Fr. Barron Eviscerates Dandy Andy

It’s Easter, so naturally it’s time for idiocy like Newsweek’s cover story written by Andrew Sullivan.  It looks like Sullivan has added theologian to his list of other professions, which include pundit and gynecologist.  It’s about what you’d expect from the combination of Newsweek and Sullivan.  Christianity is dying and it’s because of all those stuffed-shirts who have distorted Jesus’s message.

Fr. Barron is on the case, and he completely dismantles Sullivan.  A few highlights:

The solution Sullivan proposes is a repristinizing of Christianity, a return to its roots and essential teachings. And here he invokes, as a sort of patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, who as a young man literally took a straight razor to the pages of the New Testament and cut out any passages dealing with the miraculous, the supernatural, or the resurrection and divinity of Jesus.

The result of this Jeffersonian surgery is Jesus the enlightened sage, the teacher of timeless moral truths concerning love, forgiveness and non-violence. Both Jefferson and Sullivan urge that this Christ, freed from churchly distortions, can still speak in a liberating way to an intelligent and non-superstitious audience.

As the reference to Jefferson should make clear, there is nothing particularly new in Sullivan’s proposal. The liberation of Jesus the wisdom figure from the shackles of supernatural doctrine has been a preoccupation of much of the liberal theology of the last 200 years.

The Jefferson “Bible” is, if nothing else, an impressive work of art.  Jefferson took passages from Scripture written in English, Latin, Greek, and French.  He carefully pasted the passages side-by-side.  It’s an awesome display of craftsmanship.  Of course it completely distorts the life and mission of Christ and turns our Lord and Saviour into nothing more than a wise philosopher.  It’s a good representation of Jefferson’s uber-rationalistic mindset, and part of an extended effort to de-fang the real Christ.

Fr. Barron has more.

The first problem with this type of theorizing is that it has little to do with the New Testament. As Jefferson’s Bible makes clear, the excision of references to the miraculous, to the resurrection, and to the divinity of Jesus delivers to us mere fragments of the Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were massively interested in the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus and they were positively obsessed with his dying and rising. The Gospels have been accurately characterized as “passion narratives with long introductions.”

Further, the earliest Christian texts that we have are the epistles of St. Paul, and in those letters that St. Paul wrote to the communities he founded, there are but a tiny handful of references to the teaching of Jesus. What clearly preoccupied Paul was not the moral doctrine of Jesus, but the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Indeed, by removing the miracles and resurrection from the account of Jesus’s life you’ve almost completely stripped his mission of any meaning.

And this leads to the second major problem with a proposal like Sullivan’s. It offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be. It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable.

Go back to Peter’s sermon for a moment. “You killed him,” said the chief of Jesus’s disciples. The “you” here includes the power structures of the time, both Jewish and Roman, which depended for their endurance in power on their ability to frighten their subjects through threats of lethal punishment.

“But God raised him.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the clearest affirmation possible that God is more powerful than the corrupt and violent authorities that govern the world — which is precisely why the tyrants have always been terrified of it. When the first Christians held up the cross, the greatest expression of state-sponsored terrorism, they were purposely taunting the leaders of their time: “You think that frightens us?”

The opening line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: “beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). “Good news” (euangelion in Mark’s Greek) was a term used to describe an imperial victory. The first Christian evangelist is saying, not so subtly, that the real good news hasn’t a thing to do with Caesar.

Rather, it has to do with someone whom Caesar killed and whom God raised from the dead. And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as the “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus, “Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor. Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar.

Again and again, Sullivan says that he wants a Jesus who is “apolitical.” Quite right — and that’s just why the cultural and political leaders of the contemporary West will be perfectly at home with his proposal. A defanged, privatized, spiritual teacher poses little threat to the status quo.

This is a great passage, and one of the reasons that Fr. Barron is truly a treasure.  I love how he completely turns around Sullivan’s argument and makes him the champion of the status quo.  It’s a really great insight, and one that completely sticks it to Dr. Sullivan.  Well played.

(Thanks RL for the tip.)

25 Responses to Fr. Barron Eviscerates Dandy Andy

  • Sullivan should stick to subjects where he’s less likely to embarrass himself.

    Such as gynecology.

  • CS Lewis put paid to the notion of Jesus as only a great sage for any one who is intellectually honest:

    “Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

    One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

    Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

    I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

  • One quibble, Jefferson was an old man when he made his cut and paste Bible. This was the culmination of a lifetime of thinking, not a whim of youth.

  • An elderly Jefferson attempting to edit the Gospels to remove the supernatural has always struck me as either inexpressibly silly or inexpressibly sad. Tom Jefferson, on occasion, was the wisest of the Founding Fathers, and on other occasions the daffiest.

  • I am afraid that Thomas Jefferson was an alcoholic and probably had become senile. Jefferson’s bible cutting probably resulted from his trying to make his concept of God fit the Sacred Scripture. How sad.

  • Mary, I doubt the senile alcoholic bit very much. I worked on the recent conservation of the bible. So I’ve examined it first hand. Only someone very lucid and dexterous could have meticulously put that book together as he did. As for his motivation, he was a complex man with many contradictions. I thing you are right about making the Bible fit his views. One of the curators suggested that Jefferson cutting up the Bible was comparable to marking up your own copy with your favorite passages underlined. I don’t buy that line of reasoning. He was making a bold statement even if he intended for the book to be for his own private use.

  • Yeah, there is no evidence that Jefferson was either an alcoholic or senile. In fact letters from his latter years reveal a rather sharp mind into his 80s. His “bible” is a reflection of long-held religious views. The man was a radical, and I don’t think it was the vino that made him one.

  • Jefferson did not call his editing of the Bible a bible. I wonder what his own statements were in response to people’s reactions to his book.
    The title he gave it was “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”… which could have been an effort to see what mere mortals can learn from Jesus about how to live– an early version of WWJD. I read that somewhere a long time ago. I don’t know his motives but it does seem plausible.
    He was, I think, an immensely practical man, curious and intelligent– and perhaps he wasn’t discounting the miracles but wanted to see in a graphic way what he could learn from Jesus that could be applied to his own life –

  • From Jefferson’s letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803:

    The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.
    1.He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.
    2.His moral doctrines, relating to kindred & friends, were more pure & perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.
    3.The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

    Jefferson also challenged the veracity Gospel and Epistle writers, noting that they wrote long after Christ had departed from the Earth. Christ was unable to write about his own life, and thus his teachings have been distorted through the years. Jefferson held that Paul had distorted the teachings of Christ. In Jefferson’s view, Paul was a “Platonist who had brought beclouding mysticism to Jesus’ clear moral teachings.”

    Jesus discounted the miracles and the resurrection not because he wanted to highlight Jesus’s teachings, but because he thought the supernatural elements of Christ’s life were just myth.

  • Thank You– there it is from the horse’s (Jefferson”s) mouth– I was wondering– I appreciate your response! I always want to see people in what I think is a good light– sometimes it’s just not that way

  • Of course, what Sullivan really wants is what most post-moderns want – a Jesus who will ratify gay marriage, contraception, fornication, women’s rights, and the rest of the leftist egalitarian agenda.

    Christianity brought to the world approximately as much egalitarianism as it could possibly handle without falling apart, summed up by St. Paul in Galatians (and I paraphrase): neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave or free, but all one in Christ. And yet in spite of this spiritual and moral truth, St. Paul recognizes slaves and masters, husbands and wives, as distinct and necessary parts of the social order with specific duties and obligations towards one another.

    It takes a mind unclouded by fanatical rage and envy to understand how it is possible to have a society in which there simultaneously exists a hierarchy and a concept of equality and how these work together to maintain peace and harmony. Such minds are an increasingly rare commodity. And so there is an attempt to re-cast Jesus as a 1st century Che Guevara, or at least a 1st century American liberal-Democrat, a milquetoast little nothing of a man who had no strong opinions on anything and simply lived and let live.

    No one can read the Gospels and honestly agree with these people.

  • The late greatest Catholic theologian the United States has ever produced Cardinal Avery Dulles (son of Secretary of State under Eisenhower and namesake of Dulles International airport on DC John Foster Dulles) has an excellent article on the whole issue of Deism and the Founding Fathers:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/the-deist-minimum–28

    …and in it he gives some great insights into Jefferson.

  • Thank you Fr Barron. It was Jesus rising from the dead that has made the church what it is after 2000 years. What you wrote has once again made me feel liberated being a Catholic. Keep up the good work. God bless.

  • I read the Newsweek article carefully (as I’m sure the rest of you did), and didn’t come away with the feeling that Sullivan was calling for a revision or a stripping down of the New Testament to mere moral teachings, but rather was using Jefferson’s cut-up Bible as a mental exercise to get us to think about what Jesus said (and didn’t say), without the trappings of current political contexts and what politicians and get-rich evangelists are doing to Christianity. What did Jesus actually SAY about homosexuality? What did he SAY about marriage? What did he SAY about family values? What did he SAY about gay marriage? And what DIDN’T he say about these things?

    In fact, (as you all know, because you all read it; but it’s strange no one mentioned it above), most of the Newsweek article is about Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint F. took the words of Jesus to heart: he renounced his inheritance, gave away everything he had, and sought to serve others without ever having any power over them. He was humble. Winsome. ‘The lesser brother’. And the reluctant founder of an order that lasts to this day.

    Now contrast Saint Francis to our leaders and would-be leaders of today. They gain votes by spouting supposedly Biblical positions on inflammatory topics. But what do they want? To serve Christ in humility? To feed the poor and help the suffering? Or, maybe, just maybe, they want power. And cash. And food for their sizable egos.

    “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • There is merit in the intellectual exercise of examining Jesus’s teachings and life stripped of the supernatural. Jesus is a clever speaker, a provocateur, a gadfly, who reminds me of Socrates in Athens. But Jesus’s teachings and life stripped of the supernatural probably puts Jesus into the company of the top 100 philosophers. Still pretty impressive, but He’s not special without the supernatural. Jefferson’s Bible shows us that Jesus, without God, is impressive, but not enough. I’m glad Jefferson did this.

  • Thank you Father Barron!
    More Catholics need to learn from and follow his example!

  • I don’t waste eyesight or time reading the noisome opinions and grammar-appropriate rantings in Newsweek or from Sullivan (that is since March 2003 when he termed Pope John Paul II’s opposition to the Iraq invasion, “traditional, Catholic anti-semitism” – they fired the Derb for far less).

    “Twain, “If you don’t read the papers, you are uninfrmed. If you read the papers, you are misinformed.”

    I prayerfully spent the commuting days of Lent reading through the four Gospels, twice. I say, “prayerfully” because I read them in order to learn what Christ taught; to recall that through His Life, Death and Resurrection He purchased for me eternal life; and to amend my life as necessary.

    The purpose of the Gospels is to save souls, NOT to justify worldly opinion.

  • I didn’t read it either, but I did see Sullivan’s Easter morning appearance with Jake Tapper talking about this– I was irked. That seems to be pretty much my condition lately.

  • John 12: 30 – 33, Our Lord says, “Now is the time for ths world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown. When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (In saying this He indicated the kind of death He was going to suffer.)

  • I will not be surprised if someone levels a charge of “hate crime” against Fr. Barron. After all, Mr. Sullivan is a man with same-sex attraction, and we all know one cannot disagree with a person with same-sex attraction without being called a “homophob.”

  • Personally, I’ll accept the Bible in its present form which has survived around 1700 years of criticism by scientist and theologian alike rather than succumb to a revisionist interpretation composed by a handful of political egotists looking to substantiate their own agendas…!!!

  • Mrs. Zummo: Thank you for the information. I believe you are correct, especially with hands on experience. Thomas Jefferson tried to separate the Son of God from the Son of Man, the hypostatic union, Christ from Christ’s divinity. Thomas Jefferson could not have been saved if Jesus was not God. May Thomas Jefferson rest in peace seeing the God-man in all His glory.

  • Jason: Every practicing homosexual came into our world through a mother and a father, and the homosexual practicioner’s parents want grandchildren. How hateful is it in not giving his parents grandchildren? “Honor your father and your mother that you shall be long-lived upon the face of the earth”. If Father Barron, a spiritul father of multitudes out lives Dandy Andy, it will not be because Father Barron did not give Dandy Andy the TRUTH to live by. Long live Father Robert Barron.

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