Reza Aslan has devoted his entire life and career to the study of religious expression, but you might know him best from a viral Fox News interview he did in 2013 where he had to defend his impressive academic credentials to the host, who couldn't comprehend how Aslan, a Muslim, was qualified to write a book about Jesus.
As a respected religious scholar, Aslan doesn't shy away from deep conversations, intricate topics or explorations of the unknown, and when he recently sat down with Oprah for a discussion about religion, the 43-year-old professor and author focused a good deal on the idea faith -- specifically how he believes faith is a choice.
"It's not an irrational choice," he says. "It's actually quite rational and reasonable when confronted with reality and the world and life itself, to believe that there is a transcendence, that there is something beyond."
The belief in transcendence may seem like a complicated one to sort through, but Aslan speaks of it very simply in the context of three questions, which he suggests everyone ask themselves to break things down.
1. Do you believe there is something beyond the material world?
If your answer to this question is, "No," then this is as far as you need to go. Aslan's own father would have answered this way, believing that nothing exists beyond the material realm.
"If you believe this is it, good for you. You're an atheist. I have no problem with that," Aslan says.
However, if you do think there's something beyond the material world, there's another question for you.
2. Do you want to experience that thing?
Put another way, do you want to commune with it? Do you want to feel it? Again, if you answer, "No," your work here is done.
"If not, great, you're an agnostic. Go about your business. You're fine," Aslan says.
For those who answered, "Yes," there is a third question.
3. How do you want to experience it?
As Aslan explains, there is no correct answer here.
"Do you want to experience it through religion? Do you want to experience it through human relationships? Do you want to experience it through the experience of nature and awe? Through the experience climbing a mountain or swimming in an ocean?" he poses. "The 'how' is a personal choice."
This, Aslan adds, is what faith is all about.
"It all about deciding whether you want to or not. It's not about needing proof -- there is no proof in the sense of what we would refer to as scientific proof," he says. "It's just a decision."
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