Sunday, August 13, 2006

I Am Extinct

Today I found out I am extinct.

I was talking with a very nice man in his forties about the Bible. I mentioned that I taught Bible at Middle Tennessee State University, and he said joyfully, “Oh, you are a Christian!”

“No,” I said, “I am a Jew.” I expected some response, some well polished piece of evangelism designed to save my soul from eternal damnation for not believing in Jesus just the way this fellow did, but he simply stared at me. He had no idea what I just said.

“You, know,” I prompted him. “I’m Jewish. Like Jesus.” He continued to look at me without any expression at all. And then he said, “I didn’t know there were any Jewish.”

Now I am not a novice when it comes to ignorance about Jews, whether it comes from fellow Jews or Christians, but this is the first time I have actually encountered a person who had no idea that Jews still existed. After all who did he think ran Hollywood? And who would be slaughtered at the Second Coming? And who would be the 144,000 to finally accept Jesus as Christ at the End Times? This guy thought we were extinct. Wishful thinking? Not at all: Christians needed Jews to kill their god and continue to need them to recognize him when he comes back.

“Aren’t Jews Christians?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We came before Christianity, about 4000 years ago. Jesus was a Jew, Christianity comes after Jesus.” I probably should have left this last part out, it only confused him more.

“Jesus is a Christian. His last name is Christ. That wouldn’t make sense if he weren’t a Christian.”

I know when I am licked. “You know you may be right,” I said. “It is like talking about King David. He must have been a king or we wouldn’t call him that. Or Mother Mary, she must be the Mother of God or we wouldn’t call her that. Or the Prophet Mohammed, he must have been God’s prophet or people wouldn’t call him that either.”

For a second I thought he caught my sarcasm. But then he said, “Yeah, like that.”

So there is hope. The key to interfaith dialogue is not seeking truth together, but not making a big deal out of each other’s ignorance.

1 comment:

AaronHerschel said...

I've noticed two very general types of ignorance when it comes to religion. The first is bred from devotion to, or maybe faith in, religious authority. Church and synagogue going folks listen to their preachers. They trust in those people vetted by church or synagogue or mosque to tell them the Truth, in all its monolithic, capitalized glory. In a very modern, Western way, they believe implicitly in the doctrine of specialization. The preacher (be he priest, rabbi, or imam) is a specialist, an expert in all things holy, whose authority is backed not necessarily by works, but by the trappings of their office: by Masters' degrees and Doctorates on the secular end, and by the theater of ritual and the organizational strength of a Church on the spiritual one. The underlying message here is that spiritual knowledge is exclusive, and that the preacher's pre-approved understanding is de facto clearer and more true than the parishioner's. After all, he's the one behind teh podium, chanting a dead language and wearing a dramatically flowing robe. It does not occur to anyone to read the text deeply for themselves because their thought process has been preempted. Why struggle to Know when you've already been Told?

The other kind of ignorance has the same result but, ironically, stems from a deep seated distrust in authority. This is the most common form of ignorance amongst people in my age range (ie twenty somethings). For us, there seems to be a kind of faith in the democraticization of knowledge that undermines out ability to discern truth. Every statement of belief is reduced to opinion, and everyone has a right to their own opinion. The result is an unwillingness to even broach the subject of spirituality, since discussion and debate in this context are counter-democratic, and therefore anathema. Further, our leveling of the spiritual playing field leads to a sense that there is no truth to be had in any case. Nothing is true is our idea fixee. The tragedy is that while this is certainly correct--in the sense that gnosis will always exceed our attempts to systematize it or contain it in language--it becomes the ultimate rationalization for avoiding the issue.