So, there’s a moment in the Ben & Sue project when Sue’s pissed that something’s done to her and she turns around and does the same thing to another character and Moll launches into this pondering of how radical Jesus’ idea of treating others as you want to be treated is, how hard it is for people to put it into practice. And nm was like “Um, that’s not Jesus’ idea. It’s so-and-so’s, and probably earlier than him.”
And I haven’t fixed this part yet because I’m not quite sure how I want to tackle it. One of the themes in my manuscript is the trouble with surety, how being certain you have the true interpretation of events no place good and how uncertainty, though harder, gets us closer to the truth. Kind of. And this seems like a good place to kind of reinforce that.
But it’s also got me thinking a lot about the problem of antisemitism at the heart of how a lot of Christianity is taught. Look at me. Even ten years ago, I would have told you that, if I was raised any way, it was to be not antisemitic, but respectful of the fact that people have different beliefs than I do, beliefs that are, yes, wrong, but not our business if they are so. And, once I moved places where there were Jewish people to knew, I knew and liked and became friends with people who are Jewish. Then my own beliefs changed and I let go of the idea that being non-Christian is some kind of mistake of imagination that will be cured, eventually, by the awesomeness of Jesus, which I’m sure made me a less obnoxious person to be friends with.
These days, thanks to the kinds of scholarship there’s been on sundown towns, it’s impossible for me to view my upbringing in white, Christian towns as a coincidence of circumstances. Those places were deliberately white and Christian and how they were kept white and Christian was mostly kept hidden from me as a child.
And just in my own being around a while, it’s impossible for me to not see how a lot of the ways I was taught Christianity involves a constant, implicit rebuke of a fantasy Judaism. And what I mean by “fantasy Judaism” is that it’s this made-up version of Judaism, this idea that, just by reading the Old Testament and other Christian scholarship on the Old Testament, you know what Judaism is. It’s a fun-house mirror version of real Judaism, except that the people who study the reflection don’t seem to ever realize that.
Here’s a good example of what I mean. I was taught that Jesus was an outsider to the Jewish power structures he was critiquing. The scribes and the pharisees were those people who were doing it wrong and Jesus was sent along to bring them and everyone else new information that supplanted the “rules” (Oh, how we loved to go on about how Jesus turned his nose up and people who paid more attention to the rules than to loving people, because how stupid that was. Only look at how Christians tread gay people. And then look at the words other Christians use to critique the Christians who use rules as an excuse to ostracize gay people–“They’re modern-day pharisees.” Don’t even deny it. I KNOW a few of you were getting ready to type that in the comments below. Because you, too, have been taught a version of Christianity that sets Jesus in opposition to Jewish people and Jewish social structures, even though Jesus was Jewish.). The scribes and the pharisees are the villains. Jesus is the hero. Don’t be like the scribes and the pharisees. Be like Jesus. Who had all new ideas.
So, that’s the reason I’ve been thinking so hard on nm’s “but this wasn’t new with Jesus” comment. Because, of course it wasn’t. There’s a theory (and I say theory, but it’s stronger than that) that Jesus was a pharisee, himself. That, if you look at what we know about his life and the intellectual tradition he’s so deeply versed in–which would mean knowing the intellectual tradition he’s deeply versed in–it’s obvious. Like the way you’d know that a guy with pocket scales deals a little dope, even if you never smelled it on him, knowing who Jesus quotes tells you what intellectual tradition he was a part of and that he was, indeed, a pharisee.
Now, at this point in my life, I like this tidbit. Because I know it can be harder to critique a group from the inside–that calling people you love and respect to task is often more difficult than standing on the outside yelling in. But it also undermines a lot about how Christians in this country see themselves as a threatened minority, since they see themselves as a threatened minority like martyrs and in the tradition of Jesus, the ultimate outsider.
And I’m not sure what it would mean for Christianity to more firmly reject the “refutation of Judaism” model.
But I know, when I saw nm’s comment, I felt like I had made my character a liar in a way I hadn’t intended, because I, myself, have been a liar in that fashion. And it’s not my own lie. I didn’t know better, but tell that anyway. Well, okay, it’s not quite that simple. I do know better now. And I lie to myself and to others when it’s easier, as a kind of shorthand way of signalling that I know the tropes of Christianity, which includes the refutation of the fun-house Judaism. But I didn’t always know it was a lie. When I first started telling it, I believed it was the truth–that Jesus was somehow in opposition to the very culture and religion he was clearly deeply engaged with.
And this is the part I wonder about–what does it look like to let go of the lie? What would a Church like that look like?