DETROIT — Catholicism is under attack.
Not that that’s anything new. Since the dawn of the Church, the devil has always used the secular culture to confuse and skew the truth through deception and distraction. The forms of attack have changed from age to age, but the agenda remains the same.
For Catholics, the challenge is to recognize contemporary attackers and respond with timeless Catholic reality.
That’s why Al Kresta wrote his latest book, “Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents,” released in late spring.
But more than the ever-present need to evangelize, Kresta, who is president and CEO of Ann Arbor-based Ave Maria Radio (990AM-WDEO), says today’s Catholics face a different challenge: they can no longer rely on the social support the Church once received.“In the past, I believe many Catholics felt as though American culture might have thought of Catholicism as quaint, but at least admirable because of the good works that the Church has done,” Kresta said in an interview with The Michigan Catholic. “I actually think that’s changing now, and the Church is being regarded as an obstacle to progress.”
The clergy abuse crisis and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, also played a large role in creating what Kresta and others have called the “New Atheism” and a “hostility to religion in general” that have given rise to many of the opponents of the modern Church, which Kresta outlines and refutes one-by-one in “Dangers to the Faith.”
From the “new scientism” — the once-outdated but again popular notion that science can answer all meaningful questions — to the cultural phenomenon of the “self-styled” spirituality of Oprah, the Church’s opponents use appeals to emotion and common doubt to cast shadows on both the revealed truth of Catholicism and even the self-evident intuitions of the natural law, Kresta said. Even more implicit dangers such as consumerism and the steady rise of evolutionary and technology-based “Humanity 3.0” projects threaten to undermine the faith if not correctly understood and confronted, he said.While Kresta says he thinks well of Oprah, her “consumer-oriented” attitude toward Christ and religion in general is one that’s been adopted by many Americans today — in fact, he says, 30 percent of Americans polled said Oprah has had a greater spiritual impact on them than even their own pastors.
“Her view of Jesus is derived from 19th century mind-science groups like New Thought and Unity, where Jesus is not a redeemer, not a savior, but simply a way-shower,” Kresta said. “He becomes a kind of ‘aid’ to your own self-discovery.
“In some ways our spirituality is almost a kind of hobby. It’s almost entirely private. It’s something we just ‘select’ out of all the spiritual options we have,” he said.
Where Oprah doesn’t outright attack Catholicism, the New Atheists and humanists do, Kresta says. Especially in the hot-button issue of the redefinition of marriage, Catholics are being shamed by the culture into thinking their own views of morality are indefensible.
Citing what Pope Benedict XVI called a “catastrophic collapse of catechesis” after the Second Vatican Council, Kresta said many Catholics who oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality do so with what they think are the best intentions — “reasons of empathy and compassion and affirmation.”
“We train Catholics to love and to empathize, so in some sense they’re doing what we train Catholics to do. The problem is, they’re in high-handed rebellion against God’s word,” Kresta said. “But they haven’t been taught God’s word.
“People are ashamed. They don’t know why they believe what they believe, and they’re not even certain that they do believe it. They need support, and they need encouragement,” he said.
While there are signs today that catechesis in seminaries and parishes is being remedied — Bible studies, men’s and women’s prayer groups, and greater lay involvement in evangelization — there’s a long way to go, Kresta said. And the only way to fully get there is for Catholics to become distinguished from the culture by their way of life.
“If there’s one thing I could get across, it’s that we have to build the Church as a counter-culture, as a counter-community, and a community with a counter-story on life’s meaning and purpose,” he said. “A community that lives a counter set of values in which the human person is regarded as made in the image and likeness of God.”