I have started reading through a recently published book called Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society. It is an anthology of the writings of Joseph Sobran (1946-2010), long-time editor at National Review and a keen observer of culture and its intersection with faith. I recommend it highly, for its penetrating observations and its sober portrait of what happens when we remove Christianity from our culture, the same Christianity that was fundamental in our making.
I’d like to present just a short passage from the first article in the book, and then add some feeble comments of my own. I’m sure that as I read through the articles I will post more reflections, but for today, I offer just this brief meditation.
Sobran writes beautifully of the strange resistance that the world has for Christ:
Great as Shakespeare is, I never lose sleep over anything he said … By the same token nobody ever feels guilty about anything Plato or Aristotle said … We aren’t tempted to resist them as we are tempted to resist Christ (Subtracting Christianity pp. 1-2).
I have often pondered the world’s special hatred for and resistance to Christ and His Body, the Church; it is unparalleled. Few of the Protestant denominations experience this hatred. The Buddhists don’t seem to be subject to it, nor do the Muslims even despite all the recent terrorism.
There is almost a knee-jerk, visceral reaction to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church that is so over the top, so irrational, that one has to marvel at it. The world doth protest too much. Why?
Is it fear? Perhaps. But the Church is not powerful enough to “force our views” on everyone, as some who hate us say we do.
There is no rational explanation for the intense fear and hatred of the world for Christ and Catholicism except to echo the words of Christ Himself:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without cause’ (Jn 15:18-25).
Yes, they hated Him without cause—at least any rational cause. For indeed, there must be a cause. But it is so irrational and hateful that I surmise it must be that Satan himself is interacting with our flesh. Satan hates Christ in a way that he doesn’t hate Mohammed, or Luther, or Deepak Chopra. Christ is a true threat, so Satan rages. And the world and flesh draw from this rage and fear.
Think I’m exaggerating? Try to get excerpts from the Quran studied in public school and the reaction is almost non-existent. But try to get a gospel studied and the lawsuits and public outrage are nearly instantaneous. Why do the “Christmas wars” target not only nativity sets and Santa (who, by the way, is a secular remake of St. Nicholas), but now even the colors red and green? Talk about excessive and over-the-top; the rage and fear is out of control!
Sobran says it well: Christ makes people lose sleep in ways that others do not. His words and teachings touch a core that others never do. That the world bristles is a compliment. Jesus Christ has to be taken seriously. You may be mad, or sad, or glad, but no one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged or merely “informed.” His words have an authority that demand a response. And the world seems to know this and thus bristles at Jesus. Some love Him, some hate Him, but few are neutral to Him.
Ask yourself, “Why is this so?” Could it be that Christ really is who He says He is: Lord and God? Could it be that it is His voice echoing in your conscience? Call this the argument from irrational hatred and fear. Rank it up there with the argument from motion or the argument from design. This strange, irrational, and excessive fear; this anger toward and even hatred of Christ attests to the truth of His claims to be the One whom we will either love or hate. We cannot serve two masters (cf Mat 6:24).
Shakespeare doesn’t make you lose sleep, neither does Plato or Aristotle. Why is that?
To every secularist and atheist, I direct these questions: Why do you protest Christ and His Church so much? Why do you exaggerate our power? If we really are irrelevant, if our “day is over” and we are laughably outdated, then why the fear, anger, and protest? Do our “myths” scare you? But if they are mere myths, then why the fear and protest? Why don’t you direct the same wrath at Buddha? Is it that still, small voice in your conscience?
What is it? Why your sleepless wrath?
Sobran observes the odd spectacle of greater intensity for Christ from his opponents than his friends in these words:
Sometimes I think the anti-Christian forces take Christ more seriously than most nominal Christians do…[Indeed] Such a strong and unique personality [as Christ had] could only meet strong and unique resistance. That is why Christians shouldn’t resent the resistance of those who refuse to celebrate his birth [and protest us doing so]. In their way, these people are his witnesses too. (Ibid pp 7-8)
9 Replies to “Whence Comes the Special Resistance to Christ? A Meditation on a Teaching from Joseph Sobran”
Well said Msgr. Pope. And thanks for the book recommendation.
I’ve wondered about this irrationality of the opponents of Christ and His Church, and have seen it among some of my relatives- God bless them. Without exception, they adhere zealously to some brand of socialist politics and are also greatly misinformed about history.
A year or so ago I found insight into the opponents of the Church in Wisdom ch. 2: “For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves: ‘short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to it’s end…Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist as in our youth…Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions, he reproaches us…Let us test him with insult and torture…’ “
Interesting! Sounds exactly like the sort of book I like to read. I’ll get it, although I see Amazon doesn’t have it yet.
I have often thought this myself, especially with the Catholic Church. In “Faith of Our Fathers”, Cardinal James Gibbons writes that the only thing that unites the thousands of Christian denominations is their hatred of Catholicism. Maybe this is extreme, but it has often made me wonder why evangelical Protestants are so tolerant of each other’s differences but don’t consider Catholics as ‘real’ Christians. But again, the ancient enemy of Christ has incited this hatred against the Catholic Church.
It is indeed so frustrating that Christian Fundamentalist, Protestants and Media hate the Catholics and the Catholic Church for what it stands for and for its faith. The divisions among the Christians is the scandal that is the stumbling block for those in other religions to come in to the Church, saying that, ‘if you Christians cannot unite in your beliefs, how dare you evangelize us?’
‘There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.’ Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the 70’s.
LORD, may we be good Catholics that we may reflect YOUR Image in us, in our lives, actions and speech, that they may know YOU, our SAVIOR. AMEN.
I have been thinking of the same topic lately, and it only convinces me more Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, and the Catholic Church is His Church. “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” — Matthew 12:30 There is no middle ground with Jesus Christ.
Why the World Hates Christianity
Very Pertinent article for our current situation. At this time in the Church’s history, we need to get to the very basics in order to know where we stand, what we love, and what we will fight and die for. Christ has to be the starting point for all of that, then the Church and the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist).
How many of our clerics would say that right now?
We cannot lost the confidence of the Truth, which is Christ and his Church.
Also, please check out my blog for continued dialogue on these and other topics.
Well, the Jews don’t fare much better. No people is completely innocent and sometimes there is just cause for the backlash. But sometimes it really is irrational and it has occurred to me the source of the hatred is envy. But that’s just my take on it.
Thank you for suggesting this book, Monsignor, it is appreciated, especially at this time as this hate directed at Christ and His church is so virulent right now. Such people fear His truth which is a threat to their denial. It never would have occurred to me because even when I was younger and had turned away from the church, I never rejected Christ and could never understand those who attacked Him, had such contempt for Him and the faith, because He is all goodness and love.
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