Hijackers of the Word

Regis Martin.
Crisis Magazine.

What would you call someone who lives off the substance of a faith he no longer believes in, a faith every detail of which he despises, including the Church founded by Christ to give it expression; one who makes, by the way, a very good living teaching theology at a Catholic University to young people he regards as far too stupid to know any better than to believe it? 

By the standards of the world, I think we’d have to call him a success. But is success a biblical category? Christ certainly didn’t think so, having spent His last hours suspended from a cross. But that was such a long time ago, and since then we’ve made so much progress. Who needs a Crucified Savior when you’ve got a smart phone?

What about calling him a fraud? An imposter? Not unlike the corrupt politician who flatters you for a vote he doesn’t really give a hang about because he’s less interested in you than in lining his pockets; the politician whose real passion is getting power, the exercise of which must never, warned Plato, be given to those who lust after it. 

Am I being too cynical here? I don’t think so. At the very least, we should go ahead and call him a parasite, which is anyone living off the body of that which he does not love. A friend I once knew loved collecting bottle caps. But he disliked drinking the stuff. I, however, had no interest in the caps but loved the pop. We soon became partners. He’d buy all the pop and I’d give him all the caps. Welcome to the world of synergy. Which of us, I wonder, was the more cynical?

So, where am I going with all this? To the world of not a few Catholic biblical scholars, that’s where. Here is a profession where it is entirely possible to read the Scriptures in a dozen languages, tracing them back to the original Greek and Hebrew, and not believe a word of it. Now that’s cynicism. It is, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing. Like the tourist who listens attentively to the expert guide’s exhaustive recital of all the wonders of St. Peter’s Basilica, only to ask in the end, “How much does it weigh?” There is something rather repulsive about reductionism of that sort.  

So, I think it entirely fair to call him a thief, someone for whom duplicity has become a way of life. What he is doing amounts to a kind of swindle, what Denis de Rougemont once called “the confiscation of the spiritual riches of Christianity by those who no longer believe in Christianity.” And so, at the very least, he ought to go and look for another job.

He should absolutely not be teaching courses in Catholic Theology to students, so many of whose parents are paying big bucks for what they mistakenly thought was the faith of the Church. And because the content of that faith is the direct result of a Revelation he cannot abide, which he seeks at every turn to undermine the truth of, why on earth would any self-respecting Catholic University wish to hire or retain him? His presence there is a screaming contradiction to everything it stands for—or should stand for, which is another matter.