The postmodern pursuit of the truth

It strikes me as curious when I hear the very same people who demand (as we all should) the strictest accounting of the truth in the Hello Garci wiretapping scandal or the May 2004 election fraud controversy require lesser standards when it comes to the truth of the so-called lost Gospel of Judas (or Dan Brown’s fiction-marketed-as-fact bestseller, The Da Vinci Code).

Shouldn’t we use the same standards in ascertaining the truth in these religious controversies? I’m afraid, though, that the very word "religious" is seen as license for muddling through. Either that, or our standards betray our priorities.

The notion the eminent Randy David entertains in his column today, that the Judas text makes Christianity more "interesting," seems to me to fall far short of truth’s highest standards.

Strictly from a sociological standpoint, I think the discovery of the Gospel of Judas makes Christianity a far more interesting religion than what centuries of metaphysical theology has made of it. It restores to it a powerful historicity. It makes it less dogmatic, and it creates room for more interpretative readings of the Scriptures.

I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that Christianity never lost its powerful, almost overwhelming sense of historicity; I think the prominent sociologist (and leading anti-Arroyo critic) misappreciates the "dogmatic" value of a third- or fourth-century Coptic copy of a second-century Greek original (compared with the first-century New Testament texts); I believe he waxes overly romantic about the possibilities of "more interpretative readings" of the Scriptures.

If we demand to know exactly what happened in the 2004 elections or how the Garci wiretaps came to be, we should also demand (or require) of our selves and the relevant institutions exactly how the Scriptures came to be. The rigor of knowledge is different from the cozy, please-feel-right-at-home expansiveness of "interpretation."

PS. Today’s Inquirer editorial reaches the conclusion that the gospel of Judas is not Scripture precisely because of what’s missing: the resurrection story.

In other words, if a gospel is correctly understood as a faith account, the Judas text accounts only for faith in Judas. The Jesus who appears in the gospel of Judas is a lesser figure — quick to laugh at his disciples’ ignorance, quicker to share supposed secrets with a favorite. (One of those secrets, not coincidentally, is that he is only an angel. No wonder the early Church fathers condemned the text.)

We are asked to believe in Judas, but at Jesus’ expense.

6 Comments

Filed under Readings in Politics, Readings in Religion

6 responses to “The postmodern pursuit of the truth

  1. juan bautista

    The point Randy David was making as a sociologist is that the Gospel of Judas is a reminder of how many and diverse early Christian communities were in those centuries immediately following the death of Jesus and before a unified canon was yoked. Four were chosen as we now know from the 30 to 50 or so gospels in circulation then. Via a process that reeks less of the investigative rigor you implicitly credit the Roman Church with. I suppose the Inquirer editorial represents the extent of forensic detection skills you require of Mr. David. It’s missing the Resurrection, ergo the Gospel of Judas is not Scripture? Man, Fr. Brown has nothing on you. For someone who belongs to a religion that proffers no proof of its extraordinary claims and asks its adherents to accept the Resurrection on faith, you have the nerve to bring up skepticism.

  2. Actually, Juan, I had the nerve to bring up consistency. Why accept lower standards for determining the truth when it comes to this specific religious issue?

    I think I did get Randy’s point, as you summarized it, but as better people than me have pointed out, the Judas text comes too late for what you call the “unified canon.” This is a reasonable conclusion Randy or anyone else could have reached, given the amount of information available through traditional media and especially through the corner of the so-called blogosphere inhabited by biblical scholars (which, I hasten to add, I stumbled into only in the last two weeks.)

    I do not agree with you that the Christian religion “proffers no proof of its extraordinary claims.” I suppose the difference is you (if I may make a tentative conclusion based on your comment) don’t accept what better Christians than me have offered as proof.

    Of course, faith is involved, but to say that the Resurrection story is received entirely on faith is to misread the Scriptures themselves.

    Ours, in the words of Fr. Horacio de la Costa, is “a reasonable faith.” There are many more skeptics in Christianity than one would think from a reading of your comment.

    Lastly, why the attitude? Surely we can discuss these things, or raise our concerns, without resorting to arguments ad hominem?

  3. I have to agree with you, John, and dispute Mr. Bautista’s claim that belief in the Resurrection is based entirely on faith. There is a rich history of attempts to try to prove the historical bases for the phenomenon.

    Thus, it may not just be a misreading of Scriptures but could be a conscious or patent belittling of tenable arguments put forth by scholars which are easily accessible. Here’s one such account advanced regarding its historicity:

    http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html

  4. juan bautista

    Randy David was discussing the codex through the lens of a social scientist, which is not
    necessarily the same as that of a believer. A secular scholar is not bound to accept the
    gospels as sacred and inerrant historical texts on the Vatican’s say-so. That is not his starting point. Which Scripture deserves primacy is a preoccupation of theologians, not social scientists. For as long as there were communities that embraced each one of these 30 gospels, the social scientist holds every found document as relevant to understanding the actual practice of the faith as opposed to doctrinal impositions from above. He’s
    interested in the realities on the ground, not the idealizations of organized religion.
    So this charge of inconsistency is startling. There’s no “lowering of standards.” They’re just not your standards, that’s all.

    Christianity’s idea of critical reasoning is a strange one. It first precommits to a
    conclusion or judgment on an issue, and then proceeeds ass backwards to find proofs for its position. Needless to say, the exercise biases the senses towards details that support the dogma and predisposes the investigator to ignore data inconsistent with it, effectively excluding alternative interpretations of phenomena being investigated.

    Witness Christianity’s (as apologist Amadeo so carefully phrases it) “rich history of
    ATTEMPTS TO TRY TO PROVE the historical bases for” biblical preternatural events.

    Reasonable faith indeed.

  5. noelet

    Are you saying that the demand for truth and justice in the 2004 election must be the same as the search for the authenticity of the Judas Gospel?

    If no facts would comeout again on the issue of 2004 election fraud for 2000 years then we found a prima facie evidence later. Would consistency still suffice?

    Claims of angels or gods or cheaters or not. Where is consistency there?

    Can we put a distinction between factual investigation realting in the Hello Garci, and investigating religous traditions. Where the later is more involved in sociology and theology rather than a CSI type approach.

  6. I think the one thing deficient in applying standards of truth to the Judas Gospel is that the latter, or for that matter the canonical scriptures and the apocryphal gospels, were not necessarily written to lay down history as a series of who, what where, why and how.

    Our faith is called upon to bridge the missing links between the private and public life of Jesus, and all those seeming inconsistent versions of the life of Jesus.

    I am afraid we cannot fully apply the standards of truth to the gospels. Josh McDowell tried doing that in his book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and C. Lewis with his “Mere Christianity”. But in both and as is true with our Catholic or perhaps Ignatian background, it is really an argument starting with the conclusion and working backwards with the premises. Faith seeking understanding or justification perhaps?

    Truth is proven, certainly with some objectivity but on the whole, truth is truth because of faith.

    Will there be any evidence that would debunk the divinity or reality of Jesus? Quite frankly, and in my belief, none.

    The past two thousand years has not been an arid field where people never doubted Jesus. And those two thousand years have yet to disprove the divinity and existence of Jesus. In time, science will only help to support that proposition.

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