Real and Fake “Good News” in Religion

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Recently the Milwaukee Journal interviewed Republicans and Democrats regarding their favored news sources. A Republican responded, “We have not watched any mainstream media for over a year… It’s Fox all the time.” A Democrat answered, “We don’t listen to Fox News, so we know we’re actually getting something that’s akin to the truth.” I have a friend who frequently sends me excerpts from leftist websites like unz.com for comments, and makes me aware that a lot of people self-censor in their choice of news. As regards TV news, without cable, one doesn’t have much choice. ABC, NBC and CBS are fairly consistent in avoiding news that would promote conservative viewpoints.

Personally, I’m a news junkie, and I check out liberal sources like CNN and the New York Times, as well as conservative sources like Fox News and the Washington Times. One thing I and many others have noticed is that, on political matters, if you want to find out Donald Trump’s mistakes and missteps leading toward impeachment, CNN is the place to go; whereas if you want to learn about any positive things he happened to have done for the country, Fox will tend to cover these.

The Good News

In Christianity, the Latin word, evangelium, derived from the Greek,  εὐαγγέλιον, literally means “good news.” It was the sort of thing that the Apostles, like news reporters with a historically astounding “scoop,” rushed to proclaim around the world, spreading the news to whomever would listen to them: “Listen, everyone: the Son of God has come into the world, taken on flesh, endured all the pains and difficulties that our flesh is heir to, suffered a cruel death, but conquered death once and for all, opening up the possibility for all of us to attain eternal life. He performed miracles to show that he did indeed have divine prerogatives. He established a Church which would be in charge of spreading this good news and preserving it from attacks and counterfeits throughout time, and even promised that he would preserve His Vicar on earth from all onslaughts from the ‘gates of hell.’ Those who are faithful in life will be rewarded with final divinization in heaven and the vision of God face-to-face.”

This is real “good news.” But there is no lack of fake “good news,” coming from a variety of quarters.

Among the Jews, there is still a large contingent awaiting the Messiah (mashiach ben David), son of David, who will fulfil the Dynastic Oracle in 2 Samuel that God will raise up a son to David who will establish a kingdom that will last forever (2Sam. 7:12-17). At the Ascension of Jesus after his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were thinking along these lines when they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts. 1:6) Jesus’ answer (that this was up to the Father and they should be patient) (Acts 1:7), was not very satisfying to anyone with political aspirations, nor would it be to present-day Jews who are still expecting a great charismatic political leader who will rebuild the Temple and establish Israel as the center of world government. But the main emphasis in Jewish messianism is and has always been on the political resurgence of Israel in the “end times,” not on eternal salvation in the afterlife – something even some of Jesus’ followers found hard to grasp.

Muslims

According to Muslims, Abraham and his son Ishmael were the first Muslims. They traveled to Mecca and built the temple, the Kaaba, which is still revered as a place of pilgrimage. The Muslim (Hanif) religion was spread by Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and other prophets, and finally Jesus (Isa), who announced that a “paraclete” would come after him teaching all truth. But unfortunately, all Old Testament and New Testament scriptures became distorted and unreliable, offering falsehoods such as the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Muhammad was chosen as this final prophet, received the true scriptures relayed to him by the angel Gabriel and dictated directly from Allah.  Muslims have the commission to spread the Islamic religion throughout the world until there is no other religion. They may use force if necessary, and those who die in attempts to kill the unbelievers will receive preferential places in a paradise of sensual delights, offering unlimited gustatory and sexual pleasures. This is a concept of “salvation” that has appealed to countless persons, especially militant males, down through the centuries.

Protestants

According to Protestants, salvation comes to the individual by baptism and faith in Christ and following the instructions laid down in the Bible, as interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church has fallen away from this authentic Christian message by overly close relationships with political powers, the creation of laws and rituals and dogmas unrelated to Biblical mandates, and substitution of human intermediaries instead of direct relation with God. Those who have faith and follow Biblical directives will go directly to heaven, having been saved by the infinite merits of the blood of Jesus, wiping out all the sins they may have committed. Granted there are differing interpretations of the Bible regarding Baptism, the Eucharist, marriage, the Church, etc. – the important thing is to faithfully interpret the Bible as individual conscience dictates. Some Protestants even claim to have had the experience of “being saved,” once and for all.

Mormons

According to Mormons, the Church founded by Jesus apostatized soon after Jesus’ death. But fortunately a tribe of ancient Israelites had come to America 600 years before the Birth of Jesus, and Jesus visited the remnants of this tribe after his resurrection and preached the Gospel to them. For about 200 years, the inchoate Christian groups remained faithful but eventually fell away from the righteous path until the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in the 19th century, revealed the ancient histories in the Book of Mormon, and established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Present-day Mormonism is hierarchical, centralized in a Temple in Salt Lake, with elders, a priesthood and bishops, engaging in missionary work throughout the world, and emphasizing consolidation of families, especially through “celestial marriage” which lasts not only in time but forever, with divine patriarchs propagating families in heaven throughout eternity, possibly populating many planets in the universe.

Near-death Experiences

Near-death experiences: As resuscitation techniques developed in the last half of the 20 century, the phenomenon of “near-death experiences” (NDEs) became prominent, and even the subject of scientific examination. According to accounts of many who were declared dead by medical authorities, but revived, they encountered divine beings, even God Himself, as well as friends and relatives who had died, and were often given secrets about life and religion before being sent back to earth. The most commonly-mentioned “secret” is that love is the one and only essential factor in life and religions are important only if they facilitate the increase of manifestations of love. One NDE survivor, for instance, asked, “which is the right religion?” and was told, “They all are. Each religion is a pathway trying to reach the same place. I saw a mountain, and each religious group was trying to reach the top; they were all trying to get to the same place. I was then told that people choose to be born into whichever religion or group that will help them achieve the lessons they are sent here to learn.” Another survivor said, “ After my NDE I stopped going to church because I felt that what they were teaching wasn’t accurate. I realized that God is pure love and heaven is not somewhere you go when you die; heaven is here now, on earth. I’m not involved in any religion, but I respect everyone and their religion.” So just practice love in whatever way seems best, and you will end up in a paradise of love.

New Age

The New Age movement, which gathered steam in the late 1970s, prided itself on being above and beyond religion. From New Agers, we often hear the familiar mantra of being “spiritual, but not religious.” Its multifarious manifestations may include simplicity, an embrace of nature and the earth, holistic healing, meditation, vegetarianism, pacifism, tolerance, and often an emphasis on “cosmic consciousness,” with the hope that eventually all the world will enter into this supreme consciousness. A few years ago a former Jesuit Provincial, residing at Marquette University, gave us an example of New Ageism. Nearing 80 years of age, and resigning from the priesthood, he wrote to fellow Jesuits and friends: “My ‘YES’ to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness means saying ‘NO’ to ordained ministry…   All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion – conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners, sharing in one Earth-Human community. In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity.” This Jesuit’s experience may be like the quasi-mystical experience of many New Agers, a conversion of sorts. Merging with the communion of being, one has “arrived,” and thoughts about salvation are irrelevant.

The Real Good News

If we haven’t had a near-death experience, or feel one with the cosmos, or are in a marriage that lacks the celestial aura, or don’t find militant proselytism attractive, don’t harbor earthbound apocalyptic expectations, or don’t feel already “saved” by our faith, the real “good news” remains as an option. But it involves following Church laws, acceptance of doctrines, belief in the miraculous, confession of sin, and often suffering and persecution. Understandably, many hesitate to accept the good news because of such provisos.

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