Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Strategic marketing


Just another reference point for the law of unintended consequences.

Lauren Green, on Fox News's Spirited Debate, determined to nail Reza Aslan's wall to the hide, so to speak, for daring to write a book about Jesus--after all, he's a Muslim. Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, was recently released by Random House and the word is that the Brit version is being rushed to bookstores ahead of its projected release date.

Why? Because Green made the book the story by asking Aslan a reasonable question--something to the effect of, how has it come to pass that you, a Muslim, would be writing about this man named Jesus?  It's not an illegitimate question, of course, and had she asked the question in a fashion that didn't seem an assault, the moment might have passed quickly into wherever unstudied air time ultimately passes.  

But it was asked with a sharp stick in the eye--to wit, how is that you, a Muslim, dare to write a book about our Jesus?  The exact words went like this:  "You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about Christianity?"

Aslan's academic credentials are all there.  He isn't simply a Muslim; he is, but he's also a scholar, someone who knows whereof he speaks.  He is not a militant. The word is, he's married to a Christian, in fact.  

I don't know the book.  I haven't read it, and I don't plan to--not because it's written by a Muslim but because I don't stay informed on Jesus Christ-type scholarship and opinion. My friend Walt Wangerin wrote a novel about Jesus (Jesus: a Novel) which I never read. Books about Jesus aren't on my best-seller list.

The irony here is that Ms. Green's interview did more than boost the book, it vaulted Aslan's ordinary, academic study to numero uno on Amazon, a marketing dream.  Today, there are more people reading about the historical Jesus than about Harry Potter.  

The Bible outsells everything, of course, and Reza Aslan's moment in the sun will be eclipsed, if it hasn't already, by sales of the New Testament.  Millions will buy Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, but how many actually read it remains to be seen. In any week just down the road, more people will read the gospel writers than Aslan.

That Green was asking a question her audience was likely asking goes without question. That her tone represents the tone many uber-Americans might take seems also a given. In many ways, as I've already said, it wasn't a stupid question, nor was it idiosyncratic.

But the meta-dialogue beneath it is obvious. Embedded in the tone was 9/11 and the Underwear Bomber and two swarthy assassins at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Behind the question lies fear locked down in a pressure cooker--"what the hell is a heathen doing writing a book about our savior?"

That's the question America wanted answered, a question whose answer they already knew:  "because we hate Jesus and we hate you."  

That's not the answer she got of course.  Aslan has written about Islam too.  Writing about religion is what he does.  He's an academic.  That doesn't mean he doesn't have opinions, but it would have been smarter had Lauren Green asked him about what he said than targeted him for what he is or professes.

But that question was a blessing for Aslan.  Right now, he's raking in the royalties, selling more books than he  or his publicist ever might have dreamed.  Don't know if Zealot available in your local Christian bookstore, but I doubt it.

No matter.  You can order it from Amazon.  Millions have, thanks to someone whose motivations were entirely the opposite.  

10 comments:

Michael said...

Jim, I enjoyed this post. But you should read Aslan's book too, not because of its current notoriety, but because 1) it represents what a lot of scholars are saying about the historical Jesus, 2) it raises important questions that Christians everywhere need to face, and 3) it's very well written and accessible.

J. C. Schaap said...

Thanks for the nod. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

Same reason rolling stone put the BOSTON BOMBER on then cover..$$$$$!

Anonymous said...

btw, Rolling Stone sold twice the copies it normally does. Does that surprise anybody?

Anonymous said...

"But the meta-dialogue beneath it is obvious. Embedded in the tone was 9/11 and the Underwear Bomber and two swarthy assassins at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Behind the question lies fear locked down in a pressure cooker--"what the hell is a heathen doing writing a book about our savior?"

James, by any chance did Lauren Green have a hoody on when she conducted the interview? Your assessment of her motivations remind me of a recent trial in Florida.

Anonymous said...

Does Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson or Eric Holder know about your profiling Lauren Green?

Ohhhh, that's right, she is a conservative African American, they are fair game. I forgot.

No civil rights case here.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting Lauren Green is intolerant of Muslims?

Does your liberal license give you the right to be intolerant of the intolerant?

"Embedded in your tone" is an intolerant spirit. Think you might want to clean it up, just maybe?

Anonymous said...

Folks can write about Jesus all they want, but I prefer authors who have a personal relationship with Him.

For example, I like the picture of Christ the Apostles portrayed in the Bible. They knew him!

An unbeliever just does not cut it.

Anonymous said...


You forgot the Ex-Army Maj. Nidal Hasan on your Lauren Green embedded tone list. I suppose if that guy were on the list the pressure cooker would have burst.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you need to jump on the Billary band wagon. The sooner the better. After all, "what difference does it make?"