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. 

Why would he, being a Muslim, write a book about Jesus?  It's really very simple.  When academic intellectuals in college made him realize his beloved Bible was a bunch of faerie tales, Aslan realized long ago that the materialism of Marx was much more relevant than some fictitious "old man in the sky."  Any mysticism he embraces now sees as much divinity in a chair as in a human being.  But his activism is informed by collectivist materialism without any apparent transcendent vision except as a narrative gloss.  And it is convenient that "faith" in his jargon is always inexpressible, because even though he claims to be a polyglot in the symbolic languages of the transcendent  (i.e. religions) he seems incapable of expressing a transcendent reality in any one of them.  Whether or not he is serious about Sufism, mysticism seems to be the perfect mask for someone who sees a personal relationship with Transcendent Reality as a poor (sham) substitute for rationalism. 

Lauren Green was ill-prepared for Aslan.  The agreement between Aslan's Jesus and Islam's Jesus is somewhat coincidental.  The mere humanity of Islam's Jesus (the point of Islam's "radical unity of God") suits the materialism of Aslan's Jesus, but the materialism is metaphysically prior.  Lauren Green depended too heavily on Dickerson's review of Zealot, and didn't read that review closely enough.  Dickerson took issue with how he saw Zealot being promoted, and Green assumed this was how Aslan was presenting his book.  She needed to have done her homework.   Green and Dickerson took Reza at his word that he was a Muslim.  But to Reza, one is a Muslim simply if one identifies as such.  How do you engage a professed Muslim who is without Muslim beliefs, when his beliefs and actions are dictated by another Weltanschauung entirely?  Yet Reza ultimately vindicated Green's point about "disclosure" by evading disclosure of his anti-capitalist agenda. 

Green fumbled the ball.  She could have consulted with several historians and theologians.  That might have required waiting a few weeks, but I think it would have paid off.  It was a ridiculous interview.  But ultimately, not because of Lauren Green. 

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