The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (New York Review Classics)
The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (New York Review Classics)
Milton Rokeach
NYRB Classics, 2011
368 pp., $18.95

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Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

Delusion, hubris, and faith.

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Looking back, Rokeach writes with humility and generosity. "I found out from my three 'teachers,' the three Christs of Ypsilanti," he says, "exactly in what sense they were trying to be God-like. They were striving for goodness and greatness, and such strivings, I came to understand, are really the strivings of all human beings." Where "the rest of us" differ from "the three Christs," Rokeach adds, is that we can admit "the impossibility of our ever becoming … infinitely moral or competent."

But where does this leave us? After all, in the view of many highly educated people (including many of those who write for The New York Review of Books), ordinary Christians—and especially those of the evangelical variety—are just a bit less deluded than Clyde Benson, Joseph Cassel, and Leon Gabor. True, the typical churchgoer doesn't believe he is Jesus Christ, but he does believe that Jesus is the son of God, born of a virgin; that he was crucified for our sins, resurrected from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. Worse yet, these zealots want you to share their delusion.

"He speaks of such familiarity with the Father," Raymond Nogar writes of Christ in The Lord of the Absurd, "that either he blasphemes or man's deepest religious understanding has to be revised." Christ insisted to his first hearers that "if they wished to be victorious over the crushing misery of human life and inglorious death, they must believe in Him as they do in the Father, follow Him all the way to the death on the Cross. Every word was an intrusion, not only upon their humanity, but even upon their most sacred and hallowed religious traditions. Every word was contrary to their hopes and expectations. Every word was absurd." Can this "Intruder," as Nogar calls him, be accommodated by the Rokeach Value Survey?

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