Archives For Fox News

pope-francis-wavesWhat’s become more traditional this time of year than tree-trimming, shitty Rod Stewart Christmas albums and the Christmas Story marathon on TNT?

Fox News’ War on Christmas.

Like the ability of a fat dead ancient slave elf-holding saint to squeeze down my chimney unnoticed in the night, the “War on Christmas” is

A) mostly make believe and

B) a crass, gift-wrapped excuse to turn a profit.

In this case, Fox’s.

As Gail Collins writes in the NY Times:

Some social conservatives embrace a seasonal victimhood this time of year, complaining that Christians are continually being mugged by anti-Christmas atheists bearing court orders. 

In its ongoing effort to protect the American public from the War on Christmas, Fox News has a special online map highlighting current reported atrocities. I am looking at it now, and the message is clear: as problems go, this one is imaginary.

Or as Sarah Palin (I wish she’d poke her eye out moose hunting) puts it in her new-straight-to-the-discount-bin book, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas:

[The War on Christmas is] “the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past.”

Let me be clear, this isn’t cheap Fox News or Sarah Palin bashing.

Like Palin- if one can suspend disbelief and judge her alarm-sounding to be motivated by sincerity instead of sales- I believe secularism is rapidly advancing threat to orthodox Christian belief.

I believe secularism will prove to be the greatest and perhaps gravest challenge the Christian Church has faced in her 2 millennia of Jesus-following.

But the hyperbole and sloganeering around a “War on Christmas” obscures the fact that secularism is not a new phenomenon.

Cultural shifts and rival world views do not appear overnight or even in a generation.

Fox’s obsession with the “War on Christmas” (and the liberals waging it) misleads its (conservative) audience into believing that they too are not happy warriors for the advancing secularist front.

In fact, the secularization decried by Palin et al is at least 300 years old. It began not with the election of Bill Clinton but with the Enlightenment.

How old is America again?

And therein lies the bitter irony about Fox News’ obsession with the “War on Christmas” because the Enlightenment’s vaunting of the individual, personal liberty and the supremacy of reason, its consignment of religion to the private interior of the believer and its resultant eviction of God from the public square not only gave birth to secular modernity but to America as well.

More to the point, America would not have been possible without the very same paradigm-shift that made secularism possible.

The worldview otherwise promoted wholeheartedly by Fox News had as its inevitable outcome the secularism seasonally scorned by Fox News.

Taking Christ out of Xmas began when the Founders put him in believers’ individual hearts where he couldn’t mess anything too important in the real world.

The “religious freedom” Palin rhapsodizes is in fact the first-born love baby of the secular Enlightenment.

What the “War on Christmas” provocateurs seem not to understand is that secularism is a much bigger enemy to Christianity than Fox News imagines.

And its one both (political) conservatives and liberals are fighting for.

Liberals fight for it when they insist that Christians remain in the closet.

Conservatives fight for it when they insist on the primacy of laissez faire- even if they use the veneer of religiosity to do it.

If you think I’m wrong, look no further than the way in which American (political) conservatives have reacted to a non-American conservative:

Pope Francis.

When conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are given to calling Pope Francis a ‘Marxist’ you can be sure the “Christmas” they wish to defend has little to do with Christ and more to do with their version of ‘America.’

Of course, when liberals assume a (conservative) Christian like Pope Francis is actually one of them- simply because he cares about the poor and critiques callous capitalism- you can be sure they’re every bit as secular as their conservative counterparts.

 

zealot_reza_aslanStarting after Labor Day, we’re doing a sermon series that will address some of the questions and claims of Reza Aslan’s meteoric (thanks to Fox News’ embarrassing prejudiced interview) book, Zealot.

You can read some of my reactions to the book, here and here.

Here’s a clever send-up of the interview. It’s funny, though, I don’t know if anything can quite match how ridiculous was the actual interview itself.

 

 

1376594286520.cachedIn Egypt, that is.

For the Gospel announcement to be both intelligible and credible in the world, Christians must exist in fellowship and solidarity with one another as one, global Body of Christ for whom Cross and Empty Tomb are more determinative for our identity than flags, tribes, languages or markets.

This is all just empty bible-speak unless Christians in one part of the world know and pray for Christians in another part of the world.

Sadly, many Christians in America do not think Christians exist in parts of the world other than the ones to which they’ve sent missionaries.

Even more would answer ‘No’ if you asked them if there were Christian communities in the Middle East. And still more have never heard of a ‘Coptic’ (as in way, way, way older than any version of Christianity American Catholics or Protestants have ever run across) Church.

Meanwhile many liberal Christians think it unseemly to show concern for brothers and sisters in Christ in other corners of the globe- favoritism and all.

Lost in much of the news of Egypt (and the rest of the news in the Middle East) is how the Christians there are weathering the tumult. Which, to my mind, makes it all the more loathsome how pols in the US consistently present American Christianity as a besieged, persecuted minority within an unholy Empire.

There are real Christians out there dying for or at least because of their faith. But most often they’re in places we’re too busy for and in contexts that don’t fit into cute soundbites.

This from the Daily Beast:

During these volatile and violent days in Egypt, Coptic Christians have found themselves increasingly under threat. Some Morsi supporters blame the Christians for their downfall because Christians backed the army and participated in the mass protests that sparked Morsi’s overthrow. The attack on the church in Hakim was one of several that reportedly took place following the army’s brutal crackdown on Islamist protesters Wednesday.

The exact number of attacks across the country is still unclear. But on Thursday, Egypt’s interior ministry said that seven churches had been burned while a Christian activist group, the Maspero Youth Union, put the number at 17.  “This is a reaction,” said Saad.

On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces cleared a central square in Cairo where Morsi supporters had been staging a weeks-long protest. Ensuing violent clashes reportedly cost the lives of at least 525 people and injured 3,700 others.

In response to the bloodshed, President Barack Obama warned that Egypt was on a “dangerous path,” as he criticized both the crackdowns in Cairo and the church attacks in a speech on Thursday. “The cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop,” Obama said.

Obama also canceled an upcoming joint military exercise with Egypt and suggested that more changes could be in store. “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” he said.

Officials from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood told the Daily Beast that the group and its allies were not to blame for any church burnings or aggression. “Let me put it this way: the Muslim Brotherhood is completely against violence,” said Ahmed Aref, an official spokesman for the group. Instead, he suggested that security forces might be behind the attacks as part of a ploy to turn public opinion further against the Islamists. He conceded, though, that some hardcore Morsi supporters could have been involved. “This might be a reaction from some people who are angry, but that doesn’t mean that we agree at all,” he said.

“It is not Christians against Muslims. It’s Christians and Muslims against extremists who are taking down the country.”

imagesLike the Almighty Narnian lion that bears his name, the arrival Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has been felt across the cultural landscape.

Thanks to (possibly in reaction against?) a prejudice-confirming, cringe-inducing interview on Fox News Aslan’s book has ascended to the top of bestseller lists, which are usually less interested in Jesus than they are in life lessons gleaned from dogs.

If not for the viral Fox News interview and the author’s own Muslim biography, Aslan’s book might have disappeared with nary a notice like the many that have come and gone before it.

I think this most certainly would’ve been its fate. I say this because, unlike the Fox ‘journalist’ who interviewed Reza Aslan, I’ve actually read his book.

And while his arguments may be challenging for Christians and the questions raised by them good ones,

Aslan essentially regurgitates 19th century German historical-biblical criticism that first posited and then went down the rabbit-hole searching for the ‘real’ Jesus of history behind the propagandized Jesus of faith put forward by the authors of the New Testament.

It’s a happy coincidence that Karl Barth can enter this conversation through 2 different doorways- 3 if you want to talk about how Barth, author or the Barmen Declaration, would feel about the jingoism frequently on display on Fox News.

Door #1: 453703048

Karl Barth’s theological program, first in his commentary on Romans and later in the CD, was an explicit attempt to disavow the 19th century German theological and biblical scholarship mentioned above, which Barth had inherited as a student near the turn of the century.

Barth had seen firsthand, in the capitulation of the Church to the Kaiser in WWI and in the horrors committed by German ‘Christians’ in WWII, the devastating effects of searching for a Jesus of history rather than submitting to the Jesus of faith. If the root sin beneath all sins is idolatry- our wishing to fashion a god in our image- then Barth believed constructing a portrait of the ‘historical Jesus’ had proved a fatal temptation.

Before anyone gets too excited about Zealot, I think Barth would caution that historical Jesus conjectures made possible the Nazis’ de-judaizing Jesus which made possible their dehumanizing of Jews.

Door #2: 

One of arguments- asides really- in Aslan’s book is that the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus as possessing the power to perform miracles is hardly a novel conceit. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly not the only miracle worker in 1st century Palestine, Aslan argues. Jesus’ ability to perform miracles, he says, does not prove or even imply his divinity, a status later believers attributed to Jesus.

Aslan is correct in his assessment that Jesus was only one among many miracle-workers in Palestine.

In his suggestion that the New Testament does not present Jesus as uniquely singular miracle worker, Aslan is not only wrong he proves to be a shabby read of scripture.

Illustrating the adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, Karl Barth in §11.1 serves up a solid rejoinder to arguments like Aslan’s.

Just think, Barth writes, that the oldest Christian confession- older even than any part of the NT- is ‘Jesus is Kyrios.’

Lord.

Consider that Jews, for whom the first commandment was sacrosanct and the reason behind centuries of suffering, would, within the first generation of disciples, call anyone but God ‘Lord.’

Jews had routinely irked Caesar’s ire for refusing to call him ‘lord.’

But quickly after Good Friday many took to calling Jesus ‘Lord.’

As Barth writes:

‘…it cannot possibly have happened unawares and unintentionally that this word (kyrios) used to translate the name of God Yahweh-Adonai was then applied to Jesus.’

Aslan notes that later believers attributed to Jesus claims Jesus himself did not make for himself; however, Aslan fails to mention that those believers would’ve been breaking the first and overarching commandment by doing so…unless something (like a Resurrection) had convinced them that this Jesus and Yahweh were one and the same.

Barth then turns to a miracle stories to illustrate this point.

The Gospels’ miracles stories do not suggest Jesus’ divinity by pointing to his ability to perform miracles. They do so by what is said in the miracles stories.

Take the healing of the paralytic in Mark. The story turns not on Jesus’ wonder-working but on a dispute about who has the power (ie, authority) to forgive sins.

To the Pharisees’ consternation, Jesus claims authority that belongs to God alone. The Pharisees, it should be pointed out to Aslan, accuse Jesus of what?

Blasphemy.

Ignoring their outrage, Jesus forgives the paralytic and heals him. The actual miracle here, Barth notes, is a secondary feature to the story.

The act of the miracle, Barth writes, is meant by the author as a visible confirmation that ‘the word spoken is God’s Word’ and, I would continue the logic, that the one who spoke that word is God.

Barth:

“This is the meaning of the miracles ascribed to Jesus (and expressly to his apostles too…) and it marks off these miracles, however we assess them materially, as at any rate something very distinct amid the plethora miracle stories in that whole period.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was Jesus a zealot, a political revolutionary who died on the cross because he resisted the government?

Or was Jesus the Jewish Messiah who died on the cross for Sin?

Which is the real Jesus and, more importantly, how can we know?

image_195143_5Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, is currently a #1New York Times Best-Selling Book in large part due to an interview with the author that went viral on the internet.

Aslan, a Muslim who emigrated from Iran USA when he was 7, is a professor at the University of California-Riverside. His book became an Internet sensation after a July 26 interview on Fox News, which a reported repeatedly asked Aslan why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus.

In the book, Zealot, Aslan argues that the Jesus of history was not the Christ of faith.

The ‘real’ Jesus, Aslan writes, was a political revolutionary whose preaching about the Kingdom of God was a call to rebel against the Roman Empire.

According to Aslan, dogma about Jesus being the Christ and the Son of God was attributed to Jesus much later by the Church.

While Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has shot to the top of the best seller lists, the arguments in it are not new ones for the Church.

Several of you have asked me my thoughts on both the Fox interview and the claims in the book.

My irate reactions to former however make me hesitant to offer my more sober reactions to the latter.

Fortunately Ross Douthat, a writer for the NY Times and occupant on Jason’s Man-Crush Top Ten List, says it far better than I could:

BEFORE “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Gospel of Judas,” before Mel Gibson’s “Passion” and Martin Scorsese’s “Last Temptation,” before the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed and the Gnostic gospels rediscovered, there was a German scholar named Hermann Samuel Reimarus.

It was Reimarus, writing in the 18th century, who basically invented the modern Jesus wars, by postulating a gulf between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The real Jesus of Nazareth, he argued, was a political revolutionary who died disappointed, and whose disciples invented a resurrection — and with it, a religion — to make sense of his failure.

In Reimarus’s lifetime these were dangerous ideas, and his argument was published posthumously. But within a few generations, historical-Jesus controversies inspired publicity rather than persecution. By the Victorian era, when the Earl of Shaftesbury attacked David Friedrich Strauss’s “Life of Jesus, Critically Examined” as “the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell,” he was just contributing to the book’s success.

Today there are enough competing “real Jesuses” that it’s hard for a would-be Strauss to find his Shaftesbury. Which is why every reinterpreter of Jesus not named Dan Brown is probably envious of Reza Aslan, the Iranian-born academic and author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” who achieved Strauss-style liftoff thanks to 10 painful minutes on Fox News.

Those minutes were spent with the interviewer, Lauren Green, asking Aslan to explain why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus — with Aslan coolly emphasizing his credentials and the non-Islamic nature of his argument — and then with Green asking variations on the Muslim question, to increasing offense and diminishing returns.

The video quickly went viral, turning Aslan into a culture-war icon, a martyr to Fox’s biases … and soon enough (as these things tend to go) a martyr with a No. 1 best seller.

The irony is that Aslan’s succès de scandale would be more deserved if he had actually written in defense of the Islamic view of Jesus. That would have been something provocative and — to Western readers — relatively new.

Instead, Aslan’s book offers a more engaging version of the argument Reimarus made 250 years ago. His Jesus is an essentially political figure, a revolutionary killed because he challenged Roman rule, who was then mysticized by his disciples and divinized by Paul of Tarsus.

The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.

Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural.

Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.

There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.

That’s not a question such books are usually designed to answer. They’re better seen as laments for paths not taken, Christianities that might have been. The mystical Jesus is for readers who wish we had the parables without the creeds, the philosophical Jesus for readers who wish Christianity had developed like the Ethical Culture movement. And a political Jesus like Aslan’s is for readers who feel, as one of his reviewers put it, that “Jesus’ usefulness as a challenge to power was lost the moment Christians first believed he rose from the dead.”

This means that the best companion reading for “Zealot” probably isn’t an alternative portrayal of Jesus’s life and times. Rather, it’s a recent book like the classicist Sarah Ruden’s “Paul Among the People” or the theologian David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.”

Coming from different vantage points — Ruden is more theologically liberal, Hart more conservative — both authors explore just how radical the actual Christian revolution was, how it upended the ancient world’s violent, patriarchal, hierarchical norms, and how many liberal, modern and egalitarian attitudes are indebted to early Christian zeal.

Theirs aren’t arguments on behalf of a particular vision of who Jesus really was. They’re briefs against the assumption that some other interpretation of his life would have necessarily had more dramatic, congenial or significant results.

And they’re reminders that every modern account of how an alternative Christianity might have changed the world is itself indebted to the many ways the historical Christianity actually did.