REZA ASLAN: I don't read Sam Harris' blogs, he seems to be blogging all the time. Somebody tweeted a line from that, that he thinks that I am writing a "jet stream of white guilt" from media appearance to media appearance. This is really the problem with Sam Harris and his sort of zealous disciples is that -- and why the only term for what they believe in is fundamentalism. When you combine an absolute sense of certainty with the kind of literalism that I've already described with an utter sense of siege -- Sam Harris thinks that he is completely under siege by everyone, that everyone is out to get him -- and of course that this notion that everyone who disagrees with you aren't just wrong but evil, sinister, they have some hidden agenda. It's not just a disagreement. That there is something else going on there. That's called fundamentalism. It doesn't matter whether it's religious fundamentalism or atheist fundamentalism, and it needs to be rejected by all people.
The problem with not just Sam but with the new atheists in general is that they give atheism a bad name. My greatest intellectual heroes are all atheists, whether I'm talking about [Arthur] Schopenhauer, or [Sigmund] Freud, or Marx, or [Ludwig] Feuerbach. These were the people who gave birth to the modern world. They were the people who gave birth to the enlightenment. But they were experts in religion. They understood religion and then criticized it from a place of expertise, and there is lots to criticize about religion as you have rightly said.
But what is happening now is that a guy sort of sitting in his room watching television with a blog has now become a self-described expert on religion and espouses the most basic, uninformed, and unsophisticated views about religion from a position of, you know, intellectualism. And I think that that's dangerous, because I understand your animosity towards religions, but even you understand that religion is not going anywhere. On the contrary, religion is a growing force in the world. It's a growing force in the United States. The most recent Pew poll showed that a majority of Americans want more religion in public life, not less.
So this idea that religion is just "bad science," "failed science," is just superstition, it's silly belief in God,s despite the fact that a third of the major religions in the world don't actually believe in God that is not just a misunderstanding and characterization of religion, but it's dangerous. Because what it does is it keeps us from having some very important and necessary conversations about the role of religion in society, about the problem of extremism in religious communities, and about how to reconcile the realities of the modern world with these contextual scriptures that so many people nowadays view incorrectly as literal and inerrant.
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