Friday, August 03, 2007

Unitarian Judas

Over at Biddies in my Brain, Laura takes an evening to watch Jesus Christ Superstar, which moves her to ask, where does Judas fit into a Unitarian belief system?

She continues,

Judas *fits* in the Christian mythos beautifully... he is understandable... he has a place. ... In Unitarian Universalism, does Judas revert to being a bad guy? Or does he simply not exist? This is a question I have never asked of my faith and it is bothering me tonight because I *do* find a yin-yang relationship between Jesus and Judas in Christianity, a relationship that sets of an eternal dance that seems somehow sacred beyond any divinity incurred on the Christ figure in the standard story told by Trinitarian Christians. ... Judas does not exist in the other Abrahamic Unitarian faiths - he is not part of the canon. And that is fine and understandable - I can accept that, and would be happy if that were the case with my faith. But for some reason for me, tonight, it is important to know what happened to Judas in Unitarian Christianity. Did we rewrite the canon and leave him out?

Great question. I haven't seen any explicit treatment of Judas in the old Unitarian or Universalist literature, but there's an awful lot of it I've never read. Nevertheless, I gave Laura my thoughts there and am re-posting them here:

"Unitarian Christianity sees Jesus as a less-than-divine figure, and his work in restoring us to wholeness with God more as offering an exemplary model than a ritual sacrifice.

"Universalist Christianity is concerned less with the nature of Jesus and the means of his atonement than it is with the understanding that, however the atonement worked, it included everyone and left nobody out.

"However, I don't see how those departures from orthodox Christianity would make a difference in how we perceive the role that Judas plays in relation to him. If anything, it might make Judas more real and relevant to us.

"In a Unitarian view, Jesus and Judas are both archetypes of different ways to put faith into practice. Jesus Christ Superstar, I think, does a particularly good job of exploring the benign aspect of Judas' motives. How many contemporary Judases do we know who do wrong while meaning desperately to do right? How many times have we been that sort of Judas ourselves? Is it too easy to be a Judas in those circumstances? Is it necessarily wrong to be? Regardless, doesn't Jesus offer a better model?

"In Origen of Alexandria's original doctrine of apocatastasis, which was the precursor to our more recent Universalism, God's love is so enduring and powerful that it will ultimately overwhelm all resistance, and ultimately even Satan will give up his rebellion and be reconciled to God. You don't have to accept that cosmology to understand the point of the mythology, though: it is ultimately through love that all differences and wrongs are reconciled."

I intended to add (but I hit "submit" too soon):

"Jesus even forgave the jeering crowd as he hung in mortal agony from the cross. In a Universalist view, it seems to me, the Judas who felt such remorse for his betrayal that he hanged himself must also be fully forgiven and redeemed. If that's the case, the figure of Judas offers us an image of hope as well as ignominy when we, too, err in our effort to do right."

(P. S. I'm pretty sure Laura isn't quite correct to say that "Judas does not exist in the other Abrahamic Unitarian faiths". I'm pretty sure he appears in a similar role as Jesus' sidekick and foil in the scriptures of Islam and Baha'i, i. e., the post-Christian ones. Can anyone confirm that?)


At August 3, 2007 at 1:38:00 PM EDT, Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

Let me post a version of the same comment I left over at Biddies.

When I think about Jesus Christ Superstar I am reminded of another of my favorite movies: the classic 1967 retelling of the Faustian legend: Bedazzled
Peter Cook plays a charmingly charismatic devil.

Both characters seem to serve a role as God's necessary evils. They don't come across as grossly distorted caricatures of evil--rather they come across in many ways as understandably flawed and almost good.

I'm not sure what the Unitarian concept of free will is, but certainly the orthodox Christian perspective is that so long as people are free to choose between both good and evil, then there must exist some form of necessary evil. Do Unitarians believe in free will?

Regarding free will: I feel the same way about capitalism and many things in this society. That might be a stretch, but that's the best way I can define it.

At August 3, 2007 at 1:59:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Unitarians are all about free will. Before they split off from the Congregationalists it was, I think, their single biggest source of friction with the orthodox Calvinist faction.

Calvinists believed in a total human incapacity to choose good over evil, also called "total depravity", a limited atonement in which God arbitrarily selected an undeserving few for salvation and damned the rest to well-deserved eternal torment, and double predestination in which your salvation or reprobation had been foreordained from the beginning of time. Unitarians believed that human nature was capable enough to choose good over evil, even if it was not always strong enough to resist every temptation without nurture and practice. The Unitarians' denial of total depravity and their resulting doctrine of "salvation by character" are the direct sources of our current "first principle", the "inherent worth and dignity of every person".

At August 4, 2007 at 1:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous hafidha sofia said...

I am by no means a scholar, but I have never heard of Judas within the Muslim tradition. Not to say that Islam doesn't acknowledge Jesus's companions, but I've never seen any mention of any of them in the Qur'an or the Hadith.

At August 5, 2007 at 11:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Thanks, hafidha. I had thought that the Qur'an contained a reasonably complete (although retold and reinterpreted) synopsis/synthesis of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, including the major supporting characters, but apparently not everyone was included.

At August 24, 2007 at 12:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger LinguistFriend said...

I don't find Judas in the index of either of the fairly scholarly bilingual Arabic-English Korans that I use, and can't find him in the material relating to Jesus. A
complication is that for Muslims, Jesus did not die on the cross. But Judas does appear in some Muslim legends, in some of which he was substituted for Jesus on the cross (Muhammad Asad's ed. of Qur'an 2003, p.154 fn.171).

At August 25, 2007 at 8:01:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The figure of Judas is about religious faith being abused for military ends...always with disastrous results.

God help us all.

At August 27, 2007 at 11:58:00 PM EDT, Blogger kimc said...

when you brought up the subject of Judas -- and therefore the treatment of betrayal, I immediately thought of Severus Snape and Dumbledore's complete faith in him. Hmmm...maybe there's more to those books than I thought....

At August 29, 2007 at 6:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the important thing to note is that it is a universal story, applying equally to all cultures.

At August 30, 2007 at 3:24:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Kimc, if you see an analogy between the Dumbledore-Snape relationship and the Jesus-Judas relationship, then either (a) you have read the newly discovered Gospel of Judas or (b) you have not finished the newly-published seventh Harry Potter book.

Anonymous I, how is Judas a military figure?

At August 31, 2007 at 2:53:00 PM EDT, Blogger Fr. Carl said...

We would like to announce the forming of a new Interfaith Book Club.

Interfaith Book Club for Young Adults
Where: Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Holliston MA
When: September 18 2007at 7pm (Monthly gatherings)
What: Meet kindred book lovers,. We will explore the relationship between spirituality of the great world faiths and the defining contemporary global events. All faiths welcome!

Contact: Fr. Carl Chudy or Fr. Joe Matteucig, Xaverian Missionaries at 508.429.2144 or email: Register online at:

At September 1, 2007 at 2:11:00 AM EDT, Anonymous kim said...

ah, but, Fausto, I have read the seventh book. Don't you think Judas was a double agent? and that Jesus assigned him to the betrayal?
Interestingly, though I don't usually guess things in advance, I didn't believe it when Snape betrayed Dumbledore in the Sixth book -- I just felt there had to be an explanation for it. Maybe it was because I already thought that Jesus put Judas up to it? It was from a comment around 30 years ago by a Christian who said that Jesus wouldn't be anyone without the betrayal....that it was really Judas who was the Savior.

At September 1, 2007 at 7:24:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I haven't read the Gospel of Judas, Kim, but based on the commentary about it that I have heard, that's the view of Judas that it contains. The idea of Judas being faithful to Jesus by carrying out a secret, dissembling mission of betrayal is certainly not the conventional view of either Jesus or Judas, or the view portrayed in the canonical Gospels.

At September 7, 2007 at 7:27:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel. Gnosticism was an ancient heresy that was suppressed by the early Church and eventually died out. In our postmodern era, some Gnostic or neo-Gnostic ideas have enjoyed a resurgence, and since we UUs aren't willing ipso facto to deny the validity of heresy, some of us have been intrigued lately with Gnostic thought. Elaine Pagels' recent book on the Gospel of Thomas contains some interpretations of the Jesus figure that sound similar to some of our historic theology, although it's not clear to me that those ideas are not Pagels' own glosses rather than authentic Gnostic insights. In spite of our recent fascination with Gnosticism, there's nothing Gnostic about the Unitarian or Universalist theological traditions, and the Gnostic view of Judas as Jesus' faithful "double agent" is highly unusual, even for us.

At February 27, 2008 at 7:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous kimc said...

God's love is so enduring and powerful that it will ultimately overwhelm all resistance, and ultimately even Satan will give up his rebellion and be reconciled to God.

I have a favorite novel, called The Warhound and the World's Pain, that has Lucifer as a character, and he has decided he is tired of rebellion and wants to go back to heaven and be an angel again. God won't talk to him though, so he tries to get God's attention by finding The Cure for the World's Pain. This novel should be a Spielberg movie. Anyone know him?


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