Saturday, November 06, 2004

Christ vs. Family values: Response to Mode on Caleb

Dear Caleb,

In your article on Christianity and family values, you raise an important point. But there is something that does not sound right. You might have said it, and might have missed it, but I would be really surpised if Jewish Rabbi Yeshu Ben Yusef (Jesus-Christ - as I am sure you know) rejected totally the role of the family, even in his ideal society. Jesus spoke in paraboles, and often had a Riddler like approach to preaching and teaching, giving people provocative, enticing and insightful replies, in order for them to reach the conclusion he wants them to recah, and then he explained his message.

I believe Jesus's teachings were very much centered in Jewish tradition. I agree with you that his teachings came to shift his people's focus away from an excessively blood-centered approach to life: just because one is your brother does not mean that he is necessarily more of a human than your neighbor. In Congo, in fact, a culture based on family as a foundation, we ofen say "the witch is often the person who shares your plate". So the argument that Jesus would want people to be more aware of humanity as a whole makes perfect sense.

But my qualm comes from the fact that in Jewish tradition, family is a fairly inclusive notion (just as it is in Africa for instance). It includes what you call in English 1st, 2nd, 3rd and nth levels of cousins, uncles, aunts, parents and siblings. Within this community-centered worldview, by the time you look-after your family, you have looked after a great number of people in the community. And it seems like it is that aspect of community that Jesus wanted to emphasize. Not as a negation to traditional family, but rather as an equally important consideration when one is seeking to live a good life. Hence such precepts as "love thy neighbor, and thy enemy". I see his message as advocating for creating the Christian worldwide equivalent of the Islamic Ummah... except for the Christians, one would not have to be Christian to be treated as member of the community, the family. Hence, many Christians refer to each other as brother and sister, and catholic priests are called fathers, and refer to their faithful as sons and daughters. And the teaching of Jesus is to extend that "brotherliness" outside the borders of one's belief community, and to reach out, and associate with others. A church hymn actually says "And the World will know that we are Christians, by the love that will permeate our deeds".

But that brotherliness is a concept that is derived from the traditional family concept of a "sibling", a family member. Jesus essentially asks to extend to others the good graces that he knows you would extend to your own blood-family. So in some twisted way, family really is one of the foundations of Christ's message. Now does that justify the frenzy that you refer to in your article, from "Christian Family Values" organizations? NO! This is where I agree with your argument about over-sacralization of the family b y churches today. I believe they are seeking an ideal model to follow, to face the challenges that have arisen in the process of raising children in this society, with their conservative values, when various related situations have created 1 parent homes, Gay families, and parents having to work 3 jobs to raise children. The traditional family model is pretty functional, and is a time-tested model, so it must be from God, and it is because we are losing it that we have this mess... Maybe. But instead of yapping about the badly raised children, and calling their single mom, single dad immoral, how about looking at the immorality of the corporate greed over generations, that landed them in that position today? How about talking about how, except when it is to bash gays and abortion, many vangelical churches are so interested in the mony of their congregation? Those are the moral questions that should be answered first. I will not say it enough: The only people Jesus really lashed out at, were the money changers...

Sincerely,
Ali.

1 comment:

Caleb said...

I agree that for the sake of making a polemical point, I have oversimplified things. I absolutely agree with the points you make about Jesus' essential Jewishness. I don't intend to argue that he would "negate" the value of families. Thanks for the reply!

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