Imagine a moment that, as a liberal, I'm trying to say something that will make Sam Harris and Bill Maher really happy (assuming they cared what I thought about anything). So let me make the following argument, all of which I believe:
- I believe that all the gods that people worship, including Allah, are fictional beings that don't exist. (1)
- This implies that no one, including Mohammed, has ever been spoken to by a god or given a divine revelation.
- Therefore, every holy book, including the Koran, that claims to be divine revelation is entirely the invention of human beings.
- Therefore, anything that those books have to say about what women wear, who has sex with who, or what god people choose to believe in have no authority. (2) No one has a right to punish anyone for not covering their face or body, believing in the wrong god, being gay, or anything else that doesn't hurt other people.
- Also, I'm going to take a stand and say I'm against cutting people's heads off in all circumstances.
I'M AGAINST CUTTING PEOPLE'S HEADS OFF IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.
(Weird, my <blink> tag isn't working. Must be decremented.)
Would Harris and Maher be happy? No, of course not. I'm an atheist too, and I also believe that all the religions, whatever good ideas they might have, are at their core, wrong, in the sense that their gods don't exist and they don't have any magic powers. But that's not what Harris and Maher want, is it?
No, they want me to say that, but also that Islam is worse than all the other religions. That it, in particular, is a "mother lode of bad ideas."
But rather than continuing to uselessly point out the intellectual inconsistencies of their position, it's worth asking why this is so important to them that we "speak out."
If you read my bullet points, you learned exactly nothing about my beliefs you didn't know if you've met me more than once. That I would believe these things is ridiculously obvious, not just about me but about pretty much any much any other liberal atheist. Nevertheless, Maher and Harris want liberals to "speak out" against Islam in particular.
But what for? Who would we be speaking to? Who would we be persuading? The people who we might hope to actually persuade don't, to say the least, give a rat's ass what we think. In fact, our disapproval would be a balm to them if anything.
But, Harris might say, you liberals always bitching about how bad we treat the people in Guantanamo or how bad the Israelis are treating the Palestinians and how White policemen shoot Black men and so on. But what ISIS is doing is worse! Why don't you complain more about them?
Skip over that this is literally middle-school reasoning (3): "They're torturing and killing people too! Why don't they get a Time Out?"
The thing is, when liberals complain about the actions of the governments of America, Britain or Israel it's not because we think less of those governments but because we think more. Because we actually believe that for all the horrible things they do there are actually civilized people there that just might listen and make a change. ISIS will never stop being horrible, no matter what we say. The American government, every now and then, actually does.
There's a bit more to it. As a Western person, I'm part of a culture that I feel in a place to actually influence, in whatever tiny a way. There is a history of Western people going to other cultures and telling they're wrong and how they should live instead; it's called Imperialism, and in general it hasn't ended well.
Maher and Harris think they're being brave and taking a stand, when in fact they're giving a sermon to the choir that will influence nobody. There is a reason they are becoming Fox News' favorite atheists.
In a sense, the "defense" I'm giving of Islam here is the most pathetic defense anyone could have hoped for, and certainly not one they'd want. I'm saying it's no better or worse than any other religion. Like every religion (and a lot of secular or atheist cults that aren't religions, like communism), it has some good ideas and some really horrible ones, and the quality of the ideas that are applied depends on the quality of the person applying them.
But that's boring, isn't it? No wonder I don't have a talk show.
1 This sounds harsh, but really it's what pretty much anyone believes about any god they don't personally worship. So in this sense I share this opinion of Allah with Harris, but also Pat Robertson, the Dalai Lama, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist party and everyone else in the world who isn't a Muslim.
2 I also believe that if God did exist, They wouldn't give a rats ass about all that stuff anyway, but it's not directly part of my argument.
3 I teach middle schoolers, so I know.