Over the weekend, Reza Aslan went on Fox News to discuss his new book Zealot (which I covered and discussed here before the fooferaw). Lauren Green spent the entire segment interrogating Aslan, a Christian-turned-Muslim, as to why a follower of Islam would dare write about Jesus, while never actually dealing with the specific arguments of the book.
What strikes me about this tactic is how it exposes the weakness of fundamentalist Christianity when it comes to dealing with historical scholarship that may challenge some aspects of Christian orthodoxy. Christian fundamentalists often simply have no way to respond to the facts – because empirical inquiry is anathema to fundamentalists. They refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary insights into the origins of the Gospels that historical research has unearthed; they cannot tolerate any dissent from Biblical literalism (itself an inherent contradiction, since the Bible repeatedly contradicts itself if taken literally); they have to blind themselves to the science of our time in a way someone like Aquinas did not in his; they even have to insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis, for goodness’ sake.
So what are they to do when someone pops up with some actual research and arguments and challenges to received dogma? The only thing they can do is attack the messenger. That’s how intellectually bankrupt Christianism is. It cannot relate its own dogmas to the truths about the world we have discovered outside of faith. Christianists do not seem to understand that if something is demonstrably true, it cannot be counter to God, who is the ultimate Truth. They are terrified of using their minds because their faith is so often mindless – and any engagement with contemporary scholarship on Christianity is a threat to their faith, rather than, as it should be, a spur to see it in a new light.
What you see above, in other words, is an expression of fear and unreason. Which is roughly all that Christianism has in its rigid quiver.
Of course, you cannot truly blame a Foxbot interviewer who hasn’t read the book for following the script laid out for her by Roger Ailes or one of his lower-level propagandists. Or maybe you can. David Graham has a great idea:
I find myself wishing [Aslan had] flipped the argument around on Green: After all, isn’t any Christian too hopelessly biased to write a serious book on Jesus? Most folks would say no; it’s as spurious as the attack against Aslan. But for a network that defines itself against a “liberal media” it insists is too biased to offer a clearheaded, fair interpretation of current events, there’s a glaring double standard.
Aslan might also have mentioned the many non-Muslims who have written books about Muhammad and Islam. Fox has happily given a platform to Christians and Jews who have been critical of the prophet and the religion, from the scholarly (Bernard Lewis) to the hysterical (Frank Gaffney) to the … also hysterical (Andrew McCarthy). In addition, although Aslan noted his conclusions conflicted with Islamic positions on Jesus — for example, he argues that the crucifixion, which Islam denies, actually happened — it might have been helpful to point out that Muslims revere Jesus as an important prophet, though refuting his divinity.
Waldman views the interview as symptomatic of the way the media covers religion, Islam in particular:
Green came pretty close to saying that as a Muslim, Aslan must by definition be hostile to Christianity in general and Jesus in particular and therefore incapable of writing a measured piece of history. This gets back to something I wrote about last week on the privilege associated with being the default racial setting, although here it’s the default religious setting. If you’re in the majority, it’s your privilege to be whatever you want and speak to whatever you want, and you can be treated as an authority on anything. But those in the minority are much more likely, when they come into this kind of realm, to be allowed only to speak to the experience and history of their particular demographic group.
So Fox has no trouble treating Reza Aslan as an authority on Islam, but if he claims to also be an authority on Christianity, those Christians react with incredulity.
They’re so hermetically sealed in their bubble, they cannot see their bigotry. Which is why, of course, they react so strongly whenever they are accused of such. And so the beat goes on.