5 Ways Bill Maher Is Right and Reza Aslan Wrong About Islam

The Bill Maher/Ben Affleck Islam controversy just keeps rolling, with mainstream media outlets pumping out article after article to excoriate Maher for going off the reservation and to try, ever more desperately, to shore up their sagging Islam-Is-A-Religion-of-Peace dogma. It is no surprise that leftist media darling Reza Aslan is at the center of these efforts, appearing on CNN and penning an op-ed in the New York Times to attack Maher and warn leftists who may be tempted to believe Maher that telling the truth about Islam is still “racism” and “bigotry.”

The only problem is, as is so often the case, Aslan is wrong. Here are the five chief misstatements he has made during the Maher kerfuffle:

1. “The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires.”

Bill Maher, according to the headline of Aslan’s Times piece, “misunderstands religion.” But then Reza tells us in the article that religions are infinitely malleable, capable of being “molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires.”

If that were true, however, then it would be impossible to misunderstand them, because anything at all that one said about them would be as equally valid as any other view. Thus it would be impossible for Bill Maher, or anyone else, to misunderstand religion or Islam in particular.

What Aslan is claiming here is absolutely nihilistic. He’s saying essentially that words have no meaning, that the various scriptures of various religions have no essential content or character, that the religions themselves are meaningless and interchangeable, and that people are never inspired to change their behavior by the teachings of a religion, which don’t exist anyway, since religions are wholly and solely what people decide they will be. Can a religion’s teachings transform a believer into a “violent misogynist” or a “peaceful, democratic feminist”?

For Aslan, the answer is no: religions are just putty, to be formed by those who believe in them into any shape they like. So tomorrow Muslims could begin to declare that there are five gods, despite the Qur’an’s fierce monotheism, and Christians could begin murdering people while screaming, “Jesus is Lord!”

This is, of course, completely absurd. Religions don’t just depend on what the believer brings to them; believers are also shaped by what they teach. While there is diversity within religious traditions, that diversity is circumscribed by the broad parameters of the religion’s core teachings. Religious teachings actually have real content and neither can be nor are shaped by believers into whatever they like.