By JOHN ZMIRAK
Published on January 31, 2017
I’ve often been puzzled when progressive Christians reject 2,000 years of biblical interpretation and apostolic tradition on crucial topics, and instead swallow whole the political, social and moral positions of fashionable secular elites.
I used to conclude that those Christians had cut loose from binding Tradition and the clear sense of Scripture in order to curry favor with the powerful, score dates, avoid government harassment, and generally win friends and influence people. I couldn’t think of any other explanation. So at various times in different venues, I suggested that such people were really adoring the golden calf, pining for the fleshpots of Egypt, whoring after strange gods, eating pork in the Temple, or worshiping Caesar. You get my drift.
Could it be that the core message of Christianity has been buried since the beginning, wrapped tight in a husk of cultural, human accretions? And it’s only now starting to sprout?
But there is one other possibility, which I’d never really considered. And it is worth taking seriously. Maybe, just maybe, progressive thinkers and activists are the best Christians in history. Perhaps the reason that they reject what every previous generation of Christians believed on a long list of subjects is that these people have finally discovered what Jesus really meant by all that He said and did. Maybe that’s the answer! It really could be that the core message of Christianity has been buried since the beginning, wrapped tight in a husk of cultural, human accretions. And it’s only now starting to sprout.
At Last, We Learn from the World What the Church Should Teach
For almost 2,000 years, Christians thoughtlessly allowed their faith to tell them:
That abortion and infanticide are uniquely hideous crimes, which Christians must strive in simple justice to suppress by law. This superstition goes way back, to one of the earliest apostolic books, the Didache. It drove Christians to collect abandoned infants from the walls of Rome, and excommunicate anyone who took part in an abortion.
Now we know, of course that this is wrong. Seamless Garment Christians such as Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich have taught us that abortion is very sad, but no worse really than deporting illegal immigrants or cutting back Medicaid. So we can support politicians who favor unlimited abortion, as long as they’re “better” on other “life issues” such as transgender rights and climate change.
That the death penalty is just, and demanded by God Himself for grave crimes such as murder — not just to protect society, but to serve the State’s role as the “legitimate avenger of crime” here on earth. St. Paul thought that was why the State did not “bear the sword in vain.”
But now we know better, and realize that it was very wrong indeed to hang all those Nazis at Nuremburg (as Pope Pius XII urged), when they could have been safely contained and even rehabilitated. That is why the European Union won’t even allow its member nations to vote on whether to reinstitute the death penalty, though it does let them make laws allowing for child euthanasia, since suffering is the worst thing in the world, and we should commit any “sin” in order to avoid it.
That sex was only blessed by God in a monogamous, male/female marriage.
But now we realize that St. Paul and Leviticus, the popes and councils and Reformers and Great Awakeners were wrong — and the U.S. Supreme Court and the IRS, Hollywood and Buzzfeed are right. For the whole of its history, Christianity (and Judaism before it) has engaged in Pharisaical discrimination against gay people, while deluding itself that there were only two types of human, male and female — when in fact there are more than 40 genders, as we have learned thanks to Facebook.
That Christians should defend the common good, which includes controlling the influx of large numbers of people who might claim the hard-earned wealth of natives by force, replace their culture, or even persecute their religion. Hence early Christians never demanded that the Roman Empire admit the Vandals, Goths, or Huns. Many even served in the army to keep those people out, following the advice of benighted men such as Ambrose and Augustine.
Now we know, thanks to George Soros and the Christian groups he funds, and thanks to bold church leaders like Pope Francis, that this was wrong. We must welcome whoever shows up, in whatever numbers, financially support them, change our laws to suit them — and demonize those who complain about it.
Blessed Are the Prestigious, for They Shall Gain Credibility
Because progressive Christians have been able to grasp all these crucial truths, and see that their ancestors in the faith were so comprehensively wrong about so many crucial subjects, betraying the very essence of the Christian message of healing, love, acceptance, and consolation, there is only one conclusion we can draw: Today’s progressive Christians are the best Christians in history.
They are a much more reliable guide to what the Gospel really means than all those dead people, back in the past. An important Catholic leader, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, made this principle explicit in a recent homily, saying: “Whoever wishes to discover what Jesus wants from him, he must ask the Pope, this Pope, not the one who came before him, or the one who came before that. This present Pope.” Of course, for Protestants this principle requires a little tweak. They should consult whatever Tony Campolo is saying today.
I’m not sure what would explain why the real Christian message stayed buried for so very long — since it’s divine, and was meant to spread like a “fire on the earth.” Nor can I identify which factors precisely freed it. Maybe what liberated Jesus’ message was simple prosperity, since it’s in the wealthiest countries with the most leisure time and best medical care that progressive doctrines are spreading fastest, while poor countries still tend to cling to the old, pre-Christian creed that the missionaries brought them, like hundreds of years ago.
Advanced education at secular schools, or secularized religious schools, also seems to play a part. So do social prestige and acceptance. That would explain why Episcopalians on Park Avenue and Jesuits in Georgetown have been so much more skilled at discovering Jesus’ true message than Pentecostalists in Brazil or bishops in Africa.
To learn the real meaning of Christianity, pay special attention to scholars with advanced degrees from schools that non-Christians respect, and those with large endowments and beautiful campuses. Don’t get confused by spurious appeals to the apparent sense of Scripture, or even the words of Jesus. Remember, as a high school religion teacher once told me, “Jesus didn’t have an M.A. in Theology from Catholic University. I do.”