Method, attitude and expertise

Since focusing more of my time onto the website as opposed to other internet forums, I have learned so much. None more so than about myself, how I handle certain pressures and react to situations. I’ve probably made just about every mistake in the blogging 101 book from merely glancing through pieces to jumping on bandwagons, from not thinking things through and checking references to just being stubborn even though whoever I’m responding to is right.

The most recent of these mistakes has concerned the furor surround Raza Aslans book “Zealot; the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” Once I heard the general conclusion of the book, I knew it was not a book I was going to agree with. After his interview with Fox News and his proclamation of being an expert, I jumped on the train of questioning his credentials. It wasn’t totally unjustified in my defense; when your bio lists you as associate professor of creative writing and you’re doing a book essentially about scholarship and history, alarm bells start ringing. It has echos of Richard Dawkins citing a professor of German language as his example of Jesus’s existence being in scholarly dispute. When Aslan’s credentials came up in discussion last night, I too quickly and too forcefully jumped on it pointing out the above. Yes, he has a PhD in sociology of religion, but it isn’t his main discipline and he’s going into a well researched field. I was convinced he would have nothing to really offer. The fact he was a Muslim didn’t bother me, his credentials did.

But I was already looking to dismantle his arguments before I’d even read them. Learning from one mistake led me to making another. I was getting angry at a book I hadn’t read purely because of the conclusion of it, and decided Aslan wasn’t suitable to write such a book. Not exactly the open minded tolerant approach I’ve always tried to encourage. I may have researched the historicity of Jesus but I’m not a scholar, I’m not trained in that discipline (computers and digital forensics are more my areas) I didn’t need to get as dismissive and almost angry about it as I did. Zealot would probably have been an appropriate word for me.

Reviews of the book have been coming in from the professionals though, I’ve read 2 in particular; one from Antony Le Donne [1] and the other from Greg Cary [2]. Both biblical scholars, both are not interested in Aslan’s credentials or indeed his religion. They take it purely from what he has said in the book and the criticisms are aimed at that and that alone. They are in a position to critique Aslan’s work.

All this does raise the issue of how much can the layman question? I was absolutely wrong in my approach and attitude but was I wrong in questioning period? I mean, it’s good to check the credentials of someone, you need to know they know what they’re talking about. But who is in a position to question whether those credentials are valid for the topic? Should I just accept what I’m being told and just drift with the currents of the majority view? History has shown that a majority view does not automatically equate to a true one. Not everyone can study and get a Ph.D in a subject, but we need the experts.

The discussions over Raza Aslans book are going to continue. It will generate discussion within religious groups, I’m just going to learn the art of quiet contemplation. Think my record is 7 and half minutes.






First published 1st August 2013


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