Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reza Aslan: Megyn Kelly was right about Christ, but wrong about Jesus

Travis Gettys
Friday, December 13, 2013.

Reza Aslan at Politics and Prose

Religious scholar Reza Aslan said Fox News host Megyn Kelly was partially right when she said Jesus Christ was white.

Kelly has been criticized and mocked for her insistence that Jesus and Santa Claus were white during Wednesday night’s “Kelly File” program on the conservative news channel, and she’s expected to address her remarks on Friday’s program.

Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth — which has just been optioned as a possible feature film — said historical Jesus was born in Galilee, which would have made him a Palestinian Jew.

“He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today, so that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair. To put it in the simplest way possible, he would’ve looked like me,” said Aslan, an Iranian-American Muslim.

But he told the Washington Post’s Max Fisher in an interview published Thursday that the historic Jesus had become a separate entity from the religious Christ.

“What I just described is Jesus. What Megan Kelly described is the Christ — and they’re different people,” Aslan said. “In other words, the Christ can be whatever you want him to be.”

The distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith may be strange to consider, he said, and makes some Christians uncomfortable, but he insists they’ve become separate characters.

“Religions are man-made – literally – man-made institutions that are built long after the death of the prophet for which they are named,” Aslan said. “So the reason that I, as a scholar, don’t have a problem with that differentiation between Jesus and Christ – these are two different things, and you can go back and forth between them – is based precisely on that one fundamental fact. Which is that Jesus didn’t create Christianity — his followers created Christianity, and so, of course, Christ of Christianity is different from the Jesus of history. And that’s okay.”

Aslan said depictions of Jesus Christ typically reflect the values and characteristics of each culture that worships him.

“When you look at, for instance, the painting from the United States, what you see is a blonde and blue-eyed Jesus,” he said. “When you look at the painting from Guatemala, what you see are Jesus and Mary as migrant farm workers. I don’t mean they look like migrant farm workers; I mean they are migrant farm workers. When you look at the painting from China, Jesus and Mary are Chinese, literally Chinese. When you look at the painting from Thailand, Jesus and Mary are blue, as though they are Hindu gods.”

He said the teachings of Jesus were so malleable that they could be adapted by most any culture, and he said that’s what aided its rapid spread before the Romans adopted Christianity.

“As everybody knows, before Roman Orthodoxy, there were a thousand different kinds of Christianity,” Aslan said. “It could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. And that is precisely why it is now the largest religion in the world, because it has the ability to be whatever a worshipful community wants it to be.”

So while Kelly’s comments might have been historically inaccurate, Aslan said the Fox News host was likely making a personal cultural observation.

“Megyn Kelly is right,” he said. “Her Christ is white.”

In other words, Aslan said, the foundational metaphor of Christianity encouraged its followers to imagine God – who took human form in Jesus Christ – in whatever way they perceived humanity.

“If you’re Chinese, then God is a Chinese man. If you’re Middle Eastern, then God is a Middle Eastern man. If you’re a blond, blue-eyed, white suburbanite woman, then God is a blond, blue-eyed suburbanite,” Aslan said.

Watch Kelly’s remarks on Santa Claus and Jesus Christ:

Read the original article here.
Comment: I understand the overall point and argument that Professor Aslan is making as excerpted above but there is an oversight that bears being pointed out.

Jesus Christ as constructed by the European church(es) is also a colonial extension of whiteness that precedes race theorist Gobineau (1816 –1882) who formalized this thinking (ideology) into a white view of the world.

Christ in these terms not only is reflective of the tensions between the church and national formations that is the state today but also by implication an ideological expression of what it means to be European and inevitably white in terms of race, history, politics, culture etc,.

Revolutionary movements have long recognized the manner in which European colonialism used Christ as pacifier and colonizer but it is also important to recognize how/why European Christianity inferiorized the colonized.

In short, the inferiorization is a domination strategy contained within a hierarchy of worth.

In keeping with Aslan's thinking the historical Jesus (the brown/dark Palestinian Jew) is in effect exempt from this colonial exercise but the ideological construction of the white Christ as used by European powers and their churches is not.

It is little wonder then that even today Christians in South Africa - particularly those of color - still see the image of Christ as a white man with blondish hair and distinctive European features.

The projected benevolence of the ideological white Christ is purposeful in imposing its domination over the psyche and material being of the colonized believer.

It is also of little related wonder that the Christian church on average has not been able to disentangle the myth of white superiority from its religious hierarchy if even in symbolic practice.  The church as structure, for example, is nothing more than a building/edifice that illustrates white European socio-cultural values.

This is not to say that there are not revolutionaries that have contested this edifice and ideological rendering of Christ.

Growing up here at number 11 in Kimberley I had the privilege of interacting with one of the leading revolutionary priests in the Anglican church, Sabelo Stanley Ntwasa.  I still have very vivid memories of him asserting that Jesus Christ was not a white man but a black man in keeping with the political definition of blackness as described by Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko.

I should hasten to add that Stanley Ntwasa was hated by the apartheid government that jailed him and beat him so severely that his eyes remained unaligned until his death.  Still, he resisted them to no end and on occasion in the mid-seventies you could find him at number 11 discussing religion and politics with Robert Sobukwe - an act expressly prohibited by the apartheid government that did not allow two banned persons to be in the same place at once.

There is a difference though between the white Christ and the black Christ that Stanley Ntwasa described.  The difference is that Ntwasa's Christ was not colonial and invested in blackness as a superiority complex.

Rather, in what is often called Black Theology the claim is of a suffering and empathetic Christ that would relate to and understand the suffering of black people.  For this reason Christ was black - a political blackness that would inevitably resist and revolt against white oppression.

But Stanley Ntwasa's rendering is not the dominant formation that describes Christianity in South Africa or anywhere on the continent really despite the often revolutionary symbolism of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Instead, Christianity in the main functions inside the common sense of whiteness in South Africa and in that rendering it is not much different in history than the religion Megyn Kelly believes in.

Consequently, for the vast majority of Christians Jesus Christ is a white man and he is god.


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