Thursday, March 8, 2012

Proud to Be a Cretin: Justice Scalia & the Foolishness of Christianity

Here we are, fools for Christ's sake – 1 Corinthians 4:10

At the Living the Catholic Faith Conference this past weekend in Denver Colorado, I had the opportunity to hear Justice Scalia address a crowd of over 500 enthusiastic Catholics. I was not sure what to expect from one of the most influential Catholics in the country. Scalia has a son who is a priest, so I assumed his faith would be alive. But I wondered if it would be the dry faith of a powerful intellectual or a faith that would inspire. It turned out to be the latter.

Scalia began his talk by considering the etymology of the word cretin and pointing out that the origins of the word may have derived from the French word for Christian, chretien. And truly, Scalia pointed out, members of Christianity, from the beginning of its history, have been considered fools for believing such things as miracles, particularly the miracle of the Resurrection. But Scalia retorted that it isn’t irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses to miracles. “What is irrational,” he said, “is to reject a priori, with no investigation, the possibility of miracles in general and of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in particular — which is, of course, precisely what the worldly wise do.”

Jefferson believed he was the Fifth Evangelist
Scalia then went on to discuss the roots of this scorn for deep faith, even in the United States, a country that is widely considered to be deeply Christian from its very beginning. But Scalia pointed out that even among our Founding Fathers, this scorn for anything without sound rational basis (in their opinion) was evident. Thomas Jefferson, a son of the Enlightenment, once revised the Gospels to “remove the gold from the dross.” Jefferson was convinced that the Gospels had some worthy information and some information that was added later by his superstitious “biographers.” Jefferson’s version of the life of Jesus removed the miracles, included some of Jesus’ ethical teachings but then ended abruptly with Jesus’ death and the stone rolling over the tomb.

Scalia then went on to talk about a more modern example of the blindness of rationalism gone too far. A priest near his home in DC was discovered to have the stigmata and statues would weep when he was near them. A Washington Post reporter witnessed the statue weeping and could only say, “There’s gotta be a trick here.” Scalia asked the crowded room why non-believers don’t flock to places like this to verify for themselves. The answer is obvious he said, “The wise do not investigate such silliness.”

The wise do not investigate such things as the Resurrection or miracles because they believe they are informed enough about the world to know that such things are impossible. Therefore, they assume that people who actually believe in such things are foolish and peasant-like. But they base their beliefs, not on investigation, but on flat out rejection of the possibility.

I can certainly relate to this arrogance. When I was not a Christian, I disdained Christianity and believed that Christians were ignorant just because their views did not fit in with my world view. This type of thinking is rampant in our society and is only too evident with discussion regarding such things as the Catholic view of contraception or Christian beliefs regarding homosexuality. The point of view of the wise is that only bigoted idiots would believe the things we believe. There can be no other explanation in the minds of the worldly wise. The Christian point of view warrants no investigation, and absolutely no further thought. To even suggest to someone that they read what the Church writes on these subjects is seen as kindly suggesting that they consider becoming a homophobic, women-hater. Our point of view is not even thought of as rational enough to be considered.

Scalia ended by talking about St. Thomas More, a man who died to defend a corrupt Church and papacy, considered by many, including his wife, to be a fool for accepting martyrdom. More gave his life because he refused to sign an oath that disparaged the pope and Henry VII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Scalia pointed out that the pope during the time of More was one of the least reputable popes in history and yet, More saw beyond the current circumstances and believed in the permanence of the Church that Jesus established.

As Scalia’s talk came to a close, he said to the crowded room, “I hope to impart to you the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity.”  Of all the people to impart this message, perhaps it was best imparted by one of the most brilliant, powerful Catholics in the United States. As Scalia left the room, followed by several Secret Service agents, the pride in the room was palpable. We were all ready to accept derision and scorn for our Christian faith. 

We were ready to be fools for Christ.

As this Lent continues, we pray to Jesus that we may have the courage to stand up for the Church’s unpopular stances. And if we do not agree with some of the Church’s teachings, we ask Jesus for the humility to openly investigate and try to understand why the Church teaches what She teaches. Help us to understand the Church’s teachings on every subject –justice for the poor, respect for life from conception to natural death, the priesthood, family and every teaching that will help us to be better Christians.

The worldy wise have only been alive for the past century or less, (usually much less). 

The Church has been alive for over 2,000 years.

Help us Lord to cling to the wisdom of the Church even in the stormy times of derision and scorn.


Anonymous said...

It is too bad that parish priests cannot, or will not, give such a talk...if they did the Church would really become alive and change the world!

tagnes said...

In St Louis, we are blessed to have many priests who are willing to give homilies that challenge people, it is beautiful. But you are right, we need many more! Please Jesus, give your Church more courageous priests.

Anonymous said...

I know a courageous priest - our parish priest preached on the HHS Mandate and was absolutely on fire, receiving applause at the end. Great post, - and so timely.

Anonymous said...

Gosh! Will he have to recuse himself when the freedom of Religion law suits against HHS get tp the SCOTUS.Wish I had been there to hear that! Give us more Courageous Catholics.