Bill Maher's Guests Discuss Religious Extremism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

The following video clip contains a good debate on religious extremism amongst Bill Maher, Reza Aslan, Bradley Whitford, and Sandy Rios. At about two minutes into the clip, Maher and Rios engage in an exchange regarding the two Fox News journalists who were recently kidnapped and then subsequently released by their captors. In that exchange, Rios, a Fox News contributor as well as the president of Culture Campaign, makes the point that Christians are called upon to lay down their lives for their faith. Her remarks infer that the kidnapped journalists were failing their faith when they agreed to say they were Muslims in order to spare their lives.

Rios goes on to argue that those Christians, who subsequently said they would do the same thing, were not allowed to do so because their Christian faith doesn't allow that freedom...they have to profess their loyalty to Christ no matter what...even if it means they would lose their lives.

I think that Rios, through her words and her beliefs, makes clear the problem we face in this growing atmosphere of religious extremism. Each side, Christians and Muslims, are convinced that they must defend their faith...even to the point of death. Granted, Rios didn't advocate suicide bombings, but she holds the same absolutist beliefs that make our battle with terrorism so difficult. Those Muslims that oppose Western Civilization believe they too are following the tenets of their faith. They see the presence of Christians in the Muslim world as a threat to their faith and to their way of life...just as we see the possibility of a terrorist attack as a threat to our way of life.

From an historical perspective, Osama bin Laden views the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia as a breech of Islamic principles. As much as I don't condone any of bin Laden's actions, I understand the premise of his beliefs...and it isn’t difficult to understand why many Muslims conclude that the basis of their faith is no less worthy than our Christian beliefs. Let me be clear. I am not attempting to provide any justification whatsoever for al Qaeda's terrorist activities...they are abhorrent and they are an example of the dangers of religious extremism.

Regardless, the resulting dilemma is that the dogmatism of both sides makes it virtually impossible to find a point of compromise. Additionally, it isn't difficult to see how this same type of religious extremism is being played out in U.S. politics as many evangelicals believe they are obliged to proselytize such that they seek to rewrite our laws to reflect the "truths" they believe are contained in the Bible...even if that means that the constitution is damaged in the process. Many Muslims also seek to impose their Islamic beliefs on their cultures and they view Westernization as a threat to that effort. The emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was, to those who oppose Western Civilization, a return to the fundamental beliefs of their particular interpretation of Islam.

What we Westerners frequently misunderstand is that many within the Muslim world view capitalism as an adjunct to our Christian leanings. With that belief, they see our economic activities within the Muslim world as an interjection of our culture and they view it similar to the aggression we call terrorism. Again, even if they were correct in these types of conclusions, it would never justify the violent acts they have undertaken against innocent people around the world. Nonetheless, they believe we are using our wealth as a weapon to destroy their culture and their way of life. Until we can diffuse the polarization that is accelerating on both sides of the divide, there is little hope that a peaceful resolution can be achieved.

I've included the following transcription for the portion of the video clip that covers the above mentioned exchange because it is difficult to follow the entire conversation as it plays out in the actual dialogue. The video clip follows the transcript.

Transcript:

RIOS: I watched parts of this today. Yeah, I know that’ll shock you. But it’s just – the thing of it is, I have a son who is in graduate school, divinity school, in Canada. And he was raised in a Christian home, but – and certainly we are to teach our children. And implicit in the teaching of Christ is the fact that, yes, you have to be willing to lay down your life. You know, it’s this kind of an example that Jesus sets. But we don’t send them to camp to rally to do that. [Voices overlap]

MAHER: Right. You criticized the Fox News guys, right, who were kidnapped by Muslim extremists—

RIOS: [overlapping] No, I didn’t criticize them.

MAHER: [overlapping]—I read that you did.

RIOS: No, you misread it then.

MAHER: Okay.

ASLAN: Sandy, there is a huge difference—

RIOS: [overlapping] I was not criticizing them.

ASLAN: There’s a huge—

RIOS: [overlapping] My point was that Christians have to – I don’t know what their faith is, but I’m talking about Christians that responded to that story, said that they would have done the same thing. That was my concern.

MAHER: Okay.

RIOS: Was that Christ followers would say that they would—

MAHER: Well, if you don’t know the story, two journalists for Fox News—

WHITFORD: To save their lives.

RIOS: Yeah, yeah.

MAHER: [overlapping]—to save their lives, they said, “Okay, we’re Muslims."

RIOS: Right.

WHITFORD: Right.

MAHER: And you’re – what I read is that you said they shouldn’t have done that.

RIOS: No, I didn’t say that. No, Bill, that’s a misreading. I said that Christians who saw that and said, “I would have done the same thing," Christ followers can’t do that. We don’t have that freedom. We have to profess Christ no matter what. [Scattered applause]

ASLAN: Look, there is a difference – there is huge difference between—

MAHER: [overlapping] But then they would have killed you.

RIOS: [overlapping] That’s right.

ASLAN: [overlapping] Listen – between laying down – between laying down your life for Jesus, which is a perfectly fine thing to do, and becoming a soldier for Christ, which is what this is about. We have to understand that we’re fighting a war against people who think that they are engaged in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. They believe that this is not an earthly battle. This is a war between the forces of Christianity and the forces of Islam. We cannot legitimize that viewpoint by saying the exact same thing. We’re not going to out-fanaticize these fanatics.

RIOS: I agree with you. I agree with you. [Applause]

ASLAN: I mean, there’s no – there’s no way.

RIOS: But, see, the thing of it is, Christianity is, by its very nature, radical. And by that, I mean, it is uncommon. It is not normal or natural to lay down your life, literally, for a friend. It’s not natural or normal to say, “I will not deny my faith, no matter if you do cut my head off. I will not do that." Even if you just say, “Just sign this. Just do this." And you say, “I can’t. Jesus is Lord." That’s not normal. That’s radical.

ASLAN: [overlapping] Sandy, you’re talking about martyrdom. These – these kids are not being martyrs. They’re being given, you know, toy swords and told to go into battle, you know, against—

RIOS: [overlapping] You mean, the kids in the camp?

ASLAN: [overlapping]—against the forces of – against the forces of evil.

Daniel DiRito | September 26, 2006 | 3:26 PM
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