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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

Christian Radicals, take heed: St. Jerome cautions those who use scripture as their soapbox




“Most of the problems in the Church are due to

ignorance of the Scriptures.”

-- St. John Chrysostom




Jeremy Basil Dannebohm
J. Basil Dannebohm

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message via social media. Though I did not know the woman personally, she wasn't entirely a stranger to me as I have seen her comment on a number of posts. One might call her a social media addict. Every comment I've seen from this individual has been some sort of argument or fundamentalist battle cry, so I wasn't surprised when I opened her communication.


Her message read:

"I've read a few of your pieces. First of all, if you think Jesus was all lovey-dovey and cared about the social issues of his time then you are completely stupid. Second of all, the way you quote scripture makes you look like a protestant. You're definitely not a Catholic so I guess you're some sort of Protestant."


To her credit, she's partially correct, on at least one item: I am not a Roman Catholic. I am an Orthodox Christian. Safe to say, she doesn't know me at all. If she did, she would know that I consider social media to be a virtual dumpster fire of rhetoric, anger, division, and unsolicited opinions from armchair experts in every field but their own weaknesses. Needless to say, I could care less about what somebody thinks about me, especially online.


Sadly, with just a quick glance at her profile, she makes it evident that she is part of a group that aims to talk loud and draw a crowd. And let's be honest, the best place to do that is on social media. However, their message isn't worthy of a crowd, much less any credence.


They're radical extremists from the far fringes of society.


One only needs to take a look at what they share on social media to realize in quick time that nobody is conservative (or liberal) enough for them. Scroll through their posts a little more and you'll discover that nobody is Catholic (or Orthodox) enough for them. Having existed, even if largely by their own doing, in the boondocks of civility for so long, such people are angry. They are in pain. They are projecting that pain through both religion and politics. Rather than making attempts to fix that which is wrong with them, social media becomes their outlet, instead of the chaise lounge in a counselor's office, or better yet a seat in the presence of a sound-minded priest.


We've all come across them, and we're all obligated to pray for them. We're not, however, obliged to provide them with a platform to spout hatred. I've seen far too many "influencers" allow such people to hijack threads and stir division for the sake of "healthy discussion."


Who do these "influencers" think are they fooling? Permitting hatred and division is an underhanded way to boost traffic on their page. A prudent "influencer" would shut down anything that distracts from goodness and love. That's a subject for another day.


I'd like to get back to the individual's opinions that Jesus wasn't loving, and that knowledge of the Bible is "Protestant."


Among the delusions of many of these extremist groups is that they can somehow change the gospel to fit their narrative. It simply doesn't work that way. There are a lot of radical movements that attempt to leverage verses from sacred scripture in order to justify their often hateful agendas, which they contest is not hate, but "righteous anger."


Here's the problem: most of the people quoting these scriptures haven't personally studied them, and those who have studied them are not presenting the passages in their proper context.


To understand the essential role the Bible plays in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, one need only look to the volumes of texts written by the Church Fathers. There are literally thousands of pages written on the subject. Turning a blind eye to these profound words is yet another coping mechanism to fit a narrative that is rooted in pain and anger.


In his letter to St. Paulinus, the titan scholar of sacred scripture, St. Jerome, warns:


"The proud sin greatly who, after studying secular literature and having turned to the Holy Scriptures, consider all that they say to be the Law of God, and do not endeavor to come to know the thoughts of the prophets and apostles, but seek out from the scriptures inappropriate texts for their own thoughts, as if this were a good work, and not the most defiled kind of study: to distort the thoughts of Scripture and submit them to their own intentions, in spite of obvious contradictions. Charlatans try to teach that which they do not know."


Charlatans. Yikes!


St. Jerome isn't messing around. His opinion on the matter suggests that if you're one of these radicals who uses the Bible as your soapbox, you'd best make certain you really have a firm understanding of the verse you're quoting before you use it to defend your cause. Just because so-and-so says it, doesn't make it accurate.


My advice to the individual who sent me her not-so-glad tidings during the holiday season, and those like her, is to take some time to personally study a scripture commentary written by an author with "Saint" in their title. Don't rely on so-and-so, and certainly don't count on the internet as a reliable source.


Don't be a charlatan. Take a breath, read a book, and seek some counseling before projecting on social media. It's like I always say, sound minds and calm doctrine will always prevail.


 

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