The Cure for Pokemon Go (and Other E-Slaveries)

2016719-poke7My family and I had just spent a great day on Toronto’s Centre Island last week. We had just stepped off the boat that had taken us back to the harbourfront downtown, when we were confronted by about 2,000 Pokemon Go players, standing around in their virtual world, trying to catch a few more pocket monsters. Most of them were oblivious to the actual people trying to get by them and get home.

Now, the Pokemon Go craze, despite people falling off cliffs and driving off roads while playing, isn’t all bad, I guess. It does get some couch potatoes out of the house and (partially) into the real world. There’s an aspect of cameraderie to it, too. It’s a way to meet new people. But, as I walked by the hordes of folks staring at their screens, completely oblivious to the gorgeous full moon, our breathtaking city skyline on a summer night, or any of the people around them – in short, actual reality. I was reminded of a great article by Christopher Check, President of Catholic Answers, about the “e-slavery”, as he calls it, of our times.

Writing in Catholic Answers Magazine, Check notes, speaking of modern smartphones and other gadgets:

These devices and systems too often deliver, like the contraceptive, the opposite of what they promise. They promise freedom but create dependence. Rather than strengthening human relationships, they make them more trivial and more abstract. They addict us to novelty. Far from making the truth easier to uncover, they make the truth harder to discern. Worst of all, they are obstacles to our relationship with the divine.

The personal, social, cultural, and spiritual costs of living in the Age of Technology are interrelated, and they demand more analysis than a single article can offer, but the reflections of G.K. Chesterton on the technology of his own day provide an excellent point of departure for reconsidering what we have so uncritically welcomed into our lives.

Later, Check comments on a great quote from Chesterton, who, ironically, would have been incredible on Twitter (the platform seems tailor-made for his witty one-liners):

“It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realize that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Proper View of Machines,” Illustrated London News, February 10, 1923).

Not only are our conversations rendered more trivial as we make more use of these devices, but our relationships are similarly rendered more abstract. Face-to-face conversation gave way to telephone chats, which have been replaced by e-mail messages and text shorthand. Hiding behind avatars—which is really nothing more than lying—chat-room and Web-forum members imagine they are building friendships with one another, as they recycle URLs and trade meaningless one-liners.

Check goes on to detail how tech, as incredible and beneficial as it is to our lives, can have deleterious effects on society and on human relationships – even our relationship with God. Do yourself a favour and “check” it out. I’d say pun intended, but let’s face it – puns are always intended!

On the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene: A Visit to Migdal

IMG_20130621_035724On this Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene, I thought I’d let you know about the incredible excavation going on at her hometown – Magdala, known as Migdal in Hebrew. In 2013 and 2014, I had the privilege of visiting the work at Migdal, along with Dr. Craig Evans, Greg Monette, Dwight Crowell and Jesse Richards. Migdal, which was built just next to the Sea of Galilee, is an incredible archaeological find – it’s unique in that the entire first-century town has been unearthed.

During the great Jewish War with Rome (66-70 AD), the citizens of Migdal themselves destroyed their own synagogue – literally bringing down the house upon itself. They did this to prevent it from being desecrated by the Roman army, who either slaughtered Migdal’s inhabitants, or carried them off into slavery.

I took this photo of some of the original mosaic tile found on the synagogue’s floor. In all likelihood, Jesus stepped onto this very floor while preaching in Migdal, during his years of ministry in the Galilee. In all likelihood, this is where Mary of Magdala first heard Jesus’ message, and became a disciple of the Master. This is absolutely unique. In Capernaum (Kafir Nahum), the impressive synagogue that can be seen today is actually a fourth-century structure, built on top of the foundation of the original structure (made of black basalt stone, which can still be seen on the exterior) extant in Jesus’ time.

In Migdal, we are truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Faith Explained Conference Recap!

Clarke&Madrid2016The Faith Explained Conference: Search and Rescue conference this summer was a great success! Hundreds gathered at Saint Joseph’s High School in Mississauga (in the greater Toronto area) to hear Patrick Madrid, Cardinal Thomas Collins, and yours truly talk about how to bring friends and family who have left the Catholic Church back home. Patrick’s the distinguished looking, mustachioed guy on the right (I call him the Catholic Church’s answer to Tom Selleck). I’d like to thank everyone who attended for being there, along with my amazing Faith Explained team, and all of our sponsors who made this event possible. I’d especially like to thank Cardinal Collins, EWTN, Verbum Catholic Bible Software, The Daughters of St Paul, and the Fulton J. Sheen Society for their support.

If you weren’t able to join us in person, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Very, very soon, you’ll be able to download all of the great talks from the conference! Keep watching this space for updates. Our own personal Search and Rescue missions are so crucial, that we don’t want you to be without these resources in your apostolic “toolbox”, as it were. We pray they will help you in your efforts to bring your loved ones to Christ.

Ancient Evidence for Jesus: Pliny the Younger

Pliny the YoungerPliny the Younger is another valuable historical source for information on Jesus and the early Church. Pliny was the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia, located in Asia Minor. In the year 112 AD, he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, asking how he should deal with those in his region who have been accused of being Christians.

In the letter, Pliny describes the practices of these “criminals”:

“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”

From this passage, we can ascertain a number of facts about the early Church in Asia Minor:

1.Christians met on a “certain fixed day, before it was light”. This is undoubtedly a reference to Sunday worship.

2. The also “sang…a hymn to Christ, as to a God”. This worship involved worship of Jesus Christ. This is early, extrabiblical evidence of Christian belief in the Deity of Christ. In other words, the Divinity of Jesus is not a later “creation” of the Church. Who knows? Perhaps the hymn they were singing is the one St Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-11.

3. Catholic Christianity, then as now, required adherence to the teaching of the Church on both faith (what to believe) and morality (how to live). We see the latter in Pliny’s description of the 2nd-century believers: they “bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up”.

4. They celebrated the Eucharist. In all likelihood, that explains the reference to their “partaking of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind”. Why did Pliny stress that last point? It could well be a reference to the fact that Christians were thought to be cannibals, because it was said that they ate the flesh and drank the blood of a certain individual when they met for their sacred meals. Some in Pliny’s day even spread rumors that babies were sacrificed for this purpose. This is, of course, a colossal misunderstanding of the Eucharist. Early Catholics did (as we continue to do) eat the true flesh and drink the actual blood of Christ in the Eucharist, albeit in a sacramental, unbloody manner.

All of this corroborates what we know of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, as presented in the New Testament.

Ancient Evidence for Jesus: Flavius Josephus

Josephus

One of the greatest non-Christian historical references to Jesus was made by Josephus, the great Jewish historian. He lived in the first century (c. 37-100 AD), and was a contemporary of many members of the nascent Church.

There are two mentions of Jesus in Josephus’ great work entitled “Jewish Antiquities”. One refers to the condemnation of James, the relative of Jesus who became the Bishop of Jerusalem after Peter’s departure from the city: James was “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ”, according to Josephus (Ant. 20.9.1). Few question the authenticity of this passage.

Of course, there is the famous “Testimonium Flavianum” (so named because Josephus took on the Roman name of “Flavius”, being known as “Flavius Josephus):

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared” (Ant. 18.3.3).

Scholars believe that Josephus did write this passage, but that it was later edited by Christian interpolators, who added the phrases like “if indeed one ought to call him a man”, “He was the Christ”, and “On the third day he appeared…restored to life”. Josephus was not a believer in Jesus, and certainly would not have written those things.

However, the bulk of what he wrote can be trusted as authentic. This is made even more sure by the fact that an Arabic version of Josephus’ “Antiquities” has been discovered, where the passage in question is present, minus the interpolations.

Josephus corroborates much of what we know from the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus: that he claimed to be the Messiah, was a wise man who was thought to have performed “surprising feats” (miraculous deeds), and that his followers continued to be his disciples in a movement that continued despite his death.

Ancient Evidence for Jesus: Tacitus

Tacitus

In this series, I’ll be sharing some ancient, non-Christian literary evidences for Jesus. This extrabiblical evidence corroborates much of what we know about Jesus’ life, teaching, and activities that is recorded in the New Testament. This is helpful material to cite when we are dealing with a person who doubts the existence of Christ, and who also refuses to take the New Testament documents seriously as historical sources.

These non-Christian sources had no agenda to promote faith in Jesus. In fact, some of them are outright hostile to the Christian message. This is actually the best type of evidence one could hope for: enemy attestation. When one’s opponent concedes that these events in the life of Jesus did occur, it’s a powerful witness to their veracity.

Perhaps the most important non-Christian source on Jesus is the great Roman historian, Tacitus. Here’s what he said about Emperor Nero’s decision to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in A.D. 64 (a fire quite likely set by Nero himself):

“Nero fastened the guilt…on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of…Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome” (Tacitus, Annals 15:44, c. 116 AD).

Tacitus here confirms that Christians were named as such because of their founder, whom he calls “Christus” (derived from the Latin for “Christ”). Christus “suffered the extreme penalty (referring to crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius (the Emperor at the time) at the hands of…Pontius Pilatus” (the Roman Prefect in charge of Judea). This confirms much of what the Gospels tell us about the death of Jesus.

Ancient Evidence for Jesus: 15 Facts

15

This will be the first of a series of posts regarding extrabiblical evidence for the life, teachings, and activities of Jesus. Having already dealt with the question of Jesus’ historical existence, we now turn to the question of his words and deeds. Many people wonder if the New Testament can be trusted regarding these matters.

The famous scholar E.P. Sanders, in his 1985 book, Jesus and Judaism, argued that there were eight “almost indisputable facts” about Jesus of Nazareth that were agreed upon by the majority of historians, whether these scholars were believers or not. As Greg Monette notes, in a later book called The Historical Figure of Jesus (written in 1993 for a more general audience), Sanders expanded the list of facts to fifteen:

1. Jesus was born c. 4 BC, near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
2. He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
3. He was baptized by John the Baptist;
4. He called disciples;
5. He taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not in the cities, save for some brief teaching in Jerusalem);
6. He preached “The Kingdom of God”;
7. He went to Jerusalem for Passover about AD 30;
8. He created a disturbance in the Temple area;
9. He had a final meal with the disciples;
10. He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
11. He was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.
12. His disciples at first fled;
13. They claimed to see him after his death;
14. As a consequence, they believed that he would return to found the Kingdom;
15. They formed a community to await his return and sought to win others to faith in him as God’s Messiah.

This list shows that Christians can have a high degree of confidence in the historical accuracy of what the New Testament says about the general contours of Jesus’ life and ministry.

One item that is strangely absent from Sanders’ list is that Jesus was a well-known healer and exorcist. This point is very well-attested. Jesus’ abilities in this regard are proclaimed on numerous occasions in the Gospel, and corroborated by historians of the times like Josephus, who calls Jesus “a doer of wondrous deeds” in his Jewish Antiquities. In a world in which a huge percentage of people were sick at any given time, this fact explains, in large part, Jesus’ popularity among the masses.

In fact, Jesus’ own enemies didn’t even bother to dispute that he did these things. Rather, they tried to explain his abilities by suggesting that Jesus was somehow in league with Satan (Jesus rightly skewers this flawed thinking in passages such as Mark 3:22-30). That Jesus was thought to be an exorcist and healer is, I think, beyond dispute from a historical perspective.

A Fiery Sword and Tongues of Fire: Pentecost

Pentecost“‘And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:3-4). They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives lustre to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift” (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 17.15).

Happy Pentecost, everyone!

H/T to Father Z for the quote.

The three responses to the Gospel

Acts 17

Today’s first reading is selected from Acts 17, which chronicles St Paul’s visit to Athens. Paul’s brilliant, culturally relevant preaching of the Gospel in the Areopagus didn’t convert everyone, outstanding though it was (the illustration of the “unknown God” was inspired – quite literally!).

This should encourage all who proclaim the Word (many people didn’t listen to Jesus himself, either). We do see, though, in the responses to Paul’s message, three common responses that all who proclaim the Gospel encounter:

God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent
because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world
with justice’ through a man he has appointed,
and he has provided confirmation for all
by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about resurrection of the dead,
some began to scoff, but others said,
“We should like to hear you on this some other time.”
And so Paul left them.
But some did join him, and became believers.
Among them were Dionysius,
a member of the Court of the Areopagus,
a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

-Acts 17:30-34

Some scoffed. Some said, “Let’s hear more about this later”. But some believed. And so it goes, even today.

Which camp are you in?

Athanasius and the Myth of the “Great Apostasy”

Athanasius

Rod Bennett, author of some great books on the early Church, was interviewed about today’s feast of St. Athanasius over on the Catholic Answers blog:

The theory goes like this: just a few centuries after Christ’s death, around the time the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, the true Faith suffered a catastrophic falling-away. The simple truths of the gospel became so obscured by worldliness and pagan idolatry, kicking off the Dark Ages of Catholicism, that Christianity required a complete reboot.

This idea of a “Great Apostasy” is one of the cornerstones of American Protestantism, along with Mormonism, the Jehovah s Witnesses, and even Islam. Countless millions today profess a faith built on the assumption that the early Church quickly became broken beyond repair, requiring some new prophet or reformer to restore the pure teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

This theory is popular—but it’s also fiction. In his book The Apostasy that Wasn’t, Rod Bennett narrates the drama of the early Church’s fight to preserve Christian orthodoxy, even as powerful forces try to destroy it. Amid imperial intrigue and bitter theological debate, a hero arose: the homely little monk Athanasius, a Father of the Church, whose feast we celebrate on May 2. Athanasius stood against the world to prove that there could never be a Great Apostasy, because Jesus promised his Church would never be broken.

We asked Bennett to elaborate on this influential myth and why, logically, it couldn’t have occurred.

Q. What is the Great Apostasy?

Bennett: It’s one of the cornerstones of American religion, actually—the notion that the original Church founded by Jesus and his apostles went bust somewhere along the line and had to be restored by some latter-day prophet or reformer. Most of our Christian denominations here in the Unites States teach the idea in one form or another, though, significantly, they usually disagree completely on which “Second Founder” ought to be followed.

Usually, they date the collapse to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313 and his subsequent adoption of Christianity for the whole Roman Empire. In doing this, he transformed the Christian Church (or so the story goes) from a simple body of pure, New Testament believers into the state religion of the Roman Empire.

This made Church membership socially advantageous for the first time, which brought in a vast flood of half-converted pagans who were admitted with minimal fuss by a mere external act of baptism. And this, in turn, subverted the original Faith so seriously that a Dark Age of idolatry and superstition was the result, a “great falling away” so serious that it required, in the end, a complete “reboot” from heaven.

Q. Where did the notion of the Great Apostasy find its beginnings?

Well, if you think about it, any group that has a short historical pedigree—founded, as most of our denominations have been, within the last few centuries of Christianity’s very long timeline—will be driven to the idea eventually. If you find that your church was founded in the twentieth century (or the nineteenth or the sixteenth) and teaches things no one was teaching in the fourteenth, the tenth, or the fifth century, then you’re going to have to account for that fact somehow.

The most common solution has been to offer a “conspiracy theory” of some kind: this idea that the early Church actually did teach Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh-day Adventism or Unitarianism or what have you, but the “powers that be” hushed the original version up—burned their books, forced them underground, and so forth. The whole “Da Vinci Code” phenomenon from a few years back was based on the same idea.

For the whole interview, including an Bennett’s interesting comparison of Constantine to a guy who marries a rich woman, click here.