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Morality needs to be judged through a cultural perspective

By Steve Benyon,

Last week, criticism erupted over HBO Real Time host Bill Maher and author/neuroscientist Sam Harris' comments about Islam. The most controversial statement from Harris was probably this: "We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the motherload of bad ideas."

This quote serves as an accurate summary for the whole debate.

This idea isn't exclusive to Islam; Harris is among the ranks of what I call "The Triangle of Atheism," comprised of the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in formal debates against religion. I think we can all be intellectually honest that religion as a whole has a few bad ideas.

I want to expand on what The Miami Student's own Brett Milam said last week on this subject. Referring to Harris and Maher, he stated, "It's bigotry wrapped up in edgy pseudo-intellect".

While Milam's piece was factually correct, it proved Maher's point that liberals are very quick to criticize American issues such as income inequality, but fail to criticize injustices for fear of being labeled as bigots.

It's not fair to Maher's thesis to misrepresent his criticisms of religion as painting with a broad brush.

Maher's point wasn't to attack all individuals of Islam, and his debate last week is a small slice of years of religious examination.

Not all cultures are on an equal playing field when it comes to morality. He attacked notions like Saudi Arabia not allowing women to drive and the fact that 35 percent of British Muslims approve of suicide attacks.

As someone who has lived in Afghanistan for over a year, I agree with Maher that Western society is simply better. That sounds incredibly ignorant, but stick with me here.

We are a stupid country and scream stuff like, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," at townhall meetings from the Rascal Scooter. If you're Black, you might be shot by cops for a seat belt violation.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann adds a lot to the Christian GOP Rhetoric, "Pelosi is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she said she is trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that 2000 years ago."

We do have a lot of dangerous idiots. However, getting stoned in America means something totally different than getting stoned in Pakistan.

Our worst religious radicals protest soldier's funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs. The thing that makes our society better is that we don't follow religion literally and we don't take it seriously. Christians get divorced, masterbate and have premarital sex.

While Atheism is one of the fastest growing religious minorities, the U.S. is a mostly Christian nation.

But no one is going to the townhalls proposing we stone gays to death even though that's what the Bible teaches in Leviticus.

While not everyone is a fundamentalist, I don't know how to fairly gauge which parts of doctrine someone is cherry picking from. Islam does promote peace in some elements; but, like Christianity, there are some really troubling parts that promote violence, genocide and sexism.

After South Park animators received death threats for depicting Mohammed on their show in 2010, people took to the Internet with a protest known as Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. It's intent was to protest the limit of freedom of speech, but it quickly spiraled out of control. The entire ordeal led to assassination attempts, suicide attacks and Pakistan had to block the Internet during the entire day. But here's the thing. No one is going to kill you for drawing Jesus or Thor.

In 2012, widespread protests in the Muslim world left 30 people dead and 200 wounded after soldiers in Afghanistan improperly disposed of Qurans.

Pew research shows that 84 percent of South Asian Muslims support their country endorsing Islamic Law as well as 74 percent of Middle Eastern and North African Muslims and 18 percent of European Muslims.

Of those Islamic Law supporters, some support executions for those who leave Islam including, 76 percent of South Asian Muslims, 56 percent of the Middle East-North African Muslims and 13 percent of European Muslims.

Freedom of speech and separation of church and state isn't negotiable. Same goes for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Maybe not all Muslims, but a considerable amount of them don't favor these rights.

We're not attacking the Islamic guy you do shots with at Brick Street, we're attacking the 13 percent of fundamentalists in Europe. If you're a female, we're criticizing the people that would stone you to death for not marrying your assigned husband.

I agree with Maher and the "Triangle of Atheism" in that Islam isn't the only dangerous idea out there -- all religions hold a share in terrible lineage. You're failing modern Liberalism if you demand women have equal pay but brush off the 91 percent of Egyptian women who are victims of genital mutilation as a different culture we should respect.