Recently, a radio talk show host for the Australian Broadcasting Company invited a Catholic professor whose field is the New Testament to speak about the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. The host, himself not a believer, was delighted with the show and said that he had always felt the Christmas stories to be deeply moving. His audience reacted with fury, sending him a veritable spree of insults without rhyme or reason. Imagine the irrational hatred that a demon-ridden soul might puke up from the heart of Hell. That was what it was like.
We had better get used to it.
How to deal with it? I have two suggestions. One is to heap truths upon their heads. The other is to heap songs upon their heads. I’ll deal with the first one here.
The insults, I said, had no reason to them. But they did have pseudo-reasons, slogans, “memes,” historical fictions, and creatures of the imagination. We can and should deal with these summarily, taking them seriously because our addled brothers and sisters are possessed by them, but otherwise treating them as they deserve. Here are a few, followed by my responses.
“You people believe in a Sky God.”
Not at all. St. Augustine said more than 1600 years ago that the “heaven of heavens,” which is the presence of God, is not the heaven we behold with our eyes. The skies and all the stars in them are creatures, no less than sheep and oxen and birds and fish are creatures. That is what the sacred author of Genesis is getting at when he says that God created the heavens and the earth. Heaven is beyond all created space and time.
“Look what the Church did to Galileo.”
The secular world has done worse things to a greater number of scholars on one good day than the Church did to Galileo. If somebody wants to sentence me to a villa for diplomats in Florence, and give me my books and my tools, and pay for my expenses, I’m ready to go. Tell me what crime I have to commit. But the Church was not bound to the geocentric view of the solar system. Nicholas of Cusa had suggested, more than a century before Galileo, that the earth moves about the sun. He was a cardinal of the Church, and he enjoyed the highest esteem. The Church forbade Galileo to teach heliocentrism as fact, since he had not proved it to be so. He could continue to teach it as a theory or as a model that predicted the motions of the earth and the other planets. Now let’s go to State University and say aloud that a man can’t become a woman by wishing really hard. Let’s see what happens.
“Easter is a pagan myth about new life in the spring.”
What have you got against Jews? Jesus was crucified during the days of the Passover feast. That feast commemorated the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It had nothing to do with sowing or reaping or April showers bringing May flowers. Read in Exodus the account of the feast and the prescriptions for celebrating it. It is all about slavery and freedom, about exile and a homeland.
“The ancient world is full of accounts of dead people coming to life again.”
Name one. Do you find one in Livy? Plutarch? Herodotus? Thucydides? Polybius? Tacitus? Sallust? Anything in the historical record?
“Religion is the cause of more wars than anything else.”
Outside of Islam and the Thirty Years’ War, name a single war that was mainly about religion. Take America: The Revolutionary War? The War of 1812? The Civil War? Either world war? Mexico, Spain, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan? The native Indians in America fought all the time. None of it was about religion. Rome was at war almost constantly for 1200 years, somewhere or other. None of it was about religion. The ancient Greeks fought each other all the time, and they shared the same religion. Men fight for wealth, power, glory, and land; they fight out of fear, blood-lust, vengeance, ambition, and boredom. That’s what history teaches.
“You people are judgmental.”
What you really mean is that Christians still hold to some moral views that were commonplace the day before yesterday—views about sex, marriage, and the raising of children. If new views on these things have made everybody happy, they sure don’t show it. The marriage and divorce statistics don’t show it. Popular culture doesn’t show it. Sing your favorite love song composed in the last year. Can you think of any? God is merciful, but He’s not going to let us keep pretending that good is bad and bad is good. We are called to be merciful to persons and unflinchingly committed to the truth.
“That’s only your truth.”
If you say there is no objective moral truth, why are you even arguing with me? You have nothing to say one way or the other—nothing to say to a murderer, a Nazi, a rapist, a thief, or any evildoer. But you are better than that. You don’t really believe that no moral truth exists. People want there to be no truth as regards the sins they like. When it comes to sins they don’t like, it’s a different story. A fornicator doesn’t like to have his wallet snatched.
What do you call it when you prejudge a large group of people by the sins of a few? Isn’t there a word for that?
“But the victims were children.”
Vicious and despicable. But your concern for children doesn’t go far enough. Why stop with gay priests going for boys? Why not go on to talk about abortion, fatherless homes, divorce, and porn in the public square? People violate the moral law in all kinds of destructive ways.
“You’re changing the subject.”
The subject was the welfare of children.
“Well, you only believe in God because real life is too hard for you.”
If believing in God makes life easier, why do you shy away from Christian morality, regardless of whether you believe in God? But if you find Christian morality too demanding, you should be honest about it. Meanwhile, you’ve begged the question. If God exists, then to fail to believe in Him is to run from reality.
“I believe in the Big Bang.”
So did Fr. Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest and physicist who first proposed it. What is your point?
“The point is that the universe did not have to be created.”
Nothing comes from nothing.
“That is what Christians say.”
No, that is what the ancient atomists said. They were the first atheists. It is also what logic says. But you’re not really interested in astrophysics. Be honest. You want to live your life as you please, and that’s it.
“What’s wrong with that?”
What have you got against the Iroquois?
“I don’t understand.”
Every culture in the world, from prehistory to the present day, promotes some things as good and condemns others as evil. That includes things about sex, wealth, vows, courage in battle, self-denial, worship, everything. What have you got against Confucius, or the Buddha, or the Shinto sages, or aboriginal wise men? What have you got against all of mankind? We are touching on something called the natural law.
“That’s too esoteric for me.”
I thought Christians were simplistic. Now you say you can’t follow their arguments. Let’s start over. Would you like to read Augustine’s Confessions?
“All breast-beating and moaning over sin.”
I was thinking about the last four books, on memory and intellect, form and matter, the nature of creation, and time and eternity.
It might change your life. It changed mine. Don’t be afraid!
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