Nathan is perhaps the most rationale person I’ve known on Facebook. Its always a pleasure talking to him, we both have similar interest in the history of religion and have shared a lot of information with each other in past.
I’m sure you’ll love this interview of Nathan as this is nothing short of a classic in my opinion …
Interview of Nathan Harris
Q.1: Nathan, can you please introduce yourself to the readers. a little intro of yourself will do.
Sure – I’m Nathan Harris, an ex-muslim. I’ve completed my degree in Biology and I’m still interested in studying Islamic theology despite my loss of faith – and needless to say I’m critical of it.
Q.2: Without wasting too much time, lets jump directly to the topics related to Islam. As you said you are critical of this religion, is it just Islam you’re critical of or is it the Religion in general and particularly Abrahamic Faiths that you’ve problem with ?
I’m equally critical of all Abrahamic faith. I reject all religious dogmas, but Abrahamic dogma is the one I have serious problems with – it is inherently sexist, violent and homophobic and has been hindering the progress of science and humanity since it’s advent, probably.
So as a humanist and feminist – I do have serious problems with Abrahamic faiths. Although I always try to keep my criticisms rational and balanced.
Q.3: There is a common argument that mankind can not keep a balance between good and bad without the teachings of an organized religion. Why would you do good things if there is no fear of a God. Whats your take on this argument ?
Well, I have to say that’s an often regurgitated argument, which we know is demonstrable untrue. Millions of secular humanists around the globe and millions of religious fundamentalists have clearly shown that this is not the case. Our morality has evolved over time and the last thing I’d rely on for morality is Abrahamic dogma. Except the very few good parts, it’s among the vilest idea ever conceived by man. I agree with Weinberg on this one:
“With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – which pretty much is the case. “Moderates” might cherry pick and choose the good parts of their scripture (because their moral outlook is influenced by secular morality) – however what about fundamentalists who do atrocious acts in the name of religion?
Are you going to convince the Salafis and Wahabbis that their interpretations are wrong? Well good luck with that – if anything the fundamentalists are more ‘true’ to their faith in my opinion.
As for the issue of godless morality based on humanism, I’ve written a blog post here on that topic: http://www.rationalhub.com/blogs/musings/2012/06/22/a-few-thoughts-on-morality/
Q.4: Lately, there seems to be a rise in the way Islam is being discussed on internet by the people who are against it. Prophet Muhammad’s personal life and specially his marriages etc are openly discussed on Facebook forums etc. What do you think about Prophet Muhammad ?
Well that’s an extremely vast topic. I certainly don’t jump on the “Mo was a pedo” bandwagon” – Child marriage was a norm back then and Mo perhaps went along with it. He did some good things, for instance – he did improve the status of slaves and women which was, in some tribes, pretty horrible at his time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in acknowledging that.
However, whatever good things he did was overshadowed by his other atrocious preachings, and the problem is when people thinks him as a role model for humanity. We’ve come way past from the times where people owned slaves, women were treated like property and homosexuals and people who have consensual sex are flogged/sentenced to death.
You can’t simply accept the moral outlook of a warlord/megalomaniac who owned slaves, practiced child marriage, and was homophobic and sexist. You can’t claim he’s a prophet and ask me to appreciate the good stuff he did at the time and ignore the dark chapters of his life.
Q.5: Muslims often take pride that Women were buried alive before the Islam came to Arabia. Do you think its a claim for real ? If that was the case how come there were so many women around for Muslims to get married and how come Bibi Khadijah was a rich a business-woman with immense wealth and power ?
Yes, I often cite that example (along with a few others in Seerah) to show that how that’s an immensely biased assertion. Of course, some tribes might have treated women crappily, that doesn’t mean in the whole world women were treated like crap until Islam came along.
If so there should be many more Khadijah’s who owned businesses or such in post Islamic Arabia – clearly that’s not the case. What Islam did was bring a standardized ruling – which benefited some, and were detrimental to others. So it’s sort of a grey area I would say.
As for infanticide, I recall reading somewhere that it was practiced in some tribes when they were out of options during famine etc. which again is a grey area, however regardless I would certainly consider it as a positive aspect of Islam, historically speaking.
Q.6: I know that you’re running a Facebook Forum specially meant to address the Theory of Evolution (since you’re a Biologist yourself).
Whats your experience on dealing with Theists on the topic of Evolution and specially the human evolution. Are they pain to deal with ?
Yes, mostly. Theists who are evolution denialists has already made their mind up – and the obvious stupidity and ignorance makes things worse. Evolutionary biology is an extremely vast field, and there are a lot of highly debated (and interesting) areas in evo biology.
So when these people, who hardly has any comprehension of the very basics of theory of evolution, quote mines scientists and copy pastes topics like Punctuated Equilibrium or Evo Devo from creationist websites without any prior knowledge, it’s essentially implausible to give any coherent response. Like attempting to give a lecture on quantum gravity to a flat earther. To quote Hawking – “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” I try to address their contentions within my limits, but often it’s futile for the above reasons.
Q.7: Do you think that the Social Media is playing an important role to raise awareness about the Religion ?
Of course. Although it also spreads a lot of bullshit and misinformation – for people who are open to reason, it’s helpful in raising awareness of religion. Internet is indeed the place where religions come to die. I guess a lot of people who have been part of the Debating Islam group, among others, have left faith after joining the group – the discussion over there did in effect raise their awareness about religion.
Q.8: There seems to be a power game going on too. Politicians tell us that Islam is the religion of Peace but when we hear activists they tell us exactly the opposite. Who should a common man / woman listen to ?
This is another extremely tricky area – we’re often presented with the (false) dichotomy of being either an Islamophobe or a pro Islam ally. That’s mostly because most of the vocal critics of Islam are indeed the bigots with an agenda – or it’s most pro Islamic liberals – save for a few like Maryam Namazie and few youtube vloggers (Rationalizer, Klingschor, CaptainDisguise, Hassan et al).
So what I would recommend is not to take anyone’s word for granted. Do your research without any bias, use your critical thinking and reasoning skills. And please don’t side with bigots like EDL, or extremely biased “critics” like Robert Spencer – they have their own agendas behind criticizing Islam. Muslims do really face issues like racism and we should also recognize that fact and make sure that we differentiate between criticizing Islam and hatred towards Muslims. I would also recommend watching the above vloggers to get a balanced view with regards to Islam.
Q.9: Mullah or a Fundamentalist is often blamed for spreading the hatred even by the relatively moderate followers of their own religion. Do you think its fair ? isnt it the case that the Mullahs are just going their job and trying to tell the followers what is exactly there in the scriptures ?
I believe it’s a case of cognitive dissonance. I’m not sure how they would prove that their interpretation is “true” and fundamentalist interpretation isn’t. If anything, I feel fundamentalists are more “true” to their religion. Some Mullah’s seriously don’t have any knowledge on Islam, but same is not the case with people who runs Islam Q&A etc. They have studied Islam a lot and their views are mostly based on scripture and scholarly consensus.
Same with, lets say, Tafsirs of prominent scholars. Of course, ‘moderates’ might say that they’re all wrong – but what makes you think you’re right? Am I to believe that all Islamic scholars who are well versed in Arabic were wrong all along, but a random ‘moderate’ – who’s hardly well versed in Arabic got got his interpretation right?
Which is why I said fundamentalists have a better case than ‘moderates’ here.
Q.10: What message will you give to the Moderate / Liberal Muslims ?
Well, first of all – I must say that I don’t consider homophobic, misogynistic bigots as “moderates”. Just because they don’t support killing apostates doesn’t make them moderates. By moderates/liberals – I mean those like Quranists who are humanists and pro LGBT rights.
I would always recommend ditching religious dogma – you could still easily be a pantheist or deist. That said, I have also seen the torturous process that ex Muslims go through by losing their faith – they are shunned by their family members and community itself – even online they are bullied and get death threats (although these keyboard jihadists are usually asshats who just type crap because they’ve got an internet connection and a PC).
So I understand why it’s hard to leave the faith, but for precisely that reason I don’t promote such movements either. Liberal version of Islam always make it hard to address fundamentalism, in my opinion – however I do appreciate what they do and am sympathetic towards such movements.
Excellent Nathan. This gotta be the best I’ve done so far, is there anything you would like to add yourself even if I havent asked as a question.
Thanks, Oh nothing in specific: I’d like to thank everyone for reading. Do your own research, be skeptical and rational. Also for those who are struggling to lose their faith, I’d recommend reading Sagan and Feynman. They many not be overly critical of religion, but their works on science and skepticism is an excellent place to start in nurturing your skepticism.