World Day of Peace – the Pope’s Message (8 Dec 2004)

His Holiness Pope John Paul II and I have disagreed on many issues over many years (e.g. birth control, ordination of women, homosexuality, etc). However, there are many elements of his message for this World Day of Peace with which I do agree. But this message also raises some very deep issues for the Catholic Church to consider and deal with.

The message starts with “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). It then continues:
“… peace is the outcome of a long and demanding battle which is only won when evil
is defeated by good”

“Evil always has a name and a face: the name and face of those men and women who freely choose it.”

“… evil is a tragic rejection of the demands of love.”

“Fostering peace by overcoming evil with good requires careful reflection on the common good and on its social and political implications.”

“Since the good of peace is closely linked to the development of all peoples, the ethical requirements for the use of the earth’s goods must always be taken into account.”

The Pope then goes on to link much of the evil in evidence to the poverty experienced in many parts of the world. He also identifies the responsibility of those who have much to be generous to those who have little.

As Christians, those who have much are required to do more for our less well-off brothers and sisters on a personal level. However, this message also calls upon the Catholic Church, as an institution, to examine its own relationship to material possessions and to those who have been harmed by its officials (e.g. sex abuse victims).

This message has deep implications for the way the Catholic Church as a body deals with many issues in coming days. It is not realistic for an organization to take the moral high ground while continuing to amass wealth and oppress or victimize human beings who have trusted in it. If the correlation between words and deeds is not right then sooner or later the organization will either need to reform or falter.

During 2005 it will be interesting to see how both individuals and the Catholic Church rise to meet the Pope’s challenge to share in “the one bread and one cup … [coming] to realise that we are ‘God’s family’ and that together we can make our own effective contribution to building a world based on the values of justice, freedom and peace.”

Left Behind – by La Haye & Jenkins – Martial Christianity

The Left Behind series by Tim La Haye & Jerry Jenkins is a phenomenon that has just recently been noticed by some in the mainstream press.  It is a 12 book series commencing with Left Behind (ISBN: 0842329129) and culminating with Glorious Appearing: The End of Days (ISBN: 0842332375).  But the series has been about since the mid-1990s and has spread throughout the evangelical and biblically based church communities largely by word of mouth over the years, selling somewhere in the order of 60 million copies.  Since Christian communities get very little press coverage (since they are not really ‘sexy’) no one in the mainstream press seems to have noticed this until now.

The story commences with an event called the ‘rapture’ where Christians disappear from the  earth.  Those that remain ‘left behind’ are followed in the series of books.  Some of the remanent convert to Christianity and fight the forces of evil.  The story culminates with the return of Christ, judgement of the world, and creation of a new world.

What is so interesting about this whole thing is the reactions of the mainstream press to it in recent times.   For example, Nicholas Kristof railed against the scenario outlined in the final book of the series in his New York Times column – he condemned what he perceived as a move from viewing Jesus as a gentle figure to a “martial messiah presiding over a sea of blood”.  Kristof’s view is echoed in mainstream newspapers around the planet.  But the main thing this indicates is how few people have actually read the Bible.

Anyone who has read the book of Revelation (the last chapter in the Bible for the un-initiated) knows that this is exactly how the story ends.  Jesus returns as the avenging Messiah & “the dead were judged … according to their works … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20: 12-15)  After this the good guys (& gals, not that they are mentioned) gets to go to the new heaven & the new earth (Rev 21:1) with the Lamb (a.k.a. Jesus).   In the book of Revelation this all occurs after the ‘rapture’ (which is somewhat undefined in the actual text, so people have thought up all sorts of scenarios for it), and those left behind go through various trials and many are killed.   So La Haye and Jenkins have put the story into a modern vernacular and really just made the last book of the Bible more accessible to many people in the modern world.

The world view expressed in these books has been around for a long time in evangelical and biblically based churches.  You can find books outlining exactly this type of interpretation of the bible any time over the past 150 years.  All that has happened here is the modern printing industry has made the stories accessible to more people.  And the people who are reading these books are most likely already au fait with the concepts expressed in them.    The American churches especially have been sympathetic to this view of the Messiah for generations.  What is surprising is how this has been largely un-noticed until now.  It is especially surprising given how influential these apocalyptic visions have been in the political life of the United States to date.

For all who are interested a web search on the phrases: pre-tribulationpost-tribulation or dispensationalist gives an interesting insight into the Christian factions around this whole area of apocalyptic interpretation.