Here’s a recent interview between the author Reza Aslan and the American talk show host Jon Stewart:
In the interview (well worth watching) Stewart made the rather funny and clever comment:
I’ve always said religion has given people great comfort in a world torn apart by religion. – Jon Stewart
Although Stewart is not an atheist (he’s Jewish), this dichotic aspect of religion that he touches upon is there for all to see. Yes, religion has its points both good and bad, and religious people can be both noble and savage. However, I feel that atheists tend to focus only on the bad and, at the moment, Islam seems to be right in the middle of that negative secular spot light. Here’s a quote from Bill Maher saying as such:
I’m not fond of any religions, but if this were the 14th century when the Catholic Inquisition was going on and they were burning witches, I would be criticizing Christianity as the religion that was way too violent and took itself way too seriously. But this is not the 14th century, and it’s not the 16th century when Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other the same way Sunnis and Shiites are now. It’s the 21st century, and in the 21st century, the problem is more about Islam than it is about any other religion. – Bill Maher, from an interview with Newsweek
I am not going to get into the debate about whether Islam is inherently the problem (for it is indeed not), instead I would like to focus on the idea that atheists proclaim that religion itself is inherently bad. With this is mind, I recently came across two quotes that really made sense to a practicing Muslim such as myself. The first is some dialogue from a horror movie between a priest and a police officer, with the priest making a rather valid point. The second is from the interview mentioned above, with Aslan making a similar but stronger point. Both quotes are below:
[Speaking in a bar filled with police officers]
Father Mendoza: What about you? When did you outgrow God?
Ralph Sarchie: When I was 12. Some meth-head frying his brains out broke into our house. He was in the same room as my mom who was sleeping. You know what stopped him? God didn’t stop him. I did. With a baseball bat. You see, Father, as we speak, every day, out there, someone’s getting hurt, ripped off, murdered, raped. Where’s God when all that’s happening? Hmm?
Father Mendoza: In the hearts of people like you, who put a stop to it. I mean, we can talk all night about the problem of evil, but what about the problem of good? I mean, if there’s no God, if the world is just “survival of the fittest,” then why are all the men in this room willing to lay down their lives for total strangers? Hmm? – from the movie Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
Reza: Look, there’s obviously a serious problem with religion, religious violence in the world, and particularly in Islam and in the Middle East. But if you’re going to blame religion for violence in the name of religion, then you have to credit religion for every act of compassion in the name of religion. You have to credit religion for every act of love in the name of religion. And that’s not what people usually think. I mean, they focus very much on the negatives. Part of the problem is that there’s this misconception that people derive their values from their scriptures, and the truth is that it’s more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures. I mean, otherwise, every Christian who read this Bible would read it exactly the same way. In this country, not 200 years ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their viewpoints, they used the same verses to do so. I mean, that’s the thing about scripture. Its power comes from its malleability. You can read it in any way you want to. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in the Koran or in the Bible to justify your viewpoint. If you’re a peaceful feminist, you will find just as much in those scriptures to justify your viewpoint.
Jon: What if you’re a Jew who loves a bacon egg croissan’wich? Is there something for me?…There’s got to be something.
Reza: I would recommend the book of Mormon for you. That might…
Jon: Yes! I knew it!…But that is the point.
Reza: Exactly. The point is is that without interpretation scripture is just words on a page. It requires somebody to read it, to encounter it for it to have any kind of meaning, and obviously in that transaction, you are bringing yourself, your views, your politics, your social ideas into the text. How you read scripture has everything to do with who you are. God does not make you a bigot. You’re just a bigot. – Reza Aslan, author, talking to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, May 2015
Please note that a recent blog post of mine also touched upon atheism and theology, again well worth a gander.