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Who Was Jesus?

Aired December 24, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, who was Jesus, and why does Christianity survive 2004 years after his death? On this Christmas Eve, as millions the world over celebrate his birth, top religious authorities debate the meaning and the message of Jesus's life and death. With us, Deepak Chopra, renowned spiritual adviser and best- selling author. Pastor John MacArthur of California's Grace Community Church, also president of the Masters College. Father Michael Manning, host of the internationally syndicated religious broadcast, "The Word and the World." Syndicated radio host Dennis Prager, author of many books on the relationship between Christians and Jews. And in New York, "Newsweek's" Jon Meacham, author of the magazine's recent cover story on the birth of Jesus. They're all next on this special Christmas Eve edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. Very happy holidays to you all. On this Christmas Eve, we have an outstanding panel. Now, last week, a couple of weeks ago, both "Time" and "Newsweek" did major front-page stories on the birth of Jesus and the nativity, both cover stories featured the same week. And joining us now in New York -- and we'll start with him and then get around to the panel -- Jon Meacham, who is the managing editor of "Newsweek." He wrote that cover story, "The Birth of Jesus." What was new? What didn't we know, Jon?

JON MEACHAM, NEWSWEEK: Well, I think a lot of people don't know about basically mainstream biblical criticism and the ongoing debate about the tension between history and theology. You know, there are a billion Christians marking the nativity of Jesus tonight and tomorrow and later even. And what people don't really understand in some ways is that the gospels, in the gospels nativity was almost an afterthought, that the cataclysmic event, the central event for the people who are writing the gospels in the first century was the passion, was the resurrection of their lord. And in fact, it was only Matthew and Luke who actually wrote the nativity story going back almost 30, 40, 50 years later.

So what we wanted to do was try to explain how those stories came to be. It is in fact the most familiar story in Western history, I think, if you think about the baby Jesus and the stable and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the stars and the wisemen. And what we wanted to do was try to explain what those symbols, what those emblems mean to believers, how much of it could be historically accurate, and how much of it is theologically significant, which is to say all of it.

Things don't have to be -- it's very important when you read the Bible if you're a believer, and even if you're not, things don't have to be accurate to be true. You know, Shakespeare once said there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in our philosophy, and the Christmas story is certainly one of those.

KING: John MacArthur, what's your reaction to that?

JOHN MACARTHUR, PASTOR, GRACE COMMUNITY CHURCH: I think that's a frightening statement, to say things don't have to be accurate to be true. I mean, now you've just said there's no such thing as truth, or that truth can't be verified, or that truth isn't absolute, or the truth isn't historic.

One of the comments that Jon made I think is really definitive. He said there are a lot of people who don't know about biblical criticism. This is a battle between those who believe the Bible and those who do not.

KING: Why is it a battle? Why can't you just believe it and I'm not?

MACARTHUR: Because, you're taking two sides.

KING: But it's belief. You can believe and have a faith.

MACARTHUR: Believe me, it's more than a belief. It's a battle, it's a war for the integrity, the authority, the veracity, the inerrancy, the inspiration of the Bible. If you believe the Bible is the authoritative, inspired, inerrant word of God, then what it says is absolutely true and binding. If you're not going to believe that, you are going to have to attack the Bible, because of its longevity in the world, because of its power and its impact, you have got to deal with it religiously.

KING: Deepak, how do you view -- I'll come back to you in a minute, Jon, I just want to get everyone's quick thought -- how do you view Christ?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "THE BOOK OF SECRETS": Well, I see Christ in many ways. First, I see the historical Christ, which is -- you know, we know very little. There is only one reference by a Roman historian. I see the Christ of the gospels and of Paul, which is a different theological Christ. I see the Christ of the gnostic gospels, the Nag Hammadi library, the gospel of Thomas, which is completely different from the Christ of Matthew and John and Luke and Mark. I see Christ as a state of consciousness that we can all aspire to.

KING: So which Christ?

CHOPRA: And I see a human Christ, the one who gets angry, who throws the money changers out of the synagogue and calls them -- or tells them not to desecrate the den of thieves, the one Christ who's lord and says, why have you forsaken me. So you know, there are many ways of looking at Christ.

KING: Dennis Prager, as a Jew, and a very observant Jew, how do you view him?

DENNIS PRAGER, AUTHOR: Well, it's interesting. I've spent a life evolving in this way. Obviously, I do not hold Jesus as my savior, or my messiah or my God, and yet I have come to the belief, largely watching America's Christians, frankly, though not only, that Christianity, that the belief in Jesus Christ for Christians has a divine role to play. And I'll be very specific. I think that the spreading of my Bible, specifically my Torah, has been done more by Christians than by Jews. And this goes to a very basic point that was just being made here about the importance of texts. I share the same text with Christians, vis-a-vis the Old Testament. We both hold that to be divine. That's a big deal, and it was spread by people who believe in this Jew named Jesus. And I can't sit here and say, gee, the whole thing is just made up in full.

KING: But you don't believe he was born of a virgin birth and that he was resurrected, that he's your messiah.

PRAGER: No, correct. That is correct. Those are things that by definition, one is a Christian who believes that. I am not a Christian. But do I believe that they're not doing God's work as Christians? No, I cannot say that.

KING: How do you -- the Catholics, how do you view him?

FATHER MICHAEL MANNING, HOST, "THE WORD AND THE WORLD": I believe Jesus is the son of God. I believe that he has lived, died and come to life from resurrection. I believe that that reality is something that I can understand more deeply when I read the Bible. But I also can understand it very much in my little parish in San Bernardino, California, as I work with people who are loving Jesus and trying to experience how he has an impact on their family life, on their social concerns, on their desire to be able to relate to the Father. I find that the Bible, the experience of the live God moving in a great way is very, very important for me.

KING: Jon, you want to explain what you mean by you don't have to be accurate to be true?

MEACHAM: Sure. I think that there's -- I think there is a difference between history and theology. This is a fight that goes back much farther, but I think we're at the most divisive moment currently since really the Scopes trial in 1925.

I am a believing Christian. I am a devout Episcopalian. I know that sometimes strikes people as an oxymoron. But I do believe in the words of the creed, which I repeat everyday. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God who was incarnate by the Holy Ghost to the Virgin Mary and was made man and was crucified for our sins under Pontius Pilate, and rose again. He's coming back to judge the quick and the dead.

I do believe that. Do I believe, to go to the Torah point, that it was six calendar days in the way we measure a week at "Newsweek" or anywhere in the West, that the world was actually created? Not especially. No. I think that it was a literary metaphor for divine creation.

Do I believe that there was a star in the east on that particular day to lead the magi to Jesus? It's a little tricky. Because if you look at what the points the gospel authors were trying to make, they weren't writing journalism. They were writing the good news. That's what gospel means. Gospel does not mean history or biography in the way we use the term today. It means a...

KING: So Matthews, Mark, Luke and John were not journalists?

MEACHAM: No. No. And thank God for that, because, you know, there are plenty of us out there, and thank God there were at least four of them who were making this case. They were making a case for the most powerful thing you can possibly imagine. The world, the very order of the world had been shattered. That out of darkness was coming light, out of death, life, out of weakness, strength, with the resurrection of Jesus, and his coming to the recognition that he was Christ or messiah. Remember, Jesus is a name and Christ is a title. They were trying to make sense of this. And it's the most transformative possible message one can imagine.

Yet I don't think it's particularly productive for us today in the first years of the 21st century, when so much divides us, to act as though we all have to agree that every word of holy scripture is inerrantly accurate. I just don't see how that's very...


MACARTHUR: Well, the Bible claims to be inerrant. It claims to be accurate. Every word of God is pure. Well, but that's its claim. So if it not true when it says it's accurate, why would we believe any of it?

KING: Where does it say -- where does it say we're true? It was written...

MACARTHUR: Paul: Scripture was given by the inspiration of God. Plain and simple.

KING: We have got a whole panel here. We're on the eve of the birth. And we'll be right back.


MACARTHUR: Yes, it's Christmas, and we hear again the cry of a newborn baby that pierced the night sky 2,000 years ago from his cradle in the manger. And bells are ringing out and choirs sing the message of the angels. Peace on Earth, goodwill to all.



KING: All right, Dennis Prager, if it's not literal, if you don't accept virgin birth, then you don't accept Christianity.

PRAGER: Well, that's for Christians to answer. But I'd like to tackle the issue of text, literalism, inspiration and God. I believe that my Torah is divine. But do I believe that each of the 24 hours -- each of the days is 24 hours? No, I don't. And I don't think that the Bible suggests that it is. The sun is not created until the third day. How do you have a 24-hour day without the sun?

KING: So what do you believe?

PRAGER: Oh, I believe that it's divine. Divine and literal are not identical. It is divine. I live by it. It tells me how to live, and I believe it is God's instruction manual to me. But that doesn't mean that God created the world in six times 24 hours.

KING: When you read things that Christ said, what do you think?

PRAGER: I think that, largely, what we have here is a rabbinic Jew speaking, sometimes outside the tradition, sometimes where he himself will even say, you have heard it said X, but I'm here to say why. But the more research one does, the more one finds that most of what he is saying is in his inimitable way, Jewish text.

KING: Do you ever disagree with what he said, Deepak?

CHOPRA: No, I don't disagree with what he said. But I do agree with Jon Meacham when he says that there is a difference between what is true and what is factually accurate. What is true is what we hold to be true as a collective people. So Father MacArthur and his flock...

KING: Reverend.

MACARTHUR: John MacArthur.

CHOPRA: John MacArthur. They believe something to be true. It's true for them. Joseph Campbell said, mythology is truer than history. History is just journalism. And we know that journalism can be distorted. Listen to Al Jazeera and listen to Larry King, they have two completely different points of view. But mythology encapsulates the aspirations, the imagination, the desires, the highest level of expression of a collective mind. So the Bible is divinely inspired, but it's not factually accurate if you interpret it in the ways it is interpreted.

KING: So you read it the way you want to read it?

CHOPRA: Yeah. You read it the way you want to.

KING: Do you ever doubt it, Father? Do you ever doubt the Bible?

MANNING: No, I believe in the inspiration of the Bible, but at the same time, I understand that there are aspects for me of trying to understand from different communities just who Jesus is, so that I have a community of Mark and I have a community of Matthew and Luke.

KING: And do they disagree?

MANNING: Sometimes factually. You're going to find things that are going to be different, concerning the date of the Last Supper. Whether or not Lazarus was raised from the dead. John mentions it, the others don't, you'd say that. But what are they really getting at? They're trying to express their faith in Jesus Christ and allow that to enter into, for example, with Lazarus. What does it mean to die and come to life again? What does that mean? And so...


PRAGER: A very quick thing on accurate and truth, or what was said before. The phone book is entirely accurate. There are no truths in it.

KING: Good point. Excellent point.

MACARTHUR: Yeah, but it has no bearing on the Bible whatsoever. Because the Bible is not assortment of facts and data like a phone book, the Bible is a testimony to Jesus Christ. And in the Old Testament, you have the preparation for Jesus Christ, you have all the prophesies, 330 prophesies, 100 of which at least are resolved in the birth of Jesus Christ.

You have to ask this question, and I would ask this to Dennis, if you accept what Jesus said as the teaching of a Jewish rabbi, what about when he said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am." And they took out stones to stone him, or when he said "if you've seen me, you've seen God."

CHOPRA: John, I am is a state of consciousness. I am means I am, without qualifications. I'm not, so and so I'm not.


MACARTHUR: No, no, it's not that simple.


CHOPRA: If I read the gospel of John, the resurrection -- sorry. Read the Gospel of Thomas, which none of you seem to even be aware of.

MANNING: I'm very aware of it. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CHOPRA: Thomas says very clearly and implies very clearly that the resurrection of Christ was not a corporeal resurrection, but a spiritual resurrection.

MANNING: There's where you need authority to be able to understand...


KING: Jon Meacham, sometimes just jump in, because you're at a disadvantage not being here. So I'll have Dennis comment on what John MacArthur brought up, and then Jon Meacham.

PRAGER: Yes, so the question was, how I do react to Jesus' statements?


MACARTHUR: He claims to be the creator.

PRAGER: Look, the answer will sound terribly simplistic, but it's just -- it's honest and simple. If I believed that, I'd be a Christian. It's as simple as that.

KING: He doesn't believe it.

MACARTHUR: So you think -- I know you don't believe it. You think Jesus -- you think Jesus was a good teacher, in complete control of his senses, a wise rabbi, and said he created the universe and that he's God. And that he's either...

PRAGER: No. 1, as an outsider to your faith, though deeply, as you know, involved in frankly in helping spread it, because the spread of Christianity is a good thing for mankind at this time in history, there is no question in my mind. But having said that, as an outsider to the faith, I don't believe that necessarily he said those things. I don't know that. It is an act of faith on your part that he even said it.

KING: Would you accept what Moses said?

PRAGER: Yes, I do.

KING: OK. Jon Meacham, you're a devout believer, right?

MEACHAM: Well, I try to be devout, but I am certainly a believer.

KING: OK. Are there days you question virgin birth?

MEACHAM: No. I accept the truth of it. I accept that there's a line in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which I think is one of the great definition of faith, that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In my tradition, in Anglicanism, we talk about how sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

I think when we're talking about both the Bible itself, we're talking about the beginnings of tradition of authority. There were already traditions existing that I think everyone would agree, I hope, that there were oral traditions and traditions of teaching that predate the actual writing down of the gospels. Remember, I think it's very important to remember, that Jesus said in the gospel of Mark, which is the earliest gospel, that truly, truly I say to you that this generation shall not pass away but that the son of man would return. The early apostles were looking for the coming of the Davidic messiah, of the end of the age and the beginning of a more heavenly one. They weren't really expecting to have us still sitting here debating this on this holiest of nights so many years later.

KING: We'll be right back more with our outstanding panel on this Christmas Eve. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: There were so many mysteries, John MacArthur, where was he from age 12? What did he do? Where was he when he was 18? What did he look like?

MACARTHUR: Well, we don't know what he looked like.

KING: Why not? These people were there, they were writing about him.

MACARTHUR: Well, it wasn't important what he looked like. I mean, that was not important. He looked like probably a lot of other Jewish people at that time.

We only have one incident between his birth and his beginning of his ministry, when he's baptized by John the Baptist. At the age of 12, he is with his family at the Passover in Jerusalem, and he's left behind, and he's in the temple and he's asking questions of the doctors, and his parents don't even know he's not there because it's a large group. They finally go back. What are you doing? He says, I must be about my father's business. I think it was at that point, having grown in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men, he had full cognizance of his deity and his mission.

KING: Why do you think there's nothing known after that?

MACARTHUR: Because there's really no point until he begins his ministry. I think the Bible tells us that he was at all points tempted like as we are, that he was fully human, that he needed to live a fully human life, from childhood to adulthood, experiencing everything, including temptation. And that perfect life, which he lived, the Bible tells us is credited to the account of every people who puts his trust in him.

Here is the heart of the Christian gospel, OK? On the cross, Jesus dies for my sin. In other words, God treats him as if he lived my life. Turns around...

KING: But you weren't born yet.

MACARTHUR: No. But God knows that. He treats him as if he lives my life. Turns right around. And by my faith in Christ, God treats me as if I lived his life. He credits his life to my account. That's the doctrine of justification at the heart of Christianity.

KING: Father, how much your faith is in frankly fear of death?

MANNING: Oh, I think it's very much so. I think in the back of my mind, I'm wondering where am I going to go after all of this. But I think that -- I tie in very closely to Jesus and this fact of his living and dying and coming to life. Wow. I can't think of anything more consoling and strengthening to know that I'm going to live forever.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If you're one who wants to have hope, the hope that something goes on, it's a great story, it's a great story. It makes me think I'm going to go on, which is, for example, if there were no death, there wouldn't be religion, would there? No death.

MANNING: Not necessarily. Well, I guess you would have to say that, sure. Because that's the reality that Christ has come to overcome death.

KING: Death is bad. Obviously, it's bad.

MANNING: Of course. Of course. Yes, it is.

KING: But you tell us it's good because of heaven.

MANNING: We're going to overcome it. We're going to overcome that.

KING: So it's good? Is it good or bad?

MANNING: We are going to move through it to light.

PRAGER: The trick is to be preoccupied with this life even though one knows that this isn't the only thing that exists. That's the trick.

MACARTHUR: Jesus answered that question. He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, and he wept, and then he raised him from the dead. He wept because the bad part was, he knew, he wasn't weeping for him, he was about to raise him from the dead. He felt the accumulated agony of all the people in the future who would suffer the pain of death.

KING: Deepak, what do you believe about death?

CHOPRA: You know, you asked earlier, what did he look like. Nobody can answer that. But I can tell you if you did a DNA analysis on him, he would not look like John MacArthur, he would look like more the people we're throwing bombs at in the Middle East. He was a Middle Easterner, you know, and he was a Semite.

Secondly, the missing 16 years, there is a lot of literature about that, you know, how much he spent time in Egypt and in Greece and in possibly India. And the third point that I want to raise is that in the council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D., King Constantine actually took out large amounts of Christian literature, and they were done away with, and not discovered until 1945, of which we now know as the Nag Hammadi library. So the Westernization of Christianity is a phenomenon that comes from Paul and from King Constantine.

I have been to churches in India, for example in south India, the Church of St. Thomas, where for several hundred years people didn't even know that there were Christians elsewhere in the world.

KING: Do you believe, Jon Meacham, that he's coming back?

MEACHAM: I do. I believe that one of the things that links Judaism and Christianity in particular is that wonderful image, and I think it's the 21st chapter of Revelation, which is an image drawn from the Prophet Isaiah, that at the ultimate moment, there shall be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears, that God shall wipe every tear from every eye, and there shall be no more death, for the former things are passed away. And I think that is the ultimate moment where the world will be brought back into order. And I think that that explains the appeal of this night and the great vigil of Easter and so many other holy nights, Passover, for both Christians and Jews, is that we are living in the promise that one day all shall be made right. And it happened in time and space here, and ultimately, we shall be brought together in a way that will make sense of all that's come before.

KING: Does the Jew believe as well that the messiah is still to come?

PRAGER: That's the Jewish belief.

KING: When is he coming, or she?

PRAGER: Well, one is supposed to believe any moment, but there are no predictions. I will say that though a belief in a messiah is one of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith as established by Maimonides. The concept of messiah or the belief in messiah, is a larger issue, a larger daily operative issue for the believing Christian than it is for Jews. And this is -- always comes as hmm to my Christians friends. Really, it's not that critical. And it just isn't.

I went to yeshiva for 15 years, I don't think we discussed the messiah for 10 minutes. Fifteen years of yeshiva training.

By the way, can I ask Jon Meacham a question?

KING: When we come back.


KING: We'll be right back. I'll reintroduce the panel. On this Christmas Eve, don't go away.


KING: The panel consists of Deepak Chopra, "The New York Times" best-selling author. The most recent book, "The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life." Other books include "How to Know God." John MacArthur is evangelical Christian, pastor, teacher, the Grace Community Church, author and host of "Grace to You," president of the Masters College and founder of Masters Seminary. Father Michael Manning is a Roman Catholic priest, Society of the Divine Word, host of "The Word and the World," seen on Trinity Broadcasting, and the Catholic Diocese and Cable Television. Dennis Prager is host of the nationally syndicated radio program, host of numerous books, including "Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism," and "Why the Jews: The Reason for Anti-Semitism." And in New York, Jon Meacham, managing editor of "Newsweek," who wrote the recent "Newsweek" cover story, "Birth of Jesus."

Dennis, for Jon. PRAGER: Yeah, Jon, where do I look for Jon? Right over there. Hello, Jon. You said it might be an oxymoron to some. What was the word? A...

MEACHAM: A devout Episcopalian.

PRAGER: Much more oxymoronic is a "Newsweek" editor who is a Bible believer. So I'm just curious, are there any more of you?

MEACHAM: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that's one of the -- it's interesting -- I don't mean to make light of it. But I think that question shows us in many, many ways why we have sharp and ultimately completely unproductive divisions in the country. We've just seen it in the campaign. One of the reasons we wanted to do this piece actually, "The Birth of Jesus," was to look at the conflict between faith and reason. You know, John Paul II wrote that wonderful essay in 1998, on faith and reason, in which in a perfect image, he talks about how there are two wings on which we must fly to the contemplation of truth. And that's a very important thing for us as journalists. We want to be...

PRAGER: But the truth is, the secular media are known for being secular. Look, there's more, you know, there's more coverage of billiards than there is of religion in "The New York Times," for example. I mean, that's just the way it is.

KING: Do you think that's a plot? You think "The New York Times" gets together and says, we are going to give it to religion? Come on, Dennis. There's a plot against it.

PRAGER: Oh, I believe -- no, there is no plot. Nobody sat down and said, you know what, we think religion is in a province of morons and we don't want to cover it. It just works out that way. People's values reflect in what they do. It makes perfect sense. And so the press does under-report and undercare. Listen, "The New York Times" best-seller list does not include Christian books. How's that? You tell me if that's not plot. It's not. Deliberately. They will acknowledge it. If it's sold in a Christian bookstore, it doesn't count for "The New York Times."

KING: It has a separate section for children's books. It has a section for business books.

PRAGER: No, not on the best-seller list. The best seller list should be books that are best sellers. It doesn't report Christian best sellers.

KING: Let's move -- I want to touch other bases. We ought to do a whole week on just -- with this panel.

PRAGER: Hey, and I'm Jewish and I (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MEACHAM: Larry, let me just say one thing, if I may, since we've talked about this, is I do think that referring to something as "the secular media" is as frustrating to members of the press as somebody referring to evangelicals or fundamentalist Christians. As we all know, life is much more complex, there are many different kinds of strains of belief and values within various communities than we can usually talk about. And that's certainly true of the people I know who do what I do.

KING: Father, who killed Christ?

MANNING: I think that Christ moved, especially with the Jewish leaders of the time, in a way that was very threatening to them. And that there was a real concern that the power of the Romans, who were very strong at that time, were people who were -- their authority was also threatened.

KING: Did you see the Mel Gibson film?

MANNING: Yes, I did.

KING: What did you think?

MANNING: I was very moved. It was very touching for me. I even had a chance to have the star, Jim, what his name is, that was there...


MANNING: I was very, very moved by it. It told me that Jesus is God, he loves me, and he has died to prove that love for me. And in that love, I have a deep, deep affection for him.

KING: Who killed him, John?

MACARTHUR: Well, the Romans executed him on the mountain, but they did it under duress and the pressure of Jewish leaders, who hated him, not because of the cure he offered but because of the indictment. I mean, he went to his one town. One of the most riveting portions of the whole New Testament, Luke Chapter 4, he goes to Nazareth, where he grew up, goes back to his synagogue where he attended every sabbath, he's with his family, his relatives, his friends that he grew up with. He preaches one sermon there, and they try to throw him off a cliff. It wasn't that they didn't want the kingdom of God or salvation or forgiveness or heaven or whatever. They couldn't accept the diagnosis that their religion was not true, that it was not of the heart. And that was the issue that finally drove them to the cross.

KING: I want to see how a Jew reacts to that.

MANNING: That was a reaction especially significant to me, that what upset them was that Jesus was open to finding God's presence even among people who were not Jews. And that really shocked them.

CHOPRA: You know, it is great that they did kill him; otherwise we wouldn't have Christianity today. Judas is as important to the plot as Christ is.

KING: Shouldn't Judas be praised?

MACARTHUR: Well, let's go back and say, in the Book of Acts, when Peter preached on Pentecost, he said "whom you killed," to the people, "by the determined council and foreknowledge of God." If you asked who ultimately killed Jesus, God killed Jesus, because he had to put him on the cross for our sins. But that doesn't relieve the people who were involved of culpability.


KING: If he makes the plan, how do the Jews have control of their acts?

CHOPRA: The story of any good plot, implicit allies, explicit enemies. You know, you have to have a Judas in order to have a Christ.

MACARTHUR: There are secondary causes, and that's human. The primary cause is God.

KING: How does a Jew react to that? You killed him.

PRAGER: No. That's exactly it.


PRAGER: I know you're not blaming me. He's not blaming me. He's blaming me. He doesn't like my politics. OK.

KING: I like you.

PRAGER: I know you do. And I appreciate it. It's mutual. Listen, this is key. I would have -- I have no issue. No Jew will have an issue with saying Jewish leaders of the time, along with the Romans, conspired to kill him, even though the Jews couldn't do it alone, they didn't have the death penalty or crucifixion. Plus the fact that tens of thousands of Jews were also crucified, other Jews, which is also necessary to point out.

The problem has only been if Christians said Jews are to blame forever, all Jews all the time. That's, and unfortunately, in Europe, not in America, and I tell the Jews make a huge distinction between the Jewish experience with American Christians and European Christians. There, Jews were frequently blamed for something that they had no hand in, and that is evil. But to say that -- but I have no problem in saying that there were probably Jewish leaders, who, according to the story, who conspired with the Romans.

KING: It begins the era of anti-Semitism.

PRAGER: Yes, it does. Because the reader -- it's up to the reader. And this is what I have learned, no matter how divine you find the text, it is still in our hands what we do with the text. This is the ultimate freedom God has given us.

KING: Your interpretation.

PRAGER: Two people can read the same text and one can say, I -- that God ultimately killed him and we are of the branch of Judaism, as evangelical Christians and many Catholics will say today, and others will say damn the Jews. Reading the same text.

KING: Jon Meacham, I'll come to you in a second. I got to take a break. You wanted to say something, John MacArthur?

MACARTHUR: It's much deeper than that. No true Christian transformed on the inside by faith in Jesus Christ is going to be an anti-Semite. What you have is people who call themselves Christians, but who have not been transformed by the power of Christ. They're the ones that would be anti-Semitic.

KING: In other words, if you're a racist, you can't be a Christian.

MACARTHUR: No, if you're a Christian, you will be converted from your racism.

KING: You can't be a racist if you're a Christian.

MACARTHUR: That's right. So true Christians...

KING: So when churches were segregated on Sunday morning, they were non-Christians.

MACARTHUR: You know, I have a real trouble believing -- we're talking about a different issue now. We're talking about a social issue, not a religious.

KING: But they were Christian.

MACARTHUR: I think Christians act like Christians. I think Christians are transformed people. And lots of people take the label, but don't know Christ.

KING: Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, if Christ came back, the one thing he wouldn't be is a Christian.

MACARTHUR: That's another overstatement by Mark Twain.


KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: Deepak Chopra, what do you mean by Jesus as a state of consciousness?

CHOPRA: That Jesus said love your enemies. That Jesus said bless those who curse you. That Jesus said, do good to those who hurt you. That Jesus said, who said, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. I want to know what is that state of consciousness, where you can actually feel that, because if you did, the world would be different.

KING: If he was that, wouldn't he be labeled a peacenik in today's world, wouldn't he be scoffed at? CHOPRA: No, I think...

MANNING: Very much so. I think...

KING: Turn the other cheek?

MANNING: Certainly he was against the Romans. There was a whole movement of Zealots against that. And he moved against that. But the problem, Deepak, that I have with what you say is, this general consciousness, is not what I believe in. I believe in the person of Jesus Christ.

CHOPRA: I know what you believe in.


CHOPRA: I respect your beliefs, sir, but it's not my belief.


CHOPRA: ... a state of consciousness, called Christ consciousness, which you can aspire to. And if you do, you will heal yourself and you will heal the world, because that is what Christ is all about. The Sermon on the Mount is the most important inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi, who changed the world.


PRAGER: I will try and experiment right here on this show here about what I was saying about text, even when one believes that God is behind it. Jon Meacham, are you pro or anti-capital punishment?

MEACHAM: I'd rather not say, given my journalistic role.

PRAGER: All right. John MacArthur.

MACARTHUR: Yeah, I'm pro capital punishment. I think it's very clear in the Bible.

PRAGER: OK. Father Manning.

MANNING: Strongly against capital punishment.

PRAGER: OK. You both believe it's a divinely inspired text, divinely revealed text, and have opposite views on a fundamental moral question.

MACARTHUR: Wait a minute. It's in the Bible...

PRAGER: By the way, I share John MacArthur's view, by the way. It's Genesis, it's Exodus, it's Leviticus, it's Numbers and Deuteronomy. It's the only law in all five books of the Torah.

MACARTHUR: Whoever shed's man blood by man shall his blood be shed. That's the law of God.


MANNING: ... forgiving the person who was supposed to be...

MACARTHUR: Peter took out a sword in the garden when they came to arrest Jesus, he took a swing at a guy's ear, at his head, and Jesus gave him back his ear, because Peter missed his head and got his ear.

MANNING: Put it away.

MACARTHUR: Wait a minute. Jesus said put your sword away, and he said this, because if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. And Jesus upheld capital punishment. That is clear cut.

MANNING: No, not at all.

MACARTHUR: That's a clear cut statement. Now, you can say I don't believe what Jesus says.

KING: The rest of the world doesn't agree with him.

MACARTHUR: Larry, it comes back to whether you believe the Bible is true.

MANNING: I believe in forgiveness, too, and rehabilitation.

KING: Jon Meacham, go ahead.

MEACHAM: You know, what's interesting about this conversation in the last few minutes, is it shows that faith and reason are not at war, but are actually the two engines on which we're driving down the road, I hope, the journey to try to work out who we are and to reach a completeness, which for Christians will be in the bosom of God, and for Jews it will be one thing, for Muslims another, for Hindus another, for Buddhists another. But I think the recognition, particularly in the United States, which I think is the reason we can talk about religion publicly so comfortably, is that the recognition that we all in fact are on what St. Augustine saw, as a journey, that we are on our way to a larger truth. We -- none of us, I believe, have a monopoly on the truth. And the more we can debate, the more we can debate in good faith, and understand that maybe there's not just one answer, there is not just one inerrant answer, I think the better off we are going to be.

KING: But John MacArthur thinks there is one answer.

MACARTHUR: Well, what I want to say, is, Jon, I appreciate what you're saying, but you're drawing a dichotomy between faith and reason that is frightening to me. My faith is based on what is reasonable. I believe in what actually happened, what is true. I don't have an airy-fairy faith in some concoction of my own mind. I'm not separating my faith from reason. I believe in what's reasonable and historical and actual and factual.

KING: So it's reasonable -- virgin birth is reasonable to you? MACARTHUR: Well, of course it is, because it's reasonable if God came into the world, he'd come differently than any other person who is mortal.

MEACHAM: I think one great thing, I thin one great thing that could come out of the red state versus blue state -- and I completely respect what you're saying. I would hope you would respect what I'm saying, in the sense that I think smart people can be faithful, and faithful people can be smart. And I fear that in the public arena in the past couple of years in the United States, that statement would come under attack.

MACARTHUR: Jon, it's not about being smart, it's about basing your faith on fact, reality, biblical revelation.

MEACHAM: You and I disagree about that, but in good faith, I think.

CHOPRA: I can see it's very obvious why religion has become divisive, quarrelsome. We only argue about things that are not even important. I think we have to make a distinction...

PRAGER: What, capital punishment isn't important?

CHOPRA: ... between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is a domain of awareness, where irrespective of what religion I come from, we have love, compassion, understanding, inspiration, healing and nurturing and affection and tenderness and creativity. Without all this argument about facts which nobody can corroborate.

KING: We'll have our remaining moments with this distinguished panel right after this.


KING: On this Christmas Eve, a subject that has to be touched, are we overcommercializing this holiday, Father?

MANNING: Very much so, and I think...

KING: It never stops, it gets worse. Right?

MANNING: We have got to make sure that we're continually stopping and saying gifts are really a giving of myself rather than an obligation, that I've got to get this now. It's a beautiful Christian thing, as Christ gives himself to us in the world, we imitate that and we give ourselves and love to those around us, by using gifts.

KING: John MacArthur, deck the halls with Power Rangers?

MACARTHUR: It's ludicrous, Larry, I mean, it's absolutely ludicrous the way Christmas is mangled. I remember reading a story in a Boston paper one time about a person who had a Christmas party, they had a little baby, put the baby on the bed and then smothered it in the coats of the people who came to the party. And I thought, you know, this is what has happened to Jesus with Christmas. Somehow he's been smothered. And now we're doing everything we can to take the terminology out.

CHOPRA: I don't think Christians are commercializing Jesus. It's Anglo-American economic ethics that commercialize Jesus.

KING: Capitalism.

CHOPRA: Capitalism. We've done the same thing with the war industry.


PRAGER: I think it's beautiful that people get gifts. I think it's better that they get gifts for Christmas than they do for Halloween. So I actually think it's a very positive thing.

KING: Unless they go broke on a MasterCard.

PRAGER: Yes, well, that's true, for any time. But beyond that, I think it's a very lovely thing. I'll tell you what bothers me. It bothers me that people can't say merry Christmas and have to say happy holiday.

KING: What's wrong with happy holiday?

PRAGER: Because it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean a thing.

KING: What does merry Christmas mean to a Jew?

PRAGER: It means that the bulk of our society celebrates merry Christmas.

KING: Well, why don't you want John to say happy Hanukkah all day?


PRAGER: But the vast majority of Americans deserve a merry Christmas.

KING: OK. Thank you.


KING: Jon Meacham, what do you think about the commercialization?

MEACHAM: Oh, I think it will be ever thus. I think that the more we can have conversations like this, I have priest friends who wonder where all these people are who are in church tonight, why they don't show up again until Easter? Do they always leave town for those four or five months? But I think that the crucial thing to my mind and I'm sure to all of us, is to follow the great commandment, which is to love one another as we love ourselves, which first appears in Leviticus, and then Jesus in many ways makes it a central message of the gospels. And you come out of a night like this reminded of that, this is best we can do.

KING: Do you know anyone who loves the others as thyself? Do you know anyone?

MANNING: Yes, I know some people. A mother that cares for their deformed child and just gives herself totally.

KING: The neighbor cares for the neighbor as much as the child?

CHOPRA: Mother Teresa did.

MACARTHUR: I don't think any of us would affirm human perfection. By the way, the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And nobody does that all the time, and that's why we need a savior and a messiah to deliver us...


KING: Doesn't it annoy the believers that he hasn't come back?

MACARTHUR: Well, it doesn't annoy me. I can trust him with a timetable.

MANNING: I'm longing for it to happen.

KING: Don't you long for him? Don't you want to see the messiah? Dennis, don't you want him?

PRAGER: Of course I want him, if it will end all the suffering and...

KING: Wouldn't that be great?

PRAGER: Yes, but God has a timetable, that's correct.

KING: You don't question it?

PRAGER: No, I don't, actually.

MACARTHUR: Do you want to know why he hasn't come back? It's not because he's slow in his promise, Peter says, it's because he's long suffering, waiting for sinners to repent.

CHOPRA: I don't think, Larry, it's a person...


CHOPRA: I don't think it's a person that will come back, but it may be a collective attitude of healing and compassion that will come back. And love.

KING: What's been the reaction to the article, Jon?

MEACHAM: Quite positive, actually. Interestingly, when I wrote about "The Passion" earlier this year and the Gibson controversy, it was a much more hostile, in some ways, reaction. This has not been. People, I think, appreciate that the nativity stories were written with particular messages in mind. That Jesus -- named him Jesus because he just saved the people from their sins, to fulfill various prophesies. And I think people also, and one of the reasons we're dedicated to covering religion and spirituality as much as we can, is it's so important to so many people's lives. And I think they do want to be challenged and they do want to be poked and prodded, to think about their faith, to think about the role of faith in what we do every day.

You know, there's a wonderful story about Christmas Day, 1941. Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill is visiting Franklin Roosevelt for the first time during the war, and they go to church on Christmas Day. And Churchill has never heard the hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem." And he was reminded, as the world was falling apart, how wonderful it was, and how it stirred the heart, that the hopes and fears of all the years were met in one place. And that was this night. And I think in this time of war, when so many people, so many young Americans are out as the sentries of freedom for all of us, we should say a prayer for them as well.

KING: Well said, a perfect capper for the evening.

Thank you so much. Deepak Chopra, John MacArthur, Father Michael Manning, Dennis Prager, Jon Meacham, and to please Mr. Prager and others, merry Christmas, and happy new year, and happy holiday.

Good night. Stay tuned for "NEWSNIGHT."


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