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.
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Worshipping the person alone then becomes idolatry.
Following the example of isn't the same as worshipping.
I found the article quite interesting, and the author's experience is similar to my own. By learning about the history of the early Church and the world Jesus actually lived in, it helped me take Scripture into its original context. Far from destroying my faith, it enhanced it.
Of course, I am not and was never an evangelical and don't interpret the Bible literally. Perhaps that made the difference.
However, I am happily active in my local Catholic church, and find it enhances my spiritual experiences.
I believe that is the best way with any belief system, even atheism. We have to challenge our beliefs, turn them over and try to see the other side. I did this and my belief in a creator and afterlife became much stronger. It is difficult to leave ones ego at the door but the rewards are great.
Jim, what beliefs are included in the atheist belief system? I'm an atheist, and most of my beliefs have nothing to do with atheism, so I guess I'm not doing it right. I need your help. Thanks.
Hi Cpt. I think this is the best neutral place for anyone to start.
Jim, that site describes a method of investigation through careful thought, not a belief system. Again, I'm an atheist, and I have no idea what "belief system" I am supposed to have and most of what I consider to be part of my "belief system" has nothing to do with my lack of a belief in any gods described to me so far.
If you can't describe what the atheist "belief system" is and show how most atheists hold those beliefs in concert with each other, perhaps you should stop claiming atheists have one?
Dear Captain, I would refer you to reasonablefaith.org. Atheism and theism are both faith systems that need to be supported by reason(i.e. science, evidence, data). Question is....if you have faith, or lack it, what reasonable science, evidence, and data do you trust that supports your point of view?
Ego is a goofy construct from Freud' s THEORIES. The Frankfurt School embraced it.
You sayin' the whole Bible is a metaphor??
I am saying the whole babble is cr ap.
As all children need comforting by mothers and fathers so too do all the elders of humanisms need comforting ways... What better a way than for elders to stay comforted by kept lit Godly revelations...?
Cowardly Lion, last time I was here, like a year ago, you were talking about biomechanical cosmologies of the Third kind, or some such nonsense.
But even as bad as that was, it was better schtick then what you are laying down now.
Thank you theala and God bless you, friend.
As a Catholic I have to say that loving and being loved by God the Father, Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit is something to boast about! I wish everyone on here the same peace, hope, joy and LOVE that changes your life.
Jesus was a philosopher and they made him into a foking son of god. The bible is full of sheet replete with great moral and social stories.
wrong ! one more ignorant comment form an atheist!
No, just no. No one made jesus out to be the Son of God except Jesus himself. Thats why they killed him. It was against the law the claim you were God. If he was just a philosopher – the execution likely wouldn't have taken place, and if it did – wouldn't have been so much more severe than a typical criminal. Even Socrates was given an option for his own sucicide – which he took, but they did not execute him in the manner Jesus was – b/c Jesus wasn't simply a philospher.
Of course the hundred or so prophets running around Judea at the time in question claiming to be the messiah and work miracles were all philosophers. It's the nature of the job. That most of those cult leaders got condensed into one mythological character means that technically, Jesus was a character like "Batman" and so no, that made up character is not a philosopher, per se.
I'm more convinced that they tortured him to make an example of him than I am of the idea that it somehow validates the idea of Jesus as son of God.
No. Jesus is Christ, the Jewish Messiah.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus Christ
That statement is just as known to be from Jesus as any other. Jesus was prophesied by Daniel about 639 years earlier to be the Jewish Messiah. Daniel said he would ride into Jerusalem in 32 ad (he gave the number of days from an event) and claim to be the Messiah. Jesus is Christ. Forever is a long time, accept him today as your lord and savior so your sins can be washed away.
It seems you want to be content with a half-Jesus. The parable Jesus related about the seed and the soil relates perfectly, the cares of this world and its opposition caused you to leave your first love.
The contradiction that people claim are usually due to a lack of understand of the text. For example this one:
Who is the father of Joseph?
MAT 1:16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
LUK 3:23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.
The say it is a contradiction saying Joseph can't have two fathers. Yet Heli was Joseph's father in law, the father of Mary and that is what is meant. The lack of understanding of the implied meaning in the Greek wording leads to a false impression to people that have not studied it. There are many alleged contradictions being talk about out there like this one. Be careful you are not deceived by them The Bible is true.
Gen 6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
Gen 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
Gen 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
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.”
I am a follower & disciple of Jesus Christ, who is Lord and Creator. That being said, one cannot be a follower of Jesus without being a Christian. If one claims to be a follower of Jesus, that implies that such a person believes in what Jesus taught. Jesus came "...to bring the truth". Jesus taught that He was in fact the Christ, the Messiah which was prothesized throughout the Jewish scriptures. He taught that "... I and the Father are one..." He taught, "I am the way, the truth, and the life". Therefore, if you are going to follow Jesus because of what he taught, then you have to believe that He is the Christ and Lord. Thus, one cannot be a follower of Jesus without being a Christian. God bless, everyone!
atheist are atheist not because for their intelligence but because of their ignorance!
What is it exactly that we are ignorant about? And please be specific.
If you think we're ignorant about the bible, in general that is the furthest thing from the truth. It certainly isn't true for me, I lived, breathed and ate the Bible for many years.
Would you care to try again? Because honestly, I feel the SAME exact way about Christians.
Because atheist have wrong preconceived ideas like believers believe in imaginary friends! and many more that is just useless to list them down here!
Again, you're the ignorant one. I came to atheism through NO preconceived notions, in fact began my life's journey as a Christian and stayed that way for many years... until I could no longer come to terms with the obvious fallacies of the Bible.
Way to stereotype people, Elena! You're an intelligent one, aren't you?
There is something called "Understanding" and I am not talking about just reading something and getting the message. understanding is something else. does a dog understand you are in danger,a s in the cases when dogs alert their owner about fire in the house or recognized when a strangers have bad intentions, yet it would be futile to explain the dog what the solar system is! Understanding is something that you either have or you don't!. it seems to me that atheist don't have that kind of .
I am not s bible fan, but it makes no mistake when it says " they have eyes but they cant see"
I don't feel your post makes much sense, I also do not see how it's related to the topic. I'm going to copy and paste an earlier post I made so that you can see how I arrived at my own philosophy. You can continue to claim that I'm just "ignorant", or you can have an intelligent discussion if you wish. The fact remains, my path is my path, and I came to it in a way that is equally valid as your own path. Here it is:
You know, I like to think of myself as a tolerant person, but I find that as I get older I become increasingly intolerant of all things religious.
Thinking back to my teenage years, attending the evangelical churches and getting down on my knees and asking Christ into my heart and renouncing my "sin", and feeling ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except a little silly, I was unable to put my finger on exactly what my problem was. Why couldn't I believe? Was I broken? Was there a demon inside me or something? Had I done something so horrible that God hated me and just didn't want me? Eventually I just resigned myself to the idea that I was unable to believe.
It wasn't until later in life that I realized why. The so-called divinity of Jesus is false because it cannot possibly be true.
Christians- consider this (though I know most of you won't). The moment that Jesus died on the cross, that very instant, the only way to heaven was through acceptance of him, right? Now consider the fact that in those times, there were fewer than 20 human beings that knew this "fact". They were directed to evangelize so that mankind might be saved. Now consider how many full-grown adult humans across the world died in say, the first year alone after Jesus's death. Since virtually all civilizations have a religion of sorts, these untold hundreds of thousands of humans died not only knowing nothing about Jesus, but actively worshiping other gods. Breaking the very first commandment, no less. According to the Bible, every single last one of those unfortunates are in Hell. Nevermind the fact that it's quite literally impossible for them to have heard the "Good Word"- the Bible after all is very clear that the ONLY way to Heaven is through Jesus.
Ignoring all of the other contradictions in the Bible such as the fact that it states the Jews are God's chosen people, yet by its own tenets the only way to heaven is through Jesus therefore all jews are damned, the only sensible deduction a rational human being can make is that the entire Jesus-as-son-of-God theology is simply a lie.
I'm sorry Christians, but your religion as written is simply impossible as truth. And I'm so sick and tired of people blindly following it, trying to demand prayer be put back in schools, that the Pledge of Allegiance must contain the word "God", that Sam Adams beer put the word "creator" back into its silly beer commercial, and telling the rest of us we're going to hell if we don't believe. Why do you blindly ignore logic and reason? Life as an agnostic or atheist is just as fulfilling- more so, because we don't fear god's judgment nor do we see Satan lurking around every corner.
Free yourself! Throw off the bonds. It's liberating.
Someone who doesn't know the plural form of "atheist" is "atheists" is talking about ignorance.
All right, what does an atheist need to know and how can one come to know it?
I studied the bible for 50 years in multiple languages. Many of the atheists who post here are former Christians, even a few former ministers. Most of us have done extensive study, not just of the bible, but of many other religious belief systems.
Didn't your three years of university teach you not to make sweeping generalizations about people?
Even a flattened tire will so turn for only its bottom is flat yet on the rim will it roll on...
Doesn't the christian faith teach against judging? You need to allow for the opinions of others. It's called free will...you know, that which GOD has giving all of us.
"Only its bottom is flat"
That explains a lot.
Actually – I don't think either matter. Some of the smartest people I know are Christians. AND, some of the smartest people I know are atheists. I don't think intelligence is the determining factor. Jesus talked about this very thing in John 3. "People loved the darkness rather than the light" – that is why they reject God.
I'm sorry but that's crap. "Love the darkness"? That's like saying people choose hell. No rational person that actually believed in god, heaven and hell would choose hell. You have to be pretty self-loathed to feel you deserve that and/or want that.
Can you be a vegetarian and still eat meat?
Yes, actually because being vegetarian is a choice.
But if faced with a situation where for health reasons or for a lack of other options, you had to eat meat you still could.
Choosing to be a vegetarian does not mean that you are no longer capable of eating meat.
This person has obviosuly gone astray and has not met Jesus Christ. But the word must be fulfilled according to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that many would deny His Deity and His sacrifice. This person is an anti-christ. May the Lord Jesus open their heart to receive the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you say you follow Jesus but not Christ, you are calling Jesus a ller since he claimed to be the Christ that saves from sin !! So, if you follow Jesus truly, you must believe he told the truth when he said he ws the savior !!!!!!! You can't follow HIM half way and disreguard what he claimed to be and accept part of his ministry and saving life and death !!!!
Sydney, please pull out some biblical references that have Jesus claiming to be the Christ. Come to think of it, what is the Christ?
Circular reasoning, and who are you to tell people what they can and can't do? Christians cherry pick the Bible every day, why can't non Christians do the same?
Anyway, obviously you are wrong, because there are a growing number of people who do exactly that which you say they can't.
Where exactly did Jesus say he was a "savior" ?
uh...the bible. Troll on bro!
You completely missed what he is saying. Were you so offended that someone would question the man written book that you did not bother to use the mind that God gave you?
Um...they are both in the same...
The ones who call themselves Christians completely misunderstood Jesus message, they are just as bad as the people who crucified him. Full of hate and prejudices, they wouldn't have any problems crucifying a man with revolutionary ideas like Jesus.
it was God, not a mans idea. and there is a bad example of a Christian, so whould we abolish the word christian?
all men will always be found as sinners.. attacking what a christian is with bad examples as a non believer is a faint attack on Jesus Christ.
believing in a religion is like cheering for your favorite football team, there's no reason why one is better than the other, most people were born into it, and in the end, everythings quite inconsequential. faith is real, god is not, its remarkable that people are willing to fight and die for an idea, but that's precisely what keeps spreading it, like a virus.
When someone says, "all religions are the same", I know one thing for certain. That person has never taken 5 minutes to look at what the different religions in the world teach.
There you go again. You can't prove spiritual things using physical laws. The spiritual is a different dimension and uses different laws. You are missing the basic and simple fact that Jesus LIVES and is involved in the lives of the faithful. Yes, it can be proven, but there is only one way and Jesus pointed out that is the rock upon which he has founded his true church.
"17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
I promise you that anyone having a sincere desire to know Jesus Christ can know him by prayer and personal revelation. I urge you to go mormon.org or lds.org and find the living truths found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by his living apostles and prophets.......
And there you go, defending a book that you say was inspired by God by using that same book. That defies logic and reason, 2 of the great gifts God gave us. To be so naive is the easy way out. God gave you a brain to think for yourself and God does not need to rely on man to speak to your heart. They say it takes an open mind to believe in other possibilities, well I believe it takes an even more open mind to believe a book that was written by unknown as the inherent word of God.
ALL religions are equally false. We are equal opportunity detractors.
Obviously the Bible is mythology, propaganda and mind control, all rolled into one. Can't speak to the other religious texts because I haven't read them.
Apparently you haven't read the Bible either.
I've read the Bible at least three times, and it becomes more obvious every time!
your eyes are blind and your ears deaf, that is why you cannot hear what the spirit is saying. Repent.
Anyone can READ the Bible. But without prayer and an open mind they don't necessarily UNDERSTAND what's being said.
Oh, right, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. We're just doing it wrong!
The ultimate insult.
If your god is so loving, why would he reveal himself in a book that, according to you, can be read, but not understood?
This discussion is always the same, you've never read the bible, then, well, you've read it, but not with the right attitude, so it doesn't count.
More excuses for your invisible, mute god.
To say you've read the Bible three times and posted your original comment you are either a liar or insane and possibly both.
I assert that it's you who has never read it.
You'd be wrong but then you're a cow anyway.
Great read, Aslan. I like the respect you bring to the topic, and the fresh point of view. If your entire book is like this article I think I will enjoy it.
2.2 billion Christians + 1.6 billion Muslims believe in Jesus...... Wow!
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.
Perhaps you're thinking of Buddhism?
Christianity is a philosophy, not a religion
Wrong. Religion incorporates some kind of revelation from God. Philosophy is based on reason alone, without religion. Christianity is a religion because its most basic, foundational belief is in the doctrine of the Trinity. Study of the history of Christianity clearly illustrates this fact. The Trinity is known only because Jesus has revealed it.
Paul, I think a better loose definition of a religion is any philosophy that explains 1) Who are we? 2) Where did we come from? 3) Where are we going? 4) What is wrong with us? and 5 How do we fix it?
Truthseeker, thanks for your response. While my definitions are loose, nevertheless Philosophy addresses all of those questions and more through the power of reason alone. How then to distinguish religion from philosopy?
Christianity is a FAITH not religion!
No, it involves belief in and worship of a deity, which makes it by definition a religion.
Paul, Philosophy, religion, faith, and reason are all intertwined. As Einstein once said...and I paraphrase: Science without religion is mute, and religion without science is blind. I would refer you to reasonablefaith.org or bethinking.org.
Call it whatever you want...It's obviously not healthy. Jesus...very healthy. Christianity....not so much