Reza Aslan and the Impossibilty of an Expert in Religion in America

I think there has been one thing missing from all the blogging and twittering and Facebook posting over the Reza Aslan interview with Fox News:

For many Americans, the idea of an expert in religion is impossible. Sure, you may have a Ph.D., you may know texts in their original languages, you may even have written some books about the history of religions. But you aren’t an expert, in their eyes. Because you don’t REALLY KNOW. You haven’t FELT IT. DEEP DOWN. For most of America, to be an expert in religion one must be a TRUE BELIEVER.

For these Americans, to be an expert in religion makes as much a sense as being an expert in someone else’s mother’s lasagna recipe.

So, when the host, Lauren Green, asks Aslan why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus she is channeling a popular understanding of religion in America. She is denying that Aslan could be an expert in anything other than his own Islam. Thus, Aslan’s response that he has a Ph.D. and that this is his job and that he has lots of footnotes will never satiate Green and her audience because they all fall short of expertise. Unless he is a true believer in Jesus, these folks believe, it is impossible for Aslan to be an expert.

It’s like being a true vegan.

What does a real commitment to a certain way of thinking, speaking and behaving look like? Internally it means the idea gets such a hold on your brain that it would be impossible to abandon it without tearing apart the fabric of your being. You must tie yourself to the mast and make it neurologically impossible to change your mind on this one issue. You must be equivalent to your veganism such that to end your veganism would be to end yourself.

So how does one externally manifest this and, short of dying, authenticate a lifelong commitment to veganism? Some suggestions:

  • Refer to meat eaters as “carnists” and “corpse munchers.”
  • Address nonhuman animals in an inclusive manner that doesn’t obscure our own animality. Nonhuman animals are “other animals” or “animal others,” not “beasts” or “it.”
  • Get a visible and potentially career-undermining vegan tattoo.
  • Include a reference to anti-speciesism or sentience in your email address.
  • Bring most IRL conversations back around to the oppression of nonhuman animals.
  • Get a vasectomy, if a man, and an IUD if a woman.
  • Write a living will in which you ask to be euthanized if your memory degrades to the point that you don’t remember what veganism is.
  • Denounce so-called former vegans and call ex-veganism impossible.
  • And most important: Don’t stop believing.

Don’t stop believing, indeed.

Fat Coated Bullets Are Never a Good Idea

"The Sepoy Mutnay of 1857"

It’s 1857 all over again folks!

Via Amy Levin at the Revealer:

Is this real? Or just some spoof from the West Wing or Law & Order? Could the US military really be using bullets covered with oil containing 13% pig fat to evoke fear in Islamic terrorists and allegedly send them into eternal damnation? For the moment, the answer seems like a skeptical maybe, but the supplier of Silver Bullet Gun Oil, pseudonymed “Midnite Rider,” or “Warrior of YAHWEH,” claims not only that his oil has been distributed to “members of all US military branches,” but that the oil was used on the bullet which killed none other than Osama bin Laden.

According to the mysterious purveyor’s logic, Silver Bullet Gun Oil (SGBO), when applied to the inside of a firearm, coats the bullet with pig fat as it is fired and transfers the sin-bearing solvent into the body of an “Islamo-Fascist Terrorist,” keeping the terrorist from paradise.  Charging underneath his banner, “One Shot, One Soul,” Midnite Rider claims on his website.

As Levin rightly points out later in the post, the Quran does not punish a Muslim for forced consumption of un-halal meat. So Silver Bullet Gun Oil is another example of that cooky mixture of ignorance and hatred of Islam at the same time. Furthermore, aren’t silver bullets for killing werewolves?  Or is it Vampires?

This story reminded me of a more famous incident involving bullets and pig fat: the 1857 Indian Rebellion (or First War of Indian Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, depending on your historical-political leanings). As Indians began to bristle under the control of the British East India Company the rumor began to circulate that the bullets being used in the Sepoy army were greased with tallow. The bullets needed to be bit on before they were loaded and so consumption of the tallow was a real possibility. Some claimed it was pig fat–which angered Muslims. Others claimed it was cow fat–which angered Hindus. In the end, rumors, unrest, and Company mismanagement were enough to prompt the Sepoys to strike back at the Company. The rebellion was controlled by the Company (through terrible violence) but it was enough to prompt the Crown to take control of the colony and began the direct imperial control of the British Raj in South Asia.

A hundred fifty years ago rumors of offensive gun grease helped foment an anti-colonial rebellion. Now, real offensive gun grease is part of anti-Muslim war hawking. But in both cases exhibit strong ties between the sacred and the violent. The profanation of the sacred in 1857  led to a rebel violence in the face of existing colonial violence. In the twenty first century, violence itself has a sacred quality and profanation is a tactic. It’s one thing to kill the enemy but if you can somehow damn them in the process then you’ve achieved a sort of cosmic violence. The illogic of using the profane  of a “false religion” as a weapon only makes sense in a rationality of violence. It’s an upside down proposition: “Islam is evil and false. But we’ll be sure they are evil on their own false terms too.”

As the United States’ relationship with Pakistan continues to fall apart and as we continue three (or is it four?) wars in Muslim majority countries, it might be best to leave the fat greased bullets alone.

Sharia Myths

Adam Serwer summarizes a new report that debunks the myths underlying conservative panics over sharia. In short, sharia is not like Biblical law or the Ten Commandments and it is not a threat to the United States.

But the sharia panic that is driving state legislatures to try and criminalize Islam, and making GOP presidential candidates fearful of even looking tolerant of Muslims, is based on an understanding of the religion that would be analogous to treating the bombing of an abortion clinic as the only true possible interpretation of Christianity.

Things Sacred & Profane: Natural Theology, Islam’s Billy Graham, and Mormons on Immigration

Why Stephen Hawking’s attempt to banish natural theology only shows why we need it.

Amr Khaled’s TV preaching has made him Islam’s answer to Billy Graham – and he’s mounting a direct attack on the terror camps of Yemen

Among Mormons, a deep divide on immigration

Catholic Hospitals vs. the Bishops

The “Business” of Being Christian: The Ethics of Usury

Religion Dispatches: Julian Assange Nativity, Castro’s Hanukkah, & a Burger Blessing

Jesus will return on May 21, according to a billboard in Omaha. He really can’t get here before tax day?

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights sent nativity scenes to all 50 state governors. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is represented in nativity scenes in Naples, Italy. A Dallas, Texas megachurch pastor is compiling a list of business that fail to recognize Christmas and instead settle for ‘Happy Holidays.’ Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is taking a stand in the war on Christmas by trying to keep the “Christ” in “Christmas parade.” And the three wise men may have been from China.

Always striving to sink to ever lower levels of human decency, the Westboro Baptist Church says it will picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral.

According to the latest WikiLeaks dump, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah once criticized themutaween, who enforce Islamic behavior in his country, for treating people like donkeys. He said they take a stick and hit you with it, saying “Come donkey, it’s time to pray.” A new survey of Muslims around the world reveals mixed feelings about Hamas and Hezbollah but an outright rejection of al Qaeda by the majority of Muslims.

Continue reading at Religion Dispatches>>>

‘Atheizing’ the Dead, Religious Doughnuts, & Tax-Free Witching: The Week in Religion, Poetically

Inspired by Mormon baptism practices, Atheize the Dead offers to convert your deceased loved one to atheism.

The Hartford, Connecticut city council found itself in hot water when it proposed a Muslim invocation for one of its pre-meeting prayers. After its website was inundated with protests against the planned invocations, the council decided to cancel prayers of any sort at the meetings and will open with an “interfaith moment of silence.”

Donald Trump offered to buy out one of the major investors in the Park51 project. The investors said thanks but no thanks.

A North Carolina teenager whose family is part of the Church of Body Modification has run into trouble with her school’s dress code. The 14-year-old is looking at a ten day suspension if she returns to school wearing her prohibited nose ring. In Roswell, New Mexico, a group of students have been suspended for giving their teachers boxes of doughnuts with religious messages attached to them.

Romania has decided not to tax its witches and fortunetellers. One reason being that the witches and fortunetellers aren’t good at keeping receipts.

Continue reading at Religion Dispatches >>>

Shariah-Approved Sex Aids, Abstinence-Only Goes to China, and Abercrombie Hijab…The Week in Religion, Poetically

Ramadan is not only a time for fasting, it’s also a time for the best television around the Muslim world. A television serial in Egypt has stirred controversy: The Group explores the world of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition movement. Similarly, a Syrian serial, What Your Right Hand Possess (it sounds better in Arabic) has drawn furiouscriticism for allegedly distorting Islam. A Malaysian TV station has axed a commercial wishing Muslims a happy Eid al-Fitr because viewers complained the commercial was too Christmas-y.

In France, halal food is going upscale.

Christian morality meets communist population control: evangelical group Focus on the Family has partnered with Chinese officials to bring its abstinence program to Chinese teens. Muslim couples can find “shariah-approved” products for “sexual health” at El Asira—an online shop attracting 30,000 visits a week.

Teetotaling Mormons in Idaho grow barley for beer brewers.

A Muslim mason who worked to rebuild the Saint Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France, has been immortalized as a winged gargoyle on the facade of the church. The inscription beneath his stone image reads “God is great.” In Germany, a team of researchers have built digital models of synagogues destroyed by Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938.

Continue Reading at Religion Dispatches>>>