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The (Marilyn) Monroe Doctrine

'Whatever religion says, I'm for it, sort of' (Ira Cvetnaya/Shutterstock)

Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi cuts loose on religious popularizer Reza Aslan. Excerpts:

My late teacher Philip Rieff, may he rest in peace, had a doctrine he called “the Monroe Doctrine”. Whenever he shared this doctrine with a new group of colleagues or students he would immediately preface it by saying, “not the famous President Monroe Doctrine, but the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine.”

The famous “Monroe Doctrine” spelled out by the US President James Monroe had declared the American continent as the domain of US influence in which no European interference would be tolerated.  But Rieff’s Monroe Doctrine had to do with something Marilyn Monroe had allegedly said – something to the effect of “I believe in everything – just a little bit.”

Watching a couple of episodes of Reza Aslan’s feature show Believer, you would be best reminded of Rieff’s “Monroe Doctrine”, for just like Marilyn Monroe, Reza Aslan believes in everything, “just a little bit”.

Prof. Dabashi says that “Fake Believers” like Aslan are essentially no different from “New Atheists” in that they both “trespass … on the intuition of the sacred and the moral imagination of communities constituted by that very imagination.” He goes on:

Reza Aslan ups the ante in hypocrisy and showmanship. He is born a Muslim and has made a lucrative career for himself by tackling Islamophobia in the United States in terms domestic to that Islamophobia. So if he is asked point blank if he is Jewish he of course has to say no, just before he turns to camera and says, “I feel Jewish today.”

But the calamity of the Fake Believer is much more psychotic. Reza Aslan was recently asked, “What does your religious practice look like now?” To that he responded:

I have a Christian wife; I have twin sons, one of whom is convinced he’s Jewish, and one of whom, after he read the Ramayana, was like, “That’s it, I’m Hindu.” I have a two-year-old boy that we just assume is a reincarnation of the Buddha in some way. So every Sunday, we get together and share one particular religious story, whether it’s of the Buddha or Ganesha or from the Gospel, and then we pick some value to learn from it, and then we, as a family, put that value into practice in our home and in our lives. 

Thus he lays a simultaneous, unabashed, claim on four other world religions – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, while being a convenient Muslim. For a career opportunist making a living out of other people’s sacred certitude, Reza Aslan will believe in anything and everything, “just a little bit”.

Six millions Jews were slaughtered during the Nazi Holocaust because they were real Jews. Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims were killed or forced out of their homes in the 1990s because they were real Muslims, as indeed today Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are being subjected to systemic ethnic cleansing for the same reason. As indeed Christians and their churches are being targeted in Egypt because they are real Christians. But for the commercial calamity of the culture industry to which CNN caters, Reza Aslan is now a yuppie celebrity because he is a Fake Believer in all of these religions at one and the same very convenient time.

Read the whole thing. 

Prof. Dabashi, an Iranian-born scholar of Islam, is quite the controversialist.  I don’t know that I would compare the trite Sheilaism of Aslan to New Atheism, but I think Dabashi is more right than wrong.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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