July 20th, 2013
10:00 PM ET
Reza Aslan: Why I write about Jesus
Opinion by Reza Aslan, special to CNN
(CNN) - When I was 15 years old, I found Jesus.
I spent the summer of my sophomore year at an evangelical youth camp in Northern California, a place of timbered fields and boundless blue skies, where, given enough time and stillness and soft-spoken encouragement, one could not help but hear the voice of God.
Amid the man-made lakes and majestic pines my friends and I sang songs, played games and swapped secrets, rollicking in our freedom from the pressures of home and school.
In the evenings, we gathered in a fire-lit assembly hall at the center of the camp. It was there that I heard a remarkable story that would change my life forever.
Through his words and miraculous deeds, he challenged the Jews who thought they were the chosen of God, and in return he was nailed to a cross. Though Jesus could have saved himself from that gruesome death, he freely chose to die.
Indeed, his death was the point of it all, for his sacrifice freed us all from the burden of our sins.
But the story did not end there, because three days later, he rose again, exalted and divine, so that now, all who believe in him and accept him into their hearts will also never die, but have eternal life.
For a kid raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists, this was truly the greatest story ever told. Never before had I felt so intimately the pull of God.
In Iran, the place of my birth, I was Muslim in much the way I was Persian. My religion and my ethnicity were mutual and linked. Like most people born into a religious tradition, my faith was as familiar to me as my skin, and just as disregardable.
After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household. Islam was shorthand for everything we had lost to the mullahs who now ruled Iran.
My mother still prayed when no one was looking, and you could still find a stray Quran or two hidden in a closet or a drawer somewhere. But, for the most part, our lives were scrubbed of all trace of God.
That was just fine with me. After all, in the America of the 1980s, being Muslim was like being from Mars. My faith was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness; it needed to be concealed.
Jesus, on the other hand, was America. He was the central figure in America’s national drama. Accepting him into my heart was as close as I could get to feeling truly American.
I do not mean to say that mine was a conversion of convenience. On the contrary, I burned with absolute devotion to my newfound faith.
I was presented with a Jesus who was less “Lord and Savior” than he was a best friend, someone with whom I could have a deep and personal relationship. As a teenager trying to make sense of an indeterminate world I had only just become aware of, this was an invitation I could not refuse.
The moment I returned home from camp, I began eagerly to share the good news of Jesus Christ with my friends and family, my neighbors and classmates, with people I’d just met and with strangers on the street: those who heard it gladly, and those who threw it back in my face.
Yet something unexpected happened in my quest to save the souls of the world.
The more I probed the Bible to arm myself against the doubts of unbelievers, the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history – between Jesus the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.
In college, where I began my formal study of the history of religions, that initial discomfort soon ballooned into full-blown doubts.
The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant.
The sudden realization that this belief is patently and irrefutably false, that the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions — just as one would expect from a document written by hundreds of different hands across thousands of years — left me confused and spiritually unmoored.
And so, like many people in my situation, I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying.
I began to rethink the faith and culture of my forefathers, finding in them a deeper, more intimate familiarity than I ever had as a child, the kind that comes from reconnecting with an old friend after many years apart.
Meanwhile, I continued my academic work in religious studies, delving back into the Bible not as an unquestioning believer but as an inquisitive scholar. No longer chained to the assumption that the stories I read were literally true, I became aware of a more meaningful truth in the text.
Ironically, the more I learned about the life of the historical Jesus, the turbulent world in which he lived, and the brutality of the Roman occupation that he defied, the more I was drawn to him.
The Jewish peasant and revolutionary who challenged the rule of the most powerful empire the world had ever known became so much more real to me than the detached, unearthly being I had been introduced to in church.
Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ.
I have modeled my life not after the celestial spirit whom many Christians believe sacrificed himself for our sins, but rather after the illiterate, marginal Jew who gave his life fighting an unwinnable battle against the religious and political powers of his day on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed – those his society deemed unworthy of saving.
I wrote my newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" in order to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ.
Because I am convinced that one can be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian, just as I know that one can be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus.
Reza Aslan is a bestselling author and a scholar of religion. This article was adapted from his newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." The views expressed in this column are Aslan's alone.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Another anti-Christian expose by CNN. What a surprise. If CNN and the liberals who support have any courage then write an expose on the falsehoods of Islam. CNN won't do this because they're cowards. I's easy to attack a peaceful religion like Christianity but try attacking an intolerant and murderous religion like Islam. CNN quakes in their boots at the thought of angering Muslims. This article and the book referenced in it are crap and bile. Jesus performed countless miracles witnessed by ALL of the day. He stated many times that he was the son of God and had the full authority and power of God. The "history re-writing anti-Christians" can rail all day about religion and standing up to religious authority but they never look in the mirror and ask themselves why they don't stand up to the GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY of today. It's because government is THEIR religion!!! They also don't want the facts to get in the way of their fantasies.
The more emotionally you argue your point, the more pointless you become!
Like I said, you don't want the facts to get in the way of your fantasies.
What "facts" are you referring to?
I think it is you, Larry, who is devoid of the facts.
Your "facts" in your "context".
Take your pills Larry.
Keep drinking your Kool-Aid.
Larry, Surely you must be aware of the origin of your "drink the Kool-Aid" reference. Were the people who drank the Kool-Aid atheists rejecting Christianity? Larry, what was the belief system of the Kool-Aid drinkers? Seems you have much more in common with Kool-Aid drinkers than these people who criticize your beliefs do.
Oh and you were there right,? saw it all for yourself, so it's irrefutable. Moron
Slicenic – what was the priests name? Dont victimize yourself twice by staying silent.
So you accept nothing as fact unless you were there to witness it yourself? How self-centered! You live in a very small universe of awareness!
Well said, Larry.
The people who disrespect the Bible and God who made us all are more than willing to accept the ramblings of Dawkins who can't even defend his own utterances that there is no God when questioned by Theologians!
All Dawkins and other atheists believe in is reducing Man – the crown of God's creation – to animal status!
Go figure, an unlettered Christtard. I, for one, am shocked that a highly unintelligent person believes in god.
What DO you believe in ? Government? Video games? I-Phones? Pizza??? Your well of awareness is dry!
According to your logic, if a person does not believe in what you believe, they must believe in something else. Is it kind of like, if I don't believe in Iron Man, I must believe in Superman or Batman?
People who don't believe in God don't believe in 'something' else – they believe in ANYTHING else.
It takes intelligence, reasoning power and logic to believe! Try googling 3 ws. godandscience. org / apologetics
Seriously, it's really interesting.
"Can you be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian?" If you believe in magic or God why does it matter?
Excuse me I don't mean to be disrespectful, but why do you even bother to comment in here?
[B]Christianity is a philosophy, not a religion[/B]
Wrong, it involves a deity (or 3, depending on what sect you follow)
It demands you "worship" Jesus.
That by definition is a religion. Ever been to church? They sing songs worshiping Jesus. They raise their arms in the air to "exalt" him. They pray to him.
Sorry, but you're so, so wrong.
please tell where does it says that Jesus demanded to be worshiped by us/
I'm too lazy to do anything better than copy and paste a few verses for you. Honestly can't believe you're calling yourself a Christian yet you don't understand its basic tenets.
He was often worshipped while He appeared on earth before His resurrection.
Matthew 8:2 – A leper came and worshipped Jesus. [9:18; 15:25; Mark 5:6]
Matthew 14:33 – After Jesus had calmed the storm, the disciples worshipped Him saying He was the Son of God.
John 9:38 – After Jesus had healed the blind man, He revealed Himself to be the Son of God (v35). The man said he believed, and he worshipped Jesus.
Note that such religious worship would have been blasphemy and should have been forbidden as it was in the case of Peter, the angel, etc., if Jesus had been just a man on earth.
Created beings also worship Him after His resurrection.
Matthew 28:9,17 – After His resurrection, His disciples worshipped Him. [Cf. John 20:28,29]
Luke 24:52 – Even after He had ascended back to heaven, they worshipped Him.
Hebrews 1:6 – Angels are instructed by God to worship Jesus.
Note that men were rebuked for worshipping men, angels, or created beings, but they were never rebuked for worshipping Jesus. Angels are even instructed by the Father to worship Jesus. The context of the above passages cannot fit the idea of obeisance to an earthly king or ruler. They refer to honoring Jesus as a religious authority – the very thing forbidden when offered to Peter, angels, etc.
Hence, Jesus accepted worship as an act of religious honor. The Scriptures, including Jesus' own teachings, would absolutely forbid this unless He possesses true Deity.
Elena, why are you trying to claim Jesus to be something he wasn't? He did IN FACT call us to worship him. Why is that bad?
i will ask again and this time ill rephrase my question better so you can understand it better!
Tell me where does it says that Jesus in his own words demanded to be worshiped by the rest of the mortals?
You are just words the work of other people?
So you're asserting that those who worshiped Jesus in the bible were wrong to do so? Or are you asserting that Jesus is not the son of god and therefore doesn't deserve to be worshiped?
You are making yourself appear quite ignorant of your own religion.
Elena – John 14:6 is one example
"Elena – John 14:6 is one example"
Everyone knows the story about Jesus and the woman about to be stoned by the mob. This account is only found in John 7:53-8:12. The mob asked Jesus whether they should stone the woman (the punishment required by the Old Testament) or show her mercy. Jesus doesn’t fall for this trap. Jesus allegedly states, let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. The crowd dissipates out of shame. That story was not originally in the Gospel of John or in any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes. The story is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Nor does its writing style comport with the rest of John. Most serious textual critics state that this story should not be considered part of the Bible.
What and who is the Holy Spirit.
Who did I encounter?
And yet another person who thinks he is genius enough to figure out true religion. Gee, that must the billionth person this year.
What amazes me that after all that study and scholarship Reza Aslan hasn't discovered that Jesus is the Christ, as Peter proclaimed, "the Son of the living God." When, in the name of scholarship, one's mind is set in a certain direction, every bit of study will lead to that destination, all truth contrary nothewithstanding.
Turn your argument exactly 180 degrees and you'll know how I feel...
Jesus was a great prophet..... Quran says so. Maryem was his mom and she is honored in Islam.
Islam is peace
And yet you call him a liar. Interesting.
Not necessarily.... possibly just the authors of the bible were though...
Do not rebrand the Messiah.
who can you trust? those who wrote the bible. the New Testament. Jesus half brother Jude. Paul, ect.
you cant step.
* it's "etc." for ET Cetera (meaning "and the others"), not "ect" - lawdy, I hope you don't go around saying "ecksetera" or something!
Lol, you are a moron. OMG a typo!!!!! ahhhhhhhh what an idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!! bro...dudes, this typo making moron lol what a moron...
Possibly a typo (I doubt it, knowing @Austin); but way too many people get this phrase wrong, both in print and vocally.
Qur'an says all sorts of insane nonsense.
Haha! I don't usually repost stuff from others, but to the best of my knowledge this is a totally new gem from Austin:
His creation is for you . Do your best. My dog actively helps me emotionally. That is part of buddie's purpose. God's little helper.
July 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
He whines at me when i get upset to remind me of God's love that we have right here. Its incredible.
No. One cannot simply find Jesus without being a Christian.
1.) By definition a Christian is one who "follows Christ". So the statement "How to lose Christ (and find Jesus) doesn't make sense logically.
2.) By briefly reading the Gospel (i.e. our avenue to finding Jesus), it becomes apparent early on that Jesus calls us to follow him. See number one above.
3.) The statement, "Because I am convinced that one can be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian, just as I know that one can be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus," means nothing. Someone who claims to be a Christian and doesn't follow Jesus makes number one invalid. Therefore, that person is no longer a Christian.
4.) Finally, anyone who thinks, "I can find Jesus without participating in the church," is incorrect. By simply reading the Gospels, one can understand why.
I respectfully disagree. I am learning about Jesus the man. I believe Jesus was a very insightful teacher a wise man but just a man. I believe the church under Constantine voted him a diety and that's where I disagree.
No, saying the things he said – Jesus can't be a great moral teacher, but JUST a man. He is either a lunatic, or the Son of God. He claimed to be God. He is either a liar, lunatic, or the son of God.
Thanks for the reply:
Generally speaking, Saint Peter is regarded as the first Pope – the leader of the early church. Peter himself proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ – the son of the living God. The early church grew rapidly and spread from the Asian Minor into the Roman empire. Christianity was already a well established religion by the time Constantine converted to Christianity.
Of course this is all speculative on the validity of the Bible. Some read it as a historical/infallible account while others don't. To be perfectly honest, there is no way to know for definite whether the Bible is the infallible word of God or simply a book on philosophy.
This is where philosophy and religion diverge... Religion is built upon faith.
Or... or... words were put in his mouth. He would be either a lunatic or the son of God if you could prove every quote in the Bible was said by him. But you can't. The real man may have said no such thing, and after his death people made up quotes and shoved them in his mouth. We see this all the time with historical figures, let alone historical figures who are believed to be God.
Why'd they execute him then? Its interesting that you will accept the fact he DID IN FACT live, and you will accept all of the teachings attributed to him...except one – that he claimed to be God....
WHY IS CNN NOT ALLOWING USERS WITH EMAIL ADDRESSES AT CATHOLIC.ORG?
WGAT DOES CNN HAVE AGAINST CATHOLIC.ORG?
Jews don't like Catholics
Absolutely you can be a follower of Jesus without being a Christian. Thomas Jefferson was. He believed in the teachings of the mortal Jesus, but he did not think Jesus was supernatural or a deity.
So Jesus was a pathological liar but also a morally sound and perfect philosopher. Ok.
It is fairly decent as a life philosophy.
That said, there are many decent life philosophies to choose from.
Jesus supposedly paid for the sins of Adam and Eve - except that Adam and Eve never existed. The whole wild contraption has spun off its gimbals and is now skittering across the floor, and it has been skittering for over 150 years.
Excuse m, may i ask where did you read that Jesus die to pay for Adam and Eve's sins?
It's a logical progression.
All mankind are sinners because of Adam and Eve's original sin. That's why the bible says we are all doomed, because of their actions in the garden. That's why it says we're sinners- they fell and all future generations fell with them.
His statement is accurate when looked at from a practical standpoint.
You're a Christian and you can't see the connection?
LOl i cant avoid to lol to your comment! this proves once again atheist are atheist because of their ignorance!
Please explain in detail why my statement is incorrect, if you are unable to then the ignorance clearly lies in your corner.
Again, it's clear you have virtually NO understanding of your own religion. I do not for a moment you have three years of college edubicashum.
When Cows Attack – you are correct in your logical conclusion. I'll add that he not only died for Adam and Eve's sins, but for all of our sins. If you want some honest, intellectual discussion, I'm down. From your posts – it would appear that you are interested in logic and truth – as am I, though our conclusions may be different.
Cool! I am always down for some intelligent debate!
I know many intelligent Christians who can throw down with the best of them. I love those kinds of discussions.
I believe Jesus of Nazareth was, perhaps, the greatest man who ever lived and his philosophy of life greatly raised the quality of societal life. His societal philosophies are worth following. Just as strong, I'm absolutely convinced he's not a god.
I've traveled to the Holy Land, studied Christianity from the inside (raised Roman Catholic, altar boy, choir singer, etc.), the outside (I'm a graduate-degreed scientist: I rely on social archaeological studies, formal scientific reasoning, etc.), the side-lines (studied other religions, visited Churches, Synogogues, Mosques, Temples, etc. worldwide – even the Temple of Isis at Philae, Egypt and studied the "Earth Mother" religion, as much as if possible today, of European Cro-Magnon man from 30,000 to less than 10,000 years ago: did "God" let them know who "He" was?).
So unlike most commenters here, I don't believe what I believe simply because I think I know-it-all without any introspection. I've found that 99% of the "evangelicals" I've met have had blinders put on them to study only a small set of Biblical passages. They can parade out a litany of quotations or modern related sayings – like the first post here – but usually can't tell you much about the Bible and the development of Judeo-Christian belief over the past 3300 years.
Just as I believe Jesus had fantastic ideas, so do other religions. Like Thomas Jefferson, I hope the wortd eventually becomes more like the Unitarians and accept the best of each religion as examples by which to live.
But then do you think that we are just biochemical machines made of bones and flesh?
So much study religious, history and anthropology if we learn nothing of the mind and consciousness!
i only have three years of university in Business Administration, but again Aristotle didn't go to any university anyways, he learned everything himself; as many great thinkers did in antiquity!
Mr.Reza Aslan, people who preached Jesus Christ, The Lord and Creator of the universe didn't know that they throwing pearls in front of a PIG! specially a pig that enjoys christian culture and freedom of United States while spewing hatred against Christ and wallowing in his own old filth!!!, after all a pig is a pig, isn't it.!
Um, those of us who do not believe do not "enjoy Christian culture".
And name calling isn't very Christian, just sayin'.
Is this what Jesus taught you? Spread hate and vilify people who don't share your ignorance which you seem to be proud of? It would be an insult to pigs to call you one. You are a complete waste of DNA.
While your point is valid – your logic is lacking. Don't use the wrong doings of a "follower" to discount the message. We could use your logic to say the liberalism is bad b/c Clinton got a hummer from an intern. See?
Clinton was a moderate, not a liberal (don't forget DOMA was initiated during his admin). Not everyone falls neatly into "conservative christian" or "liberal atheist" roles.
Either Jesus was the son of God or he was the biggest liar in the history of the planet Earth. He claimed numerous times to be the son of God, and claimed the only way to Heaven was to believe in Him. So, you either take Him at His word, or you don't. This is a simple concept to grasp.
Again, it is a statistical impossibility.
That's fine. At least you can be intellectually honest.
Again, he was either who he said he was, or he wasn't. I guess making Jesus out to be whom one wants Him to be allows them to be at peace with their thought processes.
Would that be more or less statistically improbable (which is the term I think you meant to use and if not meant, should have used) as non-life components coming together to form not only life, but life that 'evolved' to a point that it can actually reason. And then life that diverged over time to become the diverse degree of life that we can observe today. Personally I think it takes much more faith to believe that happened than believe in a Creator who created it all.
I disagree, that said I was referring to the story of Jesus as son of god in particular.
Only mentally ill don't believe
Only mentally ill do not recognize you cannot be a moral teacher if you are a pathological liar.
Or the bible was written by man and they took his words and twisted them to suit their own needs.
Only the mentally ill believe in things that do not exist. Unfortunately in the US the inmates run the asylum.
I take option D. Jesus is a mythological character based on some hundred or more prophets running around Judea at the time in question claiming to be the messiah and doing great works and miracles. By the way, according to the bible, miracles are pretty common and unbelievers and demon-possessed people can do them sometimes, too.
That would be the most plausible explanation if infact Jesus was not God. The New Testament is infact a tremendous philosophical work, but it's teacher (Jesus) had to be either a liar or whom he said he was.
"He claimed numerous times to be the son of God, and claimed the only way to Heaven was to believe in Him."
Did he? Or is that just what the legend spinners *said* that he said. He never wrote a single word.
So the same people that conveyed his message are trustworthy when you like the message, but when the words in red say something you do not like, they are not trustworthy? Ok. I get it now.
There are some valid messages in those books which would contribute to peaceful human behavior, but they certainly were not new nor unique to this alleged "Jesus".
Reminds me of an oft quoted statement by CS Lewis, former atheist, Christian philosopher, author and intellectual:
“Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.”
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Fatal flaw in Lewis' theory – HE (jesus) didn't WRITE ANYTHING! So we only have hearsay to start. Jesus may never have lied in his life, but that says nothing about the accuracy of what people eventually wrote down about him.
Nice read. Glad I am not the only one who has thought this same thing over and over again. I have however been told by many religious leaders that an individual is NOT any sort of Christian, or accepted into the kingdom of heaven unless you believe in God the Father (Old Testament) as well as Christ the son. It certainly has thrown a wrench into my faith.
to the writer:
do you mean if it is possible to believe in Jesus and not follow neither for of the fake religious groups that have hijacked the christian faith? Yes of course it is possible!. Jesus did not left any religious denomination on the Earth. what is more, early Christians not even called themselves christian
"Because I am convinced that one can be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian, just as I know that one can be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus."
I, too, have found this to be the truth.
by definition, only the deluded believe in gods
But what is God to you anyways, and just what do you think believers think God is?
By "definition," eh? Whose definition would that be, and where do you find it?
That's right faith. The rest of us believe in God, our creator.
Quran is the word of Allah... Read it
I am sorry, I respect your faith, but we are taking about Jesus and Christianity here! I could not believe in any faith that puts any human as inferior to any other human!
You got it! Thumbs up to you, my dear
Read the history of the Quran first and let people come to their own conclusion about Allah. It should not be forced on anybody and people should be able to leave this belief without any ill Affects.
Christians, is killing during war justified, forgivable and would Jesus be ok with it?
Its justified depending on the...wait for it....wait for it....CONTEXT of the war. If your life is in danger you are allowed to defend it...its probably justified, but for example, killing babies would not be justified during war. Is jesus OK with war? OK probably isn't the right word. I think Jesus would prefer if no wars existed, however, knowing humanity, its not an option, so reality of warring humans must be accepted.
Why did god change his mind about killing babies during a war? It was certainly o.k. to do during the Old Testament, in fact god even commands it, so why the change of heart?