THE BLOG
11/03/2014 05:55 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

The Conservative Media's Assault on Religious Academia

There are several 'news' sources that claim to be conservative that berate scholars. The majority of these verbal assaults are directed at ones that are involved in the field of religious studies. Their rationale for these attacks are distorted. Instead of understanding that a religious scholar's professional life is to do research, write articles and books and educate young people, they instead assume these scholars just pull ideas out of a hat and are producing subjective results. On the contrary, critical religious scholarship is very demanding and countless hours are spent in research. A book or article with multiple sources typically means the author would have read all of the sources in their entirety before the writing even starts.

These 'news' sources cannot seem to grasp the idea of strict religious academia. They assume it is all political hearsay on the part of the scholars and that their intent is to undermine the conservative and evangelical way of life. An example of this media confusion is Reza Azlan's recent discussion with Fox News correspondent Lauren Green. On several occasions, Reza Azlan had to remind Green that he is fluent in Greek and a professor and scholar of religion, but not a creeping sharia Muslim interested in subverting Christianity. Further, the 'news' sources that launch these verbal attacks scarcely do any research of their own to support their claims. This is ironically the very reason they assume the results of scholars are hearsay. Had these 'news' sources completed adequate research; they might come to consensus with some if not all of these scholars' results or at least understand their findings as unbiased and accurate.

A prime example of this is Executive Editor Tim Graham and his newsbusters.org. They claim to expose liberal media bias by decreasing the liberal bias in order to ensure "fairness, accuracy, and balance" are restored to public broadcasting. Tim Graham recently wrote an article called "Jesus-Trashing NPR Discusses the Ecumenical View of the Natural Genius of Muhammad." In his article, he made sure to criticize several professors and scholars of religion. Some of these are Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, Reza Azlan and Kecia Ali. All of these scholars have PhDs or the equivalent in their respective areas of expertise. Tim Graham has a single bachelor's degree from a small college in northern Minnesota. Furthermore, Tim Graham cannot seem to comprehend the concept that "ecumenical minded Westerners" would consider the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, a natural genius. The term ecumenism typically means the desire to promote unity within the Christian denominations. However, it is sometimes (as in this instance) construed as interfaith cooperation and understanding. So I guess Tim Graham also doesn't seem to understand that some 'Westerners' are religious scholars. Or that actual Muslims live in the west. Or even that just maybe the common 'Western' person might be interested in studying about a world religion like Islam.

As I've said before, to study people like Muhammad or Jesus is part of the professional life of a religious scholar. This is not new concept in higher education. Graham and others within the media seem to have trouble grasping that Muhammad could have really been an exceptional person and they seem to also take exception that Muslims have an interest in Jesus too. While Muhammad was very likely illiterate, the simple fact is he overcame great odds to bring equal rights to war torn 7th century Arabia. Before the time of Muhammad, the girls and women of the Bedouin tribes has few if any rights and small girls were often buried alive. Muhammad's family was part of the Bedouin tribe referred to as the Quraysh. The Bedouins of late antiquity were typically nomadic Arab desert dwellers. Muhammad endeavored to end infanticide and establish explicit rights for women. Muhammad also mitigated slavery. Islam teaches that men and women are equal before God. While Jesus is obviously very important and central to Christianity, he is also very important to Muslims as well. In Islam, Jesus is prophet and Messiah.

I guess it should not come as a surprise that Tim Graham and his cohort at Newsbusters would lump in the extremists like ISIS with the more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. As to why terrorism exists within Islam (Note: terrorism exists in all religions), part of the explanation is available in an article titled "The Line Between Terrorism and Mental Illness" at the New Yorker from Jeet Heer. According to the article, there is a link between mental illness and the members in these terrorist organizations. The simple fact is sane people do not commit acts of savagery and murder. Their claim of a religious affiliation is nothing more than a front. Moreover, religious illiteracy and sheer desperation (lack of meaning in life, poverty, etc.) and a need to be part of a seemingly important political cause are the reasons groups like ISIS is alluring to some people. Scarcely do these people have a valid understanding of the religion they claim to be a part of.

It is understandable why people of little knowledge of Islam might be confused by organizations like ISIS and al Qaeda that claim to be Muslim. The majority of Christians in the U.S. have very little knowledge of other religions especially Islam. They often seek the media for answers and editors like Tim Graham and other conservative media outlets, with such hateful propaganda, berate the attempts of the religious scholars who seek to appropriately educate our young people.