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.


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