The article below ran last week in the Washington Post. The author of the column Mr. Reza Aslan (who is Muslim and yes that does matter in terms of his interpretations) is also the author of a best-selling book on Jesus. In contrast, I am not a best-selling author. I am merely a lowly kinda sorta okay selling author. Despite that I have been intending to write a critique of Mr. Aslan’s book. The only thing that has prevented me from doing so is that it would require me to read Mr. Aslan’s book, which I have zero interest in doing. That is because having read Mr. Aslan’s column below, and having now seen Mr. Aslan on multiple television interviews, I am certain that the conclusions he draws in his books are complete and utter poppycock.
Being an author myself, and one who is interested in marketing books and getting my name out there, I can’t blame Mr. Aslan for jumping on the recent controversy regarding the Pope. In case you missed it, the Pope recently made some comments (I went to the source and read the comments myself) that could only be interpreted as a bit socialist in nature. I am a Protestant, so the Pope’s comments don’t hold particular sway with me. But they do for millions of people around the world, so what he puts out there publicly is a big deal. My comments below do not speak to Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. Instead my focus is on the overall arguments of Mr. Aslan which are consequently the same arguments that are being made by many liberal Christian theologians in our modern world.
I have included my remarks in italics. If you want to read Mr.Aslan’s column in full without my commentary, see the Washington Post website which is where I found his article.
If Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin don’t like the pope, they won’t care much for Jesus
Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are starting to sour on the new pope.
In response to Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, in which the pontiff denounced “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” these two paragons of the far right – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus. This is a gross overstatement. I looked up both of their comments and it was clear that their issues were with what the Pope said so publicly, not on the man or his office.
Sarah Palin complained that Pope Francis sounded “kind of liberal” in his statements decrying the growing global income equality between the rich and the poor (she has since apologized).
Rush Limbaugh went one step further. “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” he harrumphed into his giant microphone.
Limbaugh, in his trademarked conspiratorial style, speculated that the pope’s tirade against “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion” must have been forced upon him by somebody else. “Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him,” he said.
Limbaugh is right. Somebody did get to Pope Francis. It was Jesus.
Self-styled “defenders of Christianity,” like Palin and Limbaugh, peddle a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus. Indeed, if you listened to those on the far right you would think that all Jesus ever spoke about was guns and gays. First of all, I don’t believe that either of these two have set themselves up as a “defender of Christianity” but they can fight their own battles. I do consider myself such a defender however, so I can state that Aslan’s statement here is silly. I have never made such an argument and neither has any apologist I can think of. This line is included in the article strictly to be sensationalist and to appeal to the stereotypes of the average Washington Post reader.
But even many modern Christians who reject the far right’s perception of Jesus Okay timeout. I am so tired of hearing this phrase, “the far right”. There is no viable “far right” in this country and hasn’t been since the reconstruction period following the civil war. Methinks Mr. Aslan is being disingenuous and trying to hurl epithets. However, assuming he is sincere then like most extreme left individuals, he sees what would have been a centrist just thrity years ago, as a person of the so called extreme right. tend to hold an inaccurate picture of the historical Jesus, viewing him as some kind of celestial spirit with no concern for the cares of this world – a curious assertion about a man who not only lived in one of the most politically charged periods in Israel’s history, but who claimed to be the promised messiah sent to liberate the Jews from foreign occupation. Where to begin here? There is so much in these few sentences that is so easily refuted. First of all, no Christian that I have encountered in any denomination believes that Jesus is a celestial spirit. What Aslan is describing is deism. One could not be a Christian and be a deist it would be a logical impossibility. Second, at no point, did Christ ever claim to come to liberate the Jew’s from the Romans. In fact he was constantly correcting his followers when they had such notions. Christ came to liberate men from sin and to give them access to the Father and eternal life. He transcended politics then and he transcends politics now. This popular view of Jesus, which I challenge in my book, has dominated Christianity ever since the days of the Holy Roman Empire. No it hasn’t. I cannot imagine what Aslan is talking about. No such view of Jesus is prevalent in either Catholic or Protestant circles. I recently finished reading a volume on ancient church history. I don’t see this view in church history either.
It is not difficult to see why. After all, if you think of Jesus as an apolitical, pacifistic preacher of good works whose only interest was in the world to come, then you can domesticate Jesus’ radical teachings and more easily accommodate him to your own political or economic agenda. Now we see Mr. Aslan’s Muslim sensibilities coming out. For it is Islam that tends to politicize Jesus and in so doing attempts to diminish his deity. So Aslan is engaging in projection here (accusing his opposition in the debate of that which he himself engages in). Likewise, the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus that is preached in most evangelical churches, IS concerned with our eternal souls and the world to come as well as our current joy, peace and submission to him. It is precisely his eternal and omniscient nature, that DEFIES domestication!
You can be millionaire megachurch pastor Joel Olsteen, preaching a “prosperity Gospel” that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley. You can be Republican congressman Steven Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul appealing to Jesus’ teachings to advocate ending foreign aid. Or you can be a marketing opportunist like Aslan who is jumping into the fray in order to sell your poorly researched book.
The truth is that Jesus’ teachings were so revolutionary that were he to preach today what he preached 2,000 years ago, many of the same preachers and politicians who claim to promote his values would be the first to call for him to be silenced. This may be true but it is clear that Aslan has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus taught.
Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor. He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places. Utter nonsense. Jesus’ concern regarding the rich was that the comfort purchased by their riches would blind them to their need for him as savior. That is why the poor would be rich. It was because the poor tend to be more likely willing to humble themselves before the cross. Riches can create in some an attitude of self-sufficiency that is detrimental to that needed humility.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing” (Luke 6:20–21).
These abiding words of the Beatitudes are often remembered as a promise of vindication for the poor and the dispossessed. But that is because few bother reading the verses that follow.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you laughing now, for soon you will mourn” (Luke 6:24–25).
Jesus is not simply describing some utopian fantasy in which the meek inherit the earth, the sick are healed, the weak become strong, the hungry are fed, and the poor are made rich. He is advocating a chilling new reality in which the rich will be made poor, the strong will become weak, and the powerful will be displaced by the powerless.
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 5:3–12).
While modern Christianity has tried to spiritualize this message of Jesus, transforming his revolutionary social teachings into abstract ethical principles, it is impossible to overlook the unflinching condemnation of the wealthy and powerful that permeate Jesus’ teachings. The reversal of the social order that Aslan is so obsessed with, is promised in the Kingdom to come, not necessarily on this earth. If that were the case, then why weren’t the followers he was speaking to at that moment on that Mount, made rich before they died? If the promise is what Aslan claims it is, then Jesus failed to keep his promise to those listeners. But Jesus never fails. He promised they would be rich in the life to come precisely because they had believed on him as Messiah. As for the so called condemnation of the rich, see my comments above. (And by the way, the first sentence of the paragraph above misuses the term “spiritualize”)
“How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).
As one can imagine, such a radical vision of the world would have been both profoundly appealing for those at the bottom rungs of Jesus’ society, and incredibly threatening for those at the top. The fact is not much has changed in two thousand years, as Palin and Limbaugh have proven.
Yet if these “culture warriors” who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they’d probably call him a Marxist. This is very nearly open heresy. To say that Jesus would have advocated a political system that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions is beyond offensive. In Marxism the state must be supreme in the life of the individual. In Christ’s teachings, he must be supreme. The two belief systems are completely contradictory.
Mr. Aslan has an agenda here. It is not to enlighten people of some heretofore unknown secrets about Jesus life. It is he who is attempting to turn the Holy Christ into a political toy to be used to further political aspirations. Aslan’s attempt is based on falsehoods and a perversion of the context of Holy Scripture. I denounce him.