Dynamic Interpretations, Static Books: A Response to Bill Maher and Reza Aslan

This photo provided by HBO shows Bill Maher on the set of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher during Season 10 in Los Angeles on
This photo provided by HBO shows Bill Maher on the set of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher during Season 10 in Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham)

In response to Bill Maher and Reza Aslan's recent squabble and the general Islamist-Muslim debate in America.

We are having the wrong debate. This isn't about religion, this is about culture. To understand this we need the context of history -- something both of those nincompoops (and most polemicists) somehow forget.

The History:

America has been and still is, largely, a country ruled by Christians. Through the American lens, it is helpful to remember, then, that Christianity's dysfunction paralleled Islam's dysfunction for centuries, out-dueling Islam in the realm of detestable acts.

Up until only recently has Christianity (I should say Christians, not Christianity, as the Bible has not changed) put on a better face then Islam. It was only 60 years ago that a murderous Christian terror organization called the KKK was a major force in the U.S., enjoying tacit state backing and appalling civic approval from less radical southern Christians (which parallels some of today's Islamist-Muslim relations). Go back a bit further and it gets much worse. Slavery, Manifest Destiny and the decimation of the native populations of the Americas, eugenics, Social Darwinism -- all, in their day argued to be Christian activities -- moral and just. Heresy (confliction with the Church), such as proclaiming the world was round, was punishable by death. Sound familiar? Columbus' slaughter of Heathens was a trifle in his day -- for they were not Christian. The native North American population took a nosedive (otherwise known as genocide) from an estimated 12 million in 1500 C.E. to just 237,000 and change by 1900, with Christian reasoning and biblical reference, dubbed Manifest Destiny, to justify it.

Yes, since those days things have changed a bit -- but it is not the static Bible that has changed -- it is Western culture and it's interpretations that has matured considerably. Slavery is illegal, Heresy is given a pass thanks to Freedom of Speech, and genocides of any kind usually engender public outrage. Things are by no means perfect -- Manifest Destiny has arguably continued as America's "White Man's Burden"-esque duty to police the world, and homophobic strongholds rely on antiquated interpretations of the Bible -- but things have evolved. More specifically, culture has evolved -- and so have Christians.

And so, when people like Bill Maher and Reza Aslan are arguing about whether Islam is evil at its core in light of recent violent Islamic activities, they are making two mistakes: one, they are focused on religion and not culture. It is the Islamic culture that currently, according to polls, interprets the Quran violently, just like it was the Christian culture that interpreted the Bible violently. Two, they are forgetting how America, a Christian nation, became so great: it changed. The Bible didn't change -- the people who interpreted it did -- the American culture did. And if one culture can alter it's interpretations to move from repugnance towards enlightenment, so can another.*

The pastime of calling one religion better than another is too dumb to explain here. All one need do is point to history.

*Polls show that a majority of the Muslim populations in the Middle East either approve of or desire Shariah Law and all of the heinous shit that comes with it.

However, 2014 Pew Research Center polls taken in violent Muslim countries show that Muslim approval of Militant Islamists has fallen over the past decade. 92 percent of Muslims polled in Lebanon, 82 percent in Tunisia, 75 percent in Egypt, and 65 percent in Palestine were "concerned about Islamic extremism in our country."

Asked about suicide bombing as an acceptable mode of militant violence, Palestine turned in a 47 percent approval rating. This is horrible news until you consider that in 2007, Palestinian approval of suicide bombings was at 70 percent. Similarly, Lebanese approval is at 29 percent, down from 74 percent in 2002.