Thursday, September 03, 2015





 

Tweeting With God: # Big Bang, prayer, Bible, sex, Crusades, sin, career…  By Michel Remery, Ignatius Press, 2015.

 

Twitter’s impact on social media is complex.  Twitter allows people to post short messages and share information with others.  Twitter promotes conciseness, but it does not necessarily promote understanding.  Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is the enemy of comprehensiveness.

 

Catholics have discussed the New Evangelization at length, and it seems that the Internet and social media will play a role in reaching out to both the faithful and those who have yet to believe or understand.  Fr. Michel Remery is a Dutch Catholic priest, who left a promising career and relationship in the secular world in order to enter religious life.  This book is his attempt to use the power of social media, namely Twitter, in order to answer some common questions about the Catholic Church, its history, and what it teaches.  The book is filled with very short chapters, each two pages long.  Each begins with a short question on some aspect of Catholicism, and is followed by a brief essay explaining the answer to that question. 

 

The book is divided by subject.  Part 1 is “Tweets about God: the Beginning & the End.”  It is split into subsections such as “Creation or coincidence?,” The Bible: True or False?,” “Reading the Bible,” “Chief events of the Old Testament,” “What has Jesus done for us?,” “What does the Holy Spirit do?,” “Evil and Suffering,” “Mary and the angels,” and “Heaven, hell, or purgatory?”  Each subsection addresses several questions, sometimes three, sometimes ten.  The section “Reading the Bible” covers the questions, “Should I follow all the rules in the Bible?,” “How can you know what is literally true in the Bible, and what is not?,” and “Aren’t those incredible Bible stories just fairy tales?”  Later sections move on to Church history, prayer and sacraments, as well as faith and ethics.

 

Throughout the book, there are very short articles briefly addressing questions tangentially connected to the main question being asked.  For example, in response to the question “Do science and faith contradict each other?” Fr. Remery’s lengthier response is punctuated by a brief essay, “Was the Church wrong about Galilio Galilei?”

 

“The Italian scholar Galileo Galilei (†1642) is often mentioned as an example of a scientist at odds with the Church.  As the story goes, Church leaders silenced Galileo simply because he had said that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (†1543 was true, that the earth revolved around the sun.  This notion met with a lot of opposition, both inside and outside the Church, and lacking sufficient proof, Galileo was forced to withdraw to his villa for the rest of his life. Still, his daughter became a nun.

 

Later Galileo was proved to be mostly right.  However, the Galileo affair is much more complex than often portrayed, with misunderstandings on both sides, and on more matters than the solar system.  When the scientific evidence became clear, the Church accepted that the earth revolved around the sun.  The contributions of Galileo to science have since been praised by the Church, and his name has been cleared of all blame.  Pope Pius XII called him a great scientist (Dec. 3, 1939).  Pope John Paul II regretted that Galileo suffered much at the hands of Church leaders (Nov. 10, 1979) and formally asked forgiveness for their treatment of him (Mar 12, 2000).” (pp. 24-25).

 

This short explanation is an example of the problems inherent in Fr. Remery’s super-brief informational pieces.  There’s no room for some of the major details, such as the fact that Galileo insisted that planetary orbits were perfect circles rather than ellipses, that Galileo engaged in a war of personalities and insulted the Pope (thereby provoking retributions against Galileo), and other details regarding the trial that need to be addressed for a fuller understanding of what really happened.  For more information, see the following links: (http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html, http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-galileo-controversy).

 

This is not meant to denigrate the book, but to point out that the strict limits on length mean that the book works best as an introduction to these religious matters rather than as a thorough explanation.  Still, the briefness of the chapters makes for easy reading, and the points made in the book are simple to absorb.  Large quantities of the book can be studied in a single sitting, or perhaps people who have trouble making time for their religious studies can allow themselves the chance to read one or two little chapters a day, making for five-minute Catechism lessons.

 

The little two- or three-paragraph essays focus on narrow topics, while articles addressing slightly broader questions surround the smaller ones.  The longer two-page essay surrounding the aforementioned essay begins with the following statement:

 

“Sometimes it may seem as if faith and science contradict each other.  But that really isn’t true.  Science has never shown that faith in Jesus Christ is unjustified.  The Church does not oppose scientific research.  Quite the contrary: there have always been plenty of Catholic scientists.  Also there has been a Pontifical Academy of Sciences for centuries.

 

The Church does teach, however, that scientific research must take place within certain moral and ethical limits.  For example, research may never deliberately harm human dignity or life.  For this reason, research that involves the destruction of human embryos should not be allowed.”  (p. 24).

 

Here and there, a Twitter-length post is included in the text, such as, “The Bible is the Word of God: it contains a message for you at this moment.  If you open yourself to it, you can hear God speaking to you.” (p. 35).  Others include, “Your ultimate happiness can be found only in God, who made you, knows you, and loves you: Do you need any other reason to believe?” (p. 29) and “Just like an artist, God reveals something of himself in his creation.  Surely the order and beauty that we see did not come about by accident.” (p. 27).

 

The title “Tweeting With God” may seem a bit precious at first, but the point of the title is to show ways to reach out to a technologically trained generation more used to sound bites and quick pictorial memes than detailed arguments and carefully written monographs from past centuries.  This book’s Twitter theme may make the book appear to be geared towards a younger crowd, and to some extent it is, but in the end this book is for anybody who wants to learn more about Catholicism.

 

The point of the book is to make these truths accessible to everybody who wants to read them.  At one point, Fr. Remery tells “A little fable about truth,” writing that,

 

“An old fable tells of a group of blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time in the palace of the rajah.  The blind man who stuck out his hand and touched the elephant’s side said that an elephant is as smooth as a wall.  But the man who touched its trunk said that an elephant is as round as a snake.  The one who took hold of its tusk said that an elephant is as sharp as a spear, and the one who grasped the tail said that an elephant is as thin as a rope.

 

What’s the truth?  The rajah said that all the men were correct in a way, but that they could discover the whole truth about the elephant only by putting all the pieces together.  This fable is often cited in order to illustrate that no single is right, that each one reveals a little bit of God.  This conclusion is overly simplistic, just look at how much the different religions directly contradict each other.  The funny thing is that the fable is often used to say that we can never learn the real truth.  But the rajah in the fable rightly said that the blind men could know the truth by putting all the pieces together.  The elephant does not change because of the way in which it is talked about.  Although the men had different, subjective conceptions of the elephant, in reality there was only one elephant in the palace, with objectively determinable characteristics.  So there is one truth after all.  In the same way there is only one God.  We can find pieces of the truth about him in creation, in the words God has spoken to us, and in the life and death of Jesus.” (p. 31).

 

Tweeting With God is a book meant to teach in a clear and concise way.  Super-short questions and answers are not necessary the apologetics of the future, but they are a useful way of reaching out to people who want to expand their knowledge of religion.

 

 

 

–Chris Chan