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Ira Glass on Christianity and Religion

Ira Glass Ira Glass is an American television and radio personality who was the admired host of a radio program called This American Life.

Glass has stated on This American Life that he is a committed atheist. “It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me … But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God, but I simply don’t.”

Atheism notwithstanding, “some years I have a nostalgic feeling to go into a shul and I’ll go in for a High Holiday service,” discloses Glass, who has fond memories of his childhood rabbi’s beguiling discourses. “Rabbi Seymour Esrog was really funny, a great storyteller. He was so good that even the kids would stay and watch him. He’d tell a funny anecdote, something really moving, and go for a big finish. That’s what the show is,” he competes, recognizing the rabbi’s effect.

In this interview with religious anthropologist Jim Henderson, Glass says he thinks Christians get a genuinely bad rap in the media. The NPR star said the way Christians are often represented in pop-culture is totally different from the way the Christians he knows personally actually are in real life. “The Christians in my life were all incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and had very ambiguous, complicated feelings in their beliefs. And seemed to be totally generous-hearted, and totally open to a lot of different kinds of people in their lives.”

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The Twelve Apostles: Jesus’ Dearest and Closest Companions

The Twelve Apostles in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper

The Gospels record that Jesus had many disciples, from whom he chose a dozen to be his hand-picked affiliates. He called this group “the Twelve.”

The term apostle comes from the Greek word “apostolos” which means, “one who is sent out.” The twelve apostles abandoned of their home, family, and all else for the sake of spreading the “Good News.” To the twelve apostles, Jesus gave the power to cast out evil, to heal, and to preach his teachings.

Jesus instilled in his apostles commitment to one particular task: to announce the “Good News,” the news of the coming kingdom of God. Jesus said to the apostles, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

The apostles lived in poverty, carried no money, accepted any hospitality and generosity offered to them, and shared the nomadic way of life with Jesus. They thus were able to focus unhindered to their task as his selected messengers. No apostle looked back to his old life with regret.

The list of the disciples of Jesus who comprised the Twelve appears in all three synoptic gospels in the Bible:

The lists are matching:

  • Peter/Simon (sometimes called Cephas) and his brother Andrew,
  • James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
  • Philip,
  • Bartholomew (Nathanael in John’s gospel),
  • Matthew (or Levi) the tax collector,
  • Thomas Didymus (” the Twin”),
  • James, the son of Alphaeus,
  • Simon the Zealot,
  • Thaddaeus, the son of James, sometimes called Lebbaeus, and
  • Judas Iscariot.

The Twelve were a set group who remained closest to Jesus. After the death of Judas Iscariot, the group of twelve was maintained by choosing Matthias because he accompanied Jesus throughout his entire ministry. Until their deaths, the new twelve continued to carry out Jesus’ work.

The Twelve Apostles: Jesus' Dearest and Closest Companions The number twelve corresponded to that of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. This was a purposeful choice: Jesus assured the Twelve that at the time of reckoning, their reward would be to sit on twelve thrones and to judge the twelve tribes.

Jesus’ specially chosen disciples—his Twelve Apostles—carried his Word to the people, building the foundation of early Christianity. Nevertheless who were the men who dedicated their lives and their souls to this sacred task?

The Twelve Apostles series is a wonderful introduction to Jesus’ dearest and closest companions, and the important mission that bound them into an everlasting brotherhood.

  1. Apostle Peter
  2. Apostle Andrew
  3. Apostle James the Elder
  4. Apostle John the Evangelist
  5. Apostle Matthew
  6. Apostle Philip
  7. Apostle Bartholomew
  8. Apostle Jude Thaddeus
  9. Apostle Simon, the Zealot
  10. Apostle James the Younger
  11. Apostle Thomas
  12. Apostles Judas and Matthias
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St. Thomas Aquinas on God and Causation

St. Thomas Aquinas receiving the Holy Spirit (in the shape of a dove), by Andrea di Bartolo (c. 1368-1428)

The view that God does not work directly in the world, but through secondary causes, can be attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas.

In his unfinished work Summa Theologica (1265-74), philosopher, priest, and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) refers to God as the “Primary Cause” of all of creation, which God then sustains through his presence.

The inhabitants of God’s creation—including humankind—are his “Secondary Causes.” The idea of “causation” is not always as linear as the example of creator followed by creation suggests. The “chicken and the egg” causality dilemma (which came first, the chicken or the egg?) means different things to different people. A literal reading of Genesis makes it clear that the chicken (God) came first; but in evolution it is the egg that first appeared. In Summa Theologica (1265-74), St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “All intermediate causes are inferior in power to the first cause … .”

According to Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a primary cause is able to “cause itself” and is not dependent upon anything before it for its existence. For Aquinas, creation was the radical “causing” of the universe—it was not a change to the universe, or to space or time; it was not an altering of existing materials. If anything had already existed to aid in or be added to the causing of the universe, then God would not have been the maker of it. As the initiator of the first, primary cause, God is responsible for the means by which all subsequent secondary causes are enabled and sustained. These secondary causes are truly causal, and are variable and arbitrary according to the whims and vagaries of its agents, whether they are humans, or the laws of nature, or the mechanjcs of physics. For Aquinas, humans cause their own actions and God influences the actions of humans, and neither impinges upon the freedom of the other.

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Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #12: Judas and Matthias

Kiss of Judas (1304---06), fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Holy Scripture tells us that Jesus knew that both Peter and Judas Iscariot would betray him. Yet Peter repented and, receiving forgiveness went on to lead the apostles in their ministry as head of the early Christian church. However, Judas, though he too later regretted his crime against his master, could not bring himself to seek mercy from the one he had betrayed. Instead, consumed by guilt and grief, he took his own life, thus condemning himself.

The gospels give no clue for his treachery, suggesting only that the betrayer had come to be possessed by evil. The tragic events unfolded in this way: At the time of the Passover feast, the crowds in the city streets of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as a prophet, causing the corrupt chief priests in the Temple to fear for their own position of power. They wanted to be rid of Jesus, but they needed a means that would not enrage the public. Judas Iscariot, for the small price of thirty pieces of silver, showed them the way.

On a clear moonlit night, Judas led armed troops to the private Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus could be captured quietly. Judas arranged to identify Jesus with a signal, thus when he came upon his master, the traitor kissed him, saying, “Rabbi!” Immediately, the troops seized and arrested Jesus. Later Judas tried to give back the “blood money,” but the priests refused, turning their backs on him. According to tradition, Judas then rang the silver pieces down and Red. In the end, the betrayer hanged himself.

Saint Matthias, Workshop of Simone Martini

After Judas’ death, the holy apostles understood that the fellowship had to be made up to twelve again by appointing someone who had accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry. (Acts of the Apostles I: 15-26)

Two disciples out of the seventy who followed Jesus fit the requirement: Matthias and Barabbas/Justus. To decide between these good men, sacred lots were drawn for the first time by the apostles, and Matthias was chosen. Some believe that beyond the drawing of lots, a ray of light shone down from the heavens to rest upon Matthias’ head, thereby verifying that he was indeed the right choice. Judea was assigned to Matthias, and he preached there and in Armenia, performing many miracles, and went to his eternal rest in peace.

  • The symbol for Matthias is the ax.
  • Holy days: In the West, Matthias’ life is celebrated on May 14; in some Anglican churches, February 24; and in the Orthodox Church, August 9.
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Saints Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas Vilified Women in Their Writings

You can find other disparaging remarks about women throughout the history of philosophy. Consider what seminal Catholic thinkers like Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas had to say about women:

  • “Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition…”
    Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, q. 92 a. 1
  • “Good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”
    Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, q.92 a.1 reply 2
  • “I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?”
    Source: St. Augustine, Genesi Ad Litteram, 9, 5-9
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Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #11: Thomas

Apostle #11 Thomas

The holy apostle Thomas is perhaps best remembered as “Doubting Thomas”—the apostle who, when told of the emergence of the risen Christ, declared, “I will never believe it unless I see the holes the nails made in his hands, put my finger on the nail-marks and my hand into his side” (John 20:25.)

Thomas’ reaction was definitely practical; perhaps the others overcome with grief were deluding themselves. He had witnessed the tragic death of his beloved master; how was he now to believe that Jesus was alive? Thomas wanted the same astonishing experience as the rest; he wanted proof. When Jesus did appear to him, and Thomas saw the same tortured body that had suffered on the cross, he was overpowered, and cried, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Thus, Thomas was one of the first to explicitly express Jesus’ divinity.

Apostle Thomas in India Yet Thomas was not only clearheaded, but also brave. During the winter, Jesus was forced out of Jerusalem for his teachings. Now, Jesus and his apostles were aware that if he returned, he and perhaps they would be killed. (John 11:8) Then a few months later word came that Jesus’ great friend Lazarus was gravely ill. The message spoke of illness, but Jesus knew that by the time the news arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Yet Jesus prepared to go to his friend in Bethany, some two miles from the city of Jerusalem, regardless of the risk to himself. Alarmed, the apostles argued against it; why go, they reasoned, if Lazarus was dead? It was Thomas who rallied the others, insisting, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) Here Thomas is not a man of doubt, but of great courage and loyalty.

Several Apocryphal works have circulated under Thomas’ name. The Apocryphal works of Thomas: Acts of Thomas, Apocalypse of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Book of Thomas, and the Gospel of Thomas. There is much written about his fearless evangelical work and more speculation about his extensive missionary travels than any other of the Twelve. The church of the East and Assyria trace the succession of its bishops back to Thomas.

Apostle Thomas in India

Western India claims him as the founder of the early Christian church. The Acts of Thomas opens with a gathering of the apostles in Jerusalem. They are dividing the world by lot to evangelize. When Thomas receives India, he objects on the ground of his ethnicity: “How can I,” he protests, “as a Hebrew man, go among the Indians to announce the truth?” As a follower of Jesus in India, he is a minority of one, not just linguistically, but spiritually too. Eventually, his goal is to bring that huge majority of unbelieving Indians over to his side, to transform isolation into predominance, into a network to which all can belong. According to tradition, Saint Thomas was supposedly killed at St. Thomas Mount, near Chennai, in 72 A.D. and his body was entombed in Mylapore. Ephraim the Syrian states that the Apostle was martyred in India, and that his relics were removed then to Ede.

  • His symbol is a T-square.
  • Holy days: October 6 in the Eastern churches; July 3 in the West.
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Holy Grail and Its Healing Properties

A handcolored etching of the Holy Grail, from a series of illustrations for Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal (1882).

Holy Grail is a mystical cup that was thought by Christians to have healing properties.

The Holy Grail is first mentioned in the Arthurian romance Perceval, Le Conte du Graaf (c. 1181) by Chretien de Troyes (1135–1183). The Grail itself is simply a beautifully decorated chalice, or cup, used to hold the Mass wafer, which Catholics receive as the literal, transubstantiated body of Christ. In the story, the wafer sustains the injured Fisher King, who lives by this bread alone. In its earliest conception, therefore, the Holy Grail is best thought of as a romantic medieval appropriation of the Eucharist, which brings health to those who partake of it.

The thirteenth-century poet Robert de Boron added to the Grail legend by describing it as the combination of the chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper and the blood of Jesus that Joseph of Arimathea saved during the crucifixion. In this way, Joseph of Arimathea became the first of the Grail guardians, and it was his task to keep the Grail safe until it could help in healing the faithful. In later Arthurian romances, the “Grail Quest” is undertaken by King Arthur’s knights as a means to help restore Camelot-the near paradisiacal kingdom on Earth—which is being torn apart by sin.

Sir Thomas Malory wrote of the Holy Grail in Le Marte d’Arthur (1485): “Then looked they and saw a man come out of the holy vessel …”

Although the Holy Grail has gradually become more than a simple metaphor for the Eucharist, it still retains the strong Christian notion that Jesus’s sacrifice makes possible redemption not only as the healing of moral brokenness (the forgiveness of sins) but also the healing of nonmoral brokenness (the restoration of broken bodies, dying lands, and so on). The legend of the Holy Grail depicts humanity’s quest for redemption, but also hints at what that redemption might look like.

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Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #10: James the Younger

Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #10: James the Younger

In all four inventories of the apostles, James, the son of Alpheus, is grouped with Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Academics conjecture that there was a common thread amongst these men prior to joining Jesus, and that perhaps they all once fit in to the rebellious religious faction known as the Zealots.

James the Younger is occasionally called “the Less” (Mark 15:40) though no noteworthy reason has been found for this, except for perhaps to differentiate him from “James the Elder” or “the Great.”

It is commonly thought that James was the brother of Matthew, because both were sons of Alpheus. Like his brother, James came from Capernaum in Galilee, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus came to land early in his ministry, propagandizing in the native synagogues, private homes, and on the sandy shores of the sea. Crowds congregated throughout to listen, and perhaps James came to hear Jesus’ teachings in such a way. However it is believed that James contrasted ideologically with Matthew, both brothers were inspired by Jesus. Renouncing all else behind, together they set aside their disparities and followed him.

One story maintained in the Golden Legend relates that James so bore a resemblance to Jesus that it was difficult for those who did not know them well to tell the two apart. Perhaps there is a minor kernel of truth here. Might this be the motive that the kiss of Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, according to Scripture, was needed? Perchance it was to make certain that Jesus and not the holy apostle James was detained.

In the Apostle James’ last days he earned the name the “Divine Seed” for he labored during the course of his life to sow the seeds of Jesus’ message. Thus he flourished in planting faith and benevolence in all who listened.

  • His symbol is the fuller’s club (used in blacksmithing) or a book.
  • Holy days: in the Eastern churches on October 9; in the West, the Book of Common Prayer joins him with Philip on May 1; and in the Roman Catholic Church, his holy day is May 3.
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Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #9: Simon, the Zealot

St. Simon from Rubens Twelve Apostles series

The holy apostle Simon is called “the Zealot,” (Luke 6:15; Acts of the Apostles 1:13) possibly to differentiate him from Simon/Peter. But there is a hypothesis that Simon, along with James the Younger, Jude Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot formerly belonged to the Zealots, a religious sect of “freedom fighters” severely opposed to Roman control over Judea. Some scholars maintain that Jesus made certain announcements recorded in the Bible of a groundbreaking nature that affiliated him with members of the Zealot movement. Still others presume that the word “zealot” when discussing to Simon only suggested that he was a zealous advocate of the faith.

According to the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, a second-century Apocryphal work, Simon obtained his call from Jesus while with many of the other apostles at the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18-22.) Yet a different account names Simon the husband-to-be at the Wedding in Cana, the juncture of Jesus’ first public miracle when he turned water into wine at the request of Mary, his mother. In this institution Simon was so stirred by the miracle that he exited the wedding merriments and his home to turn into one of Jesus’ apostles. The last reference of Simon is found in the Acts of the Apostles when, following the Ascension, he revisited to the city of Jerusalem with the other apostles and Jesus’ mother. (Acts of the Apostles 1:13–14)

The holy apostle is related with Thaddaeus in the Apocryphal Passion of Simon and Jude, which tells of their proselytization together in Persia. In the West the two are always combined in the ecclesiastic calendar and in the devotions of churches. An Armenian practice claims that he sermonized in Armenia along with Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, Andrew, and Matthias.

St. Simon the Zealot's (Simon Kananaios) cave in Abkhazia

Simon, the Zealot, Disciple of Jesus Christ

The New Testament tells us little of Simon, the Zealot, except that he was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Disciples. He is identified by Luke as “the Zealot,” referring to his membership in a Jewish sect which urged religious freedom in the face of Roman domination. Simon also is called the “Canaanite,” and this too refers not to his place of origin, but to his being zealous.

He must have been fervent in his beliefs, one who worked hard to hold high his ideas. Perhaps he hoped that Jesus would be a political Savior, who would overthrow the unjust rule of Rome.

But Simon did not try to make of Jesus a zealot; instead he changed himself into a humble disciple of the Christ.

His name is again mentioned as the apostles await the coming of the Holy Spirit, indicating his steadfast loyalty to Christ and his work with the early church.

  • Simon’s later life and the nature of his death are unknown.
  • The holy apostle Simon’s symbol is a book.
  • Holy days: in the East: May l0; in the West, with Jude Thaddaeus on October 28.
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Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #8: Jude Thaddeus

Get to Know the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ: Apostle #8: Jude Thaddeus

The Gospels mention Jude Thaddaeus in the list of the holy Twelve. Sometimes he is called “Lebbaeus;” however the Aramaic meaning of Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus is the same, “beloved” or “dear to the heart.”

The Fourth Gospel tells us that Thaddaeus asked Jesus, “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” And Jesus answered, “If a man loves me and obeys my teachings, my father and I will love him and we will come to him and abide with him” (see John I 4:22–23.) Many scholars believe it was the last question Jesus answered before he began his prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest.

Thaddaeus’s esteemed reputation as a miracle-worker may be due to a legend concerning Abgar of Oseoene—the twenty-eight-year-old king of a small, prosperous domain located some 400 miles from Jerusalem. Shortly before Jesus’ arrest, the young king wrote to Jesus asking to be cured of a painful disease. Though Abgar never met Jesus, he accepted him as the Savior, and warned that in Jerusalem there were plots against Jesus’ life. Abgar offered his own kingdom as sanctuary, saying, “I have a very small yet noble city which is big enough for us both.”

Jude Thaddeus - Holy Days - Eastern and Western Churches

He is titled Jude in the lists of Luke 6.16 and Acts 1.13. Certain scholars believe that Thaddeus is an alternative of the Greek name Theudas. According to a very early tradition in the Church the James referred to in “Jude of James” is JAMES, son of Alphaeus, and James and Jude are to be recognized with the BROTHERS OF JESUS (i.e., His relatives) mentioned in Mt 13.55 and Mk 6.3. Furthermore, since Jude was probably less known, to recognize him better his name was associated with that of his brother. This has persisted the principal view among Catholic commentators.

Although Jesus graciously declined the invitation, Abgar was promised that an apostle would be sent to cure him. After the Ascension, Thaddaeus was chosen to travel to Oseoene. He healed the king and many others as well. The legend ends with the grateful Abgar offering Thaddaeus a large sum of gold and silver. But Thaddaeus refused, saying, “If we have forsaken that which is our own, how shall we take that which is another’s?”

The traditional material about Jude Thaddeus’s later ministry and martyrdom is completely unreliable. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.40) relates various assumed areas of his preaching, while the Roman Breviary mentions only Mesopotamia and Persia. He is said to have died a martyr, and in art he is represented with a halberd, the means of his martyrdom.

Jude Thaddeus - Saint of Lost Causes for Christians in France and Germany

  • Since the eighteenth century, Christians in France and Germany have prayed to Jude Thaddaeus as the Saint of Lost Causes; today he continues to be petitioned by many Christians throughout the world. His symbol is a gold sailing ship with silver sails before a red horizon.
  • Holy days: Eastern churches celebrate Thaddaeus on June l9; in the West; with the apostle Simon on October 28.
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