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tv   John Mc Laughlins One on One  PBS  September 16, 2012 9:00am-9:30am PDT

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>> jesus as cultural icon. do you believe that the image of jesus is malleable, not um mutable. specifically, jesus not only
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changes with the times but jesus becomes redefined with each new social trend. whether that's the civil rights marches or the feminism movement or the peace movement. why does a guest on this intervie say that the image of jesus about any new view of about any new view of jesus in america. we'll ask the author of american stephen broth row with another view on the live line. captions produced by visual audio captioning barack obama barac barack obama barack obama >> dr. stephen prothero, welcome. your book has a central
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proposition, what is the proposition in the book? >> i think there's two. one is that jesus is many and mal oohable, there isn't just one jesus but there's many and the other is that jesus isn't just for christians in the united states, christis love jesus but so do buddhists and jews and hindus and people without any religion whatsoever. >> the jesus image is multiadaptble because we are a 3489 religious nation. >> that's right, we're a multireligious nation but also a christian nation where 80% or so of the country are christians and they put jesus on the national agenda and then people of all different religions and without any at all respond to that figure. >> why did thomas jefferson become consumed with revising the bible by omitting a lot of it in his own text of the bible as you began your book with? >> wl, presumably it's not because he didn't have anything else to do, i mean, he was a
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pretty busy guy in the white house but he ordered a couple books from england, a couple bibles and he sat there in the white house and he cut and pasted and took out the miracles and took out the resurrection. he believed jesus was a good guy, he believed he was one of the most important philosophers ever but he didn't like christianity and he was able to separate out christianity from jesus, say no to christianity and say yes to yeast. >> how many of the colonists, what percentage were religiously affiliated or had had religious beliefs in some specific denomination? >> i'm not sure the percentage. but much smaller percentage of churchgoers than we have now. something more on the order of, i don't know, one out of five rather than the vast majority. and those who were christians and who did go to crunch typically didn't think a lot about jesus either. >> how much did jefferson take out of the bible? >> took out about 9/10 of the saying of jesus, tenth survid.
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>> took out the miracles? >> miracles, anything that sounded to him like calvinist theology, to jesus like god or healing and he took out the rest your ration, ends the story with the crucifix. >> did the early founders view the united states as a christian organization? >> nasa a good question. some of them did and many did not but i think it's fair to say that most of them had a more deistic view, a view that yes, god, yes, afterlife and rewards and punishments but not specifically christian and certaiy not specifically new testament biblical. >> the founding fathers saw united states, america, as a secular nation? >> well -- >> you make this statement in the book, you said, "the" was a treaty," that you cite in 1797, a key time, between the united states and tripoli.
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in that treaty the u.s. government says the government of the united states of america is not in any sense founded on the christian religion. there are also courses approved vision for the total separation of church and state in the founding doctrine, correct? >> no, i don't think the total separation of church and state is in the bible, there's total disebb stabment, emerges in the 19th century. >> were they dominantly christian, as if it was not founded as a nation free of any required state religion? >> no, i -- no, i -- this -- >> therefore, it was a secular nation, as they saw it, and they wanted it that way. >> i think you have to talk abt whether it's by law or by culture. and i think most everybody would have understood early on that by law, the nation was secular, but by choice, the nation was -- in other words, its people were christians and there's always been that dynamic, people have always understood there's a tension there between a
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population that's largely christian but uses its freedom to choose christiity and the laws that say go ahead and be whatever religion you want to be. >> this is what i understand from your text. one of five of the founding fathers had any religious stressed denomination or affiliation and that was when it existed calvinist and that was pretty much of a god almost independent of jesus, correct, a watch maker god who starts the earth and then he leaves it on its own, a deistic god? >> well, no, in terms of the population there's the calvinists and the deists. >> way back then? >> right. the calvinists totally predominated among the population. the founding fathers were much more elites and yes, many of them were deists but in terms of the vast majority of deistshey they thought about it in terms of calvinists where god, didn't think about jesus much except he
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was sent for this mission. the piety wn't jesus, didn't have a personal relationship with jesus is the point. >> well, you seem reluctant to say that the nation in its founding documents was so founded as a secular, no religious state. >> it was by law, yes. >> by law. >> yes. >> and curiously enough, with that religious freedom guaranteed by the founding documents, since none were stipulated for the population, that developed into a curious paradox. more people became affiliated by reason of our religious freedom. don't you take note of that? >> absolutely, absolutely. >> isn't that a paradox? >> well -- >> isn't it true in europe, for example, the contrary is true? >> yes, if you force religion down their throats they don't like it and give the freedom to choose they quite often choose to be religious. >> what percentage of americans are affiliated with a church today? >> four out of five say their christian and a slight majity are members of a church. >> what is the situation in
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europe? >> much, much grimmer from the christian perspective. >> no religious affiliation and 20% denied jesus ever existed. >> that's right, that's right. >> what are you finding, go ahead. >> no, i was going to sa9 scandinavian countries, for example, people hardly ever go to church and no one's interested in jesus. >> what are you finding with regard to the doctrine of reincarnation and christian? >> a quarter of christians believe in reincarnation. >> one out of four christians believe in reincarnation, what is reincarnation? >> after you die your soul continues and finds another body and is born as another person. >> how do you reconcile christian beliefs and reincarnation with a belief in jesus? >> it's hard to reconcile it and i think the way i reconcile is religious people aren't always consistent in their theology. >> isn't reincarnation essentially a nonchristian, religious belief? >> yes, i mean, it comes from most power lineally from hinduism but it also comes from
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the greeks. there actually was a discussion early on in christianity about whether there was a way to coordinate reincarnation beliefs with the greeks for christianity and the folks who wanted to lost. >> is there a religionian christians are practicing other beliefs and definitions of other religions? >> definitely. >> true of christians, one out of four believe in reincarnations, does it work the other way, does a buddhist in any way seek out and adopt the beliefs of christians? >> yes, they do and that's one of the themes of my book that the drama has said jesus is a boddi saki a great spiritual giant. jews have said similar thing, a hindu divinity and incorrespond natured in earth. you can find hindu temples that will have christmas eve devoted to jesus. >> you know about the doctrine of the virgin birth. >> yes, i do.
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>> that means that mary conceived independently of any male traditionally instrumentality. how many non-christians believe in the virgin birth? >> you're really quizzing me today, aren't you. >> this is all in your book. >> it's about half, it's about half, that's right. >> what do you make of that? non-christians, half of them believe in the virgin birth? >> well, what i make of it is that a lot of non-ch"istians are a lot of orthodox than non-christians are. interesting. hindus are going to say things much more orthodox in many things than, you know, i tearians were, or for that matter a liberal congregationist church. >> jesus' image is adaptable. you speak in your book about you speak in your book about
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jesus, is that right? >> that's right. >> and you see that as a reaction to the calvinism which was cold and preached predestination which is in itself is an unpleasant expectation of the demand of anyone namely that you are predestined, w even try? it was reaction to wrathful god, is that right? >> that's right, that's right. early on, in the american republic, there was an effort to move away from this god-fearing religion to jesus-loving religion. more of an emphasis on jesus, less of an emphasis on god, the father. the way that move in evangelicalism which was the dominant form of christianity in the 21st century is what a friend we have in jesus, hymns like that, seeing jesus as walking and talking with you, holding your hand. >> the sweet jesus. >> that's right. >> did the set jesus further degeneral rate into the efundamental national jesus meaning more womanly than man, the hair, the look?
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>> it deposition on your perspective whether that's a degeneration or improvement but he was fundamental niced during the course of the 19th century. >> you regard jesus as anything but a distortion? >> i don't really know what jesus was like. >> well, that produced a reaction to that and then we had the manly jesus, did we not? >> yes. >> was that in the company, the era of teddy roosevelt and his lame over the overcivilized men in the famous speech he gave? >> right in the strenuous life. in that period, 19th century turning into the 20th century as roosevelt's roughriders were going up san juan hill and pursuing the spanish american war there's an effort to buff jesus up essentially, emphasize his scenes where he kicks the money changers out of the temple or where he's a carpenter and he's buff and got strong muscles and that sort of thing and that was an effort to bring men back in the churches, there were very few at that timend there was an effort to attract them.
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>> we won't try to summarize the various permutations of the image of jesus in your book, but one of the funnier aspects of it is your portrayal or your backgrounding of the laughing jesus. correct? >> yes. >> what was that? >> well,, you know, i think this is where the friendly mr. rogers jesus sort of ends up is the jesus who laughs. >> who produced the laughing jesus? >> well, there was a couple efforts to do it. there was a fellow called hert eaton at forest lawn cemetery in southern california. and he went out and tried to find images of jesus smiling 'cause he thought that in america, at least, jesus should smile instead of frown. >> smiling is one thing, laughing is another, was that your burl 11? >> no, it isn't my burl 11, it's an artist named ralphco zach that shows jesus leaning back d not laughing guffawing. >> a real knee-slapper. >> it's a real knee-slapper,
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that's right. >> do you find that gained a assemble tans in the united states? >> yeah, i mean, that picture is fairly popular. >> the phenomenon, the potential reality. we know jesus was all human, we know he was all god because he has a divine nature, i say "we know," this is the christian theology, at least that's catholic theology and it's i think still -- a few orthodox episcopalian, you're a episcopalian. >> sure. >> who believe in the die vin origin, there's a dual nature, a god and man nature but both were fully fulfilled, if you're fully fulfilled human sense incongruity and laugh, right. >> correct. >> when you mention this to people it seems inappropriate, does it not? >> it does because people think religion's supposed to be serious. >> you think it's a joke. >> the laughing jesu jesus? >> no, do you think religious is a joke.
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>> absolutely not. >> but not incomparable with laughter. >> no, in fact, there's been very good books about laughter and ways in which jokes and laughter can get at the core of things theological. >> after seeing mel gibson's movie there doesn't seem to be any room left. >> although jesus does laugh in that movie, it's interesting, there is a back -- a flashback scene where he does laugh. >> when he's with mary and mary's trying to educate him. >> i think he's in his shop and with mary, i think he laughs in that scene. >> does the popularity of mel gibson's film "the passion" mark the beginning of a new image of jesus? we'll put that question to our guest but first here is his distinguished profile. born cooperstown, new york. grew up on cape cod where he now lives. 43 years of age. wife, edie. two daughters, episcopalian. politics, independent. yale university, american
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studies. with an emphasis on religion and politics. b.a. summa cum laude. harvard university, ph.d., religion. georgia state university, professor of religion, five years. bost unirsity, professor of religion, eight years. chairman of the department of religion, one year and currently. newspapers and magazines, contributor to "new york times" magazine, the "wall street journal,", author, three books on religion include ""american jesus," how the son of god became a national icon." hobbies: painful, of the boston red sox, diehard fan, a passion which introduced h to, quote, and theological themes that would later preoccupy him including why a good god would allow such an evil team as the new york yankees to win so many
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world series, unquote. besides baseball, tennis. stephen richard prothero. >> stephen richard prothero, your father is also a physician, is that right? >> that's correct. >> did he see the motion pictu by mel gibson? >> he did. >> what did he have to say about that? >> he found a real human being wouldn't survive 20inutes int the mie because it's so violent, there's such brutality is brought on on jesus' body and not realistic from a medical perspective. >> meaning he would have never have made it on the top of the hill. >> he wouldn't even have made it to the bottom of the hill. >> that raises the question on whether the assertion made by mr. gibson that he's following scrupulously the gospel text is true, it would seem to indicate that what your father see are the excesses of the movie are the incompatibility of the portrayal in the movie with
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basic science raises a point that mark describes it that the synoptic goss members, matthew, mark, luke and john, do not suggest the basis for the extreme, the savagery that we see in the motion picture, correct? >> not at all. you can really only find one lines in the gospels about jesus being lashed and whipped. and all that scourging that we see in the film and that takes about 45 minutes in the movie. >> sll that out a little b. in matthew there is mention of being scourged before taken to the hill, that is the arduous process to get there, he was crowned with thorns, he was spit upon or smote or hit on the head. >> we certainly don't get a sense of the violence that attends the trial and the execution of jesus. we don't get that in the gospels
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at all. >> there's no mention -- let me clarify, there's no mention of scourgg in john. and that brings us to another interesting question that we can raise with you and we're joined on the live line and he's actually been listening to us and he may choose to comment on what you've said thus far david brickner who is the executive director of jews for jesus which is celebrating, i believe, it's 30th year, is that right, gaifd brickner? >> it's good to be with you, john. on the cornerstone of our headquarters it says jews for jesus established 32 a.d. give or take a yea but t organization you're right, it's celebrated its 30th year this past year. >> there are two ways of looking at the gospel texts. and one of the ways, they're not in conflict but one is the emphasis on the atonement, the redemption, incarnation, the son of god becoming man and the
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price that was paid to redeem mankind is what you saw on the screen. there is the political, there is the moral,ther interpretations of events. do jews for jesus accept the divinity of jesus christ? >> well, we would stand with the answer that one of the first jews for jesus gave when jesus asked the question "who do men say that i am?" and followed it up with a direct question with peter who do you say i am. he said you are the messiah, the son of the living god. and we're jews for jesus just like peter, james and john are so that's our conviction. >> what did youind, stephen, about jews and their regard for jesus stemming from the famous lecture by rabbi wise in what 1925? >> that's right, i really didn't investigate jews for jesus
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proper, i investigated jews who don't believe jesus was the messiah. >> that stemmed from this talk by wise. >> and before the 1925 talk by wise, i found between the civil war, essentially, and the 1920s, virtually every major reform, liberal -- reformed liberalabbi in the united states wrote something on jesus. they agree he was a great rabbi, he was a great jew and the only question was what kind of jew was he. trench reverence for jesus where he was compared to moses and amos and other jewish heroes. >> well, what distinguishes the theology of jews for jesus from christian theology? >> well, not much when it comes to the person of jesus. we would be very conventional in that rard but let me say that while dr. prothero has done a good job of pointing out what the academic view of jesus is in the jewish community, i think
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that there needs to be a little bit of an update in terms of what seems to be more of the man on the street in the jewish community. >> what are you referring to that he wrote? >> well, he talks about the reclamation of jesus, and that's good, and he says that samuel sandmouth is perhaps the leader of today's thought with regard to jews' views o jes but the man on the street in the jewish community there's a tremendous schedulessia within the jewish community, we're deeply divided and i think you can see this most clearly in the response in the jewish community to mel gibson's "the "passion of the christ"." you have on the one hand abraham foxman of the antidefamation league saying it's dangerous, going to produce antisemitism, michael met vet, dennis prayinger, lapin, they say it's a good film an jewsnd christians should gond see it. and this translates into a
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tremendous kind of schedulessia, like i have -- schizophrenia, like i was saying and what is creating a backlash to the reclamation of jesus is an inordinate fear of the christian right and i think that's part of the problem that we face of trying to answer the question that jesus asked whoo you say that i am? >> there's something else that could added here and that's the involvement of ann katharine emmer rich 1774-1824. a gman miss stick and a stick maddic. why do i bring her name up? >> she was a major influence on mel gibson in terms of her making the atmosphere of the. the claim has been it's based on the gospels but the gospels aren't really a screenplay or a treatment of a screenplay, they're a very, very brief outline for such a movie and he took a lot of the scenes directly from her vision. >> summarized a an awful lot, brentano published her writings and then they were enlarged upon
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and what you have at the end, according is that the net resuln that much of this is about fiction as opposed to being in any way drawn from the -- in any real way drawn from the gospels. >> well, that's right. and that's what so silly about this claim of mel gibson and frankly of some others including billy graham who's claimed when he saw the film he felt like he was a bystander, like it was a real tv documentary or something. this is clearly a film that comes out of the visions of a lot of people, mel gibson one of them, and this emmer rick person another. >> this goes actually a little bit further, this piece written by o'malley, john w. o'malley, a jesuit. he said the emmer rick-brentano
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he said the emmer rick-brentano intentioned frauds. that's how her original writings evolved and were added to. so that has to be said in connection with this. >> that's right, he's drawing from all sorts of resources, he's drawing from med evil passion plays, i think he's drawing from the tradition of the horror movie, i think he's drawing from the action adventure movies, there's all sorts of sources that we see here. >> let me give you a real question here on what image may be emerging. some viewers have said that the brutalization of death and jesus leave, for revenge, could we say the new image of jesus as the savior, demands or at least inspires venn jennings, we feel victims of the terrorists of 9/11 and 311 and want revenge, we see jesus as another innocent and he's brute alized and have this feeling of revenge, is that
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at work here? >> i think absolutely. one part might have book is these track things in the united states and the key one we're in now is the post-911 era of war in iraq, war in afghanistan and it's not surprising to me that have a revisiting here of this more teddy roosevelt culture. >> we've got 20 seconds left and that's all. do you want to make a closing comment d i'll call on you for about 10 seconds. david. >> i think -- i do think the film is antisemitic in the sense that it does any more than any other jesus film in american history to exonerate pile last time and blame jesus. >> and yet there is so much a jewish jesus including questions from the passover, why ishis night different from all other nights and it's again thi schizophrenia, we need to answer that question who is jesus and we're still working on it. that question who is jesus and we're still working on it. >> thank you so much, david, and
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