Evangelical Pastor: Religious Beliefs Make Objective Study of Jesus Impossible, But Only for Muslims
Over the past few days, I’ve been accused of being (a) anti-Christian, (b) anti-Indian (sub-continental), (c) anti-truth, and (d) racist. “I enjoy your blog a lot,” one correspondent wrote. “In fact it is quite entertaining, but it seems to portray all Christians in a bad light. … Not all religious people are zealots as not all science believers are intolerant douche bags towards religion.” I imagine this is the problem with having a blog devoted to the topic of alternative history; by definition, the people whose views I discuss are necessarily the extremists, who—whatever their stripe—are necessarily outside the mainstream.
Therefore I read with interest a Fox News opinion column by the evangelical pastor and syndicated columnist John S. Dickerson blasting Daily Beast writer Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth as pseudo-scholarly fraud perpetuated by “a devout Muslim.” Dickerson faults the media for failing to report Aslan’s Muslim beliefs, but Dickerson similarly fails to note that Aslan holds a master’s in theological studies from the Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in the sociology of religion from UC Santa Barbara. Dickerson’s qualifications are that his father and grandfather were both pastors, at least as far as his biography states.
I wonder if Dickerson similarly jettisons all of “Biblical archaeology” since it is carried out by Christians and Jews, who of course he must admit cannot be fair.
I have a copy of Aslan’s book, and I’ll be looking at it sometime in the near future. What follows is not an endorsement of Dickerson’s claims, only an examination of his choice of arguments. Let’s look at Dickerson’s arguments for why Aslan can’t be trusted. I remind you again: I am not endorsing any of these claims.
His book is not a historian’s report on Jesus. It is an educated Muslim’s opinion about Jesus -- yet the book is being peddled as objective history on national TV and radio. Aslan is not a trained historian. Like tens of thousands of us he has been formally educated in theology and New Testament Greek.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Whom else do we know who makes weird claims about Jesus on TV and radio while pretending they are objective history?
As a sincere man, Aslan’s Muslim beliefs affect his entire life, including his conclusions about Jesus. But this is not being disclosed. “Zealot” is being presented as objective and scholarly history, not as it actually is—an educated Muslim’s opinions about Jesus and the ancient Near East.
Whom else do we know who passes off uneducated, radical opinions as sober scholarship? How many times, though, have we been told that our unnamed friend’s background and beliefs are irrelevant to understanding his claims? Dickerson calls Aslan’s failure to openly praise Muhammad on television as a failure to disclose a deep-seated “conflict of interest,” as though Jesus belonged only to evangelical Christians, and not also to Muslims, Arians, Gnostics, and sundry other groups with differing views.
Many more interviews will come from reporters who simply don’t understand that Reza Aslan has a horse in this race. He is not an objective observer, but, to use his own word, a zealot, with religious motivation to destroy what Western culture has believed about its central figure for hundreds of years.
Yeah, that about describes, from a different ideological framework, the New Age extremists who want to rewrite history to serve their radical agenda, too often focused on 1 Timothy 6:10. I will agree with Dickerson on this, though: The media fail to understand the radical ideologies underlying alternative history, and they treat “controversies” over ancient white explorers, a lost race of Jesus’ American children, or a hidden goddess cult infiltrating our government as amusing distractions, grist for the media mill, falsely balanced against mainstream scholarship as two equal sides of the coin of knowledge.
Let me be blunter: Why should geologist Scott Wolter’s imaginary honorary master’s degree and utter lack of mastery of historiography or archaeology be irrelevant to judging his work while Aslan’s claims are rendered moot by his training in theology rather than historiography? Why should Giorgio Tsoukalos’s or William Henry’s New Age spirituality be a lodestone guiding us to a better understanding of ancient religion while Aslan’s Islam disqualifies him from researching the historical Jesus?
Here is where I think that we need to step back and understand that there is a difference between the claimant and the claim. Whether Jesus was a radical or the father of a race of goddess-worshippers is a question of fact. But when the facts fail to support a claim, it then becomes useful to examine why particular individuals continue to support ideas in opposition to fact because the question is no longer historical but sociological. In other words, the ancient astronaut hypothesis is a question of fact; why more than a million people a week watch Ancient Aliens is a question of sociology. Dickerson fails to establish that the facts are wrong, so his attack is nothing but an ad hominem, contributing nothing except to foment xenophobia against the outsider.
7/25/2013 10:06:05 am
Has Dickerson even read Aslan's book? I can't tell from the column... and that kind of bothers me.
7/25/2013 10:25:29 am
I'm pretty sure he has read it. At least, the bit where he Freudian slips and says the book is a "demolition of the core beliefs that Christianity has taught about Jesus for 2,000 years" certainly implies he read it. (He appears to be admitting the book is correct, or else it couldn't demolish anything.)
7/25/2013 10:28:30 am
Anti-Christian, anti-Indian, racist and lying? I've been reading your blog every day, but if you've been accused of all that recently I feel like I've missed some good entries.
7/27/2013 11:33:16 am
I would characterize Jason as "anti-bullshit"
7/25/2013 11:56:09 am
7/25/2013 01:52:09 pm
This Dickerson person is just an example of why one attacks the person when one cannot attack the facts/truth of the work.
7/25/2013 02:58:13 pm
Actually the New Agers don't even quote 1 Timothy 6:10 correctly, most of the time they leave off the words "the love of" and remove the second sentence which makes it quite clear what the author meant.
7/25/2013 03:01:13 pm
"Anti-Christian, anti-Indian, racist,anti-truth?". Aww, There is definitely something missing: the antisemitic nasty epithet.We need to discuss world war 2 & Holocaust revisionism.
7/25/2013 04:22:45 pm
So.... nobody called Jason a Nazi yet?
7/25/2013 04:46:41 pm
Funny, I thought that Aslan's work was mostly framed in modern progressive liberation theology.
7/26/2013 06:51:19 pm
Part of the awfulness of these clumsy whacks at Islam is the fact that - naturally - Islam is at least as theologically complex as Christianity and the claim that Muslims as a whole believe X Y or Z is as inaccurate as claiming that an unspecified Christian believes X Y or Z.
The Other J.
7/26/2013 09:47:02 pm
It's such a strangely vague claim he makes -- at least in the quoted bits. Manipulate it a bit, make it a little generic:
7/27/2013 03:05:12 am
7/27/2013 04:58:42 am
Paul,Don't even think about trying to politicize this blog with this Islamophobic garbage.
7/27/2013 05:44:23 am
I heard about Muslim in the 70s during the fuel crisis. OPEC was mentioned quite a bit on the news back then.
7/27/2013 06:38:22 am
It seems like you have a major fixation on Islam.I am not patronizing you, but have you met any Muslims?.Do you have Muslim friends or acquaintances?.Have you ever visited or lived in a Muslim country?.Do you speak Arabic?.Do you even understand that Islam is not monolithic?.
7/27/2013 12:27:03 pm
7/28/2013 05:43:51 am
I used to go to the top of the Khober tower I was billeted in to watch the airliners land and to listen to the evening prayer, with the western sky an explosion of vermillion and ochre, and the eastern sky a deep cobalt, with the silver coin of the moon rising above the Persian Gulf, with the smells of the salt breeze from the sea, and the acrid concrete of the rooftop, the sonorous sounds of the prayer and its echoes across the skyline of Dhahran was a magical and otherworldly experience.
7/28/2013 05:45:19 am
. . .
7/28/2013 07:50:50 am
I forgot to add that we were mercenaries. We were told as much during a briefing in which a colonel informed us that the Saudi's offered to pay each US service member in theater a nice sum of money. Cheers went up in the hanger. Then we were told that Pres. Bush declined the offer. We groaned.
7/28/2013 09:39:24 am
Is there a point to pasting in all of this? At least two of the regular commenters on this blog including me have personal experience in the Gulf. In my case it was not in the military, which is no way to inhabit a place and actually learn anything about the people you're either occupying or bolstering the regime they live under.
7/29/2013 02:34:50 am
7/29/2013 03:49:41 am
Why the 1990s? Even in the case of Saudi alone the history of Saudi Aramco goes back to the 1920s. I think you've picked that timeframe because that's when you're aware of conflict between the US and some actors in the region. In any event there have been hundreds of thousands if not in excess of a million Americans in the Gulf area alone, and the majority of them trained to think of the native population as enemies.
7/29/2013 09:03:07 am
"Why the 1990s? Even in the case of Saudi alone the history of Saudi Aramco goes back to the 1920s. I think you've picked that timeframe because that's when you're aware of conflict between the US and some actors in the region."
7/29/2013 02:02:31 pm
7/27/2013 12:13:59 pm
Here are a few quotes from Aslan's Author's Notes....
7/27/2013 12:29:25 pm
Based on the Author's Note Aslan sounds like a liberal Christian.
7/28/2013 03:32:23 am
How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror
7/28/2013 03:58:10 am
From Gawker via Fox News:
7/28/2013 04:50:32 am
Has anyone ever heard Jews express shock that Christians might study what Christians call the Old Testament?
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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