Monsignor Ronald Knox, probably the most inspired preacher and apologist of the twentieth century, wrote an essay in 1928 satirizing some skeptical Biblical literary critics, in which he used their methods to “prove” that the real author of Tennyson’s In Memoriam was Queen Victoria.
Many who doubt the plausibility of the Scriptures are gullible about hoaxes. I don’t just mean the rabbit with antelope horns called a jackalope. There was the Cardiff Giant of 1869 promoted by P.T. Barnum, and John Payne Collier’s forgery of Shakespeare letters. Some pretended to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, and far earlier was the hoax of a lady pontiff named Pope Joan. The New York Zoo hoax of 1874 convinced many that animals had escaped. Henry Ford promoted the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” While it is not certain that Teilhard de Chardin was one of the perpetrators of the Piltdown Man ruse in 1913, Stephen Jay Gould was convinced that he was a principle player in fabricating the so-called Eoanthropus. There were aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, and the Balloon Boy hoax in 2009. The Da Vinci Code claimed an albino monk hid corpses nearby on 34th Street. I confess that I keep a warm spot in my heart for the Loch Ness Monster, which also intrigued Pope Pius XII who discussed it with the above-mentioned Monsignor Ronald Knox. Unfortunately, Nessie’s primary witness was an English vicar, and such testimony is not potent in courts of law. And let us not forget the many pious but parochial Catholics headed for the hills with packaged rations during the Y2K scare at the start of the Third Millennium.
Hoaxes gain credibility when they use respected sources. In 1938, Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds convinced thousands because it was broadcast on radio. Monsignor Knox did something similar on the sacrosanct BBC in 1926 with his amusing “Broadcast from the Barricades” which reported the toppling of Big Ben, by trench mortars and the torching of the lynching of a cabinet minister. That may actually have stirred up the devil in Welles. People today are inclined to believe hoaxes because they are mentioned witlessly in the mainstream media.
In 2002 The New York Times spent a lot of printer’s ink on a bogus ossuary reputed to be that of a “brother” of Christ. The “Times” as well as the Washington Post featured this on their front pages, although neither journal gives such publicity to huge events such as the annual Pro-Life gathering in the nation’s capital. Recently the same journal announced on its front page the discovery of a fourth century parchment translating a second century Greek text, claiming that there was a Mrs. Jesus. Shortly thereafter, the parchment was judged a forgery by Coptic experts. If a correction ever appears, it will be in fine print back in the shipping news section. Or at least on page 8 which is where, in the same week, The New York Times reluctantly reported Pope Benedict’s Mass for 350,000 in Lebanon—an event that astonished nearly everyone except our mainstream media.
As The New York Times generally gives the impression that anyone who takes the Scriptures seriously is archaic and arcane, there is an inconsistency in that newspaper’s affectation of interest in the Christology dormant in Abysinnian paleography. Since journalists often invoke pretentious scholarship to challenge the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin and the Tilma of Guadalupe, the question begged is, “Why do these people suddenly become so credulous about phenomena that contradict Christian inspiration?” The answer speaks for itself. The New York Times would be delighted to find that Christ did not radically contradict the norms of His age by forsaking all else and calling others to do the same as a proclamation of the Mystical Union between Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’ (Rev. 19:7-9).” But these are not the words of The New York Times whose editors do not include the Good News among “all the news that’s fit to print,” and whose inverted anthropology prefers to give frequent and gushing coverage in its “Styles” section to ceremonies uniting bridegrooms with bridegrooms and brides with brides.
Those branches of the media which of late have become flamboyant propagandists of state policies, should, but obviously do not, take the counsel of St. Paul, who probably would be fired after his first day at work as an editor of The New York Times: “I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any gospel other than that which you received, let him be anathema (Galatians 1:9).”