By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
You know, the actual Greek term for actor wasn’t “thespian;” it was hypocrite. That term fits better.
Remember when I said that I may just write about Dr. Reza Aslan? Well, that day has come to be born. God bless the mother.
To be fair, Aslan did not exactly lie when he claimed that he was a Ph.D in the history of religions in the infamous Fox News interview that he partook in. Aslan received his Ph.D in the Sociology of Religion from the University of California, Santa Barbara. And in that work, the program takes a more anthropological look into the development of the religious ideas of many of humanity’s major religious faiths. Dope.
So, I’m not here to criticize Aslan’s credentials. Are we solid? Okay.
First of all, Aslan claimed in his Fox News interview that on the second or third page of his book Zealot, he fully disclosed that he was a Muslim. A Willy-wonka golden ticket for anybody who finds that page and reference in that book.
Since the whole premise of the interviewer’s questions surrounded Aslan’s mysterious omission of his Islamic faith…the fact that the first few pages of Zealot, if anything, actually lead readers into believing that Aslan was a Christian is…well…
And then there is the actual book, Zealot.
The actual book is pretty short, and the language flows well. I suspect that the Fox News interviewer didn’t read the book (which is fair for time constraints), but she should have at least had a handful of quotes available from the text on standby to back up her questions. Fortunately, I have read the entire book. Oh, how I wish that she had too. I know that Aslan was happy to find that she hadn’t.
For example, Aslan claims that he disclosed that he was a Muslim in his book on page 3. Fact is…he did no such thing. In fact, he opens up his book with a socially awkward story given the main theory for his novel. He mentions that his family immigrated to America when Aslan was still very young from war-torn Iran because of the Iranian Revolution. He mentions that his mom would still pray in secret, but that beyond that religion was a taboo thing for him growing up. It is a strange contradiction it seems, because he also mentions that his Islamic faith was as familiar to him as his own skin. Maybe that degree in Creative Writing didn’t offer a course in clarity. Anyways, Aslan, like any immigrant teenager, wanted to feel belonging and acclimation to the country he had adopted as a younger child. So, one day he follows a group of teens he knows to a Jesus-crusade, and whoop-shoop-dee-whoop, he becomes a Christian…
because he wanted to be an American…when he already was one. Teenage years are confusing, we all know.
It therefore happens that while Aslan is working busily to become better at converting people to his new American faith, he somehow stumbles across the myriad of Biblical contradictions, errors, and differing portrayals of Jesus that centuries of Biblical scholars, confessional Christians, and philosophers all somehow missed. He then discarded his faith and the erroneous Bible that came with it. Course, he subbed it for a totally made-up Jesus by using quotations from the very same erroneous text he says that he dumped. By the way, the vast majority of this stuff that I am telling you is found in the “Author’s Note” section…the first 3 to 4 pages or so in the book. And that is the end of it. No seriously, that’s it.
Did he ever mention that he was Muslim? Well…I have the ebook, so it wasn’t in the “About the Author” section at the end…and his “Notes” section where he describes why he chose to cherry-pick material from the contradicting Gospels he claims caused him to lose his faith
in American religion in Christianity…that section can be tossed too. I don’t know. Maybe there is a special edition copy that I missed out on somewhere in cyber space.
But hey, so Aslan is a storyteller. And maybe his methodology isn’t sound at all (Why repeatedly cite from a book you just spent the whole beginning of your book saying is totally false and unreliable? And then, why cherry-pick verses from those texts as if you can arbitrate where lies end and truth begin? And then, why rely upon the historical reliability of those very same books in order to validate the way that you use the material that you choose from them?) Hey…his book had no in-text citations and claimed to be a historical novel. I was constantly annoyed and irritated as I read the book, so much so that I literally had to put it down and wait until I was done writing my bachelor’s history thesis (with its 120 in-text citations) in order to give his book good opportunity to wow me. Let alone the fact that I ran into all of his theories of Jesus being a Jewish zealot during my Intro to New Testament class…and those wildly unpopular theories from the 19th century forwards have been historically and theologically debunked…a while ago.
B-but, the great doctor has a PhD. Well…yes. But the matter stands at…a PhD in what? A written PhD thesis…about what? Well…let’s see:
Reza Aslan wrote his PhD dissertation (the big paper that you have to write in order to show the world what you claim to be an expert in) on Islamic jihad as a social movement of resistance for oppressed people. Yeah. That. By the way…spoiler alert, according to Aslan, in order to appease jihadists, it is best to give them what they struggle for in order to de-radicalize them…because they aren’t any different than the American Founding Fathers. A pattern is forming here, but it isn’t a good one…and it isn’t because Reza Aslan creatively wrote it for us.
Like so many dissertations, Aslan turned his into a book that you can find here. By the way, the title for his dissertation was Global Jihadism as a transnational social movement: a theoretical framework. Let’s keep in mind that this is a man who has lied several times so far, who refers to his “religious” upbringing (whatever that really was) as somehow tied to his skin color (hence maybe Iranian heritage), and a man who has since converted to Islam…and specialized in a rigorous degree program in order to tell the world that radical Islamism really isn’t that bad, it’s just misunderstood (hint, Iran is one of the largest global donators to worldwide Islamist terrorist cells, mostly those of the Shia faith).
So…why then does this person, who has an MTS from Harvard where he most likely would have had the time to study Biblical Greek within that degree that now has become marketable to Buddhists, Hindus, lawyers, and journalists…why does such a scholar try to paint Jesus as a raging 1st century Jewish jihadi…and modern Islamists as the deserving poor? Was Osama bin Laden a poor man by any standards? …And also, why the devil would this same man purposefully twist the already scandalous details of the history of Ancient Israel into a ridiculous fictional television show “Of Kings and Prophets”…a show that tried to make a “Game of Thrones” version of Ancient Israel? Why can’t he produce works as scandalous in his own lane (Islam) since he is actually an experiential and trained authority on Islam? Does he have to offensively go after Jesus the Jew…and then the Ancient Israelis exclusively?
And does Aslan have an excuse?
I give you one major rebuttal.
Dr. Michael Youssef. Yeah, you see that last name? This guy isn’t an ethnic Frenchie.
His full bio can be found here, and I encourage you to read it since he is far more open about his life than Aslan is. Also, Youssef got a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary…making his degree roughly on par credit and course-wise with Aslan’s MTS. I’ve actually heard it from the man himself. Youssef came from Egypt as a refugee, but he did not immediately find his way to America. Eventually he got a PhD in social anthropology from Emory University (similar if not identical field of study as Aslan). And you know what Youssef’s dissertation was on? Go on, guess, this article has gone on long enough. It was on modern jihad. In fact, it is called Al Jihad, an islamic social movement. It can be found on WorldCat here. Don’t mind the title, Youssef speaks Egyptian Arabic, and he still has his accent to prove it.
But you know what? Youssef is a Christian pastor in Atlanta, Georgia. He isn’t a Muslim, and he certainly feels convinced by the evidence that the Gospels were true. Just listen to a sermon or two from him. He definitely doesn’t follow a jihadist murderer, nor does he emulate one.
Looks like the only degree that Aslan is showing his credit for…is his creative writing degree from the University of Iowa.
See Dr. Reza Aslan? I put hyperlinks all throughout this blog post about your work. See, in-text citations are not that hard…even for a second-rate blog post. I do apologize if my snarkiness is a bit much right now, I am kinda tired from trudging through this stuff.
Course, I’m not the only one to call out Aslan on his rather foolish twisting of Internet-searchable facts. But you know what, I may be the latest. Speaking of latest, check out this video where a humble guy takes Aslan to task concerning the central idea of his book Zealot.
Seriously, if you are thinking about reading the book like I did, this video will save you the money. And how the guy breaks Aslan’s argument down and the sources he uses are…well…this guy is (last I have heard) studying to become a PhD philosopher of religion. See it for yourself.
I honestly have no personal vendetta with Dr. Aslan. I have friends who believe as he does…in fact most of my friends would favor his views of the Bible over my own. I do, however, take personal offense when poor scholarship gets paraded around like a trophy…especially when the salvation of human souls are involved. Yes, I am offended as a fellow burgeoning scholar by his work and claims. And yes, I am offended as a disciple of Christ for the Way. But I’m a Christian. Forgiving offenses of those who offend me is even how I am supposed to pray for myself every single time that I pray to Father God. A certain non-jihadist Jewish man commands us so.
One quick note, I randomly took a scroll through Aslan’s notes section. He mentions that the term “Messiah” was never used in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to denote a personal king who would restore Israel to a future glory after the Israelites have become defeated. Well…a messiah is an anointed person. In fact, meshiach (Messiah in Hebrew) takes its name from masach, meaning to anoint someone. Um…Isaiah 61 anyone? Oh, I got you. How about Luke 4:14-21? I’m done here. For now.