Even Atheists Can See Good Things in ChristianityDONALD DEMARCO
For several years now, Catholicism has been under severe attack by a wide assortment of groups and for a wide variety of reasons.
Radical feminists do not like the Church's stand against abortion; homosexuals decry Her teaching on marriage and sexuality; euthanasiasts object to Her opposition to mercy killing; bioethicists deplore the Church's prohibition of human cloning, in vitro fertilization, and many other forms of reproductive technology.
Even within the Church, there is much criticism. Many married couples want to use contraception or sterilization; single people want the Church to loosen Her stand on chastity; there are liberals who demand the ordination of women to the priesthood; there are priests who want the Church to change Her teaching on priestly celibacy.
Judging from the torrent of criticism leveled against the Church, one might get the impression that there is nothing left standing that is positive, and all that is left is to bury an out-of-date religion and commit oneself to some form of secular humanism in a post-Christian world. It becomes clear that for many in our present world, Christ is not easy to accept. But it is a dangerous thing to look at Christ with the eyes of the world.
In Sign of Contradiction, which is based on a private retreat that Bishop Karol Wojtyla gave to Pope Paul VI, we find a most interesting and even heartening reference to an article that appeared in a 1965 issue of a paper published by the Polish association of atheists and freethinkers. The author of the article is Leszek Kolakowski, a Marxist atheist. The article is entitled, "Jesus Christ, prophet and reformer."
Kolakowski maintains that there are a number if fundamental values and meanings that derive solely from Christianity. Among these Christian values for which world culture is indebted are the following: 1) the supplanting of law in favour of love; 2) the ideal of an end to arrogance in human relationships; 3) the truth that man does not live by bread alone; 4) the abolition of the idea of the chosen people [affirming the truly "catholic' or universal notion of human society]; 5) that the world suffers from an organic imperfection.
How much worse the world would be today if these five values never came into being? Would it not be utterly foolish to disparage the source of one's prized heritage? It is most encouraging, then, to note that a non-believer writing for an atheist publication is willing to acknowledge the inestimable moral indebtedness the modern world has to Christ and His Church. We find a similar phenomenon at the present in a 2006 book, Without Roots, written by Benedict XVI and Marcello Pera, illustrating how the two authors, one a Pope, the other an atheist, have much in common with regard to their respect for the Catholic heritage.
Our question, as Catholics, is how to bring these, and other Christian values, to fruition. Christ's words, "I am with you to the end of the world," are both consoling and invigorating. Christ did not tell us that following Him would be easy and supported by the world at large. Rather, He offered us His Cross. In the words of John Paul II, "It is not enough to say just once in life: I will believe! One has to go on saying it again and again, whenever things get difficult. Difficulties do arise, times when one has to take up the cross daily. And then Christ is not easy to accept, but he is truer than ever. … When I bow to this truth I feel myself a pupil of a really wonderful Master."
Daily prayer opens the door to grace. Through prayer we realize more clearly that Christ has a wisdom that the world cannot provide. Surely, and this is true for most, the world is too much with us. It surrounds and suffocates us as it attempts to enclose us in the moment. It is omnipresent: in the Media, in commerce and advertising, in the workplace, in entertainment, education, politics, and public ceremony. But Christ is liberating, valid for all time and for all people. He is never passé, out-of-date, or morally irrelevant. He is as present to us as we are willing to allow Him to be present, through prayer, the sacraments, and through love.
It is good to meditate, at an hour when dark clouds hang over the world, that the human and cultural value of Christianity is not hidden from an atheist who is willing to acknowledge certain irrefutable facts of history. We should not allow ourselves, therefore, to be unduly enchanted by the world. It is, in fact, the world that is constantly offering us things that are going out of fashion as we realize, only too clearly, that their charm has no lasting power. We must make Christ the center of our kaleidoscopic world, that world in which we are dazzled by change while we continue to hunger for truth and meaning.
Finally, as the Bishop of Cracow, who later became Pope John Paul II, reminded his retreatant, Pope Paul VI, "Often I think that the two thousand years that have gone by are an insuperable barrier, and I forget that God is not bound by time but comes at all times, and always comes in search of his creature -- man. That having once come he comes all the time, even today."
Donald DeMarco. "Even Atheists Can See Good Things in Christianity." Social Justice Review. (January/February, 2009): 9-10.
This article is reprinted with permission from Social Justice Review: A Pioneer Journal of Catholic Social Action and Donald DeMarco.
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