A friend of mine sent me a link to a book called "The Politics of Jesus," wanting to know what I thought (I think - he may have just been poking at me to see my reaction - several of my friends seem to enjoy this "sport"). I found the information available on Amazon.com to be interesting, and it did provoke a fairly visceral reaction. So, I gave him my impressions:
From reading the excerpt, table of contents, a little research on his other writings, and my cumulative life experience, I can deduce the following about John Howard Yoder:
First, he has never had an original idea in his life. He does not think for himself; he recycles the thoughts and ideas of others and presents them as his own. He is of average intelligence, and hides behind a smokescreen vocabulary consisting of 64-dollar words strung together confusingly enough to fool anyone else of average or below-average intelligence, or anyone who participates in the most current version of that age-old “Emperor’s New Clothes” game, in which shallow people attain respect from other shallow people for fun and profit by pretending that they are sophisticated, and validating the drivel of anyone who agrees with them. In other words, he is a typical “scholar.” Note that his work is at least 30% footnotes, and he is most likely to restate an opinion of some other author or “scholar” rather than to attempt to support his (?) ideas with evidence of any real kind. In the entire excerpt, for example, there is not one single quote attributed to Jesus himself, or from any biblical writings. I’m left with the impression that he thinks so little of his own thoughts that he must somehow justify them by pointing to the writings of others, who, because they are well-known or “published,” are somehow authoritative. But by that token, we have a circular reference that would cause a stack overflow in any application written for computers.
He knows nothing about Jesus, nor does he care. He is too busy playing his social game, and invokes the name of Jesus as a part of his strategy for success (as he defines success, which I’m not sure I understand at all). He is a sophist, a man who could easily argue contradictory opinions convincingly enough to fool the weak-minded, and others like himself, and who would do so if it seemed “profitable” according to his perverted idea of “profit.” He is a person of no conviction, with no actual personal philosophy, other than his nihilistic view of life as a pointless exercise in which the only possible benefit is that to be had immediately and devoured. He is a walking stomach, ever-hungry, and never satisfied, gorging himself upon humanity with no thought towards any possible consequence. And yet, according to Newton, everything we do has consequences of some sort or another. The very act of batting the eye sends ripples of energy into the ocean of existence, energy that can neither be created or destroyed, launched (or perhaps a better term, “directed”) to who knows where.
In other words, he is a charlatan, a con-artist, a civilized witch doctor, practicing his own version of that skill commonly attributed to so-called mediums and psychics. He has probably been at it so long that he believes his own propaganda, as do so many of his ilk. In truth, the lineage of such has most likely been responsible for most if not all of the ills in this world, and no doubt the crucifixion of his subject.
To provide evidence of his gross ignorance concerning his topic (and just about everything else), let me quote just one small passage:
“Jesus and his early followers lived in a world over which they had no control. It was therefore quite fitting that they could not conceive of the exercise of social responsibility in any form other than that of simply being a faithful witnessing minority.”
Now, being a cunning linguist, I hope you’ll indulge me if I carve this up and analyze it piecemeal. The first statement implies that, unlike these poor unsophisticated yokels from the first century, “modern man” has control over his world. It is a preposition for the argument to follow, delivered with the authority of an axiomatic statement which is self-evident to any reasonable person. The sheer arrogance of the idea that anyone has control over his or her own life, much less the entire world, over which we humans are scattered like a series of microscopic patches of bacteria on the surface of the skin on a basketball, is laughable to the point of utter hilarity. It is a postulate that flies in the face of all evidence, wishful thinking at the very least, dangerously presumptive. Yet it is delivered with all the weight of the Law of Gravity, and without apparent levity.
This first proclamation of the superiority of “modern man” (hmm, hasn’t every generation thought of itself as “modern?”), particularly when compared with the poor unfortunate and ignorant forebears, is followed by the conclusion that “therefore… they could not conceive of the exercise of social responsibility in any form other than that of simply being a faithful witnessing minority.” This conclusion first presupposes that these ignorant savages had no concept of “social responsibility,” by which the author apparently means “participation in the political process of government.” I find it gallingly ironic to note that those who seem to be the most politically active have perpetually been the greatest hypocrites, exercising little if any true “social responsibility” in their every day personal affairs, continuously attempting to rearrange the structure of bureaucracies that accomplish little if anything of any real worth. “The end justifies the means” is their rallying cry, but never do they notice that there is no end to a continuity, and therefore, the means is all that is ever achieved. In ability, these underprivileged minority members are apparently so ignorant that they are incapable of even conceiving “the exercise of social responsibility” beyond their own tiny realm of impoverished inexperience.
This is capped with the characterization of Jesus and his early followers as “a faithful witnessing minority.” I am reminded of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Redheaded League.” What constitutes a “minority?” Is it the color of one’s skin (or hair), what flavor of which branch of what religion one practices, one’s sexual preference, whether one is right- or left-handed, or perhaps, which end of a soft-boiled egg one prefers to crack? In a political sense, it is any of these, or any other arbitrary way which one may choose to carve up the human race, an easy enough task considering that in fact, like snowflakes, we are each and all unique. In a political sense, it always boils down to “create the divisions where they will be of the greatest political advantage to me.” Divide and conquer. To the spoiled goes the victory.
Jesus was hardly a yokel. He was anything but unsophisticated. In fact, people are still arguing over what he meant by just about everything he said, over 2,000 years after his exit from the stage of this human tragedy of ours. He was the single most influential human being in the history of man’s brief tenure on this ancient planet. Oddly enough, what he said was painfully simple, so painfully simple that most people have chosen not to hear it, in order to spare themselves the pain. I believe it was Frank Webb who first coined the saying “if the Truth hurts, wear it.” This was later embroidered upon by the enigmatic Uncle Chutney, with the acronymous aphorism “What You Seek Is What You Get.” Of course, neither of these ideas was new; Jesus himself had expressed these very ideas in his own words, thousands of years ago. We humans have the remarkable capacity to deceive ourselves, with our own permission of course. Unfortunately, once deceived, how is one to undo the deception, as one is no longer aware of its deceptive nature? But there it is, and here we are.
Jesus lived at a point in history remarkably like our own. Rome was the greatest civilization on earth, with a representative government having checks and balances, with perhaps the omission of providing a Caesar for life, definitely a chink in the political architecture. That, combined with the imperial fashion of the day, was an occident waiting to happen. The fall of Rome, followed by the Dark Ages, when science and witchcraft were mistakenly linked, leading to the destruction of anything having a scientific patina, obscured much modern knowledge of its incredible sophistication and technology. Judea, as it was known at the time, was under the forced servitude of Rome, a nation under subjection to an oppressive imperial power. In fact, there were political activists of all sorts in Judea, including the Zealots, a quasi-terrorist revolutionary organization, devoted to throwing off the chains of Rome. One of Jesus’ disciples came from this organization.
Yet, in all of the collected quotations of Jesus, not one could be called “overtly” political. In fact, he acted for all the world as if politics were irrelevant to his mission. He did not speak out against the heavy-handed governance of Rome. He did speak out about the Jewish Sadducees and Pharisees, but not politically. It seems that he was more concerned with the individual, as if all that really mattered in a real sense is the individual. And yes, he did speak in rather apocalyptic terms about the end of “the world.” But what exactly did he mean? After all, “the world” that any individual experiences only lasts for a single lifetime. Taking relativity into account, when one is separated from the world, the world is also separated from the one. The world ends every day for somebody.
Is it possible that someone without the benefit of a college education, without television, radio, newspapers, without anything except free time and the world to ponder, could possibly think up anything worthwhile? Take a common shepherd, for example, doing absolutely nothing for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 50 years, with nothing to distract him, only the earth, sky, and everything in between to observe and think about. What could such a person think of without the influence of that cacophony of human thought we are surrounded by in our modern, sophisticated society? Why, he could never know the benefits of the Ginsu Knife, the latest fashions from Paris, what Rosie wrote in her blog yesterday. He would never realize how empty his life was without an SUV, be able to see a football game, go to the movies, surf the net, and most importantly, find out the prevailing opinions of thousands of his peers about anything and everything under the sun. He wouldn’t have any news programs to watch or listen to, to tell him what he should be concerned about, what to think about, and what he ought to think about those things.
When Isaac Newton was similarly disadvantaged, due to a quarantine that lasted the better part of a year, he invented physics. Pythagoras, Euclid, and Aristotle lived thousands of years earlier. Without the benefit of even a slide rule, they managed to come up with mathematical and logical principles that boggle the modern mind, ideas which most people are still confounded by, and upon which all of modern mathematics is based.
Sure, Jesus was all about politics. He just didn’t have the sophistication to understand politics, or perhaps to elucidate his ideas about politics. He did the best he could, for a poor disadvantaged minority. We shouldn’t be too hard on him from our superior modern perspective.