Q: When I was young and in Catholic schools half a century ago, we were taught that those who gave their lives for our religion were saints. Do you think those who die for their faith, even suicide bombers, will spend eternity in the presence of God? Stated differently, do you think God would see this as the most fervent way of demonstrating faith? We may think they are wrong, but they think, even more strongly, that we are! — A., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: Are you seriously asking me if God is pleased with the piety of terrorists? Dying for God does make one a martyr, but dying for a twisted and murderous version of what God never taught or desired is obscene. It's not the willingness to die that matters to God. It is the willingness to die for the good that matters, and all religions, properly understood, teach that God wants us to live and die fighting for the victory of love and kindness, justice and goodness.
Blind obedience to what no religion teaches is a path to hell, not heaven. I have no idea why people admire conviction over moral character. Zealots have conviction, but they do not have a reverence for life that is the fundamental conviction of all the Abrahamic faiths. The saints you revered, and should still revere, were not just martyrs for God, they were also exemplars of the good.
Q: As a Catholic, is it a sin to serve as a juror, and pass judgment on others? Scripture reads: "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). — S., Lindenhurst, NY, via email@example.com)
A: It's time to open your Bible to Matthew 22:21: "Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Also Mark 12:16-18 and Luke 20:25).
Juries belong to Caesar, my dear. Courts depend upon juries, and juries depend upon you. Serving on a jury is your civic duty, which if you had certain occupational duties you might be able to pass on to others, but otherwise is your responsibility. The reticence to judge others mentioned in Matthew has to do with humility, not justice. Juries are about justice, not humility. Do your duty if you can, and in your personal life, avoid being judgmental. If, however, you quote Matthew 7, my hunch is you will be quickly excused.
Q: Please help me understand the difference between Jews and Messianic Jews. — L., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: If you are born of a Jewish mother, you are a Jew, no matter what you believe. (There is now a belief of Reform Jews that you can be Jewish if you were born of a Jewish father and raised Jewishly, but that's not relevant to your question.)
You can be a Jew and not believe in God, which is against the teaching of Judaism. You can also be a Jew and believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah who died for our sins, and that is what Messianic Jews believe, which is also against the teaching of Judaism.
So, Jews who believe in Jesus may be Jews in a tribal or ethnic sense, but they are not Jews in a religious sense because Judaism rejected that Christian claim 2,000 years ago. Now people who believe in Jesus are Christians and those who don't aren't. Messianic Jews mess up this division, and it is unfortunate.
Believing in Jesus as the Messiah is a wonderful Christian belief that does not fit into Judaism. That question was settled long ago. Faced with this obvious contradiction, Messianic Jews take the position that Judaism really should believe in Jesus, and this is also a legitimate Christian view, but it's an insulting view to Jews if presented as Jewish.
I am not insulted when Christians try to proclaim the gospel to me. I respectfully decline, but I love Christianity for carrying on so many Jewish beliefs and sharing my love of God — not the God of the Trinity but the God of the Hebrew Bible. However, when Messianic Jews try to tell me that I have no right as a Jewish person to believe in a Judaism that does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, I become theologically grouchy!
Every person has the right to profess the truth of any religion or no religion. I also believe that every religion has the right to set boundaries for itself that define its beliefs. However, no one has the right to define a religion according to his or her own personal beliefs. Messianic Jews have gone beyond the boundary of acceptable Jewish self-definition. It's hard enough to be a good Christian or a good Jew. They should pick one.
The simple fact is that Messianic Jews are converts to Christianity and apostates from Judaism.