Phony gospels give me the blues

  • I was hanging out in a Barnes & Noble coffeeshop last week when a guy sitting with his buddies started to happily pontificate on the greatness of “The Gospel of Judas.” I had been hearing the ads for National Geographic’s show about this — I was particularly careful not to set the timer to record it. But now I was getting a recital on its (perceived) strong points anyway from a fifty-something loudmouth.

    “And Jesus asked Judas to do this thing. He wasn’t betrayed at all. He asked him. It was all like a big marketing ploy. Jesus was just tired of it all, y’know? He just wanted out of it all, y’know?

    And on and on. I thought I could tune him out, but I finally got sick of it. Leaving the coffeeshop I almost collided with an entire display rack titled “Spirtuality,” which in this case must’ve been meant sarcastically. It was full of the new trendy heresies — “The Gospel of Judas,” “The Gospel of Thomas,” “The daVinci Code” and on and on. And mind you, I’d already encountered a display rack just for daVinci Code (along with some critiques of the book) downstairs.

    Heresy. All of the sudden, people just can’t get enough. I haven’t bothered to go read up on “The Gospel of Judas.” The guy in the bookstore told me all I need to know. He didn’t care about applying critical thinking or evaluating some new piece of important evidence. There’s this mandatory phrase that shows up in all the secular reporting about this being an “important” find that will make people really “think.”

    Give me a break. The people who are buying these books aren’t the least interested in really thinking, at least if that means doubting for one minute that a text that came along 200 years after the last gospel was penned somehow tells big truths that the other guys missed.

    I think this is why I find all this so depressing. It’s not just the wedge that it drives between me and some large portion of the book-reading populace. It’s also the feeling of American Christendom, with all its faces and all its flaws, having basically failed somehow. It’s not a new thought — “daVinci Code” made me feel that way, too. But this seems worse. “daVinci” fans had to admit, at least to themselves, that that was a novel, a work of fiction. In the case of “Judas,” this aberrant vestige of some ancient sect or other is going to meet all the requirements faith-challenged Americans require to swallow it hook, line and sinker. Clearly, they believe ancient manuscripts completely when they want to.

    And the insult of all of this attack depresses me, too. As Get Religion and Orthodoxy Today note, are we supposed to think it’s a coincidence that both the “daVinci” movie and the massive coverage of “Judas” have come out so close to (Western) Easter?

    It’s enough to make me wonder. It’s hard to miss the fact that there are some people who hate — I mean, actually hate – Christianity in our culture. They don’t think a single good thing has ever come out of it, and some of them think almost everything bad has come out of it. But do they really want it to disappear? Do they want anything that bears any real semblance of it to be surgically removed like a cancer?

    Or do they really not notice that real, active Christianity is in a precarious position, marginalized almost everywhere in the world and treated in European countries as something irrelevant or ugly?

    This article seems to indicate that many pastors are just dismissing “Judas” or (incredibly) saying that it’s a good thing because it will stimulate dialogue about Jesus. (Good grief! That’s like saying that Lincoln’s assassination was a good thing because it gave Mary Todd Lincoln something to talk about at parties.) I can’t find that same happy place. This exciting new heretical text will disappear from the headlines, but the impression that many people will have that the Bible is just one point of view, that Christendom has nothing of substance to say in reply to these claims — that will be the take-away from all this trendy blasphemy.

    It would be incredibly gratifying if the non-Ancient Christian churches could get a grip and teach their parishioners why some things made it into the Bible and others didn’t. The early Church made its way successfully through many such spurious claims; it’s time for present-day Christians of all stripes to respond to that effort and learn their own Tradition. Book publishers and movie-makers can’t have missed the impact all this has made. We surely can’t have heard the last of this.

9 Responses and Counting...

  • BJohnD 04.11.2006

    Amen, sister. Nail-on-head. Thanks for this posting.

    "So, other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"

  • You nailed it, Grace. I've been amazed at watching the discussions "One priest put together the bible" Say what????? Yikes.

    It's the desire to be religious without encountering ones own sinfulness, I think.

  • "…the desire to be religious without encountering one's own sinfulness." — Amen back atcha. That's well said.

  • Grace,

    I think that you've nailed this dead-to-rights. I actually watched National Geognostic's "The Gospel of Judas" special, mostly just because I have a geeky interest in linguistics and was curious about the translating of the ancient text. Unfortunately, the special was far too focused on today's trendy interest in gnosticism and, as you allude, it's very evident underlying anti-Christian themes.

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog. I've been following your posts for a little while, but I haven't gotten around to actually popping in and saying, "Hello."

  • It's just another reminder that the entire world really does revolve around Jesus Christ. If Dan Brown had come to the conclusion in his book that Jesus is Lord, he wouldn't have sold two copies. But let him attack the divinity of Christ and he becomes an overnight celebrity and a best-selling author. He is a clever man, giving people what they want to hear.

    Let not your heart be troubled.

  • Gabriel,
    Welcome! Or — since you've been around for a while — happy commenting(?). I hadn't even thought of the fact that there are going to be some things about this find that would be interesting just because of its age. And, for that matter, there's something interesting about studying a fake, just because the nature of the fakery tells you something about what was going on at the time. But yeah, it sounds like it was presented more for the sensationalism than anything else.

    It's a real pity. The National Geographic Society is a well-respected name. Would it have been that impossible to talk about Gnosticism and its attacks on Christianity at the time? I gather that "The Gospel of Judas" is known to be Gnostic, but it's hard for me to believe there aren't scholars that are at least considering that possibility.

  • Fr. Michael,
    That's a good point. Doing a little Wikipedia research, Dan Brown did five other books — three thrillers, two humor books — which got tepid response at best (a reader review of one of his thrillers is titled "Possibly the dumbest computer book in the history of the world.") Then he took the anti-Vatican tone from "Angels and Demons" to the next level in "daVinci Code" and all of the sudden, the guy is a genius. (His publishers re-released "Angels and Demons" and of course, it did much better the second time.)

    Well, shouldn't the credit for this major breakthrough go to the Christian Church? That's the difference between a hack writer and a genius, apparently.

    (Didn't know you had a blog. Cool — I'll add you to the blogroll.)

  • s-p

    I heard Elaine Pagels speak at Arizona State U. back in the 70's about the Nag Hammadi library and her first book about gnosticism. Even way back then I saw it as a "christianized foundation" for new ageism, relativism and its fake intellectualism. Unfortunately it is similar to much of modern Christianity: you can quote a couple verses, a couple "scholars" and all of a sudden you are a theologian and Church historian. I mean, who can challenge the "pontificators" who can sit at Barnes and Noble amped on espresso and know the "mind of Christ"? Only the Church, really, but the Church challenges Elaine Pagel's take on the gnostic gospels, Dan Brown, the guy with coffee breath and EVERYTHING… all reality centers on the person of Christ as the Church knows Him. Try telling that to the relativist scholars looking for a new gospel that validates the authority of individual pontifications. sigh…..

  • It's like watching a game show where a contestant is struggling with a major questions when you know the answer. I'm *certain* that Protestants want a ready comeback to all this stuff, but if you don't acknowledge the early Church as the definers of orthodox Christianity, your biggest weapon is taken away.

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