Thursday, February 12, 2004

Books I'm Reading: American Jesus: How the
Son of God Became a National Icon
Continued

What I've learned so far from this book and my commentary follows.

Thomas Jefferson did his own one man original version of the "Jesus Project" when he was in the White House. He bought two King James versions of the Bible and cut out the parts he didn't like. He compiled out of the remainder a set of sayings of Jesus that suited him. Later he came up with another thin volume of deeds of Jesus that suited Him. (He was convinced by the teachings on the "authentic" Jesus by scientist J. B. Priestley, but Jefferson also added a few twists of his own.)

And then in the mid-90s, a bunch of modern day theologians did the same sort of thing in the Jesus Project in America. First they voted on all the sayings of Jesus and came up with a small set of sayings they agree that Jesus actually said. Later they came up with deeds they agree Jesus did. Theologian Funk, eager to attract press notice of this spectacle, threw around blasphemous phrases, such as when he said that Jesus was a b*st*rd sage.

They believe that the Jesus of the Scriptures and the Creeds is a creation of the community that followed Him, and they believe (with incredible chutzpah) that they are able to discern what the real Jesus said and did. They come about their conclusions by removing all miracles, for example.

The modern theologians and Bible critics we are studying in the Institute for Leadership in Ministry have much the same approach. They seem to "know" which letters of St. Paul were real and which were created under St. Paul's name. They have "discovered" that the books written by St. John were written by another person whom they call "the beloved disciple." Never mind that the Church has always believed that John the apostle wrote those books and that he used the term "the beloved disciple" to refer to himself, out of modesty.

They believe that all the Gospels were written long after Christ died. They weren't written by the authors whose names are on the books. They were written by the community.

Horse feathers, I say.

I say that if the Bible wasn't written by the authors whose names are on the books as the Church has always believed and that if the Bible doesn't describe what Jesus really said and did, then (like Flannery O'Connor said about the idea that the Eucharist is only a symbol): If it isn't what the Church has taught about it for all these centuries, I say the hell with it.

These theologians and critics are somehow able to base their faith on what they believe is a fiction. They believe that each book of the Bible was written by a "community" long after the fact (so there was never any prophecy), to promote its own agenda.

How can they believe that a community can write anything? What community have you ever been in that could create something as marvelous and moving as the Gospels of Luke or John?

They change the dates to discount all prophecy. The prophecies of Isaiah that a king called Cyril would send the people of Israel back to their promised land thrilled me and convinced King Cyril to actually do just that. But the modern critics say that the mention of Cyril in Isaiah must have been added afterwards. And for the same reasoning, they believe that Jesus's prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem must have been added afterwards, and that belief is one of the reasons why they date the Gospels after 70 A.D.

First premise: Prophecies cannot be true.
Second premise: A book of the Bible contains a prophecy about an event that actually happened.
Conclusion: That book must have been written after the event

And how are ordinary believers supposed to react if they accept the "higher knowledge" of these current day sages?

The infancy narratives of Luke are fiction. Well thank you Catholic Church for teaching me lies my whole life about how Jesus was born. Our Lady didn't actually say the canticle we call the Magnificat according the New American Bible notes, mainly it seems to me because The Magnificat seems disconnected and derivative to the critic. The critic doesn't understand how much Scripture the average Jew and Jewess carried in their heads (magazines, novels and TV) The critic probably never heard of or discounts the tradition that said Mary was brought to the Temple to live at an early age (where she could have been steeped in the Scriptures that use almost the identical words she used about how the Lord lifts up the lowly and puts down the mighty). There is no appearance to the shepherds. They "debunk" one thing after another.

And there isn't a Santa Claus either.

At the same time they are somehow able to keep their faith in spite of their belief that the Scriptures are both false to the facts. Even though fictional, they believe the Scriptures are inspired by God.

And then get this: they are all for everyone reading the Bible. They deplore that Catholics just don't read the Bible enough, like the Protestants do. First they explain away the truth of the Bible and then they expect people to turn to it eagerly. What are they smoking?

One night I was at Our Lady of Peace and nice, tired, old Father Stout, who teaches at some college, was doing his usual prefatory remarks, introducing the current reading by telling the critics' positions: "This Gospel was written in CE 70 after the Gospel of XXX and includes 65.4% of that Gospel. XXXX Gospel was written for the XXX community . ..." Blah blah blah. I kind of cringing while he said all that. Then he stopped.

Based on no evidence at all except my own perception of things (why should I be any different from the modern theologians?) I believe that it dawned on Fr. Stout that people need to hear what God is saying in the Gospel, not what the bible critics are saying. My sense is corraborated by the fact that I've never heard him introduce the Gospel reading with a similar preface again.

Here is something else that gets me. They concentrate on the humanity of Jesus, and they believe that since He was human, they actually believe that they can know more than Jesus. They believe that more than 2000 years after Christ, who with His people was much closer to the events than we are, they proudly think they know more than Jesus!

One author said that Jesus like all the Jews of His time believed that Deutoronomy was written by Moses with a coda added describing Moses' death by Joshua. But modern Bible critics know better!

Following is a prayer from St. Augustine that I wish all the theologians and Bible critics and professors in all the Catholic colleges would memorize and hang over their computers as they type:

"Plea to God the Father (Confessions XI, II, 3-4)

. . ..
Circumcise my lips from all rashness and lying, both within and without. Let Your Scriptures be my chaste delights. Let me neither be deceived in my interpretation of them nor deceive others in teaching them. O Lord my God, Light of the blind and Strength of the weak, You Who are simultaneously the Light of those who see and the strength of the strong, listen to my soul and hear it crying from my depths.
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