Jesus was no Christian, says York prof

Here is the story Barrie Wilson tells in his new book, How Jesus Became Christian, began Michael Valpy in a feature in The Globe and Mail March 15: Jesus is a prophet, a powerful homilist, a totally devout Jew, who is executed in Jerusalem for being a political revolutionary. His followers carry on with his teachings: Wait for the Kingdom of God to get rid of the wicked, and in the meantime do good for the poor, love your neighbour and so on. But he and his teachings are hijacked by the religious genius Paul and an elegant writer named Luke the evangelist – considered one of Paul’s side- kicks – and together they pull off history’s greatest religious cover-up. They repackage a mortal rabbi as the divine son of God in a classy mystery religion and shop him big-time around the Roman Empire.  

Wilson is professor emeritus of humanities and religious studies at York University. His academic specialty is early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism. He was a cradle Anglican but converted to Judaism because of what he saw as the distortions of Jesus by the apostle Paul, wrote Valpy, in an introduction to his conversation with Wilson.  

Valpy: The argument has been around for maybe 100 years that Paul’s Christianity – Paulianity, as you call it – is really, really different from Jesus’s teachings. Are you taking us somewhere new in your book?  

Wilson: I’m taking you one step further, which is that you have to face up to the fact that the differences between Paul and Jesus are so great that we have to see two different religions. I don’t think anybody else has said that as clearly as I do, because as soon as you say they’re different, then comes the question how do they get confused? And I think one of the merits of my book is that I try to show how Luke in the Book of Acts tries to marry the two. And I think that’s different.

  • The Vancouver Sun noted March 15 that this is another year for Jesus in secular publishing. First off the mark in 2008 was Deepak Chopra’s The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore (Harmony), in which the big-name spiritual teacher portrays Jesus as a maverick, mystic, anti-establishment champion of God-consciousness (not unlike Rex Weyler’s The Jesus Sayings). Then came York University’s Barrie Wilson, who penned How Jesus Became Christian (Random House). Like Weyler’s book, it details how the Christian church adapted Jesus’ identity to justify creating an organization in his name.

Student leaders are hardly ‘totalitarian’

When the executive members of the York University Student Centre decided not to allow student space to be used as a platform to advocate criminalizing women, we were aware that there would be objections, wrote Kelly Holloway, vice-chair of the York University Student Centre, in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen March 17 responding to an editor. We were also aware that anti-choice campaigners would attempt to cloak themselves as defenders of free speech to avoid admitting that they do not think women should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies. We were not aware that a traditionally reputable publication like the Citizen would stoop to demonizing students’ representatives by calling us "totalitarians".  

The anti-choice campaign event was proposed by representatives of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, a group whose mission is to "make abortion unthinkable". This group has harassed students on a number of Ontario university campuses with graphic images and materials that compare abortion to the Holocaust as part of a campaign that it calls the Genocide Awareness Project. These anti-choice campaigners propose that women in Canada should not be able to access the medical procedure of abortion without being prosecuted.  

Most York University students recognize that every woman has the right to choose, wrote Holloway. They also understand that moral considerations about abortion are a very personal matter. The York University Student Centre executive committee is committed to the right of all persons to the freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, all persons are also entitled to function in an environment free of harassment and intimidation tactics that anti-choice campaigners continue to employ.  

Since the Student Centre is accountable to students, not York University administrators, not conservative pundits and certainly not anti-choice campaigners from an organization external to the York University community, it was decided that no student resources (i.e. the free use of the Student Centre space) would be allocated to support an anti-choice campaign of intimidation and harassment, wrote Holloway.  

York University can make its own decisions and, if the York University president wishes to host a debate organized by these anti-choice campaigners, the University will have to take responsibility for that.  

  • The recent decision by the York University Students Association to cancel use of their facility for a debate, because the topic was abortion, was the wrong decision, wrote the Prince George Free Press March 14. While it is a topic that brings out strong opinions, it is still worthy of debate.
  • A March 16 editorial in the Calgary Herald lauded York University for deciding to find a new venue for a debate between pro-choice and pro-life factions. To compare a debate on abortion to one on wife-beaters lacks all perspective, wrote the Herald. It’s akin to demonizing pacifists because one disagrees with their attempt to be ethically consistent on never taking human life. The intellectual scandal deepens when students’ associations become drunk on the cheap liquor of campus power and decree the abortion debate off-limits; they’ve forgotten why they’re at a university, said the Herald.

We’re in it with Bush

The whole campaign to keep Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan has been desperate to distance our mission from the US-led war in Iraq, wrote Michael Mandel, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece March 17.

Consider the report of the Manley panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan: "Neither do we accept any parallel between the Afghanistan mission and the US-led war in Iraq. To confuse the two is to overlook the authority of the UN, the collective decisions of NATO, and the legitimacy of the Afghan government that has sought Canada’s engagement." As its main example of UN authority, the report says this: "The day after 9/11, the UN Security Council formally recognized the right of individual and collective self-defence and called on all member states to cooperate in Afghanistan ‘to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these terrorist attacks’."

But the reason that the word "Afghanistan" doesn’t make it inside the quotation marks is because you won’t find it in any of the Security Council resolutions said to authorize America’s attack of October 2001. You might think it strange to authorize a war against a member state of the United Nations without even mentioning its name. You might think it stranger still to authorize the use of military force without mentioning anything resembling military force even once among all the measures that the Security Council called on member states to deploy to deal with terrorism. The resolutions do not even say that a state may use "all necessary means", to use the well-known euphemism.

In fact, the only means mentioned in the Security Council resolutions of bringing anyone "to justice" is to "ensure that such terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations." In other words, fight terror through law, not war, wrote Mandel. The Citizen noted he is author of How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity.

Environmentalists urged to get on social-justice bus

We try to recycle, we avoid idling our vehicles, try to conserve water, but being green isn’t enough, says a group of Trent University students who’ve organized a conference on social justice and environmentalism, reported the Peterborough Examiner March 15. The keynote speakers – Andil Gosine, a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and Karen Okamoto – are about to release a book they authored with other social justice activists titled Stories Less Told: Environmental Justice and Racism in Canada.

"We have pieces of information to draw on but there is no engaging public discussion on racism and environmentalism," Gosine said. The perception of environmentalism as a white movement is misguided, he said. "But there is an expectation that non-white and lower-class people don’t have the education and resources to be environmentally conscious," Gosine said.

Federal leadership lacking, says Rioux

Twenty-five years ago, a young guy named Justin had to take on his parents in court to get permission to leave the institution he had lived in since age two, reported the Toronto Star March 15. Justin Clark used a wheelchair and did not communicate verbally. When he won the right to make his own decisions and moved into a house in Ottawa with three other people at age 20, he made history. Where is the disability community today and where is it going?

"We’re stalled for lack of federal leadership," says Marcia Rioux, director on leave of the York Institute for Health Research, currently spending some time in Australia as a distinguished fellow at LaTrobe University in Melbourne. Australia, by contrast, "is back on board," she says. "During the good times, when the economy was strong, we should have got further. There’s no trickle-down for people with disabilities."

Sam the sham was more hustler than romantic hero

When Samuel de Champlain – the Father of Canada, as the grade-school teachers used to say – had to sell the Cardinal de Richelieu on sticking with the floundering colony of Quebec, he dangled the lure of a trade bonanza before France’s all-powerful backroom boy, wrote The Globe and Mail March 15 in an article about Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. "These fresh discoveries," he wrote in The Voyages to Western New France, Called Canada (1632), "have led to the project of forming there these colonies, which, though at first of little account, nevertheless, in course of time, by means of trade, will equal the states of greatest kings." Champlain was putting one over on the Cardinal and all the other important and otherwise-engaged decision makers in far-away France.

"Champlain was, I think, the first patriot," says Conrad Heidenreich, professor emeritus of historical geography at York University who is just finishing (with Janet Ritch) the first volume of a new translation of Champlain’s extensive writings. "He was someone who saw the huge potential of Canada and worked very hard to establish a presence here amid much apathy, because Canada did not lend itself to get-rich-quick schemes."

Doctors flee Iraq as they did in South Africa

Some 70 per cent of Iraq’s most qualified doctors have left since 2003, according to estimates of the Iraqi medical establishment, reported the Toronto Star March 16. In their wake, the medical system is teetering on the brink of collapse, with not enough qualified staff, equipment or drugs. The exodus has happened in part because of the general security problem there. But militias also have specifically targeted doctors and other professionals in an effort to destabilize the country.  

"Of course, the exodus of people from Iraq is dramatic and in a short space of time. In South Africa the numbers weren’t as huge," observes Salim Vally, a South African visiting scholar in York’s School of Social Science. "But in the ’60s, already a number of black professionals, because of the intolerable situation of apartheid, left the country." While violence increased, the world community was placing further sanctions on the country. Vally says the level of fear was extraordinary. "We had a very vicious system. Torture was regular. People were killed in prison. People were sentenced to many years for having banned books. And we had death squads as well." A preferred destination was Canada, Vally says. "In fact, there was a play on the word, Toronto. We referred to it as a place TO RUN TO."  

TTC has a deal for U’s

The Toronto Transit Commission is offering the city’s college and university students unlimited transit travel during the school year for $60 a month – a 35 per cent savings over the current student Metropass, reported The Toronto Sun March 17. However, like all deals, there are catches and fine print. The U-Pass proposed by TTC chairman Adam Giambrone and Mayor David Miller will cost students $480 per year. That’s more than double the cost of most other U-Pass programs offered by transit agencies in North America, a Sun survey of similar fare plans has found. The cost of Toronto’s U-Pass, like those offered in other cities, would be tacked on to the tuition fees of every student and no student – including those who drive, ride a bike or walk to school – would be allowed to opt out.  

The York Federation of Students vice-president external, Ben Keen, estimates 80 per cent of the 50,000 students take some mode of transit to school each day. "We’ve yet to hear any strong opposition against U-Pass coming in," he said.

Movie star tackles romance and politics in upcoming films

Rachel McAdams (BFA ’01), grew up in St. Thomas, Ont., and what she does onscreen apparently knows no boundaries, wrote The Globe and Mail March 17. She was mean and funny in, well, Mean Girls, and The Family Stone. Sweet and funny in Wedding Crashers. Romantic as all get out in The Notebook, and again in a very different way in her latest release, Married Life (which opens Friday) and presumably will be again in the upcoming The Time Traveler’s Wife. She was scared out of her wits but persuasively resourceful in the thriller Red Eye, and will tackle political and social themes in two other forthcoming films, The Lucky Ones and State of Play.

Grad grows mushrooms in quaint mountain village

Vassily Katsoupas (BA ’86, MES ’91) immigrated to Canada at age 17 and graduated with a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University, wrote the Toronto Star March 15. He loved his adopted country, but after two decades, he found himself yearning for the towering limestone cliffs, dense pine forests and mountain villages of his homeland. "So I decided to come back – to grow medicinal mushrooms," he says, sitting on the sunny patio of his taverna in the village of Monodendri. Few English-speaking tourists reach the Villages of Zagoria, one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. This mountainous area close to the Albanian border is not the Greece of ancient temples and turquoise seas, but of quaint mountain villages and stunning scenery.

 On air

  • If you like your beer from afar, then you should definitely choose cans because cans are lighter. And they emit less carbon when being transported over long distances, Anders Sandberg, associate dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, told CBC News At Six March 14. But if you like your beer local, he says refillable bottles are a greener option because aluminum cans take twice as much energy to manufacture as bottles.
  • Pat Armstrong, a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed her findings that 43 per cent of personal support workers suffer violence on the job, on “Inquiry” on A-Channel in London, Ont., March 15. 
  • York student Chase Constantino is a competitor at this year’s Asian Culture Show, reported Omni News March 14.