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.
There is only one Allah, those who don't believe in Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) will burn in hellfire. Qur'an is the truly word of Allah (God). Jesus (PBUH) is a great prophet and Meryem was his mother, a great lady honored in Islam.
Islam is a moon-god cult. Al-Ilah was the crescent phase of the the moon-god Sin.
Muhammad never existed. Robert Spencer has proven it, in his books.
Before Islam was cooked up, 359 gods were worshiped in Kaballah.
Read the Satanicc Verses. The 3 divine daughters of Allah were the same as Sin's 3 divine daughters.
bippy. I respect what you are doing to the core, you just amazed me. but...........you still don't know about Jesus. be careful with what you think you know is right. because you may be incredibly and devistatingly wrong. now, couldn't you?
it's a very difficult thing, to have to battle inwardly to come to a certain light that thrives, and opens your self up to hearing God's sovereign voice. and if you carry along with you , one malfunctory emotion and perspective, you could screw your own receiver up. we all have this problem, This is why the Holy Spirit is your only healer. you have to understand your sick mind and seek the God who can help.
The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.
I'm not "inwardly battling" anything. You project your personal point of view on to others.
A typical act of believers who cannot see the world through the eyes of anything except their delusions.
I can just as easily debunk your faith as I can Islam.
2Tim3 talks about how in the last days...for men will be...blashphemers...unholy...having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Because it's ridiculous?
There were plenty of scoffers and "blasphemers" from day one of that legend hitting the streets. This is no "prophecy".
It's been 2000 years since Jeebus supposedly told his comrades that he'd return in their lifetimes. Fundies have been squalling about the end times ever since.
Jesus said He would return, not when.
No – he absolutely did. He said that they would all still be alive (this generation) when it happened. Paul had to do some SERIOUS theological gymnastics to explain why Jesus didn't mean what he said. Once again, someone taking the word of Paul over Jesus...
If Jesus said how important it is to wash hands, millions of lives could be saved. But no, he had more important things to do, like walking on water and fixing one man's ear."
time for joy. you are justified by the blood. He is faithful to forgive.
Disgusting, a blood cult.
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.
He whines at me when i get upset to remind me of God's love that we have right here. Its incredible.
You believe your dog is divinely whining to remind you of God's love?
Honey, you seem like a nice enough person, please please get some psychological help.
Maybe he whines because he's been talking to the neighborhood cats.
Evangelicals are morons.
Red Right 88
If all of what we are in this wonderful place we live in is based on the bible, I'll be very disappointed. Existence would be so paltry and insignificant to have it all based on a collection of relatively recently written stories. Existence based on behavior, good and bad, judgment seems so primitive.
I converted to Christianity after watching Passion of the Christ and reding the sermon on the mount. Beautiful
So you base your life on a Mel Gibson movie and a few lines in an old book of myths and fables? Interesting.
You are one who believes the Bible is a collection of myths and fables. People who believe the Bible obviously don't. So they aren't basing their belief on myths and fables.
They may not believe they are (that's kind of the point) – but that would not change the reality of the origins of their beliefs (either way).
Since Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was a rehash of his teacher, Hillel's, widely taught philosophy are you ready to convert to Judaism?
It's likely Jesus existed, go to Wikipediamand look up,list of messiahs. There is a long list. It was very popular back then.
Brace for all the responses that say, but Jesus is the true messiah, the bible says so. There's not just thousands of other religions, there's lots of messiahs. Popularity doesn't mean right. Almost all people back then thought the world was flat.
Those who do not believe in Jesus needs to go to doctor!!
Those who do not believe in doctors need to go to jesus
We're you the captain of the debating team at your school?
Hahaha...it is well known that it is christians who tend to have the greater mental health issues.
it is written, only the sick need god–including the insanely ill
well it must be from rationalizing sin and believing in God at the same time. and for non believers they miss this catch in one certain aspect of cognition.
i think once everyone realizes that if you believe in god, by definition, you cannot be a rational human being
Oh, oh, someone wants to send people to Siberia to count trees!!
those who don't blindly believe a tale must go to someone who uses science and logic....the irony.
Doctor? What happened to praying? Or maybe you do realize that science will do more good then religion.
So, you are okay with following the teachings of a madman?
Jesus was clear in declairing that He was the Son of God – and clear in keeping that on the down low through much of His ministry, because that claim was a death warrant at the time.
So, to say that you follow the teaching of Jesus means that either you believe that He is who He said He was, OR you are following only the teaching of a delusional crazy man who truely believed that He was God's only Son.
This is nothing more than Jefferson's sterilized gospel rewashed and sold as new again. How can you seperate the teachings from the miracles (when the two were often linked directly, like the Centurian's faith)?
CS Lewis is still correct – you can take Jesus at his word or you can dismiss him as a crazy man. There is not a middle path.
"Jesus was clear in declairing that He was the Son of God – and clear in keeping that on the down low through much of His ministry, because that claim was a death warrant at the time."
– The "Son of God" phrase was a common Hebrew trope. It meant "Servant of God."
– The people who wrote the early scriptures that wound up in the New Testament were Jews writing to Jews and used language familiar to their readers/listeners.
– No such evidence exists for Jesus actually claiming to be a god. Later followers elevated him to that status. The earliest writers of scripture (Paul and Mark) didn't describe Jesus as a god. John, who wrote sixty or seventy years after Jesus' death, was the gospel writer who claimed that Jesus was a god.
If Jesus was just using a common phrase, and was not claiming to be God, the religious leaders would not have accused Him of blasphemy.
Lewis assumed that the bible was an accurate representation fo the events it depicts. My studies have shown that this is almost an impossibility. For me, the much simpler explanation is that each author had their own ideas about jesus and portrayed him as such. As such I would argue it's more likely that he was misrepresented in the bible than he was acutally the son of god.
In the Beginning there was the Word and the Word was God and the Words were with God and of God and about God and God's Sons."
I believe in God of the Creations made celestially and the establishments of each and every evolved creations manifested upon the celestial domains... You need not believe...
I am satisfied beyond doubts that God's first begotten son was with God from Celestial Creations beginning moments to the ending ways of evolved creations manifestations upon any earthen world capable to bring forth life and sustain life in the abundances... You need not be satisfied...
I cherish the wisdom and professed teachings of Christ Jesus despite our Christian inadequacies to render decisively upon others doubts... You need not cherish Christ's wisdom...
For it is a matter of being proud that many prides of people endure their foolish miseries and infidel jealousies hell-bent against any and all of religiously endearing devotions. It is not our wills to be done but God's will to become of our wills that many prideful people are forcibly against. Love is God's conquering force over God's people. You who despise and hate God's chosen will He allow the unloving nurtured natures of the depraved prideful to remain... Without knowing of the bad things how can the right things become foreseen?
God’s loving kindness is enough to sustain me in my unbridled stamina… As I near my ending day, my loving wants to be with God and all God’s family members cannot be over-run or compromised by others salt ladled wounds… As I progressively near death’s gate, my love for Life weakens me and I am found understanding God’s mercies… Alone nowadays, my heart flutters with every beat as I become ever more humbled by mankind’s tribulations. They are worthy My Lord to continue onwards in their living abundances measuring…
I was born by parents who were in a way but Gentiles in that their philosophies on and about Life and religions were never handed down to me. Dad was a devoted drunkard and my mother did try her best to ease my petty views when I was growing up. I never attended any church meetings in my youth nor did my parents. I knew about God and Christ Jesus from other parents children I was friends with but paid religion a never-thought.
In my early adult life I was still not religious. Only as my trials and tribulations within my then unsteadied adulthood made me to consider there is a God and Christ Jesus is the begotten Son of God's conception... To my bereaved desires, God and all of God's sons are as real to me as the sun unwaveringly sets and rises up each and every day since our galaxy was long ago established... July 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm
A beggar's needs are only fulfilled by the humbling sensations of those insecure and ladled with shames dire...
A believer's needs are not found in triumphs but rather in their humbling devotional dispositions...
A disbeliever's needs are the fruitions found upon those whom they adore and admire despite their mentoring propagandas made out to be unholy antagonisms of shameless guilt guises...
As all children need to be comforted, the elders need comforting as well and the dispositions of wellness are of social importance to be as an altering crossing guarded and maintained by humane civilities and soundness moralism...
You need an enema.
LL is the belief blog pseudo intellect, just laugh at their posts and move on, they aren't worth reading.
can you believe in santa clause but not the easter bunny??
O People of the Scripture (Jews & Christians ) do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. Al Quran 4 : 171
Does believing in Allah make me a Muslim?
Reza – I have not read your book but from this article, you have come to a beautiful Catholic understanding of Jesus – keep searching and praying!
Believe on yourself. Your an evolved primate.
Many believe that Jesus was not a Messiah (Christ) but a passionate apocalypticist who blended Hillel's advocacy of open-hearted love with the belief that the Jewish god would smite the Roman occupiers, send them fleeing and set up a Jewish kingdom on earth.
Given that it was Rome who smashed the Jewish kingdom and temple about 35 years after Jesus' execution and maintained its empire for 300+ more years, I'd have to say that Jesus' prediction that "the Kingdom of God is at hand" prediction was erroneous.
Luk 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
Fools are all those waiting for the kingdom of God to "fall from the skies" when in factual matters, the kingdom domains of Godliness ways are inside our bodies... Stupid are each and every Christian who cannot fathom this thought... And with this view, our bodies are heavenly made buildings for all the family members of God and His ordained emissaries from the above celestial empire which is of our placements within the very fabrics of all things atomically ordained and being permissively established by God's willful truths...
Reza Azlan is so wrong on one particular point in his book. Saying that Jesus was illiterate? How wrong can a person be! With all of the religious studies he's done, to say that about Christ is as far from the truth as can be! Jesus was known to read from the Old Testament, out loud, many times during Sabbath services. If He was illiterate, how could he have read? How could He have spoken and taught thousands upon thousands, quoting scripture numerous times? Whatever Reza Aslan is trying to say by using the word "illiterate", he needs to do some research and choose another word to describe what he is trying to say!
Aslan, and nearly all modern scholars of this period, don't think those bible stories are true. Remember, they were written many years after his death and by people who had never met him.
The small percentage of literate people in those days were wealthy and belonged to the ruling elite. The average individual had no need of reading and writing skills, nor would they have had time enough to acquire them even if they had been useful.
It was the most ignorant of places, peasants. Why didn't the " god " send him to be born in China, after all they were writing there, instead he picked, the most backward place where there is no oil. LOLOL. There is no god so relax and enjoy your lives. RIP Hitch. You were right all along. Religion really is Poison.
So why should I believe your opinion that there is no God?
Apostles Matthew & John were with Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth. Also, Jesus Christ appeared to Apostle Paul on the way to Damascus where He commissioned him.
Good old Saul of Tarsus and his "vision". Amazing that anyone falls for a religion made up by a guy who's only authority is a vision he claimed to have. Sort of like Joseph Smith. Those guys have to be the two greatest con men in history.
Nothing was written about jesus until 30-40 years after he apparently died and no-one knows who wrote the gospels, so there is no way to know if jesus did anything that is stated in the bible. Stories tend to be embellished over time, this one is no different.
Churches - groups of people who believed that Jesus was God - began immediately after His life. These people knew what Jesus had and had not done. They would not have believed - at the potential cost of their lives - if He had not done the things that indicated He was God.
Relax, Mabel, nobody is criticizing Jesus's intelligence.
The vast vast majority of people in those times were illiterate. Generally only the very wealthy were able to read and write. It is simply the way it was.
Besides, if Jesus were literate,would he not have written down his own teachings? Why did others have to do it for him?
Illiterate means that they could not write. Being able to write in a language and being able to read in a language were taught as 2 very different skills. Even if he could read (and there's possible evidence either way) it's very likely that he (along with all of his disciples) could not write.
There are very few things scholars agree that we think we know about the historical Jesus. If I remember correctly, it's a handful of things. First, that he was Nazarene, second, that he was a disciple of John the Baptist, third, that he was an apocalyptic preacher who was put to death by the Romans. Anything much beyond that isn't very solid.
But if you accept some of the teachings of Jesus Christ, what reasoning do you use not to accept them all?
Actually nothing concrete is known. The oldest text that we have is about 200 years after the time he was supposed to live. People shrug that off and say 200 years is not long. But suppose we had never heard of the war of 1812 and somebody brought in a description of what went on including the burning of the white house. Would you have any doubts?
Imagine if all religions and gods were erased from our collective memories.
Then I came in with a book millennia old with lots of errors and conflicting direction. I present a deal, believe in the god of this book and your spirit (I explain what a spirit is) will live forever in his love, don't and your spirit lives in eternal pain.
I don't think there would be that many takers.
Who Jesus Christ Is
Jesus Christ (Savior God Messiah) is the Son of God, God Incarnation In The Flesh, The Second Person of the Triune God (Holy Trinity,) the Actual Word of God, and Lord & Savior.
"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
"14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
"16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
"6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.""
The Holy Trinity (One Godhead Three Persons "Father Son and Holy Spirit")
"19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,"
All Scripture Is From:
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Great. Now post some evidence, from non-scriptural sources.
Admitted liars, telling themselves what they believe, (scripture) is proof of nothing.
If Jesus said how important it is to wash hands, millions of lives could be saved. But no, he had more important things to do, like walking on water and fixing one man's ear.
I hear that. and the kid who vandalized the church has a serious spiritual gift.
Paul the killer a head hauncho.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." –
I was always curious about that line in the bible. Just what, exactly, was that WORD? It must have been a pretty important word, being that it "was God". I hope it wasn't a naughty word. If that were the case, you couldn't post it on this blog. It would never make it past the censor machine without some creative editing. Vic, you seem to know a lot about this. Maybe we can finally clear up this ancient mystery. What was the word?
The Word Is Jesus Christ Himself.
Christianity is a corrupt system used by those who want to control others, and has been for centuries. It's nothing new that people want to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth while rejecting Christianity's corruption. It goes back at least to Thomas Jefferson... look up the Jefferson Bible.