Religion, like sports, produces stars. Many stars flash and fade. Others “have legs,” as they say. Their influence expands.
Reza Aslan is a religious writer looking to last.
And he’s off to a solid start.
Aslan's book “Zealot” (Random House, 2013) talks about how the peers of Jesus may have viewed him. It’s still selling. And his new book, “God: A Human History” (Random House, Nov. 7), is making waves. It seeks to trace the presence of the Almighty in the arc of human history.
For the record, Aslan is a believer, though of a rarefied breed. Raised in Iran as a Muslim, he converted to Christianity, then re-converted to Islam. But the second time, he took some Christianity with him.
In other words, Aslan is a hybrid believer, a soul with a peculiar perspective.
It’s what makes his writing interesting.
And last week, at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, he shared his unique point of view with a chapel full of seekers.
Aslan had come to talk about his new book. He’d even brought a Power Point presentation. But once he hit the stage, he decided to go rogue.
He left the script and went off the rails.
He said a couple of recent incidents had him stewing. So he was going to wing it.
He’d been pondering the attitude of President Donald Trump’s hard-shell followers and he wanted to run his thoughts by us.
Aslan said he’d come to the conclusion that the white Christians who fervently tune into Trump are so thirsty for a prophetic voice, so hungry for a leader who can “download information from Deity,” that they've placed the prophetic mantle on Trump and wink at his sins and missteps. They figure he has a pipeline. They figure he has inside info.
“I think Trumpism is becoming a religious cult,” Aslan said. “And as you know, that means things will probably end badly.”
But what Aslan said next was a real McNugget for thought.
Others try to make Trump's supporters see the error of their ways, Aslan said. But the supporters are walking by faith, not thought.
“I am a person of faith myself,” Aslan said, “And I know firsthand that we don’t take people’s faith seriously enough. Faith isn’t about believing things. Faith is an identity. It’s not something you figure out. It’s something you feel. It’s who you are.”
For Aslan, the world’s religions are like many different languages. But at the heart of each religion is this deep sense of faith. And when you talk to believers, you must reach them from that perspective of faith.
“We must respect people’s faith more,” Aslan said. “And then we must talk to them faith to faith, heart to heart, not ideas to ideas.”
In other words, it’s not about being convinced, it’s about being converted.
As I drove back from California, I mulled over Aslan’s words.
What if faith did become part of the public discourse again? Would people respond?
Aslan is right to say many Americans no longer know how to discuss faith.
And that’s frustrating all around.
Secular people say, "Let's talk religion. What do you believe?"
Religious people say, "Let's talk religion. What do you feel?"
In the end, I enjoyed my evening with Aslan.
I don’t know how much staying power he will have, but if he keeps coming up with the kind of stuff he shared in Pasadena, I hope he’s with us for the long run.