Lessons Atheists Can Teach Us About the New Evangelization

Kevin Beckman's picture

If I had a nickel for every Catholic who has told me, "I fell away from the Church right after high school," I could buy myself a fancy steak dinner. Some of them, thanks be to God, come back. Many of them have not yet returned to Holy Mother Church, and it's imperative that we pray for their repentance and return. By separating themselves from the Church and her sacraments they are placing their immortal souls in grave danger. It is for that reason that I'm always eager to hear why people leave the Church and why they return or why they do not return. There is no both/and when it comes to eternity. Either we will be happy with God and all of the angels and saints in heaven forever, or we will burn in hell with Lucifer and all of his demons forever. Charity for our neighbor means, in part, desiring what is best for them. And what greater good could there be than loving Christ and being with him in heaven forever?

Recently the Atlantic published a piece where they interviewed several young atheists, asking them to tell the stories of their descent into unbelief. Everyone's faith journey is unique, and not all of these young adults were Catholic, but distinct patterns emerged from the interviews:

1. They had all attended church growing up
2. The mission and message of their churches was vague
3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life's difficult questions
4. They expressed respect for ministers who took the Bible seriously
5. Ages 14-17 were decisive
6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one
7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

The article goes into each point with greater detail, so I will focus on only a few of them. Previously on Veritas I asked why we go to Mass. Let me ask another question: what is the ultimate reason why we are Catholic in the first place? We are Catholic because we wish to know God, love him, serve him, and be happy with him both in this life and the next. We stay Catholic for the love of Christ and the sake of our salvation. If the message of your church is that Christianity means being a nice guy, then it won't take the congregation long to figure out they don't need to go to church to be nice guys. You don't need to believe in God for that matter if your purpose is to just be a nice guy.

The perennial discussion within the Church for the last few decades is how best to preach the message of the Gospel to modern man. If I may make a modest proposal, I don't believe "modern man" is essentially any different from men of the Roman empire, or the Middle Ages, or the Enlightenment. How is it that twelve working-class men from ancient Judea converted the one of history's most powerful empires? They preached the cross of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the love of God, the redemption of sinners, the evils of sin, the dangers of hell, the misery of the damned, and the happiness of the blessed in heaven. Christianity will not solve all of your problems but it will teach you to carry your cross in a spirit of love and self-sacrifice.

When our Blessed Lord walked the earth, men said to his very face that his teachings were too hard and walked away from him. Do any of us believe that we can do the Master one better? Christianity includes hard teachings that are offensive to Modernist ears. Yes, people may choose not to enter the Church if we focus on those hard things. But if we refrain from speaking of these things because we fear alienating people, are we not fearing human respect more than God? David Hume and Christopher Hitchens were notorious public atheists, but even they admitted their respect for men who truly believed. That is the sort of faith we must ask God to grant us. Yes, we may become unpopular, but didn't our Blessed Lord say it would be so? And if nothing else, the lesson to be drawn from the last few decades of Church history is that however much well-meaning catechists might water down the faith, people will still fall away.

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