Saturday, December 19, 2015

PhD in Reagan: Reza Aslan's Tortured Analogy of Objectivity

It's hard to find a perfect analogy for anything, but in the famous FOX News interview Lauren Green and Reza Aslan both took a few stabs at analogizing this "Muslim scholar's" situation in terms of writing a modern political biography.
Green:  Taylor Kane just says, "So, your book is written with clear bias and you're trying to say that's academic. That's like having a Democrat write a book about why Reagan wasn't a good Republican. It just doesn't work." What do you say to that?
Aslan:  Well, it would be like a Democrat with a PhD in Reagan who has been studying his life and history for two decades writing a book about Reagan.

Ok, Aslan does not have a PhD in Jesus.  He does not have a PhD in the New Testament. He does not have a PhD in in History.  And even though his PhD does draw on religious studies with a History-of-Religion slant, his PhD is not in Religion or Religious Studies.  His PhD is in the sociology of a violent religious phenomenon in modern Islam. He has claimed at times that his focus for his Harvard degree in religious studies was Islam from the start, and his formal training in New Testament studies seems to have mostly ended with his bachelor's degree (and Margaret Mitchell's analysis bears this out).  Based on his PhD it seems his religious studies were focused into a dissertation on modern Islam and modern jihadism with some earlier Islamic history brought to bear on it.  His dissertation is much more about the sociology of a particular religion than on the nature of any religion.

So it would be as though Aslan had completed his PhD dissertation in how 19th century progressivism and how its sociological effects shaped the later presidency of Woodrow Wilson, and then wrote a popular book about how Ronald Reagan was really more of a Franklin Roosevelt progressive than a conservative, based on careful cherry-picking of quotes, referring the reader to an extended bibliography of the thousands of books he supposedly digested to get to this claim, instead of dealing seriously with the many problems that would inevitably haunt such a strained claim.  Maybe in the introduction to this hypothetical book he cold mention an affiliation with the Southern Poverty Law Center that arose after being completely soured on conservatism, and how he wrote the book to make other people disciples of the real Ronald Reagan.

Not that that would at all raise any concerns about bias and objectivity.

Wouldn't be the first time an icon was conveniently appropriated.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reza Aslan on Authentic Christianity

In his NY Times op-ed urging people to have a more sophisticated view of religion, Reza Aslan starts talking about varied perspectives in a religion with these examples of Christianity:
What a member of a suburban megachurch in Texas calls Christianity may be radically different from what an impoverished coffee picker in the hills of Guatemala calls Christianity.
I think many Christians who have traveled or otherwise engaged different cultures have seen their faith transcend cultural and socioeconomic barriers. (There are such barriers to be transcended even within a "suburban megachurch.")  Given though the centrality of Reza places on "social justice" and a hyper-Marxist "chilling new reality," Guatemala seems like this is a veiled reference to the "liberation theology" advocated or supported by many Jesuits in Latin America.

I was introduced to the historical Jesus at Santa Clara University [in California] by a group of brilliant, academically trained Jesuits. The Jesuits see Jesus through the lens of his preferential option for the poor. Now I also tend to believe that there is really no way to read the Gospels either as a person of faith or as a historian without recognizing Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. But some people — for example, [megachurch pastors] Joel Olsteen and T.D. Jakes, and frankly a great many Republicans in the U.S. Congress — would disagree because they are using the Gospel in an attempt to do away with food stamps and welfare, which blows my mind.*

First of all, as far as I know neither Joel Osteen nor most conservatives I've talked to are attempting to do away with food stamps and welfare.  A more fair generalization would be that conservatives question the explosion of food stamp use in the last 8 years and its efficacy in fighting poverty, and progressives are opposed to it being questioned, content to dismiss it as an unavoidable consequence of the recession.  There is a growing movement to draw deep principles of balancing accountability and liberty in a Christian context, but that is largely orthogonal to the "prosperity gospel," something that cannot be understood in isolation from the "healing gospel."
"The argument of the prosperity gospel, if I can put it flippantly, is that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. That is basically what the argument is.*

Aside from how lucrative the gospel of redistribution has been for this apostle of neo-Marxism, this is pure caricature.  It should be beneath a "scholar of religion" though it is par for the course with a political pundit.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

University of Chicago Exposes Reza Aslan as "Blowhard"

“The mark of the blowhard is not simply to comment on areas outside his competence, but to do so publicly, with the weight of his reputation behind him, while not doing the appropriate background reading and refusing to seek the opinions of actual experts in the field before publishing. In doing so, the blowhard frequently makes mistakes that would be embarrassing even for those equipped with an undergraduate's knowledge of the area.”
  -- Jeffrey Shallit [emphasis mine]

Prof. Margaret M. Mitchell (pictured) of the University of Chicago has written a scholarly assessment of the scholarly merits of the book Zealot in the article "L'Affaire Aslan."  It is very well stated, very succinct.  While the description above isn't necessarily the dictionary meaning of "blowhard", Mitchell's "L'Affaire Aslan" points out problems with Zealot that educated people should have spoke up about long ago, and casts serious doubt on Reza Aslan's claim to expertise in the field of New Testament history and Second Temple Judaism.  Of course, it is another question entirely whether Aslan's Zealot would have value as the work of an amateur.  Having demanded that the public treat his book as the objective and critical scholarship of an expert in the subject matter, Aslan doesn't have the luxury of being judged by that lower standard.  "L'Affaire Aslan" was written by a someone who can more credibly be taken as an expert in the relevant topics. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gay and Jesuit: New "Liberation" Theology?

The male head of the theology department of a Jesuit university decide to marry a man.  Boy, those Jesuits sure seem to be better at "diversity" than they are at defending the values of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why ask why?

Does it matter that so many people are getting their ideas about religion from this guy?   Is he promoting confusion over what religion is and what it may properly be in our lives?

And if what he is saying about religion in general and Islam in particular is largely sophistry and doubletalk, does that mean that we should be careful about the political advice he offers to the Council on Foreign Relations and to his American audience?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Askonas Digging Deeper - Is Reza a Scholar of Religious History?

Jonathan Askonas writes on 7/29/13 in "Digging Deeper into Aslan's 'Scholarship'":
I’ve read the dissertation, and can report that it uses no historical methods or archival research. It solely focuses on the events and movements of the twentieth century, with the exception of one ten-page summary of the life and times of medieval Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyyah. In the fields of sociology and political science, it seems like a rather unremarkable piece of work (it’s also unusually short for a PhD dissertation, at about 130 double-spaced pages. Dissertations usually run into the hundreds). It also seems likely that much of the research was later published for a popular audience (along with the usual current events punditry) as Aslan’s book Beyond Fundamentalism. Absolutely nothing in the dissertation gives any indication that the author has any interest in, much less qualifications for, New Testament scholarship.  
Aside from content, Aslan’s claim that he is a scholar at all is questionable given the publishers of his books. A Google Scholar search for Aslan’s bibliography shows the author’s trade books (as opposed to books from university presses, the standard for scholarship), newspaper articles, blog posts, and lectures. He has a couple of articles in a “current affairs journal” (normally called a newspaper). His single citation from an academic press is for a forthcoming chapter in an Oxford University Press book The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence —a volume edited by his dissertation advisor at UC-Santa Barbara. Literally the only remotely academic article he’s published was a 2003 piece in an obscure UCLA law journal on the sociology of stoning in Islam. Again, Aslan has no scholarly work that would qualify him as an expert in New Testament studies by the standard practices of that field.
Askonas goes on to question Aslan's claim to special expertise in Greek.  He argues that Aslan simply doesn't have the academic background, although given Margaret Mitchell's unforgiving assessment of the evidence in Zealot of knowledge of Koine Greek (not published until recently in Harvard's Criterion periodical), it would seem that his grasp of Koine is even less than what his academic credentials might lead us to expect.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why *Did* Reza Write About Jesus?

"separate the man from the deity"

Why would Reza Aslan, a Muslim, write about the founder of Christianity?  He gave an answer to Lauren Green (in the famous Fox News interview) that was very different from the answer he gave in his post "Why I write about Jesus," written July 20th, 2013, only six days prior to the interview (emphases are my own):
The Jewish peasant and revolutionary who challenged the rule of the most powerful empire the world had ever known became so much more real to me than the detached, unearthly being I had been introduced to in church.  
Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ. 
I have modeled my life, not after the celestial spirit whom many Christians believe sacrificed himself for our sins, but rather after the illiterate, marginal Jew who gave his life fighting an unwinnable battle against the religious and political powers of his day on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed – those his society deemed unworthy of saving.   
I wrote my newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" in order to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ. 
Because I am convinced that one can be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian, just as I know that one can be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus.
To Lauren Green, his answer to why he wrote about Jesus was because it's his job, what he makes his living doing, whereas the answer in Zealot (in the introduction) and in this opinion piece was "to spread the good news" of the real Jesus.  (Note: In terms of Green's original question, he didn't correct her that he hadn't, in his opinion, written about the founder of Christianity, though he doesn't believe that Christianity is truly based on Jesus' message.)  Why is Aslan's message in Zealot good news?  Because the Jesus of the Christians is a detached, unearthly, celestial spirit, unconcerned (as he puts it in many other writings and interviews) with the cares of this world, while Aslan's Real Jesus was actually concerned with people's earthly circumstances.  Zealot was written so that more people will follow Reza's hyper-Marxist version of Jesus "without being a Christian."

Even though he was on fire for Christ as a kid, now he is more "genuinely committed" in following Real Jesus™.  Is this because his previous commitment to religion wasn't as genuine a commitment, or because he is committed to something/someone more genuine (since his Jesus is the real Jesus)?

Now, Reza Aslan depicts himself as someone who, as a comparative religion theologian (or history-of-religion scholar), is fluent in various religions as a polyglot linguist is fluent in several languages; religions are, as he puts it in some of his interviews, simply symbolic languages for communicating the Ineffable Mystery.  If that were true, why couldn't he write an ecumenical work that translates a caring, non-detached God into the "symbols" of the three main Western religions?  Why does Reza's gospel require a "biography of Jesus" that devotes many, many pages to debunking Christianity?

Part of the problem here, see, is that a great deal of the New Testament, gospels and epistles, are precisely concerned with the divine majesty of the Christ/Messiah not being a detached spiritual entity with no interest in the earthly state of human beings.  In fact, in the First Epistle of John, being hardened against the earthly predicament of one's brother is of that spirit which denies that "Jesus is come in the flesh," a manifestation of "the antichrist spirit."  It is almost as though Reza doesn't know the difference between orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism, which would be strange indeed for someone who touts himself as an expert in all Western religions.

On the other hand, I once attended a presentation (at UCLA, if I recall) in which a Muslim was explaining what is emphatically wrong about the Incarnation doctrine.  The "radical unity" of God, as this man had it, meant that God was too holy and detached from creation to have a human body with all its dirty biological waste processes and such.  I think this interpretation of "radical unity" is much more central to the origins and history and orthodoxy of Islam than Reza's mystical, panentheistic interpretation.  Whereas orthodox Islam thinks that it is blasphemous to consider Jesus divine, Reza Aslan thinks that it is wrongheaded to think that Jesus was any more or less divine than a rock or a chair.  Curiously, in some of his other work, he does acknowledge that Mohammed's understanding of Christianity was based on Gnostic Christianity.

Prof. Margaret M. Mitchell of the University of Chicago has written a scholarly assessment of the scholarly merits of Zealot (of which assessments there have been too few) and in it has also noted the irrelevance of Aslan's appeal to authority (his own) instead of an honest and direct answer to Lauren Green about why he wrote the book:
Not all scholars of religion (or of any sub-discipline within it) choose to make their own religious biography an explicit part of their work . . . , but when one chooses to do so it is hardly unfair to engage that aspect of the book or to ask how the biography and the arguments and the methodology interact (if at all). On this point Aslan cannot have it both ways [i.e. frame the book as a vehicle for his personal beliefs but still expect his personal biases to be off limits for discussion] and should not expect to. [emphases mine] 
Green's error was to suppose that the personal beliefs that Aslan is proselytizing for in Zealot were whatever Muslim beliefs he holds.  He opens up in a Santa Clara interview:
My Muslim faith plays a zero role in this book or frankly, in any of my academic work. That is not to say that this is a purely objective look at Jesus. There’s no such thing. I am bringing my own personal perceptions and even biases into this text, as we all do when we deal with sacred history. But that bias has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything [instead] to do with, again, you darn Jesuits, because the Jesus whom I was taught at Santa Clara University is the Jesus who is founded upon the preferential option for the poor, the Jesus whose entire ministry is predicated on the reversal of the social order . . . [emphases mine]
Zealot has everything to do with the "historical Jesus" that he claims he was introduced to by the Jesuits as he was introduced to liberation theology.  It has everything to do with a Jesus that wanted to take things even further than Karl Marx, a "reversal of the social order," a bloody revolution that he calls "a chilling new reality" in Zealot and in various anti-capitalist speeches. It is to this revisionist Jesus that Reza Aslan is a "more genuinely committed disciple" than he ever was to the Jesus of the New Testament.  This is the reason for Aslan's "straight-up biography" of Jesus.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Does Islam Have a True Nature?

Reza speaks as a "theologian" with The Malaysian Insider on 12/22/14 about the true nature of Islam:
“The very notion that a group of old men gets to decide for me or for you what is the proper interpretation of my faith, that goes against the very fabric and nature of Islam,” Reza told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview.  
He questioned as to why Malaysia should have a single official version of Islam for its citizens to follow, given that Islam is one of the most diverse religions in the world.
If each religion is only a mirror for our prejudices, as he seems to believe elsewhere, how does Islam have a "very fabric and nature"?

Here Islam doesn't need to be "protestantized" because its very "fabric and nature" is protestantized.  By this logic almost every religion's nature is "protestant."
“Malaysians are free, democratic citizens of a modern, diverse nation-state. They are not children who need to be told how to protect their identity, how to protect their faith by a bunch of bureaucrats.”
Which nations' citizens need to be told "how to protect their faith"?  If Malaysia is an example of a democratic Muslim country, why is it telling people which theological concept "Allah"can refer to?  And in that case, why does he need to appeal to not telling Muslims how to protect their faith rather than not telling non-Muslims what epithets they can apply to their god?

Saturday, June 6, 2015


'87/'88 - Conversion at 15 years in Youth Life
'88/'89 - Reads Brothers Karamazov on a dare
'91/'92 - Starts college, probably at Santa Clara U
Spends 4-5 years "missionizing" at schools and camps
'95  - B.A. in Religion (Major Focus: N.T.; Minor: Greek) at SCU
   "apologists for atheism"
'99 - MThS in (Major Focus: History of Religions) at Harvard
'02 - MFA in Fiction at Univ. of Iowa
'09 - PhD in Sociology ("of Religions") at UCSB

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Post-Capitalist Pope Backpeddles

One commentator discusses the Pope's "damage control" on his criticism in his Evangelii Gaudium of the reliance on capitalism as a panacea for "social justice"; his quote of the Pope's interview are echoed below with his editorial comments are in red.  Reza Aslan and many other leftists jumped at the chance to enlist the Pope in their war against capitalism. 
Some passages in Evangelii gaudium attracted accusations from American ultra-conservatives.  [For an Italian journalist, even for this publication, not being a socialist makes you an ultra-conservative.]  What effect does it have on a Pope to hear himself called a “Marxist”? 
Marxist ideology is wrong.  In my life I have known many marxists who are good as people, and because of this I don’t take offense. 
The words that struck the most were those about an economy that “kills”…[And the Pope pounces. He was waiting for this question.] 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

he New Yorker and Francis Schaeffer

The New Yorker and Francis Schaeffer    AUGUST 29, 2011 3:23 PM
My column today endorses asking politicians serious questions about their religious beliefs, but also warns against several problems that I think are endemic to media coverage of conservative Christians. Ryan Lizza, the author of a recent New Yorker piece on Michele Bachmann’s intellectual formation, tweets in response:
Douthat lecture about covering relig. views of cands wd b better if included actual examples of problems it seeks 2 correct.
He’s right. So let me cite an actual example of the problems I’m describing by looking at Lizza’s Bachmann piece. First, I should say that Lizza does a lot of things right in the profile: He doesn’t just play guilt-by-association with Bachmann, but actually tries to get her to talk about her more exotic influences, links those influences directly to her life story and political beliefs, and focuses on figures and intellectual themes (like the sympathy for the Confederacy that recurs among the thinkers Bachmann invokes) that are fair game for any journalist. His overarching thesis that Bachmann holds “a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature” is defensible, and so are the connections he draws between her ideological perspective and the particular cluster of evangelical institutions where most of her political education took place.
But the piece also spends a lot of time making Bachmann seem extreme by linking her to Francis Schaeffer, the influential 1970s-era evangelical activist, theologian and philosopher, whom Lizza places at the center of a movement that (as the piece describes it) sounds at least quasi-theocratic, bent on either the overthrow of secular society or its subjugation to Christian hegemony. Here’s a characteristic passage from Lizza’s article:
Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”
In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.
So, a few points. I believe that Schaeffer generally referred to Christianity rather than the Bible as “total truth,” which is a subtle distinction but an important one. The school of thought “now known as Dominionism,” meanwhile, is so known primarily among its critics: Many of the people that writers like Diamond and others describe as “dominionists” would disavow the label, many definitions of dominionism conflate several very different Christian political theologies, and there’s a lively debate about whether the term is even useful at all.
More importantly for the purposes of Lizza’s argument, there is very little in “A Christian Manifesto” to suggest that Schaeffer himself actually fits Diamond’s definition of a dominionist, and much to suggest the opposite. Here is Schaeffer defending religious pluralism:
… as we stand for religious freedom today, we need to realize that this must include a general religious freedom from the control of the state for all religion. It will not mean just freedom for those who are Christians. It is then up to Christians to show that Christianity is the Truth of total reality in the open marketplace of freedom.

And here, in a rather longer quote, is Schaeffer on the role of Christianity in civil government:
… we must make definite that we are in no way talking about any kind of a theocracy. Let me say that with great emphasis. Witherspoon, Jefferson, the American Founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy. In the Old Testament there was a theocracy commanded by God. In the New Testament, with the church being made up of Jews and Gentiles, and spreading over all the known world from India to Spain in one generation, the church was its own entity. There is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns. The whole “Constantine mentality” from the fourth century up to our day was a mistake. Constantine, as the Roman Emperor, in 313 ended the persecution of Christians. Unfortunately, the support he gave to the church led by 381 to the enforcing of Christianity, by Theodosius I, as the official state religion. Making Christianity the official state religion opened the way for confusion up till our own day. There have been times of very good government when this interrelationship of church and state has been present. But through the centuries it has caused great confusion between loyalty to the state and loyalty to Christ, between patriotism and being a Christian. We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country. To say it another way: “We should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.” None of this, however, changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, nor that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government. But that is very different from a theocracy in name or in fact.
No doubt many readers would disagree with Schaeffer’s interpretation of American history, and his call for believers to bring “Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government.” But both are a long way from the claim that Christians “alone” are “mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.” Likewise, it seems rather strange to depict a writer who goes out of his way to critique the Constantinian settlement as as a supporter of Christian “dominion” over public life.
So too with Lizza’s suggestion that Schaeffer urged the “violent overthrow” of the U.S. government if Roe v. Wade wasn’t overturned. It’s true that Schaeffer repeatedly urged his readers to consider using “force” to resist unjust laws. But he also insisted that “the distinction between force and violence is crucial,” warning Christians considering civil disobedience to remember “that overreaction can too easily become the ugly horror of sheer violence.” Here are some of his examples of “force” appropriately applied:
… an illustration for the need of protest is tax money being used for abortion. After all the normal constitutional means of protest had been exhausted, then what could be done? At some point protest could lead some Christians to refuse to pay some portion of their tax money. Of course, this would mean a trial. Such a move would have to be the individual’s choice under God. No one should decide for another. But somewhere along the way, such a decision might easily have to be faced.

State officials must know that we are serious about stopping abortion, which is a matter of clear principle concerning the babies themselves and concerning a high view of human life. This may include doing such things as sit-ins in legislatures and courts, including the Supreme Court, when other constitutional means fail.
These examples seem pretty obviously chosen to evoke the peaceful civil disobedience of a Henry David Thoreau or a Martin Luther King Jr., rather than the specter of armed revolution or terrorist violence that Lizza’s description conjures up.
Overall, the casual reader who knows little or nothing about Schaeffer (i.e., most New Yorker readers) would come away from Lizza’s piece with the sense that the L’Abri founder’s worldview was almost indistinguishable from the genuinely theocratic views of a more marginal figure like the Christian Reconstructionist guru R.J. Rushdoony. (Lizza subtly conflates the two later in the piece, when he notes that while Bachmann attended law school at Oral Roberts University, the law review “published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.”) This is simply wrong: Rushdoony’s interpretation of the American founding may have had some influence on Schaeffer, but the latter explicitly repudiated the broader reconstructionist worldview, dismissing it as bad theology and bad politics alike.
Schaeffer’s major contribution to American public life wasn’t any sort of sinister “dominionist” master plan, but rather a much more defensible blueprint for Christian political action: He argued that Christian values were under assault in contemporary American life, that the idea of secular “neutrality” was something of a sham, and that believers had an obligation to be 1) engaged with the culture rather than bunkered against it, and 2) engaged politically on issues (abortion, especially) where fundamental moral truths were at stake. One can dislike this blueprint and disagree with its premises, but its perspective on American politics is no more illiberal than the perspective of, say, the civil rights movement. And the fact that Schaeffer influenced a prominent evangelical politician like Bachmann isn’t nearly as surprising, strange or scary as Lizza’s piece often makes it sound.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Mark Juergensmeyer, Reza's dissertation advisor who studies religion from a sociological point of view weighs in on the meaning of being a "scholar of religions":
Since I was Reza's thesis adviser at the Univ of California-Santa Barbara, I can testify that he is a religious studies scholar. (I am a sociologist of religion with a position in sociology and an affiliation with religious studies). Though Reza's PhD is in sociology most of his graduate course work at UCSB was in the history of religion in the dept of religious studies. Though none of his 4 degrees are in history as such, he is a "historian of religion" in the way that that term is used at the Univ of Chicago to cover the field of comparative religion; and his theology degree at Harvard covered Bible and Church history, and required him to master New Testament Greek. So in short, he is who he says he is. *
Here we have a reference to the German school of Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, which is referred to in America as "history-of-religion" or "History of Religion," a comparative religion approach as stated by Juergensmeyer, as opposed to simply being a historian specializing in religious aspects of human history, such as, say, early Christianity. 

Aslan seems to have relied almost completely on a sociological approach to religious phenomena, as his degree would indicate.  Does this approach reflect the comparative religions approach as taught at Harvard or Univ of Chicago?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Defining Religious Liberty Down

Defining Religious Liberty Down
Ross Douthat JULY 28, 2012
THE words “freedom of belief” do not appear in the First Amendment. Nor do the words “freedom of worship.” Instead, the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans something that its authors called “the free exercise” of religion.
It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.
I cannot improve upon the way the first lady of the United States explained this issue, speaking recently to a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well ... Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.”
But Mrs. Obama’s words notwithstanding, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about this point in the Western leadership class today.
You can see this confusion at work in the Obama White House’s own Department of Health and Human Services, which created a religious exemption to its mandate requiring employers to pay for contraception, sterilization and the days-after pill that covers only churches, and treats religious hospitals, schools and charities as purely secular operations. The defenders of the H.H.S. mandate note that it protects freedom of worship, which indeed it does. But a genuine free exercise of religion, not so much.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Israeli Diversity Shown Even Among Leaders

To the editors: Faisal Chaudhry writes of the American and Israeli desire to “reconstruct the ideological framework” of the Middle East situation, while 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.

The Israeli government itself is comprised of a great number Sephardic Jews, many of whom originate from Arab countries. The chief of staff of the army, the minister of defense (who is the new leader of the labor party), the minister of finance and the president of Israel are all “brown.” One might have an idea of the physical likeness between Arabs and Israelis by examining this week’s Newsweek cover on which an 18-year-old female Palestinian suicide bomber and her 17-year-old female Israeli victim could pass for twins.

Israelis and Arabs are historically cousins. Until we accept the fact that we are constituents of the same family, we will blunder in believing that a loss for one “side”—or, as Chaudhry names it, a “color”—is not a loss for all human kind.

Outrageous and untrue finger-pointing is a childish tactic that disregards the responsibility of all parties involved, including Europe, the Arab nations and the United States, along with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

We must be ashamed of every act of violence and mourn every child as if they were our own. I pray for the safety of all those in the region and hope that we may someday use our unique human assets of language and empathy rather than military technology or propaganda to resolve this conflict.

Natalie Portman ’03

April 12, 2002