Friday, July 20, 2018 - Updated: 9:21 am
They’re trying to be nice. Some people think Christianity is almost completely made up, but they want to treat Christians kindly. They think that if we need to believe all that stuff to get through life, OK, sure, do what you want. I see this in Facebook exchanges. They patronize us, all right, but they mean well.
Of course, thanks to social media, you can see Christianity trashed all the time. Sometimes the trashers do it crudely. Sometimes they do it with sophistication. For example, they’ll say that Jesus was a great guy. They say he preached love and peace. But that guy Paul ruined it. Paul created modern Christianity, and that has nothing to do with Jesus, so forget about it.
They claim Paul was a typical Pharisee who made up all these rules and beliefs because he thought a religion had to have them. He turned Jesus’ message of liberation into a religion just as oppressive as all the others. Paul invented what some Protestant scholars used to call “early Catholicism.” For them, “Catholicism” was a bad word. It meant all the extra stuff like clergy, doctrines, morals and even sacraments.
So there’s those guys. The people I’m talking about here don’t do that. They talk about St. Paul as a religious genius. He was wrong, they tell us, but boy he was good at what he did. Paul was like the Cleveland Browns fan who makes a brilliant argument for the Browns winning the Super Bowl next season. He’s crackers, but you have to admire the ingenuity.
The great Catholic theologian Romano Guardini explained the problem. Guardini was German, despite the “i” at the end of his name. He’s a favorite of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. He died in 1968, and the Archdiocese of Munich opened his cause for canonization last December.
Guardini wrote: “We do the apostle no service by considering him a great religious personality.” People stress how important he was, his spiritual creativity and his dynamic faith, but he didn’t care about that. They’re not why he matters now. What was crucial for him, Guardini explained, “is that Jesus Christ has called him, pressed his seal upon him, and sent him forth.”
We follow St. Paul now because he met the risen Jesus and went all in. He took on the incredibly hard job Jesus gave him, and did it even though it got him beaten up and thrown in prison. A lot. He did it until it got him executed. Those letters of his that are sometimes so hard to read, we read them because Jesus made him an apostle and inspired his writing. He tells us things God wants us to know.
People do the same thing to Jesus. They say things like, “I’m not a Christian, but I love Jesus.” Or, “I don’t believe what you believe, but I think Jesus was a great man.” I see this on Facebook a lot. As I said, they’re trying to be nice. We should appreciate that.
But still, they really miss the point. They don’t like the Jesus who actually existed. They cherry-pick the stuff in the Gospels that they like. The parable of the good Samaritan, they love that. Everyone loves that story. Jesus’ talk about hell, they ignore that. His telling everyone to take up their cross and follow him, they ignore that, too. The fact is, the real Jesus, he could be really hard to take.
Worse, they ignore his claims to be God. As many people have pointed out, if you don’t believe Jesus really was God, you have to believe he was a crazy man or a conman. He was either delusional or he was scamming people.
Like that Cleveland Browns fan I mentioned. Maybe he’s such a big fan he’s fooling himself. Or maybe he runs a betting site and wants people to make bad bets. What he definitely isn’t is a great judge of football teams. You can’t trust him.
If Jesus wasn’t God, he wasn’t a great man. The real Jesus was hard to take. He told us things we don’t want to hear. We would say that’s one of the signs he was God.
Mills is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Coraopolis and writes a weekly column for Aleteia (www. /aleteia.org/author/david-mills).