You know you must be watching PBS when Good Friday is a time to interview promoters of gnostic gospels and leftist preachers who equate the persecutors of Christ with "rugged individualism." On this Good Friday, April 6, Charlie Rose interviewed Princeton professor Elaine Pagels and Harvard professor Karen King, who explored with Rose how the "Gospel of Judas" shows parallels between early Christian martyrs and modern-day Islamic suicide bombers. Leftist Rev. James Forbes of New York’s Riverside Church carried the anti-individualist message.
Rose began with the professors by promising "some fascinating new information about Judas and Jesus. The New Testament presents Judas’ actions towards Jesus as the most infamous of betrayals. The long-lost Gospel of Judas tells a very different story. It shows Judas as Jesus` favorite disciple and willing collaborator."
CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me where Judas stood among the other disciples? I mean, how is he in terms of age, in terms of relationship, in terms of where he came from?
ELAINE PAGELS: We know little about Judas Iscariot. All we know is that he was one of the disciples .
CHARLIE ROSE: His betrayal.
ELAINE PAGELS: And that for some reason and, as I said, the first gospel doesn’t even speculate. It just seems so mysterious. And later people -- there were various stories and ways of talking about it, trying to figure out why he would do that.
CHARLIE ROSE: You both say that you emerged from the first reading of this feeling that he was an angry man.
ELAINE PAGELS: There is a lot of vehemence in this book, and I think what Karen said, he is angry at the leaders of the church who`re basically telling, I would imagine, young people to go die for God as martyrs.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right. Right. But the anger - the anger was primarily about the notion of going to die for God .
ELAINE PAGELS: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: -- and not wanting to see people sacrifice .
ELAINE PAGELS: Right. And it`s not .
CHARLIE ROSE: -- because the idea was Jesus was a loving person rather than someone who wanted you to die for him.
ELAINE PAGELS: Well, it`s not saying that -- if you`re up against, you know, denying your convictions, you might -- you might die for them.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
ELAINE PAGELS: But -- but to say you should go out and do that, you`ll get great rewards in heaven if you`re a martyr. You`ll get a, you know, a glorified body and other things, to say that is - is kind of a complicit in murder.
CHARLIE ROSE: As we now know, I mean, there are people who in today’s religious fanaticism --
ELAINE PAGELS: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: -- or deeply religious thoughts, people are engaged in all kinds of self-sacrifice.
ELAINE PAGELS: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: For what they say, for religious purposes and on the promise that the world they`re going to --
ELAINE PAGELS: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: – will be much better. Is there any connection, say, between Islam and what it says or what people who are Muslim say, especially those who are committing acts of suicide? And this -- some of the kinds of things we`re talking about early Christianity?
ELAINE PAGELS: Well, both Christians and Muslims have radical groups in which martyrdom, and even killing people is sometimes condoned. And this seems like .
CHARLIE ROSE: In the name of God.
ELAINE PAGELS: In the name of God. And this is a religious leader who says, doing that, encouraging people to die that way is a kind of .
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah.
ELAINE PAGELS: . a complicity in murder, and it certainly condemns that violence.
That was the most shocking part, but this earlier elaboration of the "Gospel of Judas" was also eyebrow-raising:
KAREN KING: This text has a very complicated position on martyrdom, because on the one hand, Judas is actually for this text the first martyr. And he doesn`t commit suicide the way we learn from the gospels. He is actually put to death by the other 12. But this text is angry
CHARLIE ROSE: To death by the other 12?
KAREN KING: By the other 12.
CHARLIE ROSE: How do they put him to death?
KAREN KING: They stone him. He has a vision in which - in which he sees the 12 stoning him to death. And - and yet the anger in this text is directed at those Christian leaders who are telling other Christians that God wants them to die, that God wants their deaths to glorify him, that they are sacrifices pleasing to God. And the Gospel of Judas says, what kind of god is that? What kind of god would desire the death of his son, would desire of the death of martyrs?
CHARLIE ROSE: And so, it was concerned that .
KAREN KING: That`s a false god.
CHARLIE ROSE: This gospel was concerned that people were going out willingly dying for God, and that was a - it didn’t -- and was - was worried that people would be doing that because it was part of Jesus’ sacrifice.
ELAINE PAGELS: Yes, and when -- you know, the usual story you hear from Christians and from Christian history is that Christian martyrs went joyfully to their deaths because it was a great thing to do. We now see what happens to groups of people, real people, when some leaders are arrested, they`re tortured, various people are taken to prison, strangled, and - and publicly exhibited for his torture and execution. This divided people. They said -- as you said -- some said, "That`s great. I mean, God loves to see his -- his beloved die as martyrs." And this author says, you`re making God into a monster.
Before that came the interview with Rev. James Forbes, who said his Easter message this year would warn of the War on Terror: "We are locked into an epidemic of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder; paranoia." He added: "The struggle is revealed in the crucifixion. That is, if you stand for love, hate will be in the corners waiting to win the day. If you stand for community, rugged individualism that has no respect for other human beings will say, I'm the way."
Rugged individualism and the Christian gospel can certainly be at odds, but when it comes to the Left, you can also suspect they need a lecture that secular or scientific socialism and the Christian gospel can also be at odds. Rev. Forbes also insisted that belief in Jesus and his Resurrection is, well, sort of optional for him:
CHARLIE ROSE: Is accepting the idea more important than having to believe the reality?
REV. JAMES FORBES: My response to you is my life`s history. You know, some years when I`m doing the Easter service, I`m thinking this thing is absolutely literally true. And other times I`m saying, "It`s - it`s a metaphor for life." At other times I`m saying, they believed it, and I receive strength from what they believe. And other times I`m not so sure. So what I think is this is one of those powerful stories. If you want to take it literally, you got it. If you want to see the metaphor, that is where the depth of the meaning applies to our hearts, no matter which of these positions we take. So I would say some folks get it. You ask me how I know he lives he lives within my heart.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you say to all of them, that however you accept it is OK.
REV. JAMES FORBES: I say I have a responsibility to answer what does the God in me reveal to be the meaning for me in this story? Each of us will have to take that for ourselves. I do not discredit those who can`t buy the whole miracle part, who can`t buy the ascension part. Take what you can. This is a story that each individual can appropriate. Now, religious organizations say if you can`t buy it literally true, you are desecrating the whole tradition itself. I am not in that camp. I`m in a camp that believes that the God in me, the spirit in me, accepts me in those years when I`m more literalistic and those years when I`m more metaphorical, and those years when I`m saying, "Oh, I don`t know." That God is in me, and assists me in appropriating what I need now.