Metaphysical Milkshake, Reza Aslan's podcast with actor Rainn Wilson, might seem like an unlikely outlet for a scholar of religious studies whose works include God: A Human History and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
But as Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California, stated on a recent episode: kids between 18-22 are the loneliest generation because they talk "with their thumbs, not their tongues." The podcast gives Aslan the opportunity to bring his world to that demographic in a medium they're already familiar with.
"One of the things we hope the podcast will do and one of the things I do in my work in general, is try to create openings for young people especially to pursue spirituality without necessarily being tied down by the religious aspects of their parents' religious roles, and all the baggage that comes with it, that seems to really turn them off," says Aslan.
Aslan, who will appear Nov. 25 as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Ten Evenings Series, describes the show as an opportunity to "go deep, get weird, and search for the meaning of life." It sounds like two lifelong friends swapping tales at a coffee shop or bar. And that's exactly the point of Metaphysical Milkshake: to create an online place that provides young people with a useful forum.
"[That demographic is] focused on pop culture," he says. "So my focus of attention the last few years has been to use pop culture, music, television, and films, to create communities that can at least some measure of spiritual fulfillment. Because it's not going to be in church. It's not going to be in traditional religion. It's very, very difficult to tell a 19- or 20-year old to go back to church when that church represents for them 80 percent approval of a president [Donald Trump] who is demonstrably a racist, a sexist, a lecherous, pathological, lying, narcissistic sociopath who cages children. You can't tell a 19-year old 'go to church,' because that's what church means to him."
But what of Trump's support among evangelicals, people who should theoretically share at least some of the same principles as Aslan?
Aslan clarifies that Trump's support comes from white evangelicals, adding that Trump is "the walking, talking embodiment of everything Jesus railed against." Aslan notes that 67 percent of evangelicals of color voted for Hillary Clinton, while 81 percent of white evangelicals supported Trump.
"These are people who believe the exact same thing, who have the same theology, who have the same worldview, but have a different skin tone," Aslan says. "So if we're going to continue to pretend that race has nothing to do with that overwhelming white evangelical support for this racist president, we're kidding ourselves. I'm not the first person to say that white evangelicals acted more white than evangelical in their support of the president."