The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church is still a fascinating and important book! It was written over 60 years ago (1951; 2nd edition, reviewed here, 1957). Some of its key points deserve mention.
I’ll do that here, as it’s tough to find the book, and not an easy read if you do. It’s a scholarly work written largely for other scholars… footnotes and occasional phrases in the text in at least 4 languages besides English.
The author is accomplished British biblical scholar, SGF Brandon. Despite its detail and depth, the book never got much traction. Brandon was one of a small percentage of scholars in that period (to some extent, still) who were concluding that the Jerusalem style of Jewish Christianity was significantly different than the Pauline style of a more “universal” (Jewish/Gentile) Christianity. The latter was more the source of later Christian orthodoxy. The Jewish elements would be largely set aside, other than the foundation in Hebrew Scripture (the “Old Testament”), with its concept of a coming Messiah.
In The Fall of Jerusalem… Brandon meticulously makes the case that the events of the Roman-Jewish war ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and The Temple in 70 C.E. (A.D.) radically changed the course of what would become the “Christian faith”. This seems self-evident if one knows much about very early Christianity and the history of first century Palestine. But even few Christians do. Surveys have shown few people know much at all about the “fall” of Jerusalem in Roman times or when it took place, either as a date or in relation to Christian development and scriptures. This is serious miseducation.
It’s popular in recent years for Christians from a variety of strains of the faith to decry that the religion has become more “about Jesus” (particularly the Christ of Paul) than the religion “of Jesus” (his actual teachings as the Gospels present them). If anyone is looking for the earliest roots and evidences of this, mostly as seen within the New Testament itself, this book is masterful. In a nutshell, it makes the case that the fall of Jerusalem was a vital pivot point which effectively removed the authority and control of the Jerusalem leaders and encouraged the ascendence of Pauline views of Jesus (generally as “Christ” or Messiah in the sense of cosmic savior, not just Messiah of the Jewish nation, who would “restore the Kingdom to Israel” [Acts 1]).
Brandon regularly notes when he is being speculative, taking much of the wind out of the sails of that criticism of his work. (I mention this because other reading may bring up his work or that of similarly minded scholars.). Most of the time he’s pointing out important details in the NT texts that are important clues often passed over. Here are a few interesting issues, both historically and for the formation of Christianity:
- Whether the author (“Luke”) of the book of Acts, covering some of the same events Paul refers to, is sometimes in contradiction because he did not possess Paul’s letters (though writing well later).
- The agenda of Luke in Acts, to present a smooth and unified development of the early Church, contributed to such discrepancies and gives an idealized version that leaves a number of puzzling issues strangely unexplained. An example is how, when and why James supplanted Peter as Jerusalem leader. Another, what really happened to Paul on his final visit to Jerusalem where he narrowly escaped death and left in custody of Roman soldiers, the last few years of his life barely being covered and his death not at all. With this, what became of the large sum he’d collected over several years and was personally delivering to James and his co-leaders, concerned that this major investment of his time and the treasure of his followers might not be accepted. (Doctrinal and ethnic issues were wrapped up in this.)
- Luke seems to purposely bypass all history of the spread and development of Christian faith in North Africa, particularly Alexandria, then the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It had a very significant Jewish population in touch with Jerusalem and a bit later was a noted Christian center. Passing reference to the city in Acts shows Luke knew some form of Jesus-following existed there. Also that this belief system was distinctly different (inferior or in error?) than Paul’s… again, not fitting well in Luke’s agenda. Brandon suggests, with extensive analysis, that Alexandrian faith came to be represented, perhaps quite closely, in the Gospel of Matthew.
Among a lot of details, The Fall of Jerusalem importantly points out the big picture point that what happened in 66-70 C.E. turned out to perhaps have changed the course of Christian history and its view of the person of Jesus and the spiritual dynamics involved in following him. The loss of Jerusalem as the “seat” of authority and of the core Apostles/James (not one of the Twelve) group as far as any ongoing control of the movement was critical. It may have been the key factor in this major development: observant Jewish following of Jesus was so weakened that it eventually gave way to rabbinic Judaism and largely-Gentile Christianity. And the need and opportunity for the writing of the Gospels (well after Paul) was created.
The Pew Research Center has just released interesting data about women and men in their devotion to religion.
The article here includes some global graphics. Perhaps not surprising to most of us that women, in most parts of the world, are clearly more religious… though not in Muslim regions. But it is still close there and definitely not enough difference to re-balance the sizable edge for women in the rest of the world, especially in most of Europe, the Americas, and Australia.
In parts 1 and 2 of “Grand Scale Culture Wars” we looked at the development of two opposing views of reality: the naturalism of science and the supernaturalism of most of religion (especially traditional Christianity).
In secular higher education students are pressured to accept pure naturalism or humanism separated from all forms of religion. Actively fighting this on the other side, the churches of most Americans and many students may actually teach mistrust of science. Many more imply it. This while creating “faith” in God’s timely intervention in human affairs… since God operates outside of nature, manipulating it to his will. (Of course, the issue of when “last days” turns into “failed prophecy” is pushed under the rug.)
For some people, these absolutes of science and religion are just different angles of view, not opposing. But the “guardians” of both tend to put them at loggerheads, as exclusive approaches to truth. The result: battles, with massive stakes, over things like climate change. And much more.
Now I realize that it’s not just pure ideological conflict in this example or others. The fossil fuel industry has a powerful lobby and money talks! But I have to think that it’s much easier to get both politicians and many regular people on board with denial of extremely strong scientific consensus when there is already great skepticism of science.
This skepticism often grows directly out of supernaturalism. God created the world and controls it, in this worldview. We know because “he” tells us so in Genesis. But he doesn’t use evolution, as “invented” by science. In fact, as held by roughly 40% of Americans (shown in numerous surveys), God did this creating in seven days, a mere 10,000 or so years ago. (Apparently, this God is also a huge practical joker, making things only appear to be billions of years older.)
For our purposes, the point is that science is not to be trusted because the Bible, as revealed (if not inerrant) truth, says things that are in conflict with science. (Per a certain interpretation.) Agreed: there is a problem when “science” goes beyond real science and presumes to claim proof of a negative… that no kind of God exists. Or crosses the line from theory-checking into speculation. A problem also exists when foibles of human nature cause biases and blind spots. And yes, among “objective” scientists like everyone else.
Sometimes that even builds into a mostly-unconscious “conspiracy” to hold onto an outdated explanation of things, perhaps on a major scale. Thus, new discoveries can be held off… but seldom for long. And this process does not seem to explain at all the process of coming to consensus on human involvement in climate change. One wouldn’t expect, of course, a science skeptic to use a scientific approach to examining science itself as the internal critic, Thomas Kuhn, did decades ago. Rather, religious and/or secular fundamentalism has found ways to “explain”, so they think, how science could be so wrong on such a major issue.
Unless and until you study to gain some sense of how large-scale, international science works, don’t buy this dogma-led or money-motivated kind of crap. But still, I’ll say again, it’s important to always go through critical analysis…. I have “practiced what I preach” on this climate change issue.
We’ve not yet dealt with the development of the power of supernaturalism. We’ll do that in the next article. For now, here are a few of the factors that keep the perspective powerful. First is “the power of myth”. This phrase was either coined or made popular by Joseph Campbell in a series of popular works up to several years ago.
Our minds strive for a framework of understanding for our reality, our experiences. Our discussion has already been around this. These “mythic” (not “untrue”) frameworks do modify over time, both in cultures and in us individually. They make small-to-large leaps as we mature… from a childhood magical system to something more rational, on to… [higher stages we’ll not discuss yet.] But culture tends to reinforce a status quo which resists changing mythic explanations very fast. This goes, perhaps doubly, for sub-cultures such as fervid religious systems, fundamentalism being pertinent here.
So an individual either raised in such a sub-culture or “converted” into it will not only view things through the group’s framework. They will also experience strong peer or family pressure to not buck the system. People don’t like the apple cart being upset. When courageous mavericks do buck too much, voicing excessive doubt or proposing changes, they are usually formally or informally excommunicated. That way, the group resists change and can stay more stable.
Maybe you understand all this. But think about how things could be better for others, perhaps some friends or family of yours, if they were educated from an early age to understand these dynamics… and to beware. This is one way to promote positive change.
What’s happened to you along these lines? Or to people close to you?
Next time we will trace more of how Christianity began with these dynamics and has operated largely under their thumb.
In Part One of Grand Scale Culture Wars, I laid out how American/Western culture has developed serious battle lines in a big-picture “paradigm war”. This battle of worldviews feeds into our various “culture wars”.
We seem stuck with supporting either the pure naturalism of science (a matter-only universe) or the supernaturalism of religion (especially orthodox Christianity). It is particularly college students who are presented with an either-or choice about this. It’s not necessary and we all, with them, deserve better!
They face what appears to be a simple choice between opposites: a purely natural universe or a natural/supernatural one. As a result, many late adolescents and young adults raised in religion hit a “crisis of faith”, especially if pursuing higher education in a secular setting. From classes and the general atmosphere around them, they feel pressured to choose between these competing paradigms. (Paradigms can be said to be ways of viewing the world, organizing knowledge and finding guidance). Often at stake, along with this, is the respect of people who utilize them.
For more secular youth, things may run the other direction. They are exposed to religious friends and organizations which may appeal to an emerging need to “believe in something” or to find higher meaning. Perhaps they need to be rescued from a trap of despair involving depression or substance abuse. Along the way, they may have a conversion experience. Or they may, more moderately, come to align with a religious campus group or a church due to sensing that the pure naturalism and strict secularism of “the university” or general culture is not the whole picture. But “getting religion” doesn’t realistically resolve things. They are still on a near-sizzling hot seat.
You can’t win either way??
Both the “switchers” and those holding loyal to their roots find themselves in uncomfortable, sometimes confusing situations. Their studies, perhaps their budding careers seem to confirm a materialistic universe. There is pressure from peers and professors. But their spiritual side (even if they’re not religiously aligned) often screams back that there must be more. Sadly, there are few settings where pursuing this dynamic within a community does not put them in direct opposition to science and the humanities. (At least implicitly if not explicitly.)
Ken Wilber, a popular interdisciplinary scholar of “Integral Theory” calls the choice for students brutal. He describes their situation (not unlike that of others) this way: The good three-quarters of US college students who are spiritual on some level “… cannot discuss their faith with their professors… who ridicule it; yet they are no longer really comfortable with the mythic and ethnocentric version of [the fundamentalist] religion held by many of their friends.” Their “… brutal choice: continue to believe in the amber-stage of spiritual development OR renounce their faith.” [Integral Spirituality, p. 182, emphasis his.] (“Amber” stage Wilber says operates on “rule/role mind” and is “absolutistic”.) Of course, such students can play out other options but they seldom have support or any guidance whatsoever to do so.
As I’ve implied, a very similar problem exists on both sides. Wilber’s comment on ridicule points it out for the “science” or purportedly “liberal” side. The problem is rigid and reductionist (oversimplified) thinking. Little imagination. Little attempt to synthesize something using concepts from both sides. And of course, ridicule tends to prompt reaction. The ensuing charge and counter-charge interaction seldom sheds a brighter light on the underlying big-picture issues.
Why not seek to build upon truths that both religion and science have discovered over the centuries and continue to in “real time”? A person (or organization, etc.) needn’t participate in or endorse any religion’s dogma to do so. Wilber and some of his “Integral” partners are examples. He happens to be closer to Buddhism than to Christianity, but doesn’t advocate or oppose either of them broadly.
Only a small percentage of even progressive Christians (or Jews, Muslims, etc.) seek this kind of evolving synthesis while operating within religious organizations. It’s usually the “spiritual but not religious” who pursue the crossover points of science and religion. It’s fine by me to be “SBNR”, as I actually consider myself, though currently somewhat church-involved. But we do need paradigm-stretchers from the inside of religious organizations as well! The reach and potential impact they represent is too great to waste.
Whatever happened to shades of gray??
Now, this effort isn’t for the lazy-minded. In some respects, improved and nuanced models of reality (versions “3.0 and higher”) flow from practical common sense thinking. But creating and explaining a thorough and consistent system… one that can guide and critique both science and religion… is hard work. Happily, much of it has been done… by the likes of Ken Wilber and people in “Integral” studies as well as by people in the non-orthodox Christian Process Theology (based on the broader Process philosophy). If you are a student, either in school or pursuing lifelong learning, do you feel torn between the seeming opposites? Even if you don’t presently, you owe it to yourself and the rest of us to do some exploration.
But let’s leave aside the specifics of this for now and explore why things have been in such a state for at least the last two centuries.
Here is a nutshell summary: The supernaturalism of ancient Judaism on through to modern Christianity has heavily supported a two-tier concept of the universe. Science gradually came to challenge this view, not just around the edges but at the core. Key was the idea, only gradually built up, that measurement and understanding of “laws of the universe” would explain everything ultimately. No room or need for God. What we see or can sense directly or with instruments is all there is. (Thus the much higher percentage of atheists among scientists than in the general population.)
For general tracking, let’s date science (as a structured approach and a growing set of explanations of the universe) back to about 500 years ago. It took 2 to 3 centuries for science to almost fully split off from theology. In this period, what we call science was designated “natural philosophy”. Both it and theology came under the broader “philosophy”, and theology gradually lost its position as “queen of the sciences”. Most early scientists were churchmen (virtually no women) and often serious theologians.
Remember that the Catholic Church had a near monopoly on educational institutions coming out of the Middle Ages. This carried over for some time for Catholicism and Protestantism as the latter emerged powerfully in the 1500s. Protestant theologians, particularly in Germany and England, remained tied to churches but sought to approach study of the Bible and faith along scientific lines, or at least Enlightenment intellectual and humanistic ones.
Science comes to influence Religion, but how far?
Thus arose “historical criticism” of the Bible… very tenuously at first. Pioneered earlier by the likes of Erasmus and Spinoza, the first such significant work in relation to “historical Jesus” research was by Reimarus. It was written sometime before his death in 1768, publication purposely postponed. A friend and noted Enlightenment figure, Lessing, began publishing parts of it in 1774. Interestingly, such work led directly to that of the scientist and progressive theologian, Joseph Priestly. He in turn significantly influenced the later-life thinking of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Their correspondence in their post-presidency years discussed his work, particularly on the Gospels and Jesus.
Without going further into the history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation or the Renaissance and Enlightenment, you probably have some sense of the power of “modern” rational analysis, humanism and the methods of science that emerged between about 1500 and 1800. If not, suffice it to say that it was beyond profound. It transformed major structures of society and the worldviews of really everyone, to varying degrees.
Given this, why is the supernaturalism (two-tier universe) of traditional Christianity so powerful? So robust… standing so long, even to this day in important respects? It has stood against not only the materialism of science but also many of its less radical conclusions such as an ancient earth. How does it effectively fight the application of scientific perspectives and insights to the updating of its theology?
Please share any thoughts you have and follow the blog for part 3 soon, which will delve into these questions.
Issues of culture that are battled over bitterly come and go. Society evolves. Conservatism slows but can’t stop it. It’s “all good”. (Well, not all, but much of it.)
Here is the longer-term, larger-vision tension, spawning a multitude of skirmishes:
Is there a true “universe” (unified “field” of every thing and every process)?
Are there two tiers to everything: Natural and Supernatural?
The first is represented most by “science”.
The second by “religion”.
Science (for about 500 years) has moved Western culture way over toward “universe”. This is a great truth.
Religion (for untold eras) has insisted that something/someone lies “beyond” or “outside of” nature or what we can know by our five senses. This also is a great truth.
But how can both be true? The way we use language, literally, they can’t. But let’s stretch the language game in a minute… stick with me.
Let me say that there is both a “universal” unity and an intelligence, maybe a “compassion” that transcends, envelopes and informs that unity.
Among the wonders of science is how much of the way things work has been unraveled. (And of course, the wonderful technologies following. To borrow originally religious language, it’s awesome!) And even how many distinct “things” there are – objects and forces, the smallest of which still may not have been found.
Among the wonders of religion are encouragement and methods to explore our inner worlds and imagine ways in which this “mind and heart” stuff may come from beyond ourselves, beyond matter/energy. In this process, we often increase and focus our compassion. We deal with elements difficult to define and quantify in the typical methods of science. This is one reason that psychology (a field I’ve spent a lot of time in) is looked at by many as only marginally a “scientific” discipline although it often uses the methods of science in its explorations of human behavior and thought.
But many lovers of science would deny any reality to a connection between what is within us and beyond us… or any place for collaboration with either religion or spirituality. There can be no conversation with them on the serious issues explored by science and taught to children and adults in our culture. (While I do not favor teaching “creationism” in public schools, nor support of any religion, I believe strongly that teaching about religion belongs there, skillfully done in a balanced way.)
And may lovers of God (especially the outwardly religious) would reply that the truly important things are only revealed by God…. While science is good, God will still do what God wills to do. (And some of it is gruesome!)
The Nature of a Standoff Much in Need of Resolution
To get slightly more precise, let me phrase it this way:
The supposed “religion vs. science debate” is really a valid and important ongoing tension of realms of knowledge and ways of knowing. We don’t want to be done with the tension but rather that discussion be respectful, fruitful and not extreme on either side.
For perhaps a century or so, “science” has been so dominant as to become “Science”, largely in the form of scientism. The idea of scientism is of taking on the trappings of religion itself… rigid dogma, sense of complete authority, answers for all problems, deciphering the meaning (or non-meaning) of life, etc.
Now Science, along with many secular people into neither S/science nor religion, seems to be oblivious to such a charge or else denies it. Not “true believers” in religion… supernatural religion that is. They consider capital “S” Science to be a pseudo religion, and seem to have some valid basis, although I don’t agree with their supernaturalism.
The perspective of this kind of religion (probably majority in the US, not Europe) is that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. As such, “he” (generally conceived as male… not accidentally) can be counted on to intervene, at least occasionally, with miracles and revelations. Also judgment and eventual salvation of the world. (Oh… as well as saving chosen or choosing individuals – per “Calvinism” or “Arminianism” – the latter not to be pinned on the Armenian people, but on Arminius, a theologian). The main point for now is that this is a God outside of but personally deciding and intervening in the universe… thus a two-tiered universe.
It’s pretty clear how even one unpredictable miracle here or there can mess up a scientist’s whole career… or the entire endeavor of science! Or so many scientists see it. Not to mention the Church legacy of dogma resisting science. So we essentially have very powerful institutions and all their money and influence pursuing often-conflicting agendas. They are driven to keep at bay what they perceive as the threat from “the other guy”. Given the opportunity, the other would put them out of business.
Then what’s a student (or other thinking person) to do?
[Sorry, but since most students’ attention span, aside from assigned reading, is somewhere between Twitter and Facebook, the answer will come in the next post in a few days…. To be sure to be alerted, please “follow” this blog… Thanks!]