Can you admire Jesus without believing in his divinity?
We exploit Pope Francis’s letter to the founder of “La Repubblica”, Eugenio Scalfari, to deal with a specific issue. In particular, we pay attention to Scalfari’s response when he defines himself as a “non-believer who has been interested and fascinated for many years by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth“.
Even secular Umberto Veronesi wrote: “We as secular people admire the human teaching of Jesus, and are close to him because he creates a favourable ground for a shared ethics, based on love, solidarity and peace. However we cannot accept his divine dimension, which is what matters most for the faith“. We could report many similar examples of non-believers who are fascinated by Jesus and full of respect and admiration for his person and message, but who have chosen not to believe in his divinity.
It is certainly good to know how much this Man is still the ethical reference even in the secularized Western societies. However there is something wrong and we feel compelled to highlight that. It was explained by great French philosopher Jean Guitton : “In the question concerning Jesus we are forced between two possibilities: he is either really a divine man or a crazy man. There are no intermediate solutions. In the “Jesus” problem you reach a point where you must choose: between zero and infinity” (Guitton, “Ogni giorno che Dio manda in terra ” [Every day that God sends to earth], Mondadori 1997 , page 159 ). In other words, how can secular people, who do not believe in his divinity, be fascinated and admired by Jesus Christ, without taking into account what He said about himself, namely that He was the Son of God? One who says that about himself is either a “crazy man” or a man who tells the truth. However, if you deny that he is telling the truth, one who claims to be the Son of God is either a “crazy man” or, alternatively, a sadistic deceiver. In both cases, none of his words, even less his message, can ever be taken seriously.
Secular people learn Jesus’s message through the Gospels, but those texts claim that Jesus Christ presented himself to the world as the son of God, sent by His Father. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10 ). Or, again Matthew (12:50): “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother“. And, even more shockingly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 15:6).
There are not many options before a man who says this, as explained by Guitton: either Jesus is completely crazy or he is really the One he claims to be. The evangelist Mark (14, 61-64 ) reports: “Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man, seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments, and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death“. Jesus was sent to Pilate precisely because he had blasphemed by calling himself the Son of God. How can secular people who are fascinated by Jesus explain that, as they do not believe in his divinity? John (18:33-37) describes the encounter with Pilate, when Jesus says about himself: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world’“.
Jesus says he is the Messiah, the Son of God, he speaks about his Kingdom of heaven, mentions his resurrection (“The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise again“, Mk 9, 31) and so on. If you don’t want to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, you must also refuse what he says about himself and you cannot select his statements (as they were recommendations for goodness) without looking at his whole person. Yet the message of this crazy man has revolutionized human history, civilization, science, charity, culture, art, music …, it has incredibly changed the lives of billions of people, many of whom devoted and decide to devote their entire lives to follow Him. Inexplicably, His message has always had the strength and freshness to be topical and to speak to the conscience of every man, of whatever creed, origin or ethnicity. And it will be for eternity.
Many secular people and non-believers refer to Jesus Christ as a moral authority, but they should reflect also on this: how could a crazy man or a deceiver have been the source of all that was born out of Him? It takes a lot more of faith to believe this than is needed to believe that Jesus Christ is telling the truth about himself and his origin. Similarly, as explained by secular Umberto Eco, “Even if Jesus were – absurdly – a character invented by men, the fact that he may have been imagined by us, unfledged bipeds, would be per se just as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the fact that the son of a God had really incarnated himself. This natural and worldly mystery would not cease to upset and ennoble the hearts of those who do not believe“. (Eco, “Cinque scritti morali” [Five Moral Writings], Bombiani 1997).
The Editorial Staff, translated by Vito