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Many modern people have the notion that the principal mission of the Catholic Church is to impose belief on unbelievers.
BY Mark Shea
Many modern people have the notion that the principal mission of the
Catholic Church is to impose belief on unbelievers. The reality is that most of
its time is spent trying to restrain belief in everything from spoon-bending to
the aliens who allegedly speak to us through a cat in Poughkeepsie.
riptides and cross-currents of religious enthusiasm in American culture are
kaleidoscopic and dizzying. Cradle Catholics can be forgiven for just ignoring
the whole thing and many of them do. But it’s still worth taking into account
because some religious trends can have decided real-world effects.
the effects of unrestrained belief can be amusing.
instance, after five centuries of being told by Protestant polemicists that we
“Romanists” do not trust the saving grace of Jesus Christ and ignorantly seek
salvation by the works of the law, it is a weird thing for a Catholic to see
the spectacle of kooky apocalyptic Protestants eagerly excited about the birth
of red heifers because this will (they hope) be the prelude to rebuilding the
Temple of Solomon and the re-institution of the Mosaic sacrificial system. Just
how that Temple will be rebuilt when the Dome of the Rock is situated on the
site of the Temple is not quite as clearly worked out.
brings me to something just as kooky, but less amusing.
James Dobson, a leading Evangelical and a usually sensible man, hosted on his
show one Joel Rosenberg, author of something called Epicenter: Why
Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future.
Rosenberg claims to know “what the Bible says” about what is happening in the
Mideast and is not shy about making “predictions regarding the fate of the
Middle East regarding issues such as Iran’s nuclear threats against Israel, the
arms race and ultimately ... Armageddon.” Here’s a snippet:
“Well, Joel, let’s explain to everybody how Ezekiel 38 turns out, because
Israel is about to be attacked, and a huge number of troops from Russia and
Iran are coming toward Israel to destroy it, and what happens?”
“Well, God is going to move. You won’t find in the Scriptures that the United
States is coming to rescue Israel or the European Union, but God says he is going
to supernaturally intervene — we’re talking about fire from heaven, a massive
earthquake, diseases spreading through the enemy forces. It is going to be such
a clear judgment against the enemies of Israel that Ezekiel 39 says that it
will take seven months to bury all the bodies of the slain enemies of Israel. “
Such standard-issue Evangelical prophetic
cocksureness is an excellent example of why a magisterium is so useful and
does the magisterium help us know what is essential to the faith, it also helps
us remain free of what is unessential. For the various species of
Protestantism, in addition to denying real biblical truths such as the Real
Presence or infant baptism, also have a tendency to invent “biblical truths”
that do not exist and impose them by means of a sort of cultural pressure via
charismatic preachers with pet theories who, in their own sphere, are granted
an infallibility the Pope could never dream of.
Catholic is quite free to have a kooky private reading of Ezekiel 38-39 as a
prophecy of the “coming resurgent Soviet Union” and its alliance with Muslims,
communist Chinese or whoever, all in a vast Cecil B. DeMille battle against
Israel. The Church has all sorts of room for eccentrics, and everybody needs a
Catholic is not free to go around telling everybody that “this is the clear
teaching of the Bible” and demand it be believed. For the fact is, this kooky
theory is emphatically not the clear teaching of the Bible, nor does it have
any sanction whatsoever from the Church, the tradition, the Fathers, the
councils or the popes. It is a pure novelty we can and should ignore.
should not ignore is Rosenberg’s claim that, “Given the events going on in our
world today, people at the Pentagon, people at the CIA, people at the White
House are asking to sit down and talk about these issues, to understand the
Biblical perspective, because it is uncanny what is happening out there and it
deserves some study.”
that Rosenberg is exaggerating his clout with the big cheeses in DC. I doubt
that the Pentagon’s intel meetings are dominated by exegeses of Ezekiel 38.
But I do
think it matters if a significant portion of the American polity drinks in such
bizarre theories as if they were God’s revealed Truth.
have consequences, especially crazy ones. Most crazy ideas do no harm.
ideas about the Middle East, backed by the force of arms, stand a better than
average chance of killing millions.
Mark Shea is
senior content editor