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Of the many head-scratching things Reza Aslan (below) has said over the past few weeks in his criticism of atheists like Sam Harris and Bill Maher who single out Islam as a uniquely troublesome faith, this may be the strangest:

I think the principle fallacy of not just to the so-called New Atheists, but I think of a lot of critics of religion, is that they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false.
People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity…

It seems like a logical viewpoint — if you are just a person who doesn’t know much about the history, philosophy, sociology of religion — it seems like a logical thing to say that people get their values from their scriptures. It’s just intrinsically false. That’s not what happens. People do not derive their values from their scriptures — they insert their values into their scriptures.

Basically, the only people who believe people derive value from their faith are those who have never studied religion.
Which is strange… since damn near all religious people I meet say they derive their values from their faith. (It’s the same reason they wonder how I, as an atheist, have any morals.)
Damon Linker at The Week pushes back on that claim by defending the New Atheists (whom he usually criticizes):

at least [the New Atheists] take religion seriously — as a set of norms, practices, and beliefs that make and respond to truth-claims about morality, history, the fate of humanity, the meaning of life, and the nature of the universe. Aslan, by contrast, defends faith by denying it has much that’s distinctive to say about any of these matters — or rather that whatever it does say merely reflects and amplifies preexisting “cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, [and] political prejudices and preconceived notions.” On this view, religion and truth have little — if anything — to do with each other.

A sincere reckoning with religion — as well as an honest investigation of authentic atheism (life divested of all forms of providential thinking) — requires that we treat religious truth-claims with utmost seriousness, and that we examine them in their most potent, cogent, and compelling form.
The New Atheists fall far short of meeting that standard. But they come closer than would-be defenders of religion for whom the question of truth never even arises.

One of the main purposes of religion is to provide a framework from which we can live a fulfilling, meaningful life. To say that every religion is just an inkblot in a Rorschach test is to ignore the power that it has to shape those values in the first place. People become religious in part because they want that framework.
As Linker writes, atheists take religion seriously. We listen to what devout believers say. We see what’s written in the holy books. We don’t sugar coat it to make it more acceptable.
Aslan is willing to ignore all of that because, in his view, religions are all the same and what’s written in the holy books is irrelevant. That’s a dangerous way to think when some religions — and some believers who take the Words of God literally — pose real threats to society.
Here’s the different between the two views: I think we’d live in a better world if holy texts didn’t include passages that called for the death of those who didn’t follow God’s dictates. Aslan seems to think it doesn’t matter.
To paraphrase one commenter at, there’s a reason the Bible and Koran aren’t Choose Your Own Adventure books. They’re written with commandments and dictates, and they’re meant to be taken seriously. Aslan is foolish to pretend otherwise.
(via The Dish)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.