Thursday, August 1, 2013

More on the Reza Aslan interview: Fox News doubles down

After Fox News' jaw-droppingly stupid interview with Reza Aslan on his book about the historical Jesus achieved viral status, the station has predictably backed itself and congratulated interviewer Lauren Green for doing a great job. Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Centre is drafted in to tell us why. And again, it's a superb illustration of just how much the religious right fail to get it.
 One of the funny parts is where Bozell decries the fawning interviews from the liberal media that never press Aslan on what Bozell thinks are serious errors about what Jesus did or didn't do. It's funny because Green, in the Fox interview, doesn't do that either. She spent almost the entire time questioning his right as a person who happens to be a Muslim to write about Jesus.

To be fair, if that question came up once in the interview, there would be nothing wrong with that. Something like, "Mr Aslan, some critics have claimed that as a Muslim, you do not have an objective position on writing about the key figure of the Christian religion. What do you say to that?" But when that question is the only one being asked in the interview, albeit in various different guises, it's clear there is a prejudice at work. It's a great, clear example of the Christian Privilege that operates in America, at least in conservative circles. In the same way that white people are the "default race", Christianity is the "default religion", which means that Christians can talk about both their own religion and others, without their objectivity being questioned. But someone like Aslan who ascribes to a different religion must clearly have an agenda; particularly when his religion is Islam, which is out to destroy America and Christianity. When Aslan says he's an academic with four degrees who just happens to be a Muslim, this doesn't make sense to much of the Fox audience, because (a) being Muslim alone is enough to be suspicious, and (b) the idea of anyone being able to take an objective academic perspective on one's religion is a foreign concept. (The line from Bozell that "he's not a very good Muslim" is reflective of this... one cannot be both a "good" religious practitioner unless you unquestioningly accept everything that the religion tells you.)

The other interesting part of the interview with Bozell is this bit:
"There are also all kinds of holes you can poke in this man's very, very biased and very, very one-sided book.... He also makes the point—and this is something as a Catholic I take great offence to—he says 'there is a very big difference between the historical Christ and what the Catholic church has done to create a mythical Christ.' No there isn't." 
 In other words, if an academic's view of history clashes with what has been written in the Bible, clearly the academic is wrong. Why? Because the Bible = God's word, and God is always right. Except Bozell doesn't see that to be a purely religious view; he thinks it's objective reality, because he knows the Bible to be correct. You'll note earlier that Bozell implies that Aslan cannot be both a good Muslim and objective on religious history. Then couldn't we say the same about Bozell? He can't be both a good Catholic and objective about religion? Well, you can... but only if you follow the "right" religion.

Ask yourself this question: If you wanted to analyse Scientology, would it be wise to only listen to the opinion of people who are part of the Church of Scientology? Would you trust them to give you an unbiased opinion? Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions are no different.

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