Monday, December 26, 2011

Completing Marshall's Jesus and the Religions of Man

I finished David Marshall’s Jesus and the Religions of Man. I read the Appendix, which tackled the Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, and witch-hunts. I won’t go into great detail about Marshall’s arguments in this section. I wrote this post in response to similar arguments that he made in The Truth Behind the New Atheism. There were some things in the Appendix to Jesus and the Religions of Man which were different, and they certainly deserve consideration: that the Salem witch hysteria was starting by girls who were flirting with black magic, that the trials did not follow biblical procedure, that an imperial mindset played a role in the Crusades, etc.

On the whole imperial mindset issue, I wish that Marshall had applied that to the topic of anti-Semitism, or (more accurately, perhaps) anti-Judaism. Unlike Marshall, I’m very hesitant to say that the New Testament had nothing to do with anti-Judaism within Christianity, for, in my opinion, the division between Christianity and most of Judaism played a role in the church’s stigmatization of Jews. This may very well have started out as a debate between Jews, as Marshall and other have argued. After all, even the Old Testament continually criticizes the children of Israel. But criticism of Israel became more of a stigmatization of the “other” as more and more Gentiles entered the church, and the portrayal of the Jews as hard-hearted and as corrupt in both the Old and also the New Testament played a significant role in how Gentile Christians conceptualized the Jews. I don’t believe that was the only factor. The New Testament certainly does not command Christians to humiliate or slaughter the Jews, for it tells people to love their enemies, to be humble, etc. While I maintain that the Bible played a role in how Gentile Christians viewed the Jews, I think that the notion that Jews should be subjugated and treated as a defeated people comes from other things, such as triumphalism, an attitude that is consistent with an imperialist mindset, but not with New Testament principles.

I have two other thoughts, which take some of Marshall’s arguments as their starting-point, even though they do not entirely relate to Marshall.

First, on page 309, Marshall refers to a critic who told him: “You’ll say they’re not real Christians. But you have to take the bad with the good. Christianity has changed many lives for the better, but it has also done a lot of harm.” Does Marshall argue that those who were responsible for the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the pogroms, and the witch hunts were not real Christians? At one point, Marshall refers to those responsible for one of those atrocities as alleged Christians. But he also acknowledges in this Appendix that there were true Christians who participated in those examples of gross wrong-doing.

I’ve always hated the evangelical argument that those who were involved in atrocities were not real Christians. I was once talking with a Christian conservative fanatic who was continually bashing President Obama and Muslims. When she was expressing outrage that American Muslims are allowed to practice their religion in the U.S. military and referred to Muslim atrocities throughout history and in the present, I told her about atrocities that Christians have done. She responded that those who do not love other people are not true Christians. I thought what she said was ridiculous. I mean, what right did she have to be so smug and judgmental? Is she showing love when she stigmatizes an entire group of people? Is she saying that true Christians cannot make mistakes? What makes her think that she’s so perfect? I admire Christians who are willing to admit that they and others can err in judgment, not Christians who act like they’re the “true Christians” while those who fall short (sometimes dramatically) are merely “professing Christians”.

Second, Marshall talks a lot in this book about the good that Christians have done. Before reading Marshall, I thought that was a rather trite argument. I mean, I used it often against atheists and non-believers back in the days when I was a conservative evangelical! But what I have concluded after reading Marshall is this: it can easily become a trite argument because I and others have used it as such—-as a mere debating point. It’s one thing to use a predictable conservative Christian debating point in an attempt to score, to make myself look good, and to make my opponent look bad. It’s quite another thing altogether to step back and to admire those who put their necks on the line so that the oppressed, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged can have a chance, and (even more) to realize that I may have an obligation to help, too. I’m not criticizing Marshall here, for he has done humanitarian work, such as combating the sex trade. When reading his polemics, I often wish he would show more humility, but I know that I am not always humble in the battlefield of online and print debates.

The next book that I will read will be Marshall’s very first book: True Son of Man: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture.

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