Generally, I try to refrain from too much name-calling. I don’t think it accomplishes anything productive and it can disrupt attempts at meaningful dialogue and debate.
But HOLY HELL.
I mean, c’mon. Just. COME. ON.
I don’t know whether to laugh hysterically or to dissolve into inconsolable sobbing.
At least six people have sent me links to a particular Fox News interview (this link also mentions Doctor Aslan’s later conversation with Piers Morgan and his embarrassment at having to repeatedly trot out his academic credentials). In The Washington Post, Erik Wemple has kindly provided us with a transcript of the Fox debacle- in case you’d rather read than watch the cringe-worthy attempt at an interview- and the opinion that the idiots at Fox owe the Professor an apology.
I can’t even.
I briefly discussed the whole Jesus-as-Zealot issue a while back, and although I still lean to the side of history and scholarship that rejects the claim that he was actively engaged in insurrection against Rome, I am open-minded enough to examine Dr. Aslan’s argument and weigh his evidence before saying that I unequivocally disagree with his conclusions.
But the book, its author and the author’s thesis aren’t going to be the focus of this post. Once I actually read the book I might have more to say on the subject, as an historian of religions in Antiquity and Late Antiquity myself, but then again, I might not. Over here in the WordPress universe, I try to write about things that are interesting, engaging or making me completely insanely-off-my-nugget-bat-shit crazy in a given moment.
This qualifies resoundingly as the latter.
Yes, I have ranted about the media a few times before (most recently here) and I understand that it is our job as responsible individuals to pick and choose which news forum(s) we are going believe and use as a platform from which to investigate further and draw our own, informed conclusions and, alternatively, which ones are ridiculous and deserving of recurring spoofs on Saturday Night Live. Believe me, I get the double-edged sword that comes with the (putative) freedom of the press and proliferation of places that are offering us their ‘journalistic’ viewpoints on the news of the world.
But really Fox News?!?!?
Wemple insinuates that Lauren Green hadn’t read the book before attempting to ‘catch’ her subject on the whole Muslim-Christian problem (this seems to be the poorly-executed underlying purpose of the interview). Whether or not she did (personally, I can’t believe she has cracked the spines of many books at all, TBH) and adequately prepared herself for the interview isn’t even the biggest problem (although it would definitely be evidence of shoddy and shameful ‘journalism’).
Regardless, the transcript reads like a high school student interviewing an educated elder about a subject with which the adolescent has no frame of reference (her misuse of ‘begs the question’ demonstrates an unfortunately ubiquitous habit that the uniformed often have- misusing terminology in an effort to appear informed). Although I have known plenty of high school students who would be angry with me for making that comparison.
The problem is her repeatedly-expressed incredulity that Dr. Aslan, as a Muslim, would have any reason to be interested in Jesus. That she doesn’t understand his academic credentials is obvious. I’ve experienced the same thing- some people just cannot (or will not) wrap their brains around the fact that studying religion(s) doesn’t have to have ANYthing to do with belief in said religion(s)- and his frustration at this inability, by someone who (one would hope) has done some background research before the interview, is palpable, yet overcome. Quite heroically and with enviable composure and professionalism.
The problem is that she cites a theologian and Christian Apologist as an example of the scholarship refuting Dr. Aslan’s thesis (and none of the myriad historians of Christianity who might disagree with Dr. Aslan), further evidence of the existent bias of the ‘reporting’ that goes on at Fox News as a matter of course. Of her inappropriate analogy about a “Democrat wanting to promote democracy by writing about a Republican”, the less said the better.
The problem is that the interview is inexcusably slanted, uninformed and shows such an incredible lack of anything approaching a desire for dialogue between those of differing faiths, academic backgrounds and cultures that it makes me more than a little sick to my stomach.
But what makes me really ill is the knowledge that Ms. Green is not remotely alone in this willful ignorance, lack of perspective and context and complete unwillingness to acknowledge any of the cultural and religious scripts that have shaped the ignorance.
This is the point that moves the interview from the amusing realm of an academic who competently and completely schools the unprepared interviewer, rendering her a ridiculous laughing stock who will be openly mocked on interworld sites and in memes and GIFS for the foreseeable future, into the terrifying reality that there are way too many people out there who will see the interview, and Ms. Green’s perspective (such as it is), as representative of their own worldview.
The dunce cap is an example of an ‘educational tool’ in a system that has long been rendered obsolete and ineffective. Shaming people is never going to lead them to work toward better performance or increased comprehension. That punishing someone by singling them out for ridicule was ever thought to be pedagogically sound is beyond my comprehension.
The word ‘dunce’ originated as a term describing those who stubbornly refused to surrender ideas and ways of viewing the world. John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan philosopher-theologian and Scholastic during the High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries CE), wrote treatises on all kinds of points of theology (the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for e.g.), grammar, logic and metaphysics.
By the time of the Renaissance, and then the Reformation, many of Duns Scotus’ ideas had been superseded by new approaches and beliefs. Those who continued to support his worldview, even in the face of new evidence and perspective, came to be called ‘dunces’- with the underlying meaning being ‘stupid’ or dull-witted’.
In our common parlance- and in connection with its former use in classroom settings (shudder)- a ‘dunce cap’ is used to mark someone as ‘uneducated’ or ‘incapable of learning’. Ms. Green is certainly the former. My hope would be that the attention and response to this interview will lead her to understand this truth and attempt to refute the latter through engaged learning.
I’m not going to hold my breath.
Little technical point that’s bugging me. Ms. Green repeatedly referred to Jesus of Nazareth as the ‘founder’ of Christianity and Dr. Aslan doesn’t correct her- most likely because he recognized the futility in doing so. Historical and textual evidence indicates that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, looking to reform his religion, not trying to ‘found’ a new one. Just so’s you know.