Monday, September 2, 2019

God-free States always go after sincere Christianity

Every government that has freed itself from Judaeo-Christian principles will try to use its power to intimidate Christians from following their conscience and publicly (and sometimes even privately) living out their beliefs.  States that are free from such principles are more free to entertain their latent totalitarian tendencies.  Denmark does not want to be left behind China and most of the Middle East in their utter fright of people being exposed to (and preferring it to the state-sanctioned worldview) bold and sincere Christianity. 

In Denmark, it looks like similar tactics have been used against Torben Søndergaard to what were used against Larry Lea in the U.S. back in 1992, only this time the disinformation and slander seemed to be coordinated with the Danish government.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What Reza Aslan really thinks of Christianity

In various interviews Reza Aslan will represent himself as someone who deftly navigates between religious frameworks as easily as a polyglot switches between languages, and in others he seems to communicate what a bitter disappointment Christianity ended up being for him since he discovered through his studies at a Jesuit school that the entire New Testament was a bunch of made-up stories with little connection to the Jewish scriptures and religion. 

I think the most telling moment is when he is in like-minded anti-conservative company at Loonwatch and attempts to convey what is "brilliant and profoundly moving" about the Christian narrative
LW: How was that, what was that experience like when you were an Evangelical?
It’s magical! The thing about Evangelical Christianity and why I think it is so appealing, particularly to young people is that I mean it is just such a brilliant and profoundly moving story. There is a reason why it is called the greatest story ever told, right?  That God had this physical son, like His little baby boy you know that came down to earth, and because you yourself are such an awful human being, because of all the terrible things you do, God decided to have His son tortured and murdered in order to save you from yourself, and that if you don’t accept that story, not only are you spitting in God’s face but, oh yeah, you are also going to burn in hell for all eternity.
It’s an amazing story, that’s why it is so appealing. Now the important thing to understand is that is what it precisely is: a story. I am not by any means discounting it or criticizing it.
Not by any means discounting it... Aslan seems unaware here of how his characterization of the "gospel" or New Testament story comes across.  This summation sounds as patronizing and goofy as what would typically be heard from "New Atheists" and secular humanists.  It is at the exact moment he is asked to explain why Christianity is appealing that his veneer of scholarly objectivism unravels and he can't help putting it in a particularly unappealing light-- and then he tries to recover by complimenting his own strawman version of Christianity as "amazing."  (I challenge the reader to find any comparable summary of Islam by Aslan.)   
Aslan having a moment at about t=19:40
In his 'Inside the Scholar's Studio' interview at Harvard, about 19 minutes into the Youtube video, Aslan appears to have a similar moment sharing a laugh with the audience about the absurdity of a human being somehow being God and also being capable of real human moments:
... when you try to think about him [Jesus] as struggling or suffering, as anxious or scared, when you try to think about the humanity of him, it's very difficult to do so, because, you knooow ... he's also God.  
and then switching back to his objective voice, having already evaded criticism by acknowledging first that the simultaneous humanity and divinity of Jesus is a Christian mystery.  This mystery that he seems to be trying to find a scholarly way to ridicule is something that he talks about as being "the heart of orthodox Christianity."  He separates what he calls the "God Jesus" from the human Jesus as though the divine element (along with nearly the entire New Testament narrative, if you read his book Zealot) must be somehow removed entirely before we understand who Jesus is and what he stands for.  What Reza means by "God Jesus" is "the detached, unearthly being I had been introduced to in church" or "a celestial detached spirit with no interest in the world" (similar language is used in his book Zealot).

Now Reza Aslan talks a lot about how his Muslim outlook does not shape his academic beliefs--his personal notion of the Islamic belief of "radical unity" is unorthodox--but his rejection of Christianity seems very much in line with a traditional Islamic interpretation of "radical unity" as he explains:
I always talk about how I had an emotional conversion to Christianity but a rational conversion to Islam. Reading about the way Islam talks about the divine and the relationship between human beings and God and conceptions of the universe and ideas of the transcendent, these made a hell of a lot more sense to me cosmologically speaking than some old man in the sky impregnated a virgin and His son came out [of her] and died for us.
As he goes on to explain in the Loonwatch interview, Islam has very little creed and instead has a lot of rules that are not driven by Islamic theology per se, and so there is not a lot of weird stuff in Islam that is hard to reconcile with rational thought as in Christianity where "some old man in the sky impregnated a virgin and His son came out and died for us."  There's no weird stuff like "God Jesus" and real human Jesus somehow being the same person.  Islam instead, in its inception and scripture, has an ordinary flesh-and-blood prophet slaughtering real people with real swords because they don't accept the prophet's revelations (what Aslan refers to obliquely as a "chilling new reality").  No weird theological mumbo-jumbo like an old man in the sky impregnating a virgin so that He can torture His divine baby boy, as Aslan summarizes Christianity.

When you hear Reza Aslan disclaiming that different religions are basically the same except for using different metaphors to describe the same spiritual reality, consider whether the differences Aslan sees really go deeper than employing this or that metaphor.  If Aslan does not think Christianity is stupid, he is clearly bad at communicating the respect he has for those beliefs (which seems odd for someone who considers communication part of his particular expertise).   I believe it makes more sense to think that Aslan sometimes has trouble hiding his contempt for his personal (and poorly informed) concept of Christianity

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Larry Lea: An Agenda for Painting with a Broad Brush

ABC should have been sued for slander, for damaging an innocent man's reputation.  I believe Larry Lea got on somebody's radar, not primarily for any particular malfeasance on his part, but for energizing American Christians in praying for their nation.  November 1991 was kicking off the year countdown to the '92 election, and the voting block responsible for 12 years of Republican presidential office needed to be shattered.  Naturally, ABC could be counted on for a "smite the shepherd" strategy.

Larry Lea's former wife Melva recounts why we should be worried about media agenda:
Before Larry did the interview, ABC told him that many people considered him to be the next Billy Graham and that the interview was going to be about "the new generation of preachers." When he got to the studio, they completely changed the angle. From Diane Sawyer's first word, the air just went out of the room. It was horrific.
We later were contacted by a senator who told us that the program was an ambush for a political agenda--to take down a huge voting block of right-wing conservative voters.
. . . What was devastating to me was that so many people in the body of Christ believed what they heard from a secular news reporter rather than believing someone who taught them how to pray and commune with God. For the most part everyone looked at us like we had leprosy.
After the interview we formed a committee of pastors to examine our practices. We invited EFICOM [Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission, a branch of the National Religious Broadcasters that certifies financial accountability] to come in and look at everything. One EFICOM member, who was a federal judge and clearly didn't like Larry, told him, "If I find anything wrong, you're in trouble."
Larry opened up everything to him. A few days later this man returned and said: "You have grounds to sue. There is absolutely nothing true about any of [ABC's] allegations."
Perception is everything, though. The damage had already been done. It destroyed our credibility.

Through a guilt-by-association maneuver in which they associated Larry Lea's ministry to Robert Tilton's goofy prosperity infomercials and the Peter Poppoff-esque shenanigans of W.V. Grant, the Dallas Morning News was poised to label the three men "a greedy, unholy trinity schooled in using the cross crassly." In spite of being guilty of writing a best-selling book about prayer, Lea's emphasis was always on prayer rather than prosperity. 

From The Dallas Morning News:
1.)  Judgment Day on `Prime Time Live'
Publish Date: NOVEMBER 21, 1991
Word Count: 749
Document ID: 0ED56291649D24AC
Tell a friend to watch three Dallas area televangelists exposed as serpents on Thursday's exclusive Prime Time Live report.It's good for the soul. And it may be very bad for the nationally televised ministries of W.V. Grant, Larry Lea and Robert Tilton. Prime Time co-anchor Diane Sawyer, aided by hidden cameras, exposes a greedy, unholy trinity schooled in using the cross crassly. Yes, we've waded through this muck before. But televangelists continue to fold their hands and ...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reza Aslan's Money-Making Marxism

As of the beginning of the year, Reza Aslan is worth $3 million.  Peddling secularism, quasi-Marxist philosophy, anti-Israel rhetoric, pseudo-mysticism, and popular pseudohistorical narratives has been very lucrative for this high-profile limousine liberal.  And he has high hopes for the movie rights to Zealot making him even more of that filthy lucre, cashing in on the latest popularity of Jesus films.

Regularly denouncing Christian conservatives for following an unhistorical Jesus and calling Joel Osteen a "charlatan" for having money and not condemning wealth, Reza Aslan claims that a fundamental aspect of Jesus' true identity was "his absolute hatred of wealth" and also claims to be a genuinely committed follower of the historical Jesus rather than the "detached celestial spirit" of Christianity who (in his keen reckoning) cares nothing for people's earthly plight unlike his entirely non-divine version of Jesus.

Reza has repeatedly spoken highly of what he thinks is the real Jesus' calling for a bloody hyper-Marxist revolution--that progressive vision which Charles Manson called "helter skelter" and which Reza says would be "a chilling new reality" as the rich are made destitute and the destitute are made wealthy.  So...when the revolution happens, how much of Reza's money will I be getting? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Juergensmeyer's "Christian terrorism" and Breivik's paganism

Reza Aslan's thesis advisor Mark Juergensmeyer got some notice in Norway for calling Anders Breivik a "Christian terrorist":
The American terrorism researcher Mark Juergensmeyer believed however that Breivik was a Christian terrorist in line with the Oklahoma bomber, according to NRK. [Den amerikanske terrorforskeren Mark Juergensmeyer mente derimot at Breivik var en kristen terrorist på linje med Oklahoma-bomberen, ifølge NRK] *
Apparently, being raised in "flyover country" by a Catholic family makes one a Christian, just as growing up in Europe does for Breivik.  Writing for Patheos on the McVeigh-was-a-Christian meme, Jeremy Lott (editor of summarizes:
[McVeigh] told Time magazine in 1996 that he believed in a deity but had “lost touch with the religion” of his birth. . . . We might call him spiritual but not religious. He claimed to be agnostic but not an atheist. McVeigh believed in “science” and not “religion,” he said. (In fact, he said his religion was science.) His murky metaphysical notions included some sort of Deistic creator who set things in motion, not the personal God of Christianity.  . . . [He] didn’t believe in an afterlife and he certainly didn’t believe in hell.

Supposedly, Breivik identified himself at one time as a "cultural Christian."  But does that mean anything more than having grown up in the secular Europe with its historical roots in Christianity?  Is Breivik's use of the symbols of ancient Scandinavian paganism merely a superficial cultural flourish?  According to the same Norwegian article:
Now Breivik said that he "is not and never has been - a Christian," in a letter he sent to "interested or affected parties in comp. With 22/7" along with two other letters to, among other day.  He describes himself as "one of the more fanatical National Socialists in Northern Europe."
During a point called "Odinisme" dismisses his Christianity and Jesus as follows:
"There are few things in the world that is more pathetic than the Jesus figure and his message, and I have always despised the weakness and the internationalism that the church represents."
He stressed that he prays and sacrifices to God and receive strength from God, but that he calls him "Odin, not Jesus or Jehovah."

Sounds Christian to me.  Could be that radical sect of Christianity that eschews the Biblical names for God and thinks little of "the Jesus figure and his message."  Interesting sense of being "culturally Christian."  Breivik seems culturally pagan, in addition to being religiously pagan.

According to the article, Henrik Syse, "philosopher and senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO)," thinks people should be careful how they apply the phrase "Christian terrorist" to Anders Breivik, considering how he is not a Christian "in any meaningful sense." Not being a Christian in any meaningful sense seems like an excellent reason not to be called a "Christian terrorist" at all.  It doesn't seem that he could be Christian in any meaningful sense even if he claimed to be a Christian.

It is not entirely unnatural that people have characterized Breivik as a Christian, just as there are many Muslim terrorists as far removed from what most people would think that Islam stands for, says Sysendammen.
While it is clear a point that if he takes [sic] explicit distance from Christianity, one can not call him a Christian.

The researcher stresses that the Christian culture background is not completely irrelevant, because Breivik refers to it and calls himself a crusader.
His ideology and philosophy must be taken seriously because it is so dangerous and
can inspire others.  But philosophically it is a smear, as it is hardly worth taking seriously intellectually, and that is a far cry from Christian thought, says Sysendammen.

True, the background is "not irrelevant" because, as Adolf Hitler did, Breivik was trying to sell his ideas to European cultures whose historical traditions are rooted in Christianity, not Islam.  However, fascism, even paganistic fascism, has more in common with cultural Marxism than , the nationalistic tendencies of fascism notwithstanding. (Of course, fascist dictators have always respected national borders, right?)  Fascism may be the illegitimate child of Marxism, but its paternity is clear, with its aims of the government shaping and controlling its people by undermining the roles of family and traditional institutions.  Unlike communism, fascism paid lip service to the importance of the very institutions and it actively sought to subdue and control.  The religious cultural background becomes very important to any ideology that claims to uphold the very cultural elements it seeks to radically refashion (or "fundamentally transform"). 

Syse's analogy to "Muslim terrorist" only holds with respect to terrorists who (1) are "far removed" from what most Muslims (rather than "most people") would think Islam stands for, and who (2) embrace an ideology that is "a far cry from" Islamic thought.  Which begs the question, how do we determine how far something is removed from essential Christianity or essential Islam? 

Let's say Mahmoud is an Egyptian terrorist killing Arab Christians, and he said that he preferred to call his Allah by the name of the Egyptian god Horus, and he said that nothing was more pathetic than Mohammed and his message.  Wouldn't anyone calling Mahmoud a Muslim terrorist be quickly corrected?  Assuming, of course, that it could be argued in this case that Mahmoud was not a Muslim in any meaningful sense.  In what sense would he be "culturally Muslim" other than having been exposed to Islam while growing up?  President Obama could be considered culturally Muslim in that sense, having attended a Muslim school as a boy. 

In Reza Aslan's view of religion, we might have to call Ahmoud a Muslim terrorist as long as Ahmoud associates himself with Islamic culture, even if his appeal to Islam is shallow and opportunistic, since religious affiliation is entirely about identification and not about what you actually believe.

Why would anyone need to associate an obvious pagan like Breivik with the "Jesus and his message" which he finds so miserably "pathetic"?  Maybe for the same reason people identify the pagan Adolf Hitler with Christianity.  But underneath the question of how a blatant non-Christian gets labeled a Christian is a deeper question:  If "making explicit distance" from Christianity can disqualify one from the charge of being a Christian, how far can one drift from being a Christian "in any meaningful sense" so that the distance from Christianity no longer needs to be "explicit"?

PS: The Norwegian article sports these factoids about Odinism:
[Odinism:]  Worship of Odin in Norse mythology.
There is disagreement whether [Odin] is the same as Asatru. [Det er uenighet om det er det samme som åsatru.] 
In the US Odinism [is] often coupled with white supremacy and violence. [I USA er odinisme ofte koblet med hvit overlegenhet og vold.] 
Vigrid is e.g. a late modern form of Odinism mixed with Norse mythology and racial doctrine.  [Vigrid er f.eks en senmoderne form for odinisme med blanding av norrøn mytologi og raselære.]

Friday, April 1, 2016

Jesus' Color Brings Reza Doubletalk Into Relief

Whatever the value of Megyn Kelly's claims about Jesus' appearance, they are not based on her being unable to imagine a darker Jesus, but are based on some very old, if questionable, documents.  These documents are contested in terms of the authenticity or the pedigree is in question.  I think it is ultimately hard to base anything definitively on them, any more than on even earlier documents claiming that Jesus was "small and ugly."  Kelly believes that her image is a historical image.  Ultimately it is probably no more historical than Reza Aslan's depictions in Zealot.  But Aslan, in response to Kelly, greatly muddies the waters.

People might be surprised at the role of religion growing up in the South.  Southern churches are where I learned the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children."  The purpose of the song didn't seem to be to categorize people into colors but to drive home this singular point:  Nobody's color matters to Jesus.  A theme repeated in the epistles of Paul.  A theme repeated in the educational materials of the church-run school I attended.  Reza Aslan's Zealot conveys a very different Jesus whose prescriptions of love are only meant between fellow Jews, and who is completely for a violent ousting of European occupiers from Palestine (is it Jesus or Reza that wants this?).  In the following exchange, Reza seems to say each socioeconomic group has its own Christ:
So, it's a much more interesting issue that arises from her statement: Megyn Kelly is right. Her Christ is white.
What is it about Christ, historically or religiously, that leads people to want to convey him in their own images?
That is the entire point of the Christ.

from Killing Jesus
No, Reza. That is not the entire point of the Messiah/Christ.  The Christ of the apostles is something surprising.  The point of the New Testament is not to have an unhistorical Messiah who can be made into whatever we want--it is a Messiah that is as uncomfortable to "white suburbanites" as he was to the Pharisees and Jewish zealots, and as he obviously is to Reza Aslan.  The New Testament presents an unexpected sort of Messiah, who in a certain sense is "neither Jew nor Gentile nor barbarian" because these ethnic and socioeconomic distinctions disappear in him.  Reza's Jesus is a small and uninteresting class warrior, not remotely as interesting as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., who both stand out as much more evocative of the transcendence of Jesus of Nazareth than a Che Guevara character.

Reza's responses to Megyn Kelly do two things.  They draw a red herring across the substance of her statements (the question of which historical assertions are credible), and they change the topic to Reza's tortured notion of Christ vs. Jesus.  The oneness of the people joined in spirit to Jesus the Messiah is a central theme in the letters of Paul the Apostle.  In Paul's integrated synagogues of the early church where Jews and Gentiles alike rejoiced in the Messiah together, the point of the Christ/Messiah (that Reza claims Paul invented) is not so the Greek can have a European Jesus while his Jewish brother has a Middle Eastern Jesus.  The point is that this historical Galilean Jew was "the express image" of one Father God who made all mankind in His image.  The point of Jesus removing the "division" and the "enmity" as stated in Paul's letter to Ephesus is lost completely in Reza's pseudo-historical Jesus.  The "Jewish context" of Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures pervade the New Testament. 

Jesus, as Reza claims, might well have been the same color as Reza.  Maybe darker, maybe lighter.  That is more likely to me than that he was fair-skinned.  But neither scenario makes Jesus any less an empathetic Savior for all peoples.  Unless you are someone who defines people by their socioeconomic environment, or identifies "color" with such; unless you see everything through a lens of identity politics which ignores the extraordinary way in which the Resurrection started transcending ethnic and social boundaries, "first in Judaea, then in Samaria, and then in the uttermost parts of the earth."  Ultimately, it is the "content of his character" (a pertinent MLK phrase) that defines Jesus, not the color of his skin, be it fairer than Kelly's or darker than Aslan's.

Reza's comments about the "real" color of Jesus' skin put me in mind of an article by Harvard alumnus and native Israeli Natalie Portman:
Faisal Chaudhry writes . . .  creatively framing the same article with a conversion into a “white” vs. “brown” struggle (Op-Ed, “An Ideology of Oppression,” April 11). At one point, Chaudhry even compares the situation to apartheid. This is a distortion of the fact that most Israelis and Palestinians are indistinguishable physically.
Having visited Jerusalem on occasion I've noticed that there is considerably more ethnic or "racial" diversity among the Jewish than among the Arab.  All the Arabs look Caucasian, if swarthy.  The Jews look like Ethiopians and like European Caucasians and like Bedouins, and like everything in between.  Some Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem bring identity politics into the gospel:  In this revisionist take, Jesus is a Palestinian who is ethnically different from the Judaeans who deliver him to Pilate.  It is an anachronistic reading into the tension between the Galileans of the Israelite North and the Judaeans, and something about it is disturbingly reminiscent of Hitler's state church of revisionist "Positive Christianity" for whom Jesus was not Jewish but Aryan.  (Incidentally, the non-Jewishness of Jesus is an idea categorically rejected by the American Fundamentalist movement--a movement much more interested in recognizing the distinct Jewishness of Jesus and the early church than the liberal movements it rebelled against.) 

Contrary to what Reza Aslan claims, Christianity is not about divorcing Jesus from his time and place and people; it simply doesn't see the need to define Jesus solely by his environment or color.  We can't do that with Gandhi, nor with MLK Jr., nor with Bonhoeffer--and from a historical point of view, we have every reason not to do it with Jesus of Nazareth.  Whether or not Reza Aslan is being deliberately obtuse about the motivation of New Testament theology, it is important to see how the very essence ("the fabric and nature") of the NT is detrimental to his "Zealot" thesis. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Resurrection: Is Reza an Expert in Judaeo-Christian History?

Elijah & the Widow's Son
Reza Aslan, famous for being questioned on Fox News, answered why a Muslim such as himself would choose Jesus as a topic for a book: “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament – that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” [emphases mine]

Matthew Facciani posting to thinks that critics are being too rash in dismissing Aslan's expertise.  He writes, "What really matters is what area your research is in (i.e. your [PhD]dissertation)." 

What is the actual case about Reza Aslan's expertise?  In First Things, Matthew J. Franck writes after taking a very close look at Aslan's qualifications: 
. . . He is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside, where his terminal MFA in fiction from Iowa is his relevant academic credential. It appears he has taught some courses on Islam in the past, and he may do so now, moonlighting from his creative writing duties at Riverside. Aslan has been a busy popular writer, and he is certainly a tireless self-promoter, but he is nowhere known in the academic world as a scholar of the history of religion. And a scholarly historian of early Christianity? Nope.  
What about that Ph.D.? As already noted, it was in sociology. I have his dissertation in front of me. It is a 140-page work titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.” If Aslan’s Ph.D. is the basis of a claim to scholarly credentials, he could plausibly claim to be an expert on social movements in twentieth-century Islam. He cannot plausibly claim, as he did to Lauren Green, that he is a “historian,” or is a “professor of religions” “for a living.”
I have a BA, MA, and PhD in the history of Western Religions so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism.Reza Aslan doesn't seem to have taught any classes on the New Testament.  His PhD dissertation was specific to Islam.  Yet his tweet to @matanlurey pictured here seems to suggest that his sociology degree in jihadism that is somehow based on the History-of-Religions school of thought entitles him to claim (along with his two lesser religion-related degrees) expertise as a historian of all three Western Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

That is indeed very impressive.  A case in point:  Aslan said some interesting things about in response to an interviewer's question:
You argue that it’s the story of resurrection that really set Jesus apart. What made resurrection such a novel idea?
Well, it simply doesn’t exist in Judaism. The idea of an individual dying and rising from the dead absolutely has no basis in five thousand years of Jewish history, scripture or thought.
So, that’s the thing: No matter what you think about the resurrection, the thing that’s kind of fascinating from an historical perspective is that there is simply no Jewish context for it. 
Christians know that there is a scene documented in the Book of Acts that speaks of some Pharisees siding with Paul the Apostle against the sect of Sadducees because they couldn't dismiss out of hand the idea of an individual being resurrected.  Similar statements appear in the gospels concerning the Pharisees.   Let's dig a little deeper.


Fundamental belief of Judaism?  Let's look at
A basic tenet of the Jewish faith is the belief that those who have died will again be brought to life. In fact, Techiat HaMeitim, "Vivification of the Dead" is one of the thirteen cardinal principles, or "foundations," of Judaism.  . . . In this dark and imperfect world, we cannot yet behold and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But in the Era of Moshiach, the accumulated attainments of all generations of history will reach their ultimate perfection. And since "G‑d does not deprive any creature of its due," all elements that have been involved in realizing His purpose in creation will be reunited to perceive and experience the perfect world that their combined effort has achieved.   . . . 

The article goes on to describe the "centrality of the Resurrection to the whole of Judaism".  The Online Jewish Encyclopedia says this about the Pharisees: