Reza Aslan Hits Back at Atheists Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, Says It's 'Idiotic' to Blame Religion for Terrorism

Iraqi Shiite militia fighters hold the Islamic State flag as they celebrate after breaking the siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants, Sept. 1, 2014.
Iraqi Shiite militia fighters hold the Islamic State flag as they celebrate after breaking the siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants, Sept. 1, 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Youssef Boudlal)

Controversial Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth author, Reza Aslan, has hit back against atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher, who've blamed Islam and religion as a whole for violence and terrorism around the world, arguing that conflicts are much more complex than a single cause.

"New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are not atheists, they are anti-theists. They don't just not believe in God, they believe that religion is an insidious evil that has to be forcibly removed from society. And their views about religious people and religion in general are extreme and in no way representative of the majority or the mainstream view of atheists," Aslan said in an interview with the Vancouver Observer published on Tuesday.

He added that such anti-theists get their ideas "from the most simplistic, the most unsophisticated and the most knee-jerk reaction to the very real problem of religious violence around the world," and argued that it is "nothing less than idiotic to blame religion for religious violence without recognizing the multiple factors that are involved in violence of any sort."

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Aslan also said that HBO host Bill Maher is a "comedian and nothing more," arguing that he is trivializing Islam and the socio-political complexities of the Middle East.

Both Maher and Dawkins have made several controversial remarks regarding Islam. Maher said on his HBO show in January that the terror attacks in Paris that killed 17 people were backed by "hundreds of millions" of Muslims.

"They applaud an attack like this. What they say is, we don't approve of violence, but you know what, when you make fun of the prophet, all bets are off," Maher said.

Dawkins, who regularly criticizes Christianity and other religions on his Twitter page, said back in April that while Christianity and Judaism have at least moved away from "Middle Ages" teachings, Islam continues to uphold punishments such as stonings, and preaches about world domination.

"Yes, Christianity and Judaism are every bit as stupid as Islam," Dawkins claimed. "But they don't preach world domination, theocratically imposed law, stoning, etc. And yes, Christianity and Judaism USED TO preach equally terrible things. But we live NOW, not in the Middle Ages. That's kind of relevant."

Terror group ISIS and its declaration of an "Islamic Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria has stoked religious tensions and religious debates around the world. In past interviews, Aslan admitted that if ISIS identifies as Muslim, it should be taken seriously.

"I'm OK with you saying that ISIS is Muslim as long as you also realize that the tens of thousands of people that they have killed are also Muslims, and that the tens of thousands of people who are are fighting against ISIS are Muslim," the scholar said in May.

Aslan himself attracted controversy in 2013 with the release of Zealot, which attempts to present a historical account of the life of Jesus, but leaves it open for interpretation whether Jesus really was the Son of God.

He said in the latest interview that now he identifies with Sufism, which is a mysitcal philosophy rooted in Islam.

Explaining his faith, the author said that "for someone who studies the religions of the world and understands that all religions are merely man-made expressions of transcendental experience, Sufism that uses the metaphors and symbols of Islam, but interprets them in a far more mystical and direct way, is much more conducive than the traditional mainstream or institutionalized religions."

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