Reza Aslan: There’s no divide between Islam and American culture—it’s people, not religion

July 27, 2017 • 10:00 am

If you’re willing to be a bit mendacious, there are two guaranteed ways to make a lot of dosh in America. The first is to pretend that you’ve had a near-death experience and have temporarily visited Heaven, seeing God, Jesus, and your long-dead relatives and friends. This reassures Christians that all will be well after death. An example of someone enriching himself in this way is neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who, though his book Proof of Heaven has been thoroughly debunked, continues to rake in oodles of cash thanks to credulous Christians.

The second is to pretend that religion is a uniformly good phenomenon—that nothing bad comes from it. Anything like the terrors of Islamist extremism, or the Troubles of Northern Ireland, comes from culture, not faith. Were there not religion, these apologists aver, something else would take its place, causing precisely equal amounts of evil.

Although Mariam Sobh made an odious video claiming that ex-Muslims (read: Ayaan Hirsi Ali) were motivated to leave the faith by the prospect of gaining fame and money by criticizing Islam, there’s a big downside to that: fear of death. A vociferous ex-Muslim is a threatened ex-Muslim, and that’s why Hirsi Ali has bodyguards. It’s much safer and easier to extol religion, and these days the big money and fame is in extolling Islam. Guilt-ridden liberals lap that stuff up like cats at a bowl of cream.

The prime examples of those who gain renown from defending religion against all comers are Karen Armstrong and Reza Aslan. Today we’re discussing Aslan, who, unchastened by the failure of his CNN “spiritual adventure show” Believer, is back in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine with his piece “Reza Aslan argues: There is no divide between Islam and American culture.

This claim is problematic for reasons that you already know. First of all, many of the values imparted by Islam, and embraced by many (but not all) of its adherents, are truly in conflict with “American values”, at least as limned by progressives. Islam devalues women: in dress, in property rights, in giving them a role of temptresses, and so on; it is not a big fan of freedom of religion, especially for atheists; and it’s not a big promoter of gay rights or gay marriage. Further, at least as expressed by Linda Sarsour in her recent “jihad” speech, many Muslims, like Orthodox Jews and some extreme sects of Mormons and fundamentalist Christians, prefer to maintain semi-closed communities held together by identity politics. But unlike Orthodox Jews, the goal of some Muslims is to make their faith into a principle of government, for that’s what sharia law is. Here’s what Sarsour said:

Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community. It is not to assimilate and to please any other people in authority. Our obligation is to our young people, is to our women, to make sure our women are protected in our community, and our top priority, even higher than all those priorities, is to please Allah and only Allah.

Now of course many Muslim-Americans fervently desire to integrate into U.S. culture. Still, one can’t deny that certain values instilled by Islam, like those instilled by Orthodox Judaism and extremist Mormonism, are at odds with values of the wider society. That’s why the hyper-Orthodox and polygamous Mormons segregate themselves in enclaves where they can live their faith without being tainted by secular American culture.

Reza Aslan, of course, denies such a clash, but his reasons are deeply dubious:

There is no clash between Islam and American culture. In fact, there is no clash between any religion and any culture because religions are inextricably linked to culture.

Think of it this way: Culture is like a vessel, and religion is like water — it simply takes the shape of whatever vessel you pour it into. And this is why the prosperity gospel — the notion that what Jesus really wants for you is to drive a Bentley — can exist in the United States, and why the liberation gospel — the notion that Jesus was a warrior who fought oppression and poverty — exists in El Salvador. Both versions of Christianity are equally valid. They’re just dependent on the culture of the community to which they belong.

When you look at Islam in the United States what you see is an overwhelmingly moderate version of Islam, but more interestingly what you see is a highly individualistic form of the religion. Islam is a religion that often advantages the community over the individual, but in the United States, where the culture is rooted in radical individualism, you see a radically individualistic Islam forming.

The last paragraph itself notes the possibility of a clash between Islam and American culture, and yes, not all Muslims in the U.S. become “radical individualists.” But the first paragraph is just nonsense. When a minority religious group inhabits a society of a different faith, or no faith, their values not only are often derived from religion, but clash with values of the society in which they’re embedded. When those values deal with things like human “rights”, it can cause trouble. One cannot, for instance, sensibly say that there’s no clash between Islam and European culture, for that clash is painfully evident. (Again, I’m talking about religious values here, not the desire of Muslims to assimilate into Western culture.) It’s better in America, but my own observation of organizations like CAIR and Students for Justice in Palestine convince me that attitudes like Sarsour’s aren’t uncommon.

Because Islam, like Orthodox Judaism, is both a religion and a culture, in the sense of dictating ways of living throughout the day and not just at worship, Aslan can get away with saying that “it’s all culture.” But if large parts of that culture are drawn from religious scripture or dogma, then his statement is tautological and meaningless.

And if religions are inextricably linked to culture, why do you find people of nearly identical cultures, but of different faiths, in clashes that are sometimes deadly. In what respect do Shia and Sunni Muslims have different cultures if you leave out the disparate religious dogma that divides them? In what respect to Muslim men and women, or gays and straights, have different “cultures”? In what respect did Irish Catholics and Protestants have different “cultures”—if you leave out religion? Aslan would argue that these are cultural and not religious differences; but since he sees them as the same thing, that’s simply a ploy to exculpate religion, which is what he gets paid to do.

As the article goes on, Aslan even exculpates culture, saying “it’s just different people” who cause the supposed clashes. But here he slips up, because he then admits that these people are reflecting different “ideologies”, and ideology can include religion:

So he says this:

The clashes we see are created by people, not by culture or religion. When people say Islam doesn’t fit in with American culture, what they really mean is that it does not fit with their sense of self and their conception of themselves as Americans. It does not jibe with how they understand what Islam means. But they are doing what most people do when they try to define themselves, which is that they are defining themselves in opposition to an other. And for a great many Americans, that other is Islam. They know nothing about Muslims. They know nothing about the religion or its history. It’s just that Islam becomes a byword for whatever is not American.

But that contradicts this, which he states in the previous paragraph:

When people talk about the clash between religion and culture, it mostly stems from ideological reasons. Ideologies are predicated on certain absolutes, which provide a certain confidence about people’s identities and where they belong in the world. It’s how people construct their very understanding of the universe. Ideologies can include religion, but they can include nationalism, culture, and race. People who tend to fall back on ideologies are trying to create a sense of stability about who they are and how they see themselves in the world.

What this means is that the “people” who are said to clash with American culture, and here I’m referring to Muslims, are doing so because their ideology (read: Islam) gives them a sense of identity that is not the same as the “identity” of Americans. Yes, Americans have ideologies, too, but the clash I’m worried about is not between Christian ideology and Muslim ideology. I have no patience with Christians who demonize Muslims because they’re not down with Jesus as a prophet. What I do worry about, and what Aslan brushes off, is the feeling that Islam fosters values inimical to those that many Americans embrace, especially the values of democracy above theocracy and the notion of equal rights for all, regardless of sex, religion, or sexual orientation. This is not a clash between two religions. It’s a clash between religious values and Enlightenment values. I would not want to live in a country whose values and institutions reflect the ideas of Linda Sarsour.

Sarsour and Aslan are both dangerous because they want us to avert our eyes from a theology that is explicitly anti-democratic, and because that theology motivates terrible oppression against both Muslims and non-Muslims. Remember, outside the U.S (and even to some degree within it, Islam oppresses half of its own adherents: the women.

As far as I know (I don’t check), the only other person who blocks me on Twitter is P. Z. Myers.

Fox News op-ed: The things atheists like really point to God

July 9, 2017 • 11:30 am

Here’s another series of insupportable arguments for theism, this time in the Fox News op-ed section. The piece has the provocative title of “Could zombies, jazz artists, and scientists all point to God?“, and it’s by Rick Stedman, whose answer is “YES!” His website describes him like this:

[Rick Stedman] is a collector of classic-rock vinyl LPs, bookaholic, author, philosopher, pastor, and devoted husband and father. He founded and for two decades led Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, California. He has graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, and ministry, and for relaxation likes to tinker in his garage, read, listen to music, and hang out with his wife and best friend, Amy.

He also wrote this book, which is Amazon’s #1 new release in Christian Apologetics (click screenshot to go to the Amazon site):

Amazon’s summary of the book, below, suggests that it’s a full-length treatment of the argument Stedman makes in his Fox piece:

We’ve all had doubts about God’s existence—or we know people who have. What if we could uncover evidence of the reality of God that would bolster our faith or plant seeds of belief in the hearts of skeptics?

This 31-day intellectual journey reveals hints of the divine all around us—in what we believe, what we love, what we have, and what we know. Discover how sports, superheroes, science, and dozens of other topics point to unexpected clues of God’s existence.

This carefully reasoned yet whimsical approach to a perplexing topic paves the way for meaningful dialogue between those who believe in God and those who are skeptical.

No species of books is more likely to include a success than one “proving” the existence of God or Heaven (a possible exception are books about rich men who practice acceptably light bondage during sex).

But I digress. The story that Stedman tells at Fox is that an atheist whose wife was becoming a Christian asked her husband to speak to Stedman, hoping that the pastor could convince her husband join her in delusion.  Stedman, who flaunts his expertise in religious discourse (“Oh pleeease,” I moaned inwardly, “he thinks he has me pegged. He has no clue that I studied Ph.D.-level philosophy at a secular university, or that I’ve talked with many, many skeptics over the years. Plus, I’m a pastor, so I should be better at this whole patience thing by now, so get a grip and listen…”), sighs and begins to convince the nonbeliever. He has three arguments, two of which are familiar. The indented bits are Stedman’s:

1.) You can’t prove that the scientific method reveals truth from the method itself (or presumably from a priori philosophical considerations):

Over the years I’ve simply learned to find common ground with skeptics and atheists, and prompt them to think deeply about the things they value.

So I began with science. “I’m glad you love science and always seek to follow the scientific method. I love science too. But I’ve noticed that there are some things the scientific method just can’t prove.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there are many, but this is a big one: you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method.”

Silence. Again—awkward.

Actually, I’m surprised that anyone still uses this argument, but it’s quite common. And it’s easily refuted. Yes, there’s no way to prove a priori that the scientific method “works” (i.e., presumably finds out what’s true about the cosmos). But so what? It’s an approach to finding out what’s true that’s been honed over several centuries, and IT WORKS! Presumably Pastor Stedman takes antibiotics or other drugs when he’s ill, flies in planes, uses the Internet or GPS devices, and accepts the truth of evolution and black holes. I’m sure he thinks that a molecule of regular water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atoms.  These were all worked out by a method that Stedman says can’t be justified.  In fact, when you’re faced with an empirical puzzle, the best way to solve it is through science. (Actually, the observation that science works refutes Stedman’s claim that “you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method.” The fact that the scientific method works shows that it is indeed efficacious at finding truth.)

There are two more responses that atheists should know (if you have others, put them in the comments). The first is that the same argument holds for religious belief, but holds even more strongly, because religion has NO track record of finding out truths about the cosmos. We know this because there are thousands of religions, each making different claims about reality and god, and there’s no way to find out which, if any, is true. At least science has a way of testing its claims, and that’s why we rely on science rather than faith to find out what’s true. Revelation and dogma are no way of arriving at truth. If they were, there would be only one religion, and we could just ask God which drugs would be good for which diseases.

Finally, it surprises me that the absence of an a priori philosophical justification for using the scientific method is somehow taken as evidence for the presence of God. How does that work? It’s not even a god-of-the-gaps argument; it’s just dumb.

2.) Many famous scientists were religious, and science arose from Christianity.

So I [Stedman] asked, “Who are your all-time favorite scientists?”

“Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein,” he responded.

“Me too. Incredible geniuses, every one. And, by the way, all of them believed in God. Especially Newton, who wrote more pages on biblical studies than he did on science.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It’s true,” I said, “Also, did you know that the scientific method developed only in western civilization because it was based on Christian principles?”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, I have graduate degrees in philosophy and theology, and there are some fabulous books by science historians that verify this—one just published recently from Oxford. Would you be interested in reading it with me, and discussing chapters over lunch?”

“I would love that!” He exclaimed, “And so will my wife!” We both laughed.

In the years that followed, he and I read dozens of books together. And he became a close friend—and, in time, a fellow believer.

Well that shut the damn atheist up (and changed his mind!). Sadly, the only reason that famous scientists of the distant past were religious was because everyone was religious. If you took this tack, you’d have to claim that everything devised by humans in the West before the 18th century is evidence for God: the printing press, steam engines, telescopes, slide rules, barometers, adding machines, and so on. And of course a lot of bad people were religious, too, and a lot of harm was done from “Christian principles” (the Inquisition with its torture devices, the Crusades, the religious wars of Europe, and so on). If good stuff is to be laid at the door of God, so is bad stuff. By the way, nobody pays any attention to Newton’s religious writings any more, and what religion did enter his science (e.g., his claim that God must keep the planetary orbits stable) made that science worse.

Einstein, of course, was a secular Jew, who asserted repeatedly that he didn’t accept a personal or theistic God. My best guess is that he was a pantheist who saw “religion” as “the awe before the laws of physics.”

As for science being based on Christian principles, I don’t really accept that. One can argue that some religious institutions supported science, like medieval universities, but religion hampered free inquiry and suppressed science as well. I suspect that had Christianity not been invented, we’d be farther ahead now in science than we are.

And science isn’t really a western invention; it was employed, for instance, by the ancient Greeks, who certainly weren’t Christian. Science as a going concern and as a profession did develop in Europe, but there are other reasons for that as well, including commerce, communication, and the Enlightenment.

Finally, in what respect does the fact that many scientists (and all their countrymen) were religious give evidence for God’s existence?

3.) Many secular pursuits and avocations of atheists really testify to God’s existence. This is perhaps Stedman’s most bizarre argument—one that seems to be a major theme of his book—but I don’t understand it at all. Read and weep:

Since then I’ve had numerous encounters with other skeptics and have always found that we share much in common. We love music, whether classic rock or jazz; we enjoy movies and books, from sci-fi to zombies; and we like sports or museums. Plus, we strongly oppose sex trafficking here and around the world, we despise people who are cruel to animals, and we think Hitler was evil and deserved to be defeated.

But the biggest surprise of all was when I looked deeper into these diverse likes and dislikes, and I found that each of them, in their own unique but definite way, pointed to God. That is, each made more sense in a theistic worldview than in an atheistic one.

I’ve learned that God is indeed real, but he hides in our deepest likes and loathings, ready to reveal himself to us in the very parts of life that we care most about.

I call this The Argument from Charlie Parker. (You could equally well call it the Argument from Hitler.) All these secular pursuits point to God? How, exactly? Pastor Stedman doesn’t answer this burning question. I guess you’ll have to read his book to find out how sci-fi and museums point to God, but I’ll leave that pursuit to someone with a stronger stomach.

h/t: Laura

The Young Turks show and The Spectator on the London attacks: the former ignores religion, the latter indicts it

June 10, 2017 • 1:00 pm

The Young Turks news show has become increasingly regressive as time goes on. Here’s a 13-minute video with hosts John Iadarola, Ana Kasparian, and Michael Shure discussing the recent terrorist attacks on London.

Two words are completely missing from the long discussion: “Muslim” and “Islam.” I don’t think that omission is accidental.

The tone was set in the opening statement by Iadorolo: “In terms of exactly who they are, I don’t care about that–they’re assholes who got what they deserved for an absolutely terrible attack, especially considering that the Manchester attack just happened; but even that wasn’t the first attack in the UK. That’s very rough.”  Well, some of us care who they are! The U.S. and British governments, for one thing.

And so it goes on, with Shure blaming George W. Bush and Tony Blair (via the Iraq War) for the terrorost attacks and the subsequent blame the fell on “that community” (a.k.a. Muslims). At 4:29, Kasparian refuses to name the terrorists, even though their names had been released by the police. Why? Could it because they had names that sounded like Muslims? At 8:39, Kasparian mentions “this group of people” (she means Muslims), and blames “Western governments [who are] killing innocent civilians in Middle Eastern countries.” She goes on to say that the attacks are due to those people who get angered at drone strikes and enact retribution, saying that we’re “missing the mark because we let our emotions get in the way.” In other words, the terrorism is the fault of the West, and it’s understandable that an angry Muslim would want to blow up a bunch of kids in Manchester or diners in London.

The whole discussion judiciously avoids not only the topic of religion but even the name of the religion. It’s Islamist apologetics and West-blaming of the worst stripe. I was no fan of the Iraq war, but I don’t think that it somehow makes the retaliatory killing of other innocent civilians justified. Kasparian’s conclusion, given later on, is that the solution to Islamist terrorism is for the West to stop bombing other countries. Perhaps that will help, but we already know the problems with that “solution” (see also here). It’s not going to stop Muslims from attacking other Muslims, or Islamists from attacking in the West.


In contrast, Tom Holland, identified by the Spectator as “a historian of early Islam, [and] a dinosaur enthusiast and a translator of Herodotus’s Histories,” has no problem indicting religion as a major cause of these attacks, and something essential to recognize if we want to solve the problem. His new Spectator article, “After five centuries, religious war has returned to Britain,” is a passionate defense of his view that Britain is now in a faith-against-faith (or faith-against apostasy) battle. Now you won’t be able to read his piece as it’s behind a paywall, but judicious inquiry might yield you a copy.  Here are two excerpts:

But then, last Saturday night, religiously motivated killing returned to London Bridge. Three men, swerving to murder as many pedestrians as they could, drove a rented van across the very spot where severed heads had been fixed to the bridge’s southern gatepost. They crashed opposite Tooley Street. Then, brandishing long knives, they plunged into the warren of streets and passageways around Southwark Cathedral where, back in the reign of Mary, six high-ranking clergymen had been tried and convicted of heresy. For eight terrible minutes, terrorists — no less convinced than Tudor inquisitors had been that they were the agents of a stern and implacable god — visited slaughter upon Borough Market. Just four days later, another group of Islamists, equally fanatical and set on martyrdom attacked the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Tehran, killing at least 12 people and injuring many more.

The London Bridge attackers wanted us to be in no doubt about their motivation. ‘This is for Allah,’ they shouted, as they slashed and stabbed their victims. When they could, they slit people’s throats — just as Isis executioners in Syria, claiming obedience to a command in the Quran ‘to strike off the heads of unbelievers’, had slit the throats of western hostages. Shot by police marksmen, the three men were hailed by supporters of Isis as ‘martyrs’.

Sometimes it can be hard to recognise ghosts for what they are. Reactions to the atrocities committed on Saturday — as to the atrocities committed only a few short weeks previously in Manchester and on Westminster Bridge — have mingled despair with perplexity. We just don’t understand violent religion.

And this:

And yet, for all that, it is clear that the legacy of Islamic supremacism, deriving as it does from both the Quran and sayings of Mohammed, still has a potent and seductive appeal. Indeed, there is a sense in which it may be precisely the integration into Islam of the Western notion of human rights that is helping to fuel its recrudescence. After all, if — as Muslims believe — their religion is the last and ultimate of God’s revelations, then any dimunition of its purity, any dilution of its traditions, can all too easily be portrayed as a lethal threat to the entire future of humanity. Isis, who have pointedly reintroduced both the jizya and slavery, are merely the most extreme of those factions within Islam who insist that Muslims, far from compromising with the values of the West, should instead seek to destroy them utterly.

We are witnessing a civil war within Islam and the three men who brought carnage to Borough Market last Saturday did not see themselves as murderers, but rather as warriors. They imagined that they had been divinely summoned — just as Mohammed had been — to the overthrow of kufr: unbelief.

No laws, no increase in police numbers, no boost to the powers of the security services can adequately patrol such ideas. Only by directly confronting these beliefs do we have even the faintest prospect of diminishing their potency. To do that, though, will first require acknowledging what Isis and their cohorts in the West actually embody: a strain of Islam that has its roots deep in the past, and which, as our most careful analyst of Isis, Shiraz Maher, has put it, ‘believes in progression through regression’. To dismiss it, as Theresa May did, as ‘a perversion of Islam’ is not merely to close our eyes to the nature of the threat that it presents to Britain’s future as a free society; it actively risks making it worse.

So as we begin the inevitable discussion about what to do next, the first step ought to be a fairly basic one: recognise the problem.

And that’s what people like The Young Turks adamantly fail to do.

CNN cancels Reza Aslan’s t.v. documentary, “Believer”, but for bad reasons

June 10, 2017 • 10:30 am

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Reza Aslan. I dislike his apologetics for and whitewashing of Islam, his osculation of all faiths and false claim that, at bottom, they’re all the same, and his flaunting of his  bogus credentials that he’s a “religious scholar.” His CNN show about religion, “Believer,” which I’ve written about before (here, here, and here), hasn’t been favorably reviewed (see the recent mixed review in the New Yorker as well as the last link), and the bits I’ve seen have been dire (I haven’t watched the whole series).

“Believer” was going to go into a second season after the first six episodes, but CNN announced a few days ago that the show would be canceled. My Schadenfreude, however, has been considerably tempered by the reasons for the cancellation: not because the show was bad—though I gather it was, and the parts I saw were abysmal—but because Aslan issued a series of nasty tw**ts about Trump. As CNN itself reported:

The network said Friday that it has “decided to not move forward with production” on Aslan’s “Believer” series.

Season one of “Believer” premiered in March. Season two was announced at an event for advertisers in mid-May. Aslan’s production company had already started working on the new episodes.

But the network decided to break off the production relationship after Aslan called President Trump a piece of excrement, using an expletive, last Saturday.

. . . Aslan has been a virulent critic of Trump for some time, but this particular tweet crossed a line in the minds of some media critics. Prominent conservatives weighed in and said they wanted Aslan to be fired.

Aslan posted the tweet in reaction to Trump’s promotion of a “travel ban” in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack in London.

“I lost my cool and responded to him in a derogatory fashion. That’s not like me,” Aslan said in a statement the next day. “I should have used better language to express my shock and frustration at the president’s lack of decorum and sympathy for the victims of London. I apologize for my choice of words.”

CNN responded in a statement: “We are pleased that he has apologized for his tweets. That kind of discourse is never appropriate.”

The network’s statement also pointed out that Aslan is not a CNN employee. Unwinding the contractual relationship with Aslan’s production company apparently took several days.

CNN’s Friday statement about the cancellation of “Believer” said, “We wish Reza and his production team all the best.”

Here are the tweets at issue. I believe at least some of them have been deleted, but I can’t check because Aslan has blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed. These I got from Google image:


Now I wouldn’t have issued those tweets were I doing a show for CNN, even though I agree with Aslan’s sentiments, but he has to maintain a certain level of decorum. Even if he wanted to criticize Trump publicly, I wouldn’t have used “piece of shit,” nor will I use it on my own tweets now. Here’s his apology:

And here’s his statement that appeared his Facebook page:

That’s reasonable, but the part about “I need to honor my voice” rankles a bit since “honoring his voice” means using scatological language. I can’t imagine a public figure such as Neil deGrasse Tyson issuing tweets like that.

However, I’m not sure why someone who’s doing a CNN show has to mute their political opinions. I suppose the threats from conservatives were distressing to the network, and I guess there are journalistic considerations at issue that I don’t fully understand. Still, this amounts to a kind of censorship. Why couldn’t CNN have asked Aslan to apologize, and then let him continue the show? It may be the case that because the show didn’t get good reviews, their reason for canceling it could have been twofold.

But CNN’s statement prevents me from celebrating the cancellation of a dreadful show—not if it was done for political reasons. I thus share the sentiments of Ali Rizvi expressed below:

And I’m sure that Aslan, as greedy for fame as he is, will find plenty of other venues where he can express his misguided views.

h/t: Barry

Zubin Madon has the perfect response to the Islamophilic truth haters

June 9, 2017 • 10:00 am

I’ve written this headline exactly as PuffHo would have written it—if they had any rationality. In fact, by some twist of fate the subject of my post, an article by Zubin Madon, an engineer and humanist living in Bombay, India, did appear in the April 2016 PuffHo, and undercuts everything they have written denying the nasty bits of Islamic doctrine and the influence of that faith on terrorism. (PuffHo’s religion editor, Carol Kuruvilla, writes post after post telling us how wonderful Islam is and that we should ignore the man with the bomb behind the curtain).

Now Kuruvilla was editor in April of last year when Madon (who has a website on Atheist Republic, and probably would be dead if he lived in Bangladesh rather than Bombay) published this piece, and I’m surprised it got by, as it tells the truth about not just Islam, but the Regressive Left’s hypocritical coddling of that faith. Madon, who seems to know his Qur’an, is mad as hell about that coddling, and isn’t going to take it any more: viz., the title of his piece, “Terror has no religion—debunking the Regressive Left’s cliches.

Madon debunks a number of Regressive Leftist talking points about Islamist terrorism, and it’s worth saving this piece for future arguments. I’ll list the points and give Madon’s rebuttal for two of them (indented):

  • Terrorism has no religion. 

It must be a strange coincidence then, that attacks on abortion clinics in the United States are carried out by far-right Christian conservatives, and not Star Wars cultists; that Potterheads don’t lynch people for eating beef, but Hindutva extremists who consider the life of a bovine to be more sacred than that of a human being do. Similarly, when a zealot opens fire in a cafe yelling ‘Allahu-Akbar’, we can be quite certain it’s not a disgruntled Game of Thrones fan who just saw his favourite character snuffed out by the writers.

Yes, the vast majority of religious folks do not go about murdering people. But that does not absolve religious texts of inspiring the few extremists who do.
When Muslims donate to charity, we attribute their altruism to the third pillar of Islam. Why is it that when another Muslim acts as per the dozens of Quranic edicts which — cast terror in the hearts of disbelievers (3:151), expose them to eternal hellfire (4:56), advocate crucifixion & chopping off extremities (5:33), denounce taking Jews & Christians for friends (5:51), smite their necks and fingers (8:12), slay & besiege idol worshippers (9:5)— his/her actions have “nothing to do with religion”? I am not singling out Islamic scripture here. They are no more violent and bigoted than the Old Testament or the Manusmriti. However, we acknowledge that the inquisition was a product of medieval Christian dogma, and caste atrocities are a product of Hindu texts. Why then, do we excuse Islamic scripture of inspiring Islamists?

  • The verses are misinterpreted!
  • The verses have been taken out of context.
  • But the Quran has some very beautiful verses as well. 
  • It’s not religion, it’s lack of education, disparity. (a.k.a. Malala’s Fallacy). 
  • It’s American Imperialism, western foreign policy & the Iraq Wars that are responsible; not religion. (The Chomsky defence a.k.a.  Mehdi Hassan’s fallacy).

Apart from 12-16 million Christians, there are thousands of Bahai, Zoroastrians, Yazidis and Jews living in Islamic nations. If terrorism were simply a reaction to American imperialism, shouldn’t these minorities also form a fraction of terror outfits? Or are they miraculously shielded from NATO bombs and American policies that affect the middle-east? Surely one disgruntled Zoroastrian would cross the Iranian border and join Hezbollah?

This favourite cliche of the Regressive Left fails to explain another phenomenon— the “everyday terrorism” faced by millions of Muslims in the Islamic world. Was the spontaneous and gruesome lynching of Farkhunda outside an Afghan mosque a product of colonialism? Was the stoning of Roxanneh, the killing of Noor Malleki, the murder of secular bloggers in Bangladesh a result of US foreign policy? What does the violence unleashed against homosexuals, apostates, ‘blasphemers’, against Ahmedi and Hazara Muslims of Pakistan & Afghanistan (who are murdered by Sunni supremacists for not being ‘Muslim enough’) and the systemic genocide of ethnic minorities throughout the Islamic world, have to do with George Bush’s Iraqi misadventure? At some point, Bronze Age belief systems must be held accountable for the atrocities inflicted on its followers.

He then has a section on “The Left’s soft bigotry of lower expectations” before concluding:

. .  the Regressive Left has also failed liberal progressive Muslims like Asra Nomani, Irshad Manji and Maajid Nawaz, who are fighting to bring about reform at great personal risk. It is time for true (classical) liberals to stand up and take the fort back from the Left. We must show that it is possible to call out religious ideologies that inspires terror, while at the same time condemn the anti-Muslim bigotry of the far-right. For without identifying the carcinogen i.e. religious extremism, it is impossible to stem the affliction.

That point is as relevant today as it was a year ago. It still amazes me that those Muslim reformers have been demonized by the regressives, and that Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were branded as “anti-Muslim extremists” by the increasingly risible Southern Poverty Law Center.

By the way, read Madon’s satirical piece on PuffHo: “Muslim fencer wears a hijab—You won’t believe what happens next!” (That’s the perfect PuffHo title!) It includes this fake quote from Hillary Clinton:

“Liberal, secular Muslims like Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani have ruined everything,” Clinton complains. “By refusing to conform to the ‘hijabi stereotype’, these westernised Muslim women have made it impossible for Left-leaning white saviours to covertly milk this stereotype, in our heroic battle against stereotyping.”


Clueless ideologue of the week

May 25, 2017 • 12:00 pm

Click on the screenshot to go to the article, if you must. It’s from Curve,  a lesbian magazine, but the same sentiments have been expressed by non-gay people.

Even if the attack aimed at killing as many girls as possible, isn’t it conceivable that such a plan would come from Islam’s misogyny and dislike of Ariana Grande as a symbol of Western decadence? I’m not saying that’s the case, since we know nothing about why this concert was targeted, but to jump to the conclusion above, completely ignoring religion, bespeaks a profound and delusional ideology.

h/t: Melissa Chen

The Conversation kisses the rump of religion again

May 11, 2017 • 10:31 am

I thought that The Conversation was largely a news and scholarly opinion website, but every once in a while they slip in some religious nonsense that baffles and saddens me. (For one example, see this risible argument for religiously based brain/mind dualism, and this ridiculous slice of tripe explaining why morality requires God). And now we have a piece from yesterday brought to my attention by reader RJC: “Five rational arguments why G0d (very probably) exists“. The author, Robert H. Nelson, is a Professor of Public Policy at The University of Maryland, which proves once again that scholars outside the field of religion can still be seduced by the blandishments of faith. In Nelson’s case, he simply adduces a few phenomena that science hasn’t yet understood (but may someday), or things that he doesn’t understand (like evolution) and triumphantly concludes, “Therefore God.” As RJC wrote me, “My quick, superficial read tells me it’s 5 “god of the gaps” arguments, gussied up a bit.”

And indeed it is. I’ll be brief (I hope) since we’ve heard most of these arguments before. Here are the phenomena that, says Nelson, convinced him that “the existence of God is very probable.” (He doesn’t give a probability.) He says there are five ideas, but offers six. I’ll put two together. (I covered God-of-the-gaps arguments, including the first two below, in Faith Versus Fact, pp. 152-177.)

  • The “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”.  Nelson says this:

“In 1960, the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?

“. . . How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation but in the end he conceded failure. He could say only that it is the will of God.

“Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard. As Wigner wrote, “The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.”

“In other words, as something supernatural, it takes the existence of some kind of a God to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.”

Did that convince you that there’s some kind of a God? I didn’t think so. The ability of math to describe physics simply means that there are physical “laws”: regularities in the universe. (In fact, as I said in FvF, if there weren’t such laws, we couldn’t exist!) As I also said in my book (p. 159):

But if there are such laws, then the usefulness of mathematics is automatically explained. For mathematics is simply a way to handle, describe, and encapsulate regularities. As you might expect, there is in fact no law of physics—no regularity of nature—that has defied mathematical description and analysis. In fact, physicists regularly invent new types of mathematics to handle physical problems, as Newton did with calculus and Heisenberg with matrix mechanics. It’s hard to conceive of any  regularity that couldn’t be handled by mathematics. So “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences,” as physicist Eugene Wigner titled one of his scientific papers, simply reflects the regularities embodied in physical law. The effectiveness of math is evidence not for God, but for regularities in physical law.

Of course then Nelson might say, “But there wouldn’t be physical laws without God! Where else would they come from?” If I were snarky, I’d say “Satan,” but the best answer, and it’s a good one, is simply “We don’t know. Maybe that’s just the way things are.”

  • “The mystery of human consciousness.” Nelson says this

 “How can physical atoms and molecules, for example, create something that exists in a separate domain that has no physical existence, human consciousness?

“It is a mystery that lies beyond science.

“. . . Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies. This is no more scientifically explicable than the mysterious ability of nonphysical mathematical constructions to determine the workings of a separate physical world.

“Until recently, the scientifically unfathomable quality of human consciousness inhibited the very scholarly discussion of the subject. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a leading area of inquiry among philosophers.

“. . . The supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness offers a second strong rational grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural God.”

What hubris to deny that there can never be a scientific explanation for consciousness! It’s clearly a physical phenomenon that relies on the brain and its activity; you can change it with drugs; and you can take it away with ketamine. Doesn’t that suggest that consciousness depends in some way on physicality? Granted, we can’t yet explain the evolutionary and neurological basis of “qualia” (subjective sensations like pain), but surely the thoughts of other animals guide their bodies as well. Does that mean that when a cat jumps in a lap to get warm, it’s evidence for God?

Better here to say, “we don’t yet know” rather than pull a god out of your fundament. For there is no independent evidence for a god, and Nelson is postulating an immensely complex being as a solution for less complex phenomena.

  • Aspects of evolution have eluded understanding, and it appears to be a teleological process. Since this is my field, I’ll quote everything Nelson says:

“Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859 offered a theoretical explanation for a strictly physical mechanism by which the current plant and animal kingdoms might have come into existence, and assumed their current forms, without any necessary role for a God.

In recent years, however, traditional Darwinism – and later revised accounts of neo-Darwinism – have themselves come under increasingly strong scientific challenge. From the 1970s onwards, the Harvard evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould, for example, complained that little evidence could be found in the fossil record of the slow and gradual evolution of species as theorized by Darwin.

In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro explained that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful “sentience” of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves – a concept far removed from the random selection processes of Darwinism.

With these developments bringing standard evolutionary understandings into growing question, the probability of a God existing has increased correspondingly.”

If the fossil record were jerky, and this reflected the true pace of evolution and not just uneven deposition of sediments, that still would cast no doubt on evolution; in fact, Darwin noted this possibility in The Origin. Gould’s “non-Darwinian” theory for the process behind such a pattern, however, was wrong. And even if it were right, it was still a materialistic process involving small populations, genetic drift, developmental constraints, and species selection. Nelson clearly has no understanding of what he’s talking about.

As for Shapiro, he’s hardly a mainstream biologist, and is not an evolutionist. His ideas about “self directed evolution” and “adaptive mutation” have found no purchase in the evolutionary community, and nobody is talking about a higher probability of God. Teleological theories of evolution, adduced by people like Tom Nagel and Jerry Fodor, simply aren’t convincing, as we have no data leading us to such processes.

  • Advances in human thought and technology were sometimes concurrent, and that’s a Big Miracle.  I kid you not; Nelson says this:

“For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.

In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 B.C.), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East – these peoples then having little interaction with one another.”

First of all, the Old Testament is not an advance in human thought. Further, Aristotle was Plato’s student; Buddhism and Confucianism aren’t all that similar to Greek philosophy; and there were interactions among people. Further, civilization had reached the point when there was enough leisure to ponder more abstract questions for all these people. It would be remarkable if there weren’t a transformation in thought prompted by changing human culture, and no surprise if some people, who are after all evolved animals with a shared evolutionary past and genome, happen to hit on the same abstract ideas or moral principles.

But what’s even weirder is what Nelson says about science:

“The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism that drove the process.

That all these astonishing things, verging on miracles, happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence in my view for the conclusion that human beings may well be made ‘in the image of [a] God.’”

Nelson, clearly desperate to find evidence for God (and which God? Zeus? Brahma? Allah?) ignores the social phenomena that gave rise to modern science, nor the fact that science and technology themselves are self-feeding processes, whose practitioners learned from each other. Steve Pinker has explained the rapid rise of Western science in several of his books, adducing phenomena like transportation and the printing press that spread ideas quickly. Here Nelson has produced the craziest evidence for God I’ve ever seen!

  • Humans have a need to worship, be it God or Marx. That itself is evidence for God. But wait. . . Christianity has persisted, and even Marxism is disguised Christianity! That itself proves God.  I kid you not—again. Have a gander:

“Even though Karl Marx, for example, condemned the illusion of religion, his followers, ironically, worshiped Marxism. The American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre thus wrote that for much of the 20th century Marxism was the “historical successor of Christianity,” claiming to show the faithful the one correct path to a new heaven on Earth.

In several of my books, I have explored how Marxism and other such “economic religions” were characteristic of much of the modern age. So Christianity, I would argue, did not disappear as much as it reappeared in many such disguised forms of “secular religion.”

That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is a fifth rational reason for thinking – combined with the other four – that the existence of a God is very probable.”

All this shows is that humans are credulous and have a need to follow leaders; they also are prone to adhering to superstition (as is Nelson!) when they don’t understand something. I bet Nelson would even claim that atheism itself is not only a form of worship, but Christianity in disguise!

Were I to have written Nelson’s article in, say, the 10th century, my five arguments for God would be Lightning, the Black Plague, Epilepsy, Magnetism, and Solar Eclipses. Now we see that as nonsense. But much of Nelson’s argument can already be seen as nonsense, and he should be well aware of claiming that our scientific ignorance of some phenomena constitutes evidence for God.  I suspect without knowing that Nelson is religious. And the evidence is increasing that The Conversation is soft on superstition.

The TLS on Plantinga and me

May 3, 2017 • 9:15 am

I recently published my take on the award of the Templeton Prize to Alvin Plantinga, a “religious philosopher” (read: “theologian”) whose work consists of untenable arguments couched in unreadable prose.  Rupert Shortt, religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), writes about it in a short piece, “Alvin Plantinga and the Templeton Prize“. Google adds that Shortt is “a former Visiting Fellow at Oxford University. His books include Benedict XVI (2005), Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack (2012) and Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop (2014)”. Reader Michael (see below) adds that Shortt studied under Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Shortt’s writings (e.g., here) clearly show that he’s a believer and an apologist.

Although Shortt describes a bit of criticism I gave in Faith Versus Fact about Plantinga’s arguments , he’s clearly sympathetic to Plantinga’s claim that accepting God is a “properly basic belief” that needs no justification. Shortt doesn’t mention Plantinga’s belief that the “properly basic” God is the Christian god rather than Allah or Brahma, nor Plantinga’s idea (taken from Calvin) of the “sensus divinitatis” that God installed in us to enable us to sense him—and that that sensus is broken in atheists and Muslims. Finally, Shortt neglects Plantinga’s theodicy: that innocent people suffer because of Satan.

I’ll quote Shortt’s analysis, adding a few comments of my own.

Plantinga’s positive case for the existence of God is known as the evolutionary argument against naturalism. The basis of his case involves a distinction between adaptive behaviour and true beliefs. Evolution can explain the former, he thinks, but not the latter. His conclusion is that while no conflict exists between Christianity and science, there is a conflict between philosophical naturalism and science, because adherents of naturalism (including atheists) have no firm basis for believing that many of their statements genuinely map reality. The Darwinian view thus fatally undermines itself. If it is true, then the methods that support it are probably unreliable, meaning that we should not believe it . . .

In Faith Versus Fact (pp. 177-183), I argue that evolution can and would be expected to endow us with realistic beliefs about nature, but also that our senses and beliefs can be fooled by many features (indoctrination, optical illusions, “common sense”, and so on). Here’s what Shortt says about that:

In our conversation, I raised an objection expressed by some of Plantinga’s Christian critics, as well as by non-believers. The query centres on his assumption that the generation of reliable belief-producing mechanisms should not itself be part of evolutionary adaptation. This sort of reservation has also been voiced by Jerry Coyne in his recent book Faith Versus Fact: Why science and religion are incompatible. But whether or not one is fully convinced by Plantinga, he nevertheless succeeds in highlighting something disquieting about the naturalistic picture of our human predicament. Various scholars have noted that there is no systematic connection on a naturalistic world view between our possession of equipment that has turned out to be efficacious in the battle for survival, and our putative ability to track the truth in relation to our intellectual intuitions. The underlying point, as the philosopher John Cottingham urges, “is that it seems impossible for any philosopher to characterise our human situation with respect to the truth – the ways in which we have fallen short, the ways in which we are able to correct our mistakes – without implicitly assuming that we are indeed equipped to undertake the search for truth. And it is not clear that this assumption can be underwritten via the resources of evolutionary naturalism”.

If you know anything about evolution, the “evolutionary argument against naturalism” is a nonstarter. As I’ve said repeatedly, one cannot produce an a priori philosophical argument for why empirical observation, consensus, and reason—what I call “science construed broadly”—give us “true beliefs” (I prefer to call them “truths”). But we don’t need to. The reason we use such science is because it works. The theological method of revelation, dogma, scripture, and authority doesn’t work, as it’s provided no consensus on matters even as basic as the existence of God. This can be demonstrated by the difference in the efficacy of faith healing versus science-based medicine. We can make predictions based on science, but not on religious feelings. We can correct our mistakes using science, for that is what science is about, but we cannot correct our mistakes using religious belief. We cannot even approach truth using religious belief.

Shortt goes on:

In rejecting Plantinga’s arguments, Coyne stresses the many abilities that emerge as a by-product of evolution. Yes, he concedes, doing mathematics would not have enhanced the fitness of our pre-literate ancestors. But once the human brain had reached a certain level of complexity, it was already performing many tasks unconnected with evolution. Nor is this a mark of special pleading, Coyne adds. Crows can solve complex puzzles; lyrebirds can imitate chainsaws and car alarms. These will strike some as weak analogies, however, because Plantinga is talking about advanced abilities which float free from the world of contingency.

These are not weak analogies, for many animals can learn and some can reason—evolution, too, has bequeathed them with the ability to survive by forming what Plantinga calls “true beliefs” about the world. Certainly apes can do that very well, but they apparently lack the sensus divinitatis. Why? Yes, our reasoning is more complex, but is it not “true belief” when an antelope gets spooked when it sees or smells a lion? The canard of “advanced abilities” is irrelevant here.

Shortt continues:

It is important to be clear what Plantinga’s case does and doesn’t betoken in his eyes, let alone those of his opponents. As a Calvinist, he’d be the first to insist that reason alone cannot lead one to a living faith in God. Philosophers and theologians, however distinguished, can only take enquirers to the threshold of such faith. Getting beyond this point will involve living into a new way of thinking, not thinking into a new way of living. In other words, God is not be thought of primarily as an unmoved mover or first cause (despite being so, from a monotheistic standpoint), but rather as an intimate presence in the life of the believer responding to a gift from beyond his or her imagining.

What Shortt is saying here is that we must rely on our “internal feelings” to divine that there is indeed a god—the Christian god.  That is his “new way of thinking”, but it’s not new: it’s called “delusion” by some, “wish thinking” by others, and “confirmation bias” by still others. The plain truth is that “sensing an intimate presence in our lives” is no evidence that that presence exists at all, much less as the omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient Abrahamic God.  All it shows is that you feel something.

And, by the way, what gives Shortt the authority to tell anyone how to conceive of God? The big advantage for him is to claim that, like Plantinga, believing in the existence of a divine being need not depend on evidence, but merely on our gut feelings. Well, isn’t that convenient? Sadly, what we feel inside has never been good evidence for the existence of what lies outside. That is what believers and religious philosophers obstinately refuse to see.

Reader Michael sent me his own take on the TLS piece, which I reproduce with his permission:

Bloody awful defence of Plantinga’s arguments by Rupert Shortt [Religion Editor at the TLS]. Shortt studied under Rowan Williams and advocates a ‘sophisticated’ and unfalsifiable view of a non-intervening God in his book God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity [a fluffy 96-page book I read in an hour for free in a Christian book shop last year].

An example of Shortt logic from the TLS article [apparently this is a common line among religious philosophers!]:

“…but Plantinga is bullish, pointing out, for example, that we take it wholly for granted that other minds exist apart from our own, even though this belief, while also “basic”, cannot be demonstrated beyond doubt. The same applies to belief in the past. We can play intellectual games suggesting that the world was created five minutes ago, along with all its ancient mountain ranges and so forth.”

What an absurd defence! If one wishes to take that line, then the endeavours of reasoning, philosophy, science or even getting up in the morning are futile! It is obvious that we must have something to stand on [first principles or axioms] that have to be taken on ‘faith’.

I think it is rank dishonesty to assign god the property of being ‘properly basic’, thus swerving around the need to show god is in the world/real.

Michael is absolutely right, except that we needn’t take things like reasoning on faith. We use reason because it works. And science isn’t really based on axioms: it’s not math. It’s based on a method that, refined over time, leads us to widely accepted facts about the universe: the facts that we can rely on to do things like establish the genealogy of species, cure disease, and land probes on comets. You can’t accomplish such things through prayer.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

Alexander Van der Bellen can wear his own damn hijab

April 30, 2017 • 12:15 pm

by Grania Spingies

Alexander Van der Bellen

Racism and bigotry is an ugly thing, it’s inexcusable and any form of assault or attack ought to be vigorously prosecuted in the criminal courts, and the victim or target of the assault should also bring a civil suit for damages against the perpetrator.

It’s a serious problem and it requires serious attempts to resolve. Sometimes public gestures may be effective. In the Netherlands for example, recently Dutch politicians chose to hold hands in public to protest against homophobia.

Whether these sorts of demonstrations actually have the desired effect is unclear, but we can at least accept that these gestures and the participants are well-meaning and if nothing else deliver the message that bigotry is not going to be tolerated by society any more.

So when the Austrian president says he wishes to confront racism in his own country, that is to be commended. Although he says “It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants” (gee, thanks) he then continues:

“…if this real and rampant Islamophobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all – out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”

How about no. You don’t combat bigotry by promoting a garment of paternalistic misogyny – or in this case by promoting its use by a group you neatly exempt yourself from: women. The hijab is in any case not actually a quintessential defining symbol of being Muslim. Millions of Muslim women around the world don’t wear the hijab. If it were essential to Muslim identity, then there would be no need or desire for groups like My Stealthy Freedom created by Muslim women who protest the hijab’s enforcement by people unnaturally obsessed with erasing the female body  – and the fetishisation of the garment by well-meaning but woefully ignorant Westerners.

Here’s a video from an Australian cleric telling us not only about the hijab but also what kind of hijab and clothing is more suitable and acceptable for women to wear (his own opinion, of course). The hijab is all about concealment of the female hair and body and displays of modesty for reasons of piety and purity as dictated by male leaders. Note the “we” in this video is men who get to tell their “sisters” what they want them to wear. Is this really the banner you want to march under?

If President Van der Bellen really wants to promote a right to dress how you want and combat racism against Muslims, then he can wear the hijab. After all, if the men of Iran can do it to protest the enforced hijab in their own country, then so can the president of a free, liberal European country where no-one faces criminal sanction for the clothes they wear.


An imam calls Reza Aslan “no true Muslim”

March 3, 2017 • 9:30 am

Well, I’ll be—get a load of this. Marc Manly is an American “imam at large” who seems to have considerable Islamic cred:

The last fifteen years has seen me involved in a number of ways in the Muslim community. In my early twenties, I was asked to teach Islamic studies along side Shaykh ‘Ali Sulaiman ‘Ali, of the ALIM Program, at Crescent Academy in Canton, Michigan. Since then, I have worked as a Muslim educator in subjects ranging from Arabic language, philosophy, and creed, to spirituality and self-purification. During my tenure at the University of Pennsylvania I teamed up with Adnan Zulficar, the Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community at the University of Pennsylvania, to create and teach the Islamic Literacy Series. Notes and audio recordings can be found here.

In 2008, I completed an ijazah (license to teach/preach) with Imam Anwar Muhaimin of the Quba Institute, in Philadelphia, in the area of khutbah. Since then, I have been working as a khatib, delivering Friday sermons at a variety of locations in and around the greater Philadelphia area. In addition, I have spoken at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Hillel, Charter School, and Yale University just to name a few venues.

In August of 2011, it was my great pleasure to be appointed to the position of Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania. Here, I worked alongside Revered Charles “Chaz” Howard in serving Muslims at Penn as well as the broader University community. 2012 also saw the pilot launch of a Muslim chaplain position at Drexel University. Both positions allowed me a wonderful learning opportunity and a chance to serve my faith community. I am grateful for the experience. In addition to my religious duties I concurrently worked full-time at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, in the IT and instruction technology fields.

So it’s particularly satisfying to see Manly pronounce the unctuous Reza Aslan, Grand Mufti of Muslim Apologetics, someone whose Islamic beliefs are not recognizable. To Manly, Aslan is “no true Muslim.” In that way Aslan is like the members of ISIS!

A few days ago, Aslan wrote a piece for CNN, “Why I am a Muslim,” It’s about as saccharine as you’d expect. Always the careerist, he touts his new CNN show “Believer“, but he also says stuff like this:

Can you have faith without religion? Of course! But as the Buddha said, if you want to strike water, you don’t dig six 1-foot wells; you dig one 6-foot well. In other words, if you want to have a deep and meaningful faith experience, it helps — though it is by no means necessary — to have a language with which to do so.

So then, pick a well.

My well is Islam, and in particular, the Sufi tradition. Let me be clear, I am Muslim not because I think Islam is “truer” than other religions (it isn’t), but because Islam provides me with the “language” I feel most comfortable with in expressing my faith. It provides me with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that I find useful in making sense of the universe and my place in it.

In other words, he just likes the symbols and metaphors of Islam better than those of, say, Catholicism. Fine. But let Aslan recite that litany from the steps of the Masjid al Haram in Saudi Arabia. How long would he last before he was thrashed within an inch of his life? Metaphors, indeed! (And Sufis have long been persecuted by other Muslims.)

But he not only neglects to tell us why the symbols of Islam resonate with him the most, but then has the temerity to say that, at bottom, all religions are the same: “My goal — as a scholar, as a person of faith, and now as the host of Believer — is to be the linguist, to demonstrate that, while we may speak in different religions, we are, more often than not, often expressing the same faith.”

Well that might get Aslan not just beaten, but beheaded. No True Muslim would say that their faith is the same as that of Christians, Jews, or Hindus! How could it be? If you see Jesus as the savior, Islam damns you while Christianity lauds you. And, according to the Qur’an, you’re an infidel and should be killed. The whole story behind and the ethics undergirding different faiths—not just Islam and Christianity—diverge among religions. Whatever you can say of them, they are not the same. Of course different faiths recognize their differences, which explains the continuing violence between them: Sunni against Shia, Sunni against Ahmadi, Muslims against Sufis, Christians and Hindus, Hindus against Muslims—the list goes on forever.

And Manly recognizes these differences, saying this:

What’s most amusing about Aslan is that I can find nothing recognizable about his Islam. It’s not that it’s totally foreign, it’s more that it’s totally absent.

The first curiosity is his almost complete lack of discourse about the Prophet. More akin to a deist, Aslan talks at length about God but is awkwardly silent about the man that God revealed the codified form of Islam we know, as espoused in the Qur’an. Why is that? It seems Aslan, and those pundits like him, seem more comfortable endulging [sic] their flights of fancy about this or that abstract or esoteric theological point versus dealing with “the Walking Qur’an”: the man who was not only the recipient of Revelation, but who aslo [sic] clarified its meanings, etc. Instead, the Prophet seems to be — as far as Aslan is concerned — a mere envelope, as it were, in relation to revelation which Aslan does not, by his own account, believe the Qur’an to be true in its entirety (he rejects the story of Jesus in the Qur’an where he was not crucified let alone his outright rejection of all hadith as made up). So the question that begs answering is: By what standard is Reza Aslan Muslim? It seems rather that it’s an Islam which requires nothing of the believer other than what happens to stir his (or her) desires. Oddly enough this is the same metric by which the likes of Aslan will condone homosexuality as a lawful identity and pursuit but will in turn impugn a Muslim man for wanting to take another wife (polygyny), which is clearly outlined in the Qur’an as permissible, even if he wanted to do so only for passions or identity (heterosexual).

And indeed, you can make a far better case that Aslan espouses a perverted form of Islam than does ISIS. ISIS, after all, is following the literal words of the Qur’an, while Aslan, saying they’re mere metaphors, is almost completely abandoning the tenets of Islam—tenets that require literalism. He’s a man of all faiths, who just happens to find the label of Muslim the most expressive of his tastes. But Islam is not a taste to Muslims: it is the Final Faith, the Last Word of Allah. Most Muslims, I suspect, would see Aslan as an apostate or even an infidel.

It’s amusing to see Aslan outed in this way, the same way apologists like him go after ISIS for not adhering to “true Islam.” I wonder if Manly can formally declare him an infidel or apostate. (Aware of the possible consequences of such a fatwa, I hasten to add that I wish no harm to Aslan—just a nonviolent and titular declaration that he’s a nonbeliever.)

I have no use for Aslan, for he dissimulates in the service of his ambition, knowing full well that people want to see Islam as a religion of peace, and that liberals like nothing better than hearing that all religions are, at bottom, the same. (Well, in one sense they are: they all depend on faith—on the assertion of claims about reality with no evidence behind them.) No thinking person should admire Aslan, for he distorts reality to feed people’s confirmation bias—and to make himself famous. In fact, admiration of Aslan is a sign of soft-headedness.

I am blocked, and I burst with pride!

h/t: Orli