March 25, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Easter, the triumph of non-zealotry

Nobody loves a zealot. Fanatics just don’t appeal to us, even when their influence is great enough to change history. Think about John Brown or Carrie Nation.

The original Zealots were a Jewish group who opposed Greek influence and, later, Roman rule. They assassinated those who adopted Roman customs and their greatest victory was seizing the fortress of Masada after killing all the Romans there.

Maybe that’s why God sent us the promise of salvation through Christ rather than in the form of some zealot insisting we adopt his point of view or be killed. Instead, we are encouraged by a humble, quiet God-man to follow him so that we might live—forever.

Still, Christ is divine and that is the centerpiece of our religion. God loved us so much that he sent a person of himself to live in human form as we do, teaching us the way back to God and freeing us from our human sins by his own suffering and death.

Sometimes, especially in our American passion for tolerance, we forget about the importance of Christ’s divinity to salvation when we recognize truths and virtues in other belief systems. We try to respect these ideas, and people who hold them, by wrongly promoting them to the level of essential truth we know exists in Christianity and the Catholic Church.

According to a Catholic News Service story of last December, Jesuit Father Roger Haight seems to be considered guilty of such error by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation forbade Father Haight from teaching theology after investigating a book he published in 2001. CNS reported that, “The Vatican’s critique focused on Jesus, Symbol of God, which explained the themes of Christ’s divinity, the Resurrection, the Trinity and salvation for non-Christians.”

The story continued, “While Father Haight said, ‘Jesus must be considered divine,’ this is symbolic and ‘Jesus was a human being like us’… Father Haight said, ‘because of modern pluralistic consciousness,’ one cannot continue to affirm that Christianity is a superior religion or that Christ is the centerpiece of God’s plan for salvation.”

While I’ve not read the book and can’t say for certain, I conclude from other quotations in the CNS article that Father Haight may be embroiled in semantic misunderstandings. Remember, he was writing for non-Christians. For example, he wrote, “The normative revelation of Jesus posits that God’s grace is operative in other religions.”

He continued, “Affirming the validity of other religions does not undermine the normativity of Jesus Christ. And affirming the normativity of Jesus Christ, not simply for Christians, but for all human beings, does not undermine the validity and truth contained in other religions.”

Finally, “Christianity in the 21st century must confront new problems and issues that will generate genuinely new understandings and behavior patterns in and by the Churches … but at the same time Christianity, in this case in its theology and Christology, must remain faithful to its originating revelation and consistent tradition.”

Easter is our original revelation, and belief in eternal life through Christ is our consistent tradition. Alleluia.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: