Judas Resurrected?

"You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me" Jesus speaking to Judas - The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas, along with other Gnostic texts, is important in understanding Christianity's genesis. It challenges some of the depictions of the canonical Gospels. When it was published by the National Geographic Society in April 2006, it received extraordinary media attention and was immediately heralded as a major biblical discovery that excited the world of scholars and laypeople alike.

In Reading Judas Elaine Pagels and Karen King describe its ramifications for telling the story of early Christianity. They illustrate how the document provides a window into understanding how Jesus' followers understood his death, why Judas betrayed Jesus, and why God allowed it. (Short video discussing the Gospel of Judas) Their book illuminates the intellectual assumptions behind Jesus' teaching to Judas and shows how conflict among the disciples was a tool frequently used by early Christian authors to explore matters of doubt and disagreement. (Audio interview with Pagels and King hosted by NPR's Terry Gross)

In The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed, Bart Ehrman, provides an overview of Judas in the traditional New Testament, but he also surveys the Gospel of Judas, from its discovery to its content. "Throughout the Christian tradition," writes Ehrman, "Judas has been portrayed as the rotten apple in the apostolic barrel." Yet the Gospel of Judas reveals a radical new understanding of Christ's mission and Judas's role in it. Judas, in fact, is the lone member of Christ's inner circle who understood Jesus's message. Furthermore, Judas did not really betray Christ. According to Ehrman, his action was a "kind deed performed for the sake of his Lord."

Ehrman, a featured commentator in the National Geographic special, describes how he first saw the Gospel of Judas--surprisingly, in a small room above a pizza parlor in a Swiss town near Lake Geneva--and how it came to be restored and translated. Ehrman gives the reader an account of what the book teaches and shows how it relates to other Gospel texts--both those inside the New Testament and those outside of it, most notably, the Gnostic texts of early Christianity. Finally, he describes what we now can say about the historical Judas himself as well as his relationship with Jesus, suggesting that one needs to read between the lines of the early Gospels to see exactly what Judas did and why he did it.

Biblical scholar N. T. Wright (bishop of Durham, Church of England) says that the Gospel of Judas contradicts his view that Judas did betray Jesus and was not his compatriot, as this noncanonical Gospel maintains. In Judas and the Gospel of Jesus Wright disputes that the Gospel of Judas reveals any new truth about Christianity. He recognizes that the Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic text and characterizes Gnosticism as opposed to the created world, open to secret wisdom, and in denial about the Resurrection of Jesus.

However, a review by Library Journal points out that a quick look at the canonical Gospel of Mark will reveal that the disciples were told to keep messianic secrets and that they should deny this world and Mark ends with no mention of the Resurrection. Wright is very critical of Pagels, King, and Ehrmann in spite of their expertise in analyzing Gnostic texts.

Is the Judas Gospel a spectacular archaeological find having little relevance to Christian theology?

Posted April 30, 2007

Whatever Happened to Sin?

For very practical reasons, I favor letting go of sin as the umbrella description for the human problem - Marcus Borg

In an interesting series of articles, Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University, writes: According to Barna Research Online, "Four out of every ten adults (40%) attend a church service on a typical Sunday. That figure is a significant decline from the early Nineties, when close to half of all adults were found in churches on Sunday...." Not surprisingly, attitudes toward sin seem to have changed and it has become less common--even laughable--as a topic. Do we really still believe in sin or are there psychological and emotional causes to behavior that mitigate our so-called guilt? Of course, the belief system of the atheist doesn't even allow for sin. And, if people are simply products of their environment, as behaviorists/determinists believe, then what point is there in discussing one's culpability for transgressing moral law? After all, as the relativist/Postmodern would ask, "Who's version of 'truth' or morality shall we hold people to?"

Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity believes that although “Disobeying God’s laws” is the most popular meaning of ‘sin’ there are other more important meanings and we should perhaps use multiple images to speak about what is wrong in our societies. For example, he indicates that some of us are blind to the needs and feelings of others, some like the Virginia Tech shooter are in exile, some in Dafur are in bondage. Many of us have closed hearts; we hunger and thirst for new houses or new cars; we are lost in our careers or in our relationships.

Borg believes that each image of sin implies a different solution. Unfortunately with the common understanding of ‘sin’ the solution becomes ‘forgiveness’. But if we’re blind, we need sight, not forgiveness. If we are enslaved, we need liberation, not forgiveness. If we have closed hearts, we need to have our hearts opened, not forgiveness for having closed hearts. Although ‘sin’ is often involved in our human condition, our sad state is not always because of our deeds. Closed hearts are a natural, inevitable result of growing up. We can be in bondage through no fault of our own. Even stronger: we cannot avoid bondage itself, exile, blindness, or developing closed hearts. The message of ‘sin and forgiveness’ doesn’t address these problems well. The use of the word ‘sin’ today usually focuses on an individual’s actions and obscures the reality of ‘social sin’ — much of human suffering and misery is due to collective sin, the political systems of our world. Borg emphasizes that we need to enrich our understanding of the condition from which we need deliverance.

Is 'sin' the best way to name things which may be wrong in the world or is the word too loaded with misunderstanding to be useful?

Posted April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech - Guns, Videos, Mental Health

The windy evening caused the small candles that were handed out to extinguish, so students improvised with their cell phones while singing amazing grace.
George Washington University's vigil for the students of Virginia Tech - The Daily Colonial

Cho Seung-Hui, who shot thirty-two people at Virginia Tech, before taking his own life was severely mentally disturbed. Over seventeen months ago it was known to students, police, school authorities, and mental health experts that he was in need of prolonged mental health care. Despite this, perhaps from fear of lawsuits if action was taken to remove him from school or hospitalize him against his will, he was left to sink deeper into mental illness and delusional behavior.

Several commentators have point out the role played by violent video games in these major mass killings by young people. Games such as Counter-Strike and Super Columbine Massacre are sold to teenagers who can practice, in the same format as U.S. Army soldiers are trained, how to kill numerous people in the shortest possible time while keeping one's heart rate at or below normal levels. The Columbine school teenage shooters trained on such videos as did 16-year-old Jeff Weise of Minnesota, who killed nine people including seven at Red Lake High School, in an attack before taking his own life. The FBI and the Secret Service have reported that the key common thread in shool shootings is violent video games.

There was a double failure in the State of Virginia's gun laws. Despite his mental illness, which was known to police, Cho Seung-Hui had no trouble purchasing several guns and multiple clips of ammunition to go along with them. Further, there was a law in place which prohibited non mentally disturbed students and staff members of Virginia Tech from carrying legally licensed weapons while on campus.

Finally, what was the role played by bullying? Cho Seung-Hui's silence in high school was interpreted as a lack of ability to speak English since he had come to the United States at the age of eight. One of his classmates remarked that because of this he was "an easy target".

Were the dead and wounded at Virginia Tech victims of a failed mental health system, a violent video entertainment industry, a failed gun control policy, and a failure to control bullying by young teenagers?

Posted April 19, 2007

Born Again?

"The strength of much of conservative Christianity is that it has emphasized personal transformation while the strength of much of liberal Christianity is that it has emphasized political transformation. A politically engaged spirituality affirms both spiritual transformation and political transformation"
Marcus Borg - The Heart of Christianity

Recently the media in the United States has fixated on racial and misogynistic comments made by Don Imus about a group of minority women (link). Questions were raised about whether or not Mr. Imus should be forgiven, and if so what would be a suitable act on his behalf that would render justice to those who were aggrieved. CBS and MSNBC decided on retributive justice - Mr Imus was fired. Others believe that this was an incorrect course - Mr Imus should have retained his job and been given an opportunity to provide restorative justice to both the young women and to the society at large. The restorative justice group points to the use of similar language in the vernacular of black culture particularly that evidenced in hip-hop rap music. For example an Academy oscar was awarded for a song (link) by Rap artists which contained worse terminology than that employed by Mr. Imus

In this blog we have explored what is understood about the concept of giving and receiving forgiveness (link). The Imus story offers an additional opportunity for us to explore what is meant by the concept of being 'born again' and the implications of being born again on how one seeks to provide 'justice' in a modern society.

The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg (link) addresses both of these issues. Borg writes: Unfortunately, mainline Christians have generally allowed their more conservative Christian brothers/sisters to have a near monopoly on 'born again' language. There are a number of reasons for this. For some, the language may be too hot and heavy because of its associations with 'revivals' and a 'sweaty' kind of Christianity.

Moreover, the notion is sometimes quite narrowly defined. In some Christian circles, to be born again can mean accepting a certain set of beliefs, a particular conservative theology, often expressed in a question using a salvation formula such as, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?" In at least the first of the 'left behind' novels that have been best-sellers for the last half decade, to be born again is defined even more narrowly by being virtually equated with believing in the 'rapture' and the imminent second coming of Jesus. In addition, most of have known at least one person who was 'born again' in a remarkably unattractive way. When being born again leads to a rigid kind of righteousness, judgmentalism, and sharp boundaries between an in-group and an out-group, it is either not a genuine born-again experience or it has a lot of static in it".

What is your understanding of being born again and what does being born again mean for seeking to establish a more just society?

Posted April 13, 2007

"Nappy-headed Ho's"

" Nappy-headed Ho's" - Don Imus referring to the student athletes of Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team during his radio program, simulcast on MSNBC.

ABC News reported: Imus made the now infamous remark during his show last Wednesday. The Rutgers team, which includes eight black women, had lost the day before in the NCAA women's championship game. Imus was speaking with producer Bernard McGuirk about the game when the exchange began on "Imus in the Morning." The show is broadcast on more than 70 stations and MSNBC.

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos … ." "Some hardcore hos," McGuirk said. "That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.

Imus apologized on the air Friday, but his mea culpa has not quieted the uproar. Appearing later on the Al Sharpton radio show Imus repeated his apology for his behavior while Sharpton continued to call for his apology to be accepted but that he be fired for the remark. Imus interviews numerous politicians, celebreties and authors on his show, such as John McCain, many of whom have called for him to be forgiven and not fired.

According to AP: Imus has urged critics to recognize that his show is a comedy that spreads insults broadly. Imus or his cast have called Colin Powell a "sniffling weasel," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a "fat sissy" and referred to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, an American Indian, as "the guy from `F Troop.'" He and his colleagues also called the New York Knicks a group of "chest-thumping pimps." On Sharpton's program Monday, Imus said that "our agenda is to be funny and sometimes we go too far. And this time we went way too far."

The Rutgers comment has struck a chord, in part, because it was aimed at a group of young women at the pinnacle of athletic success. It also came in a different public atmosphere following the Michael Richards and Mel Gibson incidents, said Eric Deggans, columnist for the St. Petersburg Times and chairman of the media monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists, which also wants Imus canned.

Forgiven and fired? Where do you stand?

Posted April 9, 2007

Liberating Losses

"Poi si tornĂ² all’eterna fontana" -"Then she turned back to the Eternal Fountain."- From Paradise, Canto 31, where Dante described Beatrice looking at him for the last time in Paradise: "So I prayed; and as distant as she was, she smiled and gazed at me. Then she turned back to the Eternal Fountain." C. S. Lewis - A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed was first published in 1961 and concerns the death of C. S. Lewis's wife, the American-born poet Joy Davidman (whom he refers to as 'H') after just three years of marriage. It probes the "mad midnight moments" of Lewis's mourning and loss, moments in which he questioned what he had previously believed about life and death, marriage, and even God. Indecision and self-pity assailed Lewis. "We are under the harrow and can't escape," he writes. "I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace." Writing A Grief Observed as "a defense against total collapse, a safety valve," he came to recognize that "bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love."

Lewis' experience is what one usually understands to be the normal or anticipated reaction to the death of a close loved one. "What pitiable cant to say,'She will live forever in my memory!' Live? That is exactly what she won't do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What's left? A corpse, a memory, and (in some versions) a ghost. All mockeries or horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word dead. It was H. I loved. As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind! It would be a sort of incest."

Liberating Losses agrees that when someone dies, those left behind are expected to grieve. But, as taboo as it is to admit, not every death brings great sadness. Labeled "nontraditional grief response" by therapists and counselors, a positive reaction following a death is becoming more common, especially now that drugs and medical treatments keep people alive much longer than they or their families might wish. Sometimes we are relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering; at the other end of the spectrum, a death might finally free us of an abusive or unhappy relationship. In either case, the cultural expectation for sadness, loneliness, and despair only adds to the guilt and conflict felt by many "relieved grievers."

Authors Jennifer Elison and Chris McGonigle have lived through their own "liberating losses." Illuminating for the first time a reaction that many deem insensitive, inappropriate, or strange, Ellison and McGonigle share their own and others' stories, thoughtful clinical analysis, and pragmatic counsel. Wise, compassionate, and groundbreaking, Liberating Losses expands the traditional definition of grief and, in so doing, generously validates the feelings that so many feel obliged to hide. One reviewer wrote:

“I found this book to be extraordinary in its insights, generous in the honesty of its authors and unique in the permission it offers so many troubled grievers to feel what others may regard as "unacceptable" feelings. In my work as a hospice bereavement counselor, I've certainly encountered a number of widows and widowers who were consumed with guilt because they felt so liberated and free instead of sorrowful and lonely (as their families and friends expected them to feel) when their spouses died.”

What have you read or experienced on the issue of grief?

Posted April 07, 2007

A Muslim Britain?

At St. Mary Magdalene Church, where the first stone was laid in the 12th century, the congregation has dropped to about 90 people on Sunday, and the average age of congregants is 75. Christenings are now rare, and there are only seven weddings booked for the year. - Anglican vicar, Philip Dearden

In an article in the NY times on April 2, 2007 Jane Perlez wrote in part: Clitheroe, England — This town opted to allow a former Christian church to become a mosque. The vote marked the end of a bitter struggle by the Muslim population to establish a place of worship, one that will put a mosque in a Methodist church. The battle underscored Britain’s unease with its Muslim minority, and particularly the infiltration of terrorist cells among the faithful, whose devotion has challenged an increasingly secular Britain’s sense of itself. Britain may continue to regard itself as a Christian nation but practicing Muslims are likely to outnumber church-attending Christians in several decades. With a population of 14,500 people in Clitheroe liked to think they represented a last barrier to the mosques that had become features in surrounding industrial towns. But Clitheroe had not bargained on the determination of Mr. Arshad - the British-born son of Mohamed Arshad, who came to Clitheroe from Rawalpindi in 1965.

“I thought, why should I be treated any less well?” Mr. Arshad said. Mr. Arshad and his father made eight applications for a mosque, and proposed buying a modest terrace house to be used for worship. Often there was booing at council meetings, and, he said, cries of “Go home, Paki! On the night of the vote on the mosque, the council chambers overflowed. The vote was 7 to 5 for the mosque; there was no violence. But the fight is hardly over. Beneath the official vote lies a river of resentment, some of the church’s windows have been smashed.

Today, of its Christians, only about 6 percent are regulars at church. Britain’s Muslims are far more regular mosque attendants. In working-class neighborhoods, the differences are stark between white Britons and immigrant Muslim Asians. The whites are less likely to marry, and they bear more children out of wedlock, trends many Muslims, find disturbing. The high rate of alcohol consumption among whites sets the groups apart, too. Increasing numbers of neighborhoods have become exclusively Muslim. Mr. Dearden, 64, said. “People don’t have a conscience about religion; they don’t come anymore.” In the nearby town of Kendal the Anglican vicar says Islam could now be seen as an alternative to Christianity. On a recent Sunday, only one child turned up to Sunday school classes. The story books, paper and pencils lay unused as an elderly teacher tutored the 6-year-old boy in an otherwise empty room. In contrast, Shamim Ahmed Miah, 26, a British-born mufti of Pakistani origin in Accrington, a town next to Clitheroe, teaches 30 Arabic and Koranic students, ages 5 to 15, in three sessions daily.

A Secular Humanist or Muslim Britain?

Posted April 2, 2007