Lauren Green vs Reza Aslan Aftermath: Attack Of The Spinners

spinningThe interview Lauren Green of Fox news inflicted on her guest, Reza Aslan, was bad journalism, bad television, and just plain wrong–unfair, unreasonable, and biased. In a sane U.S., nobody would defend such a dull-edged hatchet job, which appeared to be crafted, by Green or her Dark Lords at Fox, to make the network’s conservative Christian viewers happy by accusing a scholar of religious bias for simply challenging the historical accuracy of the New Testament. But this is an insane, crazily partisan U.S., where every perceived defeat in the culture wars is cause for garment rending, so such niceties as being honest when one of your allies misbehaves is considered tantamount to surrender.

Thus along comes conservative religious scholar Matthew J. Franck, who on his blog First Thoughts hands the Christian Soldiers of the Right just the ammunition they need to rehabilitate Green. (Note: Green revealed herself as a shameless hack, and doesn’t deserve to be rehabilitated.) Naturally, the strategy is to discredit Aslan, and this he tries to do with gusto in not one, but two blog posts. His accusation: Aslan misrepresented his scholarly credentials, when he was trying repeatedly to challenge Green’s idiotic contention that a Muslim isn’t qualified to write about Jesus. This means, concludes Franck, that Aslan can’t be trusted, so Green was right all along. His book should be ignored.

Ironically enough, this calls to mind another one of Bickmore’s Laws (His First Law of Being Biased was featured in the original post about Green’s interview) , Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Biased:

Nitpicking others’ arguments is not the same thing as “critical thinking.”  That involves nitpicking your own arguments.

This applies nicely to Franck’s attack on Aslan.

Aslan said, off the cuff and while being badgered by Green,

“I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament–that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.”

Here is Franck’s claim that this was an intentional misrepresentation:

“Aslan does have four degrees… a 1995 B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and wrote his senior thesis on “The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark”; a 1999 Master of Theological Studies from Harvard; a 2002 Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa; and a 2009 Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. None of these degrees is in history, so Aslan’s repeated claims that he has “a Ph.D. in the history of religions” and that he is “a historian” are false.  Nor is “professor of religions” what he does “for a living.” He is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside, where his terminal MFA in fiction from Iowa is his relevant academic credential.”

Nonsense. If Aslan was putting what he said on his curriculum vitae, Franck would have a (small) case. As a spontaneous summary of his credentials to a hostile interviewer who was determined to discredit him, what Aslan said was inexact but unobjectionable, and accurate enough. The Ph.D. wasn’t just in sociology, but in the sociology of religion. Aslan is a historian: he has written four books about religious history. The sociology of religion is in fact the history of the sociology of religion: so Aslan shortened that into the history of religion. So what? Who was he trying to mislead? Who among is audience could explain the difference? I certainly can’t. The point he was trying to make was that regardless of his Muslim faith and Green’s insulting contention, he is eminently qualified to write the book in question…and he is. Even Franck doesn’t seem to dispute that.

Ah, but Franck’s claim was just what the Fox groupies needed to show that Green was just being bullied by the leftist media. Drudge linked to it; Instapundit highlighted it. Talk radio picked up on it.  Dozens of conservative blogs linked to it. See? She was right! He’s a fraud! The whole approach is to muddy the water, throw up dust, confuse the issues so the casual member of the public who actually has a life and doesn’t pay close attention to the details, just shrugs and goes to Netflix.

Mission accomplished! Defeat averted! Enemy destroyed!

Of course, even as they do it themselves, the Right foams with anger against the Obama Administration’s employment of exactly the same tactics to put the public off the trail of the IRS scandal, Obamacare’s problems, the stalled economy, and other embarrassments.  They are right to be angry, but they are also contributing to the culture of public discourse that permits spin, personal attacks, lies, distortions and nitpicking to make coherent policy debate and government accountability impossible.

If conservatives can’t even be honest about what a wretched and unfair interviewer Lauren Green is, they don’t care about enough about being honest at all. They just care about winning—whatever that is. They, not Reza Aslan, are forfeiting their credibility.


Source: First Thoughts


7 thoughts on “Lauren Green vs Reza Aslan Aftermath: Attack Of The Spinners

  1. I’d rather a little less emphasis on winning and more on accomplishing things that help improve other people’s lives. These attacks don’t make anything better.

  2. Which is why, in the first post on this issue, I opined that talking about his credentials wasn’t nearly as good of an argument as talking about how this is what historians do and how academia works, and pointint out his sources. Because if you balance too much weight of argument on a degree and someone points out that you don’t have that specific degree, it makes you look bad.

    Of course, I think she’d have remained willfully ignorant of what he was saying in any case, and I can’t blame Aslan for his spontaneous summary. The problem is that what an ordinary person might understand (“Oh, you have studied this and write about it all the time? Well that makes sense”) A partisan hack is going to try to spin. Arguing with those willing to nitpick and act like they’ve destroyed your argument doesn’t just require being right, it requires a delicate verbal balancing act.

  3. If the guy had nothing more than an eighth grade diploma and he was a Hindu or a Quaker, wouldn’t the issue be what his book asserts rather than anything else. Shouldn’t people be looking at his footnotes rather than his credentials? And by the way, his credentials strike me as very impressive.

    My only question is: as a society, can we really afford to pay for people to amass all these degrees at the expense of federal grants or the largesse of alumni and benefactors? And typically, these people turn out to be Paul Krugmans who spend the rest of their lives insisting that everyone should be given a free ride forever.

    But, as usual, I digress.

  4. Hi all,
    I am just stopping briefly to flag a travesty of missed opportunity in regards to this story.

    A man named Aslan writes a book re-interpreting Jesus…and not one, but TWO blog posts and 31 comments later, and there is still not a single Narnia reference?

    Admittedly, Dr. Aslan himself was the first to miss the chance to get the ball rolling, since he could have had the perfect answer to the interviewer’s original question.

    “I want to be clear, you are a Muslim. So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

    “Because in my day-job, I’m a God-Lion who fights the White Witch and provides thinly veiled allegorical lessons to English schoolchildren who wander into my fantasy realm.”

    But him, I can forgive on the possibility that he has heard the joke one too many times in his life.

    For everyone else, there is no excuse.

  5. Now that the book has been properly released, hyped, and analyzed, it’s worth noting that Green, in a bit of moral luck, turned out to be spot-on in her unfounded accusation. That’s not a credit to her, however. Even a broken clock is right two times a day.

    Aslan’s book is truly awful scholarship, is filled with the kind of false statements and mistakes that even students could easily spot, was eviscerated by scholars (those who didn’t simply ignore it, as it shirked peer review) and Aslan’s particularly theories about Jesus do, by his own tacit admission, come from a place of devotion to Islamic thought, and not objective research.

    His contention is that Jesus was an aspiring political leader and that the New Testament is a mostly Pauline reinterpretation. This is a theory that is both quite old and completely discredited, but one that fits with Islamic claims about Christianity perfectly. Aslan is basically dressing up bad Muslim historic claims in the trappings of scholarship.

    From John Dickson (one of the few experts who deigned to review the book:)

    “The list of exaggerations and plain errors in Zealot bear testimony to Aslan’s carelessness with concrete history. If this were presented as a work of fiction, there would be no shame in such oversights. But if this were handed in as an essay in an Ancient History Department, it would most likely fail, not just because of the numerous inaccuracies, but because of the disturbing confidence with which they are habitually stated.

    -Aslan repeatedly calls revolutionary leaders of the first century “claimed messiahs,” when this crucial term hardly ever appears in our sources and certainly not in the contexts he is claiming.
    -Aslan pontificates on questions such as Jesus’s literacy (or illiteracy, in his judgment) with a cavalier style that does not represent the complexities involved.
    -He rushes to dismiss some Gospel passages as “fabulous concoctions” while accepting others as “beyond dispute” – and the only rhyme or reason I can detect is whether a passage fits with the story he wishes to tell.
    -He informs us that Mark’s Gospel says “nothing at all about Jesus’s resurrection,” overlooking the plain narrative signals of Mark 14:28 and 16:7.
    -He declares that Mark’s portrayal of Pilate’s prevarication over the execution of Jesus was “concocted” and “patently fictitious.” We are told that this Roman governor never baulked at dispatching Jewish rabble-rousers. This overlooks the widely-discussed evidence that Pilate did precisely this just a few years earlier with some Jewish leaders from Jerusalem.
    -Weirdly, Aslan says in passing that the letters of Paul make up “the bulk of the New Testament.” In fact, they represent only a quarter.
    -He dates the destruction of Sepphoris near Nazareth to the period of the tax rebellion of AD 6, when in fact this city was destroyed by Varus a decade earlier in the troubles following Herod’s death in 4BC.
    -He says that the traditions of John the Baptist were passed around in writing in Hebrew and Aramaic throughout the villages of Judea and Galilee. This is baseless.
    -He claims that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was from the Hellenistic diaspora (and was therefore liable to fall for the un-Jewish perversion of Jesus’s message he heard in Jerusalem). This is pure invention, and overlooks the fact that many Greek-speaking Jews like Stephen lived in Jerusalem for generations. They even had their own Greek-speaking synagogues.
    -Aslan’s claim that “the disciples were themselves fugitives in Jerusalem, complicit in the sedition that led to Jesus’s execution” is disproven by the complete absence of evidence for any Roman attempt to arrest the followers of Jesus. Indeed, this is one of the reasons specialists remain confident Jesus was never viewed as the leader of a rebel movement.
    -He says a certain Jesus son of Ananias, a prophetic figure who appeared in Jerusalem in the early 60s AD, spoke about the appearance of the “Messiah.” Our sole source (Josephus) says nothing of the sort.
    -Aslan avers that even Luke, a Pauline “sycophant,” avoids calling Paul an “apostle” since only the twelve bear the title that Paul so desperately tried to claim for himself. In fact, Luke happily calls Paul and his colleague Barnabas “apostles” (Acts 14:14). Almost everything Aslan says about Paul and his place in ancient Judaism and Christianity is either wildly exaggerated or plainly false.
    I could go on, but it would begin to look impolite…

    For a brief moment, Reza Aslan will be heralded as a breakthrough author. In a month or so, some other theory, equally unsubstantiated and certainly contradictory, will get the same kind of airtime. Such works are generally ignored by working scholars, who tend to be suspicious of anything that bypasses the peer review process.

    The general public, however, over time experiences breakthrough fatigue – an increasing contempt coupled with a decreasing curiosity toward any new claim about the man from Nazareth. The net effect is a weary scepticism that we can know anything about the historical Jesus or about history at all.

    The Jesus depicted in Zealot is certainly a figment of the imagination of a professor of creative writing, but he is likely to do concrete damage to the public’s appreciation of a vast and worthwhile academic discipline. Aslan’s Jesus is giving history a bad name.”

    Aslan also has genuinely misrepresented his academic credentials many times, if not explicitly in the Fox interviews. And his Twitter account consists of him arguing with people with such witticisms as “UR stupid.” Seriously. Frankly I don’t understand how Aslan managed to become a popularizer of religious history. He says the things that progressives want to hear, but he is not nearly qualified or clever enough for the role.

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