Jesus does not need Fox News to defend his story. Yet when it happens, settle in for some culture-war fodder and instant celebrity, as scholar Reza Aslan has recently discovered.
Prof. Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth made headlines when Fox anchor Lauren Green opined that a scholar who also was a Muslim could not be a credible source on Jesus. Their webcast interview became downright silly as Ms. Green probed for an agenda and Prof. Aslan repeatedly spelled out his credentials.
Mr. Aslan is a creative writing professor at the University of California, wonderfully adept at making history read quickly and easily. His sociology doctorate examined jihadism and an earlier book, No god but God, probed Islam. Now he’s written on the historical Jesus, concluding that “Jesus the man … is every bit as compelling, charismatic and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.”
When the news of Jesus first came into public consumption some 2,000 years ago, it took off. More than 5,000 Greek manuscripts recorded impressions of the Jesus who called people to discover that he was “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). To this day, people bank on that claim, but many define Jesus in different ways.
Zealot explains who Prof. Aslan thinks Jesus was before layers of Christianity were applied to these stories. Richard Ascough, professor of religious studies at Queen’s University, told me that, “From what I can see, Aslan accepts as historical the passages that fit his construction of Jesus and discards the ones that don’t, which results in a book that is historically suspect, as are most other [Jesus] books that have gone before it.”
Prof. Aslan told The Washington Post that the criticism came from his having a foot in both creative writing and religion. “I like to go back and forth,” he acknowledged. “The reason there’s been so much suspicion about my credentials is because academics tend not to do that. For the life of me, I can’t understand why there’s so much controversy. I get easily bored.”
He might as well have said, “Welcome to the bricolage of life!” Bricolage is that cultural trend to create a self-satisfying mosaic of our interests. Prof. Aslan began life in a family of “lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists,” but by 15, he was an evangelical Christian. Then college threw him into doubt.
“People are always wrestling with how to reconcile their intellectualization and their faith commitment – it’s not easy; they have to keep thinking. As I say to my students, the only people who worry me are the ones who stop asking questions because they think they have all the answers,” Prof. Ascough says. Prof. Aslan is now a Muslim, but certainly a hard-core self-definer, inventing his own boundaries. “It’s not that I think Islam is correct and Christianity is incorrect,” he told the Post. “It’s that all religions are nothing more than a language made up of symbols and metaphors to help an individual explain faith.”
I think faith is that inner conviction that we are not alone in our soul, our hope that God’s care and love is mysteriously intertwined with our own psyche. Part of human history contends that people were crafted in God’s image, and now it seems we’re returning the favour, crafting faith in however we might like God to be.
Academics are calling this spiritual bricolage. What will it leave behind in culture, family and self? After millions of minds and hands have passed the story of Jesus along, something tells me the story will still keep landing the way it was intended to.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.