Christianity Isn’t a Suicide Cult

By John Zmirak Published on August 17, 2023

One of the things I was most grateful for as a child was the function of the Church in explaining what on earth Jesus means when He speaks in the gospels. Because what He says sometimes seems utterly puzzling on the surface. He uses hyperbole, parables, paradoxes, and other rhetorical tropes which taken literally are impossible to puzzle out.

We must understand the Old Testament context, balance some statements with others, and weigh our interpretation of what His words mean in a way we do the words of nobody else in history: As commands from almighty God on how we’re to live our lives.

You don’t need to do that when you read the words of Homer, Cicero, or even J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Word “Trinity” Isn’t in the Bible. So What?

That’s why we need an authoritative tradition and institutions to unpack what Jesus means, as much as humanly possible. Millions of Christians in past centuries read the Gospels incorrectly, deriving from them heresies such as Arianism (which claims that Jesus isn’t eternal and divine). The Trinity isn’t stated explicitly in scripture, but is something our ancestors in the faith correctly inferred from what it implied.

Neither is the list of which books are in fact canonical contained in scripture itself; to get that list, you needed a council of bishops to weigh the books and vote on which ones were authentic and inspired. (Sorry, my fellow Catholics, but Tolkien’s aren’t!) And so on. 

Would “Real Christians” Have Hugged it Out with Hitler?

Most importantly for me, growing up, I needed Church authorities to help me explain the places in scripture where the implications of Jesus’ commands seemed impossible or undesirable. I’m grateful that there were people whom I could ask if “Turn the other cheek” meant that it was wrong for my father to fight the Nazis in World War II, for instance. There wasn’t a lot of cheek-turning in evidence when my uncle landed at Normandy. Were those brave young men sinning? Was Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day right to say that the U.S. should have let North Korea conquer and tyrannize the South?

It took the Church generations to work through issues like this one. Many early Christians adopted pacifism, which seemed like the obvious and literal interpretation of Jesus’ words. But where such a reading yielded results which seemed insane, the Church learned to step back and think again. It pointed to Jesus’ interaction with one Roman soldier — whom He blessed and told to act justly. But He didn’t tell the man to quit the Roman army. If He meant to teach universal pacifism, you’d have to wonder why. And was His Father commanding sin when He told the Jews to conquer Canaan?

Likewise, where Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his goods and give them to the poor, was He preaching that private property is evil? That we must hold all goods in common? Again, the obviously destructive real-world effects of such a theory (quite soon, everyone would starve) forced Christians to think again.

Universal Celibacy Would Solve Our Social Problems in 70 Short Years

See also the passage where Jesus praises “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.” Ought we to take that absolutely literally, and head off to the surgeon? Or even a little less literally, and adopt universal celibacy? If Jesus had meant that, He would be calling for the end of the human race — which seems at odds with His Father’s command in the Garden of Eden, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In fact, if He had meant that, the right conclusion to draw would have been, “This was not the Messiah.”

Indeed, one of the most important tests of our “obvious” readings of what Jesus seems to mean is whether our reading would set Jesus diametrically against His Father’s previous Revelation in the Old Testament.

The first and most dangerous heresy the Church ever faced was that of Marcion — who claimed that the “Old Testament God” and his commands were those of a lesser, harsh, and unlovable tyrant, from whom Christ came to set all of us free. Progressive Christians love this heresy, and practice it all the time, the better to remake Jesus as a Utopian, touchy-feely lifestyle coach in a rainbow caftan. He wouldn’t insist on the moral demands of Leviticus (or even St. Paul); He was all about “inclusion.”

Progressive Pharisees on Facebook

I write all this as background to a debate I had on Facebook with a Progressive Christian. Sadly, after he saw that I was getting the better of the argument, he went back and deleted his comments. But they’re worth reconstructing, and addressing to flesh out this point. I’d posted the following:

Remember that “love your enemies” means desiring their eternal salvation. And NOTHING ELSE. It DOESN’T mean wishing their worldly success or happiness — not if those rest on their freedom to go on doing evil. You can love your enemy while you lock him up for violating the law, or execute him for capital crimes. The one way you WOULDN’T show love for him would be to affirm him in his sins. THAT aids his eternal damnation.

To this, some helpful soul weighed in to pretty much this effect: That’s not how I read the Gospel. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. That means if they need food, or shelter, or a place to stay, I have to provide them. No questions asked, no context relevant, and no matter how destructive or insane are the implications of claiming that almighty God insists that we act this way. I’m too pure to consider such things.

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This “Red Letter Christian” seemed pretty proud of himself for trying to “live the Gospel radically.” (By the way, when someone claims to be doing that, it’s time to lose his phone number.) I thought of all sorts of sensible objections to what he said. I almost asked if he’d feel obliged to let his daughter’s rapist live in his house, if that’s what the rapist needed.

But I didn’t bother. I was sure that I was dealing with a poser, who’d call the cops immediately if I trespassed on his front lawn. You know the type: Martha’s Vineyard liberals who vote for open borders, then call in the National Guard at the first sight of an immigrant who isn’t trimming their yards. 

There’s no point in arguing with people like this. In fact, it’s almost cruel, or at best like Kramer on Seinfeld defeating 11-year-olds at Judo.

Let’s Try Not to Slander God, Okay?

But the back and forth provoked some interesting reflections. If we believe that loving someone doesn’t mean first (and second, and third) desiring his eternal salvation, but instead making him comfortable and sparing him any suffering … what does that say about God? God lets us suffer. Sometimes He even commands it, as part of the purpose of saving us or others. Is He being unloving at moments like that? Was the Father unloving of Jesus when He sent Him to the cross?

Or are we to take a completely opposite approach to God’s? Let Him worry about folks’ salvation, which is far above our paygrade. If loving your enemies means making them happy here on earth, regardless of the cost to innocent third parties — Hitler would have been happier if he’d won World War II — and without any reference to their eternal salvation then … loving your enemies is a really stupid idea. It’s childish, shallow, and false.

If that were Christianity, I’d persecute it myself. And that’s how I know that it isn’t. It’s how the Church knew it, too.

 

John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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