One of the things I miss the most about my teaching career is learning from the young. While some professors in my experience believed the learning only went one way, I always found a kind of reciprocity in it. I passed on what I learned from taking classes and having my face in a book all the time, and they taught me about popular culture. Academics don’t get out much, you see. It’s a basic issue of time—we all have a limited amount of it and research, if done right, takes an incredible chunk. In fact, when hot on the trail of an idea, it’s difficult to think of anything else. Pop culture, on the other hand, is what the majority of people share. Now it’s largely mediated by the internet, a place that some academics get bored.
Speaking to a young person recently, I was initially surprised when he said that his generation was more interested in the Devil than in God. Parents have always been concerned that their children not go astray, but this was, it seemed to me, more of an intellectual curiosity than any kind of devotion. God, he averred, was thought of as aloof, pious, self-righteous; in a word, Evangelical. The internet can be downright ecclesiastical in its affirmation that our inclinations can be what used to be called “sinful.” Not that these things are always bad, but they are the kinds of things we’re taught to feel guilty about. The divine response? Anger. Displeasure. Shaming. Young people, my interlocutor thought, found the Devil more understanding.
Perhaps this is the ultimate result of Evangelical thinking. We’re watching in real time as the party of Jesus is becoming the party of intolerance for anyone different than ourselves. Rather than turning the other cheek, it’s fire when ready. Eager to retain the “brand” of “Christianity,” they slap the secular label on any outlook different than their own, although their own faith is without form and void. It used to be that this was the realm of the Devil. This sheds a different perspective on what my young colleague was saying. Instead of bringing people to God, the Evangelical movement is driving them away. Traditionally, the Devil was after the destruction of human souls. That seems to be one of the new values of the right wing of the church. There’s quite a bit to think about in this observation by this young one. I’m glad to know that traffic still moves both directions on this street.
Posted in American Religion, Current Events, Higher Education, Memoirs, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged Christianity, Devil, Evangelical, God, Higher Education
A project with which I have some small acquaintance is the second edition of the Jewish Annotated New Testament (some of you may be noticing an annotated theme lately). The idea behind it is deceptively simple: most of the writers of the New Testament were Jews. What do modern day Jewish scholars see in the text? This annotated Bible gets adopted into both Christian and Jewish courses, and many seminaries have an interest in learning what the writers might have been thinking as they were composing “the other testament.” So far, so good. I was looking at the Amazon page for the book the other day, specifically for the Kindle edition. As usual, you can’t please everyone, and some of the negative comments had to do with functionality. Then one said simply, “There is no such thing as a Jewish New Testament.”
I’m not so naive that I don’t know what trolls are, but I got to thinking about this comment. It didn’t come from a “certified buyer,” so it could be an opinion piece. The mononymed reviewer might be Jewish, Christian, or neither. From a Jewish perspective s/he might mean: Jews don’t accept the New Testament as scripture, so what else is there to talk about? From a Christian perspective the point might be: this is a Christian document so it doesn’t matter what Jews think about it. Either way there’s a call for some exegesis here. Both perspectives can be argued against. Jews have a very real interest in what Christians say about them. And, like it or not, the first Christians, and even Jesus himself, fell squarely within Judaism.
Christianity has become a religion of privilege. That happens when you’re the biggest religious body in the world. Christians get a bit testy when Islam begins encroaching on its numbers. There’s still some hard feelings about the Muslim expansion of the seventh and eighth centuries, too. Being an imperial religion will do that to you. Thoughtful Christ-followers, however, have begun to look back and wonder how this whole thing got started in the first place. Without Jews there would’ve been no Christians. Nobody’s claiming the New Testament is Jewish scripture. Neither side wants that. It’s simply a recognition that we might have something to learn from each other. And that’s not a bad idea. In fact, if we were willing to listen a bit more than talk, who knows how much true understanding might come to pass? The Jewish Annotated New Testament is one possible place to start.