Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Always Thought David was Part of that Other Religion

It's on the tip of my tongue. You know the one I mean:
At the Values Voters Summit, the annual conference for the religious right sponsored by the Family Research Council last weekend, conservative youth activist Jason Mattera evoked the battle of David against Goliath as a metaphor for conservative college students who are “persecuted” by the big bad liberals who control academia. “David has the righteous answer,” Mattera said, “because he is taking pride in his Christian beliefs.” No matter that Mattera didn’t accurately grasp David’s biography or the biblical timeline. In conserva-land, David, a character from the Old Testament, was a Christian even before Christ was born. “Anyone who came against his God,” Mattera said, “David would take it personally.”

Emphasis supplied by me smacking myself in the head repeatedly.

Via Think Progress, who also notes that the primary selling point Mattera made to young Republicans is that "our women are hot". I'm not sure why this is supposed to appeal to young conservative women, but then, maybe Mattera doesn't think the GOP needs women beyond a core cadre of hotties to keep the studs appropriately stirred up.

25 comments:

PG said...

Perhaps the idea is to attract women into the movement with the idea that it's a good way to find a husband; that is, he's really expressing we all think of our women as hot. I don't know about Values Voter conventions, but Fed Soc conferences are like 2-1 male-female ratio. And not all of the guys are married Mormons.

Mark said...

I can't speak for the evangelicals who dominate these sort of events, but it is certainly a long standing tradition to view the Old Testament as unified with Christian revelation and Tradition. Basically all of the events of the Old Testament were seen as types and to prefigure the Gospel and Jesus life. And by "long standing", I mean since the 2nd and 3rd century. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets are Christian saints. That specifically includes David in that category.

In the OCA, The Bishop of the Midwest is Archbishop Job, our Metropolitan took the name Jonah.

Smacking on the head is interesting histrionics, but the tradition which seems to exasperate you is not (necessarily) ignorance (on their part).

Jack said...

Believing David was a Christian, while dumb, is still one of the least dumb things Jason Mattera believes. Indeed, it is at least an order of magnitude less dumb than some of the other things he likely believes.

Now, I would definitely be annoyed if an identity group I wasn't a part of tried to claim someone who was a major figure in my identity group. And obviously there are some critical Judaism theory issues involved.

But I think Mark is right that there is a long standing tradition of taking Old Testament figures to be retrospective Christians. As such the historical fact that David lived long before Jesus of Nazareth is pretty much irrelevant since we've all decided to tolerate silly religious beliefs. Once you're willing to tolerate Mattera's belief that there existed a man who could walk on water, raise the dead, predict the future and was born about 2000 years ago to a woman who was a virgin but was magically impregnated by an all-powerful, all-knowing super-being you've already given away the store.

This does remind of the period where I was a church-going and self-identifying Unitarian Universalist. UUs are always bizarrely claiming Thomas Jefferson as one of their own.

Mark said...

Jack,
I'd correct you slightly in your terminology. The phrase, "is a long standing tradition of taking Old Testament figures to be retrospective Christians" isn't quite accurate. That is they aren't regarded "as Christians" per se.

What is said was that they are regarded as Saints, i.e., they are heroes of the faith and at judgement time, will be found righteous.

An example of Old Testament Patristic typology would be to identify Moses and the people's crossing with Baptism and specifically a prefiguring of Jesus Baptism at the Jordan.

Rebecca said...

But Mark, Mattera didn't refer to David in the nuanced way that you did (and the classic Christian tradition does) - he called him a Christian, which is absurd considering that he lived many centuries before Jesus. And in any case, why should Jews be willing to go along with Christian beliefs they consider absurd? We don't live in a society any more where we're forced to keep silent because it would be dangerous to say something questioning the truth of Christianity.

PG said...

Mark, you're saying you agree with Mattera that the Old Testament David had "Christian beliefs"?

I suppose Mattera could say that David had beliefs that overlapped with Christianity, but hell, so does Islam, and I'm pretty sure Mattera would not agree with me if I went around talking about Jesus's "Muslim beliefs."

And I suspect it's precisely Mattera's erasure of Judaism that the non-Old Testament David is banging his head over.

chingona said...

certainly a long standing tradition to view the Old Testament as unified with Christian revelation and Tradition

I think there's a difference between, say, making choices in how you order the books of the Bible and what you include and exclude and how you translate ambiguous words to bolster the idea that Isaiah et al were predicting the coming of Jesus or to bolster that idea that Jesus is the Messiah, and saying David had Christian beliefs.

Smacking on the head is interesting histrionics, but the tradition which seems to exasperate you is not (necessarily) ignorance (on their part).

Your defense seems to be "they're actually doing it on purpose." That's worth two smacks on the head.

Ken Wedding said...

And yesterday I saw a clip of one of the old TV evangelists and his son saying that Christians should reclaim the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

I wonder who took it away from them.

Mark said...

Ken,
Those, I think, are Christians who have lost Lent.

PG,
Christians don't see their tradition as a break from the Old Testament Israel narrative. David and the other figures of the Old testament are not viewed as external to their tradition.

Rebecca,
Well, in part the causality of that connection depends on whether you believe prophecy is possible or whether as Paul writes in Romans, that Abraham was justified by faith.

But if you mean, that for David to be judged Christian that the criteria might be a Nicene creedal confession, that I agree is absurd, but I don't think that is wat Mr Mattera is saying. Do you?

And in any case, why should Jews be willing to go along with Christian beliefs they consider absurd?

I'm not sure what you're driving at with this remark. Who is forcing beliefs on anyone in this instance?

Chingona,
Your defense seems to be "they're actually doing it on purpose." That's worth two smacks on the head.

No my "defense" is that they have actually been "doing it on purpose" for almost 2000 years. Apparently you just didn't notice.

chingona said...

Who is forcing beliefs on anyone in this instance?

Obviously, no one is "forcing." And Rebecca didn't say "forcing." She asked why Jews should go along with it.

You're using a Christian framing. That's fine. I happen to think you're misapplying and misunderstanding how this plays out in an evangelical context and that what's going on here is a different, thought not entirely unrelated phenomena, from the tradition you're describing, but whatever.

The point is, the criticism of Mattera's statement does not have to operate within a Christian framing. The criticism does not become "histrionics" because the maker of the criticism declines to view the statement within a Christian framing or decline to take on the last 2,000 years of Christian theology (something David has done in other posts and something I think he's fairly aware of). Nor does the statement become inoffensive to some of us even if it has a history within Christian theology.

PG said...

Christians don't see their tradition as a break from the Old Testament Israel narrative. David and the other figures of the Old testament are not viewed as external to their tradition.

I repeat: Mark, you're saying you agree with Mattera that the Old Testament David had "Christian beliefs"? If so, do you mean that David had "Christian beliefs" in the sense that his Jewish beliefs overlap with some Christian beliefs? Or do you simply negate David's having been of the Jewish faith at all?

Joe said...

I think the implication is that if you are a woman, joining the GOP makes you hot.

Haha who are we kidding, like the conservative movement has ever cared about attracting women.

Mark said...

chingona,
Nor does the statement become inoffensive to some of us even if it has a history within Christian theology.

I fail to see how and were offense can or might be taken.

I'm curious, if the South had won the Civil war and had indeed separated, would you take offense if they claimed Washington and Madison et al as their founders? That seems similar. If so, why?

PG,
If so, do you mean that David had "Christian beliefs" in the sense that his Jewish beliefs overlap with some Christian beliefs? Or do you simply negate David's having been of the Jewish faith at all?

I don't think your two questions are exclusionary, i.e, exhaust the possibilities.

Look the break between Jewish and Christian traditions took place in the early 1st century with the events in Jerusalem and the subsequent development of a separation as noted in Acts. Christians and Jews both, I would think, that both hold to a continuous narrative from the stories of Abraham through to the present day, which diverged at that point in history in the mid 1st century. David was somewhat before that time.There is no "overlap." Both see him as fully within their own tradition (and as in the others as well) and as a key figure in their own narratives.

Restated, there is no "overlap" he is in both completely. David was 100% Jewish and 100% Christian. Rejection of one for the other for pre-first century figures is not required or in fact is, I offer, wrong.

See the above example of Washington and the Civil war example. You seem to be suggesting that Washington is Union and both Rebel only via some shared overlap and that it to say he is a founder of one and not the other is required.

David Schraub said...

If the South had successfully seceded, I'd view them as treasonous rebels -- much as I view the Confederacy now. And so I would be a little annoyed if they tried to appropriate Washington as a "founder". And I think they'd be historical inaccurate to call him a "Confederate". Saying he's part of the Confederate "tradition" would be borderline, but saying he is "Confederate" himself would simply be anachronistic.

The other thing is that Jews don't view the pre-Jesus history of our religion as some joint "Judeo-Christian" union that eventually split apart. We view it as being simply Jewish, until eventually some dissidents decided they wanted to form their own sect and split off. Unionists, I imagine, view the Confederacy the same way -- it wasn't as if the pre-Civil War America was both Union and Confederate -- it was just "America", which eventually was torn asunder by rebels. The Confederates, naturally, disagree -- but the yankees aren't obliged to abide by their interpretation. The point is, David is only "100% Christian" if one buys the validity of a Christian interpretation of the Bible. Which I don't because, natch, I'm Jewish.

Mark said...

David,
You're not making sense. The situation is completely symmetric. Both sides see the other as breaking with tradition at that point, be it the mid 1st century or the Civil War. Prior to that both see logically and consistently see important foundational figures from before the break as fully belonging within their tradition. Both side feel the other initiated and cause the break and that the "lesser" claim to the tradition falls on the other side. Since the situation is completely symmetric ... this lesser/greater thing seems to me unwarranted.

I suggest that both are right, you seem to think that only the side agreeing with you has it right. Seeing that you are the multi-culturalist in this conversation that seems that we have something of a role reversal. ;)

The other thing is that Jews don't view the pre-Jesus history of our religion as some joint "Judeo-Christian" union that eventually split apart. We view it as being simply Jewish, until eventually some dissidents decided they wanted to form their own sect and split off.

Yes, cleverly rewording that you will find it is also true that:

... that Christians don't view the pre-Jesus history of our religion as some joint "Judeo-Christian" union that eventually split apart. We view it as being simply Christian, until eventually some dissidents decided they wanted to form their own sect and split off.


I might note that "their own" sect should really read, something more like yet another sect, as there some number (not one) of different non-aligned groups within the Hebrew people in the first century.

Now a outside (or less empassioned) viewer might call the shared period of Jewish/Christian tradition (or Blue/Grey) times as actually "shared" ... but that is not exactly relevant.

So what? Mr Mattera is not talking about a Judeo-Christian thing. He is calling David part of his Christian tradition, which makes complete sense in light of the symmetry situation noted above.

When I noted my Bishop's names I guess what I neglected to mention is that deacon's, priests, monastics and (of course) Bishops take the name of a Saint of the church. Job and Jonah are for our church, Saint Job and Saint Jonah (and I might add Saint David). They are within our tradition and our church. We believe they will be found righteous at Judgement and will be with the Blessed. This is just an evangelical expression of the same thing.

PG said...

He is calling David part of his Christian tradition, which makes complete sense in light of the symmetry situation noted above.

No, he is saying that David considered himself to be part of the Christian tradition, which is ridiculous because when David was alive, there was no Christian tradition. I know a lot of Christians, and none of them claims that Christianity has existed throughout time. Ditto Buddhists. Ditto Muslims. They're all aware that their religion began as a distinct faith at a certain point. They may have people in their faith whom they revere as saints or prophets who predate the beginning of their distinct faith, but they don't claim that those saints and prophets, at the time they lived, were actually believers in the later-distinguished faith.

So, Jesus's Muslim beliefs?

Mark said...

PG,
He is calling David part of his Christian tradition, which makes complete sense in light of the symmetry situation noted above.

"No, he is saying that David considered himself to be part of the Christian tradition, which is ridiculous because when David was alive, there was no Christian tradition."

I see, is this some weird discussion technique where you assume the stupidest possible interpretation of what another said is to be taken? In what surroundings did you learn that? Read what I wrote in prior remarks about symmetry. It is in fact consonant with a reasonable reading (as opposed your unreasonable one) of Mr Mattera's remarks.

But to the point you are, I assume, aware that during the first decades of the Christian church movement it was far smaller and indeed actively persecuted by the Jewish peoples. From that position it was not reasonable for them to call themselves the "true Israelites" to distinguish themselves from the "Old Believers" or some such thing as that. You put a lot of stock in the naming conventions. Returning to the Civil War analogy, it was only the numbers of the Confederate states which was the deciding factor for you for determining what side was breaking from which in the affair. Wouldn't it be more true to say that each felt the other was breaking away from them and holding true to the vision of the founders?

So, Jesus's Muslim beliefs?

I wasn't aware Mohammed was a practising faithful Jew or a Christian before beginning his movement.

Rebecca said...

And Mark, I wasn't aware that David believed that Jesus was the savior of mankind, which to me means that he was not a Christian. From a historical point of view, there is no way that David could be a Christian, as Christianity did not exist as a religion in the 10th century BCE.

You're making an argument from faith, not from history. Since I am not a Christian, I do not have to accept your argument. Nor do I have to accept Paul's statement in Romans that Abraham was justified by faith and hence was the ancestor of all who had faith - contrary to the Jewish interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant, which views him as the ancestor of the Jewish people ("flesh" rather than "spirit", in Pauline terms). Since I am Jewish, I do not accept the Pauline interpretation, and I do not accept the idea that I am required to assent to the Christian assertion that David was a Christian. My remark about not being forced to keep silent was a reminder to you that you and I live in a secular society where Jews can (and do) argue against the Christian attempt (two millennia long) to appropriate our tradition and use it against us. Take that as you will.

Mark said...

Rebecca,
In a world, like that of today, where religions are trying to, uhm, coexist ... this brings to the forefront one of the essential differences between the Civil War analogy noted above and the religious one that we are discussing.

In the Civil war there were good reasons for men to take sides and indeed take arms over those differences. In a society in which we seem instead to think that religions should coexist, we should I would think recognize the symmetry inherent in the situation. In fact might even want to learn about and understand the other.

I'm not "forcing" you to accept the Pauline doctrine or Christian tradition and internalize it as your belief (and neither I think is Mr Mattera). All we're saying is that you recognize (just as we must) that each side sees our shared traditions as their own. That the break is seen for each as something which the other enacted.

And no, nobody here is claiming that King David was a creedal Nicene Christian or anything like that. What I am saying is that Jews and Christians alike see David and the Old Testament tradition as theirs.

My remark about not being forced to keep silent was a reminder to you that you and I live in a secular society where Jews can (and do) argue against the Christian attempt (two millennia long) to appropriate our tradition and use it against us. Take that as you will.

Can you point to how I am doing that? I have never said David was not part of your tradition. Just that he is part of mine.

Do you think that American's cannot claim English common law and the political development of England prior to the Revolution as part of their heritage? Or that somehow is an affront to the UK?

David Schraub said...

You keep subbing in "part of X's heritage". That's not what Mr. Mattera said. He said that David had "Christian beliefs". Which is akin to me calling English common law "American law", or Jefferson Davis calling George Washington a "Confederate".

chingona said...

I fail to see how and were offense can or might be taken.

I've had people from Mr. Mattera's same faith tradition tell me that Jews do not understand their own religion and their own holy books, that if they did, they would be Christians, and that Christians are the "true Jews." There is a fairly long track record of evangelical Christians telling Jews that they (the Christians) are better Jews than the Jews. Given that those people share Mr. Mattera's theology (which is different than your theology), I don't think it's unreasonable to view his comment that David had Christian beliefs in that context.

And if you still can't see what's offensive about that, I don't know what else to say.

chingona said...

Mark,

You said in your first comment that you couldn't speak for evangelicals, but you have persisted in assuming that the Greek Orthodox take on this must be what Mattera meant, and any other interpretation is bad faith. What is your basis for arguing that Mattera's take would be in line with your own tradition?

PG said...

"I see, is this some weird discussion technique where you assume the stupidest possible interpretation of what another said is to be taken? In what surroundings did you learn that? Read what I wrote in prior remarks about symmetry. It is in fact consonant with a reasonable reading (as opposed your unreasonable one) of Mr Mattera's remarks. "

No, your reading has consisted of repeatedly refusing to quote the actual remarks and instead drastically rephrasing them beyond recognition.

If I, an Xist, say Joe has Xist beliefs, I'm not just saying that I consider Joe to be part of my Xist tradition. I'm saying that Joe must have known himself to be Xist. Otherwise, why not recognize Joe's beliefs with the word Joe would have used for them?

If I say, "Theodore Roosevelt was taking pride in his neoconservative philosophy," I'm either ignorant (believing that neoconservatism was a philosophy that existed prior to the Cold War, New Deal or Great Society) or trying to obliterate through my rhetoric what Roosevelt's philosophy actually was.

If what I actually want to express is that I believe Roosevelt is part of the neo-conservative tradition in his influencing and shaping that set of beliefs, talking about TR's "taking pride in his Christian beliefs" is a really poor way to express that.

Mark said...

David,
Which is akin to me calling English common law "American law", or Jefferson Davis calling George Washington a "Confederate".

If American jurisprudence has (as I thought it did) English common law as American normative practice, isn't it true that body of English common law is in fact also then American law, i.e., the law of the land in America.

Chingona,
I don't think it's unreasonable to view his comment that David had Christian beliefs in that context.

That's where we differ. I think that reading of his comment is in fact unreasonable. I don't think it reasonable to think that because some evangelicals have told you that you don't understand your own faith that all do. I don't think it is reasonable to think that this statement harbors any ill intent or meaning toward the Jewish people or tradition.

I think I've made clear what I think he was saying and why it made sense. I think that interpretation of the statement makes the most sense and (alas for your outrage) is completely inoffensive.

PG,
If I, an Xist, say Joe has Xist beliefs, I'm not just saying that I consider Joe to be part of my Xist tradition. I'm saying that Joe must have known himself to be Xist. Otherwise, why not recognize Joe's beliefs with the word Joe would have used for them?

Because all rhetoric is not always pedantic, in fact you might even state that most good rhetoric is not in fact pedantic.

One last example. In a speech to American political students I could see making the statement that Sir Simon de Montefort "was an American." Now, Sir Simon lived in an era which by centuries predated the discovery of America. Yet, Sir Simon (among other things) might be known in English history as clashing against the notions of class prerogative and for an aggressive defence of the Magna Carta. This is in fact might be useful in a speech and not merely a way "to obliterate" his life and his philosophies but to allow his life to connect in a stronger way with my listeners.

PG said...

In a speech to American political students I could see making the statement that Sir Simon de Montefort "was an American."

And that also would be a silly and misleading thing to say to those students, as well as a claim that would be offensive to Britons who regard Montfort as having given them the modern House of Commons. The fact that de Montfort is honored by Americans today for ideas that led to the founding of our republic does not make him an American. I doubt that Simon de Montefort, 6th Earl of Leicester, if we could consult him on the subject, would like to have his identity denied in this fashion, particularly given that he died in his efforts to claim England for parliamentary democracy.

Look, it is one thing for a person to identify with a group and say something like, "I am a Berliner" because of his desire to ally with them for traits he deems admirable (e.g. courage in the face of Soviet oppression). It is quite another thing for me to say, "Roosevelt was a neoconservative" with utter disregard for how TR labeled himself.

Sorry, but the fact that someone was a progenitor of X does not make him X, it makes him a progenitor. Why can't people be satisfied with that? Why must everyone one likes be recruited into one's group?

This brings to mind the minority of Mormons who will declare other people's long-dead ancestors to now be Mormons. Yes, you may mean well and intend to honor the person, but ur doin it wrong.