Fr John Parker is the pastor of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, and the Chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. He graduated the College of William and Mary (1993) with a major in Spanish and a minor in German. He earned his MDiv at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. After being received into the Orthodox Church, he earned an MTh at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, where is also currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program. He has been a frequent writer for Charleston, SC's Post and Courier. He and Matushka Jeanette celebrated 20 years of marriage in April 2014, and have two sons nearing High School graduation.
I hope you shouted out loud, “really!?” and covered your children’s eyes and ears in the Super Bowl Commercials this year. Well, I guess that is true every year, but wow, this year was insidious and persistent!
I confess that I only watched the last quarter of the game—great game!—so I only saw a quarter of the ads, but that was enough to give me serious concern as a Christian who takes my faith seriously. Listen: if you are a cultural Christian who isn’t concerned with what Jesus actually said, you probably will think that I am some sort of fundamentalist, or crazy. I accept both appellations, especially if by fundamentalist you mean, “I believe the fundamental teachings of Christianity,” and if by crazy, you include me in St. Anthony’s great saying from his proto-monastic days in the desert: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and they will say, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”
Let’s lay aside, for now, the completely demonic T-Mobile ad (an add for a mobile phone which didn’t mention or show a single phone or cellular plan) wherein a mother whispers in her most caring, soothing mother voice to a display of the world’s newborn infants, “you’ll love who(m) you want,” all towards the grand T-Mobile “change starts now.” Gospodi! Do not hold this against the woman who recorded this, neither against the imaginers of this ad, nor the producers, nor the company. They must not know what they are doing to sow such confusion! And Lord, I beg Thee, hold it not against former President Obama who introduced such language into our nation’s vocabulary.
I’d rather like to focus on the Toyota ad. For a Truck. And theoretically for a “united” team effort to support the Olympic Team. This ad showed a Jewish Rabbi, a (Catholic?) Priest, a Muslim Imam, and a Buddhist Monk, each hopping into a Toyota to go to a football game. They meet up (late) with two presumably Catholic Nuns in the football stadium, and it concludes, “we are all one team.” Now, if we are speaking about the plurality of Americans, who’ll gather to support our Olympic Team, that is certainly true. But marketers are as wise as serpents, and if you for a moment think they weren’t trying to make a religious statement, you are completely fooling yourself.
We live in a pluralistic society, and the freedoms afforded us in that pluralistic society are remarkable and come with the freedom for each of us to worship whomever, wherever, and however we want. BUT, that is a far, far cry from saying that all religions are “one team.”
The Absence of Unity
If God is real, and therefore above and beyond us, then it behooves you and me to find out who He actually is and to worship him at every moment, and thank him for everything. Friends, please, I beg you, consider the following simple statements, and be reassured that the messages of the “Three Great Religions” are very different, and, in fact, largely at odds with one another.
Jews do not believe that the Messiah has come, and while some anticipate that he will, they formally reject that Jesus is He.
The Koran of Islam flat out states that “God neither begets nor is begotten.” I’ll send you a picture of the banner I saw that they put on the square in front of the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth with this Surah on it. The Koran strictly teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross. Islam definitively rejects not only that God did have a Son, but even that He could or would have one.
Christianity is defined on the very basis that the Messiah has come, that God did become man, that God did and does have a Son, and that Jesus is He.
This does not by any means mean that we are not “one people” in the sense that the whole human race was made by God. But these three religions have mutually exclusive beliefs—that means: they are at irreconcilable odds with one another.
We ought, indeed, to find ways to understand what we each believe, but the differences are actually what define us. And, speaking from a Christian perspective, our divine Revelation was not given in a book, nor in voice only, but in the very person of Jesus Christ. Christian beliefs do not depend, in the first instance, on a text—a “set of teachings,” but rather a conviction regarding the self-revelation of God-made-man, and what he taught, and how he died, and what his resurrection from the dead means to you, to me, and to the whole world.
The ad is all the more insidious in suggesting, by emotion and banality, that all the religions are the same, and I can only comment on my disgust for its treatment of the Christian minister, who is portrayed as a simpleton idiot, far more concerned with the game, or the Olympic team, than he is about a serious question from his (dwindling, milquetoast) congregation. His answer to the “great question”: “long story short, you’re probably fine.”
If that isn’t the most brilliant and serpentine summary of the doctrine of American pop religion. That, my friends, is the devil’s own answer to your question.
The double irony, for me, reaches it peak, however, when, after picking up the Imam, the music on the radio is Foreigner’s “I wanna know what love is…” and the Christian minister asks, “Can I change the music?” This says it all. The Christian, presumably, doesn’t like the song, but neither does this commercial’s minister have any care to “know what love is.”
The Nature of True Love
A true Christian knows what love is:
Love is God, who so loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him, would not perish, but have eternal life.
Love is God, who saw the world which He created in love, falling totally apart because of you and me, and humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, and died at the hands of his own creation. But He forgives us.
Love is God who trampled down death by his own death and grants every one of us—Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and all the rest—resurrection from the dead and the opportunity to enjoy His presence without end.
Love is God who said, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Love is God who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; there is no way to the Father but by me.”
Love is God, who said, “Come to me, all you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Love is God, who said, “Come and see.”
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