Because of the Evidence

Anyone arriving at the base of Mt. St. Helens in the weeks following the 1980 eruption would have known something huge had happened. They would have needed no photographic images of the eruption itself, like the one shown here. They would have needed no eyewitness accounts. All they would have needed to see was the thousands of bare tree trunks aligned in one direction after the primary shock hit. Something happened here, they would have been forced to conclude. Something huge happened.

This is another reason I am so confident being Catholic. When I was a child in Minnesota, I distinctly remember two things: being afraid of death and thinking, if Jesus Christ really really existed, as the Bible says, then I have nothing to worry about. Today, I no longer worry so much about death. Whoever created this world is infinitely good, and whatever awaits me after death is therefore good, too. But sadly neither do I have such childlike faith in the Bible accounts of Christ’s life.

Doubts crept in along the way, doubts encouraged by our culture: What if the whole New Testament story was just a massive conspiracy among a few power-grabbing Apostles, who concocted the story of the Resurrection and used it to control minds for two thousand years? What if the search for the historical Jesus finally turns up another Piltdown Man, a fabulous hoax that has hornswoggled humanity for two millennia? What if scholarly criticism eventually pokes so many holes in the Gospels and other contemporary accounts that even the existence of a man (forget about God) named Jesus of Nazareth is thrown into doubt? In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis convincingly held that Jesus must have been one of three things: liar, lunatic, or Lord. But what if he was a liar or lunatic and all the rest of them—Peter, the other eleven, Paul, the early bishops of Rome—all of them built the lies or lunacy into an organization that controlled human thought from the year 35 forward?

These are doubts which others no doubt have shared, cast in a thousand shapes and colors.

But I have faith today, and this faith is not “merely” the faith of a child (though I hope someday to rise again to that level). My faith is multifaceted, but in the end it is based on evidence. Consider what happened after Christ’s death.

How to account for all these trees lying in perfect alignment? How to account for the speed with which the Gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean basin and beyond—without the sword of Islam or the naval might of the British empire in its heyday? How to account for the uncountable numbers who martyred themselves in Christianity’s first three centuries, for what? lies? lunacy? How to account for the rich and internally consistent development of teaching by the Church Fathers in the years leading up to the remarkable St. Augustine? How to explain the burgeoning of the monastic movement following St. Benedict in the fifth century? How to explain the tenacity with which Catholicism, and particularly its monastic communities, preserved Western culture for another 1000 years, until the Protestant rebellion tried to destroy its very foundations?

I was reminded of these questions on August 24, when the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle. The office of readings for the day offers a homily by St. John Chrysostom, in which he considers the evidence. How, he asks, could twelve uneducated men have so changed the known world?

How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!

How then to account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead—if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?

It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had not had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.

But why Catholicism, Webster, as my friend Dave asked? Why the Catholic Church and not one of the thousand splinters that were once the Lutheran rebellion? That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? These utterly convincing events of the first Christian centuries are the very foundation of the Catholic Church, and while there are indeed many odd towers and buttresses and even gargoyles built on that foundation, if I want to get back as close to Jesus as I can, as close as possible to the volcano, there’s really only one place to worship.

  • Anonymous

    The Catholic Church is the Gate Keeper. Without her you have nothing, no Christianity. The Bible can only be understood through the Teaching Authority of the Bishops and the Pope and through the Tradition of the Church. If you cannot understand a passage of the Bible and you can't find where the Church teaches anything about it, just forget it for the time being. For you, it doesn't matter now. And don't be suckered into the idea that you have to answer every objection raised by a non-catholic. That is pride and may be a serious temptation from the Evil One. Never dally with temptations against Faith. Have humility and pray for enlightenment.

  • Anonymous

    The apostles and other early Christians didn't have to believe much today that Christians believe in order to be killed in the 1st century. By the simple act of refusing to participate in pagan culture and sacrifice and by casting themselves as a monotheistic group (seperate from the Jews who had a long religious tradition and were well-understood and tolerated in Roman society), Christians lost legitimacy as a religious group and thus were subject to persecution. They were thought to be detrimental to the well-being of society, the family and the Roman government. The fact is, the little that we know that the earliest Christians DID believe for certain, is even still a far cry from what we read in the Gospel accounts. It's to be expected that the gospel accounts get more and more "miraculous" the older they get and by the time you get to John's account, even claim that Jesus was on par with God and present at "the beginning." None of the gospel writers claim to be eye-witnesses to Jesus' life (in fact Luke claims to just be putting together a compilation of others' accounts), and Paul gives us our (oldest) account of a follower of Jesus but even he had never met him. If we are truly on the quest for truth as Christians, it's important not to make an idol of the views of the various churches of today on Jesus and his early followers without due regard to the evidence that exists in the historical record.

  • Anonymous

    You have a lot of "IF's" and scientifically many of those if's can be answered. You seem to be seeking truth…. Catholicism IS the original Christianity. But JC is the hoax that you have derived in one of your 'IF's". The messiah has a Jewish name not a Roman made up name. Ribi Yehoshua. He was a man not a demi-g-d. Paul was the originator of that new religion. The early church fathers wrote about the 'changing' and the 'false list of Bishops'. This site can help you find those sources quicker: ww.netzarim.co.il/ It wasn't the Jews who killed the Messiah it was the Romans who were the forerunners of Christianity.

  • Joe

    Anonymous on 9/5/09 writes, "The apostles and other early Christians didn't have to believe much today that Christians believe in order to be killed in the 1st century." According to him, the only reason they were KILLED was due to the "simple" fact that they didn't "participate" in "Pagan culture" and refused to sacrifice. Of course the Jews were not KILLED by the Pagan Romans because, supposedly, they were "well understood and tolerated." Are YOU KIDDING? Did you ever hear about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and Trajan and Hadrian's war to utterly slaughter the Jews in the early 2nd century? Study your history before making ridiculous comments.As for your first argument, if the early Christians didn't really believe much of Christianity, then why did they REFUSe to offer a pinch of incense to Ceasar which would have saved them from being TORTURED TO DEATH? If you lived in a Catholic country, and were an atheist, would you refuse to go to Mass if it meant you would be TORTURED TO DEATH?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15933011348417476969 luzvimindarp

    Peace be with you, I like the title of your write up, it reminds me of a question in our Parish Renewal Experience Movement or PREX, I hope you can attend this kind of seminar – its a catholic church seminar of enlightenment. This will help you in a way to take off the "if's" in your mind,and experience the "miracle" in yourself and be at peace with your soul and live the life of Spirit and Truth. Reach me at http://luzvimindarp.blogspot.com and you will see my answer to a question "why am I a catholic." God bless and may the Spirit of God give you a strong faith and erase the doubts in your heart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15933011348417476969 luzvimindarp

    Peace be with you in Christ, your write ups reminds me of a question in our Parish Renewal Experience Seminar. If you have time read my story of spiritual experience as a catholic at http://luzvimindarp@blogspot.com, you can do it also, just be strong in your faith talk to God in Spirit and He will guide and show you the way. God bless I guarantee you God will let you experience more if you ask Him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15555635879115959214 tapsearcher

    We explore the latent response of religion and philosophy to the global economic arena at http://www.therationale.com There is also a prayer for healing, a book review of Father Jonathan's book on suffering and other topics.See also http://www.ethnicsbox.com/knock-knock-whos-there and we invite you to pass it on.

  • Anonymous

    –The Catholic Church is the Gate Keeper. Without her you have nothing, no Christianity. The Bible can only be understood through the Teaching Authority of the Bishops and the Pope and through the Tradition of the Church.–Wow. So much for Christ. Guess he's relegated to nothing more than a quaint footnote as far as Catholics are concerned. So Catholics believe you can have Christianity without Christ, but you can't have Christianity without their institution…sounds like creating a false idol to me. The Catholic Church is not God, is not Christ, does not have a monopoly on God, is not the sole God-broker, is not the "gatekeeper" to God, and does not have exclusive and special understanding of God's word. The Bible is clear, understandable and direct. Christ's words are for all, directly from God, directly to God's creation.The directive not to be "suckered" into being personally responsible for your words is not in keeping with what Christ taught, but I guess since you have to rely on other people to tell you what they say Christ says, you wouldn't know that. That you've "fallen in love" with an institution that fostered child rape, human rights abuses against women and corruption and hatefulness speaks to something dark and ugly in your heart. That you now think you're special and better than everyone who isn't Catholic speaks to your sad, petty, prideful elitism. You are not a good person. You are not a person of honor. Of course, however, you're Catholic…I think we all know what that really means.

  • Webster Bull

    I have published the preceding "anonymous" comment despite the calumnies. I think it's good to have this sort of thing on record; and as a recent convert, it's something I have to scratch my head over — and over and over! I guess those who want to fight will fight, even if they're faced with innocent children bearing water pistols. Oh, well.

  • Ferde

    Would you cowardly anonymous types put a number beside your hidden identity so we'll know which 'anonymous' to respond to? Thanks.The slams against the Catholic Church I've read here so far are, without exception, from people who don't know Scripture and don't know the teachings of the Church. Other than that, they're well informed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08418091459248577266 Anders Branderud

    "Did you ever hear about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and Trajan and Hadrian's war to utterly slaughter the Jews in the early 2nd century? Study your history before making ridiculous comments."Not I that wrote the post you commented… Bit I reccomend you to study the "History Museum" in http://www.netzarim.co.il .. A logical and scientifical analysis.Anders Branderud

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12909174793343094671 Jane

    Webster – I'm not sure how I came upon your blog, but I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful way to describe the faith to others. And you write with such grace. I'm passing it along to my convert husband and anyone else I know who is asking about Catholicism.Thank you.Jane

  • Mary Jane Dawkins

    In response to Anonymous at September 10, 2009 5:46 AMAnonymous implies that not responding to every objection is equivalent to not being responsible for one's words. Maybe you (Anonymous) thinks that Catholics think they know all the answers. Whether it pleases you to hear it or not, the fact is that I don't know every answer, the fact is, NOBODY does, so to respond to every objection – wouldn't that be the irresponsible thing?Oh and Hey, you also said 'Of course, however, you're Catholic…I think we all know what that really means.' I'm slow so if you could elaborate on what being a Catholic really means and how you determined it, I would be grateful for your guidance.


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