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Andrew Sullivan’s Non-Threatening Jesus

Sullivan

A recent cover story for “Newsweek” magazine, penned by political and cultural commentator Andrew Sullivan, concerns the “crisis” that is supposedly gripping Christianity. Weighed down by its preoccupation with doctrines and supernatural claims, which are incredible to contemporary audiences, compromised by the corruption of its leadership, co-opted for base political ends, Christianity is verging, he argues, on the brink of collapse.

The solution Sullivan proposes is a repristinizing of Christianity, a return to its roots and essential teachings. And here he invokes, as a sort of patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, who as a young man literally took a straight razor to the pages of the New Testament and cut out any passages dealing with the miraculous, the supernatural, or the resurrection and divinity of Jesus. The result of this Jeffersonian surgery is Jesus the enlightened sage, the teacher of timeless moral truths concerning love, forgiveness, and non-violence. Both Jefferson and Sullivan urge that this Christ, freed from churchly distortions, can still speak in a liberating way to an intelligent and non-superstitious audience.

NewsweekAs the reference to Jefferson should make clear, there is nothing particularly new in Sullivan’s proposal. The liberation of Jesus the wisdom figure from the shackles of supernatural doctrine has been a preoccupation of much of the liberal theology of the last 200 years. Hence, Friedrich Schleiermacher turned Jesus into a religious genius with a particularly powerful sense of God; Rudolf Bultmann converted him into the prototype of the existentialist philosopher; Immanuel Kant transformed him into the supreme teacher of the moral life. And this approach is very much alive today. Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, to give just two examples among many, present Jesus, not as the God-man risen from the dead, but rather as a New Age guru.

The first problem with this type of theorizing is that it has little to do with the New Testament. As Jefferson’s Bible makes clear, the excision of references to the miraculous, to the resurrection, and to the divinity of Jesus delivers to us mere fragments of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were massively interested in the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus and they were positively obsessed with his dying and rising. The Gospels have been accurately characterized as “passion narratives with long introductions.”

Further, the earliest Christian texts that we have are the epistles of St. Paul, and in those letters that St. Paul wrote to the communities he founded, there are but a tiny handful of references to the teaching of Jesus. What clearly preoccupied Paul was not the moral doctrine of Jesus, but the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And in the evangelical preaching of the first disciples—preserved in the Acts of the Apostles—we find, not articulations of Jesus’ ethical vision, but rather affirmations of the resurrection. St. Peter’s “you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead, and to this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15) is absolutely typical. And from this followed as a consequence the affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus. One of the commonest phrases in the writings of Paul is Iesous Kyrios (Jesus is Lord), which carried a very provocative connotation indeed. For a watchword of Paul’s time and place was Kaiser Kyrios (Caesar is Lord), meaning that the Roman emperor was the one to whom final allegiance was due. In saying Iesous Kyrios, Paul was directly challenging that political and social status quo, which goes a long way toward explaining why he spent a good deal of time in jail!

And this leads to the second major problem with a proposal like Sullivan’s: it offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be. It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable. Go back to Peter’s sermon for a moment. “You killed him,” said the chief of Jesus’ disciples. The “you” here includes the power structures of the time, both Jewish and Roman, which depended for their endurance in power on their ability to frighten their subjects through threats of lethal punishment. “But God raised him.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the clearest affirmation possible that God is more powerful than the corrupt and violent authorities that govern the world—which is precisely why the tyrants have always been terrified of it.

When the first Christians held up the cross, the greatest expression of state-sponsored terrorism, they were purposely taunting the leaders of their time: “You think that frightens us?” The opening line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). “Good news” (euangelion in Mark’s Greek) was a term used to describe an imperial victory. The first Christian evangelist is saying, not so subtly, that the real good news hasn’t a thing to do with Caesar. Rather, it has to do with someone whom Caesar killed and whom God raised from the dead. And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus, “Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor. Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar.

Again and again, Sullivan says that he wants a Jesus who is “apolitical.” Quite right—and that’s just why the cultural and political leaders of the contemporary West will be perfectly at home with his proposal. A defanged, privatized, spiritual teacher poses little threat to the status quo. But the Son of God, crucified under Pontius Pilate and risen from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit, is a permanent and very dangerous threat.

That’s why I will confess that I smiled a bit at Andrew Sullivan as I read his article. Like the young Thomas Jefferson, I’m sure he thinks he’s being very edgy and provocative. Au contraire, in point of fact.
 
 
Originally posted at Word on Fire. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: The Blaze)

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • David Nickol

    Further, the earliest Christian texts that we have are the epistles of
    St. Paul, and in those letters that St. Paul wrote to the communities he
    founded, there are but a tiny handful of references to the teaching of
    Jesus.

    One of the strangest aspects of Christianity is the notion that God became man and preached for three years, and what he said is not all that important.

    And this leads to the second major problem with a proposal like
    Sullivan’s: it offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be. It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable.

    Exactly how much of a challenge does Catholicism offer to the powers that be? Catholics and the Catholic Church are almost totally assimilated into American culture, to the point where five justices on the Supreme Court are Catholics. To a very large extent, the Catholic Church is one of "the powers that be."

    F. F. Bruce says in the Introduction to The Hard Sayings of Jesus,

    Many of those who listened to Jesus during His public ministry found some of His sayings ‘hard’, and said so. Many of those who read His sayings today, or hear them read in church, also find them hard, but do not always think it fitting to say so. It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination—an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offense right and left.

    You can cut all the accounts of miracles out of the Gospels, and the hard sayings are all still there.

    By the way, there are no recent Newsweek cover stories, since the magazine's last print issue was in December of 2012.

    • "One of the strangest aspects of Christianity is the notion that God became man and preached for three years, and what he said is not all that important."

      Nobody has ever claimed this, David. Once more, this is a distortion. What Fr. Barron wrote was that Jesus' Resurrection was the ultimate core of the Gospel, and thus of ultimate importance. This doesn't mean his teachings were insignificant--far from it. It just means they weren't the *most* important. Nowhere does he or anyone else here say that are "not all that important."

      "Exactly how much of a challenge does Catholicism offer to the powers that be? Catholics and the Catholic Church are almost totally assimilated into American culture, to the point where five justices on the Supreme Court are Catholics. To a very large extent, the Catholic Church is one of "the powers that be.""

      I'd encouraged you to widen your lens beyond contemporary American Catholicism. Examining the historical role of the Catholic Church around the world over the last two-thousand years will present the picture Fr. Barron is alluding do. For one example, see the Church's role in the downfall of communism, specifically Pope John Paul II's prophetic leadership in Poland.

      Yet still, even in America most Catholics would snicker at the accusation of being one of "the powers that be." If only that was the case, we wouldn't be be battling the government for basic rights to religious liberty (cf. the HHS mandate controversy).

      • JohnC

        The religious liberty claim is absurd on its face. No one is mandating that Catholics (or anybody) use birth control. Moreover, nobody is demanding that the Catholic Church or Catholic Church affiliated organizations even pay for birth control (some Catholic Church associated organizations even offered birth control coverage in their health plans to employees prior to the new health care law (i.e. see Georgetown University). I would like to point out that:

        "Father Hanley, however, was indeed advocating for taxpayer-funded contraception and education. He acknowledged Catholic teaching against contraception but testified that he could firmly maintain his moral positions as a Catholic while supporting a government program that “permits each citizen a fully free moral choice in matters of family planning, and aids him in implementing this choice.”"

        http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/02/13/before-birth-control-before-they-were-against-it-when-georgetown-fordham-and-notre-dame-and-other-catholic-affiliated-schools-supported-access-to-contraception/

        In short, the new notion of "religious liberty" is a bit odd at best, since the liberty means imposing one group's religious beliefs on another that group that does not agree.

        • Octavo

          This becomes a problem especially when the Church takes over hospitals that are filled with non-Catholic employees. It's not just that the Church is trying to restrict the medical choices of their own members.

          Really, this is why we need single payer healthcare that provides free access to contraceptives regardless of employment. Then no one can claim their freedoms are being violated. I'm sure the church will oppose taxpayer-funded contraceptives, though.

          • JohnC

            Or where the church takes over all the hospitals in entire communities denying choice to whole cities and what not, again, an odd notion of religious liberty.

            But yeah, but other historically catholic countries with universal healthcare have ignored their arguments. Really, I think what this little chain points out is that the US may show far too much deference to religious organizations of all stripes. It would be better if public officials treated religious organizations no differently than any other non-profit or interest group organization (but I think that discussion is for another day).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Could you provide some examples of the Catholic Church taking over all the hospitals in entire communities and denying "choice" to whole cities and what not"?

            In the U.S. the vast majority of Catholic hospitals were set up as charitable organizations where no hospitals existed and served everyone in the community, just as they do today.

          • JohnC
          • Kevin Aldrich

            I understand your point, but abortion, sterilization, and contraception are not health care.

          • JohnC
          • robtish

            That's not true, Kevin. Reread Sandra Fluke's testimony to Congress which (contrary to slanderers like Rush Limbaugh) was not about Fluke's sex life at all, but gave examples of women who needed contraceptive medication for medical conditions.

            http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/mar/06/context-sandra-fluke-contraceptives-and-womens-hea/

          • JohnC

            Georgetown product by the way. Good stuff.

          • "That's not true, Kevin. Reread Sandra Fluke's testimony to Congress which (contrary to slanderers like Rush Limbaugh) was not about Fluke's sex life at all, but gave examples of women who needed contraceptive medication for medical conditions."

            Robtish, we need to make a couple, careful distinctions, especially between the so-called "birth control pill" and contraception. The "birth control pill" is morally neutral. In itself, it's not evil. What matters is *how* it is used.

            If it is used for contraceptive purposes, then Catholics consider it a grave moral evil. If it is used for other health reasons, however, it is not immoral--even if it has the foreseen, but unintended effect of contraception.

            This is why many Catholic hospitals and doctors licitly prescribe the "birth control pill".

            Now, we should also add in almost every medical case, there are better, less damaging options than the birth control pill that also don't affect a woman's fertility.

          • This is one of the benefits of nationalized healthcare. Society can decide for itself what it considers to be part of healthcare, and this should, in my opinion, include abortion, sterilization and contraception. It would be up to the people to decide.

            And the healthcare system would be paid for with tax dollars, effectively removing the conscience objection.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Paul, Lot's of people *are* deciding. They are saying *no* to this kind of un-health-care.

          • And if there were a nationalized healthcare system, they'd be able to personally say yes to or no to contraceptives and they'd be able to vote or lobby to have contraceptives removed from the healthcare package altogether if they wished. Finally, even if the majority decided that contraceptives were part of comprehensive healthcare, they'd be paying for it with their taxes, and that removes any legitimate conscience objection.

          • JohnC

            Except for the fact most people want contraception (see earlier post where polls found even 85% of catholics are pro-contraception).

            And while americans are not abortion on demand, they are hardly "illegal in all circumstances" http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx

            plus as I have noted before, there are times when abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the mother (which most people do support).

          • "This is one of the benefits of nationalized healthcare. Society can decide for itself what it considers to be part of healthcare, and this should, in my opinion, include abortion, sterilization and contraception. It would be up to the people to decide."

            Would there be religious liberty or conscience protections, though? If not, this would effectively nullify both. For if 51% of the people voted to fund euthanasia as part of the nationalized healthcare, then millions of people would be forced to pay for what they consider the stated-assisted murder of innocent people.

          • But I don't think that would really violate conscience. In this, Catholic teaching can be informative.

            From the Catholic Encyclopaedia entry on "Accomplice", we find that formal cooperation with evil is always wrong, but material cooperation is morally permissible so long as the act of cooperation in itself is not immoral, the sin committed by the principle is not too grievous and there is a degree of separation between the neutral or moral act of cooperation and the immoral act of the principle.

            The Catholic Encyclopaedia points out that the question of severity and of remoteness both are contentious and difficult to resolve or, in their own words, "a fruitful source of perplexity." The entry provides three guidelines to help:

            - Likelihood that the evil to be committed would be committed without the cooperation

            - The step separating the evil and the cooperation

            - and the "greater heinousness in the sin, especially in regard to harm done either to the common weal or some unoffending third party."

            The example you gave about euthanasia is clearly going to pick out the third element on the list, so I'm going to ignore it. We'd only want to look at morally proportional situations.

            I would argue that, the way things are now with the HHS mandate connected to the ACA, from my possibly inadequate understanding, there is a real problem of conscience. First, it can be argued that the material act of accomplice (buying contraception for its intended use) is itself immoral. Even if you can argue around this, it does risk tripping the second item on the list: there's not much separating the evil of contraception and its cooperation.

            But with an NHS like system, things are different. Instead of buying contraception (a possibly bad thing for Catholics), you'd be paying taxes (a definitely good thing for Catholics). The people using the contraception would be doing it anyway (element one on the list), the separation between the moral act of paying taxes and the immoral act of using contraception is at least one step more, because representatives, not constituents, decide how the tax money is spent (element two of the list), and finally the evil being perpetuated is not significant. It's not harming a third party, and it does not greatly wound the common weal, or if it does, it does so, the harm was brought about long before the NHS would be instituted. The NHS would in fact be making things better than the current situation (since currently many Catholics in the US are part of non-Catholic company insurance programs that cover contraception; the NHS system would remove this already-present cooperation!)

            I'll conclude this long comments with an illustrative further example. Jehovah's Witnesses believe blood transfusions are immoral. Some of their tax money right now is used to pay for blood transfusions (through medicare, etc., I'd imagine). Has the government violated their conscience by forcing them to pay taxes?

          • David Nickol

            I can't cite exact numbers, but most people who are currently insured have employer-provided insurance. (This and everything I say in this message refers to pre-Obamacare insurance.) Most employers require their employees to pay at least a small part of the cost of that coverage. And most employer-provided insurance covers contraception. (Coverage of abortion is not at all uncommon as well.) So most people with insurance are directly paying something toward insurance coverage for themselves and their co-workers that pays for contraception. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Catholic Church has never said that an employee cannot accept (and help pay for) insurance that covers contraception. The Church would expect, of course, that those with contraception (or abortion) coverage would not use it themselves, but apparently it is acceptable for Catholics to pay toward employer-provided health insurance that covers contraception (and abortion), thus helping to pay the cost of their co-workers' contraceptives (and possibly even abortions).

            It seems to me that if the Catholic Church were consistent, it would have required all Catholics to refuse to accept employer-provided insurance that covered contraception (and abortion). Paying for such coverage for oneself and one's family is, it seems to me, paying much more directly for co-workers' contraceptives (abortions, vasectomies, tubal ligation) than religious employers will be required to do under Obamacare.

            By the way, we know that many religious organizations, and at least one diocese (Madison), provide insurance that covers contraception in order to comply with state laws. And note the following from a recent New York Times article:

            As the nation’s leading Roman Catholic bishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York has been spearheading the fight against a provision of the new health care law that requires employers, including some that are religiously affiliated, to cover birth control in employee health plans.

            But even as Cardinal Dolan insists that requiring some religiously affiliated employers to pay for contraception services would be an unprecedented, and intolerable, government intrusion on religious liberty, the archdiocese he heads has quietly been paying for such coverage, albeit reluctantly and indirectly, for thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade.

            The Archdiocese of New York has previously acknowledged that some local Catholic institutions offer health insurance plans that include contraceptive drugs to comply with state law; now, it is also acknowledging that the archdiocese’s own money is used to pay for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion for workers at its affiliated nursing homes and clinics.

            “We provide the services under protest,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York.

          • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

            And when the opposite happens? When the hospitals in an area were founded by Catholic religious orders, and their autonomy has been usurped by non-Catholics?

        • Alright, alright, let's curb the religious liberty discussion for another thread. I'll only address this comment since it's so full of misunderstandings.

          "The religious liberty claim is absurd on its face. No one is mandating that Catholics (or anybody) use birth control."

          Your second sentence is true, but your first is not. The egregious violation of religious liberty is that Catholic organizations--and individuals--are bring forced to pay for, provide, and, in some cases, distribute a product for which they have morel objections.

          Now sometimes, people in our country are forced to do things they morally disagree with, but only if there's a compelling state interest and only if those actions are unavoidable (i.e., if there is not other way to meet that end than forcing people to disobey their consciences.) Income tax to support our cities, roads, and municipal services would be one example that meets this criteria.

          Contraception, however, meets neither criteria. It's unnecessary, and there are other ways for people to acquire contraception than forcing those who morally disagree to purchase it for them.

          "Moreover, nobody is demanding that the Catholic Church or Catholic Church affiliated organizations even pay for birth control."

          This is demonstrably false and shows you have little understanding of the issue. The HHS mandate requires *all* organizations--including "Catholic Church affiliated organizations"--to pay for birth control through their insurance plans.

          "In short, the new notion of "religious liberty" is a bit odd at best, since the liberty means imposing one group's religious beliefs on another that group that does not agree."

          I'm not sure what you mean by "new notion" since the notion of religious liberty I propose above has existed since the First Amendment.

          But regarding the second part of your sentence, Catholics are not "imposing" our beliefs on others. We're simply asking the government not impose its beliefs on us. No Catholic is advocating that contraception be outlawed or that people should no longer be able to purchase it, if they choose.

          We're only arguing that we should not be forced to pay for other people's birth control when it's unnecessary, widely-available, and morally objectionable to us. There's simply no good reason to force people to pay for and provide it.

          This reasoning, by the way, is why numerous non-Catholic groups have been just as opposed to the HHS mandate.

          • JohnC

            From the horse's mouth:

            "The final rules also lay out the accommodation for other non-profit religious organizations - such as non-profit religious hospitals and institutions of higher education - that object to contraceptive coverage. Under the accommodation these organizations will not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds, but such coverage is separately provided to women enrolled in their health plans at no cost. The approach taken in the final rules is similar to, but simpler than, that taken in the proposed rules, and responds to comments made by many stakeholders.

            With respect to an insured health plan, including a student health plan, the non-profit religious organization provides notice to its insurer that it objects to contraception coverage. The insurer then notifies enrollees in the health plan that it is providing them separate no-cost payments for contraceptive services for as long as they remain enrolled in the health plan."

            http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/06/20130628a.html

            Any religious organization that is opposed to contraception, according to the rules, are not forced to pay a cent for contraception coverage. As I noted elsewhere, many of these organizations are tax exempt as well, so no one can say that their money is even being indirectly spent on contraception. So given this, I have no idea how one's religious freedom has been constrained. Catholics are still free to use (which is overwhelmingly the case) or not use contraception, and the church does not pay for it.

          • JohnC, again I suggest you familiarize yourself with the situation far more. As has been pointed out in several sources, this "accomodation" is really not accomodating at all.

            First of all, the criteria determining which organizations qualify as "religious" is shockingly narrow. For example, to be considered, the organization has to hire primarily people of its own belief systems; serve people of its own belief system; and have as its fundamental aim the transmission of religious teachings.

            By this criteria, Mother Teresa would not qualify as "religious", and nor would Jesus. Both served non-Christians and both did more than transmit religious teaching.

            Second, this "accommodation" claims that:

            "These organizations will not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds, but such coverage is separately provided to women enrolled in their health plans at no cost."

            The problem is that a large-number of religious organizations--including many hospitals, universities, dioceses, and publishing houses--are self-insured. There is simply no way for them to provide contraception, sterilzation, and abortion coverage to their employees without paying for it themselves. They can't "pass the costs" to the insurer: they are the insurer.

            Again, and I say this respectfully, assuming you're sincerely interested in understanding the issue, I suggest reading more up on it. The resources here would be a good start:

            http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/resources-on-conscience-protection.cfm#factsheets

          • robtish

            Brandon, it appears that much of the information you've just provided is no longer accurate. The "shockingly narrow" criteria has been expanded considerably, and self-insured organizations do not have to pay for this coverage themselves.

            http://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Fact-Sheets-and-FAQs/womens-preven-02012013.html

          • JohnC

            Additionally, it does not look like the USCCB has done much to address the recent rules (I took a glance, most of their communications are pre-August 2013 when the final rules were set). Form the USCCB website it appears their current concern is not so much with Churches and Church related organizations, but with private organizations owned and run by Catholics and other religious types.

          • "Additionally, it does not look like the USCCB has done much to address the recent rules (I took a glance, most of their communications are pre-August 2013 when the final rules were set)."

            I don't see how you can draw that conclusion from the link I sent you. The *very first article* at the top of the page addresses the most recent, February 2013 update.

            http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Feb2013-_Version_Mandate_Factsheet.pdf

          • JohnC

            And the final rules were set on June 28, 2013. Thus, the communications are all pre-final rules; therefore, they are a bit out of date.

            http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/06/20130628a.html

          • "Brandon, it appears that much of the information you've just provided is no longer accurate. The "shockingly narrow" criteria has been expanded considerably, and self-insured organizations do not have to pay for this coverage themselves."

            My information is not out of date, Rob. Read this short explanation of how the latest, February 2013 "accommodation" is still morally deficient:

            http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Feb2013-_Version_Mandate_Factsheet.pdf

            Ironically, the criteria of eligibility for the "accomodation" has become *narrower*. The newest iteration says the accomodation primarily covers “houses of worship” and explcitly notes that it is not intended to “expand the universe” of those exempted.

          • robtish

            Brandon, while it's true these non-church religious employers will not be "exempt," they will be "accommodated," which means they do not have to pay for their employees' contraception. From the link I provided before:

            "Under an accommodation, an eligible organization does not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage. At the same time, separate payments for contraceptive services are available for women in the health plan of the organization, at no cost to the women or to the organization."

            More here, from the New York Times:
            "The rule also lays out what it describes as an accommodation for other nonprofit religious and church-affiliated organizations, like hospitals, universities and charities, that object to contraceptive coverage but do not qualify for the exemption.

            "Under the rule, these organizations will not have to contract, arrange or pay for contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds."

            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/29/us/politics/final-rule-issued-for-contraceptive-coverage.html?pagewanted=all

            "Instead, the administration said, such coverage will be 'separately provided to women enrolled in their health plans at no cost.'

            "Under this arrangement, a nonprofit religious employer must notify its insurer that it objects to contraceptive coverage. The insurer must then notify people in the health plan that it will arrange or pay for contraceptive services as long as they remain in the health plan."
            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/29/us/politics/final-rule-issued-for-contraceptive-coverage.html?pagewanted=all

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • DannyGetchell

            Brandon, I'm sure you know already that the Catholic church in the United States has already accomodated itself to paying for contraceptive coverage:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2013/05/cardinal-timothy-dolan-forced-to-provide-contraceptive-coverage-sins-not/

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for your patience in providing this counter to JohnC's false argument.

        • Dagnabbit_42

          It isn't absurd on its face; it's correct on its face; the problem is that it's being phrased as "religious liberty" when it ought to be phrased more broadly as "freedom of conscience" or simply "freedom."

          Yes, the mandate that Catholic business owners are not permitted to compensate their employees in pure dollars but must, in essence, compensate them with a mix of dollars (unobjectionable), health care vouchers (unobjectionable) and contraceptive/abortifacient vouchers (objectionable) is offensive to religious sensibilities.

          But let's be clear: It is offensive to all sensibilities adequately sensitive to the moral disorder of contraceptives and abortifacients. One needn't accept Catholic theology to oppose these things; the Incarnation doesn't enter into it. To be unaware of the problem, one must merely be inured to the moral myopias and contagious errors of one's own era. (Every era has them. Some previous eras have "exposed" infants or institutionalized slavery; ours has abortion. A future era may allow a person to starve themselves to death while zapping their own pleasure-centers endlessly with electrodes; ours has pornography addiction. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)

          So it is not impossible that an atheist might resist the peer pressure of his fellow atheists and oppose abortifacient subsidies and contraceptive subsidies even by government. And if he cared for human liberty he would certainly oppose legislation compelling all business owners to become personally involved by providing subsidies for evil things.

          For there are good, neutral, and evil things. For a government to compel that which is GOOD can still be evil: If the good being protected or the evil being avoided is not of a character which justly warrants the use of force, then of course the use of government to compel the good and prohibit the evil is an instance of the unjustified use of force: A sort of Unjust War, at the social level.

          This is even more true if a government compels a NEUTRAL thing. To drive on the left side of the road, or the right, is morally neutral in a way that parents caring for their children (good) or men not murdering their neighbors (evil) are not. But the reason it's morally justified for the government to use compulsory force to insist that folks should only drive on one particular side of the road is because, without such a standard, lives are endangered for no purpose at all, needlessly. The nature of the evil being avoided justifies the use of compulsion against "reckless endangerment."

          Now in the case of compelling positive cooperation in contraception (bad enough) or abortion (far worse), here we would have the government compelling an active evil, albeit through indirect cooperation.

          Government has no just authority to do so. It is an usurpation. It is worse than any of the things Americans killed redcoats for in 1776.

          I don't think there'd even be a legitimate argument if these things were hard to find. But they aren't. They're thick-on-the-ground, often cheap; not uncommonly free. Anyone living within five miles of a college campus who says he can't score a supply of condoms on the cheap is a liar or just incompetent. Human beings need them like they need personal slaves and snuff films and entertainment-oriented vivisection equipment. But if they want them, they can get them with or without compelling employers to participate in moral evil.

          • JohnC

            Before I jump in, what is the secular case for opposing birth control? What is the secular case for opposing abortion?

            I would also like to point out that In the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were Catholic priests arguing for the public funding of birth control and family planning, suggesting that these
            things are not all that evil. I would point out this little passage, one I already cited:

            "FatherHanley, however, was indeed advocating for taxpayer-funded contraception and education. He acknowledged Catholic teaching against contraception but testified that he could firmly maintain his moral positions as a Catholic while supporting a government program that “permits each citizen a fully free moral choice in matters of
            family planning, and aids him in implementing this choice.”"

            The point I am trying to make here is that to say this is 1776 levels of oppression may be stretching things quite a bit.

            Moreover, it seems that bits of the church who are now staunchly opposed to paying for birth control (an evil) have been paying for it for quite some time before it was mandated by the new health care bill. Mr. David Nickol's has the point, but I will pass along his link:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/nyregion/new-york-archdiocese-reluctantly-paying-for-birth-control.html?pagewanted=all

            So, one last question: what has recently made contraceptive coverage so horrible and against one conscious that only since the health care bill have elements of the Catholic Church been fighting to stop paying?

          • "I would also like to point out that In the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were Catholic priests arguing for the public funding of birth control and family planning, suggesting that these things are not all that evil. I would point out this little passage, one I already cited:I would also like to point out that In the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were Catholic priests arguing for the public funding of birth control and family planning, suggesting that these things are not all that evil."

            This is a basic non sequitur. The conclusion "these things are not all that evil" follows in no way from your premise that "in the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were Catholic priests arguing for the public funding of birth control."

            That's like saying, "Jim Crow laws were not all that evil because in the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were Catholic priests arguing for the public funding of birth control."

            But could it be that some Catholic priests were wrong?

            The Catholic Church's position on birth control is exceptionally clear. The fact that some Catholics reject it doesn't make it less clear, or less true.

      • David Nickol

        Yet still, even in America most Catholics would snicker at the accusation of being one of "the powers that be." If only that was the case, we wouldn't be be battling the government for basic rights to religious liberty (cf. the HHS mandate controversy).

        I do believe there are real questions of religious liberty surrounding the "contraceptive mandate," but I don't want to derail the discussion to argue whether the Obama administration or the Catholic Church has the better constitutional argument. What I will point out, though, is that religious liberty is not absolute, and ultimately, the matter will be settled by the courts, and there is a Catholic majority on the highest court. The Catholic Church is a powerful and active player in American politics. It may win or lose on this issue, but if it loses, it does not mean it isn't one of "the powers that be." No powerful interest in the United States wins every battle—except maybe the NRA!

        • "What I will point out, though, is that...there is a Catholic majority on the highest court. The Catholic Church is a powerful and active player in American politics."

          I'm afraid you're committing the fallacy of generalization. We can't draw your conclusion from the first sentence. Five Supreme Court justices who identify as Catholic does not mean "the Catholic Church," as a whole, is a "powerful and active player in American politics."

          Moreso, the justices routinely make decisions that are at odds with the Church's teachings.

          • David Nickol

            We can't draw your conclusion from the first sentence. Five Supreme Court justices who identify as Catholic does not mean "the Catholic Church," as a whole, is a "powerful and active player in American politics."

            I did not intend the statement that six (I have mistakenly been saying five!) of the nine justice on the Supreme Court are Catholic to be "proof" that the Catholic Church is a powerful and active player in American politics. Look at the lobbying role the USCCB played in the shaping of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). They were not satisfied with what they were able to accomplish, but their lobbying efforts were not small. Wikipedia tells us that "in 2010, Catholic Charities had revenues of $4.7 billion, $2.9 billion of which came from the US government." I have absolutely no objection to that and believe that Catholic Charities on the whole does good work, but that kind of funding doesn't come from a government that considers the Catholic Church an opponent! As I said, Catholics have almost totally assimilated, to the extent that now that there are some conflicts between the administration and the Catholic Church on matters like abortion and contraception, the extensive network of Catholic hospitals in the country nevertheless cannot function without government funding. The Catholic Church is a politically powerful opponent of same-sex marriage. I am not claiming that the Church controls things, but rather that the Church is a major player. There was a time (especially before the election of President Kennedy) when the Church was not, and when Catholics could legitimately complain about being outsiders, but that time is over. So it is true that the Catholic Church does not "control" the government with two-thirds of the justices on the Supreme Court being Catholic. But it is a sign of how far Catholics have moved into the mainstream of American life and into positions of power that of the 13 Catholics in our nation's history who have served on the Court, 6 of them are serving currently.

            Jesus said it was easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle. He said if you would be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor (and I believe the Catholic teaching is that everyone is called to perfection). He said don't worry about tomorrow. He said if your hand caused you to sin, cut it off. As I said, you can cut all the miracle stories out of the Gospels, and Jesus still makes demands on his followers that the Catholic Church doesn't make of Catholics. Now, if it was the intention of Jesus to found a church that would still be going after 2000 years, he may not have expected his followers down through the centuries to follow his radical teachings. But what Fr. Barron is talking about is Andrew Sullivan's take on Jesus and the Gospels, and what I am saying is that rightly or wrongly, the Catholic Church does not expect people to live by what Jesus taught in the Gospels, and the Catholic Church does not challenge "the powers that be" from the outside. To whatever extent the Catholic Church challenges "the powers that be," it challenges other "powers that be" as one among their ranks.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catholic Church does not expect people to live by what Jesus taught in the Gospels.

            I could not disagree more. My only clarification is that what Jesus taught in the Gospels is interpreted authentically by the Magisterium of the Church which "reads" Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Cutting off your hand to avoid sin is hyperbole and it would violate the Fifth Commandment.

          • DannyGetchell

            In your opinion, should the Church consider a Catholic judge who decides in favor of mandatory contraceptive and/or abortion coverage as a Catholic who can remain one in good standing??

        • Kevin Aldrich

          ultimately, the matter will be settled by the courts

          Actually, no. If the SCOTUS says that entities must provide services that the entities believe are seriously immoral, then some, many, or even all of them will refuse to obey.

          Then the next step of the battle will follow.

          • David Nickol

            If the SCOTUS says that entities must provide services that the entities believe are seriously immoral . . . .

            The Supreme Court cannot say that, because the law always allows businesses and organizations to pay a fine (or a fee, or a tax, however you want to view it) rather than to provide insurance. The fine ($2000 per employee) is less than the cost of providing insurance. So not business or organization will be forced to provide services it does not want to provide.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here's a bit of the scoop involving Hobby Lobby:

            "Throughout a ruling that covered more than 160 pages, the judges noted Hobby Lobby faced a difficult choice – violate its religious beliefs, pay $475 million in fines for failing to comply with the law (a $100 fine per day for each of its 13,000 workers), or pay $26 million to the government if it dropped its health care plan altogether."

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/hobby-lobby-birth-control-mandate_n_3511445.html

            No big deal?

          • This has a simple solution. The United States could institute a Nationalized Healthcare System.

          • robtish

            Hobby Lobby is a retailer, not a human, not a conscious being at all, but an invented commercial entity, and as such cannot have religious beliefs.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is made up of human beings who have to perform actions.

            Moreover, it was created by some human beings who own it, run it, and who have consciences they wish to obey.

          • robtish

            But when those human beings decide to incorporate, they gain a number of benefits from the government, such as protection from their own bad decisions (creditors cannot pursue the shareholders of a bankrupt company). That's just an example -- these sorts of government-granted benefits set up a firm legal distinction between the corporation and its owners.

            Meanwhile not a single one of those owners or employees is required to use birth control.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The issue is not requiring someone to *use* birth control; it is requiring someone *to pay for* and thus *enable* someone else's abortion, sterilization, or contraception.

            That is requiring cooperation with evil.

          • robtish

            Fair enough. At what point, then do you draw the line? By what criteria do people get to decide what laws they will and will not abide by? Welfare and unemployment benefits go to people who use them to pay for contraception, thus forcing you to enable them, requiring "cooperation with evil."

            Also, your tax dollars do subsidize contraception directly right now, not just through indirect payments. Your taxes also subsidize USO dances. Both of those things are immoral according to one religion or another. Where's the line?

            Or, to put it differently, can you give me the text of a religious liberty exemption that would satisfy you? All I've ever seen is people complaining that proposed exemptions are too narrow. What would be adequate? That might be a fruitful way of continuing.

          • C. J. W.

            "At what point, then do you draw the line? By what criteria do people get to decide what laws they will and will not abide by?"

            This really is the problem with objections to the HHS mandate as it concerns Catholic employers. But surely it's not beyond the mental powers of lawmakers to ensure people have coverage for those services without ruffling the feathers of so many citizens? Couldn't Catholic employers simply be required bridge the gap by offering slightly higher pay to women whose contraception isn't covered by their employer-provided health insurance? Or to just let them shop for their own insurance? It's not as if oral contraceptive pills (a majority of the cost associated with medical contraception) are particularly expensive. Intrauterine or subdermal devices like Mirena or Implanon little more so, but it's a minority of women who opt for those.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I can't give you legislative language, but much of what you refer to has already been in place for decades, like the Hyde Amendment which prohibited federal dollars from directly funding abortions, and conscience clauses which give pharmacists the right to refuse to sell contraceptives.

          • robtish

            That's a start, but it opens a bevy of questions. If we take the Hyde Amendment as your model, do we then have to say federal dollars cannot fund anything that is considered wrong by any religion adhered to by any American citizen?

            The answer, I assume, is "no," but then -- again -- where and how do we draw the line?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You do the best you can in line with the Constitution.

          • robtish

            Of course, Kevin, what we do has to be Constitutional. But that doesn't answer the question of what we should do. I'd love it if someone could supply the a clear religious liberty principle by which we could evaluate exactly when people of faith are and are not permitted to disregard laws. Until that principle is delineated, there's no substance to the rhetoric.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It depends on your point of view. From the Catholic perspective, if the law is immoral (because it violates right reason) everyone can and should oppose it and even disobey it. From the law's point of view, no law should be disregarded until it is no longer a law.

          • robtish

            The issue I'm focusing on here is not whether people should disobey an immoral law. It's whether they should be legally exempt from the law. These exemption are quite different from civil disobedience, as civil obedience means breaking the law in defiance of the government, whereas the exemptions currently debated would mean the government has decided you do not have to follow the law.

            So when people ask for these exemptions in the name of religious freedom, I want to know the criteria by which these exemptions should be granted. I'm looking for a clearly stated principle that would give practical guidance in determining when exemptions are and are not granted.

            And I haven't seen that yet. I'm sure it's out there. But I haven't seen it.

          • Goodness just nationalize your health care like a civilized country.

          • David Nickol

            First, I did not use the words "no big deal."

            However, $26 million is $2000 per worker (of which there are 13,000). Employer provided health care costs a company an average of about $10,000 per employee. If Hobby Lobby drops insurance coverage, it pays the government $26 million, but it saves $130 million by not providing insurance, so it comes out $124 million ahead.

            The fines for failing to comply with the law would be incurred if Hobby Lobby defied the government and provided health insurance to their employees that does not comply with the mandate. But they would be willfully disobeying the law when they had the alternative of simply dropping insurance coverage.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Obama promised that if you like your current plan you will be able to keep it. But if the government does not like your current plan, it will either fine the business out of existence or force the business to stop offering the plan. And the government will fund your new plan from the $2000 it extorts our of your employer?

          • David Nickol

            But if the government does not like your current plan, it will either fine the business out of existence or force the business to stop offering the plan.

            As I believe I have made clear, there is no question of the government fining a business out of existence. In any case in which an organization or employer is already insuring its employees, if it finds it cannot in good conscience offer a plan that adds the coverage government requires, it can simply stop offering insurance. To any company that is currently offering insurance and drops it, the $2000 "fine" per employee it will pay to the government will be far less than the cost of insuring that employee.

            And the government will fund your new plan from the $2000 it extorts our of your employer?

            The Supreme Court has found ACA constitutional. The government has legitimate authority to require employers to either provide insurance for their employees or pay a tax or fine. It is not "extortion" just because you don't like it. Taxation is not theft, as the tea party would have us believe. Remember, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops supports "Obamacare" except for provisions that deal with abortion (which I think the USCCB has misjudged). The Catholic Church sees health care as a human right, and opponents of Obamacare have no plan that I know of to guarantee that right to Americans. It is a scandal that in a country as rich as ours, people go without necessary heath care. And it is a scandal that we pay so much for medical care and have worse outcomes than so many other countries who pay a lot less.

          • DannyGetchell

            Personally I predict that the Church, or at least that portion of it which is under the governance of the USCCB, will fold like a twenty-dollar suit rather than go to war with the Democratic left, with which it is aligned head to toe on 98% of national issues.

            But I hope like hell I am wrong.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There are very many very strong Catholic bishops in American today. In addition, nobody is under the governance of the USCCB. It is not a governing body.

      • robtish

        Why does the Catholic hierarchy object so strongly to the HHS mandate while agreeing to pay taxes to support things like divorce courts and war? This is not a rhetorical question -- I'm curious about how these priorities are set.

        • JohnC

          Well the Catholic Church itself is not paying taxes, they are tax exempt. Many of their charities and hospitals are also tax exempt. So in a sense, they are not exactly paying for these things. Individual Catholics are paying for these things, and at least in the case of contraceptives, they kinda dig them (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/23/489006/82-percent-of-catholics-birth-control/)

          • robtish

            But one of the complaints about the mandate is that Catholic business owners and some organization will have to follow the mandate (otherwise there would be no religious liberty battle over it). Anyway, I'd still like to know how these priorities are set.

        • "Why does the Catholic hierarchy object so strongly to the HHS mandate while agreeing to pay taxes to support things like divorce courts and war? This is not a rhetorical question -- I'm curious about how these priorities are set."

          robtish, see my reply above to JohnC. The short answer is that the government *can* trump claims to religious liberty if it has compelling reasons to do so. These include:

          1) The action must be necessary for the common good.

          2) There is no other way of achieving this end other than denying citizens their religious liberty.

          Certainly, in the government's eyes, war would meet each of these criteria. The only feasible way to fund a war is through forced taxation, and so when the government deems war a necessary for the common good, everyone is forced to pay.

          The government can make the same argument for divorce, though I personally think it's a weaker one. I think outside of Roe v. Wade, no-fault divorce was perhaps the most misguided legal decision of the last century. It's caused society unimaginable damage along with enormous financial costs. It's far from necessary in my eyes.

          The bottom line is that while strong arguments can be made that "war" and "divorce courts" are necessary and unavoidable, and thus trump claims to religious liberty, the same can not be said of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

          I should add that many Catholics *have* chosen not to pay taxes that go toward war. Dorothy Day, the well-known New York social activist, is perhaps the most famous.

          • robtish

            I have serious misgivings about this argument, but I'll table them for another thread, per your request to JohnC. But I eagerly await that thread.

            BTW, regarding this forum's rules, I tried to change my handle to my real name this morning, but Disqus won't seem to accept it; it gives no explanation why.

          • "BTW, regarding this forum's rules, I tried to change my handle to my real name this morning, but Disqus won't seem to accept it; it gives no explanation why."

            No worries. We'll assume your name is Rob Tish unless you tell us otherwise.

        • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

          How short your memories are! Have you forgotten the struggles of Friends of Jesus and Jehovah's Witnesses to protest the draft, and then the swelling ranks of Conscientious Objectors in the 1960's and early 1970's? Even now there are grass roots movements in which people avoid paying portions of their taxes because they refuse to sponsor War.

          • robtish

            My memories are not so short, Marie. My question was about the legislative priorities of the Catholic hierarchy, because that's the organization we're focusing on at this site.

      • robtish

        "Yet still, even in America most Catholics would snicker at the accusation of being one of "the powers that be."

        It's very hard to take that seriously. The Supreme Court is 2/3 Catholic. Catholics make up a huge portion of the population. The Church has a loud and influential voice in the public square. Just because the Church is mounting an organized and well-funded battle against a law does not mean the Church is not one of the powers-that-be -- just the opposite, in fact. Being powerful is not the same as always getting your way.

        • "It's very hard to take that seriously. The Supreme Court is 2/3 Catholic. Catholics make up a huge portion of the population. The Church has a loud and influential voice in the public square."

          Thanks for the comment, robtish. I've really enjoyed your insights lately.

          As I showed above, the Supreme Court claim is inconsequential. The fact that five Justice's identify as Catholic does not mean "the Catholic Church" has immense political power. Moreso, the judges often vote at counter-odds to the Church!

          Second, it's true Catholic make up a sizable proportion of the population, but it's not "huge"--it's roughly 25%. But that number needs to be qualified. Only about 25% of that 25% attends Mass any given Sunday. Most of that group are cultural Catholics, those who identify as Catholic without embracing many, if any, or her teachings. This is evident simply by viewing their voting patterns. Self-identifying Catholics track almost exactly with the general population when voting on just about every hot-button issue. This would certainly not be the case if the Catholic Church had a "loud and influential voice in the public square." Perhaps loud, but clearly not that influential.

    • Randy Gritter

      I do think it is strange that what Jesus said was not #1. "Who is Jesus?" was the #1 question of the early church. His ontological identity matters more than what he taught about ethics or life after death or anything else. That is definitely one of the strangest aspects of Christianity. No other religion has anything comparable.

      On the lack of challenge Catholics offer? i would say guilty as charged. We have not voted differently enough from the rest of the population. All I can say is don't reject Catholicism because of Catholics. Look at the saints and not the unserious pew sitters. we have in abundance.

  • Phil Schembri

    Ludicrous. The article indicates a total disconnect of knowledge of true Christianity. The promise of Jesus, "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it", come to mind.

    • Peter Piper

      I'm afraid you haven't provided enough information for us to be able to see what your objection is (or even whether it is the article above or the one in Newsweek that you are disagreeing with).

  • josh

    "And this leads to the second major problem with a proposal like
    Sullivan’s: it offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be."

    Except, of course, to powers like the Catholic Church that Fr. Barron backs.

    • Randy Gritter

      Actually the real gospel is much more challenging. Some churches have adopted the liberal theology of Sullivan. What happens? Church becomes boring. In fact, church is boring exactly in proportion to how much we make Jesus into an unremarkable nice guy.

      • josh

        'May you live in interesting times', as the old curse goes.

      • Church is boring or crazy. So why not stay home? ;)

        • Dave H

          Hi Paul, I'm sure that's implied in Randy's post. People eventually stop going to those Sullivanesque parishes and they wither.
          In my fairly large city there is one thriving liberal Catholic parish and I have relatives that go there. It's funny to hear them talk about how vibrant liberal Catholicism is. I sometimes point out, gently, that almost everyone in their parish travels a long way to get there - and every other liberal parish is on life support. Meanwhile dozens of orthodox parishes in the same city are thriving.

          • Since my choice is between boring (Jesus is a white liberal) and exciting but crazy (Jesus condemns people to hell), I hope you understand why I stay home most Sundays.

          • Dave H

            That's a miserable (and odd) set of choices you've allowed yourself. You're a bit of a downer!

            Honestly I'm not even sure what your second choice means exactly, unless you are pointing out that God's justice, combined with our free will, permits people to choose between Heaven and Hell. But that shouldn't strike anyone as crazy. Seems to me that crazy would be any other way.

        • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

          You get out what you put in. GIGO, for another old saying.
          I find that some people believe IN Jesus, while others BELIEVE Jesus. The former tend to go with the "Nice guy, but..." concepts, while the latter accept both the humanity and the divinity, the miracles and the mysteries of Jesus.

          The article describes how Jesus is being presented as the "Nice Guy, but ..." As others have stated, even without the signs, wonders and miracles, Jesus was a pretty radical and dynamic speaker. He was more than just a "nice guy".

          BTW, in my home and workplace, "boring" is a forbidden word. "Boring" is an attitude, not an attribute. It originates in the mind of the speaker, not in the environment. If one assigns the label "boring" to something, it is generally too easy, too hard, or one just can't be bothered to care. Unless one is discussing drills...

          • "Boring" is an attitude, not an attribute. It originates in the mind of the speaker, not in the environment.

            I'm glad you find "nice guy" Jesus so interesting and intellectually stimulating. @randygritter:disqus and I are not so easily impressed.

      • Maura Domashinski

        Which is why some denominations have rejected liturgy for entertainment. Keep Holy the Sabbath! Church isn't something we do for ourselves, it is something we give back to God! It doesn't need to be entertaining!

    • C. J. W.

      If this is true, then it's because the Catholic Church today is relatively more in harmony with "the Powers that Be" than when Christ actually walked the Earth. And I believe we owe that to the fact that we live in a civilization that was transformed by the presence of the Church, directly and indirectly (and it was largely a humanizing influence, historically, albeit with some well-publicized breaches that were surely no worse than the worst practices of non-Christians). However, there are still numerous instances in which the Catholic church was and is against the Powers that Be. Mr. Vogt points out the example of Cold War Poland. Also, consider capital punishment, to which the Church is also generally opposed. Indeed, there are many instances in which the Church speaks out against the degradation of human dignity or freedom by powerful political entities. So do many contemporary non-Christians and atheists who also share those core beliefs about Humanity & Society.

  • Timothy Reid

    Another very good article from Father Barron.
    As C.S. Lewis said Jesus is either "liar, lunatic or LORD." and he also said he hasn't left the option open to us of simply calling him a wise teacher. He said over and over who He was in the Gospels. Jefferson's Bible must've been much lighter than an untouched one. Now I want to read this Newsweek article to see how he makes his point.

    • robtish

      A fourth option besides "liar, lunatic or LORD" is "a man who did not make all of the statements that have been attributed to him."

      • Timothy Reid

        Correct. So people who decide "oh he didn't say any of that Son of God stuff, but he said all of those nice teachings.

      • Timothy Reid

        That's very selective editing of the Gospels. People who don't like all the son of God/miracle/resurrection stuff dismiss it easily. Why not dismiss the teachings too. Why decide that some stuff is true, but other stuff isn't.

        • robtish

          Because we have all have to do that every day of our lives. We have continual moral obligation (and survival necessity) to decide some things are true and some things are not. Just because I understand and accept a moral teaching in a book does not mean I have to accept every line of the book as true.

          • MattyTheD

            Rob, re: fourth option, "a man who did not make all of the statements that have been attributed to him." It sounds like you're suggesting that the Liar-Lunatic-Lord argument is based on no more than, say, a couple quotes from Jesus. And that it falls apart if those few quotes are erroneous or fabrications. But I don't think that argument holds up to scrutiny. The parts of the Gospels relevant to the the L-L-L argument -- wherein Jesus clearly attributes to himself the authority of God -- were made *repeatedly and clearly* in many different instances, and varied ways. In other words, your 4th option would require that all four Gospels -- practically in their entirety -- are mistaken and/or fabrications. That's a much higher standard than, "maybe he didn't make all of the statements attributed to him." And it's a standard that, I think, nearly all serious biblical scholars reject - believers and non-believers alike. I suspect that's why C.S. Lewis left out your fourth option.

  • JohnC

    I will be on topic for a moment. I know this is a repost from April 2012, which is OK, but it would have been interesting to see the author update the post with some thoughts on the Aslan "Zealot" book that was a best seller for a time. The contrast would have been interesting as Zealot has Jesus as more a revolutionary figure.

    The more interesting topic is why are there so many radical different interpretations of Jesus? And how does one determine which "Jesus" is the right Jesus?

    One of my favorite lines from a review is:

    "Schweitzer didn’t use these terms, but his point is that lives of Jesus are theological Rorschach tests that tell us far more about those who create them than about the elusive historical Jesus. - See more at: http://www.thenation.com/article/175688/reza-aslan-historian#sthash.ukxNlgye.dpuf"

    I think the same could be said of Sullivan's Jesus.

    • Randy Gritter

      We know the right Jesus by examining scripture and tradition in union with the church.

      Why are there so many radical different interpretations of Jesus? There is just something about Him. It is one of the things that makes His claims more plausible. In many ways He is unlike any person who ever lived.

      • JohnC

        If only things were that simple, then there would just be one universal church rather than one universal church and a ton of its offshoots, each one with differing views of that Jesus fellow. Heck. as it turns out, one does not even need to leave the universal church to figure out that there is significant disagreement about that Jesus guy and what his message is.

        The long and the short is, that method seems to be problematic at best.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If you mean by "that simple" Randy's statement that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church can give us a coherent picture of who Jesus Christ is, I'd say Randy is right. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, provides an adequate and coherent description of who Jesus Christ is.

          • JohnC

            The problem is that even Catholics who have the same scripture, tradition, and magisterium still can't agree on who that Jesus guy is. I believe there is a thread below talking about liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics who have fundamental disagreements about the nature of Jesus and his message. Then if we leave Catholicism and venture into the wider world of Christian belief we get even more interpretations with no way to adjudicate.

            So let me sharpen my question a bit. A person outside the Christian faith tradition but who has read up on the varying interpretations comes up to you and asks, which interpretation is correct? And how do you know? (i.e., what's the evidence for that interpretation, and why is that explanation superior to the other existing interpretations?)

            I think the problem I am seeing is that your Magisterium explanation seems to work only if you are already on the inside, and even then the argument does not seem that effective given that other insiders, like Sullivan, have come to different conclusions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            JohnC, the only adjudication can be the one provided by reason. Your question is fully addressed by the project of Catholic apologetics. Two great sources on the web are Catholic Answers and New Apologetics.

          • Do you ever wonder why Catholicism needs apologetics in the first place? I mean God is better placed than the Vogons to get his message across, but when he was alive as a person he never wrote a single thing. Did he even tell his disciples to? Do we get texts saying things like "I am Mathew from x and I witnessed Jesus' ministry and this is what he said" no. Do we get Mark writing the same thing? Instead we get inconsistencies and difficulty interpreting his message immediately. We need Augustine, CS Lewis and Plantinga to make sense of it. We have several gospels that need to be discarded completely and 2000 years later we are further than ever. We get Westgate Mall and Westboro Baptist. It is hard to see how the message could have been more confusing. Churches keep splitting and splitting, we get Mormons and non-affiliated and Islam and Hitchens.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean because the history of Christianity is not the way you expect it to be it can't be true?

          • robtish

            Perhaps he means that, Kevin. But Brian's post is still a question worth asking even if you take purely at face value.

          • No, I mean Christian history is not the way we would expect it to be if a real god exists who wants his message to be clearly understood. A god that can create all material reality, reason, quasars and diamonds, could surely find a way to clarify what his message is and not leave us in such a state that billions of us are easily persuaded by the tens of thousands of false religions and atheism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "X is not the way we would expect if Y is true."

            I don't find this kind of argument persuasive.

            You have not laid out all the assumptions which you claim must be true if Christian history would look the way you expect it to look, and you have not tested them all for validity.

            For example, you have left out human beings, the ones who live in history. The problem could be us. It is possible that we desperately do not want to know ourselves, God, or God's efforts to reach out to us.

          • robtish

            Actually, Kevin, that kind of thinking built the science that built the technology on which you said you find it unpersuasive.

            The scientific method means saying: "If Y is true, then Z should follow. So let's test Y by seeing if Z does follow, and t if X follows instead of Z, then Y is not true."

            In logic, this is based on the concept of contrapositive. Of course, the logic depends on getting the statement "If Y is true, then Z should follow" right.

          • I would expect a real god who really wants us to be saved, or whatever project Catholics believe, to talk to me. To answer when I honestly ask, are you there? Is there a god? To show himself not through small coincidences and vague buzzing feelings. Show me the kind of respect he showed Paul and Thomas. If nothing like this happens I will place him in the same category as all other supernatural claims.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If that is the judgment of your conscience (and I don't mean to imply any doubt about that), then I respect that and I think God does, too.

            I think it is right for you to demand that God reveal himself in a way sufficient for you to accept his revelation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics need to be able to show persons of good will that the Catholic faith is reasonable because our intellects are darkened and it is easy to fall into error.

            Apologetics can remove obstacles to seriously examining the claims that the Catholic faith makes.

          • Two things--first, even Vogons thought poetry was worthwhile... :-) Catholics happen to think apologetics is worthwhile because apologetics is, like poetry often is, an answer to a questioning mind.
            Second, God definitely *is* better placed to get His message across, so much so that He could do so without having to rely on Jesus to write things down--rather, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Author of Scripture. Even if Jesus Himself had been a Scribe, we'd surely *still* have 2000 years of human failure to grasp the Gospel perfectly and we'd still need the Holy Spirit in His *other* job description as Protector and Guide of the authentic human interpreters of the Scripture--the successors of the Apostles...

          • The point is that he hasn't gotten his message across to most of humanity. Part of the reason is that we have only inconsistent second and third hand accounts of what he said. if anything the plan seems to have been to make sure human failure would get it wrong. He could easily have avoided this but chose not to. Islam does not have as bad of a problem, their texts are much more consistent.

          • MattyTheD

            BGA, you raise some interesting questions. Re: "The point is that he hasn't gotten his message across to most of humanity." But let's look at it from a different angle. Can you name a religious figure, or philosopher, or thinker who has been *more* successful at getting their message to humanity? I'm perplexed that history's most successful case of evangelizing is the one that you think isn't successful enough.

          • Don't get me wrong the movement begun by Jesus is an awesome feat for a human, it is just a poor showing for a god and laughably poor for an omnipotent god. 900 years after he made the pitch, it hadn't even made it to all of Europe. 1400 plus years after he broadcast it, no one in the Americas, most of sub-Saharan Africa, Australia. For goodness sake the Jews still haven't accepted that their Messiah happened and he was one of them!

      • Have you considered that perhaps the various interpretations are projections of the interpreters' own beliefs and biases? If there really were a Holy Spirit or something, we might expect this to somehow guide readers to a similar interpretation. Instead we get everything from Mormons to Catholics to Westboro Baptist Church. Not to mention the few billion majority who are utterly unconvinced that the Bible is the word of god. I mean, even the Gospels themselves seem to be talking about different Jesuses.

        • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

          Don't forget the logistics of hand-transcribed translations, transliterations and interpretations of the oral traditions of events which occurred decades before being written down. One of my favourites is the translation/transliteration of "The ghost is happy but the meat is spoiled," from "The Breath of God is eager, but the body of man is feeble", better known as "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak". Which one makes the most sense to you?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Andrew Sullivan is a practicing homosexual who for some reason wants to claim being a Roman Catholic. It is quite understandable that he would find it necessary to deny many of the teachings of the Church to rationalize his personal life.

      • He's just claiming to be a Roman Catholic? So practicing gays can't be real Catholics? Can I quote you on that? Or would you like to clarify?

      • David Nickol

        Andrew Sullivan is a practicing homosexual who for some reason wants to claim being a Roman Catholic.

        Brandon Vogt has, in the past, been rather quick to accuse people of ad hominem attacks, and I have not always agreed with him. But it seems to me that this, by Brandon's standard, at least, is an ad hominem attack on Andrew Sullivan. If you wish to take this tack, you must at minimum find statements in Sullivan's Newsweek piece that are arguably rejections of Catholic teaching to justify homosexuality that Sullivan rationalizations as being for some other purpose.

        If you want want to deny Andrew Sullivan the right to claim to be a Catholic because he is a "practicing homosexual," then it seems to me you have to deny that same right to those who call themselves Catholic and yet cohabit before marriage, or those who call themselves Catholic and use contraceptives (to name just two).

        Note that Pope Francis recently said, "If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society."

        You are certainly free to criticize Andrew Sullivan's ideas about Catholicism and Jesus, but I think you have no right to simply dismiss what he says because he is a "practicing homosexual."

  • DannyGetchell

    I've asked several Catholics how it is that their church has managed to coexist in an un-threatening manner with many of the thuggish and corrupt governments with which the world has been afflicted.

    They generally respond that the church's mission is to win souls, and if to be in a position to win souls the church averts its eyes from the actions of a Peron, or a Salazar, or a Batista, that's a regrettable necessity.

    While I can understand that rationalization, it's certainly far removed from any picture of the church as following the aggressively boat-rocking Christ presented here by Father Barron.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Several Catholics [told me] . . . their church has managed to coexist in an un-threatening manner with many of the thuggish and corrupt governments with which the world has been afflicted [saying] the church's mission is to win souls, and if to be in a position to win souls the church averts its eyes from the actions of a Peron, or a Salazar, or a Batista [as] a regrettable necessity.

      I'd recommend you don't reduce complex issues to what a few individuals have said to you.

      • DannyGetchell

        Whether Christ's church should by silence give tacit support to thugs in power does not seem like an extremely complex issue to me.

        Father Barron calls that approach " It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is complex is the actual political situation, whether the Church authority is really silent, and if so, what that silence might mean. Also complex is the question of what your justification is of your interpretation of the events.

        • Dave H

          I would second Kevin's point. And instead of listening to the "general response of several Catholics," take a little initiative and look into it for yourself. And while you're learning about Catholic interaction with "a Peron or a Salazar", don't neglect to take a look at a Jaruzelski or a Robespierre.

          • DannyGetchell

            Fair enough.

            Jaruszelski

            I have not yet been able to find a definitive reading of whether or not the Polish Church was publicly in favor of open resistance to the Jaruszelski regime.

            But here are a couple of contemporary articles that indicate the Church may have seen its way clear to an accomodation:

            http://www.csmonitor.com/1982/1130/113050.html

            http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-08-31/news/8603040913_1_wojciech-jaruzelski-solidarity-polish-communist-party-congress

            I'd be interested in anything to which you can point me, in particular to anything showing that the Church was advocating action against the Polish regime prior to that regime's weakness having been demonstrated by the Gdansk labor actions.

            Robespierre

            The Jacobins effectively declared war on Christianity, imprisoning and killing the non-juror priests and seeking to impose a state cult of deism as a replacement for Christian worship. Under those circumstances, the Church acted from motives of self defence. Certainly I would expect any
            institution, religious or secular, to do no less.

            Again, the question of what the Church did "prior to", when its own survival was not at issue, bears a look. That Robespierre, Marat, Danton and the like were, indisputably, bloodthirsty fanatics, does not exonerate the policies of the ancien regime. And outside of a few middle and lower ranking clerics (Sieyes being perhaps the most well known) I am unaware of much formal Church opposition to the injustices of the Bourbons.

            I'm a little surprised that you did not mention Bishop von Galen. A true case of heroic advocacy against inhuman government action, when he personally had no previous concerns about his own survival. Deserves all the credit he can be given, but not backed by Rome that I aware of until he was made a cardinal after the war's end.

            Now that I've discussed the cases you mentioned, I'd like to read your discussion of how the Church opposed the dictators listed by me.

            If you are going to argue the need for a diplomatic and heavily nuanced policy when the Church finds itself in the "complex" situation of coexistence with a thug regime, I can't really dispute the reality - this is where the weight of the historical evidence lies.

            But in that case we both would have reason to question the picture painted by Father Barron of the Church as a consistent opponent of state oppression.

          • Dave H

            With all due respect, you misunderstood me: I asked you to do homework on your thugs. I guess I was hoping that your details would help clarify what you mean by ambiguous terms like averting eyes, and silence and even what 'a Batista' means (as opposed to just 'Batista'). I think Kevin has it right- you oversimplify what are in actuality very complex historical and social contexts.

            So let's take, for instance, your example of 'a Batista.' By that, do you mean all dictators whose opponents are Communist Revolutionaries? You can't possibly be unaware of how the Catholic Church has fared under Communism? Would you expect the Pope to send hugs and kisses to Castro?

            And thanks for mentioning Bishop Von Galen. I was going to add Hitler to my list, but that felt like such a cliche, despite being appropriate. Additionally, don't make the mistake of thinking Von Galen was the only Catholic to speak out. Hitler buried countless clergy (including many Protestants who bravely did their best to follow the true Christ that Fr. Barron writes about).

            Finally, Fr. Barron's point isn't that the Catholic Church, and its clergy unfailingly behave at all times according to
            the teachings of Christ. The point is that the teachings of Christ, in undiluted form, have inspired countless followers to stand up against unjust powers-that-be, and that's the way it should be. The teachings of Sullivan's "Jesus"... not so much.

          • DannyGetchell

            So explain the complex contexts to me, or point me to someone who does.

            Would you expect the Pope to send hugs and kisses to Castro?

            The Robespierre analogy applies here too. That Castro is a murderous thug does not exonerate Batista's Mafia regime.

          • Dave H

            Danny, I see you desperately want your gotcha moment with the Catholic Church.

            Of course it doesn't exonerate the Batista regime.

            You've already invalidated your own position unless you think Bishop Von Galen wasn't motivated by his discipleship. Or maybe you think he's the only example? Read up on Fr. Popieluszko. Or just go spend a day with a priest. With luck, you'll see what many of us already know: priests can be real fighters.

            From your posts I see you have made yourself immune to evidence. If a priest acted heroically, well, then he wasn't backed by Rome. If the Church rose up against a tyrant, well, that's just because it was self-defense. I certainly wish you well, but you appear close-minded.

          • DannyGetchell

            Dave, as far as I can tell, the Catholic Church is made up of some heroes, some politicians, some time-servers, and some knaves.

            In that respect it is no better - and no worse - than the Rotary Club, the FBI, the B'nai B'rith, or the Republican Party.

            Thanks for your comments. No offense taken.

          • Dave H

            Well, it's better than the FBI.

            (I hope they aren't reading that.)

            :)

      • DannyGetchell

        Suppose the Obama administration were to offer tomorrow that
        religious institutions (including schools, hospitals and other
        affiliated service agencies) would be exempt from the abortion and
        contraception coverage requirements, but that fully secular institutions would continue to be bound. Do you seriously think that the Church would still go toe-to-toe with the feds ??

        The record of history indicates that the Church can get along quite well with just about any sort of government, left or right, honest or corrupt, free or dictatorial, provided only that its own primacy with regard to its own flock and its own institutions is not challenged.

        I really don't have a problem with that, as long as we all (including you. there, Fr. Barron) admit to it. Lots of institutions would say the same.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What the Church wants for herself and all her members is to be left alone and for us to be free to live our lives and to do apostolate, which includes trying to transform society according to the image of Christ.

          Please bear in mind that an institution can be fully secular and still have the right to *not* be forced to act against its members' consciences. So a business or a school owned by Catholics should not be forced to bow down to Obama's immorality. Every other person and institution should also have this right--and in fact has it. If the Obama administration or any other administration tramples on this right, it is not lawful but an act of violence.

          • DannyGetchell

            to be left alone and for us to be free to live our lives and to do apostolate

            I agree completely. This is exactly what the Church historically has shown that she wants. I apologize if I was misconstrued. None of the dictators to whom I referred up-thread interfered with that process to my knowledge.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'd be surprised if they didn't interfere with the third right: trying to transform society according to the image of Christ.

            This is why commonly the Church is accused of being reactionary in leftist countries and liberal in rightist ones.

  • TomD

    The further we stray from the totality of Sacred Scripture as the primary foundation of our faith (but not sola, as this itself is unbiblical), the further we get from a true sense of who Jesus Christ was and what it means to follow him.

  • "Forget the Church: Follow Jesus" kind of says it all--it magnificently outlines the core problem in Sullivan's assessment. Any attempt to propose a Christianity that obliterates the "nuptiality" of Christ the Bridegroom and Church the Bride ultimately obliterates Christianity itself. To "divorce" the two is to completely miss the very heart--literally--of Jesus' message of our communion with Him as Bridegroom. We don't need--and don't have--a "bachelor-dude" Jesus spouting love platitudes to some generic and vague group of disciples. Rather, we have the Bridegroom Messiah whose Self-gift brings love and life to the Bride, with whom Jesus is eternally united as One Body.
    How could anyone examine the historical and textual evidence of Jesus and come away utterly missing this?

    • David Nickol

      To "divorce" the two is to completely miss the very heart--literally--of
      Jesus' message of our communion with Him as Bridegroom.

      It seems to me that Jesus on a few occasions used an analogy in which he likened presence on earth during his public ministry to the presence of a bridegroom at a wedding. I don't think that the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ is an idea that can be attributed to Jesus. If I am not mistaken, it starts with Paul.

      It also seems to me that these things are metaphors, and that claiming them as realities leads to strange contradictions. For example, the Church is said to be the Bride of Christ. But the Church is also said to be the Mystical Body of Christ (with Christ as the head). Those are two powerful metaphors, but if you take them as literal truths, if the Church is the Bride of Christ, and the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, then the Mystical Body of Christ is the Bride of Christ. Christ is married to his own (mystical) body.

      Also, it seems to me that the words bridegroom and bride imply not so much a marriage but a wedding. Merriam-Webster's Unabridged defines bridegroom as "a man just married or about to be married." It seems quite possible to me that the bridegroom metaphors used by Jesus take bridegroom to be "a man just about to be married," not a husband. Jesus is talking about the relationship of the bridegroom to the wedding guests, not the relationship of the bridegroom to the bride. Once the bridegroom is married, his place is with the bride, not with the wedding guests. Jesus says Mark 2:19-20:

      “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

      I am a little puzzled by the idea of Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the Bride of Christ, since (as I noted above) bridegroom refers to a man either about to get married or newly married, and a bride refers to a woman either about to get married or newly married. When people are married for any length of time (let alone almost 2000 years!) they are referred to as husband and wife, not bridegroom and bride.

      I think that almost your entire message is ecclesiology, and I think reading ecclesiology into the words of Jesus is not warranted. Jesus as depicted in the Gospels did not outline the structure of a church or any other organization. Even Jesus saying, "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church," did not in any way imply that the Bishop of Rome was to be the monarchical head of the Church. We can argue about the arguments for an against the papacy, but at this point in the Gospels, there is no hint whatsoever about Peter being the bishop of Rome, nor is there any hint of a Church to be run by people in an office called bishop. And in fact the meaning of the word church should probably not be taken to mean Catholic Church. The apostles after the death of Jesus continued to worship in synagogues as Jews. They didn't found a new organization, although one evolved in fairly short order.

      • Hi, David--while there is a lot to consider in your comment here, I would say that if you recognize and acknowledge the "bridegroom" imagery of Jesus, then it seems a bit unexpected that you would somehow suggest that the only relationship Jesus has in mind is between bridegroom and guests and not bridegroom and bride. Likewise, to assert He is interested in the *wedding* and not the marriage seems off to me, particularly since the objection you're raising is easily answered like this:
        The public ministry of Jesus was indeed the period of the Bridegroom in the company of the "guests" *before* the wedding.
        The "wedding" occurs in the moments of the Pascal Mystery and is particularly expressed when in John's Gospel, Jesus, from the Cross, utters the phrase "It is finished" or "It is consummated". There is simply no mistaking what the early Christians--including St. Paul and the other New Testament writers--could see so clearly. By around 90 AD (or earlier) when the Book of Revelation is being written and is itself "consummated" with the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb," the first Christians recognize the "nuptial" meaning of the Pascal Mystery (cf. even the first miracle at Cana). It's simply not a "post-Jesus" invention or something He did not clearly intend.
        Also, what you say about the office of bishop etc. is off. To appoint someone as the "keeper of the keys" most *definitely* is to have an "office" in mind--the self-same office that the Eleven ensures that Matthias takes in Acts. Furthermore, Jesus *Himself* alludes to the authority of the Apostles and their legitimate successors in the parallel passages in Mt. and Lk. in which Jesus tells the Twelve that they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
        Also also ( ;-) ), the term "catholic" is *already* on the scene in the early Church, by 107 AD, when it's used in passing by St. Ignatius of Antioch.
        So, all in all, I stand by my original comment in which I assert that the *authentic* Christian simply cannot divorce Jesus from His Bride, the Church. This assertion is utterly biblical--as the Bible begins and ends with nuptials and features as a dominant image the nuptial relationship of God with His people (OT) and Jesus with His Bride (NT).

        • David Nickol

          It seems to me your argument rests on asserting that there was a great deal that was implicit in Jesus's teachings that was "discovered" by the Church after the death of Jesus. This is very much the way the Church looks at it, but for anyone finding value in the idea "Forget the Church, follow Jesus," you have to make a very compelling case that when the Church "discovers" something like the papacy, it really is implicit in the words of Jesus. It is basically only the Gospels that contain the words of Jesus, and many of us believe that the Gospels were shaped by the early Church and that not all the words of Jesus were spoken by him, but some are attributable to the early Church and are specifically for the purpose of making points to the specific community the Gospel writer was addressing.

          There is certainly nothing in the Gospels that indicates that Jesus intended the papacy as we know it. Now, of course, if one puts faith in the early Church, one accepts the decisions it made and the structures it created to carry on the Jesus movement. But it is very difficult to maintain that the same Jesus who said he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel intended the papacy to be set up in Rome to rule over a Church of Gentile converts to "Christianity." And of course the papacy was not "set up." It evolved.

          The "wedding" occurs in the moments of the Pascal Mystery and is particularly expressed when in John's Gospel, Jesus, from the Cross, utters the phrase "It is finished" or "It is consummated". There is simply no mistaking what the early Christians--including St. Paul and the other New Testament writers--could see so clearly.

          Paul and the other New Testament writers (aside from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were for the most part not writing about the teachings of Jesus. They were writing Christology or theology. Jesus didn't say he was the bridegroom of the Catholic Church and that when he died, he would be the husband of the Church. (Note we do not talk about the Church being the wife of Christ, but the bride. I am not necessarily arguing that the early Church was wrong to think of the Church as the Bride of Christ. I am saying that this is not a teaching of Jesus. It is at best an elaboration on Jesus referring to himself as a bridegroom, and I personally would not go so far as to say that. I think, taking just the teachings of Jesus, that his metaphorical role of bridegroom ended with his earthly ministry, and his death did not establish some kind of "marriage." Again, I think it does not make sense to mistake metaphor for reality. Women religious are considered to brides of Christ, some orders of nuns even wearing wedding rings. So the Church is the Bride of Christ, and many individual nuns are also brides of Christ. If this is all to be taken literally, Jesus has a great many brides!

          So, all in all, I stand by my original comment in which I assert that the *authentic* Christian simply cannot divorce Jesus from His Bride, the Church.

          Well, of course by throwing in the word authentic, you are reserving your right to decide who is an authentic Christian and who is not. In any case, you are making arguments about the Church, and I am talking about Jesus, not the teachings of the Church. The Church may conceive of itself as the Bride of Christ, but first I would say that is a metaphor, and second, I would say it is not a teaching that can be attributed to Jesus. The Church itself is not found in the Gospels, and I think it is incorrect to take the word ekklesia (as in "I will build my Church") as the Christian Church or the Catholic Church. If indeed Jesus even uttered those words, it was while he was carrying out a mission the "the lost sheep of Israel," and those who heard him could not have imagined the Catholic Church. They were Jews and had no intention of becoming otherwise or setting up some non-Jewish organization.

          Just because something Jesus said was later used by the Catholic Church to justify a decision of the Church does not mean that the decision itself is biblical. For example, Just because Jesus said, "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven," does not mean that he was instituting the sacrament of Reconciliation when he said it. It took hundreds of years for sacramental theology to develop. Jesus did not hand over to the apostles seven sacraments.

          • David—my loooong comments/thoughts follow!

            ****It seems to me your argument rests on asserting that
            there was a great deal that was implicit in Jesus's teachings that was "discovered" by the Church after the death of Jesus. This is very much the way the Church looks at it, but for anyone finding value in the idea "Forget the Church, follow Jesus," you have to make a very compelling case that when the Church "discovers" something like the papacy, it
            really is implicit in the words of Jesus.****

            Honestly, it’s not quite the way I see it—I don’t think
            the Church “discovered” the papacy. Part of where we disagree, I think, is in the assessment of the kind of authority given the Twelve by Jesus and the kind
            of preparation they received not only in Jesus’ public ministry but also in the *post-resurrection* 40 days Jesus spent with the Eleven. Before His Ascension, Jesus equips the Eleven with everything they will need to grow the “church” He mentions in Matthew’s Gospel. Further, He promises the Holy Spirit Who, at Pentecost, *delivers* on that promise.

            And this is all taking place *before* a word of the New
            Testament was recorded. The NT merely reflects the unfolding of the Churchbegun by Jesus Himself.

            **** It is basically only the Gospels that contain the
            words of Jesus, and many of us believe that the Gospels were shaped by the early Church and that not all the words of Jesus were spoken by him, but some are attributable to the early Church and are specifically for the purpose of
            making points to the specific community the Gospel writer was addressing. ****

            Yet if one believes in the authority of the Magisterium
            of the Church, one must believe that the Gospels really do tell us what Jesus “said and did” (cf. Dei Verbum) and are emphatically not something contrived by others, even though the different Gospel writers adapted the material that
            reflects the words and deeds of Jesus…

            ****There is certainly nothing in the Gospels that
            indicates that Jesus intended the papacy as we know it. Now, of course, if one puts faith in the early Church, one accepts the decisions it made and the structures it created to carry on the Jesus movement. But it is very difficult
            to maintain that the same Jesus who said he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel intended the papacy to be set up in Rome to rule over a Church of Gentile converts to "Christianity." And of course the papacy was not "set up." It evolved. ****

            The *office* of the papacy “evolved” just as surely as
            the Sacraments of the Church “evolved” without ever losing their original character and meaning. But, yes, the “same Jesus” whom you quote as claiming to be sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (when speaking to the
            Canaanite woman) absolutely healed the woman’s daughter, healed the centurion’s servant, spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, etc., and spoke of his “other
            sheep” (the Gentiles) in John’s Gospel. There is no contradiction.

            ****Paul and the other New Testament writers (aside from
            Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were for the most part not writing about the teachings of Jesus. They were writing Christology or theology. Jesus didn't say he was the bridegroom of the Catholic Church and that when he died, he would be the husband of the Church. (Note we do not talk about the Church being the wife of Christ, but the bride. I am not necessarily arguing that the early Church was wrong to think of the Church as the Bride of Christ. I am saying that this is not a teaching of Jesus.****

            You’re right—it’s a teaching of the Holy Spirit. To which
            we can add, then, that it is a teaching of Jesus, the Son of God, united in one Divine Intellect and Will with the Holy Spirit. Now, did Jesus ever utter such a teaching personally? We have no way of knowing, though it’s quite possible the Risen Christ did.

            ****It is at best an elaboration on Jesus referring to
            himself as a bridegroom, and I personally would not go so far as to say that. I think, taking just the teachings of Jesus, that his metaphorical role of bridegroom ended with his earthly ministry, and his death did not establish some kind of "marriage." Again, I think it does not make sense to mistake metaphor for reality. Women religious are considered to brides of Christ, some orders of nuns even wearing wedding rings. So the Church is the Bride of Christ, and many individual nuns are also brides of Christ. If this is all to be taken literally, Jesus has a great many brides! ****

            Actually you’re quite right on this point—each human soul
            is called to experience the nuptial communion of the Body of Christ with the Head—the Bridegroom Christ. This is not to mistake a metaphor for reality. It’s to acknowledge the depth of the reality in “typological” terms. The “reality” is our call to communion with God—the “metaphor” or “analogy” or “type” is human marriage…

            ****Well, of course by throwing in the word authentic,
            you are reserving your right to decide who is an authentic Christian and who is not. In any case, you are making arguments about the Church, and I am talking about Jesus, not the teachings of the Church. The Church may conceive of itself as the Bride of Christ, but first I would say that is a metaphor, and second, I would say it is not a teaching that can be attributed to Jesus. The Church itself is not found in the Gospels, and I think it is incorrect to take the word ekklesia (as in "I will build my Church") as the Christian
            Church or the Catholic Church.****

            But this is backwards—the only reason to *use* the term “ekklesia” in Matthew is precisely *because* the “ekklesia” already existed. Why? Because of Jesus Himself, not because of the NT.

            **** If indeed Jesus even uttered those words, it was
            while he was carrying out a mission the "the lost sheep of Israel,"and those who heard him could not have imagined the Catholic Church. They wereJews and had no intention of becoming otherwise or setting up some non-Jewish organization. ****

            I clearly disagree—you speak of being “Jews” as though it
            were some monolithic category, seems to me. Not so—the Sadducees were “Jews,”as were the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Herodians, etc., but they each had authority structures that were in many cases distinct from one another
            (particularly the Essenes). And while there is no denying the Jewish root of this authority structure with Jesus and the “New Israel” (the Church) with its new 12 Patriarchs (the Twelve), etc., it was the *Holy Spirit* Who guided this
            offshoot Jewish sect into the world of the Gentiles. That’s the very reason the first Jewish Christians obeyed—they were obeying God.

            ****Just because something Jesus said was later used by
            the Catholic Church to justify a decision of the Church does not mean that the decision itself is biblical. For example, Just because Jesus said, "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven," does not mean that he was instituting the sacrament of Reconciliation when he said it. It took hundreds of years for sacramental theology to develop. Jesus did not hand over to the apostles seven sacraments.****

            Christ instituted the Seven Sacraments of the Church. How
            they developed was indeed up to the Church over time, but they originate with Christ. And, again, appeals that something must be biblically explicit on these matters just don’t make a whole of sense in the Catholic view, since Catholics understand clearly that the Bible comes *from* the Church and is in that sense a part of Sacred Tradition and Divine Revelation (the Deposit of Faith) but is by no means the *only* part of that Deposit. This is another reason trying to “divorce” the Church and Jesus seems so futile—without the *Church* we wouldn’t even *have* a “Bible” from which to argue for this type of divorce of the two. It was the *Church* that recorded and preserved *both* the “words” of Jesus that Jefferson kept *and* the rest of the NT that he sliced away…

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying that it was explicitly in the mind of Jesus that the Catholic Church would be organized in such a way that there would be many bishops, each in charge of a diocese, with the bishop in charge of the diocese of Rome having authority over all other bishops and having the power to make infallible pronouncements when speaking ex cathedra? Is that really to be found in, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church?"

            Are you saying that it was explicitly in the mind of Jesus that there would be seven, and only seven, sacraments? How did the Church fail administer the sacrament of matrimony for the first 1000 years? Where in the Gospels does Jesus institute sacramental marriage?

          • Answer to question one: Yes.
            It's rooted in Mt. 16, absolutely.
            Answer to question two: Yes.
            Answer to question three: The Church did *not* fail to administer Matrimony. The ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony are and always have been the two spouses.
            Answer to question four: Many interpret the miracle at Cana as the (re-) "sacramentalizing" of marriage. But it's not necessary to look to Scripture on the question of institution of the Sacraments. Scripture does indeed *support* all Seven Sacraments, but there is no requirement that Scripture must explicitly *report* upon the institution of all Seven Sacraments in order for these Sacraments to be instituted by Jesus Christ.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that you are accepting the word of the Catholic Church that Jesus intended for there to be a pope, bishops and dioceses, and sacramental marriage. But my point is that there is no evidence for this in the Gospels. I am not arguing that you can't harmonize what the Church has done on these matters with Jesus's words and deeds in the Gospels. But there is simply no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus intended the specific institutions and rituals that developed over the the past two thousand years.

            . . . . there is no requirement that Scripture must explicitly *report* upon the institution of all Seven Sacraments in order for these Sacraments to be instituted by Jesus Christ.

            The idea that Jesus's the Wedding Feast at Cana and worked a miracle there is an extraordinarily weak justification for claiming he "raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament." This event was known to the Church for hundreds of years. Why did it take over a thousand years for the Church to figure out marriage was a sacrament?

            Is it your position that the Church knew, somehow, perhaps by tradition, that it was the intention of Jesus to make marriage a sacrament? If so, why did priests not perform weddings from the early Church onward?

          • But here you're mistaken--priests and deacons don't "perform" weddings--they are the ecclesial/official witness to them. This has not changed. What changed was the *necessity* to have marriages witnessed by an official minister of the Church, for a great many reasons. Marriage is (or even *becomes*) a Sacrament because of valid marital consent exchanged and lived by two baptized persons. Case in point: My baptized Mom and unbaptized Dad had a valid "natural" marriage up until the day my Dad *was* baptized. At that point, their marriage was not only valid but also *Sacramental*. I hope this helps illustrate why there really has been no major shift in the understanding of the nature of marriage from the "early Church onward."

          • David Nickol

            Marriage is (or even *becomes*) a Sacrament because of valid marital
            consent exchanged and lived by two baptized persons. . . . I hope this helps illustrate why
            there really has been no major shift in the understanding of the nature
            of marriage from the "early Church onward."

            If you check out Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church by John Martos (pp. 430ff), you will see that it was not until the 12th century that the theory you are describing was worked out. There is too much to type, but I will give a taste of what it says:

            It seemed to the schoolmen, therefore, that the Christian marriage ritual should be open to the same kind of analysis that they gave to the other sacraments, namely that in marriage there was a sacramentum, a sacred sign, a sacramentum et res, a sacramental reality, and a res, a real grace that was conferred in the rite. It took most of the twelfth century for the scholastics to satisfactorily fit marriage into this scheme, but by the time they did it the Catholic concept of sacramental marriage had become the theological basis for the canonical prohibition against divorce.

            But what was the sacramentum, the sacramental sign in marriage? At the beginning it seemed to many of the schoolmen that it should be the priest's blessing since in the wedding ritual it corresponded to the part that was played by the priest in other sacramental rites. Later, others suggested that it should be the physical act of intercourse between the spouses since this physical union could be taken as a sign of the spiritual union between the incarnate Christ and his spouse, the church. Still others felt it should be the spiritual unity of the married couple since this union of wills was closer to the actual way that Christ and the church were united to each other. However, each of these suggestions was met with difficulties and had to be abandoned . . . .

            Not only did it take until the 12th century for this theory of sacramental marriage to be worked out, but as is alluded to in the excerpt above, there had been no universal prohibition against divorce and remarriage in the Catholic Church. How divorce and remarriage was handled varied from place to place. Here's a bit on the matter of divorce:

            For a while, divorce regulations in norther Europe became more stringent under the impetus of ecclesiastical reform. As early as 829 a council of bishops at Paris decreed that divorced persons of both sexes could not remarry even if the divorce had been granted for adultery. By the end of the century a number of other councils in France and Germany passed similar prohibitions, and the penetential books were revised accordingly. But at the same time in Italy, popes and local councils continued to allow divorce and remarriage in certain circumstances, especially adultery and entering the religious life. Then in the next two centuries the trend in northern Europe reversed itself, and councils at Bourges, Worms, and Tours again allowed remarriages in cases of adultery and desertion.

          • David Nickol

            Part of where we disagree, I think, is in the assessment of the kind of authority given the Twelve by Jesus and the kind of preparation they received not only in Jesus’ public ministry but also in the *post-resurrection* 40 days Jesus spent with the Eleven.

            It seems to me Jesus instructed the apostles to be missionaries, not princes of the Church, each with their own geographical domain. He also gave them the power to heal the sick, cast out demons, drink poison without consequence, and handle poisonous snakes. I do not claim to be an expert on the Gospels as they pertain to later positions of the apostles' and disciples' successors in the later Church, but I really can't think of anything that Jesus said that constitutes a job description for either bishops or a pope.

          • David--Jesus gave the Apostles *His* authority and sent them as the Father had sent *Him*. I wouldn't reduce this concept to being a "prince of the Church." The episcopacy certainly has developed as has the rest of the Church, but if Jesus gives the Apostles and their successors the authority to bind and loose, to "judge the twelve tribes of Israel," and commands them to baptize all nations? Sounds pretty much the same as what we have today....

          • David Nickol

            "judge the twelve tribes of Israel"

            What does this mean?

            And who is it that generally baptizes people? Not bishops. Once again, it sounds to me like Jesus was commissioning the apostles as missionaries, not as monarchical rules of geographic areas (dioceses). Now, it may be that as the Church grew, it made perfect sense to set up a governing structure that eventually consisted of bishops in charge of geographical dioceses. But I don't find that idea in the Gospels, nor is there the idea of bishops, priests, and deacons. I am not arguing the structure of the Church as it evolved is unjustifiable. I am saying that there is no hint, to take one example, that Jesus instructed anyone to have a Church with the bishop of Rome as its absolute authority and the person who chose bishops to rule over a diocese in a world divided up into geographical areas.

      • The entire idea of nuptial imagery starts not with Jesus or St. Paul, but Isaiah and Hosea. In those instances the elect of God were compared to a bride given everything which made her beautiful, only to have the bride squander it on whoring (idolatry) and politics. (More concerned with pleasing temporal princes than God.) As the ultimate sign of His committment to His hand-picked bride, Christ assumes man and overcomes the idolatry of the pagans and temporal princes, and proves to the world through the Ressurection that he is above all of those things.

        There's a lot of other things to talk about (necessity of deliverance from sin, repentance, etc) but the nuptial imagery is pretty ancient. It's also why Sullivan's Jesus is a lie: it is a Jesus that is comfortable with the whoring and the politics.

        • David Nickol

          Where do you find this in the teachings of Jesus? Jesus makes one and only one reasonably clear reference to himself as a bridegroom, and that is when it is asked why John the Baptist's disciples fast and Jesus's do not. Jesus says that you do not fast when the bridegroom is present, but the bridegroom is going to go away at some point, at which time there will be fasting. Nothing you have said can reasonably be attributed to Jesus.

          It's also why Sullivan's Jesus is a lie: it is a Jesus that is comfortable with the whoring and the politics.

          Is that what you got out of Sullivan's essay? Did you actually read it? Regarding politics, Sullivan seemed to be saying exactly the opposite to me. I took him to be saying that both liberal and conservative politicians try to claim they are following the teachings of Jesus, but that Jesus himself was apolitical.

          • In regards to the teachings of Jesus, Christ was an observant Jew. Jewish thought long understood Israel as the bride, and the bridgegroom being God. It's called reading the Bible within the greater context of the culture and history of the time.

            There's a difference between an apolitical Jesus (which we should all advocate) and the kind of nice guy Jesus that Sullivan advocates. For example: part of those "moral teachings" that Christ should emphasize? The unbroken line of opposition to homosexual sex. Yet Sullivan believes, contrary to just about every bit of evidence, Christ would be fine with gay marriage.

            Christ challenges not just imperial power, but society overall. And that means rejecting those things of the culture which, even though they have long existed, were still contrary to the way things were meant to be.

          • David Nickol

            Jewish thought long understood Israel as the bride, and the bridgegroom being God.

            As I have said before, these are metaphors. God was not a bridegroom, and Israel was not a bride. And there is a difference between bride/bridegroom on the one hand and husband/wife on the other. I acknowledge not doing an exhaustive study, but it seems when there is marriage imagery in the Old Testament, it is God as husband, not God as bridegroom.

            Also, I very much doubt that Matthew, Mark, and Luke intended Jesus referring to himself metaphorically as a bridegroom intended to depict Jesus claiming to be God. The Church as a body and Christ as the head, and the Church as a bride with Christ as a bridegroom are metaphors, and they are not metaphors that can be traced to the teachings of Jesus.

            Yet Sullivan believes, contrary to just about every bit of evidence, Christ would be fine with gay marriage.

            Show me where Andrew Sullivan says Jesus would "be fine with gay marriage." He says,

            The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in either Jefferson’s or the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery. The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.

            I take him to be saying something quite similar to what Pope Francis said recently.

            We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

            The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

            Preaching about abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage is not preaching about Jesus and his message, no matter what position we imagine Jesus would have taken on those issues.