Although a few days have passed, I want to weigh in on the battle that took place between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher on last Friday’s show. One of Bill’s guests, Sam Harris, renowned author, philosopher and neuroscientist, discussed his latest book, Waking Up, A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion. He is unabashedly an atheist, like Bill and myself.
The discussion of religion, especially Islam, devolved from a very reasonable explanation of Fundamentalist Islamic core beliefs to a verbal brawl between the three of them, mostly between Bill and Ben. Bill and Sam argued that Islamaphobia rightly exists because at its core, Islam does not allow equality and justice for all and Sharia law is certainly medieval in its implementation. Sam decried bigotry towards people of the Muslim faith, but did acknowledge that the tenets of Islam itself were far from the liberal values we hold dear in the West. Ben called the stance taken by Sam and Bill as racist and gross, for which he received loud applause.
Mr. Harris kept trying to make his point and kept his cool trying to “unpack” for Ben the point he was trying to make, but as in all arguments, it seems the one who speaks the loudest and keeps interrupting is the one who gets all the attention. In addition, Affleck has a good image as a humanitarian and philanthropist.
However, I fidgeted in my chair and kept yelling at the television, thinking stupidly that Ben could hear me, and to shut the hell up and let Mr. Harris make his points! Ben was getting me angry because I really wanted to hear Harris’ argument. He did manage to begin an explanation by asking Ben to see the many facets of Islam as concentric circles, Fundamentalism and its most extreme followers, ISIS, comprising its core.
The difference between Islam and other religions was that as the concentric circles of Islam widened, they still included people who were true to the fundamental principles of Islam: women may not drive, gays are to be killed, adulterous wives are to be beheaded, and all infidels converted or eliminated, etc.
At the core of Christianity are equally harsh rules and we all know the devastation fundamentalist Christians would cause to the equal rights and justice for all if they were powerful enough to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. I dare say that these people at the core of Christianity would also like to use the Bible as the rule of law.
The difference as I see it, and as I believe Maher and Harris would have explained but never had a chance to because of Affleck’s knee-jerk reactions, inattentiveness, and high-horse yodeling, is that as the concentric circles of Christianity extend outwards, the “believers” are more progressive, less radical, and the circles needn’t extend far before people are Christian in name only.
Yes, there are progressive Muslims, but considering it is the religion that has the largest following, those progressives, compared as a percentage to progressive Christians or Jews, is relatively small. Therein lies the problem of Islam. How to be a progressive Muslim within a religion that allows no progressivism at all? In the United States, it is fairly safe to be a progressive Muslim who finds beheadings, the status of women and gays, and the idea that all non-Muslims are infidels, to be despicable and embarrassing to say the least. But to be a progressive Muslim within a Muslim country is to put your life on the line!
I do have friends who were born into Muslim families, but they are no more Muslim than I am Catholic, though I was born into a Catholic family… a strict Catholic family! I believe my progressive “Muslim” friends would never be so outspoken in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or Indonesia, as they are here, safe in a (supposedly) secular country.
The point I wish to make is that at the religious core, not the spiritual core, of all religions, you will find the seeds of hate and violence. Many will point to the great work some religious people do on behalf of the poor and suffering. I do not wish to minimize the important deeds they accomplish, often in the most selfless and compassionate ways. But taken in the context of history, I believe that religion is the root of all evil.
Religion is ridiculous! The very thought that a person would shed the blood of another because he thinks his god is the true god violates all notions of common decency. The very idea that no one is entitled to freedom of thought or expression, though born with a unique mind, violates all logic. The very thought that there is anything outside your Self is a farce perpetuated by those who praise their lord and pass the ammunition.
Krishnamurti once said, “Have no beliefs, for beliefs separate one man from another.” You may ask, “At a minimum, doesn’t religion provide us with a code of conduct?” I answer that question with more questions. Are beheadings a code of conduct? Are Jewish settlements on Palestinian land a code of conduct? Are the despicable antics of the Westboro Baptist Church a code of conduct? Killing in the name of Christ? Killing in the name of Yahweh? Killing in the name of Allah? Are all these considered approved codes of conduct? The Crusades of the Knights Templar were no less brutal than the crusade of ISIS. Karma? (Don’t even get me going on the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses! Proselytizing missionaries drive me bonkers and do more harm than good!)
There is only one code of conduct: You should never do anything that would prevent another person from realizing their own inner “divinity,” which if it exists at all, would be the only place it might reside. All proper conduct can be derived from that one code. You are god. You are love. You are peace. And if there is a god, you are it!
The Unapologetic Hippie