The Trinity for Agnostics Part 3

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Augustine refers to having valued Jesus because of what his mother Monica taught him. He probably admired the person Jesus of Nazareth for being another remarkable teacher or philosopher. I think it would bear resemblance to your average agnostic today.

If you were to take your average lapsed Catholic agnostic, and ask them about Jesus, they would probably be in agreement on many things that perhaps do not agree with the Catholic Tradition. Beyond blaming the sorry catechesis, I think it would be interesting to see the generic and harmless Jesus that can only be the product of an overly materialistic consumer society. Jesus is another self-help guru. I am sure that is how they imagine him. He had some non-religious spiritual wisdom teaching, and he was a healer just like self-help gurus are or whatever. At the same time, there is nothing compelling or urging about this caricature, who can as easily be disregarded with each new pop fad. But by and large, Jesus remains a positive person that even the agnostic has a hard time overtly disrespecting him.

The apostles were vividly struck by this man Jesus of Nazareth. He was like the prophets before him. But he was not like them. He was like the lawgiver before, but Jesus was totally something beyond that. Jesus was, and Jesus was not quite in the way they understood. The Gospel themselves clearly testify to a certain Apophatic reflection on the person of Jesus as they grappled to categorize and bracket him into what their experience knew. Another lawgiver. Another prophet. Another teacher. Another preacher. Another wonder-worker. But Jesus was not any of these things.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Yeshua bar Yosef, he would have been referred to. Christ was not his last name (or Joseph and Mary’s). But what was with this guy? He was nothing like his family. There was nothing that could prepare anybody for the authoritative teaching, the inspiring proclamation, and the wonders he worked among the people.

All of this turned them on their head absolutely when they saw him in glory after having been publically executed. Their lives were turned on their head. They all went to the ends of the earth to endure brutal torturous death on account of the proclamation of this wonderful event.

Jesus said that his Spirit would come upon his followers, and there was a concrete and tangible difference. Whereas the Apostles locked themselves away in terror when Jesus was captured, suddenly they had no fear in the face of similarly gruesome torturous assassinations and executions.

They baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these titles corresponded to something, or someone they experienced. It was clear that Jesus was not the Father that he prayed to, but Jesus was the one with the Father. That Jesus was not the Spirit who came upon the disciples, but there was a unity.

The whole movement of the Church exploded amidst bloody persecutions. There was something alive and flamboyant at work behind the scenes. It took them a while to let their intellectual reflections catch up with their own experience and the tradition. It was clear from the beginning that there were three divine persons, each with their own solid ground and integrity. Yet, It was clear, as has always been that there is still one God.

As the Church Fathers were quite comfortable with articulations about God, balanced with an incomprehensible Divine Mystery, the idea that there God is Triune was not altogether difficult to accept. It is, unfortunately far removed from our experiences. I do believe that the magnitude of the incomprehensibility of Divine Mystery has been so incredibly undervalued publically, that many people do become agnostics. But God has acted in history. God has acted in our lives. It is quite concrete, so much so that it does not make sense to remain an exclusive agnostic for very long. Jesus, the Son of God, had flesh and blood like us. He hungered and feasted as us. And he spoke to us. He speaks to us in the Scriptures. Perhaps the Father is caring, nurturing, and providing for us. Perhaps the Spirit is moving and vivifying us likewise. It does not make sense to remain agnostic, because God is acting in our lives in a concrete manner, demanding a concrete response.

People who remain hard hearted agnostics, often will find themselves deliberated trapped, to protect themselves from hypocritical Christians. They want to see results. They want to see that following God leads to happiness, that the moral life is possible, and that they are all connected. Most of all they are craving communion, not more abstract moral theories, not more abstract moral doctrines. It is not that these have no value.

But the story of God is very personal. The story of Trinity is very personal. The Son of God is Incarnate. The Son of God has eyeballs, ears, a nose, and a tongue. The Son of God has a story, the story is our redemption, the story becomes our story, our story becomes part of his story, our story becomes the Church’s story, the Church’s story becomes our story, the Son of God’s story becomes our story. The Story of God follows with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we can receive that gift through the Sacraments. We begin our Trinitarian Life at Baptism, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So it becomes very important for us to be well versed in this story. It becomes important for us to reflect on our personal part in this story in the Life of the Trinity. We see our past with new perspective, and God transforms our pain into something beautiful.

Augustine looked deeply into the story of Jesus, and the story of the Church, and the story of the Communion of the Saints. He saw something too remarkable to deny, and followed his heart into the story.

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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 2

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Many of the Church Fathers termed a process “Apophatic” Theology. Apophatic is a negated speech of God. It was seen in the process of coming to a deeper understanding of God, principally by denying all of your comfortable certitudes about God.

As children, we have very concrete images of God. We let go of them with age. That is normal. If we are serious in our endeavor to understand God in faith, we have to let go of our childhood faith in order to have an adult faith. We can move past the milk to the solid food as Saint Paul says.

It appears to be a dangerous endeavor, and I think many people would rather not have instant answers. Some people want to have the comfort of not having to struggle in the darkness to find God.

Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness, after having singularly fled Egypt. It was in this darkness that God manifest. Elijah as well, imagining that he pinpointed God in the storms, whirlwinds and thunders, and God manifest in the quiet. The entire Hebrew tradition is wrought with this wonder at divine majesty, that even today, out of reverence, Jews dare not utter the sacred name G-d.

Christians had inherited this. Christians had appropriated it. In many of the instances the Bishops articulated something concise in order to draw a boundary when somebody preached a heresy that took the tradition out of balance, or out of the inherited tradition entirely.

It is not as if most of the heretics woke up one day and decided to wreak havoc on the doctrine of the Church. They probably believed that they had God down in a laboratory. What made it so problematic was that many heretics persisted in their heresy.

But so it is when we encounter someone agnostic whose wandered off with only their speculations. We presume that they have some kind of mal-intent to ruin the tradition. Maybe they are doing apophatic theology and don’t know it. Maybe that is the pilgrimage that God is guiding them on. Maybe you were there too, and God had to take you through it to get you there.

Of course, the Church Fathers do not believe that  Agnosticism is the finality or the climax. While we say that God is love, soon we get confused. We hear the word love thrown around like an old dirty tennisball. We wonder if God really loves us in all our messiness. We wonder if God really even cares, like he hasn’t sent a birthday card in a while. So we can definitely and accurately say that God is not love. The way love is defined, understood, and practiced in our day and age, tainted by lust and jealousy and greed, its really hard to understand what love is, or what we mean by God is love.

Our pilgrimage takes us to something even more spectacular, when we have some kind of solid faith that God is love in such an excellent and magnificent way that words fail. It is like an ascent. We make a positive statement of God, then a negative statement about God, then another positive statement enriched by our awe-inspired reverence for God’s glory, because our love moves us to at least say something.

Of course, some agnostics I have met are just more comfortable not committing to anything, floating along from one experience to another, afraid that should they delve too deeply and sincerely into one thing, their discovery will radically overturn their comfort, and compel them into a dangerous and lovely adventure. It could be that many agnostics are on a sincere pilgrimage, and haven’t gotten to the point where they can again confidently make assertions on God.

Obviously, as faith is a gift from God, so this leap from Apophatic or negative theology requires some sort of divine intervention. God indeed would have to speak. I believe that God did speak quite precisely and definitively in the Word, who is God, who is Incarnate in flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind. Jesus invites us on a dangerous and lovely adventure.

It always evokes in me, a sense that sometimes I need to be hushed in reverent silence before the Glorious Majesty of the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth.

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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 1

“God is more thought than can be uttered, God exists more than can be thought.” -Augustine

For Saint Augustine, and For Saint Gregory Nazianzus, they spoke much of God. Yet, scattered throughout all their theological musings and quandaries was a reverent hesitation evoked by a heart in wonder hushed by the divine mystery.

Since the age of Enlightenment, or rationalism, or modernism, we have viewed activities of knowledge with rigor. We mixed in the idea of positivism: what can be known must be demonstrated or verified with concrete data and facts. Only what can be measured in the most pure of scientific settings can be held to be true. What cannot be measured and demonstrated in strictly empirical or scientific matters must be ignored. This seems to be at the root of much atheism today.

But most people are not atheists. Some people think that they have become atheist merely to liberate themselves from the shackles of religion. I believe it is the opposite, that many atheists have come to atheism because only positivism, or rationalism, or enlightenment, or whatever gives them confidence.

Instead of atheism, people get caught between religion and agnosticism. I was an agnostic for a long time. Some of my agnosticism was not a reaction to religion. It was a reaction to positivism and rationalism, which had become enshrined our secular society, and even our modern theology.

It was not because I had the certitude of a verifiable alternative that I became agnostic at the age of 15. I think that it was because positivism in the west, and particularly America was tying things so tightly and comfortably together. Unlike the stereotypes of Catholics somehow clinging deeply to irrational biblical fairy tales or whatever, we have actually always had a healthy management of reason amidst faith. But this is not really a defense of that. In some ways reacting to hyper-rationalistic secularism, we were actually hyper-rationalistic to the point of articulating our theological constructions of God that became positivistic or rationalistic. The problem was that it reduced God in so many ways to be grasped and articulated with scientific precision and clarity. God was reduced to a piece of empirical data.

Augustine struggled with this all throughout his work the Trinity. He always wavered between developing an affirmative speech about God, and then denying whatever he attempted to articulate. Even Thomas Aquinas wanted to throw away all his theological investigations after some sort of encounter with the Divine Mystery.

Even the most brilliant theologian saints themselves appear in some ways to be agnostic. Some apologists might be apt at quoting Aquinas against any objection or objector, which is great to a point, as if faith is not a gift from the Holy Spirit, but can be intellectually demonstrated in a positivistic rationalistic laboratory. God is not a lab rat. We cannot make God run the maze and say that is God.

On the other hand, we have plenty of gods in our films, whose power is demonstrated with spectacular special effects. I think many people walk away from the Church, because they are walking away from sloppy or inaccurate depictions of God that is so small as to fit into our theological demonstrations, or that Hollywood special effects God does not behave like the movies or whatever.

But the story of Augustine goes like this. As he walked along the coast of North Africa overlooking the vast Mediterranean struggling to put two words this theology of the Trinity, he was distracted by what some child appearing to play games. The child dug a little hole in the sand, and repeatedly went to the water transferring from the Mediterranean to his little hole in the sand with a little shell. Augustine inquired of the child what this game was. With innocent enthusiasm, and outstretched arms, the child said “I am going to put the WHOOOOOOOOOLE OCEAN in this little hole…” Augustine thought what folly! But the child, who was some sort of angel, “Don’t you know it is folly to attempt to put the Glorious Divine Mystery of the Trinity into your tiny little head?”

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‘Do you Catholics worship children?’ A Thought Expirement

It’s First Communion Season. Some Catholics don’t like First Communion, with all the amateur photographers, it can suddenly turn into a circus. Aside from the wonderful blessing that children, who are also usually the best behaved, receive the incredibly blessing of Communion. But I have often wondered, as an outsider, oblivious to Catholicism, to Western Culture, and everything would react to Catholic worship. So I decided to run a thought experiment: Catholics worship children. This is meant to make you think, and meant to make you laugh, more than it is meant as a criticism or condemnation. Obviously, it is immensely more complicated then this. I thought it would be fun.

You Catholics seem to worship children. You gather in your temples, and gather around the children. You gaze upon them, you venerate them, you photograph them, you applaud them, you lavish gifts and sacrifices to them. When there are not many children there, not many people gather. Many of you Catholics do not gather to your temples to worship your children on a regular basis. When your children have manifest themselves in your temples, you flock to your temples. When your children are not at your temples, you do not have any reason to go, for you go to worship children right?

When you Catholics are small babies, you bring them to your temples and sprinkle water all over them. You all gather, with great cheer, photos, and much festivity. When your solemn rites have concluded, you carry the festivity on with much feasting and celebration, all gathered around the little child you lovingly and devoutly worship.

You Catholics enshrine your children in sacred vestments as they engage in exclusive sacred rites in and around your holy temples. They engage in these holy activities for several years. Only the children whom you worship, are permitted on these holy sites, and only these children are permitted in wearing their sacred vestments. Although they differ from region to region, their sacred vestments seem to match at each particular site. On occasion, you Catholics gather in droves at the temples to watch the children recite and perform holy rites. Although not with as much festivity as other occasions, there is much gazing, photographing, and applauding of your children whom you worship.

Then, after several years, you Catholics gather again to worship children. Many Catholics come for some great solemn feast, when all of your children process with hands enfolded. Again, you gaze upon them, venerate them, photograph, and applaud them. You worship your wonderful little children, arrayed in sacred vestments of a greater solemnity. Rarely do you Catholics come into your empty temples to worship your children, but on this day, which occurs after they have reached a certain age, you Catholics worship children with great festivity. The children, again, process up to receive your sacred bread, while you gaze intensely, and even photograph. Then, some of you have the audacity to imitate the children to receive your sacred bread. However, this bread is principally for your children, as many people do not receive this sacred bread at this event or on a regular basis. Again, you Catholics continue to worship you children, by going out and continuing to celebrate outside of the temple with much feasting.

At some point, your children reach an age when they are no longer to be worshiped. They no longer come to your temples after this. In great solemnity, your children process forward, many with hands enfolded, sometimes dressed in red or white vestments. However, many do not wear vestments, and dress in such a way that they no longer will be the objects of your sacred veneration. They have some sort of fragrant oil applied to their head. Perhaps this oil undoes what happened when they were babies and sacred waters was applied in the same region. They are permitted to receive your sacred bread one more time. Following this, many other people follow their example. On this occasion, there are many people content to keep a reverent distance from the sacred events as merely observing.

When there are no longer any children on a family to worship, you Catholics do not go to your temples any more. Some of you Catholics might be privileged enough to be permitted to venerate devoutly some other children who are not your own.

You Catholics also become very abhorrent with much shock when sacrilege occurs against any of your sacred children whom you venerate and worship devoutly. I was almost hesitant to write this, because I was afraid many of you Catholics might be offending thinking that I intend to blaspheme your sacred children. That I do not. You Catholics make sure that your sacred children will not be contaminated by spending too much time outside. You keep close watch on all of your sacred children, to ensure that no blasphemy happens. If, with much sorrow, any of your children are blasphemed, the blasphemers receive many penalties, to which there can never be reintegration into your society ever again. Further, many of these people are legally forever prohibited from ever having the privilege of being near your holy and sacred children.

You Catholics permit some men to engage near your holy children in your temples during your sacred rites. These men, you do not permit to be married. In order for these men to be holy enough to engage your sacred rites with children, perhaps they ought not to have children. It is as if, these men carry on their sacred holy child-ness for you to devoutly worship and venerate. These men, however, unlike the holy children who must, out of reverence always be carefree, handle a variety of detailed tasks that are not appropriate for your children who must be venerated.

5 Reasons I Love Religion!

It may be that the “I Hate Religion, I love Jesus” video has officially passed out as a cultural phenomenon like many other pop culture trends that this very video is indebted to, while Religion still stands. It may be that another critical response is so late in the game, that it is somehow irrelevant.

I, however, still did wish to share some affirmative critical responses in favor of Religion. My Catholic Church still stands despite my ability or incapacity to defend it. My defense of it does not validate it any the more. After some time on reflecting, as well as much time postponing for various reasons, I offer my thoughts. I only hope to add a few of these affirmative responses, if only that they are not merely responses but affirmations that are relevant beyond the moment.

Many of the responses to the video that I have read act merely as ad hoc phrase by phrase responses. Having had a few days to gather some of my thoughts and emotions together I decided to piece together five significant reasons why I am proud to be a Religious follower of Jesus Christ.

Reason 1 Children

I had the awesome experience of helping a 2nd grade class prepare for their 1st Holy Communion.

1st Holy Communion Masses are inundated with plenty of Catholics who have not attended Mass in years, and are notorious for becoming spectacles. They are running around Church taking photos of their precious pristine children taking a rite of passage. And the irony is, that despite it being special to them, they themselves may not even be receiving communion. Despite what may be some overt hypocrisy… Well it does not even take away from the amazing nature of the sacrament if believers fail to grasp the magnitude of the event. Even if they inherently know this day to be set apart from others, they carry a sense of pride for their children. Even if the children themselves fail to see the riches of the Sacrament. Hey, that is the wonder of being a child, joyful discovery.

Unlike the jaded fallen away Catholic, or anyone who insists on Jesus and no religion, who dismisses this joyful discovery. The Jesus without religion insists that this faith experience of the child has literally no value, while the religious person carries the joy that they have an entire life to joyfully discover and grow into the understanding of this very event.

I cannot merely dismiss the faith of a child, given they do not understand the magnitude of the event, it is just uncharitable. In fact, I think their own humble willing acceptance is seriously valid. It is something we share, and I am proud to share the faith, and inspired by the faith of children. In fact, in some way, my own religion insists that the faith experience of these children is somehow more valid then my own. This is so radical and counter intuitive in the same way that Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God was so radical and counter intuitive, and not as radical and counter intuitive to insist that understanding people only apply to the alter call. To insist that the only valid encounter of faith is an adult who “accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” fails to grasp the magnitude of childlike faith, and submits itself to the sinful yoke of cynicism.

I cannot help but think that I am a better man when we have a religion where children are full and valid participants.

Reason 2 Art, Music, and Architecture

A few years ago I studied medieval and renaissance art in a university setting. I was inspired by the course, and impressed by how far the professor managed to cover the spiritual and religious genius of artists that we covered.

Although on one hand I am sure many people would flock into magnificent churches over the centuries with the same human inclination for the spectacular that they flock to in laser show mega churches and special effect extravaganza blockbuster movies… There is still something more at work. The impulse in the human spirit to craft magnificent beauty in the cause of a greater purpose is one of the most amazing things about humanity. To dismiss this aspect of the human spirit as idolatry or as uncharitable is more ironic idolatry than anything. In fact, the impulse itself only verifies the existence of our Creator and the creative achievement. To have one’s heart dramatically arrested in silent reverence, seems to ennoble the soul to greater virtue, more then the cold and nearly inhuman insistence on dismissing the entire western repertoire of artistic achievement.

Because some people fail to appreciate the divine beauty manifest in art does not itself invalidate the art, or more significantly, the glorious realities that the art manifests. However, to fail to acknowledge the total human person, sensuous and emotional, traps the human person in their own ideological madness. When you kill the poetic imagination in the human spirit you are left with nothing then legalism or fanciful speculative superstition. Perhaps that is whey our society is so fragmented on ideologies, is because our culture has been so iconoclastic when it comes to religious art. Perhaps this is why “Jesus and No Religion” is so legalistic with all its “No religion, no art, no this, no that.” Perhaps that is why there is this rampant obsession with speculative superstitious interpretations of the Apocalypse with non-contextualized passages of Scripture.

In order for their to be a great artistic tradition, it requires a shared pedagogy of symbols. Religion does that. Where there is no shared pedagogy, you see as modern art is reduced to intangible reckless subjective nonsense.

I cannot deny that somehow I have become a better man by a religion that drives women and men to manifesting beautiful art music and architecture.

Reason 3 Culture and Communal Christian Identity

I grew up in Southern California, going to a parish established by Spanish Franciscan Missionary Junipero Serra in 1771 before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Catholic story of the American Southwest is a different one than the Catholic story out in the East Coast. The Catholic story of the Irish, Italian, and German immigrants differs from the Hispanic Catholics who became part of this country without ever immigrating. You see the results, and the Mission Church to which I grew up in is markedly different then the Churches I see out here, is different from the Churches in Europe.

A philosophy professor when I started College made the comment that Protestant Churches throughout the world make very little admission for cultural differences then Catholic churches, and that says something significant. Perhaps old Protestant Churches only permitted Gothic styles, and modern Evangelical churches only permit theatrical auditorium settings, while Catholic Church admit to a diverse inclusiveness when it comes to cultural settings. This is not to say that certain aspects of Catholic worship are incredibly essential, and this theory overlooks the sad state of Catholic architecture in the past thirty years (which itself is not the point, it is more a failure to relate and live up to something essentially Catholic).

The same could be said about the devotional life of Catholics of differing settings. Unfortunately, when you have a dogmatically narrow self-righteous insistence of Jesus and no religion, you hypocritically fail to allow a communal relationship with Jesus to grow in a particular character, and you fail to allow the Spirit itself to work. At some point years ago, I was instinctively opposed to some sort of “Religion of the Masses.” That instinct was itself a self-righteous disdain to set myself over and above others who failed to live up to my own narrow idea of purity.

What you end up getting is a bunch of Evangelical, Pentacostal, Non-Denominational churches sprouting up targeting Hispanic Catholics condescendingly as biblically ignorant while training them to disdain their own Religious Cultural Patrimony. Believe me, I have seen it happen my entire life growing up in Southern California. I am sure the same could be said as Evangelicals likely do the same elsewhere.

Reason 4 I am liberated from the tyranny of self

Although on the one hand I become most fully myself in my relationship with the Divine Trinity, there is still something about myself that has to die. Perhaps it is a result of a sinful impulse within me, that we often refer to as Original Sin, that causes me to desire to protect myself from God’s work in my life.

It is like I want, at all cost, to accumulate more things. There is this survival instinct that fears that I will not have enough, and that I will wear out and die. There is this tendency to put my short term desires and needs ahead of my own long term destiny, and the destiny of humanity in general.

Jesus comes around preaching the Beatitudes, and giving himself up to die on the cross, and it turns this whole human dynamic on its head. It turns Communism, Capitalism, Consumerism, and every other self-protecting ideology on its head. In fact, it turns this same sinful self enclosing instinct to have Jesus and no religion on its very head as well.

Even to hold the bible in my own, like an app on my personal smart phone device only closes up God in a box even more, if I cannot allow the bible to be interpreted by a community more competent then myself. Perhaps this is why I see the value itself in Patristics, as well as a legitimate authority that is not me, because of my own instinct to protect myself.

The tradition of the Church has always been helpful for liberating myself, and others from their own selfish instincts, while Jesus and No Religion only helps one to give power to their own selfish instincts. What an incredible hypocrisy then, to talk all this stuff about what Jesus insists that you do, while pretending that there is no religion at all behind it. To be accountable to a 2000 year tradition and a standing authority that is not me, only refuses to allow myself to become the tyrant of my own interpretation of what Jesus meant.

When the Church comes up with a legal code, Canon Law, has been a way of verifying the rights and responsibilities of the members and the institution beyond stringent lists of forbidden things. That is not to say that there are some limits that are forbidden, if only that the Church will insist that I will be losing my total human spiritual identity by crossing those limits.

There really is no way around it, but I cannot be a better more liberated person if I am not accountable to those things.

Reason 5 Sanctified Rhythm of Life

The logical conclusion of Protestant failure to carry a sense of Sacred with things has resulted in a failure to worship with a beautiful liturgy. There is no Sacred Sunday of the Resurrection, there is just a day to hear Pastor Preach. There is no entering into the Divine Drama in Human History in the Rhythms of Feasts and Seasons each year, as there is only another day to listen to Pastor Preach. There is no participation that takes us beyond the daily mundane of our lives, as there is only the incessant demand that Pastor Preach, or to incessantly demand that God deal with all the daily mundane of our lives. This is the whole market with Evangelical Self Help books, bible daily devotionals, and the like.

Not only does an authoritative tradition act as a balance to my own instinctual fight for survival, a living tradition imparts life insofar as I participate in it.

Think about it. We have Advent, leading to Christmas, and Lent leading to Easter. We behave in a different way in Advent then in Lent, and a markedly distinct manner in Lent compared to Easter. We hope in one and relish in the other. We cry in one and solemnly rejoice in the other. We are losers in one, and we participate in God’s victory in the other.

The very act of praying in such a seasonal manner sanctifies our sorrows and consecrates our ecstasy. It places each tear and each smile of our lives in a greater story. It relates our pain and pleasure to something beyond our everyday mundane, and even goes so far as to identify it with all of humanity and with God’s story.

People tell me that I am always so joyful and always so happy. I tend to laugh with irony during the month of November when I listen to melancholy music thinking of the Holy Dead, and meditating on my own mortality. When Christmas arrives, with its cakes, candies, and drinks, I go to Mass over and over again, and then go party over and over again. I laugh and dance with pride and gusto. This is what religion does to me. It does not dismiss my sorrow as morbid, nor does it dismiss my celebration as excessive.

Of course, the “Jesus and No Religion” do not even know how to celebrate and drink like Jesus, with their puritanical insistence on no alcohol. They are more like the Pharisees who will criticize the disciples of John the Baptist who mourn and fast (as they will dismiss anybody who does not always and everywhere remain happy for Jesus Resurrection) while simultaneously, like the Pharisees criticize Jesus disciples who drink and feast (as they dismiss “worldly” people with their excesses).

To the non-religious person who says they follow the teachings of Jesus

People often say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, as a way of skirting around the issue. They accept, and/or follow some vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values from a variety of religious traditions, as if to boast on their inclusivity and open mindedness. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things from Orthodox and Evangelical Christianity which have inspired my faith, as well as many particular things in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well. The problem, when people say that they accept Jesus teaching, they do not actually accept Jesus teaching, they merely accept a vague, fluffy, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas and values which are often refered to as Judeo-Christian. Let me explain, it would be like telling the person who declares their love to you, that you are more in love with the idea of love then them in particular.

Let me make it clear. There is a whole lot of what Jesus taught which was not particularly revolutionary, and which was traditional wisdom among the Jews of his day. In this sense, he was a good Jew in every sense of the word. One can look at his condemnation of religious hypocrisy, and find similar statements among the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. One can look at the ideas behind his parables, and find the echoing sentiments and values from the Wisdom Tradition of Israel. Some scholars also debate on some phrases which were put on the mouth of Jesus by the early Church. Even for the Christian, who believes in the inspiration of the New Testament, this is not troubling, as the inspiration in the living Church, the Body of Christ, does not require every single word uttered by Jesus to have actually literally been uttered by him at a specific time, place, and moment documented absolutely perfectly as data. To be so nitpicky to the letter of the law of empirically verifiable data is only to fall into the very irrational madness that Jesus and the Prophets condemned repeatedly.

So there are two aspects of Jesus life and teaching which were incredibly radical. The first was more principally his actions, his good works, and miracles to those in need. When individuals say that they follow the teachings of Jesus, what is the big deal. Jesus went around multiplying fishes and loaves, food for the hungry, sight to the blind, and forgiveness to the sinner, and then he turns around and insists that if we have enough convicted faith and devoted love in him we may do even greater works than this. Often times, in my experience, people go around saying they follow what Jesus taught, but do not imitate what he did; which is what Jesus mandated.

Further, I cannot seem to find a place that Jesus insists that we follow what he taught, rather Jesus insists, mandates, commands, that we follow him. Jesus does not want us following his words, he wants us to follow him who is in the Incarnate word. Jesus does not want us being spiritual seekers of the truth, Jesus insists that he is Truth, and that we commit to that Truth. What would truth be, if we merely accomodated it to our liking and comfort, rather, when Truth finds us, we are compelled to sell everything we have.

It is really easy to say that all religions are the same, when you reduce Christianity to a set of morals. Ironically, people who are not religious seem to like Jesus for challenging the legal narrowness of the Pharisees, but when they turn around and reduce Christianity to a set of morals, they themselves become legalistic in the opposite extreme. What we find in Jesus is not a strict moral code, but a compelling moral witness for a better world. This is the Reign of God that he preaches, and he insists that in him is the fullness of this Reign, verifying it in his actions, his death, and his Rising from the dead. If the Jesus in exposition of the Scriptures and Tradition is absent, you have a neat little legal Judeo-Christian all religions just the same, and you can keep it safe, and you can keep yourself safe in your complacency. However, if what Jesus taught us that he is the living water, the bread from the Heaven, the Word made flesh, God’s Reign come, then that puts our clever manipulations in danger. When we encounter Jesus Christ, the Truth, we can no longer float in a vague, fluffy, generic, abstracted, unspecified and imprecise collection of ideas, because Truth is a person, and we must dare to make a specific, living, actual, and precise person, and what they are about. The Jesus who is the Christ of the Scriptures is a threat to all our complacency and comfort, so therefore, it is much easier to reduce Jesus to a moral teacher, because it requires nothing else of us that sacrifices our self-righteousness.

Dear Consumer America

Can you sell me a product that does not always make my life more convenient or easy?

Can you sell me a product that will make me sweat, will blister my hands, will force some effort on my part?

Will you sell me a product that will help me to value hard work?

Can you sell me a product that activates my brain cells and my thinking?

Will you sell me a product that will cause me to rely on my creativity and ingenuity?

Can you sell me a product that does not promise to be the magic key to happiness?

Will you sell me a product that can actually help me to learn to be happy with what I have?

Will you sell me a product that does not claim that my life is miserable and clumsy by saying it will magically be fixed by your silly gizmo?

Will you sell me a product that help me appreciate the totality of life and the universe by delluding me into thinking that life and the universe reconfigure itself for my pleasure and convenience?

If Not: Consumer America, please remove your ubiquitous advertising, spam, blimps, billboards, trucks, and the like invading my ability to be content and grateful for the wonderful things God has already given to me.