More Robert Price Islamophobia

The Human BibleRobert M Price is such a curious fellow. I have long enjoyed his books and lectures on various aspects of religion. In fact, his essay in The Historical Jesus: Five Views (“Jesus at the Vanishing Point”), is probably the most profound thing I’ve ever read about the historical Jesus. His contention is, and I fully embrace it, that Jesus may or may not have existed. But after thousands of years of folklore and myth making, there is no historical residue left. And it has brought me to the point of raw confusion as to why Christians seem to need Jesus to have walked the earth. Some Iron Age guy got killed and others claimed to see him later and that means you just have to believe in him and you go to heaven? Why does that need to happen in this world? I really don’t get it.

But Price is brilliant, not just about Christianity but things like New Age theology and fictional theology (he is something of an expert on the writings of H P Lovecraft). Yet his politics are as shallow as they could possibly be. Based upon his occasional statements, it seems clear that the only real political instruction he gets is from right wing radio on his way to and from work. Now I understand: we all have some things that we know more about than others. I, for example, know rather a lot more about English language translations of Don Quixote than anyone outside a literature department. On the other hand, I know almost nothing about cricket. (This is not from lack of trying!) But I don’t pepper my writing of things I do know about with ignorant statements about the positioning of wickets. But Price does pepper his writing and talks with what strikes me as ignorant right wing talking points.

Last year, I wrote, Another Conservative Atheist? In it, I discussed his anti-choice opinions, which I don’t necessarily think are that bad, I just don’t know why they were brought up. But mostly I was talking about the comic strip Jesus and Mo. The “Mo” is Mohammad, and the two guys hang out and talk, and often argue with a female bartender who is an atheist. Sometimes Moses is there too. Price mentioned that he was surprised that the artist hadn’t had a fatwa taken out against him. But it was clear to me: the strip is rather sweet and it isn’t going after Islam any more than it is going after Christianity. Mohammad comes off pretty well.

In Price’s reaction, I detected a strong dose of Islamophobia. Then later, in Episode 28 of his podcast The Human Bible, he was talking about hypocrisy. And as an example, he mentioned Congress members who excluded themselves from Obamacare. Well, as anyone who knows anything about Obamacare can tell you: Obamacare doesn’t affect people who already get healthcare from their employers. But it is because of this conservative talking point that the law was changed and gummed up even more. I was angry enough that I commented:

Oh my, a bit of Dr. Price’s conservative politics has fallen into his podcast! I wouldn’t mind if it had been something other than a talk radio canard that shows a total lack of understanding of Obamacare.

My advice: more Chuck Heston impersonations, less low information conservatism. [Price does a great Charlton Heston impersonation whenever he is reading something that God is supposed to be saying—it’s great fun! -FM]

To my surprise, that comment got ten “thumbs up” and no “thumbs down.” That’s more than I’ve ever seen on any comment on the site. I suspect there are a lot of people like me who appreciate Price’s erudition and humor but who are completely opposite him on politics. But again, it isn’t that he’s a conservative. I have no problem with conservatives generally. But I do have a problem with people popping out brainless conservative talking points. And this particular example is something that could have easily come from Victoria Jackson. But I think that Price got the hint, because since then, he has made no such boner statements.

The reason I bring this all up is because I just came upon Price’s review of Candida Moss’ excellent The Myth of Persecution. (I discussed it before myself.) It was a pretty positive review, but he went all haywire at the end:

Finally, if Eusebius trumped up the myth of a long age of Christian martyrdom in order to advance the interests of his preferred brand of Christianity, it seems equally likely that Candida Moss’ demolition effort has political motivations of its own. She warns that the long-cherished paranoia of Christians who imagine themselves the constant targets of Satan and his agents contributes to a political climate in which modern Christians refuse to take seriously the reasoned opinions of ideological opponents. She bemoans the shrill protests of Catholics Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and Presbyterian Ann Coulter who compare opposition by liberal politicians and media to Roman persecution of their ancient co-religionists. But one may wonder if Moss’ use of the persecution trope as a weapon of accusation against these conservatives is not itself a mirror-image version of the tactic she decries.

Moss wants us to stop demonizing our enemies and to start a sympathetic dialogue with them. Let her see how far such appeals get with Al-Qaida and the Taliban. I should say that those who go gunning for school children and who massacre members of rival religions have pretty well demonized themselves. I can’t afford to care what childhood traumas or what socio-economic deprivations may have led them to their bloodthirsty courses of action, and neither can she. Gandhi once advised German Jews to use his principles of nonviolent resistance against Hitler. You know where that gets you? Ah, er, martyrdom.

There are a couple of things that really annoy me here. The first is that he’s twisting her argument. Moss is a liberal Christian and she is trying to make the argument that liberal Christians are Christians too. In the conservative Christian community (and in the media as well), liberal Christians are either ignored or treated as though they aren’t real Christians or that their faith must be weak. What she’s saying is what Pope Francis is saying, “There’s more to Christianity than stoning the fags and ‘protecting’ the unborn.”

The other problem is the Islamophobia. Implicit in what he is saying is that all Muslims are terrorists. He doesn’t mock her for trying to have a dialog with Timothy McVeigh. But I don’t recall her talking about an interfaith dialog but rather an intrafaith dialog. She is concerned about her own religion: Christianity. But somehow, Price has to make it about how awful the Muslims are. It’s sad—especially coming from someone as smart as Robert Price.

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