I Can’t Even…

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.


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.

10 comments on “I Can’t Even…

  1. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    As I was cruising the interwebs this evening, I came across a YouTube clip in which a couple of creationist crazies discussed how dinosaurs fit into the literal word of god that is the bible. I won’t even dignify it with a link. I’m sure you can find it, if you are so inclined.

    It struck a chord- as such practiced and willful idiocy often does- even more so since our ‘mayor’ is back from rehab and, while denying certain members of the press access to his ‘glorious return’ is back on the campaign trail and still convinced that he might be re-elected. And the news shows at 6pm were talking to people who actually agree with him.

    Over the weekend I happened upon a move called ‘Idiocracy’. Hadn’t really heard of it before- it has something of a cult following, but it was hardly a blockbuster. Like my post a couple of weeks ago, in which I attempted to revivify Dr. Sagan’s concerns about the dumbing down of society, the movie warns of a dystopian future in which stupid was the norm.

    Last week I had a brief chat with a friend who is reading Reza Aslan’s book and it called this post back to mind. So…. a little more reiteration of my point so I can get if off my chest and move onto to some celebrating of our Nation’s birthday.

    • Someone warned me not to watch Idiocracy because it would get my blood boiling. Dystopian is a mild word. I consider it a horror flick because it’s so close to becoming real.

  2. Doobster418 says:

    I remember this whole thing and, like you, I was flabbergasted by the interview and the idea that a Muslim academician should not have (or could not have?) written an academic work about Jesus the man.

    • colemining says:

      Doobster- the fact that we keep on calling people like that ‘journalists’ is terrifying. To say that she was ‘unprepared’ for the interview is a massive understatement of the situation. And yet programs like that have a vast viewership that keeps on feeding such irresponsible information dissemination is unbelievable.

      That ‘mayor’ guy I mentioned? He returned from ‘learning his lessons’ to commit the same type of muzzling of the media outlets who seek to expose the truth of his actions by limiting the news outlets that were permitted to attend his ‘news’ conference this afternoon. I just don’t get how we are letting this happen.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. My kids have asked me if humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time. From them, it’s a reasonable question. They are unable to process the scale of time that existed between dinosaurs and the advent of man, nor should they be expected to without someone explaining it to them – too many animated movies where anthropomorphic dinosaurs talk to one another.

    But for adults to believe this foolishness in this day and age is either an blazing example of half-wittedness, or simple willful ignorance for the purpose of luring in other half-wits for monetary gain or power.

    I’ve never understood the all-or-nothing mentality, as in “We can’t have both science and religion.” The two can co-exist, but zealots do their faith no favors by embracing ridiculous notions concerning the past.

    • colemining says:

      CBC- children are allowed to wonder about possible overlap of dinos and humans. And then we take them to visit museums and they learn, as they grow and are able to take these things on board, that the time scale of the earth- and the universe- is staggering in its vastness.

      It’s willful ignorance- and that’s what makes me nuts. I just don’t understand people who choose to be credulous. I agree that skepticism can be taken too far- I am following a rebroadcast of a series on ‘Ideas’ on our homegrown CBC (have to listen as much as I can before the current federal government does away with our national radio/tv broadcaster forever) in which moderate, progressive voices highlight the very thing you mention- the potential for overlap and respect between religion and science. It’s partly in response to the vehemence of the ‘New Atheists’ I’ve spoken of a time or two- but it’s very illuminating on a number of fronts.

      Thanks for reading- I appreciate your insights, as always.

  4. Ignorance is not the only problem either, Cole. There is a worrying trend in journalism and reporting to fail to relay facts without bias. I had occasion a couple of months ago to write an email complaining to the BBC at what was supposed to pass as information on Scottish Independence. It was a puerile piece portrayed in cartoon form, so obviously anti-independence.
    My issue with it was not that it disagreed with my viewpoint but that it was an utter waste of licence payers’ money ( we are still obliged to pay for a TV licence that finances the BBC). It was also an affront to journalism and reporting.
    I have to say their response didn’t fill me with hope citing as it did the need, in their opinion, to dumb down facts. They denied bias.
    What to do about that when the BBC don’t see the error of their ways. Fox News I don’t know so much about but the BBC! It felt like they had let down all standards of journalism and, worryingly, there will have been people who watched the piece and base their decision on it. Scary stuff.

    • colemining says:

      Oh Anne-Marie, that is truly distressing. I had faith in the BBC- sad to hear that it is succumbing to the same pressures of anti-intellectualism that the rest of the public media is doing.

      Here, it’s a slightly different story. Our federal government is trying its very best to destroy our national television/radio broadcaster- our venerable CBC. And now, it seems, CBC’s own ‘leadership’ is becoming complicit in the disintegration. I sent in a story idea for a radio program a number of months ago- got an email from the producer yesterday saying that they had more submissions than before, yet- because of the cuts to funding- are able to produce far fewer shows than is usual for them. Talk about silencing the people.

      Can’t stand it. Thanks for the visit. xo

  5. […] N.b. that date. Two thousand and sixteen. That we continue to mark the passing years in accordance with a calendar that adheres to the purported existence of a mythological character is, in itself, telling. And what it’s telling us is that we need to just stop permitting such characters – and the politically-driven stories that developed around them – to dictate our societal governance and ways of viewing the world. Lack of examination of the origins and intended interpretations of the stories – along with constant, continuing, unthinking citation far removed from their historical, geographical and sociological contexts – is making us stupid. […]

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