DESENSITIZATION OF FAITH

The Church affirms the profound crisis of faith caused by much concern of Christians for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment while denying the presupposition of faith.

A crisis is both a danger and at the same time, an opportunity. The Holy Father wants that this crisis be an opportunity for rediscovery and a renewal of a desensitized faith. We must not accept that the salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt. 5:13-16).[1]

The people today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14).[2]

Can we turn this crisis into an opportunity of rediscovery and renewal of our faith? To answer this we must first know some of the reasons of this crisis, in this case in philosophical terrain because faith involves reason. And at the end offer some proposals for the spring time of faith.

In his book Christian Philosophy, Fr. Joseph M. de Torre states that, “there is a trend for practical atheism which sometimes not only practical; i.e. living as if God did not exist, ignoring altogether but full conscious and theoretical people who are openly godless, and they say so.”[3]

This trend of religious indifference in the twentieth century is an undeniable fact today. It is true that vast and increasing numbers of men looked upon God as dead and gone.

This trend or spiritual climate was at first largely dominated by Nietzsche and followed by Marx, whose philosophies did much to disturb settled beliefs and to create totally new ideas and attitudes.

Atheism has from the dawn of creation, been the great temptation for intelligent creatures. Many philosophers succumbed to this temptation. Consider Feuerbach who asserted that humanity becomes God; for Nietzsche, God becomes superman and for Marx, God is the cosmic classless society. Others consider God as mere passion of the heart; while others consider God as myth of the modern ideology; still others say that God has become a victim of man or the reverse.

The General Catechetical Directory, a post conciliar document of the II Vatican Council affirms this problem of atheism. It says that, “very many people gradually fall into religious indifference or run the risk of preserving a faith which lacks the necessary dynamism and real influence in their lives.”[4]

The problem is not only with the ordinary people. The document also stresses that the problem also affected many baptized people. In section seven of the same document, it affirms: “many baptized people have become so distanced from religion that they profess religious indifference or, almost atheism.”[5]

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) states that: “atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time, and one that deserves more thorough treatment.”[6]

Atheism is of two kinds. Archbishop Gordoncillo wrote:

Atheists can be practical or theoretical. Practical atheists are those who, although in doctrine admit the existence of God, in real life are living or acting as though for them God does not exist; while theoretical atheists are those who in doctrine do not admit of the existence of God.[7]

 At this point we might as well ask what caused people to expressly deny the existence of God. What caused others to maintain that man cannot make any assertion what so ever about Him? Or what caused others to languish in their faith? Or what caused others to affirm man while denying God?

We can ask many questions about the cause of atheism, but from the above questions we single out the main question i.e. What caused the decline of man’s belief in a Supreme Being? Fr. de Torre in his book Christian Philosophy asked a quite similar question: “How did we come to this situation (religious indifference)?”[8]

According to him there are reasons why so. First, he said: “very often the so-called atheists are people who have not studied their faith seriously. Religious ignorance is rampant, and particularly damaging among educated people who are becoming the majority.”[9]

But research would tell us that the great apostles of atheism who ushered its growth were not ignorant in a sense but are considered giants having great minds i.e. wise, e.g. Comte, Sartre, Heidegger, Tillich and Robinson among others. We will be putting ourselves into jeopardy if we hold that they are religiously ignorant so much so if we hold that they have seriously studied and totally grasped their faith.

“The age of Kant, Hegel, Comte, Renan, Taine and Marx had gone much further. The various…efforts of those minds led to the rejection of any faith whatsoever in a Transcendent Being… The God of Christian revelation now found himself disputed.”[10]

The Second Vatican Council also states that: “atheism is born…from the fact that certain human ideals are wrongfully invested with such an absolute character as to be taken for God.”[11]

Those giants but religiously ignorant men clothed wrongfully those ideals. Take for example the ubermensch of Nietzsche or Marx’s cosmic classless society as having absolute character.

Secondly, the rapid growth of materialism in the way people live and think is another reason.[12] According to him there are people who are also materialist in life and practice: they take material values as the supreme values in life, such as wealth, strength, comfort and health.

There is nothing wrong with all the material comfort but what is wrong is to consider them as the highest standards and eventually be blinded by it.

Vatican II council affirms this: “… because it (modern civilization) is so engrossed in the concerns of this world, (obsession into the world) can make it harder to approach God.”[13]

With too much concern and identification of man with the world often develop into prolonged, permanent, spiritual separation of man from his Transcendent Creator.

Lost in the love of the ever-present and splendid universe, the creature comes to possess himself, his society and his world as if they were exclusively his own.[14]

Thus atheism arises from a mentality and attitude which involves a flight from the invisible to the visible, from the transcendent toward the immanent, from spiritual toward the material in such a way that not only are the invisible, transcendent, spiritual rejected as dimensions of reality but they are denied existence itself.[15]

Positivism, which is quite similar to materialism is hard to distinguish from the latter and seemed willing to share the field of thought with it, holds that “the sole reality that truly counts is that which affects the senses and is perceived by the human intellect.”[16]

Materialism therefore pushes the individual to prefer himself and the world (that which is material) over and above God, the Invisible, Transcendent and Spiritual Being.

Lastly, the believers themselves caused others to languish in their belief. The way supposed-to-be-believers live lives and witness their faith sometimes can be considered as the culprit of the decline in religious aspects.

“Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and religion.”[17]

We might as well ask what’s the difference between a consistent hardened sinner who still believes from a practical atheism?

Both i.e. the believer and the atheist, break the bond of communion with God. But the sinner’s practical atheism is not so much a denial of God’s existence. The believer still clings to the cadaver of faith as a last link with God.

The believer-sinner or the practical atheist is a scandal to his fellowmen, encouraging religious indifference and even, at times, complete unbelief in those they scandalize.

In the scriptures, the Pharisees are like pseudo-follower of God and they try to reduce Him to their image and likeness, one that suits to their worldly plans

To top it all, it is very obvious from the above reasons and observations that the first shoots of indifference arise from the infidelity of man to his God. The causes of atheism always remain within the creature himself not to any other. Fr. Vincent Miceli writes:

“What the atheist does not see is that in rejecting God he rejects himself. In refusing to give himself in spirit to God, he refuses to transcend himself… In effect he banishes from the infinite visibility of God… God no longer influences his life or his world because God…no longer lives or exists everywhere.”[18]

After considering some of the reasons and causes, what can we offer for the rediscovery and renewal of our faith in crisis?

First, the renewal of the Church can be achieved through the witness of the believer in the face of the upsurge of materialism and secularism. The believer’s existence in the world is one that is expected to illumine and radiate the word of truth of the Gospel.

Second, the call to be committed to commitment is an avenue for rediscovering the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Through this commitment to love the faith makes this very same faith to grow in as much as it is lived as an experience of love.

And lastly, it is through believing that others are strengthened and oneself too. So it is in believing that faith grows and become stronger.


[1] Ibid, 3.

[2] Ibid, 5.

[3] J. de Torre. Christian Philosophy, Vera-Reyes, Inc., Philippines, 1989, p. 6.

 

[4] A. Flannery, ed.  Vatican Council II: More Postconciliar Documents, Vol II, Paulines Publishing House, Pasay, Philippines, 2000, p.534.

[5] Ibid. p. 534

[6] A. Flannery, ed.  Vatican Council II: The Conciliar Documents and Post Conciliar Documents, Vol I, Paulines Publishing House, Pasay, Philippines, 2000, p.918.

[7] O. Gordoncillo. Theodicy Notes.____________, Roxas City, 2006, p. 29.

[8] Cf. Christian Philosophy p. 6

[9] Ibid. p. 6.

[10] H. Daniel-Rops, A Fight for God, J. Warrington (trans.), London, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1966, p. 12.

[11] Cf. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 19

[12] Cf. Christian Philosophy p. 6.

[13] Cf. GS 19

[14] V. Miceli, S.J., The Gods of Atheism, Arlington House, New York, 1971, pp. 1-2.

[15] Ibid.  p. 2.

[16] Cf. A Fight for God, p. 12.

[17] GS 19 § 3.

[18] V. Miceli S.J., The Gods of Atheism, Arlington House, New York, 1971, pp. 11-12.

 

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