Reza Aslan and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Article

Reza Aslan — a guy I normally liked watching when he appeared on The Daily Show and The Rachel Maddow Show — has a horrible piece up at the Washington Post website regurgitating every nasty atheist stereotype you can think of.

He starts off with a plain old mistake when he explains the London Atheist Bus Campaign:

… a friend informed me that the driving force behind the London bus ads was none other than the dean of the so-called “new atheists” — Darwin’s Rottweiler, himself — Richard Dawkins. If you are wondering what an esteemed evolutionary biologist and respected Oxford University professor is doing placing billboards around London proselytizing atheism, you are not alone.

Dawkins wasn’t the driving force. Columnist Ariane Sherine was. Blogger Jon Worth was. The British Humanist Association was.

Dawkins gave some seed money toward it and supported the campaign, but he wasn’t the mastermind.

Aslan didn’t do his research.

And that’s just the first paragraph.

Let’s continue:

The new atheists have their own special interest groups and ad campaigns. They even have their own holiday (International Blasphemy Day).

We have our own holiday?!

More like we have a popular Facebook group.

It’s not like we’re taking a day off work to get together and say, “Fuck Allah.”

Here’s the worst part:

It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism — an atheist fundamentalism. The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.

Oh boy… the “atheist fundamentalist” argument. As soon as someone uses that phrase (in a serious way), you should tune them out immediately because nothing they say afterwards will be credible.

I’ve said variations of this before but here you go:

When I think of Muslim fundamentalists, violent images come to mind.

When I think of Christian fundamentalists, I think of ignorant people who cling to literal interpretations of their Bibles instead of opening their eyes to reality.

When I think of “atheist fundamentalists,” I think of books.

There’s no comparison.

We’re not in “sole possession of truth” but we do think science is the best method to discover it. Does Aslan think truth is found in a holy book?

Are we lacking tolerance? Of course not. You don’t see us blowing up churches or beating up Muslims. We’re vocal about our opposition to irrational thinking. That is all.

Dawkins compares Creationists to Holocaust deniers because both groups deny an obvious reality. That has nothing to do with tolerance.

Are we insistent “on a literalist reading of scripture”? If so, it’s because the churches stress it. Nearly half of our country believes that men and women were created in our present form less than 10,000 years ago. That’s appalling and idiotic.

We’re thankful that many Christians don’t take their scripture literally. Yet even they will insist that there’s literal truth in the stories of Jesus’ life.

Do we feel “oppressed and marginalized”? Damn right, we do. We’re the most distrusted, least electable group of people in the country.

Aslan then spends 500 words complaining that we atheists just don’t understand religion. From what I can tell, he’s more interested in our religious literacy than he is with any sense of whether or not there’s any truth to what different faiths believe.

I think there’s value in both religious literacy and pointing out that these faiths are misguided and dangerous. There’s a reason to learn about Greek mythology because it gives us insight into how those people thought about the world. There’s a reason to study Christianity because it’s the lens through which so many people (incorrectly) view the world.

But no New Atheist is against that. We’re against the notion that we should take their mythologies as truth. We’re against people taking those faulty beliefs and transforming them into public policy. They’re made up stories and we want people to acknowledge that.

The new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence; if one is to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name then one must also blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, communism for Stalinism, even science for eugenics. The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid–the stock response of any absolutist.

*facepalm*

The practice of science is not to blame for the promotion of eugenics. Communism isn’t to blame for Stalinism. Individuals distort ideas into their own agendas all the time.

But some holy books directly call for the slaughter of dissenters. There are people who take those writings seriously. That should be frightening to every single person.

As Dawkins has said before, religion isn’t the root of all evil, but it’s to blame for quite a bit of it.

This is an irresponsible piece written by a person who knows nothing about the subject he’s writing about.

Refute him, ignore him, but don’t take him seriously anymore.

  • Greg

    Cue the fundie trolls that have recently been appearing on this site…

    Have you never seen Reza Aslan in a debate on YT, Hemant? This is the kind of stuff he comes out with.

    What is particularly frightening about people like this guy, is they get refuted constantly, and they don’t give a damn, they just continue to spout the same nonsense.

    And in the case of most apologists, it seems, they do it for a living: if that doesn’t tell you they don’t care about facts or logic nothing will. They’re really likely to change their mind about something if it means they lose their income, aren’t they?

    Incidentally – we have our own holiday?

  • Karen

    Your telling people what to think of Reza Aslan because of an opinion piece that you disagree with? That’s not very friendly :) .

    I think there is truth in anything and whatever you think of Aslan, there are some serious problems in the so-called “New Atheism” that is actually adapting qualities of fundamentalism. My husband and I have been noticing it for quite some time and have been backing off of it so as not to be associated with it.

    Once a system of belief is established, this is the problem. That’s why we never discuss our beliefs, mainly because we don’t “believe” in things, we either know or don’t know and leave it at that.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    what some clueless guy chooses to write is, to me, irrelevant and indifferent.

    what the washington post chooses to pay someone for is fascinating. this man got paid for this crap.

  • Azzere

    When he talks about an ‘insistence on a literalist reading of scripture’, I wonder how he thinks science should be read, metaphorically??

  • Samiimas

    The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid–the stock response of any absolutist.

    Yes or no: If someone told in complete seriousness that they thought Zeus, Mithras or whatever the hell scientology worships was real would you think they were stupid and/or insane?

    I’ve never gotten an answer to that question that was remotely believable. Half the time it’s because I’ve seen that person talking about scientologists being deluded morons many times before that.

  • Frink

    Sheesh, and here I thought Mark Williams’ letter couldn’t be topped. Can you imagine if Williams used only half the number of stereotypes Mr. Aslan invoked? I guess he’s lucky nobody gives a damn what happens to us big bad atheists.

    Also disheartening is that I respected the author and feel more than a bit betrayed. I hope the red meat for his religious readership was worth it.

    As for me, I’m done with the Washington Post. After the Dave Weigel incident and Aslan’s ignorant screed, forget it. That place is becoming woo-ville.

  • Richard P.

    Religious smoke and mirrors. If the facts don’t work, ignore them and make up your own.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Karen,

    “I think there is truth in anything”

    Really? Sounds like hippified New Age bullshit. Show me. Prove it.

    You state that Hemant is:

    “telling people what to think of Reza Aslan”.

    Show me where he tells his readers what to think.

  • http://circlingfifty.blogspot.com/ Cass_m

    Karen said

    I think there is truth in anything and whatever you think of Aslan, there are some serious problems in the so-called “New Atheism” that is actually adapting qualities of fundamentalism. My husband and I have been noticing it for quite some time and have been backing off of it so as not to be associated with it.

    What are the serious problems with “New Atheism”? Verbally admitting a belief there is no personal god? Getting irate on blogs about being repeatedly misrepresented? Not wanting to be associated with ugly religious acts* and actually saying so? Requesting details on assertions?

    In RL I’ve found very little reason to even let people know what I believe since I do not live in the US where one gets pummeled by religionists who demands that you be like them. People don’t notice (or care) that I give a humanist response to their religious comments and that’s the way it should be IMHO.

    *pedophile priests, fundamentalists killing doctors, 9/11, rampant misogyny.

  • Hitch

    See that’s the worrisome thing. He is supposedly the very progressive wing of modern westernized Islam.

    The most open-minded version.

    I think I’m developing a new favorite stereotype about atheists, specifically new atheists.

    “The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.”

    I hear this one a lot. What is so very funny about it is that they at the same time show a complete lack of understanding of non-religious skepticism, it is doubtful that they have even read the books they claim to lack literacy and so forth.

    But back to my main point, this isn’t good at all. Islam needs moderate pluralistic voices very badly. If Reza cannot get himself into the place how can we expect less western voices to do it? Heck Reza is educated enough to have at least been exposed to enlightenment thinkers.

    Very worrying.

  • Hitch

    @Karen, there is still a serious problem that atheists simply expression their world view “there probably is no god” leads to so-called moderate believers to produce stereotypes.

    Most people are not even aware that atheists are the last sigmatized group that is not even recognized as “out”.

    Do you for example know that even before the New Atheists were around, the distrust level against atheists (yes the “friendly” type) beat all other stigmatized groups, including Muslims, gays, African Americans and this was even true through the height of Islamophobia after 9/11?

    No, Reza Aslan kicks a benign coming out campaign as horrible. He is ignorant, but a man of his level of education should know better, that plainly makes him an outright bigot.

    It is no better than telling a woman to be quiet, a gay person to be quiet, an African American to be quiet.

    But we have seen this before.

    Second wave feminists were demonized as aggressive and fundamentalist. Black rights movement, gay pride movement and on and on.

    The bigots will extremize the other. That’s what this is. Nothing more. And yes Reza Aslan deserves to hear loud and clear what he is doing for writing such a piece, and Hemant is not telling us how to think, thank you very much. I understand full well without him when I’m unfairly negatively stereotyped.

    Reza, an expert on Islam could actually help mitigate the persecution of atheists in the Maldives and other places. That would be a humane piece to write. But no, let’s bash some atheists, a community who can be ostracized (and in the worst of communities killed) for being honest about how they think.

    Yes, I’m upset.

  • Trace

    “We have our own holiday?!”

    ….so that’s why I have not seen you at the Atheist Pride Parade….ignorance is no excuse.

    Oh, and I think that guy needs to stop listening to Father Morris.

  • Don

    Well, I saw a lot of myself in what he said, and I’m fine with it…..lol. I have no plans to “tone it down” either. Sometimes I wonder if some of the comments from “atheists” aren’t really religious trolls, hoping to trick us real atheists into backing down a bit. But, most of the time it’s probably real atheists who truly don’t want to offend anyone. Let the religious fools spout their nonsense, and I’ll continue to make sense….. let the chips fall where they may.

  • tim

    The new atheists have their own special interest groups and ad campaigns.

    Individuals like Aslan won’t be happy until all Atheists go back into the closet, shut up, and behave like good little religious folks.

    The simple fact that I have a picture of myself and my boyfriend on my desk at work is enough for some people to say I’m shoving my sexuality down their throats.

  • JD

    Telling people their beliefs are bunk isn’t “fundamentalist”, despite what Reza or anyone says. Many people repeating that refrain doesn’t make it true, it’s a talking point now, and it’s dishonest and it might even be libelous. If it was true, then just about everyone except the universalists are fundamentalists.

    People organize unofficial “days” all the time. Otherwise, would that that mean “Pi” day (3/14) was a holiday of the Mathematics religion?

    I agree that religion doesn’t protect us from extremism, and that religion is often used to justify said extremism because the religious texts *demand* it. Honor killings anyone? Stonings? Certain religions say it’s OK to kill non-believers, or have lower penalties for their murder than they would get for a believer. Please tell me where similarly reprehensible behavior is being promoted by Dawkins, Harris & Hitchens.

    This sort of stereotyping is exactly why we need to push back.

  • Pete

    Don said

    Sometimes I wonder if some of the comments from “atheists” aren’t really religious trolls, hoping to trick us real atheists into backing down a bit. But, most of the time it’s probably real atheists who truly don’t want to offend anyone.

    Even if they are atheist it seems quite obvious these folks dont have the luck of having West Bro Baptist background anyway.And likely they wont have been waiting on Popes to hurry up and own up to atrocity by sexual abusive priest.Likely they wont be children refused blood transfusion,or any of those very many kids still abused in faith groups by vivid threats of hell and eternal damnation,or be African children hunted and killed accused of witchcraft.

    For if they was, they might likely see things slightly differently.

  • http://religionandmore.wordpress.com Chris

    The most depressing thing for me is that this article is “adapted from the book Religion and the New Atheism” a book I have just requested to review for an academic journal. I know this is but one article in the book, which features some quite eminent and sound scholars, but it doesn’t say much for the quality of the rest of the work!

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Having actually been a fundamentalist, it irks me to no end to see people describe the ‘new’ atheists as fundamentalist. There’s a world of difference here.

  • http://mysistersfarmhouse.com Rechelle

    I don’t know much about this guy, but what I have seen of him, I would never have expected this response. Perhaps he feels it necessary to live up to the moniker ‘Aslan’? Great post.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    What’s so bad about voluntary or socially imposed eugenics?

  • Epistaxis

    Reza Aslan — a guy I normally liked watching

    There’s your problem. Whenever I watch him, I feel this urge to disagree even though I don’t have any evidence to refute him, because he just sounds like he’s making stuff up.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leilani

    I think the main reason why a lot of people become Atheists is because they DO understand religion.

    I don’t know who his guy is, nor do I really care, but it sounds like he has a bee in his bonnet.

    He is too immature or ignorant to take on valid points and create an actual argument.

    I don’t know what his personal beliefs are, but to claim we have an actual holiday is ridiculous. Especially such a lame one. We don’t even believe in blasphemy. What a dumb ass.

    Plus, there isn’t anything wrong with being sick and tired of being treated poorly because we reject a silly claim with no proof backing it up.

    Most of us are fine with others having personal beliefs that differ from our own. Even Atheists don’t ALL agree on everything. We just don’t want voodoo being written into laws that govern us.

    This guy and his asshattery astounds me. Hopefully not too many people take his twatwaffle ‘argument’ seriously.

  • Citizen Z

    the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers)

    This statement of Aslan’s deserves more attention, because it makes little sense. What is his example of Dawkins’ intolerance of one group? He compared them to another group. Putting aside the fact for a moment that Dawkins didn’t burn down their houses, lead a pogram against them, burn an atheist symbol on their front lawn, put them on the rack, or prevent them from legally getting married*, what does Aslan think of Holocaust Deniers?

    If they should be tolerated, then why is merely using the name of their group an example of intolerance?
    If they should not be tolerated, then hy should creationists be tolerated and not Holocaust Deniers? Why are creationists privileged? In fact, why are creationists more privileged than atheists? Aslan himself would be guilty of intolerance:

    Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers. Aslan has compared atheists to fundamentalists.

    *All examples of historical Christian intolerance, some more recent than others.

  • Nikki Bluue

    Pete said

    Even if they are atheist it seems quite obvious these folks dont have the luck of having West Bro Baptist background anyway.And likely they wont have been waiting on Popes to hurry up and own up to atrocity by sexual abusive priest.Likely they wont be children refused blood transfusion,or any of those very many kids still abused in faith groups by vivid threats of hell and eternal damnation,or be African children hunted and killed accused of witchcraft.

    For if they was, they might likely see things slightly differently

    Tad off-topic.

    Pete has an excellent point. I grew up in a non-religious background, my switch to atheism was gradual. Despite this ‘ease’, my atheism is just as ‘real’ as those who had this background. I do notice it in other atheists who are more ‘aggressive’ in their approach that they did have this past experience, and some who are more ‘softer’ in their approaches did not have much, if any, religious background. This is simply my observation, and I know this is not always so. Atheists who did not have religious background are just as ‘atheist’ as those who did. :-) Peace.

  • Citizen Z

    Communism isn’t to blame for Stalinism.

    I disagree with that entirely, based partly on my previous comment. Some voluntary groups/creeds are just jackassery.

  • matt

    Aslan is an ignorant ass and this is typical of him. I’ve heard him say the same thing on Real Time more than once.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’ll just reiterate my comment from the original article:

    Mr Aslan sums up ‘New Atheism’:

    The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers)

    And then goes on to say:

    Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.

    Quite ironic. The first quote demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of Dawkins et al, and he claims them to be illiterate regarding religion?

    I’m not sure how to be tolerant of young earth creationism (which is actually what Dawkins compares to Holocaust denial). That’s kind of like being tolerant of the flat earth theory, or the geocentric universe theory. Believe it if you want, but I’m not going to bare false witness and say “well, you could be right”. If the earth is ~6K years old, then God’s name is ‘Loki’.

    Guess I can take “No god but God” off my reading list. If your understanding of atheism is that flawed, I’m suddenly no longer interested.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Citizen Z,
    “Stalinism” was one of many possible consequences of Marxism-Leninism, but not necessarily a consequence of generic communism. Is that what you meant? If not, can you explain?

  • jemand

    I’m going to go off on a tangent here. I know on this blog there have been articles about how few women are in skepticism and how female leaders are hard to find. This article shows that it may not be all our (atheists) fault. The religionists which have a vested interest in showing us to be fundamentalists, opposite any given religions group, rather than ground roots, individualistic people, are attributing to Dawkins and other people of their choosing actions and ideas that belonged to other people– sometimes women and minorities.

    It’s not exactly our fault that religionists run almost all of their groups with a nearly exclusively male and relatively insular leadership. When they are trying to tar us with that brush, they force our movement into that mold and ignore any independent efforts and efforts of women or people who don’t fit their opinion of us as a movement similar to fundamentalists.

    I do think the perception of women as not having as much a place in skepticism is problematic, or imbalances at skeptical meetings and such may point to areas we should address if we wish to grow faster, BUT, I think a lot of this may be pressed on our movement from outside. Ignoring women who started big movements, and instead attributing them to Dawkins, because the mainstream media wants to make the atheist movement the equivalent of the vatican or a bunch of mullahs.

  • http://www.jono46.wordpress.com Jono

    Someone has got to stop throwing rocks.

  • ckitching

    Well, he missed mentioning Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the Khmer Rouge all being atheists. He neglected the old chestnut about us being angry at god, or wanting to live unrestricted immoral lives. He didn’t mention our penchant for killing babies (especially those of Abrahamic faiths) and eating them. So, he falls a little short of the “regurgitating every nasty atheist stereotype you can think of” milestone. He did come very close, though. I expect a better effort next time.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    I’m glad so many people are posting on what was an insufferable piece.

    Particularly weak is this argument that, unless one is an expert in religion or theology, one is ill-equipped to critique the stupidities of religion. (Aslan’s little quip, which he loves to make, is that he’s not a neuroscientist, so he doesn’t opine on neuroscience—a clear jab at Sam Harris, who is well-positioned to critique religion precisely because he is a PhD in neuroscience!) Notice that Aslan, and the others who take this view, don’t say the same thing about the apologists. You won’t see Aslan telling John Lennox to shut the hell up because he’s not a theologian! And what about John Meacham and Sally Quinn—the folks who write the “On Faith” blog on which Aslan’s piece was posted—neither of whom boast any formal training in religion or theology? Will Aslan tell them to shut-the-F-up, that they lack the expertise to be weighing in on such complex matters of “faith”? Of course not. Anyone who wishes to defend religion can say whatever they like, regardless of whether or not they are “experts.” What a hypocrite! (This is quite apart form the fact that, of course, the new atheists are mostly critiquing the idea of religion and theology to begin with, not the details of it. Dawkins response to this critique is brilliant: He says it’s like pointing out that the emporer has no clothes, and being told that unless you are an expert in the fine fabrics of the emporer, unless you have taken great pains to study the finer points of the emporers garments in great detail, then you have no right to point out that the garments do not exist. Yeah, it’s like that.)

  • Neon Genesis

    I’ve never cared for Reza Aslan since he’s argued in his books that the solution to reconciling sharia law with modern society is for Muslims to create a democracy ruled by Islam and he buys into that lie about how America is a Christian nation.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    For the record:

    Dawkins’ analogy that says Creationists are like Holocaust deniers is NOT meant as a moral equivalence. He’s extremely clear about that. He’s simply pointing out that, in both cases, you have people who are denying history, pure and simple. Auschwitz was a matter of verifiable historical fact, and so is evolution by natural selection. He’s not saying that denying one is “just as bad” as denying the other, but he’s often quoted as though that’s what he implied.

  • Neon Genesis

    I certainly don’t see Reza Aslan telling Christians not to compare atheists to Nazis or to stop claiming Hitler was an atheist.

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    What Mike the Infidel said. And to add to it, I hate it when people claim that atheists just don’t know about religion, completely ignoring the tons of people who left it because they understood it perfectly. It makes no sense.

  • http://www.myspace.com/criminalsuicideltd CAROLE

    I am not an atheist as I cannot claim to know whether there is a creator or not. What I am though is an Anti-Theist. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. My opinion agrees with the scientific evidence. We are descended from monkeys; you only have to watch how people ‘ape’ each other to see that. When I was a Christian I thought science made sense of the bible. Creation – for want of a better word – did all happen in that order but not in that way or in that timescale. I thought God was cleverer than he was given credit for if he started it all off. Now I don’t think any ‘God’ could be such a bastard so I don’t think there is one – at least not as religious fundamentalists see him/her.

  • muggle

    Don’t know him, don’t want to.

    While the anti-theist movement does disturb me, to claim that any Atheist, new or otherwise, is fundalmentalist is absurd. Fundalmentalist what exactly? No holy book. Yes, there are Atheist groups, but no “church”. I did recently take a lot of flak for criticizing Dawkins but he’s hardly our pope. If he is, I guess I’m the Protestant version of Atheist because I am not enthralled with him.

    Hell, we can’t even agree on whether one can say there is no god or should say there probably isn’t a god. Some of us say one and some say the other. I say there is no god and no that doesn’t mean I have to prove it any more than you have to prove there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    I will own up to calling religion evil on occasion though I usually remember to qualify it with for lack of a better word since bad or wrong doesn’t seem quite strong enough for all the harm religion has done in this world.

    Frankly, he seems mostly to be sucking up to religion’s ass here and one has to ask why. Could it just be that religion scares him just a little bit? Gee, why? Because it’s so benign and harmless? I think not.

  • Citizen Z

    Particularly weak is this argument that, unless one is an expert in religion or theology, one is ill-equipped to critique the stupidities of religion.

    Ironically, Aslan both misspells and misunderstands the Taoist concept of chi.

    @Citizen Z,
    “Stalinism” was one of many possible consequences of Marxism-Leninism, but not necessarily a consequence of generic communism. Is that what you meant? If not, can you explain?

    What I mean is that Communism is to blame for Stalinism the same way Creationism is to blame for Intelligent Design. Or Protestantism is to blame for Episcopalianism.

  • Aj

    Andy is right, Richard Dawkins made it clear he was not speaking of motive when he compared the denial of the holocaust to the denial of natural history, he was speaking about the denial of evidence, he also used a hypothetical example of “Rome deniers”. He was making the point that history teachers do not have to accommodate holocaust deniers but biology teachers are expected by many to accommodate creationists. [source]

    Richard Dawkins is an empiricist, he does admit that metaphysical claims are unknowable. How can a scientist claim to be in possession of the truth? The truth is universal, science is accessible to everyone. A scientist can only confirm what is true to the most reliable degree they are able.

    Reza Aslan lies about the “new atheists”, and he lies about his own beliefs. From his article it may seem like he’s an agnostic and “open to the possibilities”, but he’s a Muslim, and Muhammed is his prophet. He is highly dishonest on every subject I’ve heard him speak on. He is a truth relativist, he doesn’t have a relationship with reality. Those are the qualities of fundamentalists that should concern us, and he has that in common with them.

  • http://www.ncsecular.org/ Jennifer Lovejoy

    I’m often accused of being intolerant. I find this funny. You don’t see me vandalizing religious billboards and yet ours are often defaced. You don’t see me yelling at other peoples children that they are stupid for their beliefs and yet some of my children’s friends’ parents have felt the need to yell at my children and say some of the ugliest things to them, least of which is you’re going to hell. Yep, I’m lookin pretty intolerant.

  • http://oddboyout.blogspot.com/ oddboyout

    Wow. I have to say I am really disappointed too. I also enjoyed his appearances on TV. I hope he doesn’t get any airtime concerning this topic.

  • Dylan

    What!? A holiday! I deserve the right to have a day off on International Blasphemers Day. It is an Atheistic Holiday. What, the Jews can have Hanukkah AND Christmas!? Why don’t we get such privileges?

  • Veitcho

    What’s with some people in the US saying the Nazism is Socialist?

    In Australia it’s taught that Nazism is politically syncretic (i.e. incorporates policies from both ends of the political spectrum) but is far right (Fascist) in practice.

    The subject (20th century history) is a Year 10 compulsory subject in Victoria (I don’t know about the other states)

    I’m curious – Do students in the US cover anything like we did?

    We did:
    The Political Spectrum
    WW1 + the after effects on Europe (e.g. build up to WW2)
    WW2 + Hitler, The Holocaust and the History of Anti-Semitism
    The Cold War + the assassination of JFK
    Vietnam + Why North Vietnam Won in the end
    The Korean War
    Is anything like this covered by any of the states?

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    The Nazis’ ideology was called National Socialism.

    From Wikipedia:

    According to Joseph Goebbels in an official exposition of the ideology, the logic behind the synthesis of Nationalism and Socialism as represented in the name, was to “counter the Internationalism of Marxism with the nationalism of a German Socialism”.

  • Neon Genesis

    Even if there was such a thing as an atheist holiday which there isn’t, can someone please explain to me why that would be so horrible anyway?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    It may have been called ‘socialism’ but it was almost definitely fascism in a cheap Marx beard.

  • Dan W

    Another moron who’s shown how little he knows about atheists. Reza Aslan goes on my mental list of fundies, religious apologists, and atheist accomodationists who deserve ridicule for the idiotic things they say.

    Oh, and people who use the phrase “atheist fundamentalists” almost always don’t understand the definition of one or both of those words.

  • Hitch

    A quick word on “socialism” in National socialism. It is crucial to understand that socialism at the time in Europe does not mean what people understand it to be now in the US.

    Center right and far right parties used the word. Virtually all people on all sides of the political spectrum wanted to be social in some way. For example the christian conservative party in Austria, from which Hitler learned quite a bit were the “Christian Socialist” party. Today that’s just a conservative right party. Socialism has been aligned with left wing only later.

  • Gibbon

    Whether anyone here wants to admit it or not, there is some truth in what Reza Aslan has said and which no one here seems willing to recognise. Granted he has made a few mistakes in the article, mostly to do with how he caricatures many parts of the New Atheist movement and why atheists in general tend to be on the defensive, but elsewhere he does make some valid points.

    For one thing Reza is right that the New Atheists do seem rather fundamentalist, as they do have an attitude that is highly reminiscent of the fundamentalist. Evidence is the fact that they believe that they are real purveyors and defenders of the truth. How often have we heard Richard Dawkins wax on about standing up for the truth and saying that it is what matters most? And given the fact that he and many other New Atheists have clearly expressed an unwillingness to compromise in any tangible way, one must recognise that they are exhibiting the same form of dogmatic absolutism that defines fundamentalism. Note: just because they are not violent does not mean that they can not be regarded as fundamentalists.

    The New Atheists can certainly be regarded as fundamentalists, but can it be called atheist? Of course not, because you can’t be fundamentalist about what you don’t believe, but Dawkins, Harris and co are fundamentalist on what they do believe, such as ‘science and religion’, .

    Reza is also correct to point out that the preference for scriptural literalism is also a sign of fundamentalism in the New Atheists. This whole idea that scripture is a scientific text and must be judged purely on its empirical accuracy is flawed, as it leads to the rejection of non-literalist or non-fundamentalist religious denominations on the grounds that they are not legitimate religions. How this shows the New Atheists as fundamentalists is through the dogmatic absolutism which shows up in this disgust with cultural relativism that so many New Atheists have expressed, and which I know a number of people have made quite clear on this blog. It also leads to an idea that is virtually universal to all fundamentalists: “you’re either with us or you’re against us”.

    In addition, Reza is absolutely right in saying that the New Atheists have little in common with the philosophical atheism of past generations and centuries. It is not a continuation of the philosophy which may very well have its origins in Ancient Greece and has been perpetuated in the last few centuries by the likes of Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. Instead New Atheism is the descendant of the religious fundamentalism of the Religious Right and the radical Islamist extremist groups behind 9/11. This is supported by the fact that the New Atheist literature did not start emerging until after 2001 when the attacks occurred and the Evangelicals started to take over American politics. The chances are that if those events had never occurred New Atheism would not exist. Also, that so many New Atheists have a background in science or a preference for it may explain why the movement takes a more literalist approach to scripture as well as showing how far from philosophical atheism it really is.

    The last valid point that Reza Aslan makes is the extremely low religious literacy that the New Atheists have exhibited. Some people here may have countered with the Courtier’s Reply which compares religion to the non-existent clothes in the famous parable about the naked emperor. The problem with this argument though is that unlike the non-existent clothes, religion is a phenomenon which does exist, and for that matter one we have a word for. This is why Reza refers to the likes of Mircea Eliade, Ninian Smart, Max Mueller, and Emile Durkheim rather than to Augustine or Aquinas. He’s not referring to theology but rather to the social-scientific study of religion, which unlike Dawkins and the often repeated Courtier’s Reply does recognise religion as a phenomenon worthy of its own scholarly study. This is why I think so many atheists are adamant that religion is nothing more than supernatural belief. If you can basically reduce it to the supernatural then it is easily refuted by its redundancy, whereas if it can be framed through references solely to the natural then it becomes not only more difficult to refute but also much easier to defend. If one can explain on purely “natural” grounds then it can have a purely natural purpose, one that in theory can be defended.

    By the way, there is an intolerance within New Atheism. You start to move towards an intolerant attitude when you refer to different-minded people using derogatory terms. ‘Faith-head’, ‘faitheist’, delusional (The God Delusion), accommodationist, and virtually every other pejorative ever used against believers and supporters of religion. And let’s not forget PZ Myers who is the very epitome of New Atheist intolerance. He appears to show nothing but utter contempt for religion and religious people.

    • Neurotic Knight

      A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.[1] As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.. as per wikipedia. Describes religious faith completely, so Dawkins was accurate in that case at least.

  • Hitch

    The whole “fundamentalist” thing is a red herring. But it is not going to go away. It’s a way to brand any criticism of religion as bad. And put arguments on the defensive “oh no we are not fundementalist…”.

    I’m sorry. By this standard of fundamentalism Reza Aslan is a fundamentalist.

  • Citizen Z

    The last valid point that Reza Aslan makes is the extremely low religious literacy that the New Atheists have exhibited.

    He’s not referring to theology but rather to the social-scientific study of religion, which unlike Dawkins and the often repeated Courtier’s Reply does recognise religion as a phenomenon worthy of its own scholarly study.

    First of all, Daniel Dennett, one of the most prominent of the “New Atheists” (and who has been called one of the “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism”), has written an entire book on that very subject. Dawkins has also written about scientific reasons why religion exists, and I’d bet you could find similar essays by other atheists. So I don’t see how you can criticize the New Atheists for that.

    If you can basically reduce it to the supernatural then it is easily refuted by its redundancy, whereas if it can be framed through references solely to the natural then it becomes not only more difficult to refute but also much easier to defend.

    I fail to see how religion can become “easier to defend” when it’s framed as delusion with accidental selective advantages. New Atheists argue that religion isn’t true, not that it doesn’t exist.

    For one thing Reza is right that the New Atheists do seem rather fundamentalist, as they do have an attitude that is highly reminiscent of the fundamentalist. Evidence is the fact that they believe that they are real purveyors and defenders of the truth. How often have we heard Richard Dawkins wax on about standing up for the truth and saying that it is what matters most? And given the fact that he and many other New Atheists have clearly expressed an unwillingness to compromise in any tangible way, one must recognise that they are exhibiting the same form of dogmatic absolutism that defines fundamentalism.

    I’m sorry, are we not supposed to stand up for truth? Do theists wax on about standing up for lies? “Evidence is the fact that they believe that they are real purveyors and defenders of the truth.” By that definition everyone is a fundamentalist. There aren’t a whole lot of people who view themselves as liars.

    “New Atheists” certainly think they could be wrong. Dawkins and the other “New Atheists” are not “dogmatic absolutists”, all atheists ask for is evidence. Dawkins himself said he disbelieved in god at about a “6 out of 7″.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    How often have we heard Richard Dawkins wax on about standing up for the truth and saying that it is what matters most?

    And how often have you heard him say that we should stand up for the truth, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS? That we should follow the EVIDENCE wherever it leads? He’s not saying he has the ultimate truth; he’s saying we should care if what we believe is true.

    And given the fact that he and many other New Atheists have clearly expressed an unwillingness to compromise in any tangible way, one must recognise that they are exhibiting the same form of dogmatic absolutism that defines fundamentalism.

    What on earth are you talking about? Compromise with what, nonsense?

    Reza is also correct to point out that the preference for scriptural literalism is also a sign of fundamentalism in the New Atheists. This whole idea that scripture is a scientific text and must be judged purely on its empirical accuracy is flawed, as it leads to the rejection of non-literalist or non-fundamentalist religious denominations on the grounds that they are not legitimate religions.

    You wholly misunderstand the point of their argument. If you do not believe in a literal version of your scripture, you are just making up a religion to fit whatever makes you happy. It shows that you care even less about whether what you believe is true than the fundamentalists do.

    In addition, Reza is absolutely right in saying that the New Atheists have little in common with the philosophical atheism of past generations and centuries. It is not a continuation of the philosophy which may very well have its origins in Ancient Greece and has been perpetuated in the last few centuries by the likes of Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. Instead New Atheism is the descendant of the religious fundamentalism of the Religious Right and the radical Islamist extremist groups behind 9/11. This is supported by the fact that the New Atheist literature did not start emerging until after 2001 when the attacks occurred and the Evangelicals started to take over American politics.

    You’re forgetting, of course, that evangelicalism started to take over American politics in the 1980s, and that we’d been attacked by Islamic terrorists before. And you’re making it quite plain that you have likely not read much by the likes of Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett, who go quite deep into the philosophy of atheism.

    Also, that so many New Atheists have a background in science or a preference for it may explain why the movement takes a more literalist approach to scripture as well as showing how far from philosophical atheism it really is.

    You seem to be implying that you can’t really legitimately be an atheist unless your position is based on an understanding of classical philosophy.

    The last valid point that Reza Aslan makes is the extremely low religious literacy that the New Atheists have exhibited. Some people here may have countered with the Courtier’s Reply which compares religion to the non-existent clothes in the famous parable about the naked emperor. The problem with this argument though is that unlike the non-existent clothes, religion is a phenomenon which does exist, and for that matter one we have a word for.

    And again you’ve entirely missed the point of the argument. The point of the Courtier’s Reply is that religion, as a practice, is all about debating the finer points of things that cannot possibly be known or distinguished as correct. They’re not saying that religion doesn’t exist, and you know it – they’re saying that the differences people have in their religions are the same as people arguing about the finer details of the threadwork on the emperor’s clothers.

    He’s not referring to theology but rather to the social-scientific study of religion, which unlike Dawkins and the often repeated Courtier’s Reply does recognise religion as a phenomenon worthy of its own scholarly study.

    Again… Daniel Dennett’s books are all about this. Have you read anything he’s written? Or when you say “the New Atheists,” are you just talking about your caricature of Dawkins?

    This is why I think so many atheists are adamant that religion is nothing more than supernatural belief. If you can basically reduce it to the supernatural then it is easily refuted by its redundancy, whereas if it can be framed through references solely to the natural then it becomes not only more difficult to refute but also much easier to defend. If one can explain on purely “natural” grounds then it can have a purely natural purpose, one that in theory can be defended.

    If you can explain the benefits on purely natural grounds, then you can also figure out how to get them without a bunch of superstitious nonsense.

    I don’t think you’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about the things you said.

  • Aj

    There’s no point in trying to discuss anything with Gibbon. Anyone who isn’t a truth relativist is a “fundamentalist” because they believe science works. Anyone who claims something with reason and evidence is “dogmatic” if Gibbon disagrees with it. In that comment, “new atheists” are criticized for not compromising the truth (that’s called dishonesty in these parts), they’re being called absolutists for not doing so.

    Do the “new atheists” insist that scripture must be read literally? No they do not, they don’t suggest that it should be read in anyway, because they do not consider it true. Gibbon forgets that he’s talking about atheists.

    Do the “new atheists” consider non-literalist groups as no “legitimate” religions? No they do not, they speak about Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism as being religions, and do not mention “illegitimate” religions at all. It’s only the religious and religion apologists that split religions into “legitimate” and “illegitimate”, “misused religion”, or “not true religion”.

    Do the “new atheists” think that religion doesn’t exist, like the emperor’s clothes? No, that’s clearly a sign of lack of intelligence, resulting in an inability to understand the Courtier’s Reply. The “emperor’s clothes” refers to supernatural beliefs, not believers in the supernatural. The supernatural are invisible, as are the “emperor’s clothes”. They are talking about theology, not any serious study of religion, as Gibbon would know if Gibbon actually read any articles or books they write.

    Do the “new atheists” consider religion worthy of study? Sam Harris is a neuroscientist who has published a study on religious belief. Dan Dennett has written he wants the scientific study of religion many times in his books (e.g. Breaking the Spell), talks (his TEDtalk 2002), and articles, here’s a debate he was involved in called How Should We Study Religion?. Richard Dawkins has said many times, including recently, that he is in favour of study in comparative religion for all children (from the knowledge gathered through scholarly study of religion), and his foundation sponsored the AAI 2009 conference with Dr. Andy Thomson who gave a talk on religion from the perspective of psychiatry.

    Gibbon denies that religious practice is connected to supernatural beliefs. When people sacrifice goats and claim it’s for a god, Gibbon denies this, they’re not sacrificing goats to a supernatural being they’re doing it for a “natural” reasons and lying about it. Despite evidence, despite scholarly study that suggests otherwise, Gibbon ignores the facts about religion, denying reality in the same anti-science, anti-intellectual tradition as the fundamentalists. It is Gibbon that rejects the study of religion, Gibbon rejects psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and history.

    tl;dr Gibbon is ignorant. Gibbon hasn’t read from the authors who he criticizes, and subscribes to crazy theories that deny various fields of science. Also Gibbon lies, and complains that others don’t, and criticizes people for finding the truth important.

  • Lobar

    On the topic of religious literacy: does anyone know a good book on the topic that’s free of apologetics BS? I remember there was one such book being recommended in atheist circles a few years back, but I didn’t pick it up then and I can’t recall the authors name now. Would appreciate it very much if someone knows the one I’m thinking of.

  • The_Filozopher

    Yeah, stereotypes suck. Scapegoats are for dickheads. It’s why I’m careful not to engage in such activities of labelling & gross generalizations myself. It’s so unsophisticated, intellectually dishonest & embarrassingly pointless.

  • Clint Sharp

    maybe if ya weren’t so mean you’d be a little more electable.

  • Greg

    Hey guys, this just in: because we abhor religious radicalism and violence, we condone the radicalism and violence of non-religious entities.

  • Cos2mwiz

    Wow. I knew he had to be a bit of an arse when he said he was STILL a Muslim after studying the religion, but apparently he’s just another deluded religious apologist. Pity.

  • okyeah

    “Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers”

    Interesting, considering I just watched Aslan’s interview on FOX news where he repeated four of five times that, “I have a PhD [in sociology of religion]”
    which, I think, is to imply that he is a scholar of something(?).
    Certainly not Biology in light of the above statement.

    Richard Dawkins on the other hand can make those statements because he holds a double doctorate in the Natural Sciences (one of those fancy core
    sciences; set apart from the social sciences and even further from
    theology) and his atheism does not depart from his field.

    In his book, the God Delusion he starts by showing the lie of agnostics which consistently imply the probability of a religion (or any supernatural phenomenon) has a 50-50 chance of truth. This assumption turns Russel’s teapot and Jesus and allsilly ideas in between into credible and valid counter-arguments.
    Dawkins instead, forms the conclusion that if any phenomena in nature or
    the cosmos is improbable that: a.) it had to happen at least once
    (self-evident?) and b.) if the cause of the phenomena are
    inconsistencies (i.e, non-Darwinian or ignoring laws of physics) it
    would necessarily need to be more improbable.

  • CEMB_forum

    Hemant, another thing to keep in mind is that Ariane Sherine was inspired to put up these posters after she noticed the massive amount of Christian evangelical advertising on the London transport system. It was a response to that, not just something that came out of the blue.

  • unpleasantfacts478

    Reza Aslan isn’t into research. He’s into B.S. and gullible ditto-heads.

  • mickrussom

    Reza Aslan is an enemy of freedom and an
    enemy of Christ.He actions say everything I need to know and I would
    like to avoid him.