Christian cred

Think about these statements:

“Bear with me.”
“Please hear me out.”
“It will all make sense in the end.”

Why are these requests necessary? When are they made?

To what feeling in the listener is the speaker responding?

What kind of appeal is being made? Do we owe it to another to give him a full hearing?

When is the appeal denied? Is it a matter of credibility?

What is the experience of denial?

*

To read the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is to experience the most pluralistic religious vision ever recorded, from the most accutely and radically pluralistic people who ever lived. In what other scripture is the same story is recounted three different times from the point of view of three different people? It would have been easier and more obvious to collapse them into one univocal account, but instead the three experiences, three meaningful visions were presented together in a three-in-one synopsis – syn– (together) –opsis (seeing). [* See note 1 below]

I like to think of pluralism as a kind of parallax vision, that allows us to see hyper-dimensionally. With one eye you see a flat picture. With two eyes working in concert we see depth. Our so-called “inner eye” draws out the dimension of meaning. With a pluralistic synopsis we see meaning together – we share meaning and have community. We gain understanding, which the Greeks called synesis.

*

By the time Jesus began teaching his distinctively Jewish universal vision of life, the Jewish tradition had survived and overcome numerous cultural crises. They had dominated and been subjugated, had won their home and lost it. They knew belonging and alienation, and they knew both sides of power.

Most importantly they knew that knowledge of experience means to know an experience from the inside. Experiencing is inseparable from that which is experienced, and this means, to use a common visual analogy, that  experience is inseparable from its vision, as how the world looks from that experience. (One of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Edmund Husserl called this “intentionality”: seeing and seen are inseparable, as are hearing and sound, feeling and sensation, etc. [* See note 2 below].)

The Jews knew better than anyone that power is something that can be seen, but even more, it is a way of seeing – of life and the world as a whole. Power has its own kind of vision. When an emperor sees himself, or his court, or a rival power, or he looks upon a conquered enemy or slave, that emperor sees something radically different than the slave regarding the same situation. Power is something different, powerlessness is different. A palace, a body, a tree, a poem… everything is the same in a sense, but things are deeply different. The same goes for a stranger, expat, wanderer, outcast or outcaste.

Out of necessity, the Jews had to develop a way of preserving themselves as a tradition within these conditions. That meant living on a line between provoking attacks from the outside and simply dissolving from cultural self-indifference or self-disgust. They had to internalize their strength. They had to find dignity in their vulnerability to escape the indignity of weakness.

There was no way such a response to such a universal problem was going to stay contained within a small ethnic tradition forever. Whether it was Jesus or Paul, somehow the radical insights of Judaism went universal.

*

A series of words derived from the Latin word credere, “believe, trust”:

  • Credit
  • Credential
  • Credence
  • Creed
  • Credo

A series of words derived from the Old English word agan, “believe, trust.” :

  • Own
  • Owe
  • Ought (originally past tense of “owe”)

A series of words derived from Latin auditor, from audire, “to hear”:

  • Audit
  • Audition
  • Auditorium
  • Auditory
  • Audio

*

An example of divergent accounts from two of the Synoptic Gospels (which some scholars believe were adapted from yet another lost Gospel, “Q”, possibly a compendium of sayings similar to the (in)famous Gospel of Thomas).

These two passages are taken from Jesus’s famous Lord’s Prayer, his instructions on how to pray.

Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Luke 11:4: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word used was opheilema. [* See note 3 below.]

In Luke 11:4, the Greek word was hamartia, which means literally “missing the mark”.

*

Out of time. Darn. I’ll finish this post if there’s any interest. [* See note 4 below.]

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* NOTE 1:  To call the New Testament inconsistent as some atheists do is to miss the point. To argue over which meaning is the right meaning as the fundamentalists do is to betray the point. To behave as though a plurality of possible meaning implies that all meanings are equivalent and that it is meaningless to discuss them… to go skeptical on that basis, and to ask cynically, rhetorically “what is truth?”… to wash one’s hands of the responsibility to engage dialogically in pursuit of understanding… that’s complicity in the conflict.

* NOTE 2:  Intentionality in Husserl’s sense is a core religious insight, expressed in a variety of forms, from the Jewish Star of David, to the Chinese yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin, to the Greek Janusian herms (with Hermes’s head fused to the head of a goddess, often Aphrodite), to the Hermetic hermaphroditic Androgyne, male on the right, female on the left, sun on the right, moon on the left. Listen for the inside-outside symbolic structure and you’ll find it everywhere. This capacity to hear and understand the form-language of symbol is what I believe is meant by “having ears that hear.”

* NOTE 3: Opheilema seemed like it might have a connection with the name “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if there was an etymological connection. According to Wikipedia, “the name ‘Ophelia’ itself was either uncommon or nonexistent; the only known prior text to use the name (as “Ofalia”) is Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia.” It seems fairly obvious the name is a combination of opheilema and philia, love – “love debt” – love unrequited.)

* NOTE 4: Etymology of “interest”: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally as interess): from Anglo-Norman French interesse, from Latin interesse ‘differ, be important,’ from inter– ‘between’ + esse ‘be.’ The -t was added partly by association with Old French interest ‘damage, loss,’ apparently from Latin interest ‘it is important.’ Also influenced by medieval Latin interesse ‘compensation for a debtor’s defaulting.’

4 thoughts on “Christian cred

  1. Please continue developing these points, Stephen, especially the tension inherent in the synoptic gospels and the beautiful synthesis that emerges when we give credence to validity of one’s experience. I recently heard a Christian-turned-atheist, Bart Ehrman, on NPR attempt to invalidate Christianity by citing “contradictions” in the four gospels. He conveniently makes no reference to the inherent probity of an individual’s experience and his or her right to relate it.

    I sensed your opening comments are principally related to matters at hand, and I believe dialectical courage is called for here, to arrest if nothing else, the inexorable march to polite acquiescence. Whatever happened to thesis, antithesis, synthesis? We appear to be racing toward disemboweled, AND dishonest, decision-making in the name of expediency.

  2. “I sensed your opening comments are principally related to matters at hand…”

    The inverse would more accurate: the matters at hand are significant to me because they relate to my opening comments.

    The theme of dialogue — what it is, what it means, when is it difficult, how is it obstructed, why people obstruct or avoid it — is always present and often central in all my thinking. For example, have a look at this post from almost three years ago that I reposted back in January: http://anomalogue.com/blog/2009/01/31/repost-from-my-old-journal-4106/

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