Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Jesus and Personal Freedom

I can’t fully explain the intellectual connection between this post and an upcoming one expanding on the discussion of social truth, but I somehow just know this has to get in there first.

This teaching from Donald Sensing, How Jesus Invented Individual Liberty gave me one of those “Of course! How could I miss it?” moments.  There is the interesting question whether his overall premise is true – that Jesus of Nazareth was the first up with this type of independence from tribe. While there are earlier examples of elites who were expected to transfer their loyalty to a class, I don’t think that’s quite the same thing.  Pursue that as you will, but there is another part that struck me forcibly.
When Jesus talks about mother, father, brothers, and separating from them to become part of a new group, he is talking about clans; about tribes. Israel was a tribal society – “…of the Tribe of Isaachar…” – as most societies have been throughout history. As the nation grew, there were further subdivisions, down into clan loyalties.  It persists in Arab cultures in that area to this day.
When North Americans, the Anglosphere, and to a lesser extent Western Europeans hear Jesus’s words “who are my mother and my brothers?” or the command to let the dead bury the dead, we cannot help but think of nuclear families.  We have a dim awareness that cousinages were closer, aunts and uncles more connected, than in our present day, but the full force of belonging to a clan just isn’t in us.  Too many of us live apart from those we were raised with, having struck out on our own years ago, and the descendants of long lines of people who struck out on their own.  Clans have kind of a humorous aspect to us, getting to wear tartans or go to family reunions.
It’s not the same.  One counted on the clan for getting a job, or a son-in-law, or help in need, and were expected to provide it in return.  Look at Mary going to visit Elizabeth – her cousin, please note. People took you in.  If you screwed up, they were also shamed, so they had an interest in your actions.  There was not much survival outside the clan. Jesus isn’t just talking about Mom and Dad.  He is using them as the hyperbole, as he often does.  Shall you leave the clan if it comes to that?  I come to set brother against brother. Yes, even to that extreme shall you go.
It doesn’t go away at once.  Paul refers to providing for one’s family, for example.  But this is the same mind-opening concept I got from the Ockenga Institute  NT study two years ago: Jesus is not instructing us to become world citizens in our modern sense, but to become part of a new tribe which anyone in the world is eligible for. (I recommend Ockenga couses, BTW, though my wife liked the OT instructor far better than the NT instructor)

Secular readers might note that this would be something to be grateful for, even if you don't think Jesus is God.

Another from Sensing, commenting on the Pew Research thatRepublicans are smarter than Democrats – on a range of political-knowledge questions. My take has long been that the subgroup True Liberals might have a slightly higher verbal IQ than the population as a whole, but fall behind conservatives on math.  Further, hard knowledge questions similar to those in this survey are also a conservative strength: a higher count in the Bill of Rights, cleaner distinctions between branches and forms of government, etc. That’s the same as “smarter” only in one sense. Still, it’s the reverse of the conventional wisdom, so it’s worth mentioning.


james said...

I've read of brothers raising each other's sons. From some villages there isn't always a distinction between cousin and brother, and sometimes even between a cousin and a more distant kinsman raised in the village.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

In the Scottish derbfine, there was a distinction made for full siblings, but beyond that it was all one. First, second, third cousins or more distant were the same so long as one was in that tree.

terri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
terri said...

long time, no write

I won't comment on the first part of your post, but I will call shenanigans on the last part about the Pew Center poll. Intrigued, I clicked through to read the link and immediately knew that something was fishy....no link to the study/quiz, just a link to another post somewhere else...which also neglected to link to the quiz.

I spent several minutes trying to find the quiz myself, with many of the results just bringing me the repeated echo chamber of the snipped paragraph and no link to the study.

That seemed very odd to me. Why wasn't anyone linking to the piece?

I finally found it through some more digging.


First, I would note that the survey was done in 2011, not 2010 as almost every conservative site I found on Google results claims. That tells me right off the bat that no one bothered to even look up the original source.

It's one of those"Yeah, that totally makes sense and has got to be true !" reactions. A reaction that gets passed around from one conservative group/blog/forum to another with no reference, link, clarification or questioning. Just a spoon fed story to the faithful who always knew that Democrats/liberals are dumb.

Secondly, I would note that some of the test questions at that particular date favor Republican knowledge. Who is speaker of the house? What is the symbol of the GOP? Republicans have a majority in? Country with debt problems?(Greece, a common reference point for Republican talking points about the economy.) Identify Israel on a map. (a country whose relationship is a high priority for Republicans.)

Thirdly, I would note that there is an actual percentage difference between the parties of 1.9%. Not exactly a huge gap.

If you look at this same quiz from 2013:


You will see that Democrats are off by only .1% in that quiz. But the questions also favor Democrats a little more because more of the questions relate to Democratic leaders and issues.

I know that you try to moderate the misleading headline with your comments, but I still felt the need to point out the problems inherent in declaring one large group of people "smarter" than another large group of people on the basis of this 13 question quiz....especially in the context of its use on conservative blogs/forums.

Misrepresentation, spin, broad conclusions,the neglect to actually link to the source material....etc.

The type of thing that really bugs me from either side.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It seems an eminently fair set of criticisms.

I will note that Democrats tended to do much better on photographs of people, Republicans on text. I don't know what to make of that. And it's not fully consistent anyway.

The difference is indeed minor, about the same as Satoshi Kanazawa's oft-circulated (to me, anyway) research that liberals are smarter than conservatives. It is further imperiled by the fact that it is an online voluntary quiz, which would select for people with computers who had confidence they might do reasonably well. Not a representative sample of anyone.

I included it because it goes against CW and amused me in that. But you are correct that I should have resisted that temptation, because it isn't quite what it says it is.