All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

Prayer and atheism

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I am always coming across good little anecdotes or making up my own in regards to various religious topics. I thought I’d jot a couple down here while they were fresh on my mind. Storytelling is an invaluable tool. I think Jesus just might have been on to something by using parables (sarcastically stated).

A priest shared his anecdote of what his mother taught him about spending time daily in deep prayer and meditation:

Imagine living in a house with your parents. They house you, feed you, but you never have really talk to them. They bore you and you have a sense of loyalty to them for this reason by keeping a picture of them on your wall. You only really speak to them when you need something urgently. As your parents, they love you unconditionally, but can’t really force you to anything you don’t want. What kind of relationship is that?  So it is with those of us who acknowledge God but don’t really have a conversation with him each day. Prayer helps, but it might help to combine it with actual conversation. It doesn’t have to be about need: God already knows what you need. Rather, focus on the little stuff, like gratitude for the good things that happen, or asking for help in correcting a vice.

I— found an ironic website by an atheist and shared it with me. The author is asking for I guess what one might call pity about what it feels like to be an atheist. In the anecdote, he (or she) compares it to being forced to choose a number on a Roulette wheel and when he replies that he isn’t going to make an uneducated guess, the inquisitor gets angry and calls him a prick and know-it-all.  Substituting the Roulette wheel image for questions about the origination of life and he claims, “that’s what it’s like to be an atheist.” (I’d share the link, but I wasn’t supplied with it.)  I responded to I— with my own anecdote of what it’s like to a theist.

Imagine that you have an instinct, like you’re divining for water in the desert. Every thing you possibly know by use of your reason faculties insists that there is no water. After all, all that your eyes can see, your nose can smell, and your feet can feel is sand. All your ears can hear is wind. You can only taste the cotton in your mouth. You’re caravan has travelled with you for miles and they insist there is no water. They have thus survived by either draining sparse fruits of their juice, or drinking the blood of animals, maybe even each other. And they insist that if you keep heading in the direction you’re headed, you will find an oasis. But something inside, undeniable to your conscience, is screaming that there’s water just beneath your feet—an underground sea, if you will. Do you keep searching for an oasis or do you start to dig? Why does your caravan keep wandering around, looking? At what point do you ignore your conscience, contrary to reason? At what point to do you ask yourself, how did the sparse fruits grow in order to provide the juice we drink? What would feed an oasis, even if you find one? When do you give up childish hope and exchange it for adultive reasonableness?
You can’t explain why you know there’s water beneath you. But you’ll go numb inside if you continue to ignore your instinct. You’ll hate yourself if you later discover you suffered needlessly because you find it was there all along. It breaks your heart to choose.  So you stay. You dig. Passers-by make fun of you for being foolish. Sometimes, people sympathize with your cause and join you for a while, making your hole deeper. But every once in a while, when no one’s around to see it, you hit a little mud. And your conscience and soul rejoices.  That’s what’s it’s like being a Theist.

 Atheism, as I have said before, is a special topic to me being that I am a converted theist, and Christian (Catholic) at that. So I want to share what I’ve been studying from the Roman Catholic Church regarding the call of the faithful to address atheism and agnosticism. Yes, we are called to respond to it, by obligation, but not in the way that most people would believe of the fervently religious folks:

From Redemptoris missio (John Paull II, 1990):

  •  “The task of proclaiming Jesus Christ to all peoples appears to be immense and out of all proportion to the Church’s human resources. The difficulties seem insurmountable and could easily lead to discouragement, if it were a question of a merely human enterprise.” (Ch 4, sec 35
  •  “Nor are the difficulties lacking within the People of God; indeed these difficulties are the most painful of all. As the first of these difficulties Pope Paul VI points to ‘the lack of fervor [which] is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope.’. . . But one of the most serious reasons for the lack of interest in the missionary task is a widespread indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to belief that ‘one religion is as good as another.’ ” (Ch 4, sec 36)
  •  “While acknowledging that statements about the missionary responsibility of the Church are not credible unless they are backed up by a serious commitment to a new evangelization in the traditionally Christian countries, it does not seem justified to regard as identical the situation of a people which has never know Jesus Christ and that of a people which has known him, accepted him and then rejected him, while continuing to live in a culture which in large part has absorbed gospel principles and values. These are two basically different situations with regard to the faith.” (Ch 4, sec 37a)

From Gaudium et spes (Second Vatican Council, 1965) (Sections 19-21):

  • “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. . . For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination. (Sec 19)
  • The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth. Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs. (Sec 19)
  • Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion. (Sec 19)
  • Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.  (Sec 20)
  • Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man’s hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal. (Sec 20)
  • In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence. Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly. (Sec 21)
  • The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair. (Sec 21)
  • Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing. (Sec 21)
  • The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church’s teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God’s presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel and who prove themselves a sign of unity. (Sec 21)
  • While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God’s temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind. (Sec 21)
  • Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” (Sec 21)

Written by Written Straw

October 21, 2011 at 10:27 am

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