Monday, November 21, 2005

primary sources 2.0

Recently I was pointing out to my class our problem with the avoidance of primary documents. I asked the class how many of them had read, The Da Vinci Code. Two students raised their hands. I asked how many knew what the book was about. Nearly the whole class raised their hands. I realized that this was a greater analogy than I’d anticipated, because I could make two points from two points of view.
The first point is that everyone knew quite a bit about the book, AND had opinions about it, without having read it. So I made my point about primary sources. All opinions had been formed from others’ remarks and comments, and even those tended to have been aimed at portions of the book, or certain claims that the book made.
The second point was about the book itself, which cites as proof of claims, the art and activities of Leonardo da Vinci, as if da Vinci, 1400 years after the time of Christ, could be the definitive answer to controversial theories surrounding the characters in the story. I pointed out that the book has “canonized” da Vinci’s beliefs, and cites them as proof, just as we canonize the traditions, practices and methodologies, that have developed over the course of a few centuries, and are not so separated in time from da Vinci’s. So basically, in the context of the book, we’ve got third hand information arguing against third hand information.
We are notorious for this. We live third-hand in our understanding of the scriptures, in our understanding of contemporary culture, in our understanding of other Christian denominations, in our understanding of other religions, in our understanding of other individuals. We have taken the concept of gossip and applied it how we relate to the world. We easily cite someone’s written debunking of a book, but have never read the debunked book. We know what “those people” believe, because someone who believes like us told us. We have training retreats, strategy huddles, information seminars – to tell us who our neighbors are, what their interests are, etc., when all this information is available first hand from our neighbors. I can quote contemporary authors’ biblical commentary and never be questioned, but if I quote biblical concepts, I’m asked to back up my argument with scripture. We don’t recognize it. The bible itself sounds foreign to us. Especially in context.
We are a vicarious religion. We study vicariously, we socialize vicariously, we minister vicariously, we preach vicariously, we worship vicariously.
That’s how I feel. But someone may have already told you that.