Ditch the modern-day masks of Jesus (pt. 1)

Jesus is arguably the most influential person to ever walk the Earth – and perhaps the most misunderstood. For many, he was a great moral teacher and speaker, for others, a great activist, and yet for others, a fictional character who was deified throughout the years.

Here are just three of his many modern-day masks that can help us reflect and encounter the true Jesus of the Gospels, the one the Church has defended throughout the ages.

Jesus all-loving, all-permissive

In a society that hears “closed-mindedness” and “imposition” with the mention of “truth,” Jesus can’t be cold hearted or a proclaimer of truth. He’s a nice guy. He doesn’t force anyone. He understands. He’s not too demanding. He will forgive you. Jesus then turns into a person who lets people remain where they are, in their sin, because he’s “compassionate.”

Jesus is all-loving and all-merciful, there’s no doubt about that. He will forgive you if you repent. Yet, we must look at what love and mercy really mean. When Jesus defends the woman caught in adultery, he doesn’t condemn her, he forgives her. Yet he adds, “Go and sin not again” (Jn 8:1-11).

Jesus lifts her up and calls her to conversion. It is the latter that is not very popular – it’s uncomfortable. But what Jesus is doing is calling her to a better life, to what she’s meant to be, to authentic happiness. True mercy and love lead to a change in life. If Jesus didn’t call you to truth and conversion, he’d be giving up on you, not helping you become who you’re meant to be.

Jesus, the activist commie

For many people, Jesus was a radical social activist who died for the cause of the poor and marginalized. Yet, this revolutionary Jesus becomes merely a great historical figure who fought for the rights of the underrepresented, stripping him of all divinity.

Jesus, nonetheless, claimed to be God and not a mere moral teacher. The Jews of his time saw it clearly, which is why they sought to kill him: “[He makes] himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18).

Even more, his morality was centered around himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). As C.S. Lewis puts it, if this isn’t true, then Jesus was really an egotistic madman “compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men.” That means that only God can say such things, and if we didn’t believe in his divinity, he would have to be a lunatic instead of a great moral teacher.

There’s no “in-between.” Either ultimate human fulfillment consists in social, economic or earthly factors, or in a God, as Jesus claimed to be. And we know that nothing on this earth can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart, which is constantly pleading for a transcendent “more” or, I would say, a transcendent “Someone.”

Jesus was spiritual (but not religious)

Nowadays it’s popular to be spiritual but not so much religious. Many Christians themselves don’t affiliate with a specific church. This view holds that Jesus never intended to establish an actual church, but instead wanted us to simply follow his teachings.

I believe this position partially comes from a response to a “wound.” People identify “religion” with the negative things they have heard or experienced: corruption, sexual abuse, greed… People have lost faith in religious institutions. Moreover, the constant push in society to put the “me” in the center of everything, defying all authority, also plays a role. When you include a good desire to know God in the equation, you end up with an individualistic Christianity. We end up making a god according to our image and opinions.

This is nothing new. Christians have wanted to make their own god since the time of the apostles, from the so-called “super apostles” that Paul fought (2 Cor 11:5) to his Corinthian community that needed constant correction. However, there was always an authority that guided early Christian communities and solved new issues in the light of the teachings of Christ (Acts 15:23-29). If there had not been an authority, there would have been no unity. And where there’s unity and authority, there’s a religion.

Jesus established that authority, the apostles, and gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, choosing him as the “rock” upon which he would build his “Church” and promising that the powers of Hell (heresy) would not overcome it (Mt 16:18-19). Saying that Jesus didn’t want to establish a Church would be like saying that he intended people to follow and interpret him in their own way. The early Church knew this and fought against all distortion of Christ’s image and teaching. His same Church continues to do so up to our day.

COMING UP: Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome

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The defense of the indefensible often leads to a kind of derangement in otherwise rational people. That was the case with the defenders of slavery and legalized racial segregation; it has become the case with abortion.

I’ve long thought that the most callous, coldhearted contribution to the national debate on abortion was penned by the feminist ideologue, Barbara Ehrenreich, in a 1985 column for the New York Times. There, Ms. Ehrenreich deplored the “lasting … damage” done by the pro-life movement by

“getting even pro-choice people to think of abortion as a ‘moral dilemma,’ an ‘agonizing decision,’ and related code phrases for something murky and compromising … Regrets are also fashionable, and one otherwise feminist author wrote recently of mourning, each year following her abortion, the putative birthday of her discarded fetus. I cannot speak for other women, of course, but the one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks.”

Ms. Ehrenreich remains in a class, so to speak, of her own. But now comes Ruth Marcus, op-ed columnist and deputy editorial page director of the Washington Post, who, while admitting in a March 9 column that “the new Gerber baby with Down syndrome is awfully cute,” went on to announce that, “I can say without hesitation” that, had pre-natal testing shown her carrying a child with Down syndrome, “I would have terminated those pregnancies … grieved the loss and moved on.” Ms. Marcus went on to praise “families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives,” but candidly confessed that such a baby was “not the child I wanted … You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision” to abort the Down syndrome child.

“Not the child I wanted.” There, in a single phrase, is the moral dereliction at the center of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome: if a pregnancy is inconvenient for career purposes, or the child to be born seems unlikely to tick all the boxes of one’s expectation, one makes the choice – “tragic,” as Ms. Marcus admits, or No Big Deal, on the Ehrenreich scale of values – to destroy the indisputably human life one has procreated. Lebensunwertes leben, “life unworthy of life,” German eugenicists and legal scholars called it in the 1920s. And we all know, or should know, where that lethal logic led when the definition of the “unworthy” was extended beyond the mentally handicapped to include certain ethnic groups, thought not to be the kind of people other people wanted as neighbors and fellow-citizens.

The refusal to recognize that lethal logic is another facet of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome. There can be no denial that the object of an abortion is a human being; elementary genetics teaches us that. What is at issue – what has always been at issue – is what is owed, morally and legally, to that human being. And if the lethal logic of Lebensunwertes leben prevails, where will the proponents of an unrestricted abortion license stop, when it comes to eliminating the inconvenient? Will the fourteen self-identified Catholic U.S. senators who voted recently against a late-term abortion ban stand firm against euthanasia? Will they defend the conscience rights of Catholic medical professionals who refuse to participate in those euphemisms known as “pregnancy termination” or “death with dignity”? Don’t hold your breath.

Which brings us to the recent Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd congressional district. There, the heroic Dan Lipinski, a stalwart pro-lifer, survived a vicious challenge from another victim of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome, Maria Newman, who got serious financial and ground-game support from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Emily’s List. A few weeks before the primary, Ms. Newman told a rally of her supporters, “I know what’s in his heart, and it’s called hate. This guy is dangerous. His views are dangerous.”

That is what Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome has done to our politics: it’s made it possible to say that what’s in the heart of a mild-mannered gentleman like Dan Lipinski is “hate” – and get away with it. The defense of the indefensible leads to rage, and rage becomes a form of madness.

Featured image by Paul on Unsplash