Saturday, April 15, 2006

Faith Versus History

I need to clarify some words I wrote earlier this week regarding the National Geographic show about the Gospel of Judas. I said:

"This is one Christian who doesn't think she's been lied to all these years and my opinion regarding Judas has not changed...I didn't learn anything new."

Well, don't I sound like a narrow minded pompous ass!

Many thanks to Kevin who commented,

"You've talked about challenging the traditional views of your students in the hopes of getting them to a more mature thoughtful interpretation of American History. Why is there a different standard to the historical Jesus?"

Kevin has correctly slapped my hand and I appreciate it. There shouldn't be a different standard but perhaps, just perhaps, there is a double-standard because those of us who have the ability to apply historical analysis and also have faith are afraid--------afraid they will analyze their faith until it disappears.

Rev. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society commented on the Gospel of Judas. He said, "the Judas gospel has no bearing on the Easter story much less on the faith of the Christian church." He dismissed the gospel as "nothing more than an ancient manuscript that tells an interesting story."

Without faith isn't that a description of the entire Bible?

Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the Vatican's Committee of Historical Science called the gospel "a product of religious fantasy. There is no campaign, no movement for the rehabilitation of the traitor of Jesus."

These two certainly seem to be close-minded but as spokesmen for their faith what do you expect?

I thought the National Geographic show was good. They fully explained about the supposed author(s) of the gospel strongly suggesting that the text leans towards Gnostic teachings. At the time the New Testament was canonized none of the Gnostic writings that were known at the time were included. They were thought to be radical and apparently to the two religious spokesmen above they still are.

How does a person accept the Bible literally with the knowledge that it is a human product subject to exaggerations and omissions? How do we determine the author's authority or motivation? Some would say this is where faith would enter into the picture, but it's hard to reconcile historical facts alongside a literal Bible.

Getting back to what I wrote the other day.....I didn't learn anything new other than the specific information concerning the finding and saving of the gospel. I already knew the information about how certain writings were included in the Bible while others were left out. I already knew that the early Christian church had incorrectly allowed followers to use the Bible's treatment of Judas as a reason to place the blame for the crucifiction of Christ at the feet of the Jews.

I correctly advised the other day that the special didn't change my mind about Judas, and it didn't. My mind wasn't changed because I've never really bought the whole story that Judas conspired to turn Jesus over. Jesus told Judas to go and do what he has to do. Readers have no knowledge as to what might have transpired before. Someone had to turn Jesus over.... Peter denies Jesus three times as predicted. Have we blamed Peter for 2,000 years?

I do think that the Gospel of Judas is an important find that will continue the debate for faith vesus history, but unfortunately it won't end the debate. Humans don't know the absolute truth because it is beyond us, but the journey attempting to get there certainly is interesting.

If you want to read more about faith versus history visit Kevin at Civil War Memory (see my blogroll) and read his fantastic post titled, "The Historical Jesus and the Lost Cause".


Unknown said...

Very interesting post. If faith is trust in God, what is trust in faith?

Time Bandit said...

Let me just totally disagree with you here. Baptist Mohler and Catholic Brandmuller are not "closed minded," and are speaking out of prejudice. Their words carry the weight of informed opinion developed after analysis of the Gospel of Judas. No scholar who's looked at this manuscript think that it's the actual words of Judas.

It is an interesting manuscript of the early church, to be sure, but it is from a time at least a century and a half after Judas himself would have died.

I'd also disagree with Kevin who suggests that we hold historical analysis of Jesus up to the same critical inquiry use for analyzing other aspects of history. I don't do that in my class. I don't think it's right.

In our society, religion falls into a protected category, just like free speech, free press, firearms, and personal privacy. A public employee needs to take pains not to tread over a student's religious beliefs and values. In world history we will often look at the effects a particular faith may have on human events. In geography class we look at the impact religions have on different regions and cultures.

But the day I start using my classroom to promote a skeptical inquiry into matters of personal faith is the day I need to quit (and all inquiry in a real history class needs to be skeptical).

I encourage free thinking and critical analysis and allow students to seek their own inquiries into these matters. But when they ask my opinion, I tactfully dummy up and certainly don't introduce religious debates as a discreet topic. I don't tell my students one side of a political controversy when it comes up in class; I present facts from as many sides as I can seriously muster and let them decide. To do differently with religion would be a far worse transgression.

EHT said...

Time Bandit...I agree with you I too would "dummy up" when it comes to discussing religious faith with students. It's kind of hard for me to do that anyway since I teach nine and ten year olds. It would seem that you have been able to get your religious self and your professional self straightened out in your head. It hasn't always been that easy for me and since I've started this blog I have been faced with it more times than I can count. I applaud you for knowing which way the wind blows. My post and a couple of others I have written explore my own struggle to seperate those two selves. As far as Brandmuller and Mohler go....I don't discount their scholarly analysis. They wouldn't be in the positions they are in without it, however, let's face it...They are employed by religious institutions who want to push their own views. They are paid mouthpieces for their particular denominations.