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The Reactionary Utopian
October 15, 2015

Falsifying the Past 
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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[Classic: July 1,1999] — When we want to learn about a subject, our natural impulse is to turn to the “experts” and see what they’ve had to say about it. But this can be a serious mistake. Sometimes the “experts” are more misleading than our own independent judgment.

Until the Renaissance, the “experts” agreed that the sun revolves around the earth and that heavy bodies fall faster than light ones. Why? These propositions seemed to be common sense, and besides, Ptolemy and Aristotle had vouched for them. It took complex calculations to show that the earth actually revolved around the sun, but anyone could have tested the doctrine of falling bodies at any time by simple experiment. Yet the “experts” preferred to rely on the authority of Ptolemy and Aristotle.

So the advance of science was retarded for centuries, not by the ignorant, but by Europe’s most learned men.

More recently, a group of Biblical “experts” has formed the Jesus Seminar, which aims to separate the authentic sayings of Jesus in the Gospels from sayings later interpolated by the early Church. This assumes that early Christians would invent bogus sayings, alien to Jesus but more congenial to themselves, and falsely ascribe them to the man they adored as the Son of God. Quite a large assumption.

As it happens, the liberal Jesus Seminar rejects only the Gospel sayings that are incompatible with modern liberalism. The result is a “politically correct” Jesus acceptable to today’s “progressive” thinkers.

As it happens, the liberal Jesus Seminar rejects only the Gospel sayings that are incompatible with modern liberalism. The result is a “politically correct” Jesus acceptable to today’s “progressive” thinkers.

 

Obviously this is culturally naive. Nobody in the first century would have adopted and espoused the views of late-twentieth-century liberals, who are heirs of the Enlightenment, modern physical science, and utopian socialist politics. None of these had ever been heard of in Jesus’ time.

Such bogus “scholarship” actually amounts to wishful thinking. The “experts” judge the evidence by their own preferences. Such a method means that their judgment is worthless. They merely seek to claim authority for their own views by projecting them back onto Christ.

Oddly enough, these same liberals also deny the divinity of Christ. If Christ was only a man, after all, it stands to reason that he was a man of his time, a Jew who believed the Old Testament literally, subscribing to a whole cosmology that would make him incapable of anticipating the intellectual fashions that would come into vogue 20 centuries later, after several cultural revolutions nobody foresaw.

In the same way, today’s political liberals “interpret” the Constitution by ignoring the huge cultural gulf between themselves and the Founding Fathers. This enables them to project onto the Constitution their own pet views, which none of the Founders shared: on the welfare state, civil rights, separation of church and state, gun control, and myriad other measures and policies the Constitution ruled out in advance by listing (and severely limiting) the powers of the federal government.

Nobody in the eighteenth century except the Marquis de Sade would have regarded the consumption of pornography as a “right,” and even he could never have pretended to find such a right in the First Amendment.

Thomas Jefferson, who espoused a “wall of separation” between church and state, spoke freely about God’s role in human affairs, notably in the Declaration of Independence.

James Madison argued that the federal government had no power to appropriate money for such internal improvements as canals.

 

Nobody in the eighteenth century except the Marquis de Sade would have regarded the consumption of pornography as a “right,” and even he could never have pretended to find such a right in the First Amendment.

“He who is not aware of his ignorance,” Bishop Richard Whately observed, “will be only misled by his knowledge.” We are most apt to be misled when we attribute to men of earlier ages agreement with views that have become fashionable — or even culturally possible — only recently.

Consider modern feminism. It’s incompatible not only with ancient Jewish and Christian culture, but with almost all cultures known to history and anthropology. Most cultures accentuate and glorify the differences between the sexes. Only the liberal culture tries to deny and minimize these inherent differences, honoring militant feminists as “experts” on the sexes.

Even our pronouns are now policed, as witness the ubiquitous “he or she,” a phrase that should be reserved for members of Bill Clinton’s cabinet. This suggests that the liberal culture, far from being universal, is extremely peculiar, provincial, and even unnatural. Its feminist fad will blow over before long, as nature gradually reasserts herself. Or himself.

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This article will be included in a new collection of Sobran columns titled Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015). This column was published originally by Universal Press Syndicate on July 1, 1999.

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Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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