The key question facing every Christian in every age isn’t whether the Christian faith is socially useful, or consoles us when we’re sad, or makes us nicer people. The key question is whether our faith is true.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead – and I don’t mean “metaphorically” rise, as a kind of shared emotional experience of the Apostles; but rise in his crucified body, glorified by his Father – then we’re misleading ourselves with a fairytale. But if he did rise, then the Gospel is true. And then all of creation, and the eternity of every living man and woman, depends on Christ’s Good News being preached. So in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:19-20), he’s not merely offering an invitation. He’s also binding a commission, a mandate, to every one of his disciples.
Francis of Assisi heard the Gospel, and believed, and acted on it. Junipero Serra heard the Gospel, and believed, and acted on it. And now for us, the whole point of the Year of Faith boils down to the same questions: Do we really believe; and if we do, then what are we going to do about it?
Christian Smith, Notre Dame’s distinguished social researcher, suggests that the de facto dominant religion among American teenagers today is “moralistic therapeutic deism.”[i] And he frames the creed of this new religion in this way:
First, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. Second, God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and most world religions. Third, the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Fourth, God doesn’t need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he’s needed to fix a problem. And fifth, good people go to heaven when they die.
Teen religion largely derives from the world of adult religion, especially parental religion, and it flows naturally from what the parents of these teens actually practice. Old patterns of religious faith among many adults have faded into a kind of vague “spirituality,” which then shapes the world into which American adolescents are socialized.
For many young people, the moralistic part of “moralistic therapeutic deism” simply means being pleasant and responsible, working on “self-improvement,” taking care of one’s health and doing one’s best to succeed. “Therapeutic” means focusing on feeling good and happy, being secure and at peace. It’s about subjective well-being and getting along amiably with other persons. And “deism” means that God exists – he created our world – but he’s not particularly involved in our affairs, especially when we don’t want him around. He’s available to meet our needs. He’s not demanding on us, but we can be demanding on him.
Obviously very little of this has anything to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith of the martyrs. And that’s a problem.
In practice, American society now breeds a kind of radical self-focus and practical atheism – not by refuting faith in God, but by rendering God irrelevant to people’s needs and urgencies of the moment. As Christopher Lasch saw in The Culture of Narcissism, consumer culture tends to create weak personalities dependent on group behavior and approval, and therefore more susceptible to advertising and product consumption.[ii] The hard and social sciences replace the clergy as a source of guidance and meaning. And social media and mass entertainment abolish solitude and personal reflection.
So in an age of massive self-absorption, the result is that real individuality and self-mastery are withering. Why? Because the communities that root and shape an individual in distinctive moral codes and histories – in other words, our families, Churches, synagogues and fraternal organizations – can’t compete with the noise and flash of consumer society.
Here’s what that means for all of us as believers. A “new” evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan. Christian faith is not a habit. It’s not a useful moral code. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others — or it’s nothing at all. Mastering the new social and demographic data that describe today’s world, and the new communications tools to reach it, are vitally important for the Church. But nothing can be accomplished if we lack faith and zeal ourselves. We – and that means you and I — are the means God uses to change the world. The material tools are secondary. People, not things, are decisive.
Read the whole thing as this excerpt, as good as it might be, doesn't do the piece justice.
Then, by God, ask yourself as a believer, what indeed are you going to do about it.
Lord, ignite our passions to do your will.
Props, once again, to RC2 for the find.