Editor’s Note: Over 20 issues, The Michigan Catholic is bringing you, in bite-sized chunks, Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. Below is the fourth of 20 excerpts, taken from the letter’s third section, its “Catechetical Exposition.” To read the whole letter — or to catch up on sections you’ve missed — visit www.unleashthegospel.org.
The roots of the present crisis of faith go far beyond the boundaries of our local Church. For the last several centuries the western world has been gradually abandoning its Christian foundations. As John Paul II candidly wrote in 2001, “Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian society’ which, amid all the frailties which have always marked human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone.” Pope Benedict XVI gave a similar diagnosis: “The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings….” Even among those who affirm that God exists, many are living a “practical atheism” — that is, they are living as if God did not exist.
Underlying the rejection of Christian faith at a deep level are often false or pseudo religions, belief systems based on profoundly misguided assumptions. Many people hold these beliefs unreflectively, not aware of their underlying premises. Some of the most common false religions today are the following.
Scientific fundamentalism. Scientific fundamentalism is a belief that all questions about human existence and the world can be answered by experimental science. The universe is regarded as a closed system in which everything can be explained by the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and evolution. God, if he exists at all, does not intervene in the world. Anything that cannot be proven scientifically is assumed to be false or at least unimportant. In reality, such a belief attributes to science a role that is far beyond its competence, since there are vast domains of existence that experimental science cannot account for, including ethical goods, aesthetic values, love, friendship, sacrifice, knowledge, and even science itself.
Moralistic therapeutic deism. This term was famously coined by two sociologists to describe the amorphous set of religious beliefs to which many American young people subscribe. This belief system is moralistic in that it emphasizes moral behavior, vaguely defined as being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, and so on. It is therapeutic in that it envisions God as on call to take care of problems that arise in our lives, but not otherwise interested in us nor holding us accountable for our choices. It is deistic in that it views God as having created the world but not personally involved in it. Such views fall far short of the Christian understanding of God, who does hold us accountable, who gave his Son for us to save us from the devastating consequences of sin, and who desires to be deeply involved in our lives.
Secular messianism. Secular messianism is a politicized version of Christianity that makes the Gospel subservient to a human agenda. It comes in various forms (both liberal and conservative), but in every case it reduces Christianity to a program of social progress in this world. Such an outlook has lost sight of the eschatological vision of the Gospel — the fact that what we believe and do in this life has eternal consequences, because the world as we know it will one day come to an end and Christ will return as the Lord before whom every knee will bow (Phil 2:9-11).
All these false answers to the deepest questions of life are not reasons for discouragement but for hope, because they show that people are hungry and searching for truth even if they are knocking on the wrong door. As St. Augustine wrote, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” The absence of God in our culture has not quenched the thirst for God in the human heart. It has only misdirected it. Every human being, even if they are not aware of it, longs to be known and to be loved unconditionally. Everyone yearns for authentic happiness. Everyone wants to be secure in their identity, to be fulfilled as a human being, and to matter to others in some way. God himself has placed these desires in the human heart, and they can ultimately be fulfilled in Christ alone; anything less will fail to satisfy. That is why we who belong to Christ can never cease to propose him to those who do not yet know him. Jesus Christ is the desire of the nations, and his Gospel is the answer to the deepest aspirations of the human heart.
To read more of the archbishop’s letter, or to catch up on sections you’ve missed, visit www.unleashthegospel.org.