An ISSUES Interview [with Dr. Simon Green]
The following is an interview with Dr. Simon Green, a professor of philosophy at one of the largest state universities in the country. Because the questions are pointed, the answers are candid and his position is sensitive, we have changed his name.
Q: As a Jew who does not believe in Jesus and is oriented toward a secular philosophy, do you feel that the beliefs propagated by the Jews for Jesus movement are less valid than those held by Orthodox Jews? If so, why?
S.G.: No. I just find it very hard to compare the validity of beliefs when I think none are valid. So, my answer is not to choose between them.
Q: If you believed what we believe, namely, that Jesus the Messiah of Israel, risen from the dead, and that the Bible is true, what would you do differently than we do to proclaim that message?
S.G.: That’s a very difficult question because I’m not quite sure I understand the terminology. For example, the term, Messiah, has meaning only within a particular system of beliefs. There are many other things, like sin and fall, that you have to believe before you can make sense out of Messiah.”
Q: Then let’s say you believe these “other things.” Now, how would you proclaim them differently than we do?
S.G.: You have to assume so much to begin with to make the doctrines intelligible, let alone true or false, that I cannot say how I would proclaim them. It’s like saying, “What would you do to proclaim the truth that elephants fly?” if you believed that. It is something that is outside of my ken.
Q: We feel that the academic community has mixed feelings about our ministry and message. There is more antagonism on the campus than we would have expected to encounter, inasmuch as the campus is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas. Do you feel that this is true?
S.G.: While the academic community is an idea center, it is also a very political place, and I think that is a large part of the problem. I think there are a lot of beliefs which, for one reason or another, really don’t have any currency. On many campuses, for example, all kinds of right wing political beliefs are in that state, just as left wing beliefs were or are in some cases. Then, there are some beliefs that are thought of as politically unacceptable, such as racism. There are other beliefs, I’ve mentioned some, which, on political grounds, are okay, but which I don’t think receive a fair hearing. Over and above that, any religious belief, particularly on a politicized campus, doesn’t get very much of a public hearing. Jews for Jesus, of course, has an additional burden because it is viewed as a threat to the Jewish community.
Q: Why do you think that is so?
S.G.: Well, I guess you have to talk to some of the Jewish people who have a more traditional Jewish viewpoint. However, it seems to me that they feel threatened because they feel that their Jewish identity would be lost should they accept your doctrines. I could add that I find the people in Jews for Jesus very attractive. They’re bright and full of life. I think many people would have a much more sympathetic attitude if they didn’t feel so threatened by them.
Q: Are you saying that you are not threatened by Jews for Jesus?
S.G.: I really don’t have any strong feelings about that, because it seems to me that Jewish identity is not tied in very closely with a particular belief. It is a much more amorphous phenomenon.
Q: What does Jewish identity mean to you?
S.G.: Well, I guess I’m a “gas” kind of Jew. I’m the first one to be sent to the gas chamber. I probably accept the Nazi experience, the Holocaust. I wouldn’t have such a strong sense of Jewish identity otherwise. As a matter of fact, I feel very favorably inclined, in this regard, towards the Jews for Jesus. It seems to me that they’re very much tied in with the strength of Israel, the preservation of a place, a refuge for Jews, which, I think, is the focus of Jewish identity nowadays.
Q: And now, a pointed question, if you don’t mind. What would it take to convince you that Jesus is the Messiah, that He is risen from the dead?
S.G.: Well, it would take an awful lot because it would be very hard to convince me of the existence of God in a traditional sense. You have to start, I think, with a traditional image of God as an all-powerful, all-knowing being. I really find it impossible to accept this traditional view of God; therefore, everything consequent to that belief or dependent upon it, is not valid. Thus, the whole business about sin, salvation, Jesus (or any savior) doesn’t make sense.