An AI generated image of Pope Francis wearing a ’90s puffer jacket recently took the internet by storm. The depiction of the pope as a pop-culture icon was striking — all the more so because it wasn’t evident that it was fake. The photo realism of the AI image generated a storm of commentary on the specious possibilities of the new technology.
The internet, though, has always required a certain savvy to navigate well. The delightfully inept manager from NBC’s sitcom “The Office,” Michael Scott, once naively declared: “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information.” We can’t jump at the first thing we see or read. We have to critically evaluate our sources.
But it didn’t require the internet for facts and sources to be an issue. Think about how the news of the resurrection of Jesus was received. Mary Magdalene’s report reads like a frantic post on Twitter: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (Jn 20:2). Despite Jesus having predicted his passion — even giving Peter, James and John a special vision of his divinity in the Transfiguration — the Gospels report they go to investigate. There’s no immediate declaration of belief on their part. When the beloved disciple reached the empty tomb, “He saw and believed” (Jn 20:8).
Matthew reports something even more insidious than the disciples struggling to believe. The evangelist records the first anti-Christian fake news campaign. Matthew tells us that the guards who were posted at Jesus’ tomb went to the chief priests and reported all that had taken place. The priests then paid off the soldiers. They told them, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep'” (Mt 28:13). Their work was effective. Many people today think this version is more likely than Jesus actually rising from the dead.
The claim that the apostles fabricated Jesus’ resurrection to me seems incredibly unlikely. If they abandoned Jesus during the Passion, why continue to hold out hope? Why not just let his teachings fade away? In fact, all of the Twelve, except John, end up giving their very lives for Jesus. Why would they consent to be martyred for a lie?
And the details seem to be exacting for the story of Jesus’ resurrection to be intended simply as a myth. Why would the evangelists go to such pains to include such exacting detail (like the shroud and facecloth being neatly folded, like the event coming to pass on the morning of the third day) if the account was not supposed to be read as literally, historically true?
Far more likely to believe the testimony of the Gospels: Jesus Christ, who once was dead, now lives. To liberate us from the sting of death, to free us from the consequences of sin, he offered himself in fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.
No one was tricked by the story of the Resurrection. It wasn’t a generated or fake account. Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, “The comfortable attempt to spare oneself the belief in the mystery of God’s mighty actions in this world and yet at the same time to have the satisfaction of remaining on the foundation of the biblical message leads nowhere; it measures up neither to the honesty of reason nor to the claims of faith.” Only by taking the claims of the New Testament seriously do we do its message justice. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is true. Truly he has risen! Alleluia!
Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickMaryOP.