Sam Harris has written a blog post
in the aftermath of prior to his appearance on Bill Maher’s show. On the show, Ben Affleck showed concern that all Muslims were being judged by one variant of extreme Islam as true in the whole world.
For Sam, as he stresses in his post, the true believers are ISIS. If you as a Muslim, who does not believe like ISIS in punishment for apostasy, blasphemy, or polytheism you are one of “many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.”
Rather an odd way for Harris to encourage such unserious Muslims:
Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces.
While Sam calls his article Sleepwalking Into Armageddon I want to scream at Harris to wake up to reality. Calling people not serious Muslims is part of the religious fire which is helping the implosion throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Just ask an Ahmadi or a Shia.
Theocratic States are the problem. Whether Iran sentencing to death Mohsen Amir Aslani for stating Jonah being swallowed by a big fish was metaphor. Or Rafi Badawi sentenced to imprisonment and regular lashings hosting a liberal secular site in Saudi Arabia. About thirty countries deny basic human rights thanks to their blasphemy and apostate laws.
Such emotional human narrative was never used by Sam Harris or Bill Maher. It is the principle and concept, rather than using the names and examples of those dying by oppressive theocratic regimes. It comes across as an academic discourse that dehumanises people; it does not help us win over the emotional (but less informed) argument that Ben Affleck gave.
Sam Harris tries to use biblical scripture, and the teachings of Jesus, for why the West is secular.
Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy.
Just one slight problem. That is not a literal interpretation of the Gospel. To quote from Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”:
The truth is that Jesus’s answer is as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots—not over the issue of the tribute, but over the far more significant question of God’s sovereignty over the land. Jesus’s words speak for themselves: “Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar . . .” The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot. [Location Kindle 1520]
Does Sam Harris want Christians to take seriously that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews? Because that is the literal interpretation – real estate divinely given. Let no Caesar take away. We know the bloodshed such an idea of the Holy Land has led to.
Instead Sam has modified the text to suit a liberal secular agenda. That it is scripturally incorrect does not matter. His idea of what the scripture means is a perfect fit for the moderate Harris.
Woe betide any Muslims that attempt to do likewise with their Koran or Hadith. Sam already knows your scripture in a way he does not even know the bible. He has passed a fatwa that you are not a serious muslim. While twisting how Christianity is to fit a secular paradigm. Do as I say not as I do. It is a contradictory and frankly confused counter message.
So much for the counter narrative and the Christian secular narrative. On Bill Maher’s show again Maajid Nawaz (author of “Radical” and whom Sam Harris singles out as someone we should support) talks here about the ideological narrative of islamism – and how relatively new it is. Note how he gives the human emotional narrative I mentioned.
We need to make the case for universal human rights, and how a theocratic state prevents that. We need the concept of pluralism, that a religion is more varied than any claim to orthodoxy about one true version. Whether by a mullah or an atheist, the history of ideas and culture has shown different rivers flowing through time. Despite claims there is one true source, and one course to follow.
Tom Holland introduced me to the concept of various rivers flowing into the Koran, rather than my suggestion it was a plagiarised work. In the concluding part of his critical review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” in today’s Sunday Times he states:
Islam, by militarising Christian notions such as martyrdom and spiritual struggle, then helped the Arabs forge the largest empire the world had ever seen.
From that point, the struggle for competitive advantage between Christian and Muslim powers would repeatedly witness the drafting of theologians as well as soldiers. Had Armstrong only set about tracing the evolution of such dynamics, she would have succeeded in endowing her book with the focus it so signally lacks.
We need to get serious about the human, the theological, ideological narrative of the evolution of islamism. Harris needs to get that sharp focus as does Armstrong. Until he does, his challenge will be dismissed by the very Muslims he is trying to inspire.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog