There is an important difference between religious respect and religious relativism. The former demands a charitable attitude that acknowledges the movement of God in every human heart; the latter shrugs its shoulders and says that every religion is really the same. Showing respect gives dignity to the believer; religious relativism is patronizing.
The New Atheist movement, allegedly unbiased because those involved don’t believe in any religion (which is the worst bias off all,) argue other religions should all get along with one another because there’s no way to say that one religion is more valid than another. Essentially, we should see our religious beliefs as our opinion and we should respect other people’s opinions, just like we might differ on tastes in movies and food.
Should people of different faiths find ways to charitably live with each other? Of course. And since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has been a world leader in gathering people of different faiths together and has been one of the strongest advocates for religious freedom in every continent. But we don’t do that because we think what we believe is just our opinion. We do it because of our love for all humanity, no matter what they believe. We do it because of our faith, not in spite of it.
Though we share many things in common with other beliefs, we also acknowledge important differences. Those differences help us define our faith. And at the heart of Christianity is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.
This historical event makes Christianity unique among other world religions. With the exception of Judaism, the many of the doctrines and stories of other faiths have come from private revelations. An angel spoke to Muhammad (Islam.) One also spoke to Joseph Smith (Mormonism.) And though private revelations are a part of our Deposit of Faith, the historical reality of how God revealed Himself to the world is what they are grounded on. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.
Those who are Jewish acknowledge that Jesus existed and, though he taught many good things, He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but also say He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. There are many core values and beliefs that Christians share with Jews and Muslims, and the Catholic Church teaches that we all pray to the same God, though we have a different understanding of Him. But that’s not to say that one religion is the same as another.
There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. There was an historical event that has to be accounted for. This is more than a parable or a fictitious story. History records that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Rome and then the body disappeared. His believers claimed to have seen Him risen from the dead, and almost all of those were tortured and killed because of their belief.
Alternatives for the resurrection don’t make sense. Was the body stolen by His followers? Unlikely Rome would let that slide without more crucifixions. Perhaps Jesus didn’t die, just fainted? This is known as the “swoon” theory and is even more unlikely than the “stolen” one. It seems impossible that a man who underwent such torture could wake up, roll away the stone himself, and then… overcome Roman guards?
And what of the martyrdom of His followers, who underwent painful deaths vowing that Christ had risen? If you were lying about something like that, at what point do break? None of them did.
In the wake of the resurrection, Christianity was persecuted by sects of Judaism and Romans. If either of these two groups could have produced the body of Jesus that would have ended the argument. But they didn’t. They couldn’t.
Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.
No matter how much we might agree with people of other faiths or people of good will, we believe that it is a fact that Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead. That defines who we are. And it divides us from other beliefs.
Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or He didn’t. This isn’t a matter of opinion that we can “agree to disagree” on. To raise the stakes even higher: it means that Christianity is either right, or it is wrong.
There is a reason why Easter is the highest holy feast of the Church. Everything in human history led to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and everything has followed from it since. It was the moment that made us who we are. This was the moment that revealed the depths of God’s love for us. This was the moment that made salvation possible. Sin and death were conquered. The Church perpetually participates in this moment at every Mass. The Sacraments all flow from this event.
So if we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I think it happened, but maybe it didn’t,” then Christianity is replaced with, “Jesus was a good teacher who taught us to love each other.”
The Jews would agree with this. The Muslims would agree with this. Even the atheists would agree with this. There is a lot of pressure for those who follow Christ make that the “Good News” and to stop focusing on the divisive issue of the resurrection.
But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.
The Good News of Jesus Christ was not just to love each other. It was also about how much God loves us and what He did to save us from our sin. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that through Him we might be saved” (John 3:16-17.) Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity, Word of God made flesh, came to die for our sins. “For this is proof of God’s love for us: that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8.) And as we say at Mass, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory!”
The historical reality of the empty tomb points to another truth: Jesus will come again in glory. And at that time, there will be no “opinions” about God. We will know Him as He is.
For now, however, we only know Him partially. We know Him by what He has revealed. We know Him by what He has done. Some would claim because we don’t fully know Him then we don’t know Him at all—but that is absurd. It would be like suggesting a couple who are engaged don’t know anything about each other because they’re not married yet.
Let us unite in Christian charity with people of other faiths or those who have no faith at all. Let us work together for the common good to build a civilization of love. But let us not forget there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, and that Christ will come again. Let us not be afraid to tell others this “Good News,” and engage in respectful dialogue about what we believe.
For what we believe isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact. And if it’s not, then it’s not worthy to believe in at all.
If you’re not into reading X-rays, let me explain it to you: see that big crack in the femur? Yeah, that shouldn’t be there.
Two weeks ago my son Bobby (10 years old) was playing basketball. He fell backwards and everyone heard a loud CRACK! If you think that’s an unusual way to break a femur, it is. The doctors have diagnosed him with “fibrus dysplasia,” a weakening of the bone. That makes his already difficult recovery longer, and perhaps means he will need future surgeries to “augment” the bone.
Needless to say, it’s been a crazy few weeks. I was at the airport about to get on a plane to Michigan when I got the call. I had to cancel the event, but of course I knew the Holy Spirit would take care of it (He did.) To all in Wixon, sorry I missed out and hope to see you next year!
After spending five days at a hospital and two days in my living room (Bobby can’t yet climb stairs) I drove to Syracuse for the “Race to the Cross Rally” and then down to Philadelphia for the “Generation Phaith” conference. I brought my band with me and we had a great time, though my heart was a bit heavy with things going on at home.
And then on Monday, I flew off to England, which is where I’m writing from now.
How could I leave my family in such a state of crisis? I’ve been asking myself that, too :) As we all know, sometimes things just need to get done. A residency requirement is part of keeping me in my doctoral program, but the good folks have shortened my time here so I’m coming home next week (instead of the following.) And thankfully my mom flew in to help around the house while I’m gone.
I’m grateful for all who have been praying for us during this time. Your love and support mean a lot.
And now for something completely different…
Videos! A number of my scripts have come to life over the past few months, and I’ve been delinquent in posting them. So here they are. Hope you are blessed by them and can use them in your ministry.
Or at least I can say I’m a script writer of award winning films :)
Last week the John Paul II Film Festival in Miami, FL awarded the video, “Zombies Vs. Jesus” an award for the best short film. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was the main script writer for the video, even though it turned out to be different (and better!) than I had imagined it.
This is the second time a short film I was a part of has won an award! Last year, the short film Palm Sunday won a Telly Award for best religious short film.
Two things in common with both films: Eric Groth of Outside Da Box produced it, and Rob Kaczmark of Spirit Juice Studios directed them. As a script writer, it’s exciting to work with people who have a great combination of faith and creativity to pull of the hard work of bringing stories to the screen.
But the best thing about winning awards is it gives people (like me) an excuse to promote the films again. In case you haven’t seen them, take a look!
This should not be a surprise to any who has known me or read my blog. But in case those reading this might need proof of my geek cred, I offer the following for evidence:
- I’m in a role-playing group two nights a month.
- I have a replica Doctor Who sports coat which I will occasionally wear to my place of business.
- I prefer bow-ties over neck ties and, if I had my druthers, would only wear bow-ties.
- I play the accordion.
- I use the word “druthers.”
- I can be found most evenings lounging around the house in my Star Trek bathrobe.
- I’ve read the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings numerous times.
- I can quote most lines from Star Wars.
- I’ve accumulated over 10,000 “geek points” at thinkgeek.com.
- I read comic books and still have all the ones from my childhood.
- Was the first point really not enough for you?
It seems silly to have to defend one’s geekiness, since normally admitting you were a geek was proof enough that you were one (just like a man who admits to being a bronie, a male fan of “My Little Pony.”) But apparently that’s not enough for some, or at least for one. Last week the geek world was set ablaze by an article that berated some attractive, young women who the author claimed were just faux geeks looking for attention. It’s quite a statement on the world that there might be women who would fake being into comic books/sci-fi movies/RPGs, etc. to look “cool.” My first thought: where were they when I was young?
My second thought: what does it mean to be a geek?
I’m not the first to ask or try to answer such a question. My usual operating definition of a geek was someone who was really over-the-top passionate about something that wasn’t mainstream. But John Scalzi, popular science-fiction author who has won a few Hugo and Nebula awards and hob-knobs with other famous stars in the geek universe, adds an important nuance to that:
Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”
Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.
Being a geek is not just over-the-top loving something. It’s over-the-top sharing about it as well. And that made me think: how can we be geeks for Jesus?
I’m not proud to admit I’m more familiar with the geography of Middle-Earth than I am with the United States. But can we get as excited and knowledgeable about our faith as we do about our fiction? I met a wonderful, faithful, young Christian who told me they’ve read the Harry Potter series three times over but, in further conversation, admitted to never having read all (or even most of) the letters in the New Testament. Why?
Let’s be honest, the first letter to Timothy isn’t as exciting (to most) as the first book of Twilight. The US Bishops commented on that in their national document on catechesis:
Most people today, but especially young people, expect learning experiences to be entertaining and tend to judge the effectiveness of those experiences on the superficial level of how entertaining they are rather than how humanly enriching or authentic they are. Young people are taught both by the excitement generated by technology and by the effervescence of popular culture to reject something if it bores them – and often the only things that do not bore them are those that seduce or titillate. (National Directory For Catechesis p.16)
Before we get into the deeper meaning of this quote, let’s first tip our hat to the US Bishops who found a way to use both the word “effervescence” and “titillate” in the same sentence. Double Word Score.
Now on to the deeper meaning: I think this hits a bulls-eye. We have been raised to be amused. In the 70s, Pope Paul VI said the following: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and to teachers only if they are witnesses.” But I think a more modern rendition can replace “witnesses” with “being entertained.” I know some brilliant teachers at my university who many students don’t like because they are “boring.” But those who pay attention discover how intelligent they are and really get a lot of our their classes.
I spend a lot of energy trying to make what I do to pass on the faith both educational and entertaining: short movie scripts, dramatic presentations, song-writing, and even some comedic things I do in class to keep my student’s attention. But if someone is to grow into spiritual maturity, they’ve got to go beyond only what “titillates” them. Falling in love with someone means going deeper than what infatuates us and often involves a struggle. It’s not always “entertaining.” It is so much better. But if our passion for Jesus Christ doesn’t surpass our excitement for pop culture, then our spiritual lives will be shallow and our evangelization ineffective.
Can we be as geeky with saints we are with superheroes? As knowledgeable of doctrine as we might be with Doctor Who? Are we willing to enter into the world of holiness as much as we are the Hunger Games? Or as devoted to prayer as we are to pop culture?
But here is the real challenge for an amusement-addicted culture: are we willing to allow times of “boredom” with God in our spiritual lives, as He detoxes us from the constant stimulation of superficial entertainment, so that He can lead us to a place of deeper intimacy? Of course, the spiritual life is not actually “boring.” As Fr. Thomas Dubay once wrote, “People who are in love are never bored.” But a life of prayer is not seductive, titillating, or entertaining. And if that’s all we’re used to, then spending time with God can be very difficult indeed.
A geek is someone who is not only over-the-top passionate about something, but also over-the-top passionate about sharing that with others. If that’s an accurate definition, then I think it’s appropriate to call the Apostles and all the saints as “geeks.” The question before us is, are we willing to be one as well?
If I can paraphrase the call to the “new evangelization:” we are all called to be geeks for Jesus. And while I don’t mind that people know I collect comic books, enjoy science-fiction, or play role playing games, what I really want to be known for is being a Jesus geek.
Quick note: I’m the guest on “Franciscan University Presents” and the topic is “Benedict XVI and the New Evangelization.” I haven’t seen it yet but it felt pretty good in the studio when we taped it. For those of you who’d like to see the “professorial” side of me, tune in to EWTN on Tuesday, July 3rd at 1 PM and again Thursday, July 5th at 5 PM.