People don’t learn their values from religious teachings, according to Reza Aslan. During an appearance Wednesday night on The Daily Show, the religious scholar argued the situation was reversed — people infused scripture with their own personal values.
“There is obviously a serious problem with religious violence, and particularly with Islam and in the Middle East,” he remarked. “But if you’re going to blame religion for violence in the name of religion, then you have to credit religion for every act of compassion in the name of religion, you have to credit religion for every act of love in the name of religion, and that’s not what people usually think. They focus very much on the negative.”
“Part of the problem is that there is this misconception that people derive their values from their scriptures,” Aslan added. “The truth is it is more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures. I mean, otherwise, every Christian who read the Bible would read it exactly the same way. In this country, not 200 years ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their viewpoints, they used the same verses to do so. That’s the thing about scripture, it’s power comes from its malleability. You can read it in any way you want to.”
“If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in the Koran or in the Bible to justify your viewpoint. If you’re a peaceful feminist, you will find just as much in those scriptures to justify your viewpoint.”
“What if you’re a Jew who loves a bacon egg sandwich?” host Jon Stewart interjected.
“I would recommend the Book of Mormon,” Aslan jokingly replied. “The point is that without interpretation scripture is just words on a page, it requires somebody to read it, to encounter it for it to have any kind of meaning, and obviously in that transaction you are bringing yourself, your views, your politics, your social ideas into the text. How you read scripture has everything to do with who you are. God did not make you a bigot, you’re just a bigot.”
In the extended portion of the interview uploaded online, Aslan said trying to completely divorce religion from violence was also wrong.
“We need to resist saying ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or that violence in the name of religion has nothing to do with religion. Of course it has to do with religion. If ISIS calls itself Muslim, we should probably take them seriously,” he said.
“I’m OK with you saying ISIS is Muslim as long as you realize that the tens of thousands of people that they kill are also Muslim, and the tens of thousands of people fighting them are also Muslims. So if ISIS is Muslim, and their victims are Muslim, and the people fighting them are Muslim — that doesn’t really say anything all that interesting about Islam itself.”
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