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Catholic News Watch

Mark Alessio

The "Real" Mary?

( On November 15, 2006, Paraclete Press published The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus by Scot McKnight, the Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at North Park University, Chicago. According to the publishers:

The real Mary was an unwed, pregnant teenage girl in first century Palestine. She was a woman of courage, humility, spirit, and resolve, and her response to the angel Gabriel shifted the tectonic plates of history. Join popular Biblical scholar Scot McKnight as he explores the contours of Mary’s life, from the moment she learned of God’s plan for the Messiah, to the culmination of Christ’s ministry on earth. McKnight dismantles the myths and also challenges our prejudices.

According to Publisher’s Weekly (PW), McKnight makes the case that the “real” Mary of the Bible has been hijacked by theological controversies, and has been viewed, in turn, as a compliant "resting womb," a damaging stereotype of passivity, a Christmas figure, and a source of "reaction formation" by Protestants, as well as the mother of Jesus.

"The real Mary is no offense to Protestants, but rather a woman for us to honor," he insists, envisioning her as an impoverished, bold, gutsy woman of faith. While depicting her as neither goddess nor super-saint, McKnight portrays Mary's gradual knowledge that her son would not be the triumphant king envisioned as Messiah, and makes a somewhat controversial case for Mary having other children.

According to PW, The Real Mary contains sections on the Immaculate Conception and Mary as mediatrix in prayer which should help debunk some Protestants' false impressions of Catholic belief.

Comment: It goes beyond irony, a Protestant telling us that he – not St. Alphonsus Ligouri, not St. John Eudes, not St. Louis de Montfort – will finally, after all these centuries, tell us about the “real” Mary. In an online interview, Scot McKnight goes so far as to state that his book “is sorely needed because neither Catholics nor Protestants have done a very good job at figuring just what it is that Catholics do believe about Mary.” Of course, he says this after stating that the “real” Mary is “the Mary behind the trappings and clothings of years of devotion by Catholics and neglect by Protestants.”

Much is made these days about Protestants’ openness to the Blessed Virgin. There are even ecumenical Marian groups out there. But there is one GREAT obstacle standing in the way of a proper understanding of Our Lady by Protestants: The Catholic Church. When a Protestant speaks of the “real Mary,” what he means is a “non-Catholic Mary,” a Mary freed from “the trappings and clothings of years of devotion by Catholics.”

For a Protestant to admit that Catholic teaching on the Mother of God is correct, he will also have to admit that his denomination has been wrong about her for centuries. Since the very foundation for Protestantism – its very reason for existing – is to reject the authority and doctrinal legacy of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, this will simply not happen. Instead, Protestant scholars will speak of a “real Mary” – a Mary who fits their bill and conforms to their own pick-&-choose “theology.” We saw the same thing when the so-called Jesus Seminar tried to fashion an “authentic Jesus” by censoring the Gospels to suit their agenda. Ironically, those Protestants who claim to desire the “real Mary” actually want anything but the “real” Mary, for the “real” Mary will lead them home to Rome.

In this situation, the Protestant scholar will create a Mary that sounds like she came from one of today’s teen-angst-ridden television dramas. In an article titled “The Mary We Never Knew” (Christianity Today, Nov. 28, 2006), McKnight reaches into a bag of stale pop-culture clichés and applies them to the Virgin. He jettisons the Mary who “wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us.” Instead, he praises the “subversive” Mary: “Subversive Mary was also dangerous — both to the powers that be and to anyone connected with her, especially Joseph and Jesus.” Right.

It is interesting to note that Scot McKnight is associated with the “Emerging Church” movement. This began as a protest against the “institutional Church” and the “cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation.”

In order to appropriate the Blessed Virgin for such a cause, she must be drastically altered and refashioned into a “subversive,” just another little revolutionary – a Courtney Love with a veil.  In fact, McKnight goes so far as to describe Mary’s Magnificat as “a declaration on the order of Luther pinning his 95 theses to the door.” Our Lady of the Emerging Church? The “real” Mary, of course, has publicly recognized the authority of the Pope and the Church hierarchy.

Seriously, what manner of “scholarship” rejects Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity, despite its pivotal place in St. Luke’s Annunciation narrative? This doctrine, far from being a mere topic of speculation, is very, very close to Mary’s heart. It is not for nothing that the Church uses the formula “Ever-Virgin Mary” so often in prayers and liturgical texts. It is not for nothing that Our Lady of Guadalupe introduced herself to St. Juan Diego as “the Perfect and Perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.”

“Charismatic” convert Kimberly Hahn once said that the three greatest stumbling blocks in her journey to the Church were "Mary, Mary, and Mary." And so it will always be. Our Lady is the litmus test for good will. One’s attitude towards Mary will always vindicate or betray one’s true attitude towards her Son and His Church.

Anti-Religion Crusader Advocates Eugenics

"A leading international anti-religion crusader and supporter of Darwinian theory, Dr. Richard Dawkins, has said that the pseudo-science of eugenics that drove the Nazi regime’s genocidal project ‘may not be bad'," writes Hilary White of Life Site News (Nov. 21, 2006).

In a letter to the editor of Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Dawkins argues that the time has come to stop associating eugenics – the belief that mankind can be improved through the selective breeding of human beings – with Nazi death camps and “racial hygiene” programs. “If you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill,” he asks, “why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?”

Dr. Dawkins holds the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, but is best known as one of the world’s most outspoken opponents of religious belief. In September of this year, he published his book, The God Delusion. Dawkins is one of the instigators of the idea that the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception will result in mass starvation. He is also a leader of the movement to gain legal “human” rights for great apes, arguing that since there is no such thing as a soul, there is no moral difference between apes and humans.

Advocates of eugenics and utilitarianism – the  theory that the discriminating norm which distinguishes conduct into right and wrong is pleasure and pain – can be found today among Nobel Prize winners and many of the leading lights of academia who hold extreme atheistic opinions like those of Richard Dawkins.

James Watson, the Nobel Prize winning discoverer of DNA, ridicules the notion of an overarching value to human beings. Speaking at a conference at UCLA in 1998, he said, “I think it's complete nonsense ... saying we're sacred and should not be changed … to say we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity? I'd like to know where that idea comes from because it's utter silliness.”

Many modern eugenics enthusiasts advocate sterilization, abortion and infanticide as well as genetic modification of people at the embryonic stage. Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist, John Sulston, implicitly advocated the extermination of the disabled when he said, “I don't think one ought to bring a clearly disabled child into the world.”

According to Ekklesia (Nov. 22, 2006), Richard Dawkins is seeking charitable status for a foundation with the purpose of “flooding schools with anti-religious literature.” The initiative will also attempt to divert donations from the hands of “missionaries” and church-based charities, and will instead attack the teaching of creationism and promote “rational and scientific enquiry.”

Commenting on Dawkins' views on religious belief, Dr. Steven P. Rose, professor of biology and neurobiology at the Open University and the University of London, remarked: “I worry that Richard’s view about belief is too simplistic, and so hostile that as a committed secularist myself I am uneasy about it.”

Comment: Why is it that the elitist God-hating set so often find it difficult to follow their own preferred “logic” to its rational conclusion? The militant atheist Richard Dawkins believes that human beings can be “bred” for mathematical, musical or athletic ability. Okay. According to the Scientific Method, one observes a phenomenon, formulates a hypothesis to explain it, and then uses that hypothesis to predict the results of new observations.

Now, choose any brilliant artist, athlete or scientist since the beginning of recorded history—Beethoven, Da Vinci, DiMaggio, Plato, Shakespeare, Archimedes, whomever. Eugenics played NO part in the conception of these personages. Every great musician ... every great inventor ... every great writer ... every great explorer ... every great scientist ... every great athlete ... was born via the time-tested method of letting nature take its course. While a Catholic would not describe the process as “random,” let us use the term for the moment.

According to the Scientific Method, we observe that every great thinker and artist was born from the “random” (not eugenically-engineered) coupling of parents. What is the logical hypothesis that follows from this fact? It naturally follows that intellectual brilliance or artistic talent are not the result of “selective breeding.” While skills and appreciation may be inculcated into a young child, there is still the individual mind, personality and soul to consider. Many fine musicians have come from parents who do not play instruments. Many fine writers and thinkers have come from parents who did not attend college.

Any honest neurologist – and I have spoken to a few regarding family matters – will tell you that, despite the advances made in mapping the brain and treating many of its afflictions, it is still a mysterious entity that tends to follow its own rules. Anyone who has seen the effects of dementia up close knows this ... with a vengeance.

Dawkins’ entire conception of eugenics is flawed because it dismisses the fact that the individual is something greater than the sum of his parts. His radical disbelief in God translates into “I can do better than God.” And yet, the very existence of the scientists and thinkers to whom he is indebted – all of them “bred” the old-fashioned way – give the lie to his theories. No, we will not engineer better composers and poets – or “better people” – simply because we dismiss the existence of the soul and treat human beings like cattle. You cannot “engineer” a Ninth Symphony, a Divine Comedy or a good person willing to sacrifice his own life for what is right.

 “Simplistic” and “hostile” describe Dawkins’ views perfectly. Although, perhaps the apes to whom Dawkins wishes to give legal rights might be able to make some sense of it all.

Archeologists Unearth Clues to Britain’s Catholic History

Archaeologists excavating near the edge of Trafalgar Square in London have found evidence of early Christianity in England, suggesting the area has a much older religious significance than was originally believed, writes David Keys of The Independent (Dec. 1, 2006).

A team from the Museum of London has discovered a hoard of what is almost certainly royal treasure, buried in a mysterious, empty human grave laid out in the traditional Christian manner – east to west.  "Our excavations demonstrate the position as a significant and important place at an earlier date than we thought," said Alison Telfer, the senior archaeologist in charge of the dig. The finds are among the most remarkable discoveries ever made in London and are likely to shed new light on the very early stages of the introduction of Christian ideas into the Anglo-Saxon world 1,400 years ago.

Located next to one of the capital's most famous churches, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, immediately to the north of Trafalgar Square, the empty grave appears to form part of a previously unknown ancient cemetery, dating back more than one and a half millennia. Archaeologists have also discovered 24 other graves on the site, all still holding the remains of their occupants. The treasure hoard in the empty grave consists of a gold pendant inlaid with blue-green glass; glass beads and fragments of silver (possibly a neck pendant); and two pieces of amethyst, possibly earrings.

The empty grave and several of the other graves in the cemetery are estimated to date from the time that Bertha was Queen of Kent – 590 to 610 AD. According to Professor Ian Wood of Leeds University, "Bertha is the unsung heroine of early English Christianity because it was she, rather than the much more famous St. Augustine, who was initially responsible for the introduction of Christianity into the Anglo-Saxon world. It was as a result of her activities that St. Augustine was sent to England by the Pope to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury.”

It is believed that the newly discovered grave did initially accommodate a body, but the remains were removed after some months or years for burial inside a church, potentially an early version of St. Martin's itself. "It is likely that the empty grave belonged to a relative - possibly even a daughter or a niece - of the most important woman in Britain at the time, Queen Bertha, the wife of the most powerful ruler in England, King Aethelberht of Kent, overlord of the English,” observed Professor Wood.

This discovery raises the possibility that the site had Christian links long before the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, possibly as the location of a small church or mortuary chapel built there in the very late Roman period, immediately before the Anglo-Saxon pagan conquest. This would mean that St. Martin-in-the-Fields is London's oldest surviving ecclesiastical site, predating St. Paul's by some two centuries.

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