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Midterm Mayhem's exclusive election night coverage

Reza Aslan on separating religion from the people who practice it

Reza Aslan joined “Midterm Mayhem” on election night to discuss religious theory and how what you believe affects how you vote.

But first, he responded to a Salon piece that accused him of “religious apologism;” that basically asked, “How can you defend Islam when there are terrorist Muslims?”

“Why bother making any argument if the other side can just say ‘ISIS!!!’?” Aslan retorted, adding that he was pretty sure the article was written by the author “just slamming his head on a keyboard 40 or 50 times.”

He said the mistake people make in America is confusing religion with its adherents.

“People are backwards and evil and irrational,” he told Kal Penn and Nando Vila. “Religions tend to be fairly neutral.”

In other words, people project their personal beliefs onto the religious scripture they follow. Kal Penn cited an earlier argument Aslan made: That in the antebellum south, both slave owners and abolitionists cited Biblical passages that supported their side. Aslan had another example ready: megachurch pastors like Joel Osteen, who have “turned the gospels into, basically, a pyramid scheme” by cherry-picking the parts that back up their beliefs about how “Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley.” That clash between Christianity and capitalism is the best example of how Americans project their own values onto their religious beliefs, according to Aslan: Somehow, we’ve turned two diametrically opposed belief systems into “a single force.”

“Jesus has nothing good to say about wealth or the accumulation of wealth or rich people at all,” Aslan pointed out. But google the phrases “prosperity gospel” and “Jesus wants you to be rich” and you’ll find a treasure trove of Americans who believe just the opposite.

“I know it’s hard for some people to understand, because they just assume that religious people are robots, that they read something and it tells them to go do something and then they go do it, except that that’s just not how it works,” Aslan said. “People look to their scriptures and they bring their own ideals, their own values, their own preconceived notions.”

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