by Fr Richard Heilman | March 9, 2016 10:19 am
The Jefferson Bible, was a book constructed by Thomas Jefferson in the later years of his life by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition is especially notable for its exclusion of all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels which contain the Resurrection and most other miracles, and passages indicating Jesus was divine.
Jefferson wrote that “Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God.” He called the writers of the New Testament “ignorant, unlettered men” who produced “superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications.” He called the Apostle Paul the “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” He dismissed the concept of the Trinity as “mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” He believed that the clergy used religion as a “mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves” and that “in every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.” And he wrote in a letter to John Adams that “the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
Jefferson, and many of our founding fathers, were Deists. Deism is a heresy in which there is belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.
The sleeping giant of Deism has awakened in our times under a new title: Modernism. And, it is striking a devastating blow. Since AD 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, infant baptism has dropped by 28%, adult baptism has dropped by 31%, and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%.
With these latest grim Pew Research findings, Fr. Dwight Longenecker goes on an important rant in his powerful article entitled, “Why Are The Nones Leaving Religion.” You can read the whole thing over there, but this is the heart of the article … I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, so I want to share a portion of Fr. Longenecker’s take on our current situation …
People are leaving religion in droves because it’s not religion anymore. It’s become a charity with meetings on Sundays, and the problem is modernism. Modernism is the idea that the supernatural is out of date and unbelievable. The “de-mythologizers” tried to weed out all the miracles and supernatural elements from the gospels. For the last hundred years their influence has gained in seminaries and pulpits across the world.
Tales of the supernatural had to be removed. They didn’t fit with the modern world. Doctrines about devils and angels, heaven and hell had to be quietly excised from the faith because they were primitive and medieval and incredible to modern folk. Transubstantiation? A pious medieval philosophical explanation of what we all know is really symbolic. Supernatural revelation? No. Religion is all man made. Miracles? We know they don’t really happen.
Religious leaders–and I mean Catholics and Protestants alike–turned the Christian religion into an organization that does good works. Instead of the wondrous bread of heaven they were content to hand out Wonder Bread. Instead of the feeding of the five thousand they spoke about the “real miracle” being the fact that everyone shared their lunch.
All the religious talk stayed in place but it was re-interpreted. Father Wooly and Pastor Fuzzy proclaimed on Easter Day, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” but what they meant was “in some way the wonderful teachings of Jesus continued to be believed by his faithful followers. They said every Sunday that they believed in the Virgin Birth but what they meant was that “Mary was a very nice girl who was very courageous as she went through with her crisis pregnancy.” And so forth. And so on.
For Catholics? The necessity of the sacraments and a life of repentance and faith? Nah. You only had to go to Mass if you really wanted to. Lay people who were married were just as able to be holy as priests and nuns. Confession? That’s only for people with low self-esteem. Marriage? We can be flexible on that. It’s all about mercy after all.
Well, people aren’t dumb. They concluded that if religion was really only about peace and justice and social work, then why did one have to get up early and go to church and sing dreary hymns and listen to a long, badly prepared homily? Why go to church anyway? If it was really only about social work, then why the early weekend pep talk with music? Why not sleep in?
In an article by Bishop Robert Barron, entitled, “What Makes the Church Grow,” Bishop Barron pointed to an article written by the editor of the official webpage of the Catholic Church in Germany. “The piece,” writes Bishop Barron, “was breathtaking in its arrogance and cultural condescension. The author’s take on the surprisingly rapid pace of Christianity’s growth in Africa? Well, the level of education in Africa is so low that the people accept easy answers to complex questions. His assessment of the explosion in vocations across Africa? Well, the poor things don’t have many other avenues of social advancement; so they naturally gravitate toward the priesthood.”
Later in Bishop Barron’s article, he writes,
“But something of crucial importance has happened in the years since the Council. The churches that once supported and gave rise to those intellectual leaders have largely fallen into (disuse). Catholicism is withering on the vine in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, and Austria. Meanwhile, the center of gravity for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular has shifted dramatically to the south, especially to the African continent. In 1900, there were about 9 million Christians in all of Africa, but today there are upwards of 500 million, accounting for roughly 45% of the total population of the continent. And these numbers and percentages are likely to grow, since Africa also has one of the fastest rates of population growth in the world. So though it is perhaps still a German instinct to seize the intellectual high-ground and cast a somewhat patronizing gaze at the churches of the developing world, it is easy to understand how the leaders of those churches might remain politely—or not so politely—unwilling to accept criticism from their European colleagues.
I would argue that the German editor has, in point of fact, misdiagnosed the situation rather dramatically. The Church is growing in Africa, not because the people are poorly educated, but because the version of Christianity on offer there is robustly supernatural. As Philip Jenkins and others have shown, African Christianity puts a powerful stress on the miraculous, on eternal life, on the active providence of God, on healing grace, and on the divinity of Jesus.
If such an emphasis is naïve, then every Biblical author, every doctor of the Church, and every major theologian until the nineteenth century was naïve. The reason a supernaturally oriented Christianity grows is that it is congruent with the purposes of the Holy Spirit, and also that it presents something that the world cannot. A commitment to social justice, service of the poor, and environmentalism is obviously praiseworthy, but such a commitment could be made by decent atheists, agnostics, or secularists. Though it follows quite clearly from a supernatural sensibility, it is not, in itself, distinctively Christian. Accordingly, when Christianity collapses into purely this-worldly preoccupations—as it has, sadly, in much of Europe—it rapidly dries up.
Something very similar obtains in regard to the priesthood. I would contend that vocations are thriving in Africa, not because African young men have so few professional options, but precisely because the African theology of the priesthood is unapologetically supernatural. If the priest is basically social worker, psychologist, and activist for justice, as he is, too often, in the European context, he loses any distinctive profile; but if he is mystic, soul doctor, healer, and steward of the mysteries of God, then he will present a compelling and attractive profile indeed.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is a “War on the Supernatural.”
My church (shown below) – St. Mary of Pine Bluff, WI – was built by tenant farmers in the 1800s. They didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but they knew it was absolutely essential to build something that glorified God. Why? Because without such reverence and transcendent beauty, they knew the faith would fade away, and few would believe in the Real Presence any longer.
Well … they were right. Over the past 50 years, a few elites (Deists, Modernists) ran roughshod over the innocent faithful in a campaign to protestantize (or, even, secularize) the Mass, and gut out our churches (St. Mary’s miraculously escaped the wreckovation of the modernists). Now, here we are with less than 30% of Catholics practicing their faith in America. In most places in Europe, it is down to less than 10%. And, in most parishes, those who do attend, do so in their worst recreational attire while they mindlessly grab the host, like they are in some sort of cafeteria line.
As a priest in 2015, I believe THIS is the charge that is set before us in our times, and I am absolutely committed to this restoration of sacred beauty and reverence and everything that lifts our faith to believe and trust in the supernatural power of God!!. This is WAR!! It is a war on the supernatural. There is a growing fervor among Catholics who are choosing to stand against this modernism, with all of its haughty avant-garde pretense, looking down its nose at those who would have the audacity to persevere in their so-called outdated belief in the supernatural. Well, I will not tire in my stand against this insidious infection that has made our beautiful Catholic faith sick! It’s time to restore ourselves to health again; it’s time to restore our belief in the supernatural!
Go HERE, to see what I believe is a very concrete and necessary step to administer the antidote to this poison of secular humanism that has spread inside and outside of our Church.
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