In my renewed quest for getting to know Jesus, I am rereading Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. The Jesus I am meeting again delights me, of course: he is a teacher of subversive and alternative wisdom. Either he enchants or exasperates his audience; and sometimes he does both at the same time.

Before showing Jesus’ way, Marcus J. Borg spends some time describing conventional wisdom, a wisdom I know well for every so often I do do my best to conform with it. Then, I read a passage from the Gospel and Jesus confronts me with myself on ‘automatic pilot,’ revealing whether I follow the Spirit or not, whether I act out of my true self or not.

Here are a few excerpts on conventional wisdom. I remember Jesus living and acting in a world where that sort of wisdom reigns. I imagine myself following in Jesus’ footsteps in my own life. Where does this take me?

 

“We must first look at the opposite of Jesus’ subversive and alternative wisdom — namely, conventional wisdom. Understanding what it is and how it functions provides a very helpful hermeneutical tool for interpreting the message of Jesus… It is also illuminating for our own self-understanding.
    Conventional wisdom is the dominant consciousness of any culture. It is a culture’s most taken-for-granted understandings about the way things are (its worldview, or image of reality) and about the way to live (its ethos, or way of life). It is “what everybody knows” — the world that everybody is socialized into through the process of growing up. It is a culture’s social construction of reality and the internalization of that construction within the psyche of the individual. It is thus enculturated consciousness — that is, consciousness shaped and structured by culture or tradition.

    First, conventional wisdom provides guidance about how to live. It covers everything from highly practical matters such as etiquette to the central values and images of the good life found in a culture. …
    More importantly, conventional wisdom embodies the central values of a culture — its understanding of what is worthwhile and its images of the good life. …
    Second, conventional wisdom is intrinsically based upon the dynamic of rewards and punishment. … Life becomes a matter of requirement and reward, failure and punishment.
    Third, conventional wisdom has both social and psychological consequences. Socially, it creates a world of hierarchies and boundaries. Some of these may be inherited… Some are more the product of performance: there are some people who measure up to the standards of conventional wisdom better than others.
    Psychologically, conventional wisdom becomes the basis for identity and self-esteem. It is internalized within the psyche as the superego, as “that which stands over me” and to which I must measure up. The superego (whether we choose to call it that or not) is the internalized voice of culture, the storehouse of oughts within our heads, and it functions as a generally critical (though sometimes congratulatory) internal voice. It is the internal cop or the internal judge. …
    In short, whether in a religious or secular form, conventional wisdom creates a world in which we live. It constructs a world; indeed, it is the construction. It is a domestication of reality, a net we cast over reality. It is basically life within the socially constructed world. …
    Life in this world can be often is grim. It is a life of bondage to the dominant culture. … It is a life of limited vision and blindness… It is a world of judgment: I judge myself and others by how well I and they measure up. It is a world of comparisons…
    It is a life of anxious striving…

    There is an image of God that goes with the world of conventional wisdom. When conventional wisdom appears in religious form, God is imaged primarily as lawgiver and judge. God maybe spoken of in other ways (for example, as forgiving and gracious), but the bottom line is that God is seen as both the source and the enforcer, and therefore the legitimator, of the religious form of conventional wisdom. God becomes the one whom we must satisfy; the one whose requirements must be met.
    When this happens in the Christian tradition, it leads to an image of the Christian life as a life of requirements…. 

    Conventional wisdom is not be identified with any particular tradition; it is pervasive in any tradition”… (pp. 75-80)

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