It was quite amusing over the weekend to watch a Fox News interview in which the host had trouble understanding how a religious historian could write a book on Jesus, given that the historian is a Muslim. (video)
The book is called, “Zealot: “The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Fox News host Lauren Green’s first question to author Reza Aslan: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”
Aslan explains that he’s a religious scholar who’s been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, holds four degrees, one in the New Testament, and is fluent in biblical Greek, “who also just happens to be a Muslim.”
“But it begs the question,” insists Green: “Why you would be interested in the founder of Christianity?”
“Because it’s my job as an academic,” says Aslan. “I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.”
Green, a former Miss Minnesota and Fox’s “religion correspondent,” goes on to quote an opinion piece about Aslan’s book that attacks him as a Muslim (the piece was published on the Fox News website).
Undeterred and unshaken, Aslan repeats, “To be clear, I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions. This is a piece of history. I’m not sure what my faith has to do with my twenty years of academic study… I think it’s strange that instead of debating the merits of the book, we’re actually discussing the right of the scholar to actually write it.”
Aslan also refutes many Islamic teachings in his book, which, as an academic, he wrote with the intention of being historically factual.
FYI: Aslan’s mother is a Christian, as is his wife, and his brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor.
As blogger Adam Peck noted:
Green, however, pivoted back to Aslan’s religion at least seven more times during the interview, simply refusing to accept that a Muslim could also be an impartial scholar of Western religion. As Aslan pointed out towards the end of his interview, many scholarly works have been written about Islam by Christian academics. Those authors, he noted, are rarely if ever asked to defend their credentials or explain why they chose to cover a religion apart from their own.
Certainly not on Fox News, which regularly provides a platform to hate-mongers like Pamela Geller and Frank Gaffney and passes them off as experts on Islam.
It’s not just Fox News, by the way. The interview’s dialogue speaks for itself, but it reveals the ignorance that too often pervades today’s journalism and the pettiness with which the media is too often consumed.
Let’s ask the more relevant question: Why can’t a religious scholar who happens to be Muslim write a book on Christianity? Why wouldn’t any religious scholar not be interested in the founder of Christianity? Wouldn’t we question the pedigree of a scholar who wasn’t interesting in Christianity and its founder? Perhaps we should be asking J.K. Rowling, “Ms. Rowling, you are a muggle. Why did you choose to write a book about wizards?”
The irony here is that Christians feel no qualms about evaluating (and dismissing) all other religions. If Christians are qualified to speak authoritatively on non-christian religions, why would it be such a surprise that a Muslim scholar (with an impressive list of advanced degrees in religious history, no less) might decide to write a book about his subject? I haven’t read his book, don’t know if I’d find his thesis compelling, but I just don’t understand why a news anchor who obviously has not read the book, and who is NOT an authority in ancient languages OR religion would find it so startling that a non-christian might be? You could offer a much wordier explanation, but it may be that it just comes down to a news network pandering to ignorant bigots it thinks dominate its audience.
The book, incidentally, discusses, in part, Jesus as a political figure. As far as “criticism” of the book for that reason, Father Rooney was teaching that in Catholic grammar school in my parish years ago, so it’s hardly some crazy new theory Aslan’s putting forward. Among the people who have bothered to educate themselves about it, it’s pretty much accepted fact Jesus was a political and social activist. How successful he was at it and whether or not he was also the son of God are matters for debate/belief.
If Aslan had only conducted a religious study of Jesus for even one year, he’d have put far more serious research into it than your average Christian. Sitting in church listening to someone selectively quoting passages is not research. The case in point is in this interview. Aslan has to resort to talking to Green like she’s a five-year-old. And she still doesn’t get it.