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Unbelief and Bad Belief (growth of hostility towards religion in secularized society)
Zenit News Agency ^ | March 11, 2006

Posted on 03/12/2006 5:43:21 AM PST by NYer

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Indifference or hostility to religion is a well-established phenomenon in many Western countries. Recent events such as the Mohammed cartoon controversy point to the serious consequences that follow when secular society is unable to appreciate religious sensibilities, giving rise to needless offense.

In this context a document made available a short while ago on the Vatican's Web site merits a closer look. "The Christian Faith at the Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference" contains the conclusions of the March 2004 plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

To prepare for the meeting, the council gathered information from countries around the world. The answers provided give an overview of some of the main characteristics of secularization.

The document starts by noting the loss of faith in today's world. "There is a rupture in the handing on the faith, intimately linked to the process of abandonment of a popular culture long attached to and impregnated by Christianity," the introduction states. The weakening of this popular religious culture brings with it serious consequences in terms of how people think, behave and judge.

"The Church today is confronted more by indifference and practical unbelief than with atheism," the pontifical council commented. With few exceptions, governments no longer publicly affirm atheism.

Yet while the number of regimes marked by an atheistic political system has declined, a certain cultural hostility against religions has spread. This is palpable in some sectors of the media and is directed against Christianity, particularly Catholicism, the document observed.

The threat here is more subtle. "It is a veritable sickness of the soul which induces to live 'as though God did not exist,' a neo-paganism that idolizes material goods, the achievements of work, and the fruits of power," the pontifical council noted. This leads to what the document terms as "homo indifferens," and often the search for happiness is reduced to a desire for material prosperity and the gratification of sexual impulses.

Causes of unbelief

The document notes that there are old and new causes behind the loss of religious belief. Drawing, in part, on the analysis made in the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution, "Gaudium et Spes," the Pontifical Council for Culture identifies some of the main factors.

-- The presumptions of modern science. The vision of the world without any reference to God, that rejects his existence on the basis of scientific principles, has become widespread and commonplace.

-- Man as the center of the universe. Western culture is permeated by a form of subjectivism that professes the absolute subjectivity of the individual and denies the existence of objective truths or values. This exaltation of the individual means that the Church is no longer accepted as a doctrinal and moral authority.

-- The problem of evil. "The mystery of evil has been and always will be a scandal for intelligent man, and only the light of Christ crucified and glorified can fully reveal and express it," the Pontifical Council for Culture notes. Today, the document adds, awareness of the presence of evil is amplified through the power of the mass media.

-- The limitations of Christians and the Church. Negative or unpleasant experiences, or scandals caused by priests, can estrange some people from the Church.

-- Handing on the faith. Changes in the family and Catholic schools make the transmission of the faith to new generations more difficult. The power of the mass media also undermines traditional cultural practices in the area of religion.

-- Secularization. Many believers follow a lifestyle in which God or religion is of little importance.

Changes in sexual morality have also had negative effects for the life of faith, the document notes.

Believing without belonging

Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that this means religion ceases to have a role, the pontifical council contends. After an initial rejection of religion there is a sort of reaction, by a portion of the population at least, and people look once more for spiritual sustenance. But this search is no longer directed through the established churches or by means of traditional forms of worship.

What ensues is a search "for an experience which is entirely individual, autonomous and guided by one's own subjectivity." This sort of instinctive religiosity, the pontifical council explains, is based more on emotions than on doctrine and is expressed without reference to a personal God. The document describes it as "believing without belonging."

Modern culture is, therefore, characterized by a twofold phenomenon: "unbelief and bad belief." Both of them have in common a desire for autonomy. The Pontifical Council for Culture also identifies a number of other characteristics of these new forms of belief.

-- It is a romantic form of religion, a religion of the spirit and of the self which has its roots in the crisis of the subject who is more and more narcissistic, and rejects all historical and objective elements. This do-it-yourself religion leads people to create a new image of God at different stages of their lives, according to the needs they perceive.

-- It is a strongly subjective religion, where the individual is under no obligation to give an account of his reasons or behavior.

-- It is an adherence to a God who often has no face or personal characteristics. God is often seen more as a force or superior transcendent being, but not as a Father. In some circles this leads to a return of pantheism.

-- It is a religion in which there is a lack of interest for the question of the truth. For many, truth has a negative connotation, associated with concepts such as "dogmatism, intolerance, imposition."

Overcoming obstacles

The Pontifical Council for Culture went on to propose a number of ways to tackle the problems outlined.

-- Dialogue, which is personal, patient, respectful, loving, sustained by prayer. This dialogue can be based both on fundamental questions of human life -- the meaning of death, religious experience, the inner freedom of the human person -- and on major social themes, such as education of the young, poverty, human rights, religious liberty and bioethics.

-- Evangelization of culture. This can be done in a multiplicity of ways: a public witness, such as the World Youth Days; city missions that carry the Church out into the marketplace; the work of Christian movements and associations in the public sphere and the mass media; the cooperation of the Church with organizations of nonbelievers to do things that are good in themselves; the promotion of public events on cultural themes. In general, this evangelization needs to ensure the presence of the Church in the public arena, which will help bridge the gap between the spiritual realm and daily life.

-- Help families transmit the faith. This can be started as part of the assistance offered to couples during their preparation for marriage. Once the couple marry and have children they need to ensure that their faith is lived out in concrete ways, such as the proper celebration of religious feasts, family prayer and visits to churches. Through these means parents can help build up solid roots of faith in their children.

-- Improve religious education. This needs to be done both at parish level and in religious schools.

-- Giving witness of Christian charity, by means of forgiveness and fraternal love.

Toward the end the document takes note of the need to convince nonbelievers that they will only find the fullness of their humanity in Christ, true God and true man. A task that could test the faith of any believer.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: atheism; christianity; culture; evil; faith; media; moralabsolutes; pantheism; pope; science; secularization; vatican

1 posted on 03/12/2006 5:43:27 AM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...
Catholic Ping - Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list


2 posted on 03/12/2006 5:44:34 AM PST by NYer (Discover the beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches - freepmail me for more information.)
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To: NYer
Thought provoking article:

Man as the center of the universe. Western culture is permeated by a form of subjectivism that professes the absolute subjectivity of the individual and denies the existence of objective truths or values. This exaltation of the individual means that the Church is no longer accepted as a doctrinal and moral authority.

A variation on this is the baby boom hippie influenced generation who rebelled against all authority, inc. the church. This influence was many decades in developing, but culminated with the Vietnam War era and the Nixon debacle.

Many baby boomers simply did not participate with their families in an organized faith growth experience - esp. that of the church.

There are signs that Gen Xers are searching to fill that spiritual void. At my church, the vast majority of visitors and new members for the past several years have been those joining through "Profession of Faith", meaning they have never been a member of another church family. These are mostly couples in their 20's and 30's with small children who want their children to have what they missed in their youth - religious training and the nurturing of a church family.

This is an encouraging sign.

3 posted on 03/12/2006 5:56:16 AM PST by randita
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To: NYer

Good articulation of the problem.


4 posted on 03/12/2006 5:56:29 AM PST by Tribune7
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To: randita
This is an encouraging sign.

Indeed! We can only pray that it catches on. Sadly, I know several families with young children who have turned away from God for all the reasons cited above. Their children have never been baptized. When I asked one dad why he would deny his daughter this gift that had been given him, he said he would leave it up to his daughter to pick a religion when she is older. This is the tragic consequence of secularism. Oftentimes, those raised without any religious foundation, are unable to choose one later in life.

5 posted on 03/12/2006 6:07:53 AM PST by NYer (Discover the beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches - freepmail me for more information.)
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To: NYer

When you don't bring a child up in the faith, you have already made the choice for them.


6 posted on 03/12/2006 6:12:40 AM PST by randita
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To: NYer

bttt


7 posted on 03/12/2006 7:09:55 AM PST by Matchett-PI ( "History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid." -- Dwight Eisenhower)
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To: NYer

bookmark


8 posted on 03/12/2006 7:50:25 AM PST by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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Comment #9 Removed by Moderator

To: NYer
Causes of unbelief

How about the "Waiting for Godot syndrome?" Two thousand years and counting.

10 posted on 03/12/2006 7:59:44 AM PST by stboz
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To: NYer
My follow-up question to the dad you mentioned would be, "How do you expect her to learn about it if you don't teach her, if you don't expose her to church/faith, or, at least, allow someone else to teach her?"

Not to decide is to decide. This parent, and others like him, have made the decision for their children by their inaction and lack of parental leadership.

11 posted on 03/12/2006 8:26:50 AM PST by Prov3456
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To: NYer
Recent events such as the Mohammed cartoon controversy point to the serious consequences that follow when secular society is unable to appreciate religious sensibilities, giving rise to needless offense.

*************

Good article, with the above exception.

12 posted on 03/12/2006 8:31:32 AM PST by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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To: NYer

As someone who attended (briefly) Thomas Aquinas College and whose best friend is a graduate (after getting a business degree from a prestigious business school and leading an empty life of a money-grubbing stock-broker), I can tell you that part of the reason is that the overwhelming majority of Christians are simply incapable of arguing or debating the faith with non-believers (though not graduates of TAC!).

They lack the scientific and cultural knowledge to actually understand the basis for unbelief and to attempt to counter it.

Non-believers find Christianity to be basically "unscientific", "old-fashioned", "distasteful" and led by people who, frankly, would not be much fun at a dinner party. Add to this the real problem of self-proclaimed (or ordained) "leaders" who use Christianity for their own secular purposes (the Bakers, pedophile priests, "get rich quick by believing in Jesus" scammers, etc) and you have your work cut out for you.

What definitely WON'T work in any discussion with a non-believer is the phrase "because it says so in the Bible". This extends to any pseudo-arguments against current scientific "theories". (Even the Catholic Church has finally learned from the Galileo debacle that it is more damaging to oppose a scientific theory simply because it is contrary to current Church doctrine than it is to withhold opinion on the subject). The current "intelligent design" pseudo-debate falls here. Christians should avoid commenting on the truth or falsity of current scientific theories and take the long view that God could have chosen any number of different ways of affecting the same outcome.

Morality and immorality: non-believers don't believe in morality if morality is defined by "sinfulness". They don't believe in "sin". They do, however, give lip-service to the concept of "guilt" (as in collective guilt for slavery, racism, Western Imperialism, etc). They are undeterred by (and find "distasteful") arguments against certain types of personal behavior that involve "sin" or "morality". Better that Christians should argue "purpose" and "natural ends" when arguing against homosexuality, promiscuity and other "immoral" behaviors. Here, science is on our side: studies show that heterosexual couples engaging in normal sex derive the greatest benefits: reduced stress, greater feelings of well-being, etc.

New Age Christianity: Probably the greatest threat to Christianity comes not from the old fogeys, but from the various "new age" type denominations that believe that God is anything you want him to be. People who seek out religion do so because they want an alternative to the empty modernity that they see around them every day. To quote Hayak talking about British propaganda during the Second World War "Germans may look to the British to provide an alternative to Socialsim, but they will NEVER believe that the British are able to do Socialism BETTER than they themselves are". Same with the church and modernity: non-believers may look to the church for an alternative to modernity, but the will NEVER believe that the church can do modernity better than they. Look at the people who seek an alternative and you see people choosing Buddhism or even Islam. Why? Because they have remained unchanged for hundreds or thousands of years and DO provide an alternative to the ranging change of fashions that permeates everyday life.

Guitar masses, ecumenical services, wishy-washy new-age, save the planet for God non-sense does more harm to Christianity than does a firm stance saying: "This is where we've been for 2000 years, and this is where we're staying!" (Pope Jean-Paul II understood this hence his popularity.)

To sum up this long (sorry) rant, Christians can not simply take the easy way out and expect the Bible to provide all the answers to dealing with unbelievers. There is hard, very hard, intellectual work to be done.


13 posted on 03/12/2006 8:47:54 AM PST by Philistone (Turning lead into gold...)
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To: wagglebee; DBeers

Haven't read this, sneaking onto FR, I know I'll like it. Probably you too!


14 posted on 03/12/2006 9:02:20 AM PST by little jeremiah (Tolerating evil IS evil.)
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To: stboz

You're certainly narrowing down belief in God to a very small opening.


15 posted on 03/12/2006 9:03:10 AM PST by little jeremiah (Tolerating evil IS evil.)
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To: NYer
There are some valid points in the article, however, they don't go far enough. They imply that the answer is to go through the motions of churchianity with not mention made of a basic spiritual conversion

The organized church has let Christianity down by rotting at the top. Some surveys have shown that less than 20% of seminary graduates believe the basic tenets of Christianity at all.

We can hardly expect the organized church to be vital centers of the faith when they are managed by non-Christians in the first place.

16 posted on 03/12/2006 9:24:01 AM PST by nightdriver
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To: Philistone
Excellent points with regard to non-believers. But what about baptized catholics who have drifted away into the secular world? Is their excuse poor catechesis?

Guitar masses, ecumenical services, wishy-washy new-age, save the planet for God non-sense does more harm to Christianity than does a firm stance saying: "This is where we've been for 2000 years, and this is where we're staying!" (Pope Jean-Paul II understood this hence his popularity.)

See my tagline.

17 posted on 03/12/2006 1:27:08 PM PST by NYer (Discover the beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches - freepmail me for more information.)
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To: trisham
bookmark

Ditto! Some of these articles need to be resurrected as fodder on other threads.

18 posted on 03/12/2006 1:28:23 PM PST by NYer (Discover the beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches - freepmail me for more information.)
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To: NYer
Is their excuse poor catechesis?

I'm sure there are as many excuses as there are people who fall away.

But you can't expect catechism to compete with science. Catechism isn't about physics, it's about metaphysics. And you have to be intellectually mature enough to understand the difference.

I think Catholics need to do a better job (and they are starting to with colleges like Thomas Aquinas and a return to traditional Aquinian teaching) of showing Catholics that their philosophy is every bit as deep, profound and coherent as anything taught at Harvard or Princeton.

As a Catholic, at some point in a philosophical debate, you will simply end up having to say "Fide!". But it is surprising to most Catholics (and certainly to most non-believers) just how far into arguments about form, substance, act, potentiality, nature, etc you can go before you reach that point.

Many young Catholics were drawn to the church during the reign of JP-II precisely because they were attracted by the intellectual rigor with which he argued his points.

Compared to the lack of rigor in most of the social sciences today, it's like a breath of fresh air to them.

19 posted on 03/12/2006 2:09:49 PM PST by Philistone (Turning lead into gold...)
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To: NYer

Secular society is just a euphamism for pagan society.


20 posted on 03/12/2006 3:25:54 PM PST by festus (The constitution may be flawed but its a whole lot better than what we have now.)
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To: randita
"These are mostly couples in their 20's and 30's with small children who want their children to have what they missed in their youth..."

Many of the Churchgoers I see are well advanced in age.

This "Profession of Faith" sounds like a cruise liner filled with newly weds and nearly deads. The younger crowd wants to educate and remind the young souls that obedience to parental authority is sanctioned by God, and the other, aging crowd are making like college kids and "cramming for the final".
21 posted on 03/13/2006 11:30:08 AM PST by SaltyJoe (A mother's sorrowful heart and personal sacrifice redeems her lost child's soul.)
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To: NYer

ANother BTTT and read later selfping.


22 posted on 03/16/2006 1:03:19 AM PST by little jeremiah (Tolerating evil IS evil.)
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To: randita; NYer

Anti-clericalism and hostility to the organized Church is nothing new in some parts of the world. It used to be said that in Southern Italy, everyone follows the Church: One half with a candle, the other half with a club.


23 posted on 03/16/2006 1:06:01 AM PST by Clemenza (Seattle: The Pesto of Cities --- George Costanza)
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