Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bill Maher: "Islam Needs A Reformation"

One thing which made me tired of the New Atheist movement was the unrelenting tendency to equate Christianity with fundamentalism, Islam with ISIS, etc.

And, as I've mentioned before on this blog, there's the very unfortunate combination of constantly talking about religions with not knowing very much about them, not studying their history, which pretty much amounts to not studying human history in general. Again last night on "Real Time," Bill Maher -- who is not all bad, and who started off the show in a very knowledge-based way, talking to an environmentalist and saying, quite accurately, that climate change is the world's #1 political issue at the present time, because if we don't deal with it it will kill us all -- said not for the first time that Islam needs a Reformation.

Spoken like a New Atheist who knows squat both about Islam and about the Western Christian Reformation. (Western Christian: the Orthodox and Syriac and Armenian and Coptic and Ethiopic Churches weren't involved in the Reformation. It all happened among Catholics.) For one thing, there is no one thing which Islam needs because Islam is very far from being one unified entity. (Although I'm sure that one thing most Muslims would appreciate is if people like Maher would learn more about them and pontificate about them less.)

For another thing, an atheist who calls for a religious Reformation knows squat about the Reformation. The leaders of the Reformation, Jan Huss, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, were much more pious and rigidly literalist and grimly fanatical than the Catholic Church around them, not less. Hus wore a hair shirt and trembled his whole life at the memory of how as a youth he had had a couple sips of wine and played a few games of dice. Before he invented Lutheranism, the Catholic monk Luther traveled to Rome and was outraged by how secular and worldly and non-Biblical the Church in Rome had become. And when some peasants misunderstood Luther's break from the Catholic Church as a call for them to rise up and free themselves from their feudal masters, Luther wrote to those masters and urged them to kill the rebellious peasants like dogs, which they did. Jean Calvin, besides giving the world the doctrine of predestination, was also an avid hunter and burner of witches, and the Puritans who hung and crushed dozens of witches in Salem in the 1690's were largely Protestant in their theology.

That was the Reformation: the hardcore nuts among the Catholics breaking away from the main Church because it wasn't hardcore enough. Protestantism has changed quite a lot since it began, and diversified so much that it's difficult to define the entire group of Protestants in any meaningful way, and there have been some ironic changes, such as that way that the Congregationalist Church, which used to be the witch-hunting Puritans, is now one of the most liberal and free-thinking of Christian denominations. But that was the Reformation.

What does Islam need? Well, different Muslims need all sorts of different things. One thing which I think would benefit all people, Muslims, Christians, atheists and others, is if history were more intensively and rigorously studied. That would tend to decrease the frequency with which people said clueless, unhelpful things, like Bill Maher saying that Islam needs a Reformation.

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