Last summer author and scholar of religions REZA ASLAN came out with a book that utilized a great deal of historical research to give readers a sense of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. ASLAN had taken on a similar task seven years earlier with his first book NO GOD BUT GOD, in which he tells the story of Mohammed. But the problem for some folks this time around is that Reza Aslan is a Muslim. In an interview that has been viewed at least a million and a half times on YouTube, Lauren Green of Fox News demanded to know, “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” – and that interview sent Aslan’s book, ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, to the top of best-seller lists for weeks.
REZA ASLAN has been a guest on Free Forum a number of times in the past, and I’m happy to welcome him back again, to talk a bit about the reaction, but much more about the content and meaning of his book. He examines Jesus through the lens of the time and place in which he lived, first-century Palestine, and labels him in the book’s title, a zealot – a radical political opponent of the Roman occupation. Because Jesus was crucified without overthrowing Roman rule, he is one of many failed messiahs. But why did this particular failed messiah become the starting point of one of the world’s great religions, wielding enormous influence over two thousand years later among more people than even existed during his lifetime?
In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. The man was Poggio Braccionlini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.
The copying and translation of this ancient book fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.
Stephen Greenblatt is John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Among his books are Will of the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, a Finalist for the 2004 National Book Award in Nonfiction and a New York Times best seller, and Hamlet in Purgatory. He holds honorary degrees from Queen Mary College of the University of London and the University of Bucharest.
There’s been a lot of talk about the battle between science and religion the last few years. At the same time, there’s been some fascinating and powerful work bringing science and spirituality closer together. Recent developments in psychology and the neurosciences have led to insights about how our brains work and how these neurological functions shape our experiences of the world. Turns out some of what we’re learning fits very well with the wisdom developed over thousands of years in contemplative practices.
RICK HANSON has been meditating since 1974 the same year he graduated summa cum laude from UCLA. In his new book, written with Richard Mendius MD, BUDDHA’S BRAIN, he pulls a lot of information together to reach all of us from the most scientific to the most spiritual. After all we’ve all got brains and we all seek happiness.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist, co-founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom (http://www.wisebrain.org/), and editor of the Wise Brain Bulletin. He offers a free newsletter, "Just One Thing" at his website rickhanson.net which offers a simple mindfulness practice each week. Hanson is co-author with his wife, Jan, of MOTHER NURTURE, still the only book that systematically shows how to support the health and well-being of mothers and couples over the long haul of raising a family. His newest book is BUDDHA'S BRAIN: THE PRACTICAL NEUROSCIENCE OF HAPPINESS, LOVE, AND WISDOM.
More than just a reflection on his life, Cornel West says his new memoir Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud is "an intensified dance with mortality." Following West's diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer -- now in remission -- he decided to write about his life in a way that might touch other souls. West calls the memoir his "most unique, delicate and difficult book to write," requiring him to "examine the dark corners of [his] soul...It is a life-transforming experience to write about your life."
Cornel West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, has won numerous awards, including the American Book Award, and has received more than 20 honorary degrees. He's produced 3 CDs of music and spoken word, offers commentary weekly on The Tavis Smiley Show, and is the author of several books, including Race Matters; Democracy Matters; Hope on a Tightrope; and his latest, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.
REZA ASLAN is the author of "NO GOD BUT GOD" and his new book, "HOW TO WIN A COSMIC WAR: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror"
REZA ASLAN says the only way to win a cosmic war is not to engage in one.
That may seem obvious to some, but he's also saying that unless we recognize that we've been pulled into a cosmic war -- what that means and how it changes things -- we haven't got a chance of "winning" or even making the best of the situation.
"A cosmic war is a battle not between armies or nations, but between the forces of good and evil. The ultimate goal of a cosmic war is to vanquish evil itself, which ensures that a cosmic war remains an absolute, eternal, and ultimately unwinnable conflict. Cosmic wars are fought not over land or politics but over identity."
1900 - 1/2 of world's population identified as members of major religions
2000 - 2/3 of world's population identified as members of major religions
Aslan believes the days of wars between nation states are over. When globalization frees people from national identity, it's replaced by other identities - especially religion. We must strip the conflict between Islam and the West of its religious connotations, and we must address the actual grievances that fuel the Jihadist movement.
A recent Gallup poll (see below) appears to back him up. According to AP: "Joblessness and poverty are a more potent source of tension between Muslims and wider European and U.S. society than religious differences, [according to] one of the first major studies of Muslim integration since the Sept. 11 terror attacks."
REZA ASLAN has a fairly unique resume. Born in Iran, emigrated wih his family to Enid, Oklahoma as a child. Degrees in religion from UC Santa Clara, UC Santa Barbara, and Harvard Divinity School, as well as an MFA from the Iowa Writers Program. His first book, NO GOD BUT GOD: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam offers more than a history - and the guy can write.
The first time I interviewed him was just after Hamas had won the Palestinian election. We both hoped that having to actually run things would move Hamas in a positive direction. The US, Israel, and others weren't willing to find out.
We pick up the conversation this week, looking at the lessons of history, the lessons of the recent past, and hopes for the future.