SAN DIEGO, June 30, 2014 — The question of whether exposure to, or adhering to a Christian based ideology is acceptable on school campuses is once again under debate.
Religion is viewed by some as a non-intellectual exercise, but even apart from that, many assume for constitutional reasons that religion should be left out of the classroom, even at our major universities.
But perhaps discussion of Jesus does belong on a college campus. Maybe people should be allowed to talk candidly about religious figures in the classroom or at special seminars.
Here are some things to consider:
1) Jesus is not merely a religious figure, but an historical figure.
Although the New Testament itself can certainly be defended as an accurate collection of historical documents and eyewitness accounts, it may be of interest to people that Jesus was also mentioned by other ancient historians, such as the Roman writer, Tacitus, and the Jewish writer, Josephus, neither of whom converted to Christianity.
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again at the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
— Josephus,William Whiston translation 379 Antiquities book 18 Chapter 3 pg 379.
Although much controversy surrounds this passage, its textual tradition is as sturdy as anything else we accept from Josephus, and historians often turn to Josephus as they try to understand the ancient world. (See footnote below.)
In any event, the history of Jesus does not ride upon this one narrative. We can also look to The Talmud, Pliny the Younger, Lucian of Samosta, Thallas and Tacitus. On top of that is an additional passage in Josephus about Jesus that nobody questions. For now, it suffices to say that Jesus is definitely an historical figure, and the very notion that an institution of higher learning would censor discussion about a person of history is rather bizarre.
2) Jesus is talked about by professors quite a bit anyway.
Oh sure. They talk about him in a negative way, but they do talk about him. In typical Religious Studies classes, many professors say on orientation day, “In this class we will not critique religions. We will merely study what they teach and allow them to speak for themselves.”
What they mean is that they will not critique any religion but Christianity.
They continue, “In this class we are going to learn to respect all religions.”
What they mean is that you are going to learn to respect all religions except Christianity. On the day you study Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or even some religion about aliens being hatched from space pods, you will learn about how beautiful the religion is. On the day you study Christianity, you will learn that the Bible is a chauvinistic and a racist book. It promotes genocide and even rape. The Bible is also full of contradictions. Oh yes, and the Bible has been rewritten and mistranslated. Any Christian who dares to argue with the professor and defend the gospel will hear, “Whoa…Buddy. Back off…Separation between church and state. You’re not allowed to preach in here.” Funny how this separation never cuts both ways. People can say any vile thing they want about Christianity, but we Christians dare not defend ourselves. See how it works?
If professors feel the campus is an inappropriate place to mention Jesus, then maybe they should stop talking about him. However, the notion that the Constitution forbids religious discussion unless Christianity is being criticized, smells like an open jar of pickled herring on a hot windy day.
3) The phrase, “Separation between church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, and I mean nowhere.
The First Amendment reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
That’s it. That one line is what all the bugaboo is about. How then, did the myth of separation between church and state raise its ugly head?
It actually began in the year 1947 in a court case called Everson v. Board of Education (330 US (1947)). The court said: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.”
They were quoting Thomas Jefferson, but quoting him out of context. Jefferson used the phrase in a letter he wrote to the Baptist churches of Danbury, Connecticut, whose members were concerned that the new federal constitution might begin to limit the rights of the church.
The fear was that if it was the government’s prerogative to grant religious freedom, it was also its prerogative to take away religious freedom. The Danbury Baptists asked Jefferson to affirm that religious rights were inalienable rights before God, not privileges which the state invented. Jefferson agreed with them and in 1802 wrote:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter that lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state. “
Jefferson clearly used the phrase “separation between church and state” to agree with the Danbury Baptists that they were free before God to practice their religion as they saw fit.
When our country was founded, our fathers were determined to avoid the way of Europe. In Europe, different countries declared their own brand of Christianity. Italy was Catholic. England was Church of England. Germany was, for the most part, Lutheran, and Switzerland was Reformed. One risked death to break from the religion of his country. In America, it would be different. There would be no mandatory state church. People could participate in any Christian denomination they wished or chose not to be religious at all.
This did not mean that we were not allowed to mention the Bible at school or to pray in public. American colleges taught the Bible well into the early years of the Republic.
Today, secular activists, while claiming they are only looking out for their own rights, ignore the fact that their right to be unreligious has not been infringed upon by our great nation. Indeed, many of them are systematically eroding the rights of Christians and they are doing it with historical revision.
Jesus always has and always will belong on the college campus.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
Certainly some try to portray the Josephus passage about Jesus as a Christian interpolation but many scholars accept most of it and some accept all of it. The inarguable extant manuscript evidence favors the passage and objections are subjective ones, namely that Josephus says things about Jesus that a non-Christian (supposedly) would not say, such as calling him the Christ and claiming he rose from the dead. In my book, I’d Like To Believe In Jesus, But…I defend the notion that a non-believer in those days could still have used that kind of descriptive language but such a detailed discussion goes beyond the scope and purpose of this present article. The book can be ordered through my website or Amazon.com.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net. Comments to posts are discussed by Bob over the air where anyone is free to call in and respond/debate. Call in toll free number: 1-888-344-1170.