Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:
Here’s a news flash: None of these heated public debates about atheism and religion, or about how Western “liberals” should think about Islam, ever reach a satisfactory conclusion. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that talk-show hosts and movie stars (just for instance) aren’t necessarily the best people to bring nuance or thoughtfulness or clarity to these conversations. An even bigger reason may be that religion in general, and fundamentalist religion in particular, is a major sore spot in Western culture, a source of tremendous vulnerability and anxiety.
One of the few propositions that Reza Aslan and Sam Harris might both agree with is that God’s return to the world-historical stage long after Nietzsche supposedly killed him off, as both an internal and external enemy of the Western secular-capitalist order, is a dangerous phenomenon for which our society has no clear answer. Our exaggerated response to ISIS is a dead giveaway: They may be a stateless desert army of bloodthirsty nutjobs, but they have something we lost a long time ago and can’t get back.
Fundamentalist Christianity appeared to be on a long, slow decline in the United States. Now right-wing Christians have mounted a vigorous counterattack against reproductive rights, largely by cloaking themselves (ingeniously, it must be said) in pseudo-liberal sheep’s clothing, as an oppressed and disenfranchised group entitled to legal protection. Similarly, fundamentalist Islam seemed to be on the run in the Middle East, although that required the expenditure of trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of human lives and the last reservoir of goodwill toward America in the Arab world. Then came the rollout of ISIS, with its genocidal mass killings and its beheading videos: an al-Qaida 2.0 for the YouTube age, with better graphics and an even more deranged vision.