“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction,” — Blaise Pascal
This quote was boldly displayed on the screen as students and faculty came to room 106 in the Johnson Center to hear Woolman lecturer Dr. Phillip Jinkins. On March 13, Jinkins delivered his first lecture, as part of the annual Woolman Lecture series after his chapel address earlier that day.
Jinkins works in a variety of fields in both history and religious studies, and currently holds the position of Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
The March 13 lecture titled “Laying Down the Sword: How Christians and Muslims Confront the Violence in their Scriptures,” shed light on the breadth of violent passages in the Bible, and how Christians have interpreted and misinterpreted them throughout time.
Jinkins began the evening with providing examples of Biblical texts that contained what he said were “violent, merciless passages of Scripture.” He pulled heavily from passages related to Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land and the tribes and nations therein.
He then brought specific examples from history of different groups who justified violence with Biblical passages. He used examples such as Hitler and the colonization of Africa and related them back to stories from the book of Esther.
After Jinkins had built his foundation for presenting by speaking about violent passages of the Bible and their misuse, he went forward to suggest the proper way the Old Testament should be read. The question he wanted to answer was how do we reconcile a God that calls for genocide and senseless killing with the loving character of Jesus as presented in the New Testament?
Jinkins quoted Origen, an early Christian theologian, and in the quote Origen explained these violent passages of Scripture by claiming them to be allegories. “Allegory is not as far from truth as you might think,” Jinkins said.
The idea that these portions of the Old Testament are allegorical was very controversial, students and faculty included.
“The whole concept of reading those stories as allegories is new to me,” freshman Bible and theology major Mike Terry said. “It’s interesting and challenging. I’m not going to agree but I can’t disagree because I haven’t done my research”
“Compared to the majority of views at Malone, Jinkins’ [view] is definitely in the minority,” sophomore communication arts major Hannah Finley said. “I don’t agree with him, and I don’t have all the answers of how to explain it. The questions he raised were good though, what do these violent passages say about a God that is all loving?”
“He did a good job of challenging the status quo,” Terry said. “Overall, a lot of people disagree but it’s good to be challenged. When someone like Dr. Jinkins comes, students need to be open minded and engage in it, not simply reject it because it’s a new idea.”
The night ended without time to voice all of the questions that audience members wanted to ask.
Fortunately, Jinkins came back Wednesday night for his second lecture, but on a much different topic.
Dr. Greg Miller, professor of history, began the night by introducing the lecture: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crises. Miller spoke of how church attendance in Europe has dropped and raised the question, “what does this mean about Christianity?”
Jinkins worked to address this question the rest of the night by presenting how the religious climate is traditionally viewed and how he thinks it should be viewed.
Europe is often seen as a society and culture that is post-Christian. Jinkins spoke about the fear of Europe becoming a Muslim culture. This fear is popularized by suicide bombings and riots in major cities in Europe that are often attributed to Muslims.
Finley studied at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England last semester and was able to draw many parallels between her experiences there and Jinkins’ lecture.
“He took a deeper look into the situation. He did a good job of breaking it down and showing the error in the media not telling us the whole story,” she said.
Many succumb to fears of Islam gaining a strong enough foothold in Europe to completely eliminate Christianity. These fears often come from being misinformed about the reality of the situation.
“England is much more secular and devoid of religion. With saying this, there were many different churches and options for styles of worship available. There were Christian unions on campus that were flourishing at the secular university I went to,” Finley said.
“Muslims have said, ‘Islam is our religion today, and your religion tomorrow.’ This can only be assumed if Christianity is dead or dying,” Jinkins said.
Christianity in Europe is not dead nor is it dying, according to Jinkins. He believes it is shifting just like the culture is.
“While many people see the fallout of church attendance as awful, it must be realized that religion is simply taking another shape,” Jinkins said. “Europe is very complex, there are very secular countries but there are very Christian nations as well.”
“Europeans still pay taxes to the church in many countries,” he said. “It is optional to pay in Denmark, but 90% of the population pays. Attendance is low, but the church is still viewed in a positive light.”
“In a lot of European countries the church is dead in the aspect that people don’t go, but people love the church,” Finley said. “Children at school in England have a state-run curriculum, but religion class is a part of that. I feel that is why people love the church and they know the basic principles of Christianity, but it’s like another subject to them.”
Churches used to ask how to get more people in the church. However, as attendance has severely dropped and the culture has shifted, they must now ask how to reach people outside of the church. Jinkins said the answer remains with the “creative minority.”
“The idea is similar to yeast and leaven,” he said. “If one small portion is on fire then the whole will catch eventually.”
There has been an emergence of religious orders that focus on reaching individuals and small groups of people and draws them to a more intense, committed and involved faith.
[pullquote]The idea is similar to yeast and leaven,” Jinkins said. “If one small portion is on fire then the whole will catch eventually.”[/pullquote]
“Revivals are still happening. They have just taken a different shape,” Jinkins said. “The church model we see in Europe may be what we see in years to come in the United States as society continues to shift.”
“His response to the situation was a much different perspective than what I normally hear,” sophomore early childhood education major Jacquelyn Canonico said. “He wanted us to check our sources and think about what we are hearing in the media and not freak out about it.”
“He provided a much more hopeful outlook on the situation,” Terry said. “Christianity won’t fall in European nations, but it will look a little different.”
Jinkins stressed the importance of using media that comes from more than one source.
“We can’t take information from one source and read it as if it is the Bible and it gives us all the answers,” Canonico said. “We need to look for the truth in the news that we hear.”
“Having the Woolman Lectures helps us broaden our worldviews,” Finley said. “It’s very beneficial to the community as a whole when someone comes and challenges our beliefs.”
Peter Simionides is a contributing writer for The Aviso AVW