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Christian Faith and God's Hand in History

Weekly column from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia.

In this Year of Faith, and especially as we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King (Nov. 25) and the beginning of Advent (Dec. 2), it's a good time to reflect on the nature of what we believe as Catholics.

To be a Christian is to believe in history.  I mean that in the way the great Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, meant it.  Dawson wrote: "Christianity, together with the religion of Israel out of which it was born, is a historical religion in a sense to which none of the other world religions can lay claim."

Consider the Bible.  All of the world's great religious and ethical traditions have sacred books: the Qu'ran, the Bhagavad-Gita; the Analects of Confucius.  What all these texts of other traditions share is that they're essentially wisdom literature. They're collections of teachings aimed at helping believers live ethically and find the right path to happiness or enlightenment.

The Bible also aims to make people wise.  But it also seeks to lead them to salvation, which is much more than enlightenment.  The Bible's first words are: "In the beginning . . ."  Genesis begins with the first day in the history of the world.  The entire Old Testament is similar.  After speaking about the first man and woman and their descendants, it proceeds to offer a historical account of God's chosen people, the children of Israel.  Modern scholarship can challenge details of the Old Testament narrative, but the importance that biblical writers place on providing a history is unmistakable.

The New Testament continues that history, focusing on one particular child of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, and the community he founded, the Church.  The story is told with numerous references -- some direct, others subtle -- to that earlier history.  Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling all that God promised in the Old Testament.  The Church is described as the new people of God, the final realization of Israel's calling to be God's light to the nations.

Throughout the New Testament, we're given precise historical markers.  To be a Christian therefore means believing very definite things about history and about our own respective places in history.

We don't just profess belief in the Incarnation.  We say we believe that God took flesh at a precise moment in time, and in a definite place.  It's the reason for that curious detail in our Nicene and Apostles' Creeds:  We're the only religion to remember our founder's executioner by name every time we profess our faith. 

Pontius Pilate and Mary are mentioned by name in the creeds.  Why?  The reference to Mary, Jesus' mother, guarantees Christ's humanity. The reference to Pilate, who condemned him to death, guarantees his historicity.  It ensures that we can never reduce the Incarnation to an abstract concept, a metaphor, or a pretty idea.  It ensures that we can never regard Jesus Christ as a kind of ideal archetype or mythical figure.  He was truly a man and truly God.  And he had a place on this earth he called home.

We also believe that this historical event, more than 2,000 years ago, represents a personal intervention by God "for us and for our salvation."  God entered history for you and me, and for all humanity.

The four noble truths of Buddhism don't have anything to do with history.  The Muslim profession of faith, the shahada, claims simply that there is no God but God, and that Muhammad was his messenger.  To the degree that Islam has a historical narrative, it was arguably borrowed from and built on the Jewish-Christian narrative that preceded it.

Thus, to be Catholic is to be very unique among the world's believers. To be a Catholic means believing that we are a part of a vast historical project.  And it's not "our" project.  It's God's.  Being Catholic means believing that since the beginning of time, God has been working out his own hidden purposes in the history of nations and in the biography of every person.  He's still unfolding his purposes today.  And each of us has a part to play in his divine plan. 

Before the foundation of the world, God had each of us in mind.  He made us out of love.  And he made us for a reason: to be holy; to be his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ; to help him share his love with the whole world. 

We believe in God.  But as God's hand in history also clearly shows:  He believes in us.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

fmrRPRez November 16, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Is it? Every major ideological position is used to justify wars. In the United States, we prefer to fight for "liberty" than for Religion. The Soviet Union fought for "Communism." Usually these things are only justifications trotted out because they provide for better rhetoric than talking about border and trade disputes. Can you think of a war that was actually about religion? I'm sure there might have been one at some point, but I can't. They're almost all about land, money, or balance of power.
1 November 16, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Yeah and in 2012 Obama beat the Mormon Mitt Romney despite people like Jack Minster telling us that Romney would win in a landslide. You claim to "study all religions, all history, all sciences" yet spent months lieing on the Patch and making up fake stats to support your lies. Nobody is buying your right wing BS buddy. Hit the road Jack and don't ya' come back no more, no more!
Morgan King November 16, 2012 at 07:51 PM
I agree - study and absorb all of it. The difference though, in your examples, is that all of those other historical events are not supernatural events. If George Washington was reported to have walked across the surface of the Delaware river, or to have parted it so his army could pass through, it'd be a different discussion. That, and our history is documented by historians instead of priests after the 16th century, minimizing denominational bias. On your other points, well, we can create living cells from raw matter - it was in 2010: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-05/21/worlds-first-living-synthetic-cell-created Even without that, it's the process of learning through the scientific method to understand the world more fully - if we can't do it now, that doesn't mean we won't someday. I don't have any 'faith' in science, because it doesn't require me to 'believe' in it for it to prove itself. This often seems to be a hang-up for the religious in discussions of science. I don't have 'faith' in science - it is demonstrable, like a math equation. I don't have faith that 2+2 is 4, it's that it adds up to 4 every time we do it. Religious phenomena, as in the Bible, is written expressly as beyond human understanding - a flaming bush that never burns away, a dead man rising from his grave - to express the need for faith to explain something greater than human comprehension. Science, conversely, seeks to extend the limits of human comprehension.
Jack Minster November 16, 2012 at 09:07 PM
The inventors call it the world's first synthetic cell, although this initial step is more a re-creation of existing life -- changing one simple type of bacterium into another -- than a built-from-scratch kind. Have faith. Maybe someday they will create life from scratch. Has science extended human comprehension and answered your morality questions, right from wrong, how are you supposed to live? My point was to the arrogance of some science and scientists in proposing you give "faith" in them, as Hawkings has, that there is no God. He has astrophysical evidence pointing to defense of his theory. Really! 2+2 = no God? That math just doesn't add up. To your rebuttal that studying the historical records of the paranormal including cross-referenced records from eyewitnesses who were also detractors, how would that investigation differ in methodology from investigating other historical events? To use your math example, 1 eyewitness is hearsay, but 12 plus 10,000 = 10,012 eyewitnesses, plus 30,000 converts who were not eyewitnesses but happened within the first few months of the alleged event, spreading through Europe and converting Rome itself within 3 centuries - is historically unprecedented, before or after. Worth a deep dive, in my opinion. How can you prove Washington didn't walk on water? Science is great and wonderful, no question, and to many it compliments their understanding of those supernatural forces it cannot explain.
Abraham November 16, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Jack, welcome back! It only took you 10 days to face reality, Don't want to say, "I told you so", but "I told you so." Maybe going forward you'll listen to some other sources beyond the right wing entertainment establishment. I kept tell you those polls you sighted were biased. Stay away from Fox News, the Drudge Report and CMPA. How about it - Nate Silver has picked 99 out of 100 states in the past two presidential elections. Ah, science and reality... and the ACA (Obamacare to you) stays around.
fmrRPRez November 16, 2012 at 09:49 PM
FWIW, Nate Silver was only right by coincidence. He built a model based on a bunch of polls that were based on faulty data, but the faults just happened to cancel each other out. The polls showed the independent vote significantly favoring Romney (which they didn't), and they showed higher democrat turnout than there was (though they we surprisingly right about the low Reepublican turnout). Their errors almost cancelled each other out, so the state by state results happened to be correct. That was chance, though, not accuracy.
Morgan King November 16, 2012 at 10:16 PM
It's not faith that they will - they either will or they won't. Science doesn't answer moral questions, and I wasn't implying that it did. It's not that 2+2=No God, it's that it requires God for 2+2=5 (which is, again, the basis for the supernatural metaphors in the Bible). As for the history, if you want to take a particular religious text written by religious scholars to reinforce their religious doctrine as a factual record, that's up to you, but for (I think?) pretty obvious reasons that's not a very solid basis. There's no reason to prove or disprove that Washington walked on water, because there is no basis to assume he, or anyone, ever could.
Jack Minster November 16, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Oh Abraham, Obama won, and yet the posted facts about economic policy (trickle down government failure) remain true, just hanging out there for you or anyone else to unsuccessfully challenge. Facts I posted that Clinton now fully regrets his 40% tax bracket and derivatives regulation that started the whole recession (but he sure campaigned hard for Obama, hmm, in exchange for what, since the two disagree on economic policy?) JFK was a Democrat, and I posted his policy speeches which matched Romney-Ryans. Still facts, Abraham. Now we'll see how raising tax rates and 3% Obamacare surtax on 1 million small business owners affects the unemployment numbers and doctors accepting Medicare patients, etc. Maybe I'll blog a monthly Obama Administration report card, posting the numbers. Unfortunately of the 3 million people who decided the course of our nation's renewal and recovery over the next 4 years, only a few would read my blog. And might still vote for bad policy-makers again in 2016. I can't control that. Just as you cannot change facts. But at least some people can read report cards and CVs and make sound informed decisions, and for my elected geographic area of responsibility, no guilt here. Mission accomplished. http://perkiomenvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/romney-ryan-enjoy-big-win-in-trappe 3 million decided it for 300 million. That's all that happened. No sweeping referendum here. Congrats to Team O on yet another successful sale.
Andrew November 16, 2012 at 10:34 PM
The reading of the bible was prohibited in schools in 1963 by the Surpreme Court decision Murray vs.Curlett. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was the person who brought suit and won. She was a member of the "Board of American Humanist Association" and editor of "The Free Humanist". Humanism was given a religious tax exempt status by the Supreme Court in it's decision U.S. vs Seeger in 1965. The religious practices which are the foundations of our country have been replaced in our schools by another "religion", Humanism. The beliefs or planks of Humanism mirror the planks of the Communist Manifesto. Our children are being taught Communism/Socialism. "This New Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its upbringing" , Adolph Hitler 1937. A look at the planks of Communism and you will see America has implemented most. We should learn from the mistakes of the past, instead of turning a blind eye.
Morgan King November 16, 2012 at 10:35 PM
It's a pretty big logical jump to assume that all the polls were faulty - or that it was pure luck - when, in total, they very nearly perfectly predicted the election.
Jack Minster November 16, 2012 at 10:47 PM
http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/10/which-polls-fared-best-and-worst-in-the-2012-presidential-race/ Gallup and Rasmussen have some serious 'splainin to do. Looks like many of the large supposedly non-partisan pollsters took a beating.
Jack Minster November 16, 2012 at 11:13 PM
The New Testament events described in the four Gospels and letters of Paul are not metaphors, I disagree with your use of that label. If you haven't read them, let me give you an example. Paul's follower, the physician Luke: "it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;" Not many people had writing skills in that society and even fewer had camcorders. This wasn't a bed-time story. It was intended as a factual statement for the official Roman record. And thanks for your permission. I do believe it.
Nazaretti November 16, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I get all the learnin' I need directly through my tin foil hat.
fmrRPRez November 17, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Morgan, the polls went right. They were wrong about turnout, and they were wrong about the independent vote. Their data was, on every front, wrong... And they were wrong about Obama's margins in the states, too. But, Nate Silver weights the most left leaning poll (PPP) the heaviest, and so, when the Democrats win big, he's right. He was wrong in 2010... And he'll be wrong in any election that isn't a solid Democrat win. If you look at the poll internals, it's clear that the polls were garbage.
Morgan King November 17, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I'm pretty sure every religion ever has been presented as the factual, non-metaphorical, account of history. That doesn't make them accurate or non-metaphorical, though.
1 November 17, 2012 at 01:23 AM
1) I'm no big "fan" of Nate Silver but he has called the last two election cycles nearly perfectly. In 2010 when he predicted a huge Republican victory led by the tea party, Fox News and the right wing loved him. The simple fact is he looks at the data in an unbaised manner and makes a prediction based on probability, not political preference. 2) Please click on Jack Minster's name and look at the long, long list of posts he made prior to the election. He spent 8 plus hours a day posting nonsense about how Romney was going to win in a landslide. He made up lies, slandered people, and created his own reality in a vain attempt to trick himself that the majority would actually support an empty suit like Romney. Now his latest line of BS is that Obama only won by "three million" so therefore it isn't a real victory. What a loser! This guy and his elk actually hurt their own cause because their lies are so stupid, it turns off anyone with an IQ over 70 that isn't a racist or a religious kook! Keep up the good work Jack.
1 November 17, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Even Republicans who have an ounce of common sense realize the math don't lie: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/11/09/the-elections-biggest-winner-arithmetic/
Jack Minster November 17, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Total "popular" vote Obama 63,204,940 Romney 59,505,017 difference 3,699.923 Yes Richard-filth, you can keep getting banned and blocked by Patch editors everywhere due to your personal attacks and uncivilized posts which violate the agreement terms, and keep changing your handles to ever more unrecognizable versions like the current "1" - but your filthy spirit betrays you. Snuff out the light and the truth, eh Richard? Tell everyone who you really are if you have the courage. Stalker weirdo.
1 November 17, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Sorry Jack I have NEVER been banned from this or any other site and I would invite the editor Tom to confirm this if you would like. Consdering you have posted 100s if not 1000s of BS posts here often replying seconds after someone challenges one of your lies, I think you are the stalker here. You may want to look up the term "projection".
Ann Hankins November 17, 2012 at 12:34 PM
WHAT!? " To be a Christian is to believe in history".??? Believing in a book that was written by peoples with a VERY limited concept of the physical properties of the world around us and than inferring it is an " historical record"? Plagues happened because we forgot to sacrifice a lamb, the water dried up because I had an unpure thought, people started speaking in tongues because they tried to build a tower to the heavens and it pissed god off. " History " happened as recently as yesterday, the Bible was finished( plus or minus) in the year 95 A.D.
CyD252 November 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Jack: It is often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consider your own example of George Washington crossing the Delaware. Is this implausible? Is there good reason to believe that crossing the Delaware exceeded the technological limitations of the time? Is there anything in the account to suggest that such a voyage was unlikely? If not, then it's a solid candidate for the history books. However, claims about walking on water, raising the dead, and so forth are in clear violation of everything we've discovered over thousands of years of human history. Does this mean it didn't happen? No. But it does demand considerably more evidence than more mundane claims, such as George Washington crossing the Delaware.
Abraham November 17, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Jack, time will tell about the economy and the ACA. Obviously, we have very different views on what those outcomes will be. The fact is Obama won and Romney lost - whether by 3 million or 3. The fact is that in the last six presidential elections, the Republican won the popular vote exactly once. The fact is this year every incumbent Senator was re-elected while every right wing tea party associated senate candidate lost (including Tom Smith here in PA). The fact is the Republicans held on to their house majority, but Democratic house candidates won more votes in total - thank you gerrymandering. The fact is, the white vote dropped again. This time by 4% from 2008. This is not the USA of a few decades ago and we're not going back. This is a far more diverse and colorful USA. If the Republicans keep making statements about the 47% and blaming their electoral losses on gifts to minorities and young people, they will continue to lose. It's fairly simple math. As for Nate Silver fmrRPRez, he didn't get it right by coincidence - the polls just didn't happen to "cancel each other out." In fact, that's the whole idea! That's the brilliance of Nate Silver. It's called statistical science.
Morgan King November 17, 2012 at 05:32 PM
"Nate Silver weights the most left leaning poll (PPP) the heaviest, and so, when the Democrats win big, he's right" Silver weights polls based on historical accuracy, though, not partisan bias. The reason the poll that favored the Democrats is heavily weighted is because it was historically accurate, as you may have noted by the election results, which also favored the Democrats.
fmrRPRez November 17, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Morgan, that "accuracy" is a matter of pure coincidence. Polls have not been terribly accurate in recent elections. PPP was most accurate in '08 because PPP always leans democrat. Rasmussen was most accurate in '10 because it leans furthest for the Republicans. That's hardly a mathematical achievement. Somebody was bound to be most right, and since polls generally stay close to the middle, it's probably going to be the most extreme poll on one side or the other. And, if you look at PPPs data, it was wildly wrong, and that carries into Silver's analysis.
Morgan King November 17, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Um, I don't know how to respond to that. You do not appear to understand how polling, much less Silver's meta-polling, works on a fundamental level. That's just completely incorrect. PPP, for example, polled that 46% of voters in Colorado would vote for Romney on 11/4 and 46% of Colorado actually voted for Romney. They polled Florida 50/49, exactly what it was. Polls, much less single polls (and especially not nonpartisan firms), aren't ever perfectly accurate (PPP's Iowa poll had an extra 2% for Romney that didn't materialize), but the premise that it's pure chance and that an extremely divergent poll ends up looking accurate and therefore polling is basically meaningless is just not how statistics function in the slightest.
fmrRPRez November 18, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I understand well how polling works. In college, I worked for two different polling firms, one of whom is one of the major ones. The end result that the polls come up with is rather irrelevant to the accuracy of their data. They weigh their polls based on expected turnout demographically. If that weighting is wrong and the candidates' performance within the subgroups is right, the poll will have the wrong results. PPP had Romney well ahead among independents, and that didn't materialize. They overstated, however, Democratic enthusiasm, and those effects just so happened to counteract each other enough to make the polls "right." PPP's president was out bragging about how his company had the right "hunch" about turnout, and that that's why they got the election right. The "hunch" isn't a matter of good data... it's mostly a good guess. What he didn't mention, though, was that their hunch was actually considerably off. Had they known that Obama would get fewer votes than McCain got in '08, their polls would have given Romney the win.
Morgan King November 18, 2012 at 01:33 AM
While those are certainly weaknesses of an individual poll, the broad picture of weighted polling was extremely, overwhelmingly, accurate. For what it's worth, Independents did shift towards Romney - Obama lost about independents from his 08 numbers in almost every state - and Romney won Ohio Independents by 10%. http://hotair.com/greenroom/archives/2012/11/14/infographic-of-the-day-obama-lost-independent-voters-in-all-swing-states-minus-nc/ http://www.businessinsider.com/obama-romney-independent-vote-polls-moderates-election-2012-11
Lavender Green November 19, 2012 at 02:15 PM
first of all not all witches are wiccan, I am one of those witches, second I am also ordained so I believe everyone has the right to believe in what is right for them, but I believe that politics and religion should never be together, not because I dont believe in god. We are supposed to be a free country, freedom of choice, however some do not give that honor to others, they think being gay is illness, well thats not giving a person freedom to choose? I think if people as a whole left all religious beliefs aside and listened they would realize that we as a whole are more alike. God needs to be taken out of the white house for he wasnt voted in so he has no right being there
Bill November 21, 2012 at 07:57 PM
O Voter Fraud. Was it stolen or did he win? Wish list complete. More Senators check, same sex marriage check, legalize weed check, abortion on demand check, everybody hand getting greased check, check, check. Things that make you go Uhm... Came across this web site that is logging the voter fraud reported and investigated by news services. Click each link and read the articles if you have the time. http://obamavoterfraud.blogspot.com/2012/11/barack-obama-voter-fraud-2012.html?m=1 Pray, Pray, Pray
Bill November 21, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Religion - The interactive map shows the religious makeup of the country and each state if you highlight it. Overwhelmingly Christian. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/graphics/pew-religion-08/flash.htm The minor are not the majority, but continue to wag the dog. Until the dog bites the tail.

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