Sam Harris, while on Bill Maher’s Real Time with actor Ben Affleck as another panelist, said:
We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas
Affleck, for reasons unknown, seemed intent on outing Harris, whom he had never met before, as a religious bigot. Had Ben not been so focused on finding flaws in what Harris said, and had Harris – who was visibly surprised by Affleck’s hostility – slightly amended his statement, the whole discussion could have taken a turn for the better.
Had Sam said ‘Islam, like Christianity, is a Mother lode of bad ideas’, even Ben would have seen Harris’ intent. Since Sam didn’t, Ben deemed the statement to be a one-sided attack on Islam.
Now, the occasional good point aside, all religions are Mother lodes of bad ideas. Their claims of absolute truth and inerrancy make them intrinsically poisonous to the mind. As I wrote, the debate could have turned there and then: Pointing out that Christianity and Islam have the same amount of bad ideas (actually, Levicitus, Numeri and Deuteronomy alone are as bad as anything the Quran can offer) could have led to the discovery of the fact that even though Christians posses their own Mother lode of Really Bad Ideas, today fewer Christians act on them than their Muslim counterparts (which, I think, was Harris’ point all along).
Sam Harris wrote
After the show, Kristof, Affleck, Maher, and I continued our discussion. At one point, Kristof reiterated the claim that Maher and I had failed to acknowledge the existence of all the good Muslims who condemn ISIS, citing the popular hashtag #NotInOurName.
In response, I said: “Yes, I agree that all condemnation of ISIS is good. But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight’s show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.”
That is the difference between Islam and Christianity, and we should be able to say this openly. Ben’s ambivalence on this comes close to the racism of low expectations. Christianity has had more time (and they literally took their bloody time) to moderate their doctrine of hate, homophobia and misogyny to today’s (still unacceptably high) levels. A majority of Muslims today believe that death is the appropriate punishment for apostasy as earnestly as Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross. Neither see anything wrong with their belief.
From an ethical standpoint, neither ideology is defensible; cutting Islam some slack because it has to ‘catch up’ is not an option – that would be the ‘low expectation’ trap. All religions must be measured by today’s standards. Yet that is not even the real issue here.
The real problem is that the world has progressed technologically too far to let Muslims have their own Crusade or Inquisition. Muslims around the world must ‘do the time warp’ into ethical present or risk that their faith becomes the cause for the greatest catastrophe in human history. IS(IS), Boko Haram, al-Shabbab and Taliban may well be mere precursors of what is come if they don’t.