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Another Jesuit Success Story

During my years as a Catholic, more than a few times I would meet someone who had left the faith, and would credit their Jesuit education for having opened their eyes. Just now, I heard the Muslim scholar Reza Aslan [1] on Fresh Air, talking about his new book. Terry Gross mentioned that he (Aslan) had been born into Islam, but his parents fled with him from Iranian Revolution. In America, his father became atheist, but Aslan became an Evangelical Christian. His mother followed him into Christianity. But then, studying at the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, Aslan encountered Jesuit priests who encouraged him to go deeper into Islam, the religion of his forefathers.

Aslan did, and subsequently renounced Christianity to return to Islam.

 

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48 Comments To "Another Jesuit Success Story"

#1 Comment By Herbert On July 15, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

Joke:

The Dominican Order was founded in the 13th century to fight Albigensianism.

The Jesuit order was founded in the 16th century to fight Protestantism.

Punch line: When’s the last time you met an Albigensian?

Another joke:

A devout Catholic guy wants to Lexus badly. In fact, he is considering saying a novena for one. He asks his parish priest if it would be okay to say a novena to get a Lexus. The parish priest said this theological question is beyond his competency and told him to see an order priest. The guy goes and sees a Franciscan priest and asks him if it would be okay to say a novena for a Lexus. The Franciscan asks him, “What’s a Lexus?”. Frustrated the guy seeks out a more worldly priest and finds a Jesuit. He asks the Jesuit if it would be okay to say a novena for a Lexus. The Jesuit asks him, “What’s a novena?”

#2 Comment By David J. White On July 15, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

I went to a Jesuit high school in the late 70s. They weren’t teaching Latin then, and one “religion” class consisted of reading things like the Narnia books and Johnny Cash’s Man in Black. I was teaching myself Latin and some Greek on the side, and cultivated an interest in things like Gregorian Chant as part of a general fondness for classical music. The older Jesuits who were still around love me. The younger and middle-aged ones — i.e., the ones heavily invested in the “spirit of Vatican II” (as opposed to the actual texts of Vatican II) — looked at me like I was from Pluto.

My father commented once that maybe the Jesuits need to be suppressed every couple of centuries, for their own good and everyone else’s.

#3 Comment By Athanasius On July 15, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

Oh how the world would be better had the treaty ending the Byzantine-Persian war of the 7th c. Been enforced. It stipulated that the heir to the throne be baptized with Heraclias as his godfather –and he was as Nicetas. Unfortunately Shahbaraz was overthrown.

#4 Comment By Liam On July 15, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

It wasn’t a Jesuit who suggested that, for his career options, he consider delving further into Islam as a scholarly focus, btw:

[2]

[NFR: I was reporting what he told Terry Gross. I’m guessing that transcript will be up soon. — RD]

#5 Comment By Leinad On July 15, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

I went to 6 years of Jesuit schooling. They got to me only after I had already decided that Christianity was not only not for me, but frankly dangerous in the hands of a lot of its charismatic leaders. The Jesuits are the only reason I have any respect for religious faith at all. So you can criticize and laugh at them all you want, but a Catholic order that places more emphasis on learning and self awareness than adherence to dogma and conversion via manipulation sounds fine by me.

#6 Comment By Anastasios On July 15, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

Just imagine what would have happened if Alopen had succeeded in converting the Chinese emperor (and by extension the rest of China) to Christianity. China, rather than Europe, would have been the center of Christendom throughout the centuries. Also, the Church of the East likely would have surpassed both Rome and Constantinople very quickly, and Christianity would have taken on a largely Sino-centric character. Nestorius would be viewed today as a saint, and Cyril as a heretic. Would this have been better or worse in the long run, I wonder?

#7 Comment By Anastasios On July 15, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

Oh and by the way the Reformation might never have happened, at least not the way it did in the West. Remember, Reformed theology is essentially neo-Nestorianism in all but name. The Church of the East was essentially “Protestant” long before the term existed. If John Calvin had been born into the Assyrian/Nestorian church he would have been right at home.

#8 Comment By Edward Hamilton On July 15, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

I note he still has fairly strong opinions concerning various ways in which Catholicism ought to abandon their own historical stances, despite no longer claiming any allegiance to Christianity itself. I can’t think of a more perfect embodiment of the contemporary Jesuit ethos than that. I’m reminded of that other old quip about Jesuits, that they think “Jesus was only a man, but Mary was the mother of God”. Substitute “was a personification of the Divine Feminine” and add Fatimah to Mary, and that could apply to liberal Muslims as well.

Apparently Aslan ran afoul of Young Life by pressing for liberal stances on issues like homosexuality and the ordination of women, and eventually made a sufficient nuisance of himself that he became unwelcome at their gatherings. There’s something flattering in the impression that he found American evangelicalism to be even more resistant to ‘modernization’ than Islam.

#9 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 15, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

I’ve never met a Jesuit that I did not like.

#10 Comment By Dan C On July 15, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

I really do not recognize much Christianity in Evangelicalim anyway.

#11 Comment By M DeGroat On July 15, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

I went to 6 years of Jesuit schooling. They got to me only after I had already decided that Christianity was not only not for me, but frankly dangerous in the hands of a lot of its charismatic leaders. The Jesuits are the only reason I have any respect for religious faith at all. So you can criticize and laugh at them all you want, but a Catholic order that places more emphasis on learning and self awareness than adherence to dogma and conversion via manipulation sounds fine by me.

I second this. Leave an intelligent soul in the grip of some shallow, unexamined religious sentiment on purely denominational grounds? Or encourage them to follow their reason to the truth, no matter where it takes them? The Jesuits, almost alone among Christian orders, have the temerity to take the second view, and that bespeaks a faith far higher than that of any group tempted by the first. For that they earn my respect as well.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 15, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

How soon, then, before Pope Francis proclaims himself caliph? 🙂

#13 Comment By Doug On July 15, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

I was educated by Jesuits for four years in high school in the 70’s. Maybe if the Jesuits had emphasized the truth of the Eucharist being the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ Aslan would have seen things differently. But I suspect that a few Jesuits implicitly communicated that believing in the real presence is fine, but if you don’t believe it that’s fine too. Yes, the Jesuits claim to emphasize education, but what do they teach? Through my four years at the Jesuit high school I didn’t once hear of the apostles and early church fathers dying for their belief in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the eucharist.

#14 Comment By el supremo On July 15, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Agree with @M. DeGroat – the Jesuit approach may have only had a 50%/50% chance of turning Aslan into a mature and lasting Catholic, but based on what he has described it doesn’t sound like his high school conversion to mass market evangelicalism would have lasted life long either.

The foibles and attitudes of the Jesuits makes for some good jokes, but even to this day they have a very good record of bringing secular, well educated people into the faith who other denominations wouldn’t make much progress with.

Of course historically if you want to talk about creating converts who are fully committed to their faith despite all adversity the Jesuits historically have a very good record – their converts in Asia from the 1500’s in many cases formed communities that have remained Catholic to the present, despite living in hostile societies and facing active persecution (such as the Nagasaki Catholics).

#15 Comment By Shawn On July 15, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

I majored in Religion at a Jesuit college back in the early 80s and it was great. Lots of great courses on the Bible, which eventually sent me on the path to a Ph D in the NT. A class where we read the Church Fathers in Latin and another where we read Homer in Greek. Very slowly and, at least on my part, not terribly well. There were philosophy seminars on Aquinas and Kierkegaard, although I skipped them, opting instead for a Hermeneutics seminar with lots of Heidegger and Paul Riceour and Edward Said and feminism; and another Patristics seminar where we read tons of Origen. I took a World Religions class taught by the great John Esposito. The culmination was a Christology seminar taught by the president of the college, where after a grounding in the early councils we each were assigned a major theologians (I got Schillebeeckx) and we had to read their major texts. Then a panel of Jesuits drilled us for several hours on “our” theology.

The vast majority of students at the college wanted nothing more than to get a degree and get into medical or law school or onto Wall St. But if you were interested in literature, theology, philosophy, etc, it was fantastic. Half my classes had like 3 people in them, because no one else wanted to read Origin or Schillebeeckx or Ricoeur or take upper division seminars in Latin or Greek- the Philistines. But the Jesuits built institutions where stuff like that was treasured and supported, whatever the economic cost. God Bless them.

And, while I’m at it, everyone should learn more about Islam. I make my students read the Koran too.

#16 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 15, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Re: Punch line: When’s the last time you met an Albigensian?

Given the kind of pure evil that characterized the Albigensian Crusade, I’m not sure we should be joking about it (even if you are a Catholic, which I’m not).

People can and should argue firmly for the truth of their faith, but using force and bloodshed to impose one’s faith- like the Catholic Church did to the Albigensians of southern France, and like various Muslim and Hindu militants are doing to Christians all over the world at this very moment- is completely alien to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Re: I note he still has fairly strong opinions concerning various ways in which Catholicism ought to abandon their own historical stances, despite no longer claiming any allegiance to Christianity itself.

Ugh. Barf. I find it utterly revolting the way people who aren’t Christians – or ex-Christians like this Aslan fellow- consider themselves entitled to tell Christians what their religion is ‘really’ about. I’ve heard plenty of that sort of thing- from liberal Christians, atheists, Hindus, Muslims, you name it- and we will probably hear ever more of it in the future.

#17 Comment By Steph On July 15, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

But I suspect that a few Jesuits implicitly communicated that believing in the real presence is fine, but if you don’t believe it that’s fine too.

I didn’t have a Jesuit education (I’ve always felt fondly about Jesuits), but the rest of the Church wasn’t doing such a good job about this either. I have met plenty of Catholics around my age who sincerely insist that of course we don’t really believe that, not because they reject the teaching but actually not getting that it exists or is current. I’m probably lucky I had a Southern Baptist best friend with lots of weird ideas about Catholics, since I had to find out what we really believed to respond to what she kept telling me was true. (She knew about the Real Presence, of course.)

#18 Comment By Manfeed Arcane On July 15, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Aslan also studied at Harvard Divinity School. I think blaming the Jesuits, or blaming them alone, is rather unfair. My guess is that he considers himself too smart and well educated to be a believing Evangelical Christian.

It is a class thing. He clearly sees himself as the next Fareed Zakaria dispensing wisdom to and being at the service of, the elite.

#19 Comment By Liam On July 15, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

Aslan was not a Catholic; he was an evangelical Protestant. Even if he went to a Jesuit college, it was not for catechesis in the Catholic faith. Imputing failure to the Jesuits is wide of the mark in this instance.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 15, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

Perhaps whoever suggested that Reza Aslan delve deeper into his Muslim heritage recognized that, whatever his words, he wasn’t delving deeply into Christianity, and it might not be for him.

To illustrate with a rather distant analogy, I am pro choice, but I know there are women who have abortions and later publicly announce their regret. It would be good if those who deep down inside were going to regret their abortions were reached by a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or any other pro-life endeavor. Planned Parenthood should be referring women who are uncertain to go check out the alternatives, and see what’s really right for them.

If a religious order is merely poring into an empty glass, sure, it makes sense to pour on what that order believes to the The Truth. But if you are dealing with a glass half full of something very different, maybe its not such a good idea to empty out the glass. Maybe its good to suggest, look into what’s already there, and decided how you want to build on it.

#21 Comment By PeterK On July 15, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

I heard Aslan on NPR yesterday morning talk about his book Zealot. he lost me when he referred to the Jewish religion as a cult

#22 Comment By PA15017 On July 15, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

Went to a small Jesuit college for undergrad. Had a Jesuit as a professor once, learned a lot about peyote.

#23 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 15, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

Maybe the Jesuits had the good sense to realize that now the idea of the early church fathers dying for their belief sort of sounds like the folks dying for Jim Jones. The Testimony of the Martyrs died at Jonestown.

And the early church fathers certainly did not die over the real presence. They died because they were too stupid not to–see Jonestown.

#24 Comment By Chris 1 On July 15, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

Any thread about the Jesuits is bound to be a kind of rorschach, more confirming the bias of posters than reporting of fact.

This one, so far, has proven to be right in line with that.

#25 Comment By Bernie On July 15, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

Before Vatican II in the early sixties, the Jesuits were arguably the most respected male religious order in the Catholic Church in the fields of education, writing, and scholarship. There were many holy, brilliant Jesuits.

As David J. White implies in his comment above, the younger and middle aged ones, “the ones heavily invested in the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ (as opposed to the actual texts of Vatican II)” have been formed very differently. I did graduate study in religious education at Jesuit-run Boston College…I know. Of course, Pope Francis is a Jesuit and I hope he is able to facilitate reforms within that order.

The Church has suffered greatly from the Jesuit situation, in my opinion. Perhaps they will change, perhaps they won’t. I see the best hope for renewal in both the female and male religious orders in the more newly found orders. To name just two, they include the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee. There are a number of others that are really attracting new members. I pray for a spiritual renewal generally in the Church.

#26 Comment By cermak_rd On July 15, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

I attended a Jesuit university. Got a B.S. degree in Mathematics and Computer Science and a minor in theology. For that minor, I took 2 Hebrew Classes, 1 Koine Greek class, a class in Judaism, a class in Church and Sacrament and classes on both the New and Old Testaments. Other than a lively class debate (not led by the teacher) involving the perpetual virginity (or not) of the BVM, I did not hear even a breath of anything rising to the level of heresy.

For that matter, there were hours in which opposite gendered folk could be in the dorms and hours when they couldn’t. Floors were kept strictly single gender. Chapel was available and a huge variety of masses at different times of day were on offer. There were generous confession hours available. There was also a lot of unchaste behavior going on on the campus, what exactly were the SJ to do about it? There were also people who lost their faith, again, what were the Jesuits to do about it?

Of the folks I went to this college, a handful are still Catholics. 2 are secular priests 1 is a Jesuit (hey, who would you guess were the other members of my Hebrew and Greek classes? Yep, those discerning for priesthood). I, myself, after having a crisis of faith, changed over to Judaism, the faith of my father. My husband, who I met at this university, underwent a similar crisis of faith, and is now an atheist. Fortunately, our 2 new faiths mix well.

#27 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 15, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

What we need is a new Dan Brown novel, with the Jesuits instead of Opus Dei as the gun-totin’ bad guys. 🙂

#28 Comment By sjay On July 15, 2013 @ 6:50 pm

studying at the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, Aslan encountered Jesuit priests who encouraged him to go deeper into Islam, the religion of his forefathers.

What he told loonwatch is that a female professor told him that his chosen field of study, Biblical Studies, was “dead” and he would have a greater chance of academic career success if he became an expert in Islam. That sounds probably closer to the truth — in the loonwatch interview he sounds like someone who is often flip for effect, the kind of person who say the “Jesuits made me do it.” Also, from the interview it appears that the real problem with his Christian catechesis was with the evangelicals in high school.

FWIW, I was brought to the Catholic Church by Jesuits 13 years ago and I’m still here.

#29 Comment By Ron from up North On July 15, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

I took several courses from Jesuits towards an MA in theology. In retrospect, I would have rather been taught by believing Catholics, but one can’t have everything.

#30 Comment By JonF On July 15, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

Athanasius,
Sassanid Persia was doomed no matter what (unless you can posit a timeline with no Mohammed). The empire’s demographic losses in the 6th century were extreme. One chronicle claims that 90% of the population died of the plague in the 540s. That’s almost certainly an exaggeration, but it indicates that the losses were straggering, possibly worse than in Byzantium. Khosroes’ monomaniacal wars burned up whatever was left of his empire’s manpower (and almost fatally weakened Byzantium too).

I have to doubt that China would ever have become the “center of Christianity”. The Pope was not going to move there any more than the Patriarch of Constantinople relocated to Russia. Given the distances and difficulties in communications (and the fact that China would have remained strong and independent) a Christian China would soon have evolved a Taoist-Confucian syncretic and likely heretical version of Christianity and been anathemized from the fold.

#31 Comment By Dimitry Aleksandrovich On July 15, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

The RCC is in serious trouble and I can’t see that trend changing unless they return to their Orthodox roots. When you have a Church where priests and nuns who reject the very Christian truths that the Church teaches are not excommunicated then you don’t have a church.

#32 Comment By Church Lady On July 15, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

Reza has a new book out on Jesus, “Zealot” that looks to be interesting, but probably not Rod’s cup of tea:

[3]

#33 Comment By Church Lady On July 15, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

Interesting review here:

[4]

#34 Comment By John E_o On July 15, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

Rod, have you read A Case of Conscience by James Blish?

If you haven’t, you really should.

#35 Comment By Chris 1 On July 15, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

The RCC is in serious trouble and I can’t see that trend changing unless they return to their Orthodox roots.

Interesting observation, as it was a Jesuit who introduced me to Orthodox theology and who likewise introduced me to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and who therefore is responsible for my being Orthodox today.

What a travesty! 😉

#36 Comment By surly On July 15, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

This essay, in my humble opinion, is the most succinct and colorful description of Jesuits that I have seen: [5]

#37 Comment By surly On July 15, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

I joke, but the fact is that I would not be a Christian today if it weren’t for Jesuits.

My late husband was educated by Sisters of the Holy Names and by Jesuits. He was not a practicing Catholic, but he enthusiastically supported our kids going to parochial schools. My kids were educated in a Jesuit-run K-8 and then my daughter went off to a Holy Cross-run university..although I am not sure if Catholicism or football was the campus religion.

Anyhoo–neither kid will touch the RC church with a 10 foot pole, but they are both incredibly blessed and protected by the life they lived in the RC cocoon. They are both involved in social justice work, both have eschewed the hookup culture; I am especially proud of my son for his rejection of porn and promiscuity. Not out of prudishness, but because objectifying human beings just does not work for him. Ethics and morality are just baked into those two, and I have to credit their education. We reinforced the values of course, but I could not have done such a good job without the Jesuits and the CHC.

#38 Comment By Bernie On July 15, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

Church Lady,

In regard to your two comments encouraging the reading of the book “Zealot”‘ an historical life of Jesus written by Muslim author Reza Aslan, I’ll note several things. On the Amazon site selling his book under “Book Description”, it states: “Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.”

The Gospel of John, Chapter 20, details some incidents in which the apostles acknowledged Jesus as Lord and God. This includes Thomas’ putting his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side, after which he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Also, the Apostolic Fathers (immediate successors of the Apostles) included Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp of Smyrna, whose writings we have. They certainly believed Jesus was God from the Apostles.

Mr. Aslan can dispute 2,000 years of history, including Scripture, but speaking for myself, I would exercise caution reading his book.

#39 Comment By alcogito On July 16, 2013 @ 12:25 am

” Yes, the Jesuits claim to emphasize education, but what do they teach? Through my four years at the Jesuit high school I didn’t once hear of the apostles and early church fathers dying for their belief in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the eucharist.”

Then you weren’t paying attention.

We grew up in a Jesuit parish, went to a Jesuit high school and college, and are still regular Mass-goers, but we miss the intellectual rigor and have no idea where to find it anymore.

#40 Comment By alcogito On July 16, 2013 @ 12:31 am

I started to read that loonwatch (aptly named) article and found it interesting at first, noted that it was a woman who advised him to investigate Islam as a it was a better career move, and then the interview disintegrated into silliness and preening so I quit. I am not sure that a book by this so-called “scholar” will be a serious and thoughtful piece of writing at all.

#41 Comment By John On July 16, 2013 @ 9:57 am

Well, if it’s anecdotes we’re sharing, I started attending my Jesuit university as a full-fledged atheist, and wound up returning to the Christian faith, in large part due to the ministrations of one particularly intelligent, kind, and wonderful Jesuit priest who taught a theology course I took.

#42 Comment By Simon94022 On July 16, 2013 @ 10:35 am

From the comments here you would think the Society of Jesus was its own quasi-Christian, quasi-skeptical denomination. The reality is the Jesuits are still enduring the effects of the chaos that began in the late 1960s, including severe demographic decline and virtual secularization of many of their old institutions. But the younger generation of Jesuits are a sign of hope and revival.

It is not the Jesuits’ fault that Mr Aslan lost his apparently shallow Christian faith. It is NPR’s fault that a book making such vapid, unoriginal, and indefensible claims about the “historical” Jesus and the gospels is given such prominence.

#43 Comment By Brad Jones On July 16, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

When I was in college a priest walked into the classroom on the first day of the philosophy class and wrote SJ after his name. He asked “does any one know what that means”? A student raised his hand and said Socitius Jesu. The teacher said “very good and what does that mean”? The student said Society of Jesus. The priest finished with “excellent, and what does that mean”? In an tone loaded with disgust the student said “you’re a Jesuit”.

#44 Comment By Church Lady On July 16, 2013 @ 10:59 pm

Bernie, the book isn’t out yet, but I would tend to agree that its conclusions and perspective are not going to be traditionalist at all, if the reviews can be trusted. That’s why I said that Rod would not approve. Something to weigh in on, perhaps, after the book comes out. But it would appear that this “success story” may not be as successful as Rod thinks, even by his own standards.

#45 Comment By Jesuit High Alum On July 29, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

To be fair, he had converted to Evangelical Protestantism. As some commentators have already mentioned, the Society of Jesus was created to oppose Protestantism (not Islam).

For what it’s worth, from this Catholic’s perspective, Islam is far more likely to be correct than Evangelical Christianity.

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#48 Comment By T. Quid On March 23, 2016 @ 9:37 pm

One of my philosophy professors in college was an ex-Jesuit. He said that several of his Jesuit brothers would have a reunion once in a while. It seemed that all of them had abandoned Christianity, yet they all seemed to have a sort of Jesuit mindset. Not having been a Jesuit, I can’t say what he meant by this. But it gave me the impression that a lot of Jesuit training tried a little too hard to get them to think beyond Christianity, so much so that they started to wonder why they bothered with the gospel at all.