Before You Sympathize with Reza Aslan, Remember What He Said About the ‘New Atheists’

***Edit***: I didn’t realize how the headline sounded until after I pressed “Publish,” but I wanted to note that it is indeed possible to sympathize with Aslan for his interview while still condemning what he said about atheists. I hope that’s clear in the post, but I know the headline may cause you to think otherwise. Sorry!

By now, you’ve probably seen the cringe-worthy interview of religious scholar Reza Aslan by FOX News Channel host Lauren Green. If you haven’t seen it… you need to because of how bad it gets:

The entire interview revolves around the questions of whether a Muslim scholar can really write a historical book about Jesus… because surely he has some anti-Christian bias (implies Green).

Anyway, it’s hard not to feel sympathy toward Aslan for having to go through all that. (BuzzFeed also points out that Green once interviewed a Christian scholar who wrote about Islam and never once questioned his potential bias.)

Before atheists jump onto the Aslan bus, though, I just wanted to remind everyone of his 2010 article railing against the “Evangelical atheists”:

… 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.

Yes… the atheist fundamentalist argument. The hallmark of someone who just doesn’t get it.

Allow me to quote myself from when I responded to his piece back then:

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.

None of this is to say that the FOX News interview wasn’t awful — Aslan’s book should be judged on its merits, not the religion of its author. But Aslan, as far as I can tell, still gets it completely wrong on the subject of atheism. Let’s not forget that in the rush to put him on a pedestal.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • mcrotk

    So the enemy of my enemy…. is still kind of a douche.

    • jferris

      I’ve had a moderately nasty day, and I would just like to say thank you. I nearly blew my drink out my nose, but that comment made the day wonderful. Nothing sharper than humor. And as easy of a target as that was, you definitely hit it with style points.

      • https://twitter.com/HungryHeathen Hungry Heathen

        You’re welcome, and thank you. I’ve always been way too reserved on here, always thinking of reasons not to post what I’m thinking, and nearly did that here as well. I’m going to try to be much more unfiltered and vocal going forward. I’m going to switch profile names to something more anonymous; I think the knowledge that I could be easily googled has prevented me from fully enjoying this space.

  • Anna

    Well, I guess it could have been worse. Aslan’s attitude is the same as all the other snooty moderates who think being in the middle makes them smarter and more sophisticated than people on either end of the spectrum. That said, I have always liked his appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher.

    • SusanKPerry

      I’ve enjoyed his Bill Maher appearances too, but I also appreciate being reminded (or informed) of his ignorance regarding atheism. He’s made a bit of a media splash for himself, but I wouldn’t say he’s on “my side” (i.e., truth, justice, and the rational way).

      • Anna

        True. Maybe I’m just willing to give more of a pass to moderate Muslims, given the dearth of them out there. Aslan’s attitude towards religion is commendable. It’s his attitude towards atheism that needs work.

        I do remember one appearance in which a Christian guest tried to get Bill Maher to accept Jesus, and Aslan piped in that he was still waiting for him to find Muhammad, LOL.

    • compl3x

      I thought his last appearance was pretty weak. Especially when he tried to argue the old “Oh, it isn’t about the Bible being true or false it’s how open to interpretation it is which is its strength” line of thinking.

      • Anna

        I don’t remember him pointing to that as a strength, did he? I actually thought his comments were a big improvement over those believers who try to argue that there’s nothing bad in the Bible and that people who took the pro-slavery verses, for example, at face value were somehow wrong or misguided for doing so.

        • compl3x

          Strength was just the first word that popped to mind. I think it was more about why the Bible has been around so long and why it is so influential. I had a few drinks when I watched it so I can’t remember exactly. :-p

          Regardless, the whole “It doesn’t matter if it is true or false” bit is absolutely absurd. Our fundamental existence is radically different based on whether it is true or false. I doubt many practitioners of any of the religions which use the Bible would agree with him.

          Frankly, I think having such a nebulous view of the Bible is a deliberate attempt to confuse critics or it’s used as a “get out of jail free” type card when you know the answer to the question is embarrassing, immoral, irrational etc.

  • Art

    I’m always fascinated by the selective compartmentalization that some religious scholars (by that, I mean scholars who are religious) show.

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t have to put him on a pedestal to say this Fox News interviewer was way out of line. And I can sympathize with someone who’s been treated like shit by a reporter, whether they’ve said insulting things about people like me before or not. That’s kind of the point of sympathy, isn’t it?

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      He was treated similarly by Joe Scarborough on MSNBC although others on Morning Joe at least tried to ask him questions about his book and the points he was trying to make. I doubt any of them had read the book either, but perhaps they had one of their assistants read it to give them some questions to ask. (That’s usually how it’s done.)

      • Gus Snarp

        Didn’t MSNBC hire Joe Scarborough just to fight charges of liberal bias? The guy seems like he would be more at home over at Fox.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I watch the show often enough to know that he criticizes Republicans too often to be comfortable over at Fox.

          • 3lemenope

            I think his case, particularly, is one of familiarity breeding contempt. Who would know better how knavish congresscritters are than a former one of their own?

        • Carpinions

          Conservatives hate Joe now. He’s said a few too many sane things so he’s been pushed off the wagon permanently. It wouldn’t matter if he signed up to run for another term in FL tomorrow, he’s persona non grata by even being associated with MSNBC.

  • The Captain

    I don’t think any ones putting him on a pedestal. Most of the reaction has been to the amazingly open bigotry of the interviewer and not to some brilliance of Aslan (other than his handling of said bigotry). Also just because he’s completely wrong about atheist doesn’t mean people shouldn’t sympathize with him over anti-muslim bigotry on national TV either.

    • SeekerLancer

      This. The interview was reprehensible, regardless of Aslan’s positions on anything.

    • Wade C

      Can you explain how he is, “Completely wrong about atheist?”

      • SeekerLancer

        Didn’t Hemant already do that in his initial response to Aslan?

  • Gus Snarp

    I had only read the summaries until now. It’s even worse actually watching it. She’s even worse than I expected from Fox News, and that’s saying something. And she quotes that old liar William Lane Craig. And then she says there’s something wrong with his book because other scholars she’s disagreed with don’t agree with him? About the history of religion? This is what comes of the right’s attempts to smear academia as elitism. You get uneducated people who have no understanding of what academics actually do bloviating on Fox News.

    • SeekerLancer

      It was pretty ridiculous how she kept trying to belittle his PhD and scholarly credentials by bringing up apologists who disagree with him. She argues that he’s biased (I haven’t read the book of course so I’m not arguing that he isn’t) yet has no trouble using clear examples of bias against him.

      She acted like there was some kind of scholarly consensus about the history of Christianity and his point of view was invalid simply because he’s a Muslim.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      And actually quote Craig as if he were some sort of respected scholar. *facepalm*

  • LesterBallard

    I remembered that article and I wasn’t going to sympathize with Aslan.

  • more compost

    The interview by the idiot on Fox sold more books than the rest of the book tour put together. He knew what he was getting into.

    • Carpinions

      I’m sure he did, but it still doesn’t excuse Faux’s devotion to the worst in human behavior.

  • Tobias2772

    When Aslan does good research and draws rational conclusions he is a scientist and his position deserves such consideration (woefully missing in the interview). When he presents a position without quality research and rational consideration, he is merely a deluded mythologist and as such his position deserves the challenge and ridicule that it has earned. In either case, we need to consider the position itself before we can make an evaluation (also woefully missing in the interview).
    We need to remeber that there is this cognitive disconnect in the lives of many otherwise intelligent people. They refuse to examine their mythological indoctrination in the same critical light in which they look at the rest of the world.

  • Mark W.

    What I don’t understand is that if you’re a PhD religious historian, how in the hell are you a believer?

    • David Kopp

      Cognitive dissonance

    • Teri Westerby

      He made a point to say this is his *personal* opinion based on all his years of research and in his *personal* opinion it solidifies his *personal* experience of the spiritual…

      My question is, how can he identify as one specific religion after seeing that all religions have one underlying message and not be simply spiritual as we are intended to be.

      • Quintin van Zuijlen

        Intended? By whom?

        • Rain

          Intended? By whom?

          Joe Klein of course. Who else could it be?

          • http://be.net/mattcoddington matt

            Funny how you never see Joe Klein answering questions to provide additional clarity.

            • Booze And Nonsense

              We need to keep this meme going for as long as possible. It should be the new slogan of new atheism.

              • C.L. Honeycutt

                It could even spawn a second, very cruel meme: “Joe Klein, The Unseen Face Of New Atheism.”

        • Teri Westerby

          I mean, if God is real, “He” had no intention of us to be divided by “religion”, but rather just be spiritual and guided by our own morality and compassion rather than a set of “rules” written and enforced by a bunch of thugs.

          • Quintin van Zuijlen

            So in thd unlikely event of there being just one god, that god would somehow have to be benevolent, yet have produced the world we inhabit. Right. You know, it’s the fact that there are many religions that convinced me that there cannot be a god caring whether we even care about that god’s existence, or atleast not one that is worthy of worship.

      • Quintin van Zuijlen

        And while we’re at it, what underlying message? As fat as I’m aware “believe what I say and don’t question it” is not a message.

      • Jan Kafka

        Being a militant atheist jihadist solidifies my personal experience of the spiritual.

    • http://be.net/mattcoddington matt

      Listened to the debate between him and Sam after seeing the twitter drama. Reza sounds like barely a believer to me. More of a liberal theist style dude who talks more about how religion makes him “feel” rather than what religion actually is.

      • Rain

        That’s an approach some theists take when debating smart skeptics. It makes them look more sophisticated and reasonable, plus it gives the skeptical opponent fewer targets to go after. He could still have totally wacky beliefs but didn’t want to let it show.

    • Love

      well, technically his PhD was in sociology (on the topic of global Jihadism), and he is a professor of creative writing the reason could be that he is not a religious historian …

      • Love

        edit: “… creative writing, so the reason …” (oops :S)

    • loopsyel

      From his reddit AMA:

      [–]daveinsurgent 445 points 19 hours ago

      As someone who has invested so much time in to the study of world religions what leads you to identify with a specific one? I’m not trying to suggest that you’re asserting “fact” in doing so, but merely curious as to how you came to choose Islam as your personal belief system — why not some combination of all the different belief systems you’ve seen? What about it struck you as most desirable?

      [–]RezaAslan[S] 1281 points 19 hours ago

      Religion is nothing but a signpost to God. If you believe there is something beyond the material, and if you want to commune with that “thing” then it helps to have a set of symbols and metaphors to help you talk about it – both to yourself and to other people. That is ALL religion is supposed to be. A language of symbol and metaphors to help you make sense of something that is ineffable. I just happen to prefer the symbols and metaphors of Islam. That’s all.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        That’s a pretty damn good answer from him, actually. It still means “I prefer Japanese ghost stories to British ones”, but it’s amazingly self-aware for a believer.

        • TheG

          He was interviewed last week for the American Freethought podcast. He sounded very reasonable in this line of thought. This is the closest an argument for religion can come to gaining my respect.

        • hmhighfi

          Perfect analogy! Sometimes you just have to read ghost stories for the chills. You don’t have to believe that ghosts exist, let alone in any certain form, in order for them to have an impact on you and to allow you to entertain the idea of the supernatural.
          It’s about feeding a sense of wonder. That people somehow got from that point to taking it all literally and killing each other over it is nigh inconceivable.

    • Leif

      Because Depending who you ask there are 5 or 6 stages of deconversion

      Phase 0 – The pre-deconversion
      Phase 1 – Curiosity
      Phase 2 – I am looking for answers
      Phase 3 – AM I still a believer?
      Phase 4 – Anger
      Phase 5 – Acceptance

      Contact Recovering from Religion if you want to know more !

      https://www.facebook.com/RecoveringFromReligion

  • Wade C

    I consider myself an atheist, and I would agree with Aslan that there is an atheistic evangelical fundamentalist movement happening, and it can clearly be seen on the likes of online publications like Reddit. Just take a quick gander at r/atheism if you don’t believe me. Militant atheists slamming individual peaceful belief structures is out of line and childish. I have no issues with this man, and as an atheist, I think he’s spot on.

    If, as an atheist, you’re offended by this man’s remarks, then perhaps you fall into that fundie category he’s speaking of.

    • SeekerLancer

      I hardly equate immature Internet trolling on Reddit with militant, evangelical fundamentalism.

    • Megan

      Genocide, infanticide, misogyny, child abuse, rape, murder, incest, sacrifice. Why would ANYONE oppose those “peaceful belief structures??” I’m not a fundie, but you may be an idiot.

    • UWIR

      First of all, this has been argued to death, and it’s rather tiresome to have people constantly rearguing the same points over and over again. And are you not slamming a peaceful belief structure yourself?

      Oh, and nice Kafkatrap (actually, meta-Kafkatrap, since “Atheists should be discriminated against because they keep complaining about how they keep getting discriminated against” arguably is a Kafkatrap itself).

    • Gus Snarp

      Yes, I’m sure Aslan spends lots of time browsing r/atheism and is basing his comments on atheism on that, rather than on, I don’t know, what he says he’s basing it on, which is largely the writings and comments of Richard Dawkins, as well as some sampling of Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens.

    • David Kopp

      Every true believer is an atheist on the Internet.

      If the worst thing you can say about atheists is that they said mean words about religion, then we’ve got every religion beat by a mile.

    • Mary Howerton

      Militant religious fundamentalism includes killing and torturing. Militant atheism includes, at worst, by your own admission…writing books and saying mean stuff on the internet. How can you not see the difference between the two?!

      • The Captain

        I have to admit that there are a few buzzwords and phrases that when said immediately makes me think less of the intelligence, neutrality, or intellectual honesty of the person who said it. “Militant Atheist” being one of them.

        • Guest

          IMO, militant and strident, as applied to atheists, are dog-whistles. To appreciate the intent …

          militant = uppity
          strident = uncloseted

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            “Strident” can also have the subtext of “the person is a woman and thus I dismiss her ideas by insinuating that she isn’t being quiet enough.”

      • zakizakaria

        …writing books and saying mean stuff on the internet. Also, harassing women at Atheist Conventions, write threatening rape jokes on reddit and few other rampant misogyny against within the atheist community ever since Rebecca Watson brought it up

        But hey, at least no one got killed or tortured.

        • Harry Underwood

          What about atheism, skepticism, naturalism and all the other -isms against the supernatural could support misogynistic behavior? I’m not denying that r/atheism exemplifies what you’re talking about, but why is misogyny as rampant as you say it is?

    • Guest

      I agree with you and it’s a shame you’ve been voted down. There are atheists online who say amazingly bigoted things about religious people, calling them stupid or crazy or ‘infected with a mind virus’. I respect Richard Dawkins as a scientist and as a science writer but I think he made a mistake by lumping all religion together in his book the God delusion and also by comparing religious education to child abuse and by his reading of the bible. The fact is that religions vary widely in their approach to science, the equality of women, lgb issues, and many other things. Quakers have campaigned for gay marriage, Sikhism gives complete equality to women as part of it’s scriptures, and pagans have a whole range of gods, some of which are gay or patrons of gay people. By making his book an attack on ‘religion’ rather than just ‘fundamentalist Christianity (and Islam)’ he’s alienated a lot of people that could have been allies in the fight to get evolution taught in schools. Even the Pope accepts some form of evolution happened. There is also a tendency for atheists, when criticising the Bible, to assume it’s all supposed to be taken literally. That might be how fundamentalist Christians do it, but not reform jews, Catholics or quakers, and if you try that approach with them, they just assume you’re clueless about exegesis and ignore what you have to say. And it is possible for atheists to take this ‘oppressed minority fighting for it’s rights’ schtick too far- if you can’t even allow a star of david on a holocaust memorial, for fuck’s sake, something is wrong! I am a lifelong atheist and I believe in atheism. I offer this critcism in the hope it will improve things, not out of spite.

    • allein

      If people have to come seek you out to read what you write (for example, going to Reddit, following people on Twitter), you are not an evangelist.

  • UWIR

    A transcript from another of Lauren Green’s interviews:

    Lauren Green: Alexis de Tocqueville is a Frenchman who has written a book called Democracy in America. This has book has stirred up a lot of controversy. Alexis de Tocqueville now joins us. Welcome.

    Alexis de Tocqueville: Thank you for having me.

    LG: I want to clarify. You’re an Frenchman. So why did you write a book about America?

    AT: Well, to be clear, I’m a scholar of history

    LG: It still begs the question, why would you be interested in America?

    AT: …

    AT: Because… it’s my job. I. Am. A. Historian. That’s what I do. For a living. Actually.

    • Paul Reed

      Is that real…?

      • Gus Snarp

        • Paul Reed

          I mean, did she actually do a very similar thing in another interview, or was that a spoof to make a point?

          Aaaaaaand having looked it up, I see it was the latter.

          • Kurt Johansen

            that’s a very famous book by a guy who died centuries ago… so no.

      • skinnercitycyclist

        Yes, it is quite real, easily confirmed by googling “Alexis de Tocqueville.”

        I am pretty sure David Barton has a transcript of the whole thing at WallBuilders…

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        You made tiny Japanese kittens cry there. So I’m upvoting, because as an atheist I hate kittens. :P

        • Jan Kafka

          As an atheist, you have no grounds for hatred. You need to allow God into your heart in order to hate.

      • Jan Kafka

        Seriously…?

        • Paul Reed

          I don’t know why you people are so amazed that someone hasn’t heard of Alexis de Tocqueville. He’s probably “famous” in America because he wrote a book about America and has an institute named after him.

          Not everyone is from America.

          If you look at the other replies, you’ll see that I looked up the name and discovered who he was.

  • Joe

    funny how this interview has been blown up. the reporter was only asking these questions because of the critisism he had been getting because of his book. This was not because the reporter hates muslims or don’t want them to write about jesus. It was just the questions and talks this books had been having.

    • Gus Snarp

      Right, so she spent the entire interview talking about how his book couldn’t possibly be legitimate scholarship because he’s a biased Muslim, even after he made it pretty crystal clear in his first answer why that point of view is unfounded, and no time at all talking about the actual book, because other people have been saying that. And that’s legitimate journalism?

      • Joe

        did not say it was legitimate. it was actually almost painful to watch. ;)
        But she hadn’t even read the book. so.. ;)

    • ZeldasCrown

      I think it’s fair to say “here are some criticisms about your book, how do you respond?” However, she just kept harping on the one thing (“since you’re Muslim, how can you write about Jesus?”). She should have said “people have raised this concern”, and then once he gave his credentials, moved on to other criticisms (more about the content, rather than attacking him about his own religious preferences-criticisms from other scholars are much better material in comparison to voicing Joe Schmo’s knee-jerk Islamaphobia) instead of just re-phrasing and re-asking the same thing over and over again. He shouldn’t have had to keep repeating the same answer. One can’t help but get the feeling that she wouldn’t have done the same with a Christian author who wrote about some Islamic topic.

      At a minimum, she should have read the book (at least the cliff notes version) before doing the interview. It’s pretty clear that she didn’t (I love the part where she accuses him of hiding his religious preferences, and he responds by saying that he states this explicitly on page 2). It would have been very interesting to hear questions and responses about the actual content.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Her focus on that attack on him said exactly one thing: that she came to the interview unprepared, ignorant as to the contents of the book and even as to the qualifications of the author. If she knew anything about it or him, she could have moved on to other questions instead of trying to fill time and sound authoritative and probing.

    • Japooh

      Oh please. She was taking questions from the audience, she didn’t even have enough foresight to be prepared. She obviously didn’t even read the book before interviewing the author. If you are willing to credit that as some version of “reporting” so be it. But don’t expect the rest of us to do the same.

  • Marisa Totten

    That was an exceedingly painful interview to watch. Regardless of what Mr. Aslan has said of atheists, I can still find my way to empathizing with him.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Yes, the interview was horrible.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Based off that interview, I think Aslan gets it completely wrong when it comes to the alleged historical Jesus too.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Me too. Setting aside the assiness of FauxNews, which takes up 96.4% of the interview, I have no confidence in Aslan’s version of a historical Jesus. He manages to state that the crucifixion of Jesus H. Christ is one fundamental fact that is universally agreed upon. Where does he get this fundamental fact? From the New Testament. He then acknowledges that the New Testament is not a good source of history, and that there is no secular support for anything that happens in the New Testament, so he goes on to construct his own view of what the “historical” Jesus H. Christ was like. It never occurs to him to back up one step and ask himself: “If the New Testament is completely unsupported by secular sources, and is not a reliable source of historical information, then why shouldn’t I question the historicity of the crucifixion, or even the historical existence of Jesus H. Christ himself?”
      In this matter he is in the same boat with Bart D. Ehrman, who also wrote a book on the historical existence of Jesus H. Christ, despite railing at length on how the New Testament is unreliable.

  • Craig

    Seems like Fox just serving up what their viewers (have been trained to) expect.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    I just finished reading Dr. Aslan’s book, yesterday. It was a great read that substantially increased by understanding of the history of the first century in Palestine. The interview was just the usual journalistic malpractice we see every day on Faux News. Dr. Alsan is qualified to research the origins of Christianity, just as one would expect any other academic in religious studies to be. Christians are not going to like it because he paints a picture without assuming the divinity of Jesus at the outset, but rather, describes what life would have been like for a small town street preacher in the time of Jesus. I found that view very much worth while.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Your post actually makes me interested in the book.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      without assuming the divinity of Jesus at the outset…

      He does however assume the historical existence of Jesus H. Christ, and His crucifixion, despite a thorough lack of secular sources supporting these assumptions.
      How long did it take you to read the book?

      • Terrance Owens

        most biblical scholars and historians do agree on those two facts. also you cant write a book on the historical jesus if you dont assume his existence

    • Terrance Owens

      I also just finished it. I agree with your post. I would also add that it points out what it would mean to be Historical Jesus. Historical Jesus would not have been a peace-loving hippie. He would have worshipped a God who directed violent injunctions on foreigners in the Holy Land. So, it does describe life for a small town preacher but it tackles issues much bigger than that as well.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Indeed.

  • Paul Reed

    No Narnia references?
    Ok, then

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      The interview gives more a vibe less into the wardrobe and more “Through the Looking Glass”.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        “Orf wit’ yer ‘ead!” she yelled to the guards mid-interview.

  • UWIR

    The characterization of Jesus as being the founder of Christianity is rather debatable.

    • TommyNIK

      I’ve heard people say it all started with Saul of Tarsus (Paul) who started writing about Jesus about seventy years after his death. None of the people who actually lived with him ever wrote about him.

      • Kurt Johansen

        Aslan almost states as much in the NPR Fresh Air interview. from what I can tell Aslan believes and writes pretty mainline biblical historian stuff.

        • midnight rambler

          Yes, it is. If there’s anything to criticize him for it’s that his work is an oversimplification of what you would get in a basic college New Testament class, and relies too heavily on the technique of using the text of parts of the gospels to show that other parts must be wrong (e.g. about Pilate being the driver behind Jesus’ execution).

      • Ryan Fox

        Well that could be because Christ never existed as a man. He did mention the tedious documentation tendencies of the Romans yet did not mention that they did not record the execution of a man named Jesus.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Not all Roman records survive, and he wasn’t executed in a place that was exactly the center of the empire.

          Let’s modify that argument and instead point out that the Bible claims numerous times that Jesus amazed great numbers of people with his words and deeds, and yet there are no other records of him. He was famous! …except when he wasn’t, which is during any debate where his fame would be inconvenient.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      The best description I’ve ever seen reads “Christianity is not the religion of Jesus; it is a religion about Jesus.”

  • TommyNIK

    I was just called that two days ago, and then scolded for atheist proselytizing.

    I can understand how the easily led and gullible can be religious, but someone who is intelligent and as highly educated as Aslan obviously is just stuns me. I admit it. He’s far better educated than I am and hell…he’s probably smarter. But I CANNOT for the life of me worship and/or have faith in mythology. I won’t accept that some god has a plan and if I’m good I’ll be rewarded and if bad I go to an eternal hell. It sounds like a child’s fairy tale. Which is exactly what I think it is.

    • Colin Rosenthal

      ” I won’t accept that some god has a plan and if I’m good I’ll be rewarded and if bad I go to an eternal hell.”

      To be fair, I am 99.999% certain that Reza Aslan doesn’t accept that either.

  • Teri Westerby

    I get what he’s trying to say though.. I’ve ran into quite a few Atheists who simply out-right deny any form of spiritual or non-scientifically/socially approved opinion or personal experience. I’ve been blocked from anti-religious and atheist groups for defending my own personal experiences. I believe that is the type of fundamental atheist he is referring to, those that are just as bad as fundamental Christians.

    • TommyNIK

      I can only speak for myself. I get upset and agitated for one simple reason: I know that fundamentalists, dominionists, and Christo-fascists infest the US in the highest levels of both the state and federal governments. Don’t think for a minute that these forces don’t have an agenda. All you have to do is watch the news and see the legislation that’s being introduced against gay marriage, abortion, contraceptives, the teaching of creationism, and most recently, the AG of Virginia’s attempt yo bring back the sodomy laws, ostensibly to “protect the children.”

      I will hold organized religion up for the danger and the sham that it is. If that is Atheist fundamentalism, So be it. Guilty as charged.

      • Teri Westerby

        Well Said!

    • David Kopp

      Maybe you present your experiences as facts? I mean… there are well-known Christian authors who claim they have proof of God from their own near-death experiences, which are much more easily and reasonably explained by well-known scientific phenomena than by invoking the supernatural. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and atheists in general don’t believe in anything “spiritual” or “non-scientific” because there’s exactly as much evidence for those happenings as there is for any god out there.

    • Ton_Chrysoprase

      There may be some obscure corner of the internet where atheist trolls meet, but so far I have to find anybody who claims the non-existence of gods with any more certainty than that wich you would reject the existence of dragons. Dawkins and Hitchens certainly preface their arguments with a disclaimer that they would be easily swayed by evidence commensurate with the claim, so I call BS on Aslan.

    • The Captain

      I don’t know the circumstances of your experience with atheist or atheist groups, but it’s important to understand that the atheist and skeptic communities overlap quit a bit, and most atheist who are active in the community take the philosophical position that claims need to be proved scientifically before they should be believed and personal experience is not scientific. Now like I said, I don’t know what your belief is you expressed (and it really doesn’t matter) but the argument that because you have a personal experience with something thus that makes the claim real and should be taken seriously holds the same amount of weight that a christian who says they have a personal relationship with christ thus christianity is real.

  • Garret Shane Brown

    “I’ve talked to many other scholars who come to different conclusions, so how can you say you’re being honest?” (obviously paraphrasing)

    Damn, she went from subtly implying to out-right accusing there at the end. Her logic was absolutely horrible too. Let’s take two sets of opinions, one you agree with and one you don’t. How can you just automatically assume that the one you don’t agree with isn’t being honest?

    • David Kopp

      Because that’s how religion works

    • skinnercitycyclist

      I was shocked when she said that, but he handled it with a grace I would not have been able to muster myself. I would have undone my mike early in the interview and left them with 8 minutes to fill. Except for her anacephalic bigotry, this was a content-free Fox event (if it is not being too generous to thereby imply that Fox is ever not substantially content-free).

  • lefty

    he’s doing an AMA on reddit right now

  • Art_Vandelay

    I don’t have much to say about Zealot as I’m firmly in the camp that JC never existed and most of Aslan’s “research” comes from the bible. This woman’s approach is obnoxious as hell but if I were a Christian, I do think it’d be fair to ask him why he doesn’t skeptically interrogate the supernatural claims of the Koran as he does the bible. As a Muslim, he thinks what…a dude flew up to heaven on a winged horse?

    • duke_of_omnium

      Playing devil’s advocate, though, his book is written about the bible, so that’s why he’s skeptical about the bible specifically. Your question would be valid if he wrote a book about the koran, credulously accepting every claim.

    • Guest

      He has written another book about Islam, so maybe he has interrogated it? Besides he was raised a Christian and his mom still is one, so it’s actually ‘his’ faith he’s skeptically analysing.

      • Japooh

        He was raised in a culturally Muslim home – they didn’t practice. He “found” Christianity as a teenager at a camp with some friends and came home a convert. He managed to convert his mother as well, and yes she is still a practicing Christian (I can’t remember which denomination though). He eventually converted to Islam in college.

        He was interviewed on NPR last week and I happened to be in the car at the time. I had never heard of him before then.

    • Bdole

      As Aslan pointed out in the interview, his views conflict with the Muslim view of Jesus being born of a virgin and in other details, too. So, it’s not just Christianity he’s “attacking.”

      • Art_Vandelay

        I don’t think he’s wrong for “attacking” anything. I guess I’m working under the impression that as a Muslim, there are things that you have to believe for which there’s no historical evidence. For instance, what’s the one thing that you pretty much must believe to be a Muslim? The thing that parallels Jesus dying for your sins on the cross and being physically resurrected to Heaven to judge humanity forever. What’s the deal breaker? I don’t know hardly anything about the Koran. If he’s being intellectually honest, I’m just wondering why he wouldn’t reject whatever that central tenet is. (Unless of course there is historical evidence for it but I’m skeptical)

        • Bdole

          I wasn’t ascribing the sentiment of “attacking” to you, but to Fox and their ilk.

          what’s the one thing that you pretty much must believe to be a Muslim?

          Good question. I dunno. It’s like Judaism, what do you actually need to believe to be Jewish? I see lots of Jews doing non-kosher things.

          Like some Christians I think Reza can claim to be Muslim while disbelieving a lot of it. His brand of Islam, Sufiism, is considered a heresy by the main two branches.

          Btw, I watched the Jon Stewart interview with a True Christian, she got SOOO angry. For that alone I’d buy Reza a bottle of O’Douls.

          • Japooh

            Probably the Pillars of Faith – I believe there are five all together? The first one talks about a profession of faith (no god but god) and the belief that Mohammad is the final prophet. That one seems pretty significant.

  • Ton_Chrysoprase

    If he claims that Dawkins or Hitch cpostulated the non-existence of a god with any more certainty than what he claims for his scientific opinion Aslan is guilty of the same offense he accuses the FOX lady of.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    What a complete waste of time. They hardly talked about his books and instead the interviewer spent the entire time lobbing ad hominem attacks at the author. It was obvious not only that the interviewer hadn’t read the book (the almost never have) nor even had any idea what it was about. The producers had him on to badger him to the delight of their Teavangelical audience. None of this makes me want to read the book, and I can’t imagine that many Fox viewers want to read it now either. As I said, a complete waste of time.

  • MNb

    “the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture”
    Aslan actually has a point here – liberal, tolerant believers don’t get criticized nearly enough – not even by you. But that’s probably not what he had in mind.

  • Atheist for human rights

    Mehta why do you have lie about Aslan? He said no such thing about Atheists in general. He said that about NEW ATHEISTS. And as an atheist myself I completely agree with him. New Atheists are just a bunch of neo-cons and Islamophobes. Sam Harris is just about as hateful and any religious nut out there.

    • Sassan

      lol at your caricature. You are obviously a disgraceful “atheist” that is an appeaser of Islamofascists. We have many of you among our ranks unfortunately.

      • Atheist for human rights

        I hate all extremists equally. I don’t play favorites with religions. It’s a very bizarre and irrational practice among new atheists.

        • Japooh

          Does “hate” not qualify as extreme in your vocabulary? it certainly does in mine…

    • GubbaBumpkin

      New Atheists are just a bunch of neo-cons and Islamophobes.

      That’s a very broad generalization. How do you define “new atheists”? Would PZ Myers and Hemant qualify? Are they neo-cons?

  • Caroline Miller

    Oh dear, oh dear. I really liked Reza Aslan’s appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher, so it comes as a surprise that he’d write something this cringe-worthy. Nevertheless, I don’t see how criticizing four or so prominent atheists means he “doesn’t get” atheism.

    • baal

      I’m not clear he was limiting himself to the 4 horsemen as the sum of ‘new atheists’.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    I do not, at the moment, care what he said about atheists. The man is clearly a scholar and a professor, and she treated him like the guy who makes the kebabs at the stand outside her studio. She may not be the typical blonde Fox bimbo, but she plays one on TV. Just goes to show there is no such thing as “too dumb for television.”

  • Bdole

    People are a mixed bag. I don’t have to love everything about them to sympathize with them when they’re getting pilloried for basically being in a hated, minority religion in this country.

  • Lionel

    I just read all of Aslan’s original WaPo article on “the new atheism,” excerpted in the block quote Hemant included here. Immediately following the last sentence in the block quote above is this:

    “This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.”

    So Aslan distinguishes new atheism, or “fundamentalist atheism” or a “caricature of atheism,” from philosophical atheism and scientific agnosticism. I don’t see how that is “not getting” atheism. It seemed clear that he was expounding on the experience of seeing an ad on the side of the double-decker bus, sponsored by Richard Dawkins et al., which Aslan saw as a kind of proselytism. Well, isn’t it?

    And maybe it’s OK to proselytize for atheism! But why fallaciously argue that it’s not akin to evangelism?

    I don’t see why it is outrageous for Aslan to note that there are atheists who are fundamentalist in their critique of religion. Wasn’t Hitchens’ book, in fact, subtitled “how religion poisons everything”? Didn’t Dawkins have a BBC series calling religion “the root of all evil”? Such hyperbole, I have found, only comes out of the mouths of fundies, or else in careless conversation by people who should know better.

    Later in Aslan’s WaPo article, he accurately cites forces such as nationalism, socialism, and even science as potentially evil forces that serve as the basis for horrible atrocities in history. These forces may be potentially good, too. Just like religion, no?

    That said, I think his dismissal of new atheists’ feelings of being besieged is off-the-mark. Atheists have certainly been marginalized in modern history. And I think one shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of creationism, as he seems to do.

    But otherwise, why is the idea of “fundamentalist atheism” such an outrageous thing to notice? And if it is outrageous, then maybe I don’t “get” atheism.

    • ElitistB

      “So Aslan distinguishes new atheism, or “fundamentalist atheism” or a “caricature of atheism,” from philosophical atheism and scientific agnosticism. I don’t see how that is “not getting” atheism.”

      Most likely because “new atheism” is not separate from those. Separating them out is simply an attempt to alienate them. Most of the “new atheists” are specifically scientific agnostics. Dawkins and Harris are both of that orientation, while Dennet is more of the philosophical orientation. Hitchens is one you might have a point with, though that is debatable. The fact that you don’t realize this is a point in favor of the people saying you don’t get it.

      “But otherwise, why is the idea of “fundamentalist atheism” such an outrageous thing to notice?”

      It isn’t so much the idea, as it is the implication denoted by using that term. A “fundamentalist atheist” is very unlike a “fundamentalist Christian” or a “fundamentalist Muslim”. It would be like talking about “fundamentalist Jains” as if they are somehow similar to “fundamentalist Christians”. Typically the only time the term is used in connection with atheism is when someone is attempting a fallacy of equivocation. To be a fundamentalist atheist, the all encompassing dogma one must profess is “I don’t believe in a god at this time”, as the term atheist means little more. Again, that you don’t understand this is another point in favor of the statement “You don’t get it”.

      • Lionel

        No need to make this about me and whether I “get it.” The question was whether Aslan “gets it.” Anyway, I already conceded that maybe I don’t “get it” — even if mainly for rhetorical effect — so why hammer on that?

        As to your point about the new atheists and the philosophical atheists Aslan refers to being part of the same line, that’s of course your interpretation, which is fine. But I am not sure how you can surmise Aslan’s motive here when you say it’s an “attempt to alienate them.” Where in Aslan’s writing did you see that was his motive?

        I think it’s fallacious to say that the belief statement of atheism literally is “I don’t believe in god at this time,” so therefore there cannot be fundamentalist atheism. I’d be careful asserting that no true atheist (cf. “scotsman”) would be dogmatic about atheism.

        • ElitistB

          “so why hammer on that?”
          One response does not a hammer make, unless I’m Mr. Miyagi and I just drove the nail in with a single stroke.

          “Where in Aslan’s writing did you see that was his motive?”

          Because that is exactly what he did. Let me quote myself: “Most of the “new atheists” are specifically scientific agnostics. Dawkins and Harris are both of that orientation, while Dennet is more of the philosophical orientation” They aren’t some third group simply because they are vocal.

          “I think it’s fallacious to say that the belief statement of atheism literally is “I don’t believe in god at this time,” so therefore there cannot be fundamentalist atheism.”

          What other unifying dogma is there for atheism? There is no holy book, no real set of rules. Not all are skeptics, not all are rationalists. I didn’t say “fundamentalist atheism doesn’t exist”. If you want to paraphrase me, it would be more accurate as “fundamentalist atheism doesn’t really mean anything”.

    • allein

      For the record, Dawkins did not choose the title for The Root of All Evil and was not particularly happy with it.

      Dawkins has said that the title The Root of All Evil? was not his preferred choice, but that Channel 4 had insisted on it to create controversy.[1] The sole concession from the producers on the title was the addition of the question mark. Dawkins has stated that the notion of anything being the root of all evil is ridiculous.[2]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Root_of_All_Evil%3F
      [1] The Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 2. January 5, 2006.
      [2] Point of Inquiry Podcast. February 10, 2006.

      • Lionel

        Thanks for clarifying this. Also, I had forgotten that the program’s title had a question mark at the end of it: The Root of All Evil? So, to be fair, at least it’s less fundie-sounding than I originally thought. I should add that I liked The Root of All Evil?, especially Dawkins’ final point that we are the lucky ones, the ones who exist. That’s a non-theistic life-affirming message. But I liked Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason program even more.

        • allein

          I’ve seen both shows but it’s been a while. I do like the quote about the “lucky ones” (it’s from Unweaving the Rainbow.

          We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. – Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

  • JA

    He kind of does have a point about atheist fundamentalism. In pushing back against religious fundamentalism, regardless of how reasoned and logical we are, we have to ensure we do not become what we fight.

  • Esau Yakub

    As an Evangelical Atheist (whatever that really means) I can say Reza Aslan’s book “Zealot” is a fantastic read & I highly recommend it! It’s always funny when believers find common ground with atheists when it comes to criticizing the other religion. Reza Aslan might not take a literalist view of his faith, but he is an unfortunate outlier. Most believers don’t hold his heretical word view. That’s why atheists are as outspoken as we are. It’s a tired argument.

  • Lothat

    Well I’m say I completely agree with almost everything he’s said about militant atheists.

    They advocate the use of emotional bullying against everyone disagreeing with them.

    And this does not only include Christians and Muslims, but also Budhists, Postmodernists, Socialists, Communists (and everyone who dare doubt free-market competition), transhumanists, pluralists, agnostics, deists and so on and so forth.

    I’ve spent lots of time analysing far-right groups in Europe, and the New Atheists fulfil all criteria for being considered a hate-group.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

    • kelemi

      I agree. In fact, the bullying atheists are doing more to hurt atheism than anything religious zealots could do.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      If you think the “New Atheists” are after things like Socialism and Communism, you don’t actually know anything about them.

      Presumably you can back up your claim about them being a “hate group”. Heh. As if they were even a group…

      It’s rude to advertise for one’s own products on another’s website without permission.

    • Harry Underwood

      Critique of anti-human behavior and doctrine = “emotional bullying/hate-group”?

      • Lothat

        I critique “anti-human behavior and doctrine” all the times, and many Christians and agnostics do so, yet without bullying.

        You’right we cannot tolerate groups which have such gruesome ideas.

        But do progressive and liberal Christians also have anti-human belief systems? More precisely, do I have such doctrines?

        All religions and religious groups are not the same, as even Sam Harris recognized now.

        Best greetings from France.

        Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  • Lothat

    “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.”

    Interesting, so everyone not using physical violence is tolerant, right?

    So I guess the Westboro baptist church is tolerant, after all.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  • Dave The Sandman

    I dont care whether or not he slagged me off (as an atheist) previously. It doesnt change the fact that the current situation is very very wrong.
    So despite the fact he was a dick earlier, I will still stand by his shoulder and support him in his current face off.
    To do otherwise would be as dickish as the church types who refused to work next to atheists when clearing up after the storms.
    And maybe, just maybe, by supporting him now we can change his mind about things.

  • Hector

    Wanna really learn about comparative religion then read some of D.M Murdock’s books because she’s a more appealing comparative religion scholar. She’s also not hindered with that walking on eggshells nonsense that is commonly noticeable in many of the non-religious for some idiotic reason.

  • Rain

    the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists)

    More likely an insistence of pointing out to religious fundamentalists some religious fundamentalist stuff. It’s not our fault if fundamentalists think their own fundamentalism is too stupid to be taken seriously.

  • CultOfReason

    Unprepared, biased, misinformed, and an unwillingness to see one’s mistakes and correct them.. Just another typical day at Fox.

  • Carpinions

    Rhetorical question: Can it be any clearer what completely vile, stupid, willfully ignorant morons the people running Faux, and the wider conservative media, are?

    All those other theologians this “reporter” talked to about Jesus that differed with Reza…were any of them Christians? Wouldn’t they have had a pro-Christian bias? Why do Christians need to bother with writing about Jesus? Why are Christian critics of Islam allowed to speak on Faux? Don’t they have an anti-Islam bias? The obvious answer in Faux’s case has been YES. And that “reporter”, if she were an actual one, should know better, as a person of color interviewing another person of color.

    I’m not a big fan of Reza. He’s a moderate guy, I think he gives religion a pass a lot (for obvious reasons), and seems to just not get atheism. But I have to absolutely defend him in this interview. That was 10 minutes of him being challenged personally on who he is and why, and how dare he speak how he’s speaking. Not a single question of substance was asked. Posing the curiosity: “You’re a Muslim talking about Jesus. That’s interesting, please explain.” is fine. Asking it 15 times and then going to a bigot on Twitter for his input is making the agenda obvious. And no, it’s not Reza being dishonest or unscholarly, it’s the low-IQ subjectivists on Faux.

    Reza is a Muslim that completely destroys the conservative caricature of a towel-wearing AK-47-toting tribalist with red-n-white checkered face coverings and a Hi-8 camera to film and tweet his next beheading of an American.

    The people who run Faux and watch it in agreement are disgusting. They can’t get over themselves. This is why Faux is so much worse in terms of its effects on society than bias at MSNBC. At least at MSNBC there’s a temper for the small bits of crazy. At Faux, crazy is encouraged, respected, and well paid. Ailes’ paranoia has an obvious effect on who they hire and how they present. Everything is fear-based so they can’t be blamed if they lash out at every perceived negative force.

  • Leif

    Compassion for Everyone !!!
    THIS
    http://youtu.be/-j8ZMMuu7MU

    • Bdole

      What the hell is that supposed to mean! Hey everyone this guy loves terrorists!
      /s

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Before You Sympathize with Reza Aslan, Remember What He Said About the ‘New Atheists’

    That sounds like a call to tribalism from the “Friendly” Atheist.
    FauxNews ran a very poor and insulting interview.
    Aslan has said bad things about atheists.
    These are two separate things, it is possible to empathize for the one despite the other.

  • http://an-expatriate-in-cambridge.blogspot.com The Expatriate

    It’s attitudes like yours, Hemant, that have made me just as contemptuous of atheists as of fundamentalists.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Well, the XKCD thing is that you get to feel strip to both #774.

  • Jan Kafka

    Does anyone know of a good book on Mohammed written by an atheist?

    • Paul Reed

      The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, edited by Ibn Warraq (not sure if atheist, but seems to be ex-muslim secularist)

  • Sarah-Sophia

    Unfortunately there are atheist who express hatred of Christians reminiscent of what you would hear from a KKK member. Churches have been vandalized just like the atheist park bench was vandalized. It’s wrong to believe that bigotry can only be found among the religious.

  • Caleb

    Aren’t the new atheists kind of notorious for their rampant islamaophobia?

  • MainlineP

    Yes, Mr. Mehta, many atheists do lack tolerance and that lack of tolerance is not measured by how many buildings are or are not destroyed. That, sir is a false measurement. Look instead at the comment thread on the NYT website whenever religion (Christianity in any flavor, rather than Islam or Judaism) is discussed. The smug, self-righteous, superior, disdainful comments of atheists drip with hateful derision for believers. They must be blockheads or narrow-minded ultra conservatives, even when, mirabile dictu, they’re not! Atheists are the only enlightened progressives it’s claimed. Everyone else is either a reactionary or a third rate liberal who is suspect. Perhaps you’re not liked because such smug arrogance is a bit hard to take, particularly when it’s coupled by a refusal to differentiate between fundamentalists of all faiths and non-fundamentalists who actually believe in evolution and an ancient earth, along with metaphor and parables in scripture rather than literalism. Some of us actually agree that a literal belief in Genesis creation story is indeed appalling and we’re not atheists.

  • The undogmatic Episcopalian

    Most distrusted and least electable = marginalized and oppressed. Wow! That sounds awfully familiar, like those poor American Christians who feel persecuted all the time. Perhaps the fundamentalist Christian/militant atheist comparison is more apt than you think. Perhaps you are the one who does not get it.

  • The undocumented Episcopalian

    So what happened to my post? Or do you not allow contrary opinions on your site? Ahem. Once again. Do you really believe that being among the most distrusted, least electable groups in this country makes you marginalized and oppressed? Well, do you?

  • mickrussom

    Reza Aslan is a nefarious little creature , a little Golem , a self aggrandizing wealth accumulator and troll. He is also a follower of a rather nasty deadly cult.


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