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.*