BreakPoint: Reza Aslan Doesn’t Get Religion

CNN’s Tour de Farce

CNN has long struggled to understand religion. But the host of an upcoming documentary takes that cluelessness to a whole new level.

So picture this: You visit a restaurant known for serving the best cuisine from around the world. You’re about to sample the fare, when you discover that the chef was born without taste buds. He’s actually never experienced his own cooking, and couldn’t tell the difference between veal scallopini and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

That’s sort of how I feel about a new documentary series on world religions hosted by a man who doesn’t seem to understand that different religions are, well…different.

Reza Aslan’s “Believer,” a “spiritual adventure series” it’s called, which premiered Sunday on CNN, explores belief systems from around the world. But in a recent opinion piece at CNN, Aslan (who identifies himself as a Sufi Muslim) makes it clear that he doesn’t believe there are any essential differences between the world’s religions. As a matter of fact, he seems to think all religions are basically subjective nonsense.

“I know better than to take the truth claims of any religion (including my own) too seriously,” he writes. And considering the “conflict” and “bigotry” religion inspires and the way it clashes with reason, Aslan thinks it’s “understandable why so many people view religious faith as the hallmark of an irrational mind.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is your tour guide to the religions of the world.

But he goes much further, contrasting these recently-evolved “symbols and metaphors” we call religion with something more “mysterious, “ineffable,” and “emotional”: faith.

Quoting the Buddha, Aslan likens the religions of the world to different wells, which believers dig in order to drink the same water. In other words, all religions are equally true. All roads, so to speak, lead to Heaven, resurrection, enlightenment, Nirvana, or whatever else your endgame may be.

But that very sentence is proof of how silly Aslan’s thesis is. Each religion has its own understanding not only of Who God is (or isn’t) and how we receive salvation, but of what salvation itself looks like.

This reminds me of Steven Turner’s satirical observation of this sort of thinking in his poem “Creed.” “We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one that we read was. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.”

This is, as C. S. Lewis called it, “patronizing nonsense.”

And “patronizing nonsense” perfectly describes Reza Aslan’s idea that all religions are really just different paths to the same nebulous, emotion-centric experience that he calls “faith.”

His fellow Muslims outside of the secular West certainly don’t see their religion as just one valid belief system among many. They confess, as part of their universal creed, that there’s no god but their god, and that Muhammad is his prophet. If you don’t believe these things, you’re not only not a Muslim, you’re an infidel. And guess what? Aslan’s more tolerant Sufi sect of Islam thinks their more militant brethren have it wrong too.

But, someone might ask, if only one of the dozens of world religions is the path to God, how do we know which one it is? What gives us confidence the truth claims of Christ are valid, while those of the Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, Richard Dawkins, or Reza Aslan are not?

There are powerful answers to this question, which is why every Christian should have a basic knowledge of apologetics. For example, the claims of Christianity are public. They center on a Savior Who lived and performed miracles publicly, died publicly, rose from the dead publicly, and showed Himself to hundreds of witnesses publicly.

Religions like Islam and Buddhism started with private revelations or dreams given to a single person. When it comes to historical verifiability, there’s no comparison.

But here’s the larger point to keep in mind when you hear this sort of talk about religion being pushed by CNN: There may be many wells, but there’s only one that offers Living Water.


Further Reading and Information

Reza Aslan Doesn’t Get Religion: CNN’s Tour de Farce

As John points out, all religions are not the same. Christianity is unique since the public ministry of Christ was followed by his public death and resurrection. Christ is the only One who offers, to all who will receive it, abundant life and living water.


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Why I am a Muslim
  • Reza Aslan
  • February 27, 2017
Mere Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis
  • HarperOne
  • Available at the Colson Center online bookstore

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  • Steve

    I think this is another attempt by liberalism to make everything the “same” so they can argue that there is no objective truth. Therefore, there can be no right or wrong.

  • Greg Ness

    Ravi Zacharias summarized this best: “My premise is that the popular aphorism that ‘all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different’ simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different.”
    CNN strives to be a popular aphorism without declaring the truth courageously. This business model sells airtime, but denies and degrades the intelligence of the viewer.

  • HpO

    You shouldn’t have mentioned C.S. Lewis there, John Stonestreet. Because:

    “C.S. Lewis also grappled with the validity of other religions – There are so many religions, how can you say which one is right? Are all religions really the same, or is there a difference? How can we say which one, if any, is the right one? Lewis felt it was atheism that wrote off all religious claims as false, while he was free to affirm truth wherever it was found. He accepted truths in other religions. He recognised the similarities – as well as the significant differences between religions. A commitment to Christ does not necessitate the denial of truth in other religions.” (Mark Conner, Mark Conner’s Space, May 05, 2011)

    I dare say, C.S. Lewis is the Evangelical version of Reza Aslan. And this comment from Conner is just one of multiple samples that C.S. Lewis is a no-no when it comes to the gospel of salvation through the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus Quintanilla

    Thank you for warning us, looking ahead and writing so, so well! Thank you for your prophetic voice.
    May our Lord bless you. Thank you for standing up for the Truth and for being honest and a firm representative of the Lord and of the Christians and believers.

  • LittleDorothy

    HpO – I find I must dispute quote # (2) above. It is estimated that Jesus’ brother James (half-brother, if you will) wrote his letter between 44 and 49 A.D. Yes, he knew Jesus – knew Him well. Even before he wrote his letter, he had visited the apostle Paul (whose letters make up a large portion of the New Testament). And I am offended by the crass description of Jesus as an “illiterate peasant”. He was well-educated. So much so that people who heard him were “amazed at his teaching”.

  • HpO

    No, he wasn’t. And what Paul did, he didn’t follow suit; a lame excuse. Dig deeper into him and you’ll see what I mean.

  • jason taylor

    1. That is like saying language is a language made up of signs and metaphors to explain communication. Saying something is “nothing more” just because it is that is a fallacy.

    2. Jesus “original followers” are clearly recorded as believing Jesus is God and if you assume after 2000 years that the primary source was rewritten you have said that Christianity is a heresy and should honestly do so.

    3. Only partly true. I have not gone a cattle raid recently, had a blood feud or prominently displayed my enemies heads but my ancestors did all those things and while the conversion to Christianity did not stop them doing so, the fact that I do not is not unrelated to Christian influence over society.

    5. Saying obnoxious things on twitter is not basically Taliban

    6. That does not explain how Christianity took over the Roman Empire in the first place and if you examine history you find it was a contest of hearts and minds. Nor does it explain why Tartars became Muslims instead of bringing their religion to their conquests, why Persians when they changed from Zoroastrianism to Islam chose Shia instead of Sunni and committed themselves to a centuries blood feud, or many another quirk in history. That is simply more reductionism.