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.
The joke of a book uses dishonesty and lies. It starts from a false premise and goes on from there. It excites most CNN readers though because it insults Jews and Christians, especially Catholics.
"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 will agree. There are many out there that profess to believe in Jesus Christ and not give place for Him in their heart. You see that with the division and hatred between different religious leaders. "Not ever one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" Matthew 7:21 KJV
I believe Jesus was the Son of God. For if Jesus was the actual Father than He broke one of His own commandments, "Thou Shalt Not Bear Faults Witness". If Jesus was the Father in the flesh than He would have stated so, but no Jesus stated more than once that He was the Son Of God to be about His Father's business.
Truth is found when truth is sought. Truth is only sought after when there is a purpose and until one can see the importance of finding that truth than they will be left waiting, never knowing.
I believe knowing the life and times of Jesus is just as important than knowing He is the Christ. I do not believe Aslan needs to be ridiculed for his changed beliefs and searching questions. Who knows, maybe he will come to know the Aslan of C.S. Lewis through his life's work.
Good points. I can't understand how people can say Jesus was god when he always prayed to his father or said he did the will of his father. It doesn't take a mental giant to figure that one out.
It could certainly be possible to think this way if you thought the stories written about Jesus decades and centuries later exaggerated his claims significantly in being the son of God, and you think perhaps he didn't make those claims.
What writings? The bible was completed before 100c.e. And some of the books of the Christian scripts were written by people with first-hand knowledge. In other words there were there with Jesus. If you're talking about other things that people have written that are not part of the bible cannon well there are reasons why they are not in the bible.
These online discussions do more harm than good because people just ramble from one falsehood to another and confuse each other even more. Be warned these discussions are rubbish .
These online discussions do more harm than good because people just ramble from one falsehood to another and confuse each other even more. Be warned these discussions are rubbish.
"I and the father are one"...Jesus. Also, (to Phillip) "If you have seen me, you have seen the father". And there are other places also.
And this means? Because if you look at me you will see my father. We look a lot a like. I can also tell you a lot about him. More than just about anyone else. I can't be my father and he can't be me. So now you get the illustration.
Reasons why atheism is horrible and unhealthy for our children and living things:
– Atheists do not have any morality, are heartless, soulless and cold.
– Atheists grew up in a bad family, not being loved and abused.
– Atheism was brought upon during the French Revolution, one of the most evil time of history.
– Communism – evil system created by atheists!
– Atheists cannot prove God does not exist and how Earth was created.
– No atheist org. contribute to charitable causes, unlike Christians, due to atheism beliefs in Darwinism.
– Atheism making you agree with mass murder leaders like Stalin, Mao, Pot, Mussolini and even Hitler!
– Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith and belief.
– Countries with high rate of atheism = high suicide rate (Nordic nations).
– Atheists tries to convert (young) people into their evil belief over the internet.
– Atheists believe in evolutions, and want us to act like animals.
– Atheists bash Christianity based on Jewish scriptures (Old Testament/Torah) and organized religion, and tend to ignore or forget how amazing, loving, friendly, supportive, and excellent the most influential person who has even walked on Earth, Jesus Christ, was. Christians found hospitals, universities, science, etc.
– Atheists do not believe in Jesus Christ; therefore they must hate their neighbor and enemy. Remember the Sermon on the Mount?
Atheists are minority in the U.S. and the world no matter what "secular" sources and polls voted by few thousands of people tells you that were made up by silly atheists dreaming about making America more atheist, unbiblical and unGodly than what it actually is. More than 90% of Americans believe in God. Period! Christianity is the world's largest religion, and the main religion in the western world. Christianity grows dramatically and goes globall
False generalizations from top to bottom.
You are one angry, narrow-minded "Professor & Dr". Not someone I'd trust at all. If you really are that passionate about persecuting others for having different beliefs, then you are truly someone that I definitely wouldn't want to know.
There's no respect for those who tarnish the character of others so freely. You're not a Christian. You're a bigot.
– Atheists do not have any morality, are heartless, soulless and cold. - FALSE – I live my life in an attempt to do good by others, because I believe it is the right thing to do. I love my family, girlfriend and friends unconditionally and would do whatever I could to protect and make them happy.
– Atheists grew up in a bad family, not being loved and abused. –FALSE – My parents, siblings, and extended family loved and nutured me just as much as anyone else I have ever known. They did not abuse me, and in fact only ever encouraged me to better myself so that I can have a better life than they did.
– Atheism was brought upon during the French Revolution, one of the most evil time of history. - I will not agree or deny this particular point as I do not know the actual history of atheism, but I would highly doubt this is true and will now have to read up on this as it is an interesting view.
– Communism – evil system created by atheists! - Communism is a completely idealistic form of Socialism. It is no more inherently evil than Capitalism is in theory. It is the men who run the systems that make them evil. All these things are nothing more than ideas until they are implemented by men. I do not agree with the concept of Communism, but it is not an automatically evil theory.
– Atheists cannot prove God does not exist and how Earth was created. - I cannot prove that God exists or not. I find it highly imprombable that there is a supreme being that is all powerful, compassionate and caring yet would decide to let the people of the world cause so much pain and suffering. Since I cannot prove, beyond every doubt, that a god does not exist, I consider myself to be an agnostic leaning more toward atheist. Also, as far as how the Earth was created, there is a fairly good theory out there about how it was created, and there are men and women working to prove that theory (or find a newer, more correct one) every day. Science does not claim to have all the answers to the universe, but the men and women who work in science are trying every day to fill in the gaps in their knowledge of the universe. They base their knowledge and beliefs on facts which have been proven true, and in an event that their ideas are disproven they welcome the new knowledge and work to expand on it.
– No atheist org. contribute to charitable causes, unlike Christians, due to atheism beliefs in Darwinism. - This is also false. There is actually an online charitable organization that was mentioned on another CNN Belief blog article that I just got done reading. Darwanism is the theory of evolution, but that doesn't mean that people who believe in it don't want to attempt to help others.
– Atheism making you agree with mass murder leaders like Stalin, Mao, Pot, Mussolini and even Hitler! - FALSE again. I do not agree with the actions of the men listed above. Me being an atheist makes me no more likely to be a follower of the evils of the men listed above, than you being a believer makes you more likely to agree with the Crusades, the Inquisition, or even the Jihadists of the Muslim world. Having common ideas with people throughout history, doesn't mean you are the same. Also, Hitler was a Christian FYI.
– Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith and belief. - FALSE – I am perfectly mentally healthy. I am a productive member of society, and in fact have never met another atheist that is mentally ill. Mental illness has absolutely nothing to do with a person's beliefs. It is a serious issue that should not be put forth in a debate between theology because it causes severe anguish in many people's lives.
– Countries with high rate of atheism = high suicide rate (Nordic nations). - I do not know the specific stats on this, so I cannot confirm or deny this. I don't see any logical connection between the two though, and will again have to research this.
– Atheists tries to convert (young) people into their evil belief over the internet. - I personally do not try to convert anyone. But yes, there are those who do try to convert people, just as there are many, many more people attempting to convert people to their religious beliefs. Religious preachers attempt to convert people in person, on television and over the internet. This does not make them any better or worse than people trying to convince people of a lack of a deity.
– Atheists believe in evolutions, and want us to act like animals. - This just doesn't make any sense. Period. Believeing in evolution, means you believe in the continual betterment of the species through natural selection. It has nothing to do with acting like an animal. If anything believing in evolution would mean you want to see people evolve into better, stronger, smarter beings. Actimg more animalistic would be the opposite of the evolutionary process.
– Atheists bash Christianity based on Jewish scriptures (Old Testament/Torah) and organized religion, and tend to ignore or forget how amazing, loving, friendly, supportive, and excellent the most influential person who has even walked on Earth, Jesus Christ, was. Christians found hospitals, universities, science, etc. - Some people who are atheist do bash scripture and organized religion. I cannot deny that, but you are bashing atheists, so how does that make you any better than them? Also, the scriptures very greatly between teachings of compassion and that of the wrath of God. There is many different pieces, written by many different men throughout the ages. Some are good, and some are bad. That is just fact. Also, Christians are not the only people who found hospitals, universities, and definitely science. Some do, and that is a great thing, but it is not an exclusive action of Christians. There are many universities, hospitals and science foundations that have nothing to do with christianity.
– Atheists do not believe in Jesus Christ; therefore they must hate their neighbor and enemy. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? - FALSE – Not believing that Jesus was God incarnate has no correlation with hating one's neighbors. I am polite and kind to everyone I meet because that is how I was raised. I hate no-one that does not try to do harm to myself or the ones I love. To this day, I have never met a person who I can say I truly hate. I may meet people whom I disagree with, and choose not to associate with because they have had negative impacts on my life, but that is far different from hate.
It is people like you, who bash others without truly knowing them or even meeting them that give Christianity, and religions in general the very negative stigma amonst atheists that you have towards them. You have your beliefs, and that is fine. If your belief in a higher being, somehow betters your life then that is good for you. But you are not living up to the Christian ideals that you say you follow by posting what you have. You are judging others because they don't conform to your beliefs. There are more than 7 billion people on this planet. Some are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists, Scientologists, Pagans, Atheists and many more that I am not familiar with. There has yet to be any definitive proof that any of these beliefs, or lack of, are correct.
Having differences in beliefs does not mean that people are any better or worse than the other. It is the actions of people that shows their character and is the only thing that anyone should be judged on. I live my life in a manner that I find to be moral and ethical because I do not want to cause harm to others. That is the way I was raised. My belief, or more correctly stated, lack of belief in a deity has no baring on the way I live my life. Stop worrrying so much about judging others and worry about taking care of yourself, your loved ones, and leaving behind a positive contribution in your life. Live up to the Christian ideals that you preach and be happy in life. Life is too short to spend judging and bashing others that you don't know simply because they do not agree with you.
It's baaack ...
Sing with me now, nobody loves me this I know, for nobody told me so?
When we invite hell into our country, don't be surprised when all hell breaks loose-turn on the news! Sorry about the song, just kiddin/too much coffee-we are all broken sinners, dysfunctional and hypocritical, the good news-there's room for one more! Loving God and loving others, what a horrible world view to promote??
Losing the Cross, finding the Christ!
UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES
It's not about where you graduated from, it's about how objectively you are able to write on the subject matter.
When your intent is glaringly biased your works can be dismissed as irrelevant.
does that also go for those who are "glaringly biased" for christianity?
I love how all the nut jobs on here who claim that a Harvard PhD who happens to be Muslim can never write a book on Christianity (a field he's been studying for 20+ years), yet these very same community college dropouts who get their 'news' from Rupert Murdoch sanctioned outlets are experts on all things Islam.
Master's from Harvard, PhD from Santa Barbara. But yeah, his religion should be irrelevant to his scholarship...and he's kind of nominally Muslim anyway.
What about writing against Islam?? or muhammad?? or is that too risky??
First, this book isn't "against" Jesus but interprets him as a human prophet which has been the standard Islamic interpretation since the founding of that religion. Muslims, Many Jews anda even certain sects of Christianity view him this way. Second, if you look into this author's previous writing and what conservative Muslim's have to say about him you'll see that his work is very critical of fundamentalist Islam and that he has already pis.sed off the more conservative elements of that religion.
I am very curious about the meaning of this quote, from the article above:
"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."
Why, if we can be so uncertain about what this Jesus of Nazareth actually did or said (because the only historical records that record details about his life are ripe with falsehoods and spin), should we be interested in "following him"? Follow something as mirky as that? Why not follow someone that we can actually learn real details & facts about – someone like Medgar Evers, or Martin Luther King Jr, or any number of men or women who have given their lives to help the helpless?
If this was your intent, then what a colossal waste of time, ink and paper. Yet if your intent, hidden (not very well) beneath this language was to cast doubt upon who Jesus the Christ was & is, then you are free to espouse your opinions. But I challenge your intent as quite weak, as stated.
Writing books about Jesus is hardly an unprofitable pursuit. He is probably laughing all the way to the bank. An autobiography of Aslan would sure not sell, neither will something he writes about Mohammad.
You realize this is the guy who wrote 'The Struggle for Islam's Soul' as part of 'With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty"?
One is molded and shaped by its culture and religious views, a perspective is what those views are. Jesus will always be the same today, tomorrow, and for eternity, it is our lack of understanding that thinks differently of this divine man, but I am joyous that you found the truth that ls in the scriptures, and God had given you the gift to share it with others through this book. God Bless Brother!
1 John 2:22
King James Version (KJV)
" Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." You can't be a "follower" of Jesus of Nazareth and NOT be a follower of Jesus the Christ. Because Jesus claimed to be The Son of God. Jesus said he was The Mesiah. So either Jesus was lying or he wasn't. To say you believe in the Jesus who set a example of doing good works, but deny and ignore this man said He was the Son of God is ludicrious and foolish.
" To say you believe in the Jesus who set a example of doing good works, but deny and ignore this man said He was the Son of God is ludicrious and foolish."
whats the link? I had been doing good works all my life, never consciously hurt others and always accept my shortcomings or mistakes as I should. I have been told in my community centers that I am a good role model for kids.. If I say I am god, would you believe it and call any who question it as "ludicrious and foolish"?
I don’t know Snow…have you fulfilled any old testament prophesies of late?
You said just what I was looking to say but was too dumbfounded to locate! It is heretical to deny Christ while accepting Jesus, just as you can't say you love God and hate your own brother. It is the spirit of the anti-Christ that seeks to rid Jesus from His godly calling – to redeem the world.
It is God who gives wisdom, Aslan. When confusion came, you should have gone back to Him for clarity. But you sought light in darkness. Jesus of Nazareth is The Christ, the Holy One of God. A half truth is still a LIE!
Rezaa potrays Jesus from an Islamic perspective which is fictional. This book must be rightly categorized as 'fiction'.
Fiction, like all religions.
Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet and reza considers Jesus to just be a cool guy. This does not represent the Muslim view of Jesus. Reza knew jews will throw you some shekels if you get christians and muslims at each others throats. Enjoy your pieces of silver Reza.
I Like the idea. – I always think of Jesus as the revolutionary Leader who broke all the laws of man and challenged his most profound traditions....
He is Christ the Lord , however. This is superior to history and so cannot be proved or disproved by history!
Reza Aslan says "Jesus was just another man. There is no other God but Allah ! "
Amazing how there is NO evidence whatsoever other than the "Bible" of even the existence of Jesus. Every one who ever wrote about him was long after he supposedly lived and it stemmed from one person telling this story. Simply amazing nobody actually looks at the history of this.
really? Ever read Josephus? He talked about Jesus, get your arguments right
Josephus talked about Hercules too (and so did Tacitus). That must mean Hercules was real, eh?
Josephus reported about what the early Christians believed - that's it.
It's quite clear the author's intentions on the following part: "...he challenged the Jews who thought they were the chosen of God, and in return he was nailed to a cross. " First of all, Jesus was a Jew and a religious one and he didn't chalenged his own religion. Second he wasn't nailed to a cross because "he challenged the Jews". Is the author using the Christian anti-semitism card? Anti-semitism is always used by Muslims to garner the sympathy of the Western world to the Muslim ideology which is against Israel and Western culture (read: America). So who is buying the author's comments can only be poorly informed to say the least.
Since you are a Muslim, your lack of objectivity on Jesus is glaringly obvious, not to mention an extreme bias on your part coupled with conflict of interest.
Write a book on Mohamad get it published and reviewed by an unbiased media.
JESUS CAME TO SAVE MAN FROM HIMSELF. IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE IT JUST LOOK AT OUR SITUATION WE HAVE NOW. WE HAVE LOST OUR WAY. WE ARE FIGHTING AMONG OUR SELVES. WE DON'T TRUST ONE ANOTHER, WE LIE, WE STEAL, WE KILL EACH OTHER. LIFE IS NOT SACRED ANY MORE, MORALS ARE DECAYING, AND PEOPLE ARE LIVING WHAT EVER WAY SEEMS OK FOR THEM. THIS IS THE WHOLE REASON JESUS CAME. HE KNEW THE OUTCOME OF A PEOPLE WITHOUT RESTRAINT, DESTRUCTION. WHAT DID THEY TO HIM THAT TIME AND WHAT ARE WE DOING TO HIM AGAIN?
Morals are declining? Compared to when? When we could own other peoople? When women or blacks could not vote? When a group of citizens is denied equal rights (ooh, that's now).
Tell of this moral utopia you pine for
And Jesus will fix it for you........Ludicrous