Monday, November 8, 2010

Reflective Reviews: John Beversluis' "C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion," Part 4

We pick up where we left off, as Beversluis offers a listing of texts which he believes shows that Jesus was delusional, or had the right “profile” to be delusional. What we find, however, is that Beversluis is anachronistically psychoanalyzing Jesus according to modern, Western values. He also indicates various behaviors without explaining why they indicate a “delusional” profile. His analyses is so poor and requires so much unentangling that we may devote a single post to these charges.

Luke 2:41-9 Mary and Joseph are “so distraught” over Jesus’ behavior as a youth. It is hard to believe that Beversluis is serious here. Children wandering away from parents in public places is so common as to be a stereotype, and we would hardly be surprised if parents express concern (where he gets “distraught” is hard to say, too).

Beversluis does not bother to explain why he thinks this fits a “delusional” profile, so not much more can be said; however, we might note that at the age Jesus is portrayed, young boys were expected to show themselves able and willing to cut the apron strings, so to speak.

Matt. 12:46-50 Jesus “fail[ed] to recognize his own mother and brothers”. Beversluis is being far too creative here; there is no sign of any such failure. He also has no understanding of the language of collectivist ingroups, as he apparently thinks that Jesus is literally identifying his disciples as his mother and brothers. On the contrary, familial terminology was characteristic on ingroup relationships, so that, for example, rabbis could be called “father,” as was the Roman Emperor.

Mark 3:21 Jesus’ family thinks Jesus is beside himself and demon possessed. I have answered this before when another critic used the same passage:

One may note that the family of Jesus apparently did not make this judgment following observation of Jesus himself, as they come from outside looking for him…

The meaning ascribed is not correct. Jesus violated the norms of his culture in a variety of ways, for example by associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, he was violating the accepted social norms and purity codes. In so doing he brought dishonor on his family in the eyes of his contemporaries -- and the "madness" line of reasoning not only does not represent the evaluation of a trained psychologist, but also amounts to no more than a makeshift accusation designed to a) explain away and mute the dishonor of the situation; b)get others to move away from Jesus by describing him as ritually impure.

The "madness" reasoning is functionally equivalent to saying Jesus was a leper, but had the advantage of not being visibly testable.

Mark 3:11-12 Jesus has conversations with demons. Of course, here Beversluis merely begs the question that such beings do not exist.

Mark 5:12-14 Jesus allows demons to enter into pigs and destroy them. How this is evidence of delusion is not explained; Beversluis apparently felt the need to insert this objection here as topical, though it is notable that he comes up with no better an authority than David Strauss (!) to comment on it.

Strauss objected to the alleged “injury to the owners,” but this is doubtful: If these swine were monitored in such a remote place, there were no “owners”; this was a herd of wild pigs who were fed (as are modern deer sometimes) to make them suitable as food, but no one would be regarded as “owners” as such.

Mark 11:2-4 Jesus borrows a colt without permission. We have discussed this charge in detail here.

Mark 11:13-15 and par. Jesus cursed a fig tree wrongly. And this one, in detail here. Beversluis is doing a very poor job thinking that Strauss offers anything worthwhile on this subject.

Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus curses three villages for not accepting his message. cf also Mark 6:11. Here again, Beversluis merely begs the question that Jesus does not have the authority to pronounce such judgments.

Additionally, he adapts a rather “fundamentalist” reading of the text as he objects to the reputed unfairness of “babies, the elderly, deaf,” etc in the villages who would not have a chance to hear the message. This is merely language of collective representation, which does not at all mean there are not potential exceptions; here Jesus is speaking in the normal mode of the day, on which “all or nothing” language was the norm. (It still is today, in some cases: If someone said, “People in New York City are rude,” would Beversluis take that as a universal classification of all 7 million people in the city? Or would he recognize it for what it is – an extremist expression intended to indicate that the speaker had had extended experiences with rude people in New York City?)

Relatedly, Beversluis later objects to Jesus' strong condemnatory language towards the Pharisees. However, Jesus' language is nothing out of the ordinary for challenge-riposte in an agonistic society. Perhaps Beversluis wishes to suggest then that all members of such societies are delusional.

Jesus expects people to simply accept his authority. He doesn’t give people reasons for his beliefs or reply to their objections. Beversluis is merely misinformed as to the nature of ancient teaching, which was very much based in authoritarian pronouncements, and less often involved give and take of the sort found in modern classrooms. The teachings of Confucius, for example, indicate a highly authoritarian background.

Matthew 5:27-8 Jesus makes wanting to commit adultery as bad as actually doing it. Beversluis’ reaction to this is rather strange. He first says that this means there is “no longer any point in trying to resist temptation”. So it is. So what? Is Beversluis trying to justify lustful gazing upon other people’s wives? Does he consider that a virtue? (But he is wrong anyway; see next reason.)

Second, Beversluis supposes that by “parity of reasoning wanting to donate” money to an organization is the same as actually doing it. But he has misread the analogy. Jesus has not called the two acts exactly the same; he has distinguished between physical adultery and “heart adultery” and called both sins. It is clear that Beversluis does not have any awareness of the context which governed Jesus warning: As Keener reports in his Matthew commentary [186f], Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would likely have agreed with his teaching here, for lust was frequently regarded as “visual fornication or adultery.” However, the blame was placed on women for being alluring, rather than on men for being lustful.

Presumably Beverluis recognize the parallel to be found in modern Islamic societies, so unless he happens to agree with Islam that the real problem is that women are too alluring, we cannot understand why he would find a problem here with Jesus’ teaching.

In any event, the teaching would not regard thinking of donating and actually donating as precise equivalents, but as relatedly virtuous.

Jesus never gives reasons for being virtuous that aren’t self-seeking, like rewards in heaven, or hell fire. It is hard to believe that Beversluis is serious here either, since every law code in the world works on a basic premise of punishment for bad behavior, and rewards and punishments form the basis for basic moral training. Since Beversluis does not bother to explain what he thinks Jesus ought to have offered in place of this, it is hard to answer further.

Jesus makes it hard to understand what he teaches; he teaches in parables. Once again Beversluis is merely running afoul of normal educational methods in the ancient world; students were expected to reason out the puzzles given them. This provided a greater impact (“teaching them to fish”) than merely offering explanations straight out (“giving them a fish”).

Beyond that, Beversluis also misses on the fact that such oblique methods were intended to dissuade outgroup persons with no serious interest in joining the group; to his own ingroup, as the Gospels note, Jesus explained the meaning of his parables. This too was a normal method of teaching at the time: And thus, in teaching the “multitudes” this way, Jesus would be able to rake off the cream of the crop, so to speak, for those who would be most effective in his ministry efforts.

(Note as well that this is not the same thing as the post-Resurrection scenario, in which widespread evangelism all groups and classes was performed, with no parables; Beversluis is apparently thinking of Jesus’ ministry in the same terms as a post-resurrection evangelism scenario.)

In the end, Beversluis says he is not using these passages to try to argue that Jesus was delusional, and that seems to be true: Rather, he is merely hoping the reader will read that conclusion into his listing of them implicitly. He is correct that these passages do warrant explanation, rather than being “explained away or ignored.” [130] However, given how little effort he made to find out more about their informing contexts (eg, thinking Strauss’ early 1800s material was the best and last word on a subject!) it is clear that Beversluis’ own interest in arriving at the truth of the matter is marginal.

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