When I was studying for my history degree, I learned early and often that one of a historian’s biggest pet peeves is the counterfactual. Basically, it’s when you imagine what could’ve happened if something in history had been different. If Robert E. Lee had decided to fight for the Union instead of the Confederacy, the Civil War would have been over much quicker. If Archduke Ferdinand had survived, War I would never had happened. If Yoko Ono had never met John Lennon, the Beatles would have stayed together.
The problem with this thinking is that Lee chose to fight for the side that his home state of Virginia chose to join, Archduke Ferdinand did die, and Yoko Ono not only met, but married, John Lennon. You can’t change history. It might be a fun imaginative exercise to think in counterfactuals, but it is entirely unhelpful in learning anything of substance. If you really want to learn something of substance, study what actually happened and what actually caused it.
And it was for this reason that I was annoyed when someone I follow on Twitter began churning out tweets with the hashtag, #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.
“Go out and judge people and tell them they’re not really my followers because they don’t think the same way you do. #ThingsJesusNeverSaid”
“Make sure you get into petty arguments about religious dogma, because that’s more important than loving people anyway. #ThingsJesusNeverSaid”
To which I respond: How do you know? Sure, I would agree that it’s not likely that Jesus said anything remotely close to these statements, and even less likely that he said these exact quotes, but these are nonetheless counterfactuals – no doubt written (based on the other tweets I read in that feed) to make some political point.
Why not talk about what Jesus actually said? Well, I imagine it’s more convenient to make up things he didn’t say. Jesus’ words are often inconvenient, mainly because they are not directed at one group of people (i.e. whomever you don’t like at this particular moment). In fact, his words call all of us to deeper reflection and repentance.
Jesus did say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 4:35). He also said, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Apparently Jesus thought his words were important. Perhaps we should, too. It is my hope that the next time anyone on Twitter uses Jesus to make a point, he or she will use the hashtag #ThingsJesusActuallySaid.
Anna Mitchell is the news director and anchor for the “Son Rise Morning Show” on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.
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