Front page coverage was recently accorded by the Providence Journal to the plight of a contemporary atheist who felt intimidated by vocal believers from both Christian and Moslem backgrounds. This high-school teacher From England, who admits to being a fallen away Anglican, claims to have put aside any semblance of his former faith and thinks now merely of the day ahead. The number of atheists, still very small but sadly increasing, is seen by some as a reaction to the militancy of conservative Christians and belligerent Moslems. The self avowed English atheist, speaking for like-minded unbelievers, observed that “there is a feeling that religion is being forced on an unwilling public....”
Hello! Religion is being forced on an unwilling public? What about secularism, humanism and free-thinking being forced on an unwilling public? Massachusetts has gay marriage laws because five justices rejected 20 centuries of Western Civilization. Abortion on demand is the law of the land because the nation’s Supreme Court embraced a procedure outlawed since pagan times. Sodomy has been successfully defended in the courts. Divorce is permitted at the whim of the individual. Celebrities adopt or propagate children completely outside a family context. Stem cell research is promoted entirely by emotion, rather than a scientific foundation. Adultery, promiscuity, cohabitation, disrespect for parents (especially fathers), vulgarity, and even blasphemy are the sum and substance of prime time television programs. The sex, drugs and rock & roll of the 1960s have ripened into the ubiquitous condoms, rehab centers and rap lyrics of the 21st century. Exactly who is being forced into a corner?
Dinesh D’Souza, a Washington columnist and Roman Catholic, in his recent book, “The Enemy at Home,” suggests that the disasters of September 11th were a cultural reaction from the non- Western world toward the entertainment industry’s glorification of secular values—or lack of values. When the great civilizations of the world –Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Orthodox Jewish, along with traditional Christians – consider Western society, they find fatherhood regularly ridiculed as inept, drugged-up celebrities, children with two moms or two dads, prayer denied any place in public life, daughters going off to junior high school dressed like prostitutes, their brothers beefed up on steroids, crude language, the exaltation of personal freedom at the expense of public responsibility. And it is not just the world at large that finds itself disgusted with American popular culture. Many Americans themselves – often dismissed as the religious right or religious conservatives – do not know what to make of the nation around them– a nation more and more influenced by the escapades of entertainment, sports and political figures. Secularity, or what used to be called worldliness, is indeed the enemy at home.
Another author, Philip Jenkins, professor at Penn State, offers sad statistics in his latest work, God’s Continent, concerning popular culture in Europe. The impression is sometimes taken that Europe will be entirely Islamic within a decade or two. Actually all of Europe from Ireland to the Urals is only 4% Moslem. France has the greatest percentage in Western Europe at 8%. What should rather be a matter of great concern is the inroad that secularism or atheism is making in old Europe. From 1973 to 1994, the ratio of French persons claiming no religion grew from 11% to 34%. In England in 2004 35% claimed no belief and 21% did not know; among those aged 18 through 34, 45% claimed to be atheists. Although Professor Jenkins sees definite signs of renewed religious life in Europe (pilgrimages, youth rallies), it should be clear that the biggest threat to Catholic Christianity in Europe is not some other religion – not Islam, not Protestantism, not fundamentalist Christianity. Religion’s biggest problem in both Europe and America is clearly secularism, that godless popular culture promoted certainly by the entertainment media, sometimes by science and academia, often by political correctness, and sadly by the ignorance, superstition and indifference of Christians themselves.
Pope Benedict XVI, with characteristic wisdom, has observed that the main challenge for the thinking Church today is not the separation between faith and faith (Catholic vs. Protestant, Christianity vs. Islam); the main challenge facing the Church today is the separation between faith and reason. Secularists see faith as the enemy of reason, as a denial of the material world’s validity. Faith actually illuminates the secular universe, revealing to man his full potential under God as a spiritual as well as a material being. Authentic religion enlightens man’s reason exposing his true vocation.
There is no conflict between grace and nature. Grace builds on nature.