This entire article is nothing more than a slow, simmering pot of false equivalency. A dishonest attempt to smear those willing to accurately and honestly speak about the consequences of religious faith; who refuse to make excuses for evil by painting shades of grey all over the place.
The question is not whether Reza Aslan finds the things said about the belief systems for which he apologizes rude. No one is obligated to respect the long history of faith claims about flying horses and talking snakes, much less the willingness of some to murder a cartoonist or an abortion doctor.
The question is whether or not the things they say are TRUE.
This is also a very good question to ask about the things said by Reza Aslan.
Not long ago, I gave an interview in which I said that my biggest problem with so-called New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins is that they give atheism a bad name. Almost immediately, I was bombarded on social media by atheist fans of the two men who were incensed that I would pontificate about a community to which I did not belong.
That, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. As a scholar of religions, I’m used to receiving comments like this from the communities I study.
As a scholar of religion? I wonder how Aslan feels about it as a professor of creative writing. It doesn’t matter – the replies were not “incensed” about Aslan’s pontification, nor about Aslan not being an atheist. Those would be odd things about which to be incensed: he’s Reza Aslan – fish swim, birds fly, Reza pontificates.
In any event, they were incensed by the cheap tactics Aslan serially employs to cobble together condescending attacks against those who insistently point out the emperor’s distinct lack of clothes.
In truth, Marx’s views on religion and atheism were far more complex than these much-abused sound bites project. Nevertheless, Marx’s vision of a religion-less society was spectacularly realized with the establishment of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – two nations that actively promoted “state atheism” by violently suppressing religious expression and persecuting faith communities.
Atheists often respond that atheism should not be held responsible for the actions of these authoritarian regimes, and they are absolutely right. It wasn’t atheism that motivated Stalin and Mao to demolish or expropriate houses of worship, to slaughter tens of thousands of priests, nuns and monks, and to prohibit the publication and dissemination of religious material. It was anti-theism that motivated them to do so. After all, if you truly believe that religion is “one of the world’s great evils” – as bad as smallpox and worse than rape; if you believe religion is a form of child abuse; that it is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” – if you honestly believed this about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?
This is a nasty little bit of straw man – the implication that Marx held more complex and nuanced views about religion than do these inflexible and dogmatic “New Atheists” (who would, then, logically go to any lengths – “violently suppressing religious expression, persecuting faith communities…demolishing houses of worship” – to oppose religion).
But are Aslan’s cherry picked quotes TRUE?
Is religion a form of child abuse? Let’s not ask the Catholics about that.
Is religion allied to tribalism and bigotry? Let’s not ask…well, an awful fucking lot of people in a goddamn lot of places, actually.
Is religion invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry? …are you fucking serious?
Is religion contemptuous of women?…coercive toward children?
How rude to point it out.
In any event, I’ll stack the nuanced understanding of religion – its foundational scriptures and its history – demonstrated by Christopher Hitchens against that of Reza Aslan any day. Plenty of scholars far more qualified than Reza Aslan made the mistake of questioning the depth and breadth of Hitchens’ theological chops. I suspect Aslan only dares suggest such a thing secure in the comfort that the man is no longer able to deliver the public humiliation such implication deserves.
Secondly, where’s all this atheist oppression? Some examples would be nice.
We’ll come back to the distinct lack of secular beheadings later.
Aslan pretends to play fair. Despite the casual lies that Stalin and Mao instituted anything distantly orbiting Marxist philosophy, and that the Soviet Union and China were examples of how Marx envisioned atheist states, he admits that Stalin and Mao were not motivated by atheism.
This is simply true, and Aslan may be given minor credit for not dragging out the shibboleth that atheism was responsible for the crimes of those tyrants.
But then Aslan pulls a sneaky, underhanded move – he substitutes ANTI-THEISM as the culpable motive: Stalin and Mao were not motivated by atheism (which is true) but by the narrow sort of atheism espoused by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris – the INTOLERANT atheism. The RUDE atheism. The EVANGELICAL atheism.
Let’s examine that assertion.
Aslan makes a distinction between atheists and anti-theists: the former reject god claims, the latter actively oppose god claims (which makes them rude and intolerant). Fair enough. If you care that Reza Aslan thinks you’re rude, raise your hand.
He also correctly labels Christopher Hitchens as the most iconic contemporary example of “Anti-theism,” a title which Hitchens notably claimed for himself. Aslan then suggests that anti-theists, in their zeal to eliminate theism (how very like fundamentalist religious adherents!) would go to ANY lengths – violence if necessary – in order to achieve that end.
This is a bald-faced lie and Aslan damn well knows it. It goes well beyond false equivalency and slides greasily into slander.
(What? Not again!)
The words of Christopher Hitchens on numerous public and recorded occasions (as well as those of Harris, Dawkins, Dennet et al), make Aslan a liar.
That he could make such a claim in the face of absolutely contradictory evidence – evidence of which he is perfectly well aware and to which his attention has been directed on numerous occasions – only aggravates the crime.
Hitchens had no desire to eliminate religion and did not even think it possible. He merely insisted that those so inclined keep their Bible thumping, Quran waving hands off the public square, out of his business, and the business of everyone else who may not share their beliefs.
All of the “New Atheists” have clearly and repeatedly rejected forcing anyone to abandon their faith – and it must be noted that this is in rather stark contrast to the monstrous lengths to which theists have demonstrably gone, are at this very moment going, and will gladly go in the future to achieve the opposite.
Hitchens and Harris have called for violence – that whatever means necessary be employed to stop honour killings; the mutilation of children for attending school; the murder of homosexuals and other hideous crimes – crimes which Aslan has specifically admitted are the product of fundamentalist religious faith.
Objecting to hideous crimes and demanding they be stopped – by force if necessary – is not the structural or moral equivalent of committing those monstrous, divinely inspired crimes in the first place.
Accusing Hitchens of being willing to employ coercive measures to eliminate theism is a filthy lie, as is extending that wish to the larger belief system.
The insult is compounded by having been done in defense of belief systems which PROUDLY employ coercive measures to inflict their beliefs on others, on children…and to punish those who resist.
Aslan should be ashamed.
Also, while Stalin and Mao certainly attacked and repressed organized religion, it is no more accurate to claim that their violence and oppression were motivated by “Anti-theism” than it is to blame “Atheism” (which Aslan specifically admits is not the case).
They were motivated by the desire to destroy sources of social cohesion and opposition to their political and economic power – something King Henry would have been all too happy to do if he weren’t making such good use of it (and it had been even remotely possible). The same factors that make a lie of the tired assertion, “Atheism has been responsible for as many deaths as religious faith,” apply equally to “Anti-theism”. Playing sophomoric semantic games and substituting Christopher Hitchens for Josef Stalin does not advance Aslan’s argument. Sadly, neither does it embarrass him.
Like religious fundamentalism, New Atheism is primarily a reactionary phenomenon, one that responds to religion with the same venomous ire with which religious fundamentalists respond to atheism. What one finds in the writings of anti-theist ideologues like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens is the same sense of utter certainty, the same claim to a monopoly on truth, the same close-mindedness that views one’s own position as unequivocally good and one’s opponent’s views as not just wrong but irrational and even stupid, the same intolerance for alternative explanations, the same rabid adherents (as anyone who has dared criticize Dawkins or Harris on social media can attest), and, most shockingly, the same proselytizing fervor that one sees in any fundamentalist community.
Another shallow attempt to liken “New Atheism” to religious fundamentalism: they are both reactionary responses. In fact, they’re responses to each other!
Bullshit. Absolute ginned up cocktwaddle.
Religious fundamentalism is in no way a reaction to atheism. It is entirely predicated on an absolute and enduring certainty about the nature of the world in which we live; its evil a direct consequence of divine warrant to inflict their god upon others.
The suggestion that religious zealotry is in any way a response to godlessness only plainly demonstrates the distorted and disingenuous methods Reza Aslan casually employs, and the kind of premises which he attempts to pass off as simple and obvious facts.
Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris make no claims to a monopoly on truth. They do, however, object to demonstrable falsehood being propagated as historical fact, and to demonstrable harms being treated with fawning respect simply because they come wrapped in delusional convictions about inerrant words from omnipotent creators.
Alternative explanations? This is not a fucking question of alternative explanations. Evolution is a fact. Honour killings and beheading people for apostasy are morally wrong.
Aslan sets up BOTH SIDES and claims each views the other as irrational and stupid. Well, one side claims that the world is 10,000 years old, women should not control their own bodies and condoms are a sin (among other things); that anyone who rejects Islam deserves to die (among other things).
One side wants to inflict their religious views on children, pregnant women, unmarried women, homosexuals, non-believers, cartoonists, authors, education…and every damn thing they demand is rooted in a fairy tale.
But, according to Aslan, anyone who considers that to be foolish, stupid, delusional hogwash is being intolerant in precisely the same way as the fundamentalist religious crackpot making the claims.
How rude of the anti-theist to oppose the harm caused by teaching children that science is wrong and a tool of the devil. How insensitive to point to the stonings, beheadings, burnings, mutilations, oppression and violence done only by the religious – to oppose those things AND the cause of those things!
Yes…how rude. One ought to be insulted that Aslan expects to be taken seriously. He plainly considers his audience to be morons.
But, for Aslan, opposing blatant lies that are the proximate cause of evil is identical to arrogant certainty that one holds a monopoly on truth.
Aslan wonders why all those mean New Atheists can’t be more like the reasonable atheists – the ones who don’t want to deny people their god.
Of course, it’s a lie – a purely necessary fantasy – that Anti-theists seek to deny anyone their god.
Hitchens and Harris have been very clear about it: Keep your god, but keep it to yourself…and you may not inflict it on others. They simply recognize the world would be a much better place without that ugly excuse for evil infecting everything, and they SAY so.
Aslan finds this rude. Have a fucking cookie.
His seemingly fair-minded request that New Atheists be more reasonable (which is really to request that we split the difference between truth and lies) is the Trojan Horse in which Aslan hides his desire to start painting everything grey. “Sure there are bad people doing bad things, but there are lots of good people who believe in god, so…you know, let’s not blame god. The IDEA of god is very comforting for lots of people. It’s spiritual, and that’s important. It’s tradition! It’s NUANCED! You just don’t understand it as well as I do.”
Aslan inverts the perfectly reasonable qualifications clearly elucidated by Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins: to the degree that the faithful start being more reasonable (stop inflicting their faith on others), the *ANTI* fades and the reasonable atheist Aslan longs for appears.
But Aslan’s attempt to be clever reveals the one-way street on which this reason operates. We’ll get no such slack from the extreme religious set. They will never split the difference between scientific fact and the tenets of their faith; never split the difference on permitting gay people to have equal rights. But those who object to these things must be more reasonable. The hypocrisy is stunning.
What is the likelihood that religious zealots will more resemble those tolerant semi-agnostics Reza eagerly counts among the faithful? That they will join Aslan in that great live-and-let-live middle ground where he and David Brooks attend church, pointing at the same awful BOTH SIDES, lamenting the lack of nuance…the intolerant extremists on both poles.
We know well enough the sort of things to expect from extreme fundamentalist religious faith.
What, exactly, constitutes an “Extreme Anti-Theist” position?
Apparently it is this: Insisting that science be treated as science; that people be given equal rights and not murdered for a difference of belief; pointing out that god claims seem to be highly correlated with blatant examples of hideous evil; objecting to the religious oppression and murder of women; asserting that we’d all be better off without any of those delusional mythologies or the evil they necessarily inflict.
Keep your numinous, your transcendent, your humble faith that the creator of everything has a plan just for you…but you don’t get to inflict it on other people.
And, of course, that there’s no evidence upon which a belief in any god could stand.
Yes…if only we could do away with these evil fucking troublemakers.
Where are the extreme Anti-theists milling about outside churches? Shouldn’t they be screaming epithets at believers seeking to exercise their constitutionally protected right to worship god? But there are the believers, inflicting their god driven “counselling” on women attempting to enter medical clinics to obtain constitutionally protected services.
Where are the anti-theists going door to door, asking if you’ve lost Jesus?
Where are the beheadings for the sin of accepting a god? Surely the extremist atheists, bent on the elimination of religious faith, must be killing believers.
Where are the secular demands that homosexuals be denied the right to marry?
Apparently I’ve missed all the non-religious demands that a ridiculous and fantastic alternative explanation for the diversity of life – one with absolutely ZERO evidence to support it – be treated as plausible in the science classroom.
But, again, for Reza Aslan, the extremists on both sides are equally intolerant. Because objecting to honour killings is being just as intolerant as committing honour killings, or something.
At what point does it become fair play to simply tell Reza Aslan to pack up his bullshit false equivalency, his inflated stroke-job of religious scholarship, his crap premises and broken reasoning, and go teach some kid to write a fucking short story.
Filed under: Atheism, Evolution, Fundamentalist Christians, Gender Issues, Hitchens, Lies, Religion, Theology, Truth | Tagged: Reza Aslan | Leave a comment »