excusing religion

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Reza Aslan purports to explain what the New Atheists get wrong, but does a far better job of illuminating his own errors:

If I were to put the difference in those worldviews in the simplest way ... someone like Sam Harris or Bill Maher sees religion as defining people of faith, their values, their motivations, and I see people as defining their religion. I think the principle fallacy of not just to the so-called New Atheists, but I think of a lot of critics of religion, 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.

A large part of the problem, though, is that believers tend to not recognize this--they claim instead that their personal biases (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) are eternally perfect and unchanging, just like the god in which they believe. Aslan continues:

In the United States, just two centuries ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their conflicting viewpoints, they used the exact same verses. That's the power of scripture, it's the power of religion: It's infinitely malleable. We do not read scriptures that were written 5000 years ago still because they're true -- we read them because they're malleable, because they can address the ever-evolving need of a community, of an individual, because they can be shaped to whatever one's political ideology is. You have Christians in the hills of Guatemala who view Jesus as a liberating warrior who takes up arms against the oppressor, and Christians in midwestern Chicago who believe that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. Who's right? They both are! That's why Jesus matters.

Jesus matters because his words are contradictory enough to be infinitely malleable, and therefore cited as supporting evidence for opposing views? Does Aslan not see the coherence and internal consistency problems here? Apparently not, because he finds fault with atheists instead:

Most of my intellectual heroes are atheists, but they were experts in religion, and so they were able to offer critiques of it that came from a place of knowledge, from a sophistication of education, of research. What we're seeing now instead is a sort of armchair atheism -- people who are inundated by what they see on the news or in media, and who then draw these incredibly simplistic generalizations about religion in general based on these examples that they see. [...] The great irony is that a lot of these New Atheists, memes when it comes to religion, they tend to read the scripture more literally than most religious literalists do.

Similarly, he decries the "almost comical lack of sophistication in the conversations that we are having about religion:"

And to me, there's a shocking inability to understand what, as I say, a child would understand, which is that religions are neither peaceful nor violent, neither pluralistic nor misogynistic -- people are peaceful, violent, pluralistic, or misogynistic, and you bring to your religion what you yourself already believe.

Here are some additional remarks, courtesy of digby:

To assume that the religion itself is the reason rather than the excuse for this violent extremism is to miss the point entirely. There are reasons and we'd damned well better figure out what they are and do our best to deal with this thing in a way that makes sense. [...] We are a very powerful country and can do terrible damage if we decide to wage a holy war like this. But we are not invulnerable. To create even more enemies out of ignorance and bigotry is scary. No, it's insane.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 14, 2014 1:17 PM.

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