Reza Aslan Doesn’t Understand Atheists


I wouldn’t mind this week’s rant wars about “is Islam a bad idea?” if there was an actual discussion taking place. But it doesn’t seem to me like Reza Aslan and Ben Affleck have actually been listening to what Maher and Harris are arguing; they certainly haven’t addressed the Pew polling that Maher tried to bring up in the clip below. Recently Aslan wrote an opinion column for the New York Times in which he makes clear how little he understands the atheistic arguments against both religion in general and Islam in particular. He does this by neatly articulating many of the reasons why I hate religion while attempting to defend it.

I will give him credit for wagging his finger at believers who use the No True Scotsman dodge. But immediately after that, he starts pretending to speak for “critics” of religion and completely misses our (or at least my) point. He states that critics often fail to see that religion is more a matter of personal identity than beliefs and practices.

…not so much a description of what a person believes or what rituals he or she follows, as a simple statement of identity, of how the speaker views her or his place in the world. As a form of identity, religion is inextricable from all the other factors that make up a person’s self-understanding, like culture, ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexual orientation.

What Aslan fails to understand is that this insidious conflation of adherents’ identities with their religion is one of the things that many of us find so abhorrent about religion. I was a super devout Christian for the first twenty-some years of my life and I understand deeply just how far one’s religion reaches into their identity. As an atheist I now find this unnerving at best. For the devout, religion often finds its way into moral philosophy, diet, wardrobe, entertainment choices, friend selection, financial decisions, etc. And all of these are in addition to that weekly sunday morning ritual. I’m against a single set of ideas that dominates peoples’ identities so heavily that it erodes their sense of self.

Aslan goes on to accidentally and brilliantly attack religion’s ambiguous nature. I’m sorry for the big block quote, but this is just great stuff:

It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives. After all, scripture is meaningless without interpretation. Scripture requires a person to confront and interpret it in order for it to have any meaning. And the very act of interpreting a scripture necessarily involves bringing to it one’s own perspectives and prejudices.

So there you have it, religion isn’t to blame for religious violence because religion doesn’t actually say anything. It’s all the people who are putting their own agendas into their religions and then claiming that God(s)/Buddha/etc… agrees with them.

What he doesn’t seem to get is that by putting their agendas into their scriptures, believers are creating a gap between themselves and their shitty beliefs. Remember when the anti-gay pastors and politicians admitted that it isn’t that the Bible is anti-gay it’s that they are anti-gay and are just putting their anti-gay ideas into the Bible? This type of scapegoating is precisely why I think we should abandon religion and embrace reason and objectivity to the best of our abilities. Because that way no one can blame their shitty ideas on their religious texts.

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