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By John Zmirak, a Senior Editor, The Stream, April 1, 2018

John ZmirakImagine the look on the Temple guard’s face as he broke the news to Caiaphas. Recall that the chief priest belonged to the liberal, worldly sect of 1st-century Judaism. Jewish historian Josephus reported that the Sadducees tossed out more than half of the Hebrew Bible. And denied that sinners would be punished in the afterlife. (Or saints rewarded.) They served as the velvet glove on the Roman fist, and profited handsomely from the arrangement. And they controlled the Temple. The closest analogue today would be the Jesuits at Georgetown and Holy Cross. The kind who welcome pro-abortion speakers with honorary degrees. And teach courses on how Jesus was apparently transgender.

“What do you mean his body is missing? Wasn’t it guarded?”

Rome Knew That Life Is Cheap

Oh yes it was, and how well! By handpicked men of the toughest army in the history of the world. They’d crushed one Jewish uprising after another. They ruled from the salty shores of Brittany to the howling deserts of Persia. They knew the penalty for shirking: slow, screaming death on a cross, just like those Jews they’d nailed up the day before.

And Pilate had his own reasons for wanting to keep Jesus locked up in the tomb. He was the standard-bearer of secular, worldly conservatism. He served a vast empire built on conquest and slavery. It didn’t need men asking too many questions about “justice.” Or imagining that human life is sacred, when Rome knew that life is cheap. The Empire spent life lavishly, from the walls where abandoned infants cried their last, to the Colosseum where crowds howled and jeered as prisoners fell to the lions. Its gods were tame, faintly ridiculous, and prone to bribery. That was the status quo, and Pilate meant to conserve it from crackpot Jewish radicals.

Make Israel Great Again

The Pharisees were a mixed bag. They took their Torah seriously, and tried to live it. Some of them had quietly welcomed this man as a messiah. But their leaders wanted no part of Him — for clear and obvious reasons. They didn’t read their scriptures as promising a God-Man. And they didn’t want some savior who came to be a light unto the gentiles. They wanted to hail a conquering hero who would Make Israel Great Again. And Jesus didn’t offer that. All He did was confuse them, and fill them with gnawing doubts: “What if he’s telling the truth?” “How else did he work all those miracles?” “He does seem to fit the prophecies. …” And that was unacceptable. Such news was much, much too good to be true.

Denying Christ

And let’s face it, folks. As perfectly modern people, we want to seal up the tomb and pretend that nothing happened. None of us is immune, not even the pope. How fitting that the world learned on Holy Thursday that Pope Francis did yet another interview with his favorite atheist journalist who doesn’t take notes. In it, the pope reportedly claimed that hell does not exist. (The standard Vatican-generated non-denial denials appeared, of course, after this Francis’ fifth such sit-down with the same journalist.)

We don’t know what Pope Francis said. If he did say that, though, then he, like Peter, also denied Christ — by flouting His words. Make no mistake: Jesus talked a lot about eternal damnation. Deny that, and you deny part of His message.

But wouldn’t we all like to? Doesn’t it better fit our fuzzy, effete idea of justice to deny hell? That lost souls just wink out of existence, like hogs’ souls at factory farms?

Wouldn’t You Rather Be a Hog?

If that’s the price of avoiding hell, wouldn’t you rather just be a hog? Of course you would. But that’s not an option. Not in the real world, the one that God made and where we fell. That world is chock full of things we wish weren’t true. And some of us use bits and pieces of the Gospel, torn out of context, as camouflage to cover them. But they’re as stubborn as sin.

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In the Gospel of Wishful Thinking:

  • Nobody’s really wicked. Just misguided.

  • We don’t imprison killers (or heaven forfend, execute any) to punish them. We give them “time-outs” for the sake of rehabilitation.

  • No culture is really incompatible with ours. We just must learn to be flexible and welcoming.

  • No other religion is false, intolerant and cruel. Those are just “distortions” preached by “extremists.”

  • People aren’t lazy, greedy, lustful, vindictive or envious. Those are just side-effects of bad social conditions. Let’s keep on turning the dials and tweaking the controls until all of that goes away.

And Jesus never rose because He didn’t die. When Peter begged Him not to go to Jerusalem, He listened. That oil the woman poured over His head for anointing? It went to fund an orphanage, with a nice annual salary for its new CEO, Judas.

Jesus Christ, Guru

Since Jesus had no original sin, He just went on living and living. Astounded by His agelessness, it attracted celebrities from all around the world. He founded a Center for Interreligious Dialogue in Jerusalem. Instead of solemn rituals, it held its own version of TED Talks. And the people who flocked to it were consoled, inspired, educated. They just weren’t redeemed. But that was never what we wanted in the first place.

In our fallenness, we don’t really want redemption. And we don’t crave Heaven, or even Eden. We want Babylon, and we want Jesus to bless it.

In our fallenness, we don’t really want redemption. And we don’t crave Heaven, or even Eden. We want Babylon, and we want Jesus to bless it. That’s the first and best evidence of just how desperately we need it.


John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.

He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.

He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.