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 RealClearReligion.org) 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 Patheos.com 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.

From Aish.com:

Fundamental belief of Judaism?  Let's look at Chabad.org:
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:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Secularizing or Secularism?

One of the many topics in which it is hard to understand what Reza Aslan really means is that of secularization and its meaning. 
When politicians speak of bringing democracy to the Middle East, they mean specifically an American secular democracy, not an indigenous Islamic one.
There exists a philosophical dispute in the Western world with regard to the concept of Islamic democracy: that is, that there can be no a priori moral framework in a modern democracy; that the foundation of a genuinely democratic society must be secularism.  . . .  As the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox notes, secularization is the process by which "certain responsibilities pass from ecclesiastical to political authorities," whereas secularism is an ideology based on the eradication of religion from public life.  . . . neither human rights nor pluralism is the result of secularization; they are its root cause. Consequently, any democratic society -- Islamic or otherwise -- dedicated to the principles of pluralism and human rights must dedicate itself to following the unavoidable path toward political secularization.
This sounds like a philosophical backflip: first acknowledging that a people can't secularize themselves into a more free society, and then suggesting in ambiguous language that to remain "dedicated to the principles of pluralism and human rights" one must not stray from the inexorable pull of secularization, a path that is "unavoidable" provided a society "dedicates itself to following" it.  In America's case, all we need is a Supreme Court to force our ignorant society of religious yokels to remain dedicated to it.  Aslan at turns seems to be saying that Middle Eastern countries must find their way to democracy in their own way and their own time (in other words, we need to stop sanctions and ignore human rights violations), and then begs the question why unavoidable paths require dedication.  If we interpret that last sentence as meaning that this dedication to secularization itself follows irrevocably, it still begs the question why any Islamic democracy would dedicate itself to "pluralism and human rights" in a way that would subordinate religious sensibilities to higher principles.  This sounds like doubletalk.  

The main problem here is that it is hard to trust how some "prominent thinkers" distinguish an acceptable encroachment of "political authorities" into "ecclesiastical" life from "the eradication of religion from public life."  Presumably, "ecclesiastical" voices (including any religious coalition) don't surrender these "responsibilities" easily; the real question is just what we mean by a voluntary surrender of these responsibilities.  The vision of Marx and of every collectivism derived from Marxism (fascism, communism, socialism) has demanded a centralized authority that puts every ecclesiastical agency (and every familial and didactic agency) at its mercy fiscally, legally, politically.  This is necessary for a centralized state to impose the right morality and vision of society (e.g. a specific interpretation of pluralism and human rights with which a free people might disagree 1,2) that the religious sensibilities of the common folk are too backward to embrace willingly.  It requires a power unaccountable to the people, like a dictator or (in America's case) a Supreme Court.  Turkey is not a good example for Aslan because theirs was not a voluntary surrender. Which is why they don't wear hijabs. 

The work that Reza Aslan does with Mike Weinstein in undermining the prominent place that Christianity holds in America's military says a lot about what he really means by secularization.  This sort of forced pluralism or involuntary pluralism is apparently seen as the passing of certain responsibilities in which it becomes .  I wonder what Aslan would make of attempts to de-Islamicize the Iranian military, squelching Islam's prominent role in that society.  This sort of thing is not necessary for pluralism, and is not traditional American pluralism.  Traditional American pluralism is neither forcing a society to celebrate all views equally nor forcing a society to deny having a specific religious heritage.  The former comes from a quasi-religious progressive vision of diversity as a sacrament; the latter comes from a tacit agreement between secularism and quasi-religious progressivism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lauren Green's Real Mistake

Many pieces critical of Reza Aslan's Zealot, and of his performance in the interview with Fox correspondent Lauren Green, seem to make a perfunctory jab at Fox (lest their colleagues mistake them for conservative sympathizers) and/or make an obligatory nod toward Green's terrible blunder, whether it's Islamophobia, bulverism, anti-intellectualism, "racism" (against the "Muslim race"?) or some such combination of unsavory prejudices and bigotry.

The combination of Aslan's immediate display of offense and his line "a Muslim scholar's right to write about Jesus" set the stage for all sorts of pointless bloviation about Green's questioning his right to write a book about Jesus.  Not only do I think this misses the mark, I think it would be going way past the facts to claim that Green questioned the propriety (which is another thing entirely) of his writing this book.  Despite his many repetitions of his credentials, he was not questioned on his qualifications for writing the book (but many have naturally questioned it since the interview).

But Aslan displayed from the beginning of the interview his awareness of what he was actually being asked.  He was being asked about his motivation in writing the book, and immediately hid behind his credentials and his "job," as though his qualifications entailed objectivity, and avoided the very explanation that frames his entire book

He has elsewhere admitted that he wrote the book with a very strong personal, ideological bias.  It had nothing to do with his "job" as either a professor of creative writing or as visiting professor of contemporary religious issues. (The "job" he had in mind was apparently not his paid job as professor, but his calling, as he sees it, as a public intellectual.)  As he states in his book, it had everything to do with his conversion into being a follower of a 2000-year-old political radical.  He had an ideological bias, and it inspires, informs, and permeates his book. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reza Aslan: Religious Text Has No Intrinsic Meaning

According to Reza Aslan, your religious text does not in any way inform your value system or your world view.  Rather, your value system and world view are dependent entirely on other things and instead dictate your interpretation of your religious text. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How Did Fox News Surprise Reza Aslan?

In many interviews Reza Aslan has repeated the refrain that Fox News has "spun" Islamophobia "into ratings gold." In the interview below, Aslan explained in more detail what he experienced during the famous interview that catapulted him into media stardom.    
When you first went through that now-viral Fox News interview, did you think the internet would notice?

Reza looking shocked.
Not at all. I understood what was happening about halfway through the interview, I’ll be honest. I went through the interview thinking that of course they’re going to come out swinging. That’s what Fox News does; that’s why they’re so successful. I expected one, maybe two, questions about my perceived Muslim bias in writing this book. I knew it was going to be an attempt to discredit the book and the academic work behind the book by trying to smear the author. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was ten solid minutes of it. *
This is very interesting. 
  1. First of all, why would Aslan give a Fox News online program the time of day if he never thought "the internet" would notice? 
  2. He says here that he expected Fox News to "come out swinging" with "questions about my perceived Muslim bias," and yet as several sympathetic articles have noted (in the NY Times,  the American Conservative, Big Think, etc.), Aslan lifts his eyebrows high in apparent bewilderment when Green does exactly what he was expecting.  It seems to be this gesture that many people took as barely contained umbrage, and indirectly as evidence of a mistreated scholar unfairly insulted (after all, he looked offended).  And this perceived sleight frames Aslan's explanation about how he is a "prominent Muslim thinker" and how his academic credentials both entitle and require him to write this book about Jesus. (It is his job to do so, he explained.) 
  3. Presumably, the only surprise occurred halfway through the interview (about 5 minutes in).  And presumably, this surprise was that this interview would be "ten solid minutes" of  discrediting his book and its underlying scholarship.  Yet Green let him explain how his academic views  contradict orthodox Islam.  Green asked him to talk about the claims of his book, and then let him present an overview of the argument in his book.  Green then brought up another criticism of his book.  While the interview was a flawed (even botched) attempt to corner a particularly slippery interviewee (and most of the attempts to discredit Green have been extremely flawed as well), to describe it as "ten solid minutes" of ad hominem is not just flawed, it's patently false.   
French journalist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry observed:
. . . The interviewer quotes Aslan a bit of criticism of his book. Instead of responding, Aslan talks about how his book has a hundred pages of endnotes and is therefore a serious book. First of all, that’s silly. I mean, really. But second of all, answer the damn question. Aslan speaks as if the fact that he has a PhD somehow means that he is beyond criticism, at least from non-PhDs, and certainly from journalists.
Then why go on the interview?
I mean, think about it for a second. There’s about as much chance of Fox News’ audience buying Aslan’s book as there is of it buying Yeezus. So why do the interview?
Well, for this, of course. The interview didn’t ever degenerate—it never “generated” to begin with. Oh sure, Fox News had its own agenda. But Aslan could have played it cool, or presumed good faith at least on the first question. That’s if he hadn’t been coming on the interview just for this. To assume bigotry on the part of Fox News, to talk about his academic bona fides, and therefore to generate a viral moment and juice his book sales.
Well said.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Expert in the History of Religions

Elizabeth Castelli, a professor of religious studies, wrote an article for The Nation about Zealot.  After denouncing the Infamous Fox Interview, she took issue with Aslan's self characterization as a historian. She observes the probable, and potentially misleading, meaning of Aslan's self-description as an expert in the "history of religions":
Aslan’s claims concerning his academic degrees have led to some confusion: he uses the term “historian of religions” at times, “historian” at others. To people unfamiliar with the intellectual histories involved, the first term may not resonate. “History of religions” derives from the nineteenth-century German university context where the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule [history-of-religions school] sought to place the phenomenon of religion—especially in its archaic and ancient iterations—in social and cultural context. It has since become the name for a particular disciplinary approach to the study of religion, most often associated in the United States with the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara, where Aslan earned his PhD in sociology. To the extent that he did coursework in the UCSB Religious Studies department, he can certainly lay claim to preparation in the history-of-religions approach. Although this approach was influential on the study of the New Testament and early Christianity in the first two decades of the twentieth century, it has had little impact in the decades since. [emphases mine]

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reza on who gets to speak for Jesus

The "right of a scholar" (Muslim or no) "to write about Jesus" is not and has never been at issue.   Conservatives certainly may not like tax dollars supporting all kinds of freedom of expression, and may disagree on what counts as freedom of expression, but writing popular books on all sorts of unusual theories has been commonplace. 
In response to Pope Francis' [apostolic exhortation suggesting that certain economic freedoms might need to be sacrificed for social justice], these two paragons of the far right [Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin] – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus.   
Neither of these "paragons" is Catholic, and as Reza is a expert in Western Religions, he should know that only Roman Catholics view the Pope as speaking for Jesus and only when he speaks ex cathedra.  For someone who writes about the forthcoming "Protestantization of Islam" and has lauded Osama bin Laden as being a Luther-type reformer in this process, this is a profoundly unsophisticated bit of nonsense.  His language conjures a picture of conservatives walking arm in arm with the Pope and "suddenly turning" on him.  In the famous FOX News interview, it seemed that Reza was saying that is his actual job description as well to speak for Jesus, which according to his preface to Zealot is what he's all about.  He seems to believe that all Protestants should stand at attention when the Pope gives Jesus' opinion on the free market, or when a supposedly objective scholar like Reza does so. 

He dismisses "the far right" (a politically loaded term) -- through the judicious picking of "paragons" -- as having "a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus."  If you've read Zealot, then you know that what Reza really means by "a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus" is that thing Christians call the New Testament, which presents Jesus as "a detached celestial spirit with no interest in the affairs of this world" instead of the truly compassionate revolutionary he actually was.  Yes, the entire New Testament is profoundly (deeply and fundamentally) unhistorical according to Reza Aslan, except for the few bits and pieces he uses to support his "historical" view.  (He does grant that the crucifixion happened, and that the original disciples actually did believe that Jesus healed people and believed he was resurrected; but he claims almost all the details of the gospels and theology of the epistles were completely made up.)

Why would a main who praises reformation and 'Protestantization' for Islam, praise a centralized authority that purports to speak for all Christians?

Does Reza Aslan really think that Protestants must accept the Pope's opinion of the free market as Jesus' own opinion?  Or is he really just that full of himself that he depends now on people swallowing whole all his unchecked sophistry?  

The Papal Throne

Reverence in the presence of the Pope

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hitler and Christianity: An Oft-Repeated Lie

Probably no historical person prompts more universal disgust in Westerners than Adolf Hitler.  Yet, in a conversation with Cenk Uyger (Young Turks), Reza Aslan states that Hitler must have been a Christian because he identified himself as such.  To bolster Reza Aslan's point about how a religious view can't disown anyone who claims to be part of it, Cenk Uyger digs up a quote from Mein Kampf that secularists have long been championing as proof that Hitler was a Christian:
The anti-Semitism of the new movement was based on religious ideas instead of racial knowledge.
Now, the charge of quote-mining is so overused, it almost "only does emotive work." And yet, one presumably had to read Mein Kampf to find this quote, and the context is not at all obscure in chapter 2.  The Christian Socialist Party was a political party that tried to wed liberal Christian "higher criticism" ideas with both ethnic paranoia and socialism, and thus leveled its bigotry against the faith of Judaism (an almost Marcionite brand of supercessionism). Ultimately, a truly nationalistic movement, Hitler thought, could not possibly be based on fluffy spiritualities but on cold objective material (i.e. biological) realities.  A Jewish person, in Hitler's mind, was a corrupt creature regardless of what he believed; an idea deeply antithetical to Christian canon and dogma in general.  By not being based on "racial knowledge" (what is now called "scientific racism" was commonly justified by evolutionary thought), the CSP was necessarily "a sham anti-Semitism which was almost worse than none at all" in Hitler's account.

In other words, the "new movement" "based on religious ideas" was not National Socialism, but so-called "Christian Socialism".  The "old movement" in this context was Pan-Germanism, a movement Hitler believed was more on target in principle but off target in method.  In fact, the CSP was so effective at convincing Hitler of the dangers posed by Jewish people that Hitler praised its methods rather than its principles, as it "recognized the value of large-scale propaganda and was a virtuoso in influencing the psychological instincts of the broad masses of its adherents." To absorb any of CSP theological ideas (which were neither conservative nor orthodox) would at least have required Hitler to entertain the notion that anyone can be saved through the truth.  And Hitler acknowledges in Mein Kampf that he would have none of this.  There is, in fact, not even a half-hearted attempt to base his political ideas on any kind of Christian doctrine. 

He does make a vague reference to "true Christianity" once in chapter 11, but like a good politician does not elaborate on what that means other than insinuating that it is antithetical to greed (still popular in anticapitalist rants), and makes a perfunctory jab about how Jesus was rejected and betrayed by Jewish people in the 1st century--an image that had been used for years to drum up and justify anti-Semitic sentiment at the expense of New Testament teaching.  Hitler brings this medieval passion play cliche into his book 9 chapters after explaining that the main thing he got from the Christian Socialists was how to use effective propaganda.  This would be the perfect place to explain how his political Weltanschauung meshes with Christianity, and Hitler is emphatically silent.  But there is no chance, according to secularists, that Hitler's appeal to religious imagery was cynically opportunistic rather than deep and heartfelt.  I mean, it's not like he was a politician.

Exactly how dedicated to the New Testament was Hitler's "National Reich Church"?
The National Church has no scribes, pastors, chaplains or priests, but National Reich orators are to speak in them. The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany... The National Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuehrer's Mein Kampf is the greatest of all documents. It ... not only contains the greatest but it embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of saints. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German national and therefore to God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.*