A TV interview dubbed “the most embarrassing ever” is garnering bad press for the interviewer and book sales for the author interviewed. Although admittedly painful to watch, the interview lacks any real substance. The ensuing brouhaha is classic news-making-the-news media sensationalism. I suspect the only reason it is getting coverage is the interview comes off as a Christian-Muslim ambush fail. The aftermath leaves me wondering who ambushed whom.
I happen to think the interviewer asked a good question, and the author, Reza Aslan, missed an opportunity. The interviewer asked why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus. Aslan responded, perhaps a bit patronizingly, that as an academic New Testament historian, it is his job. By responding to the question as a personal attack on his authority or motivation, he missed an opportunity to elucidate Muslims’ regard for Jesus as a great prophet. The bigger opportunity he missed, in my opinion, was making a case for why anyone from any spiritual tradition ever considers different ways of looking at things—it fosters deepening spirituality.
No spiritual tradition has cornered the market on truth. The spiritual experience is full of mystery. Some questions are bigger than the human capacity to comprehend. Yet some people are more perceptive than others. How do the perceptive ones do it? We expand our power to perceive when we steady ourselves with truths anchored in traditional wisdom and reach into the unknown. Some truths transcend many spiritual traditions.
When making the case for reaching across traditions, I like to point out that Moses changed his perspective to get a better look at the burning bush. (Ex3:3) We too must change our perspective to see truth in a new light. We work harder to understand even our own comfortable beliefs when we are drawn into tension by differing views.
On a personal note, Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew fundamentally changed my understanding of Jesus’ parables. Oh, and by the way, Levine is a New Testament scholar at predominantly Protestant Vanderbilt who also happens to belong to a Conservative Jewish congregation. As songwriter and occasional Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman sings, “They Ain‘t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” and Levine quite compellingly explains how Jesus’ Jewishness is essential to understanding his ministry. It’s a good read.
Christian-Jewish dialog, however, is nowhere near as charged as Christian-Muslim dialog these days. Christian and Jewish authors can only dream of receiving the publicity Reza Aslan is getting. Aslan made the question all about him when he could have made the question about all Muslims or about all spiritual seekers. Maybe he has a publicist who told him being a jerk and making a spectacle of the interview would sell more books. While true, it obfuscates the substance of his book and leaves unanswered important questions about what we all can learn from each other.
Join the conversation. Have you had a spiritual experience that transcended a particular religion?
Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.