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After the Jargon

Posted on: January 26, 2020

Category: Theology

After the Jargon

After the Jargon
When I started graduate studies at McGill University years ago, I recall how much academic jargon my peers and professors commonly used. I knew pretty quickly that if I did not pick up on the jargon and learn how to use it, I would likely not succeed. I decided I needed a trick to survive. The trick was nothing brilliant; I just learned how to break down complex expressions to simple, basic, ideas. I found out that anyone can learn to use jargon words and sound very smart, but underneath the jargon is usually something simple.

In biblical studies, the problem of the historical Jesus can sound daunting. It's full of jargon. Yet, the historical Jesus question really only concerns accepting that Jesus was human like anyone and asking what he really said and did. To ask what Jesus really said is a lot more inviting and interesting than talking about the hermeneutical problems involved in the interpretation of history. If I offered a talk on "the hermeneutical problems of the interpretation of history," I doubt many people would show up. But if we simply talk about what Jesus really said, I'm sure it would be an interesting conversation.

My point is that education has two roles to play in life. One is to help us understand the world, but the second and more important one is to help us cut through the jargon about the world to reach simple truths. Ancient Rome employed lots of jargon to convince conquered populations about the righteous Roman world. The jargon sounded good. There were words about liberation, about salvation, and about plentitude. Rome was even able to employ the expression "good news" to enlighten conquered foreign nations about the divine plan. Ancient Rome sounded, in its jargon, a lot like the Christian church before the Christian church ever existed! But if we cut through that jargon, we can see that the Roman good news was really about power and greed. Sometimes Rome actually did good things. Aqueducts were wonderful. The wonder, though, came with a price, and for common people, it was always important to cut through the appearance of things to reach the reality of things on the ground.

Religion today is often about the appearance of things and about jargon. We could say that religion has always been about these things in some way. The rhetoric that arises today from extreme forms of religion speaks of righteousness and portrays its opposition as evil. This is certainly the habit of someone like Franklin Graham. Yet, to portray others as evil is not something truly righteous people do. In extreme religion today, righteousness is a jargon word that means hate.

Fortunately, there is, and has always been, another side to religion that speaks of the alternative. Sure, it is possible to think that our own people are righteous and others are evil, but the alternative is to love your enemies. It's not easy, but it's possible, and it is most likely something Jesus really did say. To act with this kind of love means to cut through the jargon we commonly use about ourselves and to see a simple truth, the truth about overcoming built-in egoism to become a bigger spirit than we ever thought possible. Keeping up the jargon about self-righteousness is easy; the hard thing is to overcome jargon with the simple truth about love. Religion can rest on either side of this equation. So, we must always ask ourselves, where does religion reside for me?

©By David Galston

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