A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Jesus vs. The Pharisees

In response to Candace Chellew-Hodge's piece on the site, Religion's Dispatch, which claimed "Jesus never built a bridge with a Pharisee," I raised an issue that I think is key. Some liberals are apt to use the word pharisee for conservative but there's a polemic hidden in there.

Pharisees are after all, the basis of what would become Rabbinic Judaism. If one put the headline "Jesus Never Built a Bridge with a Jew", that could perhaps highlight why using the word Pharisee as an anti-type is problematic.

Maybe we could raise the question of what does it mean for a religious position (including those found in the New Testament) to be so dependent on an "other" to define itself over and against? Christianity's other in some measure was Judaism and that history is an ugly one.

I'm worried when liberals have an "other" too. Contending over real differences is important. But we ought to be mindful of what spirit we contend. So we don't repeat the mistakes of the past and so we can be open to what God might call us to be in light of engaging others.

Her response indicated that she did not mean anything by the use of this anti-type and in any case, it's found within the New Testament. I respond by noting the history of this anti-type, ie one of pitting Judaism as everything that is not Christianity.

If it's been used for ill (which it has), if we use this idea or this language, we have to be careful. It's not so much a matter of personal intention as how our language can be take by others, (especially if that language has a long and unfortunate history).

And while I agree that we do find this in the Gospels that doesn't lessen the problem. If anything it may make us more critical in looking at how the communities that formed the Gospels defined their status against other people.

The Pharisees prominence as a competitor to Christianity, especially after the fall of Jerusalem, makes these stories of Jesus clashing with the Pharisees all the more suspect.

Especially as the stories of Good Friday confront us, with "the Jews" and how that has played out historically in anti-semitism, we ought to rexamine our language and history and ask how we want to relate and not relate to those who are different.