By Lance Luther, on behalf of C.R.A.S.S. and C.A.A.C.A.
My collar comes off to Reza Aslan, our favorite apologist, for his brilliant column in Salon last month in which yet again he tells those atheists what is and isn’t atheism for them (no need to thank him, folks! Just doing his job!) while also putting down the defined-by-Aslan “New Atheists” for being what Aslan defines them to be while all the while hawking his book and doing it with one hand tied behind his back! Drum-rolls please! A truly inspiring performance!
Before beginning his deconstruction of atheism, he showed everybody a scroll, and allowed one end to drop to the floor where it then rolled halfway to Montana while it listed his vague credentials. I just want to say here that I heartily agree from the bottom of my soul that a Creative Writing Professor is most certainly qualified to speak on religious books. Stop picking on him for that! Besides, he has a book to sell.
Reza want us to believe that atheism and anti-theism are two separate things, and furthermore, he has a book to sell. Well, duh. Even I don’t think that my colleagues are that stupid. But never mind that, what he really wants you to know is that the ‘New Atheists’ (of whom he only knows two) aren’t really atheists, and it takes a Muslim who preaches down to Christians about Jesus (with the old ‘radical’ chestnut, no less) in a book (Buy it! Buy it!) to tell them that. But don’t worry, he’s qualified to speak! He’s a ‘scholar of religion*’. He’ll tell you that if you forget, or even if you don’t. If you buy his book, you can read it over and over again on the inside jacket. You won’t figure out which of his credentials are relevant, but you can enjoy them forever.
No, those ‘New Atheists’ are really just nasty-‘ole ‘anti-theist’s’; those who are actually opposed to religion. They can’t be both, mind you! And nobody seems to remember poor Daniel Dennent, who is certainly considered a ‘New Atheist’ but hey! He doesn’t fit the ‘insult-to-sell’ marketing model (I’m so gosh-durned jealous of that idea!). Dennent is just so nice about his criticisms, and a LOT harder to quote-mine, and besides, understanding him is too much like work.
In an astounding masterpiece of weasel words, Aslan calls anti-theism a ‘historically-new phenomena’, then tells us how the word atheism was taken from the ancient Greek ‘a-theos’ (without gods), and rightly points out that the word was a pejorative. He says the term “doesn’t necessarily” (magically causing at least half the word’s definition to disappear in a puff of weasel-fur) mean people who out-right rejected gods, but was used for people who were simply “unaware of” gods or who simply “acted as though the gods didn’t exist”. Of course, we all know the term was predominantly meant for people who actively rejected the gods and rejected the belief in their interference in the affairs of men. You know, like ‘anti-theist’s’ do! When they did so in public (and sometimes not even then), the crime of atheism was punishable by death. The sources we get this from are even predominantly Christian! Even I don’t try this argument with atheists; they are too well-read. Aslan’s willingness to insert boot-in-mouth is sheer bravado, lack of basic intelligence, or something that speaks volumes about Aslan’s opinion of his readership’s intelligence and level of literacy.
As we all know, Aslan was the one who revived the years-old ‘nuclear war meme’ on poor old heathen Sam Harris, long after it was debunked and everyone else had moved on to Richard Dawkin’s tweets (Quick primer: Harris posed a hypothetical terrorist situation to illustrate the dangers of religious fanatics getting their hands on modern WMD, and the type of response other nations may find themselves forced into. The passage was quote-mined out of context worse than archaeological artifacts dug up in Israel). The column he addressed this in accompanied the quote with a photoshopped image designed to make Harris look frightening and the very model of bigotry. You know, like this:
It also included a plea to buy Aslan’s book, we’re fairly certain, but just to be clear; Aslan’s preferred method of dealing with people who are in the grips of religious fanaticism is to kill them without mercy. At least according to the rules that he plays by. But back to the atheists, who clearly need Reza Aslan and his big dic…um, big credentials (whatever the hell they are. Nobody’s been able to make sense of them) to explain atheism to them.
Aslan would have us believe that, thank’s to the evil mechanisms of the ‘New Atheists’ (what a wonderful way to avoid lobbing accusations upon individuals. Saves on word count as well. Typing “Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins” all the time must be exhausting and Macros are complicated. We all know Aslan would NEVER actually read something he was involving himself with; like a Microsoft Word manual or The End of Faith) atheism has become no better than the fundamentalists they decry. Aslan points out that religion is “embedded in culture” so therefore, criticizing any component of religion, or even religion itself, is automatic bigotry (in other words, “don’t worry folks, it only “lacks nuance’ when the other side does it!”)
“In seeking to replace religion with secularism (sic) and faith with science (sic), the New Atheists have, perhaps inadvertently, launched a movement with far too many similarities to the ones they so radically oppose (sic)…Like religious fundamentalism (sic), New Atheism is primarily a reactionary phenomenon, one that responds to religion with the same venomous ire (sic) with which religious fundamentalists respond to atheism.”
Aslan has hit the nail right on the head! ‘New Atheists’ really do possess the exact same “venomous ire” as religious fundamentalists! Why in this very week, while Boko Haram or one of its adoring off-shoots kidnapped 100 schoolchildren to sell into sexual slavery to the type of Muslims who believe that the Koran justifies this sort of thing (and anyone else with the cash) and the Pakistan Taliban murdered 146 people, almost entirely children, in their ongoing feud to make their Islam top-dog in the region, atheists violently threw word-grenades at their own families, at holiday celebrations, no less, while muzzling their family’s free-speech rights (as we reported in a recent post about an article by Fred Silverman), and worse, somebody left Richard Dawkins alone in a room with access to a Twitter feed again. Its been a brutal month for anti-theist fundamentalism that’s for sure, and the world should definitely take note of the difference between them and religious fundamentalists.
One thing Aslan really hates is when atheists generalize about a problem and claim that what should be properly defined as a ‘social’ or ‘political’ problem is really a religious ones. Take female genital mutilation (FGM). Atheists are pretty well-known for condemning this practice and blaming it on Islam. Aslan insists that Genital mutilation is not an Islamic problem; that “It’s a Central African problem” (which is pretty bigoted in itself, since the problem is quite widespread out of Africa). He rolls out a pretty impressive-sounding suite of statistics to back himself up with as well, and claims that many of the places that practice this barbarism are actually progressive bastions of equal rights for women with just a few ‘bad eggs’. Except that his words are all weasel-words, half truths or even outright falsehoods.
Fortunately, we had Heather Hastie to parse Aslan’s apologetics for us. Her blog, ‘Heather’s Homilies’ masterfully demonstrated that Aslan may be “…entitled to his own opinion of course, but he’s not entitled to his own facts.” Not only is FGM a predominately Islamic practice nowadays–whatever its original cultural origins, but also nations like Indonesia and Malaysia are not the shining beacons of female equality that Aslan gushes forth about (although they have made great strides). The article can be read here.
The point isn’t to pick on Muslims, the point is that if we don’t honestly place condemnation where condemnation is due (and yes, non-Muslim Africans share some of the blame), there is no hope to bringing an end to such practices, so that my missionaries can move in.
Aslan writes that New Atheism is ‘reactionary’ (breathtakingly ballet-dancing right over the irony of a religious apologist saying that), as if the ‘New Fundamentalism’ isn’t. We here at C.A.A.C.A. are simply awestruck by the power of this Lv. 80 High-Wizard of Creeping Agnosticism, but nonetheless, we must conquer our fear and awe and work to bring him down.
Finally (thank God), Aslan writes that if you are an anti-theist:
“…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?”
I don’t know, maybe the lengths people went to in order to establish the Enlightenment and separate Church and State? Maybe the lengths Gandhi and his followers went to in order to realize their goals? Maybe the methods that Many Arabs and Muslims resorted to in order to bring about the Arab Spring? Maybe the lengths that Rev. Martin Luther King jr. went to for desegregation and the Rights of minorities? The ongoing struggle to reform the Catholic Church when it comes to the institutionalized protection of pedophile priests? The revolution against the British occupation of Egypt? Non-violent resistance (rare as it is) to Israeli construction of Jewish settlements and of the West Bank Barrier? The non-violent downfall of Apartheid in South Africa? Non violent resistance to the draft and to war during the Vietnam war? Non-violent resistance in Ireland (yes it has been a large part of Ireland’s often-turbulent history). The mostly-non violent downfall of the Soviet Union? All of the non violent methods that secular and moderate Muslims are resorting to all over the world to revolutionize their faith? etc…etc…
Nah, anyone Aslan doesn’t like would just blow things up and murder people. But buy his book, please. And read his credentials.
*-Copyright 2012, Reza Aslan