though, would be whether there’s any room for me if I refuse to shut up?

                But on the topic of movements, and keeping in mind our shared disdain for hyperbole, this unholy IQ crusade outlawing religion of yours sounds fascinating.

                Where can we sign up?

            • Sifiso Dludla
              Posted November 26, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

              The context of the debate is around religion (and politics). I don’t think anyone is saying there could be no other influences to violence. But it would also help for you to name other influences and show to us why religion is immune to being attributable to acts of violence or coercion.

            • Posted November 26, 2014 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

              I agree. When we start declaring every Muslim to be a bloodthirsty terrorist, we’ll take it down a notch. In the meantime, we’ll ask that you stop setting up such ridiculous strawman arguments and actually evaluate the points being made.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted November 27, 2014 at 2:22 am | Permalink

                As Dawkins said in ‘The God Delusion’:
                “Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority. But a good first step would be to build up a critical mass of those willing to ‘come out,’ thereby encouraging others to do so. Even if they can’t be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored.”

                The only thing all atheists have in common is that we don’t believe in any god or gods.

                We’re coming out, and making noise. Theists feel threatened, so they attack, smearing atheists in whichever way seems to each to be most insulting. Statistics prove their smears to be without substance.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted November 27, 2014 at 2:37 am | Permalink

                We’re coming out, and making noise. Theists feel threatened, so they attack, smearing atheists in whichever way seems to each to be most insulting. Statistics prove their smears to be without substance.

                A beautiful noise that seems to resonate with many different people around the globe. 🙂

      • Grania Devine
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        One of these things is not like the other.

  3. GBJames
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    sub

  4. Paulo A Franke
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks JC (that’s not the guy in the cross…) for putting out the effort to go after Karen and the likes.
    So sad to be having to spend so much energy on something so out of this time – irrational belief.

  5. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

    Nice. “Science without religion is blind, religion without science is innocent”.

    And of course she fails to mention the churches within that same vicinity.

    • ltunmer
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      “And of course she fails to mention the churches within that same vicinity.”

      More than that, she fails to mention the _active_ role that the Catholic Church played in daemonizing Jews for centuries before that. See the book written by a friend of mine which examines the churches role in the attitudes of people leading up to the holocaust: Six Million Crucifixions: http://www.sixmillioncrucifixions.com/Book.html

      • colnago80
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Hey, let’s not blame everything on the Raping
        Children Church. The 2nd greatest Antisemite of all time was Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism. In fact, he was probably at least as influential in the thinking of number 1, Hister, as anybody else.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 4:19 am | Permalink

        Powerful title.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Germany was also one of the leading players in Romanticism, the 19th century rebellion against the Enlightenment. The entire Nazi ideal was an outcome of nationalistic, spiritual romanticism regarding blood and soil and the heart, not — as Jacob Bronowski so vividly pointed out — science and reason.

      • gluonspring
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        Excellent point.

        Romanticism of the sort you note is a form of utopian idealism. Mere messy reality does not sit well with such idealism. The sense that everything would perfect if only certain people would get out of the way is, I think, more of a recipe for horrors than the kind of nihilistic despair that Armstrong seems to fear so much.

        • Sastra
          Posted November 24, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          Yes, that’s a good point. Nihilistic despair per se wouldn’t impel anyone to do anything. If nothing matters and there’s no point to anything then there’s no sense of outrage, hurt, revenge, anger, or purpose. I’d imagine nihilistic despair sitting alone in a room, curled up in a ball. It’s not going to valiantly set out with a bomb and a Noble Cause.

  6. g2-b9ad6ef662e8f721c6854bf33318e402
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    First time commenter here: thank you for all the insightful articles and great wildlife pictures that I’ve silently enjoyed previously.

    One rarely sees Karen Armstrong characterized as “Dangerous” but I think it’s entirely appropriate. I’m starting to think that beneath the compassionate schtick is quite a shrewd and cynical operator. In interviews she constantly deflects criticism of religion; never misses an opportunity to blame every bad thing on “secularism”; and constantly (and subtly) attempts to claim good basic qualities, that are independent of religion, as the sole property of religion.

    Not only is she a muddled thinker; she is muddled thinker with an narcissistic streak who insists that the confusion of her thinking is a sign that she, and she alone, has hit on something special.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Special? Oh no, no — all the great theologians in the past and present have agreed with her!

      • g2-b9ad6ef662e8f721c6854bf33318e402
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        :-). You’re right – she does constantly co-opt the views of others. No matter how different in the details, all of them were talking about the super-duper “God Beyond God” which equates to the ground of all being, compassion, consciousness, or really, whatever she wants it to mean.

    • gluonspring
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps, but I don’t think it’s cynical. I think she is someone genuinely afraid of modernity and you’re watching someone live out her deepest fears. You can hear it in everything she says. Her whole premise is not so much that religion is good, but that modernity is oh so horrible that almost anything would be better. She’s so afraid of, as she calls it, the “hard edge in modernity” that she is willing to embrace almost anything that is not-modernity. She doesn’t love religion, she hates modernity. To her, it’s equivalent to nihilism and despair.

      In this respect she is a lot like the fundamentalists she is always decrying. She completely agrees with them that modernity is bad for humans, or at least the human psyche, and so she agrees with fundamentalists that it’s something to struggle against. Her disagreement with fundamentalists is merely a quibble over how we ought to do that.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        There was a brief period early in her writing career when she really did not like religion at all, especially evident in her now little-read books on the Crusades and “The Gospel According to Woman” (the title is ironic). She then discovered an alternative form of religion and had what is called a “failure of nerve”.

        • Filippo
          Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          ” . . . her now little-read books on the Crusades and “The Gospel According to Woman” (the title is ironic). ‘

          Would you say these earlier books reasonably remain worth the effort to read, at least vis-à-vis her current book?

  7. Filippo
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    sub

  8. Bhagwan
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    This is actually a positive… like the Maher-Affleck splat, all this is now spilling out among intellectuals as well – we are really polarizing them. All debate, now that it is extremely personal and ad hominem (Harris = Hitler!) will bring out more people to talk. More denial, more questioning of denial with facts.

    Sadly, the public is catching on too slowly (another 20 right-wing anti-Islam movements have been energised in the meantime everywhere from Sweden to Sri Lanka), and sadly Greenwald, Chomsky & co have sacrificed us for their one-sided anti-US stance

    • colnago80
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Harris = Hitler

      Considering that Harris is Halachically Jewish, that’s pretty far over the line.

      • Jimbo
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Anyone who must resort to villifying another with comparisons to Hitler or a Nazi should not be listened to because they don’t have an argument nor respected because they lack subtlety, tact, and knowledge of history. Analogy to Hitler fails because no one is like him.

        • Pali
          Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

          I disagree – analogy to Hitler fails when the comparison is flawed, but not when it is not. There exist now and have existed throughout history plenty of people who would be happy to see various ethnic groups wiped out (as mentioned above, Martin Luther had equal animus toward Jews), or who would be happy if others were forced to believe or live as they do (ISIS being an easy example).

          Hitler was not some demon masquerading as a human – he simply happened to be one of many with horrible ideas and goals who ended up in the right circumstances to gain power. Mythologizing him as some one-off means we will blind ourselves to the circumstances that create people like him, and that will make it all the harder to see the warning signs and stop new people of like mind before they can cause similar trouble.

          • DrDroid
            Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            +1

          • Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            Moreover, situations do not have to be exactly the same for parallels to be relevant. That’s what scientific laws are about: they don’t “say” that this exact situation will happen again. Rather they “say” that some number (even an infinity of situations) relevantly similar are related as thus and so.

          • Posted November 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

            good post. I cannot abide it when people whine when Nazis are used as comparison.

            • pali
              Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              I understand where they’re coming from, and I’d be the first to say that Nazi comparisons are used FAR too often, easily and usually fallaciously (Harris to Hitler is fairly absurd)… but that doesn’t mean they’re never the right comparison to make.

  9. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Karen Armstrong is wrong about at least two things: there are verses in the Qur’an that have always been interpreted at requiring a women to have at least her head, ears and breasts covered (see http://www.al-islam.org/hijab-muslim-womens-dress-islamic-or-cultural-sayyid-muhammad-rizvi/quran-and-hijab); and it did not take until the 19th century for women to get inheritance rights in the West. Married women had very strong rights on the death of their husbands, even in Medieval times.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      The conclusion of the link I put in:
      “This means that the Islamic dress code for women does not only consist of a scarf that covers the head, the neck and the bosom; it also includes the overall dress that should be long and loose.

      So, for instance, the combination of a tight, short sweater with tight-fitting jeans with a scarf over the head does not fulfill the requirements of the Islamic dress code.”

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        She’s oblivious on that one.

        And I can almost hear them laughing their arses off in Saudi Arabia.

        • lkr
          Posted November 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

          For an ex-nun, I’d call this a habitual oversight.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Here’s some more:
      “The two verses discussed above put together clearly show that hijab, as a decent code of dress for Muslim women, is part of the Qur’anic teachings. This is also confirmed by how the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) understood and implemented these verses among the Muslim women. This is further confirmed by how the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), and the Muslim scholars of the early generations of Islam understood the Qur’an.6

      It is an understanding that has been continuously affirmed by Muslims for the last fourteen centuries. And, strangely, now we hear some so-called experts of Islam telling us that hijab has nothing to do with Islam, it is just a cultural issue and a matter of personal choice!”

  10. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    It’s a curious fact that people like Armstrong, Aslan, and Pape can so easily see how politics can motivate people to do bad things, but yet insist that religion cannot.

    …and also fail to address why religion is powerless to prevent (some) people doing bad things for political reasons. Is politics more powerful than religion?

  11. Jeffery
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    It is certainly discouraging, and nauseating, to see such shallow, biased thinkers getting so much press: the struggle today is not “good” v/s “evil”; it’s knowledge v/s ignorance (all too often of the willful variety). Sadly, it’s not surprising at all, given the number of articles on the web such as, “Alien skull spotted by rover on Mars”; the TV channels such as the History Channel foisting crap like “Ancient Aliens” on a credulous public, etc. It is the duty of all rational people to combat this malignant ignorance wherever it be found (which seems to be pretty much everywhere, these days). Kudos to Jerry for keeping up the good fight! Keep it up, and soon they’ll deem you worthy of being equated with Hitler, too! How can people BE so blind?

  12. Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    One example that I’ve never heard any religious apologist mention as “not inspired by religion” is the insane plan by Jewish fanatics to blow up the Al Aqsa Mosque in order to trigger the Armageddon.

    (In case I might sound like I’m trolling mentioning this, let me emphasize that the plot was busted by Shin Bet agents who discovered it while preventing a plan to blow up a bus full of Palestinians.)

    • Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Good point and I wonder why that is. One could easily fit it into the “politics, not religion” narrative if so inclined. Progressive and secular Jews are well aware of that incident and others, and of the chasm between the far right and the mainstream. I’m not sure non-Jews are aware of that dynamic. One explanation might be that the Muslim is seen as oppressed whereas the Jew is not: hence the need to “speak for” decent people who are lumped in with the crazies. There is no rhetoric in American (or Western, generally) calling for indiscriminate punishment of Jews since they are not a military enemy. Not sure why that distinction should matter, if apologists mean what they say. Interesting.

    • Posted November 24, 2014 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      It’s only fair to mention that fanatical Christians in Jerusalem supported this insane plan (their trump card being that they will be “raptured” when Armageddon arrives): http://www.wrmea.org/2000-march/anxious-for-armageddon.html

  13. Abnormal Wrench
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Although she never says it bluntly, she is calling extremists atheists. As bizarre as it is, she is saying the more extreme they are, the LESS religious they are, the more nihilist they are.

    It is a form of argument from a negative that I have noticed a lot. It is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, and I always ask people who make it, “If they aren’t Muslims, what are they? Are they atheists?”, because being a fake Muslim doesn’t actually tell me what you think they are, it is a negative argument. Not too surprisingly, they never give a coherent answer. They aren’t quite willing to state they are atheists, but if they aren’t religious, what does that leave…secularists?

    • Sastra
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      “If they aren’t Muslims, what are they? Are they atheists?”

      That’s a good question.

      When you ask people that question, do they generally know that you are an atheist? If so, it would be interesting to see what they say when they think you’re not.

      • Abnormal Wrench
        Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        No. It is usually in comments on a video or article, someone will make a statement about “True” Muslims or Christians, and I will make keep it short with, “if they aren’t X, what are they?”. They are always confused by the question, because they simply don’t think of it as a positive claim, only as a negative claim. In other words, they are only interested in rejecting the association. After some explaining my question with some back and forth, they inevitably ignore my explanation and repeat their negative position, without ever making any positive statement. I think they realize the problem with their position, but it is easier to play stupid.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          At least by trying you’re making others recognize the error in the statements of people like Armstrong. Too many just accept them at face value.

    • Posted November 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      very nice point. I do want to ask this myself.

  14. Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I was struck by her comment that, based on her own experience as a nun, it is impossible to do everything purely for God. That’s some weapons-grade generalization: people are imperfect, of course, but no one can speak for everyone’s experience. Why does she assume no one can do it? No one can overcome their profane motivations? Isn’t that the same error as asserting the no-true-Scotsman judgment on fundamentalists?

    The apologist line would be somewhat less objectionable if proponents could just acknowledge that non-believers can have a deep sense of “meaning” despite the rejection of dogma and myths. Even the most strident New Atheist, take PZ Myers as an example, gets the same depth of meaning from fellowship, family and work that any believer does. Refusing to admit that, or insisting on calling it religious or deprecating it as a religion-substitute, indicts the apologist project and exposes their lack of rigor as much as does the resistance to admitting “bad” religion is a thing.

    “Speak for yourself” is a comment any honest editor would make to Ms Armstrong on just about every paragraph she produces.

    • gluonspring
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      No one can do *everything* purely for God, of course. That’s an impossibly high standard.

      But many can occasionally overcome their profane desires long enough to, say, fly a plane into a building for God, or lob off someone’s head for God, or burn someone at the stake for God.

      It’s a stupidly false dichotomy, that you’re either doing everything for God or nothing for God, that your motivations are purely and sole religious or they are not religious at all.

  15. Sastra
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    That was the attitude that we British and French colonists took to the colonies, that these people didn’t have the same rights as us. I hear that same disdain in Sam Harris, and it fills me with a sense of dread and despair.

    What Sam Harris is doing is the opposite of the Little People argument she’s making (“don’t take away their culture!”)He’s calling for the common ground of reasoned debate. He’s arguing FOR human rights.

    Does Karen Armstrong think the Muslims can’t handle those ideas? I am filled with a sense of dread and despair.

  16. madscientist
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    How would Armstrong explain away the enormous difference in numbers between the likes of Ted Kaczynski and Tim McVeigh on the one hand and the religiously inspired murderers on the other hand? Given the significant size of the godless population alone, Armstrong’s obviously wrong ideas would dictate that the godless have a void to fill and they must do so by murdering large numbers of other people. Armstrong’s wrong ideas would also suggest that there should be more god-believing people who should be out there murdering hordes of people but not for their god, and yet that group of god-believers seems to be far outnumbered by the god-believers who murder for their god.

  17. frankschmidtmissouri
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    As I read the interview, the argument she is making is that the tendency to violence preceded religion, and that the latter is used to justify the former. Religious violence, like war between nation states, is simply inter-kin-group violence, on a larger scale.

    • Posted November 23, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      But religion does give meaning and purpose to tribal warfare, rape and pillage. I don’t think religion is the engine, but it is the fuel.

    • gluonspring
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      She seems to be saying that it’s not the gasoline that burned the building down but the match. So soaking the building in gasoline is a blameless act.

      It’s transparent nonsense.

  18. Sastra
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    So, yes, terrorism is always about power — wanting to get power, or destroy the current power-holders, or pull down the edifices of power which they feel to be oppressive or corruptive in some way.

    … wanting to defend God’s power, implement God’s power, submit to God’s power, express God’s power, recognize God’s power, institute God’s power, live according to God’s power, and hell, let’s just say it’s time to show the wicked that God is on the throne. Yes, terrorism is about power all right.

  19. Posted November 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I just heard Aslan bloviate about the “errors” of anti-theism on NPR with the help of an ingratiating Krista Tippet. Aslan constructed a field of atheist scarecrows and burned them down methodically with a can of self-satisfied, apologist-infused, straw-man strength kerosene. Aslan is the Jian Ghomeshi of Islam (everyone seems to love him, but there is something bogus and tendentious lurking underneath his smooth-talking façade).

    • Posted November 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      Tippet is so goddamned ingratiating on my nerves, that I damned near broke my radio turning it off.

  20. Denis McDaniel
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Man I wish Hitchens were still around to pummel these twits (Aslan & Armstrong, especially)…

  21. tempodulu
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Maybe Reza Aslan and Karen Armstrong should go and live in the Islamic State to see if they are right or not?

    • DrDroid
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      +9

  22. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    I can only think that Armstrong is twisted in some way, maybe from those bad days as a nun. How you get from Sam Harris and comments about Islam’s bad ideas to the concentration camps of WWII is just bizzare.

    The thing about spending your life in the study of the history of god is you can make up anything you want — no references required. However the study of real history requires a bit more work.

  23. kaleidocyte
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s always the same: whenever something horrible transpires that is clearly connected to religion, apologists will shift the blame elsewhere. For anything good, however, they are quite happy to let religion take the credit. They don’t say that politics motivates people to give to charity.

    • gluonspring
      Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      +1

  24. Jerry Madden
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Tom Robbins said about organized religion “it’s just a sort of collective whistling past the graveyard.” That’s the driver as far as I can tell folks.The ever so slight hope that Dead is not dead. Are all of you so damn brave that you have no need of a little delusion about that. And if you are that brave can it be excepted that others might not be.

    • Posted November 23, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      It’s not a question of how brave one is. I can’t choose what to be deluded about. I can’t say “well, I’ve decided to be deluded about that”. That’s not how delusion works. I see no evidence that dead isn’t dead, whether I like it or not.

    • Posted November 24, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      I am definitely going to use that Tom Robbins quote!
      It’s not that secular humanists are unaffected by death. I am personally very moved by the drying humanoid in Blade Runner: “I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack-ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in the rain. Time to die.” I find this strangely comforting because to be human is to have to die. That makes life, this life on earth, extremely precious. The “little delusion” offered by religion is just NOT TRUE (there are so many versions of life after death and reincarnation that it’s obvious they’re all made up). That’s the point. I think religious people themselves have nagging doubts, even if their beliefs (which of course they are entitled to) comfort them when they lose their loved ones.

  25. Vaal
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s a curious defect one finds in the arguments of liberals like Karen Armstrong.
    An ironic (for a liberal) failure of empathy.

    These people just regularly fail to put themselves in the shoes of others, they can only extrapolate their own mushy-abstracted -feel-good interpretations into the minds of all other religious people (except those who clearly don’t share such ideas, who then “aren’t really being religious.”)

    It’s like Sam Harris always says, people like Karen Armstrong just don’t know what it’s like to really believe certain religious doctrines, so they figure no-one else really does.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      She is captured in her own self-constructed tribe. She has imprisoned herself and she is either unable or unwilling to escape.

  26. Posted November 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    “One of the forensic psychiatrists who have interviewed about 500 people involved in the 9/11 atrocity, and those lone-wolves like the Boston Marathon people, has found that one of the principal causes for their turning to these actions was a sense of lack of meaning; a sense of meaningless and purposelessness and hopelessness in their lives.”

    Citation needed.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      Yes. It seems to me that the people who committed the atrocities of which she speaks had goals, purposefulness. Now, it may well be that they formerly lacked purpose and what Karen Armstrong is too stubborn to see is that religious fervor supplied the purpose that motivated their actions.

      • lkr
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        The 9/11 hijackers are also dead (and I doubt there are many living “committers” (if we mean someone with prior knowledge of the attacks), as is the elder lone-wolf at the BM —

        This being the case, I wonder what “medium” the forensic psychiatrist was using?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Well, even if so, their terrorism gave them meaning, and they found the rationalization for that terrorism within an ugly and evil form of religion.

      Other apologists for religion being sometimes benign will at least allow that toxic forms of religion really ARE religion(!!). Heck, even Russ Douthat realizes that(!!). It’s the claim that 9/11 isn’t at all about religion that really grates here.

      I especially think that it’s when you look at self-destructive forms of religiosity, suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and David Koresh, that Armstrong’s argument completely breaks down!!!

      • Posted November 24, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I agree.

        My original point was that the “diagnosis” Armstrong refers to seems, at least on the face of it, ridiculous. Just how does one establish that meaninglessness caused someone to act violently? How much meaning would be enough to “cure” the perpetrator? What units are used to measure amounts of meaning? “Meaning” is such a vague term. How can it be used in psychiatric evaluation?

        I’d bet my last dollar that perhaps the psychiatrist to which Armstrong refers and certainly Armstrong herself are just engaging in heavy-duty interpretion of what those terrorists said: “Oh, of course what they’re getting at is that they lack meaning! Clear case of meaninglessnessitis!”

  27. King Dave
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Of course it would be real bigotry to say Islam is the most violent religion on Earth today…If it was not true.
    Muslims rejecting all religious violence should be a given, not a point of praise.
    Just how low is the bar that liberals have set for Muslim behavior?
    I understand their politics you excusing every act of Islamic violence as something else, just not the morality

  28. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    As to Armstrong’s lumping together of “all our foundation texts,” including the Constitution in the same category as Scripture:

    That comparison would come closer to making sense if the Bible and the Qur’an had an amendment process comparable to Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

    We could start with the Decalogue: Let’s excise the parts about idolatry, jealousy, graven images, and taking His name in vain, since they seem unworthy of an omnipotent deity. Maybe also eliminate the otiose prohibitions on coveting and committing, as well as fill in some glaring thou-shalt-not omissions — slavery, rape, and child abuse, for starters.

    While we’re at it, let’s add on a bill of rights, and extend equal protection and political rights to all, regardless of race, sex, or other minority status.

    Something tells me, however, that if any of the major monotheisms were to convene such an amendment convention, all the oxygen would sucked out of the meeting in consideration of dress codes, sexual mores, and proposals to increase the authority of the clergy.

  29. Richard Thomas
    Posted November 23, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn’t that be Journal of Religious Procto-osculation?

  30. Nick
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Stuck with her latest huge book for 350 pages before mentally vomiting. She endlessly pats godmongers on the head with a smile, when they should be ostracized.

  31. Dean Booth
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Apart from terrorism, religious beliefs have clearly motivated the destruction of culture: from the library at Alexandria, to the riots of iconoclasts during the Reformation, to the recent destruction of Buddhas in Afghanistan.

  32. Posted November 24, 2014 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    The reason why turmoil persists in the Muslim world is that moderates sweep the violent interpretation of the Koran under the carpet, and pretend it doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t make it go away. And now the Western world via lunatics like Karen Armstrong, are likewise sweeping the problem under the carpet. And just like night follows day, we are now seeing increasing numbers of extremists in our Muslims populations in the Western world.

    The critical question is not: what is true Islam? No, the critical question is: do extremists have a plausible/credible version of Islam? And the answer is yes they obviously do.

    A quick glance at the table of contents of Mohammed’s biography sees that he spent half his prophet tenure steeped in violence, the details of which are not dinner party conversion.

    Sam Harris said: Osama bin Laden is giving a truly straightforward version of Islam, and you really have to be an acrobat to figure out how he is distorting the faith.

    Indeed. Consequently we have to expect that, in any given Muslim population, a significant number of Muslims will be drawn to the violent interpretation. And the first sane response to that, at the very least, means stopping Muslim immigration.

    Here’s a crash course in Islam …

    Islam is defined as the worship of Allah, and the imitation of Mohammed. There are 90 verses in the Koran which implore Muslims to imitate the prophet Mohammed. He is the perfect role model for all Muslims to follow (“a beautiful pattern of conduct”).

    Unfortunately the biography of Mohammed reads like a war documentary:
    https://archive.org/stream/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume/The_Life_Of_Mohammed_Guillaume#page/n3/mode/1up

    Mohammed beheaded 600-900 Jews on one day.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Banu_Qurayza

    Mohammed ordered or supported 43 assassinations.
    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Killings_Ordered_or_Supported_by_Muhammad

    The prophet Mohammed commanded 65 military campaigns, and fought in 27 of them. He averaged an event of violence every 6 weeks for the last 9 years of his life.

    The prophet Mohammed beheaded poets who criticised him.

    The prophet Mohammed took Safiyah to bed on the night of torturing her husband to death.
    http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina/safiyah.htm

    Mohammed sanctioned sex slaves as the spoils of war.

    In early Islam, the biography of Mohammed was known as Maghazi (literally, stories of military expeditions).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirat_Rasul_Allah

    The Islamic holy books (Koran, Hadith, Sira) contain more Jew hatred (9%) than Mein Kampf (7%)

    The Islamic calendar begins when Mohammed stopped being a peaceful preacher in Mecca and became a violent warlord in Medina.

    Three of the first four Caliphs (Muslim rulers after the death of Mohammed) were so well loved and respected, they met with violent death.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliphate#Rashidun_Caliphs

    Bottom line, the extremists have an awful lot of material to present a very plausible version of Islam. Thus we need to treat Islam as a clear and present danger, much like other extreme ideologies such as Nazism and Communism.

    • Posted November 24, 2014 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Generalize much? Ecological fallacy much? Boy, am I glad you don’t make policy / population-level decisions. I thought I was bad.

      You might want to have a glance at Da Roolz as well, and use the (a href=””)(/a) construct with your Youtube links. (Also goes for Amazon links – maybe there’s others). It keeps from embedding videos.

  33. sean
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    “this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe”- KA

    Um excuse me….the jews were imprisoned by the majority Christian xenophobes because they subscribed to the wrong religion and many of the followers of Islam think this was a deserved punishment.

    But in her twisted thought process, the writings am athiest/jewish neuroscientist, that espouses leaving behind iron age tribalism in exchange for well thought out measurable morality will lead to another holocaust…

    I turn on the news and watch a story of ISIS beheading an ‘infidel’

    FFS

  34. Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Jerry’s closing point contains a good question, one that is rarely asked in these sorts of interviews, namely, “What would it take to convince you that an action is taken in the name of religion?” What’s even rarer is the fatheist who will answer the question.

    If confronted with actions like the Westboro Baptist Church and their “God hates fags” signs, Mormons baptizing the dead, Christians baptizing the living, Catholics saying “powerful novenas” for healing, or going to great lengths to protect a piece of unleavened bread (far greater than could be justified by mere tradition and Community) because they believe they are partaking in eating a piece of a divine body, what then would she say? I’m sure she’d come up with some nonsense, but it’s absolutely baffling that people seriously entertain the notion that there are no actions motivated solely by, or even mostly by, religion.

  35. Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Great piece, Jerry. Something I wrote. http://scilogreen.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/sam-harris-karen-armstrong-concentration-camps/

  36. Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I disagree with your reading. You seem to be saying that religion and religious dogma are primarily responsible for terrorism. You also seem to be saying that Armstrong is saying terrorism comes from anything BUT religious motivation.

    I think she’s arguing that it’s not prudent to ignore the political and material differences between the west and the middle east. She says in that interview that bin Laden, for instance, mixed politics and economics with religion when he was explaining why he attacked the US. And I see that as pretty persuasive for a lot of reasons–Britain actually did divide the middle east into zones that were advantageous for Britain alone, mostly, and iraq has been bombed by the US pretty regularly for the past 25 years or so. Not to say that those reasons are rock solid or anything, only some examples off the top of my head.

    My question for you is, why do you see religion as a more powerful motivation for terrorism than politics or economics? You leave that unanswered. I mean I’m obviously new on your blog so you might answer this somewhere else, but I’m curious.

  37. Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Comments indicating that so-and-so is not a true such-and-such have bothered me for a while, especially when it comes to the faithful – this is my blog post about it:

    http://stix-andstones.blogspot.com/2014/09/would-real-faithful-please-stand-up.html

  38. Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    People hurt each other because of profound aggressive orientations, a great many of which are inherited but many of which are acquired. Religion and politics may, in a great many cases, be an additional and very important factor, varying in importance according to the person.

    Do you acknowledge the right of Muslims to worship and live as they chose in America, if they do not break the laws and harm others? Do you speak out against the Islamophobia Industry, and against Mosque-burning and other physical attacks against Muslims? Do you regard Islamophobia as a bad thing, or something for which the Muslim, however peaceful and law-abiding, is nonetheless to blame?

    All thought that is essentially prescriptive, and therefore likely to result in action, depends–in a democratic society–on acknowledging the right of others to think and live differently than we do, as long as they do not violate the laws of the land.

    I would greatly like to see an essay by Mr.Pinker on the existence of Islamophobia in America, and what he thinks about it. When a drunken Islamophobe in Tennessee or Oklahoma physically attacks a Muslim woman wearing hijab, he is not attacking the logical inconsistencies of her faith, but rather breaking her arm, leg, jaw, or whatever. We ignore the growing tumult of hatred against American Muslims at our peril.

  39. Michael Michaels
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    “I wonder what observations would really convince them that people’s religious (as well as political) beliefs can make them do harm.”

    I don’t think there is anything that would convince them. They are fundamentalists in their own right, and no evidence will change their minds.

    Armstrong states Saudi Arabia doesn’t represent Islam because of the treatment of women. But women are treated poorly in many Islamic countries. Even in many countries where they are said to have equal rights. Women are flogged or executed simply for having sex outside of marriage, or their testimony is half that of a man, or in many other ways, subtle and not so subtle. The following are not so subtle.

    Saudi Arabia
    Iraq
    Afghanistan
    Pakistan
    Brunei
    Iran
    Malaysia
    Maldives
    Qatar
    Yemen
    Aceh
    UAE
    Sudan
    Maurtania

    Tunisia and many other countries give women the short shrift regarding inheritance.

    We can also talk about apostasy and the many countries that punish people (execute or imprison) for leaving the Islam:

    Afghanistan
    Algeria
    Bangladesh
    Brunei
    Egypt
    Indonesia
    Iran
    Jordan
    Kuwait
    Malaysia
    Mauritania
    Morocco
    Oman
    Pakistan
    Qatar
    Saudi Arabia
    Somalia
    Sudan
    UAE
    Yemen
    Maldives
    Comoros
    Nigeria

    I suppose all of these countries are also not really Islamic, according to Armstrong and Aslan. I wonder exactly which country it is that is practicing the True Faith.

    Some Muslims in Western democratic nations have faced threats and or violence when they left Islam. Those acting poorly didn’t do so because of political systems, they did it because the Hadith, an Islamic text states the penalty for leaving Islam is death.

    I must say Dr. Coyne, I’m glad you read and critique these articles for us. I find them far too frustrating.
    When Islam uses the Hadith to guide them and these apologists simply ignore it’s use as a religious text. They are willfully blind to the religion, and are so because it destroys their little castle of cards they use to protect their cognitive dissonance.

    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/010-women-worth-less.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostasy_in_Islam

    • Filippo
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Today on NPR is further evidence of your posting.

  40. Amy
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Think about both Reza Aslan & Karen Armstrong will be jokes after 100 years, I am happy.

  41. MDL
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    But isn’t it true that politics and the interpretation of religion plays a role rather than religion itself? I find more gray area in Armstrong’s views than you do. Plenty of people who have done violence in the past and now are religious people yet violence is not at the very heart of the religion if you read the text. The violent actions are ultimately political ones lead by leaders who use religion as a tool to control people, recruit terrorist ect. Yet the actual text of each religion is not necessarily saying go out and kill, oppress, harm, etc.

    • Posted November 24, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      if one reads the religious books, say the bible, one does find that violence is at the heart of the religion. It is about obedience and punishment, killing those who are not like you because they are “evil”. We have the OT full of this and the NT, well, it has Jesus Christ saying that anyone who does not accept him as king should be brought before him and killed.

      Certainly seems like the religion and the supposed highest characters of the religion are all about going out and killing, opressing and harming people.

      • MDL
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        I’m not one to argue from the religious side but I’m not sure you are correct about Christ saying anyone who does not accept him as king should be killed. I mean, I guess someone could interpret any text to mean whatever justifies their violent actions but most would agree that Jesus’ teaching are not pro-violence but rather humility, forgiveness and peace. That’s what I get out of the text anyway.

        • Posted November 24, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          Read Luke chapter 19. Unsurprisingly, the parable of the 10 minas isn’t much spoken about by Christians. It ends:

          ” “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

          many Chrisitans have insisted that the king in the parable isn’t “really”‘ JC, which is always hilarious because they insist that the man who leaves and returns is JC in every other parable. It’s that last statement that makes them a bit desperate.

          Add to this JC’s instructions to abandon one’s family, calling a woman a dog, this god intentionally making people believe in lies, etc and there isn’t that much “humility, forgiveness and peace”. That’s what we’ve been told is in the bible; it takes actually reading it to find out what it really says.

          • MDL
            Posted November 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

            That is interesting. A Google search reveals many interpretations. I would hope no one would view that as a justification for killing someone – but you never know in this crazy world.

            • Jeffery
              Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

              Even if the NT is viewed in the best possible light (it helps if you squint a lot, and give up on rational thought), it still carries embedded in it the ultimate threat: that those who do not believe as this book says and accept it as the truth will be tortured eternally in Hell or, at the very least (looking once again at it in the best possible light), will be forever denied access to Paradise.

            • Posted November 25, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

              Yep, there are plenty of “interpretations”, which do their best to ignore what the words directly say.

              What happens when your god says bring those who do not accept me before me and kill them? Well, in a civilization that makes it illegal to murder people, most people, no matter how much they claim they believe, will decide that such commands are not worth the inconveniences, like prison. But we know for certain that people have taken the words of this book of nonsense for the truth in order to murder homosexuals as this book says its god commands.

          • Posted November 25, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            Here’s another passage that Christian believers run away from (Mark 4: 11-12): ‘Unto you [the disciples] it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. That seeing they may see and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted and their sins forgiven them.’

            This I call the ‘intolerable doctrine:’ not only is the ‘kingdom’ for an anointed few, Jesus wants it that way. It took Paul to found ‘megachurches’ that sold and still sell today ‘free grace.’

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Yet the actual text of each religion is not necessarily saying go out and kill, oppress, harm, etc.

      Well, that’s the problem. Your “not necessarily” is another person’s certainty.

      The texts were written in primitive times and they reflect that.

      We update the law according to our experiences ( ideally, that is ), but the religious texts are if not completely static, then at least very slowly evolving. Those texts are millennia behind the times and believers haven’t exactly shown themselves to be openminded towards new and improved editions……theologians be damned.

      The ambiguity in theses texts might be emotionally intriguing for pragmatic believers of various kinds, but for the rest of the world they’re proving to be rather deadly and divisive.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      “But isn’t it true that politics and the interpretation of religion plays a role rather than religion itself?”

      Religion itself is an interpretation, usually of a sacred text or texts, so it’s pretty hard divide those two. The way a religion is taught or preached does have an effect, but the fact remains that most religions have plenty to work with if they want to make a violent interpretation. They can focus more on the loving rather than the hateful texts, but the hateful texts exist, so the religion itself cannot be abrogated of responsibility.

      • MDL
        Posted November 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        Any kind of text is up to interpretation. The Supreme Court would not exist if people could all agree what the Constitution means. Take the Second Amendment…. Then consider secular countries declaring war and killing hundreds and thousands. I think it’s pretty well established that the 20th century was one of the most violent centuries on record and yet not a lot of the murdering was done in the name of religion.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted November 25, 2014 at 3:11 am | Permalink

          Any kind of text is up to interpretation.

          Sure, with the difference being that most of us agree the words were written by (wo)man.

          Religious texts are widely regarded as something else. As something above and beyond the mere thought of humans and in many cases as infallible. This inevitably leads to contradictions in interpretation which in turn leads to violence and oppression.

          War and violence is not exclusively a religious feature, but to regard the bodycount of the 20th century as an indication of religion’s innocence as opposed to other ideologies, seems rather apathetic to me.

          “They are doing it too” doesn’t really hold up in court.

          And lastly, I hope you’re not insinuating that religion played no role in the major atrocities of the last century?

          That would be whitewashing history.

  42. Posted November 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, one of the commentators above was wrong to say that Bangladeshis (citizens of Bangladesh) are punished for converting from Islam. Bangladesh, partly as a result of the Pakistani genocide during the War of Liberation in 1970-71, has (with the exception of one sentence) a secular Constitution.

    Buddhists and Christians practice their religions freely. About fifteen percent of the population are Hindus, who also practice their religion. There was until recently a right-wing movement of ultra-conservative Muslims, but there has been a strong reaction against them and they have lost whatever political power they previously had.

    Incidentally, with the exception of some sects (the followers of the Aga Khan come to mind) Bangladeshi women to not wear hijab, and upper class and upper-middle class women tend to wear western clothes.

    If you wish to generalize about an entire country and the Muslim-majority population of that country, it helps to find out something about it.

    • Michael Michaels
      Posted November 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t realize commenting on a nations laws was “generalize[ing] about an entire country and the Muslim-majority population of that country…”

      But I do see that I was mistaken when I quoted the Wikipedia page.
      It’s why I included the link. Thank you.

      “Bangladesh

      Bangladesh does not have a law against apostasy, but incidences of persecution of apostates have been reported. Some Bangladeshi Imams have encouraged the killing of converts from Islam. An example is the stabbing of a Bangladeshi Christian evangelist (a “murtad fitri” or Muslim-born apostate) while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke.[119]”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostasy_in_Islam

      Was it just Bangladesh that was a problem, or, have I insulted any other entire nations?

      If I state Texas executes both developmentally challenged men as well as children, is that generalizing about an entire state?

      http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/

      “In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view.”

      “In the South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, strong majorities of those who favor making Islamic law the official law of the land also approve of executing apostates (79% and 76%, respectively). However, in Bangladesh far fewer (44%) share this view.”

      Only 44 percent favor executing people who leave the faith. How very civilized. I suppose that does explain the persecutions.

      Just to be clear, the poll is for Muslims only, of which 55% want stoning for adultery. It didn’t make it clear if it was for just the women, and if that includes when they were raped, or if their testimony only counts for half of a mans, as usual in many places that practice Sharia law.

      And to be clear, I’m not so stupid to believe that just because there is a law in a nation that every single person supports that law. I find it interesting though it’s mostly just when people are talking about Islam that this has to be stated.

  43. Michael Michaels
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s odd, it seems some comments, about every other just disappear when I press the ‘post comment’ button, and they are never seen again.

    I apologize if any of them show up twice.

  44. Amy
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Can’t agree more, my respect for Jerry Coyne! Thank you for being so ardent, straight forward, and speaking with a big brain.

  45. Jeffery
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    How do they go about explaining how religion has nothing to do with violence when a majority of Muslims are OK with the idea that apostasy should be punishable by death; that a woman who violates the tenets of the religion by committing adultery should be stoned, etc.?

    They don’t seem to know enough about Islam to understand that, in “pure” Islam, there is no distinction between religion and government: the violence of “legal” punishments under Sharia law (beheading, stoning, amputations, whipping, etc.)are matters delineated by religion, and religion alone.

  46. JJ Ryan
    Posted November 25, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Agree with pretty much everything here, though the remark she made about “Islam for Dummies” was based on two guys from Birmigham who went to Syria to join ISIS, and a review of their Amazon purchases turned up Islam for Dummies.

    Still, though that makes a nice punchline (or headline) for religious coddlers, it doesn’t mean anything. If anything Islam for Dummies presents a far more antiseptic version of Islam than the actual Quran and hadith do, which are absolutely horrible and I have read them.

  47. Michael Michaels
    Posted November 25, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    By the way, I finally got around to listening to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Yale speech.
    I thought it was pretty interesting and well worth listening to. In fact, I’d suggest it’s an important speech, it covers something that some liberals seem to not understand, which is a particular brand of intolerant fundamentalist Islam is being spread around the world, and many young people have and are being indoctrinated into extremist versions of Islam.

    Hirsi Ali explains how it happened in the town she lived in, how the town was easy going, how there was many non practicing Muslims, but then a “preacher teacher” came to town and started teaching a very different kind of Islam. He taught those who didn’t follow his Islam are not real Muslims, and they must be punished.

    Anyways, it’s a good speech and relates somewhat to the topic here.


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