I’m a big fan of Bill Maher and rarely miss his show. I agree with a lot of what he says, but certainly not everything. I’m also very attentive to Sam Harris. He’s become one of the leading proponents of the notions that consciousness and free will are illusions (ideas I oppose), and he’s been exceptionally disciplined and precise in making his arguments.
So I was very attentive to the famous debate with Ben Affleck about liberal attitudes toward Islamic illiberalism, and I posted my response in a couple of places online, including Juan Cole’s Informed Comment and as at the Young Turks YouTube channel. My response is below the video.
Here’s why I think Harris’s comments on Islam reveal his bigotry. At one point in the discussion on Bill Maher’s show he described his “onion layer” theory of ruthless Jihadi murderers at the center, and violence-condoning conservatives the next layer out, together accounting for a huge percentage of the world’s Muslim population. He also described an outermost layer of “nominal” Muslims who would reject such violence.
In his view, evidently, the only good Muslim is a “nominal” Muslim. Yet, I think he would admit that, throughout history, devotees of supernatural religions have continually re-interpreted their founding texts to sanctify an astoundingly wide variety of cultural behaviors. For example, Islamic culture once led the world in scientific investigation and architecture on the justification of seeking the patterns of God
My point is that supernatural religions by definition allow for lots of flexibility. They are ungrounded by evidence, and can be put to any use that adherents prefer… their truths are in the eye of the believing beholder. Self proclaimed “devout” Muslims can therefore consider themselves obliged to behave as benevolent humanitarians OR crusading murderers, just like Christians. Yet Harris would insist that any devout Muslim is a threat. Wrong and unfair.