One might think that nothing new could yet be written about the Apostle Paul…. Wrong! Especially when an often-overlooked but key endeavor of Paul’s has directly to do with our entire view of what the earliest Christians were like and what they believed.
This book, by independent scholar and filmmaker, Robert Orlando, takes a new angle to understanding what Paul was really trying to accomplish and to the nature of his relationship with the Jerusalem Jesus-followers, James (Jesus’ brother and main leader of the Jerusalem group), and Peter. (It’s not what Christians through the ages have been led to think.) A reasonable-length review cannot fully cover or critique the case Orlando makes… for that you should get the book or the DVD or both… but I will give the main points in the course of the review. First, how the approach of this book and its companion documentary film of the same title is new and different from the usual fare in biblical studies or histories of Christian origins (I’ll cautiously use the common term, “early Church”, largely interchangeably, with the note pertinent to the book’s thesis, that the evidence shows the existence of “early churches” only loosely connected, not a single early church):
We generally get, and personally take on a perspective on Paul and his mission, and him within early Christianity, from a theological vantage point… theological analysis primarily. We usually also get some review of his work geographically in terms of his “missionary journeys” which covered much of “Asia” (western present-day Turkey) and “Acaia” (Greek peninsula) and Macedonia (then and now, just to the north). Only occasionally do studies have some inclusion of, or perhaps a focus on cultural, sociological, and local or regional social factors. In A Polite Bribe Orlando is careful to include these and at least one more factor in effective balance.
That additional factor is discerning and re-creating a narrative for Paul’s life – Paul’s story, from the seven or so letters we can be assured he wrote, mainly to various of the churches he founded. (Orlando properly, in my view, sticks to the seven “undisputed” letters of Paul, and by this is on solid ground.) Paul never develops his own story much, beyond brief summaries of his “resume” (credentials for his authority) and general references to his revelatory experiences of Christ and insights or guidance from God. Much more of what most people “know” of Paul comes from Acts via “Luke” (or whoever was the unnamed author of Luke/Acts). The latter material tends to be more story and biography, but as the book shows, in harmony with many top scholars, Acts is continually and seriously slanted to present a smoothed-over selective history, giving the appearance of a unified and harmonious early Church. This is often in stark contrast with the letters of Paul, “snapshot” style and unfiltered as they are.
Most in focus within this contrast, in which we see Paul regularly at serious odds and angry with the leaders of the Jerusalem “church” and their delegates, is the matter of Paul’s collection of large sums for the support of “the poor” in the Jerusalem community. (The term served double meaning as a moniker for the believers there as well as some who were in material need.) Most of us either entirely missed the long-term focus of Paul on this “polite bribe” arrangement or have slighted the centrality and importance of it for understanding both Paul’s personal mission and his tense and tenuous relationship with the Apostles and “bishop” James in Jerusalem. This dynamic, and dynamic it is, becomes the focus of this fascinating book.
Now what, referred to earlier, is refreshingly different in Orlando’s approach is his perception as story-observer and story-developer (as filmmaker and beyond)… a perspective he imparts to us, along with some explanation of the structure of the archetypal hero’s journey. (This is something we all relate to at one level or another, sometimes consciously, sometimes not.) Here he astutely cites Carl Jung, probably the most spiritually-aware and “into” the deep-subconscious of all psychologists of at least the bulk of the last century if not to date. It is by tracing not just the beliefs and teachings of the Apostle Paul, but his actions, particularly as oriented so heavily around the taking and delivery, in person, of the “collection for the saints”, that Orlando masterfully reveals both the deeper Paul and the true nature and extent of the conflict between Paul and the other Apostles.
So the above explains why you should get and read the book (and watch the DVD or see a screening when it comes to your area… both can be found here). Particularly the DVD, but also the book, is for anyone with interest or curiosity. The book is versatile… it has so many footnotes that it will benefit the scholarly, but it is written plainly and understandably, with the lay or non-religious person in mind, even those with minimal knowledge of the New Testament.
And below are a few other features of the book which enhance its message and its value.
- Orlando avoids speculation re. possible subconscious motives and stays with what most would agree to be expected motivations given what Paul’s own writings show clearly about him and his sense of mission, his goals, etc.
- There is a most interesting “Prologue” where the author sets the stage for his coming narrative with a helpful timeline. Also here Orlando posts a clever open letter to Theophilus, the patron who “Luke”, the author of Acts of the Apostles, addresses. It alerts Theophilus of a major, apparently purposeful omission of Luke… one filled in somewhat by other recent scholars, and now in more detail and focus by Orlando (not the collection itself, but related to it). If Theophilus is currently able to read this letter, I’m sure he’s already become aware of what it alerts him (and us) to, but I loved this being slipped in!
- The notes and bibliography are a treasure-trove in themselves for anyone with interest to pursue Pauline or Christian origins studies in general, or seek to validate or critique Orlando’s points specifically.
[This book was provided by the publisher. This has not influenced my review.]
Here again is the link to the author’s site for more on both the book and the DVD or film screenings: apolitebribe.com
Josephus (late first century Jewish historian in Roman employ) makes a much more substantial reference to John the Baptist and his work than he does to Jesus. Do we know why?
Not really, but fellow blogger Brian LePort and I have been mutually exploring the topic, and related issues, in a series of posts. We are digging out a few clues about that curiosity, and using Josephus’ comments toward figuring out some puzzling things about the connection between John and Jesus. The exact nature of the connection and its implications are much more developed but yet far from clear in the New Testament (NT) itself. It is the only other first century source we have about John, who was executed just east of the Dead Sea in about 28-30 C.E., around the time of Jesus’ coming to prominence.)
I encourage you to read the earlier installments of this “diablog”, through the links below. Brian’s last post is also linked here. And here is a brief summary of what we’ve covered so far:
Josephus seems favorable to John, believing him to have been a sincere preacher. (He does not suggest he was a “prophet” and neither he nor the NT suggest he had a healing or exorcism ministry like that of Jesus… rather Josephus emphasizes how John moved crowds and drew apparently a sizable following…. I’d say at least in the several hundred range, if not low thousands. The larger number seems quite reasonable if one includes those who “came out” to wilderness areas to see/hear John but may not have been baptized or continued following.)
It is the size and enthusiasm of John’s following that Josephus suggests was the reason Herod Antipas (Jewish Tetrarch of the Galilee and Judea region) had him executed as a sort of “preventive” measure against a potential uprising, like several before and after the time of John… These were dangerous to both the Jewish or partially Jewish leaders of the region and to the Romans. We often forget that the social-economic-political situation, intertwined with Jewish religious practices, was very unstable and fluid at the time.
Josephus seems to evidence some familiarity with the theology (underlying thinking) as well as the outward behavior of John in preaching and baptizing… a theology he, as a Jew and defender of Judaism, seems comfortable with. It should also be noted that Josephus clearly made John as a person, and his teaching, sound more Greek/Roman than they were in their Jewish context. This was his general approach throughout his historical writings.
These points, added to others we’ve made in the series so far raise a few important questions:
- Was Josephus aware of but purposely leaving out what the NT repeatedly asserts was the main significance of John’s message and work: to introduce Jesus as Messiah and Son of God? (Josephus’ knowledge or motive is probably beyond answering and we will here soon pivot to a focus on what the NT says about John.)
- The NT clearly presents the role, the person and the significance of Jesus as superior to John… that John’s main purpose and calling was to prepare the way for and elevate Jesus. If this is at all an accurate picture, would it not be something Josephus would be aware of? (O.k… I think we can know something about Josephus’ knowledge, and have strong suspicion here.) While often selective in his reporting, he was one who apparently consulted many sources and does show a seemingly unbiased awareness of James as leader of the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem, and of Jesus himself. So he is not trying excise Jesus and his followers from his record, as one might suspect, perhaps reasonably.
- If Josephus did not miss or gloss over something major, and John was largely independent of Jesus, why does the NT present him so strongly as existing just in order to prepare for Jesus and “decrease” while Jesus would “increase”? (John, as we will later develop from NT statements, clearly had an influence if not a serious “following” even outside of Israel decades later.) The implication of what Josephus says seems to be that John’s following and his influence was actually greater than that of Jesus, at least up to 93 or 94 C.E. when “Antiquities of the Jews” was written. Now the context of his remarks is mainly the actions of Herod Antipas, not John as a separate figure to be expounded on. However, Pontius Pilate was a similarly noteworthy figure who does get attention from Josephus (and other historical records) and yet Josephus does not mention Pilate’s role in the crucifixion of Jesus, or anything else about that event (suggesting it may not have been as “major” or noted at the time as the NT and Christian tradition suggests, or??… but I digress).
At the least, a consideration of this described situation of what Josephus does and does not say about John the Baptist should cause us to ponder more deeply what may be the reality of who John was and just how his teaching and following intersected with and influenced or aided Jesus. For example, is it possible that John’s followers operated either parallel with or even in some kind of “friendly competition” with Jesus’ ministry or Jesus’ followers later?
Here are links to Brian’s previous posts in this series (followed by mine below):
Links to my prior posts in the series:
The life and death of John the Baptist should be of strong interest to anyone serious about understanding Jesus, about studying the Bible – whether for spiritual benefit or knowledge of history and the birth of Christianity.
This is the next post in an ongoing series between Brian LePort, PhD biblical studies student, and me. Brian focuses a lot on John, partly because he sees attention to him being seriously underplayed in the understanding of most of us, as well as the scholarly world. I observe the same thing. In a time when study of the life and ministry of Jesus is drawing a lot of attention, we believe there is a sort of gap to be filled in here, as much as that may be possible. No, we don’t know of any “secret” new documents and when we engage in speculation we will always try to label it so, plainly. But lacking new textual or archaeological discoveries does not mean there is nothing new to be noted, particularly for personal understanding, in the sources we do have.
As to sources that date fairly close to the lifetimes of John and Jesus (which are largely overlapping), that is, late first century, we have only Josephus’ history and the New Testament (NT), mainly the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. Now, Josephus presents information largely additional to that in the NT and possibly somewhat in conflict with it. Our first exchange dealt mainly with the Josephus material. There is enough there, and of importance, that today’s post here and Brian’s post (found here) of yesterday continue to deal with it. If you haven’t yet, please go to Brian’s blog and read the article so you will better understand my comments here.
The quick summary of it is this: Josephus noted John to be a “good man” calling people to “virtue” (a crucial Greek concept in this work in Greek, which Josephus was proficient in) in the form of “… righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God…”. Thus did Josephus seek to wed Greek and Hebrew religious concepts. He did this throughout particularly this later of his major histories. He was trying to increase the respectability of Jews after the major revolt and subsequent war in which Rome had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.
Some further background: Josephus had been, as an aristocrat, a young general in the beginnings of the revolt against Rome that began in Galilee, the same region where Jesus grew up and where most of his ministry of healing and teaching took place. The initial rebel group and Josephus were quickly captured. At some point thereafter Josephus began cooperating with the Roman military leaders and ultimately came into the employ of more than one emperor. Having changed his viewpoint after capture… some would say became a traitor… as a chronicler, he took the position that the rebels were a radical and small minority who pushed the nation into a foolish war. One which God did not back, but rather, God used Rome for God’s ends. Yet he remained essentially loyal to things Jewish, working to support Jews throughout Rome’s Empire, and with a continuing Jewish outlook on things, moderated by a significant Greek/Roman exposure. (My summary though in quotation format.)
Returning to Josephus on John: Brian quotes Josephus and covers how Herod Antipas, the Roman-endorsed Tetrarch of the region and son of Herod the Great, felt threatened by the possibility of John leading a popular revolt. (We have no evidence that John planned to do so, but it was probably a logical fear of Antipas’.) So he had him imprisoned and put to death.
One of Brian’s important points is that for a prophet or preacher to address personal choices to be fair and just with one’s neighbors and fellow citizens at least potentially impacts a social structure and economics (always “follow the money”). Additionally, the Jewish system, largely left intact during Roman occupation, was one in which religion and its rituals and laws (Torah) were all a part of the larger socio-economic order and operations of important aspects of life (Sabbath, Feast days, diet, etc.). There was not a “separation of church and state” as we are used to. However, the Roman state, outside the Jewish systems, did exercise ultimate control before and after the war of 66-70. So John may well have represented a threat to the status quo in a serious way for a ruler like Antipas.
Brian and I wrapped up in discussing the size of John’s following and of the crowds that gathered in “the wilderness” near the Jordan. (We can’t be certain exactly where, likely at various points where the approach to the river and areas to baptize were suitable.) We can’t know the actual numbers of people hearing or following John, but both Josephus and the NT line up that it must have been substantial, perhaps in the thousands. (Josephus elsewhere gives figures for Pharisees and Essenes, two of the three major “philosophies” he describes, at around 6000 and 4000 respectively.) It would seem this would mark a likely maximum, with the number probably a bit lower during John’s lifetime. (A peek ahead: we know his movement continued after his death, and at least partially distinct from the followers of Jesus, but there is very little information on it until after the first century. But this, in itself, raises some interesting questions.)
Some possible points to consider in further study of John: Can we infer anything else of importance in what John was trying to accomplish? How does it relate to our own spirituality in our modern context? Are there things to learn from John directly, beyond his introduction of Jesus, supposedly in his day and certainly to us, as found in our Gospels?
Was his emphasis only on “preparing the way” for the coming of Jesus, and declaring him to be the promised Messiah? If so, why did Josephus make no mention of this at all? It is possible… is it realistic… to try to reconcile Josephus’ account with those in the Gospels and Acts (the latter including some reference to his followers decades later)? Are one or more of the authors purposely skewing something, maybe even putting words in John’s mouth quite different from his actual message? (Some of these may be jumping ahead more than Brian has in mind, and if so, they will stand as teasers for later.)
Something a little different for this blog: First, today’s article will be first in a series back and forth between me and a fellow blogger, Brian LePort… he introduces what we intend to do further below.
Second, this “diablog” will be more involving of history and biblical studies than I’ve generally done here. You may know that I dip in and out of certain issues of biblical scholarship, particularly as they relate to certain matters of faith. There is quite a bit of detail in today’s article but some others should be shorter and less detailed. They also may become more interesting as we move into important issues that involve early Christian beliefs and the New Testament. All of this about John the Baptist in relation to Jesus, and the followers of each of them, is something which I think Brian and I agree is way too little examined and discussed. This is particularly so for lay people reading or studying the New Testament (NT) and Christian origins.
I want to add that I am only a well-informed lay person myself, although with a seminary degree and some PhD theological study, but not focused on biblical scholarship. Brian, on the other hand, is a current PhD student in biblical studies, with lots of earlier study under his belt as well. His main focus area is planned to be on John the Baptist and related issues; and he uses Greek and other languages where pertinent. (My knowledge of Greek is mostly forgotten and I never knew enough Hebrew to even count as useful.) So Brian will be doing most of the “heavy lifting” on this series. My contribution remains to be seen, but may involve some aspects of sociological or psychological factors, the development of religion and mythology, and general issues of Christian origins or NT texts, which I have studied in fair depth.
So… just below is Brian’s introduction and initial article (access here), to which I will respond briefly following….
Recently, Howard Pepper contacted me in response to the articles that I’ve been writing about John the Baptist for Bible Study and the Christian Life (see The Popularity of John the Baptist; The Proclamation of John the Baptist; and Was the Prophesy of John the Baptist Fulfilled?). He wanted to know if I’d be interested in dialoging about the Baptist via our blogs (we might call it “diablogging”). I thought that this could be an enjoyable exercise since I’m already doing a lot of studying about this important figure and it is nice to talk to people with shared interest. We decided to begin with Josephus’ passing description of the Baptist since this is a lesser known perspective when compared with that presented in the early Christian Gospels. Eventually we will make our way through the Gospels and the Book of Acts and then maybe even further examining later literature.
This is the above mentioned text from Josephus in Antiquities 18.5.109-119 that mentions the Baptist (if you don’t want to read the whole excerpt, the second paragraph describes John and I summarized the first paragraph below):
(109) About this time Aretas (the king of Arabia Petrea) and Herod had a quarrel, on the account following: Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas, and had lived with her a great while; but when he was once at Rome, he lodged with Herod, who was his brother indeed, but not by the same mother; for his Herod was the son of the high priest Simon’s daughter. (110) However, he fell in love with Herodias, this last Herod’s wife, who was the daughter of Aristobulus their brother, and the sister of Agrippa the Great. This man ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; which address when she admitted, an agreement was made for her to change her habitation, and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome; one article of this marriage also was this, that he should divorce Aretas’s daughter. (111) So Antipas, when he had made this agreement, sailed to Rome; but when he had done there the business he went about, and was returned again, his wife having discovered the agreement he had made with Herodias, and having learned it before he had notice of her knowledge of the whole design, she desired him to send her to Macherus, which is a place on the borders of the dominions of Aretas and Herod, without informing him of any of her intentions. (112) Accordingly Herod sent her thither, as thinking his wife had not perceived anything; now she had sent a good while before to Macherus, which was subject to her father, and so all things necessary for her journey were made ready for her by the general of Aretas’s army and by that means she soon came into Arabia, under the conduct of the several generals, who carried her from one to another successively; and she soon came to her father, and told him of Herod’s intentions. (113) So Aretas made this the first occasion of his enmity between him and Herod, who had also some quarrel with him about their limits at the country of Gamalitis. So they raised armies on both sides, and prepared for war, and sent their generals to fight instead of themselves; (114) and, when they had joined battle, all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army. (115) So Herod wrote about these affairs to Tiberius; who, being very angry at the attempt made by Aretas, wrote to Vitellius, to make war upon him, and either to take him alive, and bring him to him in bonds, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the charge that Tiberius gave to the president of Syria.
(116) Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; (117) for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. (118) Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. (119) Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him.” 
Source: Wikipedia Commons
In summary, Herod Antipas the Tetrarch over Galilee and Perea is married to the daughter of King Aretas IV, the ruler of the Nabateans (see the map for regions). While visiting his half-brother Herod Philip I in Rome he falls in love with his wife, Herodias, who was also the daughter of another half-brother, Aristobulus. Herodias agrees to marry Antipas if he divorces his wife. The news of this arrangement found its way back to Antipas’ wife who requested of Antipas that she might spend some time at Macherus, a fortress near the border shared with the Nabateans.  Since Antipas did not know that she knew of his plans he had no idea that she wanted to go to Macherus in order to slip back into her father’s territory. Once she had done this it was possible for Aretas IV to war against Antipas, and he did, and he defeated Antipas’ forces soundly.
Where does the Baptist come into the picture? Well, Josephus says that Antipas executed John because of John’s sway over the people. He believed that they would listen to anything he said, which could destabilize the region, especially if John called for some sort of revolt against Antipas. So, Antipas executed John. When Antipas was defeated by the Nabateans the people remembered this event, which may have been several years earlier, and they said that it was God’s vengeance on John’s behalf that caused the outcome.
There remains a lot more to be said, most importantly about how the Baptist is described, but I want to give Howard Pepper a chance to respond with any insights or questions he might have about this section. His blog is Natural Spirituality. When he has posted his introduction (i.e., Pt. 1b) I will link to it here then respond at a later date.
Howard: A few things are of special note in this section. One, that Josephus claims John’s execution was a sort of “preemptive strike” by Herod Antipas (not to be confused with Herod the Great, btw, for some readers… who was the Herod of the time of Jesus’ birth. This is one of his several sons, if I recall rightly). This indicates what Josephus also develops in great detail: how rebellious factions arose commonly in those times, often led by a charismatic prophet or messiah figure. However, neither Josephus nor the NT hint that John encouraged violence or political rebellion or that his following was prone toward it… just that Herod feared it, perhaps mainly because conditions were so unstable.
Josephus and the NT seem to line up that John was “good” or “righteous” (which doesn’t automatically exclude political rebellion), that he was concerned with repentance from sin (especially in relation to Torah… Jewish law, apparently, and perhaps from collaboration with Rome unduly… which involves that gray area of politics that may have spooked Herod). He was also known for baptizing, and that not through any of the “established” institutions of the priesthood or Temple…. And his wilderness ministry, around the Jordan River according to the NT, was quite a few very hilly miles from Jerusalem.
Perhaps as important as anything, Josephus and the NT agree that John drew large and enthusiastic crowds. One question here that comes to mind, Brian, is what numbers might we be talking about as to crowds or the total number of people baptized by John? When the NT gives any numbers for those hearing Jesus, reportedly at 4000 or 5000, I tend to believe those were symbolic numbers for a crowd that may well have been much smaller…. or even possibly larger. What might a “crowd” be in wilderness terms, and in 1st century Palestine terms?
[Go to Brian LePort's blog here for his original or to find his reply]
Those of us who have been part of Evangelical Christianity or have been close to the movement tend to have the impression that it never changes.
That is not far off… in that most Evangelicals and their leaders do take a timeless view of God and of “absolute truth”. Such truth is, to them, revealed in the Bible. Their concept is that current Evangelical or “Bible-believing” faith represents the faith “once for all delivered to the Saints” in the first century. There is indeed a lot of resistance to both internal change and to supporting cultural change, especially around things involving sexuality.
However, as this fascinating article by a Scottish Anglican Provost claims, Evangelicals do change, even on issues they take very seriously, but tend to lag about 30 years behind the broader culture.
The article is titled “10 Things Evangelicals Don’t Tell You at First”. It’s not that these ten things (or others) are carefully-guarded secrets. They are not actively hidden from outsiders or new members. But at least some of them are either not realized by less-informed Evangelicals or are downplayed in most church services (such as belief in a literal hell and who is believed to be headed there).
There are other good insights in this fairly short article… things I find to be true to both the American Evangelicalism I grew up in and left about 20 years ago and to what I observe of current Evangelicalism. Take a look, here.
There is an article on Christianity Today‘s website, recently posted, summarizing a panel discussion among some Christian leaders, including the author, Ed Stetzer. I found it encouraging on one level and frustrating on another.
The article explains that the discussion (the audio of which they link to) focused a lot on issues of salvation. It asks, as did the participants in the panel, under what circumstances Christians can cooperate on missions given their differences, among other similar questions. I’m encouraged with this example of somewhat greater concern merely TO cooperate and to be mutually accepting than often in the past within traditional Christianity.
At the same time, I’m frustrated that leaders like these remain largely bound within restrictive doctrinal (theological) systems. They perhaps do not even recognize as “Christian” the versions of Christian theology and church practices that differ more significantly from them than do the conversation partners of this panel. And this kind of thing is multiplied many times over…. Evangelicalism is actually (contrary to the popular media picture) getting more diverse, theologically open and generally more tolerant of differences. Yet its core and most key leaders still keep attempts at inclusion and cooperation largely “in-house”.
So I’ve set the context for what follows…. With the above situation in mind, here is the response I posted in the comment section of this article:
I’m glad to see this kind of discussion, as a former Evangelical. My tradition and main alliances (schools and churches attended and ministered in and such), like the author’s, generally worked within the Calvinist-Arminian differences. This I was grateful for.
However, now with much deeper biblical and other study behind me, I see an even greater need to expand the conversation partners. For example, why not include Process theologians and pastors much more often… or Evangelicals reach out to them and vice-versa? I realize a mild version of this happened mostly a couple or more decades ago when Open theology (still within Evangelicalism, so not as far along the same lines as Process goes) was being discussed more.
Yes, the entire paradigm of interpretation is different within Process and not able to be fully harmonized with a more traditional supernaturalist view of God and the Bible. But at the least, more such conversations and attempts to cooperate on compassionate missions of helping neighbors (anyone, and in today’s world, anywhere) in need, would help both groups grow and live out more of the “gospel” (defined almost any way one will).
Most religious people don’t care what other people feel about their religious group… supposedly!
The Pew Forum just released a survey of how Americans feel about their own as well as other religious groups… basically how positively or negatively they view them. Why would they so such a survey?
Probably because people DO care what others think of them. Or at least a lot of us do, regardless if we say to ourselves or others that it doesn’t matter. (The “doesn’t matter” is usually because what counts, on a conscious level, is getting it right as to views of God, the Bible, etc.) And to the truly mature, the views of most other people really doesn’t matter (but that’s a very small percentage of people, in my understanding).
I won’t spend much time summarizing the interesting Pew survey results – just a couple highlights and refer you to their website’s report here. Jews, Roman Catholics, and Evangelical Christians are all viewed similarly… and most positively by Americans overall. Respectively, at 63, 62, and 61 percent. (The survey was worded such that 50% is neutral, below that, negative.)
What should be noted, however, is that each group, such as Evangelicals and Catholics, are included in the totals, and these two are the largest religious groups in the U.S. According to the tables on the Pew Forum site, Protestants who reported were broken into three groups: “White evangelical”, “White mainline” and “Black Protestant”, while only “Evangelical Christian” was listed as a group that people reported on, as to how they felt toward them. Another important fact is that the size of the reporting group is quite large: 3217 people.
As one would expect, including a sizable number of one’s own group increases its overall favorability quite a bit. In the case of Evangelicals, for example, their white members rated the group at 82, versus the 61 overall rating. (Their rating from all others, non-evangelicals, was only 52, slightly above neutral.)
The most negative views of another group happen to go both ways between two not-surprising ones: Evangelicals view atheists at only 25 and atheists view Evangelicals at 28. That would seem to be explained as each viewing the others’ beliefs as detrimental and/or dangerous. I doubt that it has a strong interpersonal dimension: the survey also affirms the common-sense view that when you know someone of another group personally, you are more likely to see them positively than you do the group as a whole.