By Liz O’Connor
Special to The CS&T
Lay apologist Roy Abraham Varghese says an apologist responds to St. Paul’s exhortation always to be ready to give a reason for one’s hope, and so he stands ready to explain, describe, and when necessary, defend the faith against any and all comers.
Born in India, Varghese, 53, of Garland, Texas, has been interested in theology and philosophy since his childhood. Author or co-author of 13 books and a winner of the Templeton Book Prize, he was interviewed at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show in King of Prussia Aug. 3.
He said he “presupposes an audience that doesn’t believe in anything.”
Discussing his most recent work, “The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus” (Paraclete Press, Brewster, Mass.; 239 pp., $19.99), he said, “Every human being who has not been corrupted by education” can come to know through experience the existence of God, of the soul, and of free will. That, he says, puts the burden of proof on the atheist who denies them. “‘Our Father’ is the most universal prayer of all humanity,” he said. “I think it is something that is planted in the heart.” Atheists’ arguments, by contrast, always eventually end in absurdity, Varghese said.
The first part of “The Christ Connection” is devoted to an overview of the major world religions which preceded the birth of Jesus. It shows that not only in Judaism but in other world religions including those of China, India and Persia, and among the world’s earliest peoples who have left evidence of their beliefs, there has been belief in a single high God, most often seen as father.
Also common to most pre-Christian religions is the impulse to offer sacrifice in atonement for sin. Varghese speaks of the coming of Christ as “a rendezvous,” a fulfillment of the elements of truth in all these faiths.
“This is not at all original with me,” he said, other authors have said the Holy Spirit was and is moving in all peoples, whether or not inspaniduals or groups choose to cooperate. St. Paul, he notes, says God wills the salvation of all peoples, and all these religious impulses reach their climax in the phenomenon of Jesus.
The second part of “The Christ Connection” discusses and responds to various arguments against the truth of the New Testament. Varghese says the spaninity of Jesus is the only way to explain the data – data including the rapid expansion of Christianity from a tiny group of frightened fishermen to a great world religion.
He also asserts that the Gospels were intended by their authors as biographies, written in the style of other biographies of the time. But while the Bible contains truths that could only be revealed by God, he said, it is a textbook neither of science nor of doctrine; God gave us minds to discover how the world works, and the Bible needs to be interpreted with the guidance of the Church. He is careful, he says, never to assert anything not in conformity with Catholic teaching.
Liz O’Connor is a member of Queen of the Universe Parish, Levittown, a former editor and a freelance writer.