CLARIFYING OUR FAITH IS
ESPECIALLY URGENT NOW
“Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.”
So says the immortal Bart Simpson, TV’s most enduringly obnoxious child. And while he rather overstates the case, he does have a point.
In a certain sense, everybody’s a Christian at Christmas.
You can dismiss that as merely the effect of social pressure and commercialism. Avoiding the materialist frenzy that dominates this season is all but impossible, given shopping, decorations, Christmas music, and other festival trappings.
But the heart of this pervasive holiday atmosphere remains the image of the Baby Jesus.
And that means: faith.
Whether or not the ACLU has banished the crèche from the town square, Christmas demands that we give some regard to the symbols and practices of Christianity. In doing so, we are prodded to consider what it is we believe.
Other occasions point us in the direction of faith. I recall how the horrifying events of 9/11 gripped the nation’s collective soul. You could hardly find standing room in churches across the country, as people revisited their most elemental convictions in search of courage and reassurance (in some cases, for the first time since childhood).
It reminded one of the old wartime quip about how there are no atheists in foxholes.
This year we’ve received another frightening call to reexamine faith. It has finally dawned on the public at large that Islamist jihad is real and we face an imminent, existential threat.
A Rasmussen poll released last week showed that…
“60 percent of likely U.S. voters believe the U.S. is at war with ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ while only 24 percent disagree and 16 percent are undecided.”
High time, I dare say. This war has been going on in one fashion or another since the Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran in 1979. It’s entered its most overt phase with the atrocities of ISIS.
The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have made it clear that the jihadists know what they believe. As British journalist John R. Bradley puts it…
“They are fired up by a fantasy of returning the world to how they imagine it was during the lifetime of their Prophet more than 1,400 years ago.
“Their motivation for unbridled violence is as simple as it is portentous: to eradicate, or enslave, all of the world’s population that does not subscribe to their extremist interpretation of Islam.”
Catholic author and blogger, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a keen cultural observer, sees our situation like that of Indiana Jones. You remember the climactic scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indy’s father has been shot and the Nazi agent, Walter Donovan, says…
“It’s time to ask yourself what you believe, Dr. Jones.”
At that moment Indy transcends a lifetime of scholarly doubt and detachment, screws up his courage, draws upon his knowledge of the Bible, and picks his way through a series of deadly booby-traps to retrieve the Holy Grail that can save his father’s life.
Fr. Longenecker isn’t making light of the current world situation by tossing off some flip pop-culture allusion. Actually, he sees things as rather grim, observing that it’s…
“pretty clear that our own president has no intention of engaging with ISIS in any muscular way, and his reluctance to do so only adds weight to those who believe he has been an Islamic sympathizer from the beginning.”
But Father emphasizes that the challenge we face is spiritual as well as tactical. Writing on the Catholic blog portal, Patheos, he insists…
“…the need to ask ourselves what we believe is more important than simply asking ourselves whether we think ISIS should be eliminated.
“We in the West must also ask ourselves what we believe about our own religion, our world view, our concept of God, the world, time and everything. Is tolerant, indifferent, materialistic secularism strong enough to confront real evil in the world?
“Is self indulgent, morally lax, hedonistic atheism really strong enough to stand up to irrational, fascist ideologies?”
He gives his answer…
“Radical Islam will not be defeated by milquetoast, lily livered liberalism. It will not be defeated by an atheistic ideology of cowardice disguised as tolerance.
“Radical Islam will only be defeated by Radical Christianity. However, radical Christianity is not the same as Radical Islam — just substituting a cross for the crescent.
“Instead Radical Christianity is a religion of radical, self sacrificial love, justice, beauty, goodness and peace.”
Fr. Dwight’s message is not to be ignored — and it’s not easy. He’s calling for courage, yes. But more importantly, he’s calling for clarity.
What do we believe — each of us, in our own hearts?
Christmas is a good time to ask that question. The Baby Jesus would like to know.
A holiday recommendation…
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an interesting and creative guy. He’s one of that batch of Anglican priests who’ve crossed the Tiber to the Catholic Church with wives and children in tow.
He’s also a widely published author, and if you’re in need of last-minute Christmas gifts, I would heartily suggest his fictional pairing, The Gargoyle Code and Slubgrip Instructs.
These books update the scenario which British Christian writer C.S. Lewis explored in his Screwtape Letters. As in the Lewis classic, Fr. Dwight presents an aspiring devil who receives instruction on how to exploit the weaknesses (or even the supposed strengths) of Christian believers in order to subvert belief and the Church.
Father’s writing is witty, clever and incisive. And these books are an easy-to-digest introduction to Christian thinking in light of current conditions. Check them out at your local Catholic bookstore, or online at…
Meanwhile, read Fr. Dwight’s entire reflection on radical Islam’s challenge to faith at Patheos…
Writing in Catholic World Report, another priestly author, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., retired political philosophy professor at Georgetown University, provides a thought-provoking analysis of ISIS’s strategy for imposing its uniquely barbaric style of Islam on the West…