Rumors of God’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Millennial co-founder Christopher Hale has a new article in Time. He writes:

Is God Dead?

With these words 50 years ago, TIME published one of its most famous and controversial covers. The question was placed in distinctive red text against a simple black background. At the time, it was the first cover during Time’s 43-year history to appear without a photograph or illustration….

According to a Pew Research Center survey published last year, nearly 90% of Americans believe in God or some kind of universal being….God most certainty isn’t dead in 2016. But another idea raised in the article could be becoming true: religion’s impending death….

The number of Americans who call themselves religious is at an all-time low, and is lowest among young people. Nearly one-in-three Americans under 35 are religiously unaffiliated. In fact, the religiously unaffiliated—the “nones”—is the second largest religious group in the U.S. behind evangelical Protestants.

In this age of “spiritual, but not religious,” God isn’t the problem. We are.

Too many times our faith communities have blamed society’s –isms for today’s lack of faith—consumerism, relativism, secularism and on and on—but have failed to see how we’ve contributed to today’s irreligious society with our own collection of –isms—fundamentalism, legalism, sexism, elitism and even racism….

In 2016, it seems that Americans don’t have far to travel to find missionary territory. It’s in our backyards.

The full article can be read here.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

CCHD: Putting the Gospel into Practice by John Gehring: “At a time when 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty and extreme income inequality is growing, a contribution to C.C.H.D. is a powerful way to affirm Catholic identity and empower those struggling to lift themselves out of difficult situations.”

“Getting” Pope Francis, or Not by Michael Sean Winters: “Here, too, we see the greatest point of continuity between Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors, both of whom, in different ways, were rooted in the Communio school of theology we associate with the Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Christian proclamation is first and foremost about God and His accomplishments and only consequently about us and our obligations, moral and otherwise.”

The Christian Intellectual by R.R. Reno: “Love and freedom. There’s nothing uniquely Christian about these qualities in an intellectual. Socrates had both. But grace perfects nature and helps us overcome our weaknesses. The Christian intellectual may not be welcome today as a Christian, but it’s as a Christian that he can be salt and light.”

TJP Sits Down with Coach John Beilein by Dennis Baker, SJ: “I do the Examen all the time during the season.  That helps me put things into perspective—how grateful I should be for the life I’ve been blessed with.  Sometimes I write my Examen down with my iPad.  I have pages and pages and pages during the season.  So I think it’s just the overall appreciation of understanding your purpose in life, understanding God’s will for you.”

The Triumph of C.S. Lewis By Fr. Robert Barron: “He was not someone to whom religious conviction came naturally or effortlessly; he had to work his way to it, in the face of often harsh opposition, both interior and exterior. This very personal struggle gives him credibility with the millions today who want to believe but who find ideological secularism and militant atheism enormously challenging.”

When Children Are Traded by Nicholas Kristof: “A first step to address this issue would be to make adoption agencies responsible for children they bring to America, including finding new homes when adoptions fail. If we have rules about recycling bottles, we should prevent children from being abandoned and recycled. The larger point is a more basic failing in America: inadequate child services. Kids don’t get the protection they need from predators, nor the nutrition they need, nor the books and reading programs they need for mental nutrition. The threat to the food stamp program, whose beneficiaries are 45 percent children, is emblematic of this broader problem. Children don’t have votes and are voiceless, so America’s most vulnerable become its most neglected.”

The GOP’s Cruel Crusade Against Food Stamps by Norm Ornstein: “I would love for all sides to find common ground here: Provide the kind of job training that will enable people to find work and move out of poverty while helping them with the basics of food, shelter, health care, and transportation. But to cut, slash, and burn that aid mindlessly without regard for the human cost is stupid, cruel, and reprehensible.”

Father Albert Foley: How one priest took on the KKK by Kristen Hannum: “Everything changed for Foley in 1943, when, as a young Jesuit, he was assigned to teach the class ‘Migration, Immigration, and Race’ at Spring Hill College in Mobile. His research—which included interviewing local black Catholics and wide-ranging reading—opened his eyes: Segregation was sinful. He looked to the church fathers and social justice teachings to better understand his new realization and to discern what should be done.”

The Habit of Gratitude and Hopefulness by Christopher C. Roberts: “We are praying that a good community of peers will be in place when they become teens. And we are trying, gently for now, to prepare our girls for being different from the surrounding culture in sometimes uncomfortable ways. I hope for the moment that we’re laying in the spiritual and psychological resources to see us through whatever’s coming.”

Now and Then I Feel It’s Working by J. Peter Nixon: “There is always a temptation as a parent to think that your children are clay that you are called to shape. The truth is that we are merely stewards of something precious that ultimately belongs to God. If he can call a prodigal like me back to him, he can certainly do the same for my children if he so chooses. In the end, faith is his gift to give, not mine.”

How Children Succeed: You Should Read This by Jason King: “We need grit to be able to confront sin—personal, social, and original sin—and keep going.  We need grit, but we also do not develop it by ourselves.  We need a community that is safe enough for us to develop trust and confidence in our decisions and actions.  We also need a community that fosters vulnerability, one not closed off to adversity, not closed off to others.  We need the Church to help us become disciples who perpetually pickup our crosses and follow Christ.”

The pope is forcing us to redefine ugliness by Benjamin W. Corn: “Because our aesthetic standards are arbitrary, our definitions of beauty have shifted slightly, over time, to encompass, for example, anorexic-appearing fashion models with little resemblance to the shapeliness of Botticelli’s Goddess of Beauty. There is one vital point in that dynamic: the arbitrary—including our ideas of what is beautiful, ugly, visually acceptable, or socially stigmatizing—can change. And each of us can contribute to that change.”

In Central African Republic, thousands turn to bishop for protection by Barb Fraze, CNS: “More than 35,000 people are living on the 40-acre diocesan compound in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, seeking protection from rebels who are targeting Christians, said the local bishop.”

Ghostwriting the Faith: Reflections on Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei

A few months ago, I wrote an article imploring Pope Francis to finish Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith. My rationale? The theological virtues exegesis that began with Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on hope (Spe Salvi) and charity (Deus Caritas Est) was incomplete without a corresponding papal discussion of faith. It was the appropriate hour, during the Year of Faith and at the start of the New Evangelization. With an encyclical on faith, the complete trifecta of virtue encyclicals (plus a fourth on justice) and the three volumes of Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth would serve as a foundation for 21st century Catholicism.

From the looks of it, Pope Francis was thinking the same thing. Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis’ first encyclical and a completion of the writings of Benedict XVI, may come across as a paradoxical document at first glance. The underlying thesis of Lumen Fidei appears in the fourth stanza of the encyclical: “There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim” (4). In this statement, Francis touches upon three key threads to his argument on faith: the urgency, the light, and the consequence for man.

First, Francis (and his “papal ghost writer” Benedict XVI) does not view Lumen Fidei as an academic reflection of theological musings, but instead as an urgent exhortation to a world in crisis. The Pope looks out from Rome and finds “a massive amnesia in our contemporary world” on the question of truth and faith (25). Faith enables us to make sense of our common human experience: as Francis writes, without faith, “everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere” (3). Therefore, the welfare and salvation of men and women is at risk because the idea of faith is under siege. In perhaps the most poignant and haunting passage of the encyclical, Francis – channeling Benedict XVI’s penetrating language – notes:

“Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth” (13).

Therefore, Lumen Fidei reads not as a comforting or politically correct policy paper, but instead as a sharp and brutal critique of the times. Francis reproaches those Catholics and Protestants alike who would make the Christian faith entirely an internal, personal matter. “Faith is not a private matter,” the Pope argues, but instead “it is impossible to believe on our own” (22, 39). Francis argues that faith is neither an individual decision nor a relationship between the divine and an individual alone, but instead is always in community – hence, the necessity of a “church” of believers. The mantra ‘spiritual but not religious’ will not stand up under scrutiny – but neither will relativist notions of a faith based on emotion and subjectivity alone. Here the Pope writes:

“Faith without truth does not save…it remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life” (24).

The modern world, Pope Francis agrees, was right-intentioned in seeking “a universal brotherhood based on equality” (54). But because that brotherhood sought to excise faith and, therefore, truth, it crumbled into sentimentality and indefensible positions, settling finally on the creed that “I have the right to do whatever I want, save that which infringes on your right to do so.” The world needs and cries out for what once existed, a faith only now found in the memory of contemporary culture, and so Lumen Fidei must be proclaimed and heard by all Christians everywhere.

The second thread of Francis’ encyclical builds on the themes of light and darkness, sight and sound, and past and future to weave together the reflections and prayers of Lumen Fidei. Light is perhaps the most prominent, for faith was once associated with the light, as Christ was considered the Light unto the World (4). Yet, as Francis relates, “In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times” (2). Instead, “Faith came to be associated with darkness,” and the metaphor was turned on its head (3). Instead of illuminating the path to knowledge, truth, and a good life, faith was deemed an obstacle to the potency of man. What Francis leaves unanswered is whether that reversal of understanding was unintentional or, as St. John suggested, because “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light” (John 3:19). The two Popes, however, are quite adamant about restoring the attributes of light to the notion of faith. Faith empowers man “not because we will be able to possess all the light, which will always be inexhaustible, but because we will enter wholly into that light” (33). Faith is not an obstacle to human rationality because “our human lights are not dissolved in the immensity of his [i.e. God’s] light, as a star is engulfed by the dawn, but shine all the more brightly the closer they approach the primordial fire, like a mirror which reflects light” (35).

Pope Francis continues beyond the metaphor of light: the Gospel is a message of proclaimed Good News, and therefore the sight of light is always accompanied by the sound of interaction. Faith cannot assume the immediacy of light because it is “a knowledge bound to the passage of time, for words take time to be pronounced, and it is a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship” (29). Here appears the third thread of Lumen Fidei: the personal, discipleship, calling of faith (8). Faith ultimately is a human experience.. “Through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves,” writes the Pope (14). And this interaction is not limited to Catholics or Christians alone, for it stems from a primordial longing. With the force of Vatican II behind him, Francis speaks to the ecumenical nature of faith, for “once we discover the full light of Christ’s love, we realize that each of the loves in our own lives had always contained a ray of that light, and we understand its ultimate destination” (32).

With urgent, sensory, and human language, then, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI present the case for faith in Lumen Fidei. The faith proclaimed by Catholics is a faith that understands the challenges of contemporary times. It is a faith that serves as both a message of sight and sound, a Gospel both proclaimed and seen. It is a faith that is both personal and in community with others. Within the fibers of these strands are the musing and reactions of Spe Salvi and Deus Caritas Est, for both Popes are adamant: faith, hope, and love are interwoven, bound together by the fundamental truth that is God.

Michael Fischer is a recent graduate of Georgetown University.