Reza Aslan is Wrong

Reza Aslan writing in NYMag:

“I think the principle fallacy…is that they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false. People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are experienced in such profound, wide diversity…”

The sniffing way Aslan casually drops the bullshit appeal to imaginary authority is annoying: “Every scholar of religion in the world…?”
Would those be scholars like Aslan or the Pope? Carl Jung? Frank Moore Cross?
Aslan is making a false dichotomy: insisting that either religion pushes or is pulled by existing values.
This is wrong, horribly shallow and, at base, sadly hypocritical. It certainly demonstrates that Aslan isn’t much of a thinker.

It is wrong and shallow because the relationship between existing values and religiously imposed/propagated values is a far more dynamic system than a simple horse-and-cart. Quite plainly the values found in ideas such as, “Thou shalt not kill” predate anything like organized religion and are attributable to our evolved nature as social animals.
But there are other values: the cleanliness of a menstruating woman…or her presence near men on public transportation; whether an apostate should or should not be murdered; whether gay people can get married; whether stem cell research should be conducted; whether scientific fact or fairytales should be taught in classrooms – these are not “existing values” and are, rather obviously, a source of harm. In these cases the demands and edicts of religion have real, quantifiable consequences that are not the result of “existing values.”
There is no argument from existing values absent “God said so” that supports denying homosexuals the right to enter into the civil institution of marriage.
So, while such things as respect for life itself (except the infidels) may find commonality across religions, the devil is certainly in the details.

Religion, its commandments and edicts, the social cohesion and conformity it fosters, directly propagate and reinforce a wide range of values and beliefs that are simply NOT universal or even tolerable in a just society.
To say otherwise demonstrates either an inability or an agenda-driven refusal to think seriously about the question.

The hypocrisy of it is sad. Aslan accuses atheists firstly of painting all Muslims as evil (a slanderous falsehood) and, secondly of pointing to Islam as the singular fount of evil in the world without which all forms of oppression would cease. He points to the myriad other causes of oppression and says, “See, religion can’t be the cause!”
He stubbornly ignores the real claim – that religion is A CAUSE – one of many operating in concert – but that it is a big one, and directly responsible – the proximate cause – for a shocking number of very specific, very hideous crimes that would not otherwise happen; that, in addition to being a proximate cause, it is central to propagating the values that support oppression.

Aslan is so busy trying to get religion completely off the hook for the evil it plainly does and proudly supports, he commits the very myopic blunder of which he falsely complains. By accusing atheists of portraying religion as the SOLE cause of evil (which no one does), he only calls the spotlight onto his insistent and vacuous assertion that religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.
It just sits there…a shimmering gelatinous blob of hypocrisy with smug sprinkles.

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4 Responses

  1. “Those who make peaceful protest impossible, make violent protest inevitable.”

    • And some of us just want to just skip straight to the fun part, the skull crushing mayhem & orgasmic vengeance.

      (Note to the NSA behaviour police: I am only kidding…sort of.)

  2. “(T)he values found in ideas such as,“Thou shalt not kill” predate anything like organized religion and are attributable to our evolved nature as social animals.” – Cousinavi

    Evolved nature??? Are you fucking kidding me?

    Sure, we’re better dressed, we have better toys and we don’t use our appendixes anymore, but that’s hardly social evolution. We’re still the same damn, dirty, apes we’ve always been. Have you ever watched Jerry or Maury? We mindlessly fuck anything that moves, no matter what the risk or damage it causes to those we claim to love. Are you familiar with American politics? Those guys do nothing but throw their shit and piss on each other 24/7 just to establish dominance. It achieves nothing but a better spot at the trough for the winners.

    As for “Thou shalt not kill”, I don’t consider it much more than a religious platitude with little or no bearing on how we actually operate. After 1.5 million-ish years, (with and without organized religion) this supposedly “socially evolved species” kills members of its own kind far more often than all other species combined. Well, at least among the species we humans haven’t killed off with our limitless appetites and callous apathy.

    The only evolution here is in the weaponry. Where you once had to kill your fellow man face to face by bludgeoning him with a tapir bone,

    today you can wipe out entire cities with just one press of a button from the other side of the planet. Humanity figured out a way to wipe out all human life on the planet, but we still can’t figure out how to feed all the people on it, even though we already produce far more than enough food to do it. Evolved, indeed!

    But one batshit crazy fuckwit with a “reason” only he understands can mow down hundreds of total strangers with a gun that can fire 500 round clips. Meanwhile, one “high raking government official” of the self proclaimed greatest nation in history, the inventor of democracy, freedom & human rights, can order a secret drone strike on some Arab teenagers. This without -not a trial or even evidence- but without even having any clue who they are, or what they’re doing, beyond “exhibiting suspicious behaviour”.

    Killing each other is one of the things we do best. But we’re even better at justifying it to ourselves. Justifying the killing to others is what some of us aren’t that great at. But that’s what PR firms are for.

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