Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What We Don’t Know

It was an amazing, perfectly timed coincidence of arguments from two different sides of the fence. Arguments from two different sides of the fence that proved my point.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

It started with a Facebook post from my wife about who gets to decide what a symbol or action means or stands for. Is it the people using it, who claim it means for one thing; or the people who are offended by it, who say it means something different? As examples, she gave kneeling during the National Anthem and the Confederate flag.

When she mentioned that despite its origins over 150 years ago, many modern southerners see it simply as a symbol of regional pride, sweet tea, and all that, many modern non-Southerners called “bullshit” on that; saying that they should know better, and that they’re being willfully ignorant of its history.

One non-Southerner in particular, a friend who majored in history as an undergrad, said that he watched the films of the marches in several Southern cities, and in those cases, that flag was most decidedly not about sweet tea and regional pride.

And yet, two things are important here. The first is that this friend was a history major, who knows a lot more than the average person. The second is that we have Southerners 50 years old and younger for whom that was ancient history that they had nothing to do with.

So that was the first argument. The second, from the totally opposite side, was also a Facebook post. This one said that Martin Luther King Day is here again, the day on which we pretend that he never said certain things about the evils of capitalism. 

Now hold on there! “The day we pretend he he never said”? How about the day that we find out for the first time that he did?

Whoever wrote that obviously knows a whole lot more about Martin Luther King Jr than the average bear. This person has probably read everything he ever wrote...and falsely assumes that the rest of us have too...and are being willfully ignorant of it.

Let’s face it, do you think that in their History classes, Southern kids are being taught any more than the standard “dates, places, and battles” that the rest of us are? Do you really think that teachers go into great (and potentially embarrassing) detail about the causes of the Civil War, and what the secessionists really believed in? For that matter, are they calling it the Civil War, or are they still calling it “The War of Northern Aggression”?

With that in mind, are modern Southerners who, if they took another history course after high school, probably didn’t take one on either the origins of the Confederacy or the Civil Rights era, being willfully ignorant of the origins of that flag?

I don’t think so. I think you only know what you know; and don’t know what you don’t know...until you’re told it. I think that my friend’s statements are an example of an expert on a certain subject expecting too much from “regular people.”

And what of those of us who “pretend” that Martin Luther King Jr never wrote about the evils of capitalism? Are we being willfully ignorant, or is this another case of our simply not knowing what we didn’t know? Was this simply one of the things he said or wrote that didn’t get as much attention as the things we remember him for?

Is this another case of an expert expecting too much of us regular people?

And there are so many other times when this happens. So many times when we only know what we know, and only understand what we understand...which may be much different from what an expert on the subject knows and understands.

In my own life, in my study of religion, I learned that the Church of England was created when Henry VIII broke off from the Catholic Church because the Pope wouldn’t annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Well, at 24, I thought that was a piss poor reason for starting a new church, and that’s why I’m a Lutheran now. But almost 30 years later, while reading a book on the history of marriage, I discovered that things were a little more complicated than I thought, and that Henry’s decision was a political one, about the political power of the Pope. Had I known at 24 what I learned at 50, I might still be an Episcopalian. But I only knew what I knew, and not what the experts knew.

I think that the “experts” should cut a little slack on us normal people who don’t know quite as much about their topic as they do, and not be so quick to accuse us of being “willfully ignorant” when, for many reasons, we just didn’t know.

The big question now is what do we do once we do know?

But that’s a question for another day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

On Christian Anti-Semitism

Last month a set of stabbings occurred at a rabbis house that desecrated both Chanukah and Christmas, and I figured that it was time that I took some time to talk about anti-Semitism.

Historically, anti-Semitism comes in two varieties. The first one boils down to simple xenophobia, where you don’t like “those people” because they’re different from you, and living by different rules within your culture. If you’re one of those anti-Semites, then I have nothing to say to you that’s any different than what I’d say to any other xenophobe…and it’s not pretty.

The second variety, the one I find most horrifying, and the one I’d like to address today is Christian anti-Semitism. That’s right…anti-Semitism as practiced by Christians…people who have no business being anti-Semitic, or anti-anyone, at all.

Historically, Christian anti-Semitism boils down to “getting the Jews back for what they did to Jesus.” But let’s take a careful look at the situation here.

I first heard the old “the Jews killed Christ” thing when I was about 11 years old. It was mentioned briefly in the classic British movie Hand in Hand, about a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy who were best friends. When I heard this, I thought it was the stupidest…and most obvious…thing in the world. Of course, the Jews killed Jesus! He lived in Israel. Who else was there? That was like saying the Americans killed Kennedy.

It took me a few years to see things a little differently.

I was about 13 or 14 when Jesus Christ Superstar came out, and then I understood that it was the Jewish leaders, and not the masses, who had it in for Jesus, and who turned him over to the occupying Romans (remember that part, it’ll be on the quiz). So right there, blaming all the Jews for the actions of the leaders seemed a little much.

But as you listen to the lyrics more closely, you’ll find out that he was turned over to the Roman authorities because as someone who didn’t deny that he was a king, he was a threat to Roman power, and a threat that would cause the Romans to come down hard on the rest of the Jewish population of Palestine. Can you say “Masada”?

Years after that, I learned something else very important…crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, not a Jewish one. And it was a Roman form of execution usually used on political prisoners (remember what I said before about Jesus being a threat to Roman power?). There was a particularly Jewish form of execution…it was stoning. This wasn’t used on Jesus, but it was used on St Stephen according to Acts 7 by the Jewish leaders (and again, not the masses), for the crime of blasphemy.

So now that we’ve covered history, let’s talk about a little theology. According to standard Christian theology, and especially things that Jesus said himself, he had to be turned over to the Romans and executed…as a sacrifice for our sins, following the example of the bull sacrificed in the temple at Yom Kippur…and was intended to be the final sacrifice for all. Did you catch that…his death was necessary in order to atone for our sins, and then to be raised again. Necessary, I say. So with that in mind, who is there to “blame”? If none of the parties had played their part in the events leading up to his crucifixion…Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod…where would we be now a Christians?

So with that in mind, anti-Semitism as a form of “getting the Jews back for what they did to Jesus” makes absolutely no sense at all. And theologically, everything that happened had to happen as it did.

There’s so much more I could say, but I’ve already gone past 600 words. But suffice it to say that “Christian anti-Semitism” makes absolutely no sense, and is something that Jesus himself would not be happy about.

So, for Christ’s sake, lay off it already!