Saturday, August 3, 2013

“Because it’s my job as an academic.”

The Reza Aslan/Fox “News” kefluffle has raised a number of interesting issues that I will address in due course. (Unsurprisingly, I have some strong opinions on the whole “Why would you, a Muggle, want to study wizards?” business.) I do applaud Dr. Aslan for not bursting out laughing or using foul language; I don’t know if I could have shown such restraint:

But what’s interesting to me about this clip is what it reveals about the underlying assumptions of Fox “News” (and, I suspect, much of its audience). Ms. Green’s questions betray a suspicion of academia that goes beyond simple anti-intellectualism. She seems to assume that academics must have an agenda (be it political, religious, or whatever) beyond the simple desire to understand more about our world. Now, of course, many do, and even wear those agendas on their sleeve, but I hope that most of us at least strive for objectivity.

The academic study of religion is a potentially sticky example, because there are indeed many academics in the field who also advance certain confessional claims. (This is an old issue and I shan’t rehash it just now.) But I think the Foxnewsian view extends this to many other fields of inquiry as well. For instance, they can’t understand—or don’t believe—that climate scientists are simply interested in describing the natural world and drawing conclusions from the data. There must be, they assume, some sinister political agenda behind the (nearly uniequivocal) findings about climate change. (Nobody has ever been able to explain to me exactly what that agenda is, but hey…) They can’t conceive of ideologically-neutral facts (much less the obsessive drive scholars have to find them). Indeed, Lauren Green has written extensively on Islam, but generally in the context of anti-Islam polemic, so she may be assuming Aslan is just as incapable of being “fair and balanced” about Christianity as she is towards Islam.

(None of this should be taken as an endorsement of Aslan’s book, which I have only skimmed, but which does not appear to be very good, at least as a piece of New Testament scholarship.)

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