Aslan and Tayler, Ships in the Night

culture, liberalism 4 Replies

In a recent article in Salon, Jeffrey Tayler goes on quite the tirade against Reza Aslan, and Aslan’s position that people who criticise Islam for what it says in the Koran are simply doing criticism wrong. Tayler, in a magnificent example of “Oh yeah?! Let me demonstrate exactly how correct you are!”, proceeds to sift out quotes from the Koran. I’m not exactly sure what Tayler is attempting to do, but I (for one) try to make an effort to understand what I’m criticising before committing it to print.

I’m going to deconstruct Tayler’s article here, and try to illuminate the various errors that he’s making.

Let’s start with Reza’s central claim that Tayler kicks off with:

“It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives. . . .  After all, scripture is meaningless without interpretation.  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. . . If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs. If you are a peaceful, democratic feminist, you will also find justification in the scriptures for your point of view.”

What’s Reza saying here? He’s saying that if you look at Islam, over a billion adherents scattered across the globe, with a variety of sects all purporting to being ‘true’ Muslims, following the ‘true’ Islam, and yet many of them believe very different things. Now, if they’re all deriving their ‘beliefs’ from the Koran, then this would not be possible. This, therefore, demonstrates that they are not lifting their beliefs directly from the Koran, but are applying their own interpretations to what they are reading. Y’know, just like Christians do with the bible.

What this means is that if all you know about someone is that they are a Muslim, but not which sect they adhere to, then you have no idea what their stance is on a particular verse. Zero. Zip. Nada. Just like if you talk to a Christian (and that’s all you know about them), you have no idea what *their* stance is on, say, homosexuality.

So it seems odd that Tayler would respond with

Now we have to stop and ponder what we are being sold here. Aslan is essentially taking a postmodernist, Derrida-esque scalpel to “scripture” and eviscerating it of objective content

Reza’s claim is how ‘believers’ (of whatever religion) interact with their book: they pick and choose, and they interpret (regardless of how much they claim that they aren’t). Reza is not the one “eviscerating” the Koran of “objective content”, Muslims are. Reza is merely reporting what he sees happening when he speaks to real, living believers. And lets be clear here: this is NOT unique to Muslims, but to all religions that claim they adhere to a holy text: find two believers, and you’ll find a disparity of beliefs, even though they both claim foundation in their holy text.

While I mostly agree with the rest of Tayler’s polemic, the opening salvo was just ridiculous. I’ve written before on the idea that ‘religion causes terrible behaviour‘, so I’m not going to rehash that here.

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4 thoughts on “Aslan and Tayler, Ships in the Night

  1. Ryan Gerber

    I’m not a fan of Aslan but he’s absolutely right here. When talking about Islam it’s pretty important to remember that it goes all the way from Abu Bakr to Malala, and probably a fair bit further on either side. Just like a religion that includes McVeigh, Breivik, and Mister Rogers.

  2. Jan Jannsen

    “He’s saying that if you look at Islam, over a billion adherents scattered across the globe, with a variety of sects all purporting to being ‘true’ Muslims, following the ‘true’ Islam, and yet many of them believe very different things. Now, if they’re all deriving their ‘beliefs’ from the Koran, then this would not be possible.”

    From an inconsistent model, anything and everything can be derived, logically speaking. So your argumentation is plainly wrong.

    Taking your and Aslan’s point to an extreme, we could just as well be studying “Mein Kampf” to come up with a correct interpretation that would help form an enlightened society.

    Moreover, it would help if you come with some examples instead of making general statements like “many of them believe different things”. I for example would maintain that women are severely discriminated against in all Islamic societies, and that Islamic scripture and history is more than problematic in this respect.

    There are those of us who would like to discuss the content of the religion to understand these issues. If you cannot contribute to this debate, please just stay out of it. Because I understand that you are to frightened to actually investigate and discuss the tenets of Islam.

  3. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    From an inconsistent model, anything and everything can be derived, logically speaking. So your argumentation is plainly wrong.

    Yes, it’s true that ‘anything’ follows from an inconsistent model, if one adheres to a model of logic that allows for explosion. Not all do, however.
    Regardless, if ‘anything’ (and therefore ‘everything’) follows from an inconsistent model, then that model is not the source of those beliefs.

    Taking your and Aslan’s point to an extreme

    You don’t appear to be understanding the point being made. Your example runs in precisely the opposite way of my point (and, I believe, Aslan’s).

    Moreover, it would help if you come with some examples instead of making general statements like “many of them believe different things”.

    Wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT…

    You’re saying that you want to be critical of the various cultures that follow Islam, but you don’t actually know anything about the various expressions of Islam?

    HiLARious.

    Here’s an example about dogs: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/world/asia/dog-petting-event-underlines-malaysias-culture-wars.html

    If you cannot contribute to this debate, please just stay out of it. Because I understand that you are to frightened to actually investigate and discuss the tenets of Islam.

    So here’s the deal: you can either take a moment to understand the points being made, and contribute in an informed and constructive manner, or you will be left in moderation indefinitely.

    Your ignorance of the topic being discussed does not entail any particular emotional state on my part. For someone so concerned about “logic”, this should be trivially obvious.

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