Culture: June 2007 Archives

What an interesting argument! Laurence Thomas argues that there is a black American imperialism. [Note: Laurence's site doesn't like the server this blog resides on. You usually have to click on the link, wait until you get a rejection message, click in the URL box, and hit enter. I've never seen it fail to work that way.]

Blacks in the U.S. tend to see blackness as something they have a monopoly on, such that Barack Obama isn't really black due to his father being from Africa and his mother being white. You might hear things like, "Immigrant blacks don't have our heritage, so they must not really be black." At the same time, hip-hop is one of the biggest cultural exports from the U.S., and blacks in the U.S. are having a huge impact on blacks elsewhere, while ignoring that Africa is a continent and not a country, smoothing over the huge differences throughout Africa to act as if all blacks are just from Africa (appropriating half-customs with no meaning in the process). A number of elements in this process resemble the cultural imperialism that larger American culture regularly engages in, so it's interesting to see him identifying some ways that the black subculture in the U.S. does similar things.

Mark Goodacre points to the attention Deirdre Good's new book Jesus' Family Values is getting. Her argument is basically that Jesus had no family values, on the following ground:

1. Jesus challenged some of the societal expectations people in his cultural context had about families.
2. Jesus doesn't spend a lot of time on some of the moral perspectives assumed by all first-century Jews because of the background of the Hebrew scriptures, i.e. he focuses on where the people of his time were misinterpreting or violating the spirit of the Hebrew scriptures.
3. Jesus predicts that families will divide over him, without ever saying that those who reject his followers in this way and put them to death are right to cause such division.
4. We see no sign of Jesus calling his foster father Joseph by the name he reserved for his heavenly Father.

She also says (falsely) that the word 'family' never appears in the New Testament. Now the English word never appears in the Greek, but a simple online search would have shown her that many English translations use the word regularly (see the ESV, NIV, HCSB, TNIV, NLT). Maybe she got some not quite true information about the KJV not having the word in the NT (it does have it once), but that has nothing to do with the content of the Greek NT itself but more to do with the English language at the time the KJV was translated (or rather the English language of a couple centuries earlier, which is what the KJV translators were translating the Bible into). [Update: see the comments for a more careful presentation of her view, why it's a little better than this, and why I still disagree with it.]

Now maybe the bulk of her argumentation is good, and maybe her conclusions aren't as radical as this presentation makes it look, but the impression of what I'm getting is that she's trying to send a message that pretty much everything those who speak of "family values" consider to fall under that would have been foreign to Jesus, and he'd in fact take the opposite views on many of those issues. The implicature is that those who say they derive their moral and political views from the Bible on these issues are in fact making them up whole cloth.

As I said in the comments on Mark's post, this is a very strange argument. For one thing, Jesus did speak about family values. He lambasted the Pharisees for taking the money they should have been using to care for their parents and dedicating it to God with a vow so they could use it now and not have to support their parents. He gives his mother to John to take care of her. He treats the love of the father for the prodigal son as an image of perfect, divine love, which affirms such love for wayward children.

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