Facts, Myths, and Gospel: Mikey Weinstein and author Reza Aslan discuss "Zealot"
"And so, organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation become enormously significant, become hugely important in trying to dial back, not from a position of attack, but from a position of respect; to dial back the kind of religious extremism that fosters the violence, the instability, the iniquity of the world in which we live." - Reza Aslan, MRFF Advisory Board Member
Introduction by Mikey Weinstein
Within the too-often thinly populated landscape of American intellectualism and theological historiography, one extraordinarily talented author and great personal friend towers prodigiously above the rest: Dr. Reza Aslan. I’m also immensely proud to call Dr. Aslan a loyal and devoted comrade-in-arms who has fought alongside the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as a crucial and active Advisory Board member of the Foundation for many years, through many battles to preserve the Constitutional separation of church and state in the United States armed forces. When he started with MRFF, we had a few hundred clients. We now have well over 34,000. And 96% of them are practicing, passionate and believing Christians. Five years ago, Reza and I broke the scandalous news that the Department of Defense, in close collaboration with private evangelical fundamentalist organizations, was sending so-called “freedom packages” to U.S. military personnel in Iraq. What did the packages contain? As we wrote in our joint article for the Los Angeles Times:
Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.
The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU… OSU is an official member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the "Military Crusade."
Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word "crusade" and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.
Reza understands exceptionally well the terrible dangers posed by the faux-Christian evangelical fundamentalist bigots and supremacists who seek to effect a theocratic coup within the United States of America. These "dominionist" religious predators aim to take possession of our republic’s key strategic asset: our military, which constitutes the deadliest armed apparatus ever devised in the history of humankind. The mentality of the fundamentalist Christian extremist “American Taliban” absolutely mirrors that of the Islamic fundamentalist, Salafi-Jihadist Al Qaeda. To understand and fully grasp the truly fanatical commitment of the evangelical Dominionist fundamentalists to this “Crusade,” I heartily recommend Reza’s 2009 book How to Win a Cosmic War (paperback title: Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age).
Reza’s latest amazing literary work is just now out and available. Titled Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth, it explodes the mythology of Jesus Christ that has been constructed by the latter-day imperial persecutors and would-be Pontius Pilates of our era. This stunning book reveals truths about Jesus Christ the man, not the cartoon character, and evaluates him within his proper historical context as a tenacious Jewish revolutionary fighting against the myriad complexities, iniquities, and brutal injustices of Roman-occupied Palestine. The below Question and Answer dialogue/interview between Reza and myself, based around a series of questions from MRFF servicemember clients stationed all over the world, will provide an enticing glimpse into the riveting subject matter of Dr. Reza Aslan’s invaluable new title.