Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reza Aslan - America's Next Top FauxNews Contributor?

Circling back a few posts to Reza Aslan's lazy slam of 'new atheists': the truly audaciously dishonest part of Aslan's rant lies in how it skates right past the realization that Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell is advocating, in less cloudy terms and at book length, exactly what Aslan seems to be trying to seem to be advocating, at least in part: namely, the idea that there are fruitful ways of thinking about religion, and they start with abandoning the dumb and unhelpful idea that its texts, traditions, customs, taboos, and rituals are "sacred" and deserving of reverential, kids-gloves treatment.

Dennett's subtitle and his proposal is treating "religion as a natural phenomenon." The book holds up religion not for ridicule but for clear-headed, cross-disciplinary, twaddle-free, reality-based humanistic inquiry that is perfectly compatible with dropping all the same names and jargon as Aslan dropped and dozens more beyond those.

A minimally rigorous critic of Dennett would pick this up by breezing through the table of contents of the book, if only by using Amazon dot com's "look inside this book" feature. Here's a small snippet from Dennett's 13-page bibliography:

Here is a snippet from Dennett's 21 pages of index:

The clip at the top of this post comes from the "Surprise Me!" feature of Amazon's applet, and here's the point: the most cursory look at Dennett's book shows that he has devoted serious and sober attention to religion's place in human affairs, and has called on scholarship from a variety of fields for that inquiry.

Aslan didn't notice. He couldn't be bothered to glance through the book -- nor the books of the other "horsemen" -- as he typed out his lazy boilerplate, e.g., "... the principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations ..."

Whether Aslan agrees with Dennett's conclusions or not, he is astonishingly lazy, and here has shown a FauxNews-worthy capacity for projecting his own flaws onto his preferred demons: he whines at others for not end-noting the books he think they should read while in the very act of proving he has not read the books he claims to be criticizing.

It's difficult to make sense of this. Aslan seems to want it both ways: he wants to be admired in the faculty lounge for all the name-dropping, but he still wants the loony believers to see him as an ally.

Aslan is deeply confused, or lying, or both -- in short, the sort of person who seems to be trying out for regular appearances on FauxNews.

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