Saturday, April 27, 2013

Practical atheism and testimony of faith

Cannot the man be happy apart from God? Cannot man be honest, work for the common good, raise a family, serve others, without faith? Could it be that you cannot respect human dignity and freedom without God?

These and other questions can be answered meditating on the words of Benedict XVI, during his general audience on November 14

Practical atheism

     So sees it the now emeritus Pope: "A particularly dangerous phenomenon for faith has arisen in our times: indeed a form of atheism exists which we define, precisely, as ‘practical,’ in which the truths of faith or religious rites are not denied but are merely deemed irrelevant to daily life, detached from life, pointless."

     The consequence: "So it is that people often believe in God in a superficial manner, and live ‘as though God did not exist’ (etsi Deus non daretur).” But this ‘practical’ atheism is no less damaging to he who lives it, on the contrary: "In the end, however, this way of life proves even more destructive because it leads to indifference to faith and to the question of God.”

      Given these statements, one might perhaps ask why atheism is destructive. Cannot man be happy apart from God? Cannot man be honest, work for the common good, raise a family, serve others, without faith? Could it be that you cannot respect human dignity and freedom without God? What's wrong with rejecting faith in practice? Why is faith necessary?

    Here is a response that comes from the experience: “In fact human beings, separated from God, are reduced to a single dimension — the horizontal — and this reductionism itself is one of the fundamental causes of the various forms of totalitarianism that have had tragic consequences in the past century, as well as of the crisis of values that we see in the current situation.”

The question of God is not only a question of religion, but also a question of reason

      But, someone might insist, 'what does faith have to do with the values? Could it be that you cannot respect human dignity and freedom without God? Let's read slowly what happened. It is not just a matter of ‘religion’, but of reason because reason can show that openness to God is, in practice, the condition to reach the truth and the good.

     “By obscuring the reference to God” –says Benedict XVI– “the ethical horizon has also been obscured, to leave room for relativism and for an ambiguous conception of freedom which, instead of being liberating, ends by binding human beings to idols. The temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness before his public ministry vividly symbolize which “idols” entice human beings when they do not go beyond themselves” (cf. J. Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. I, chap. II).

     For, if it is true that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14, 6), when this darkens, it obscures the truth and opens the way toward relativism. And if the truth is a condition of freedom (Jn 8: 32), without truth, people walk into the enslavement of putting oneself in the place of God. And this is not about theories. Historical experience shows it: "Were God to lose his centrality man would lose his rightful place, he would no longer fit into creation, into relations with others.” Therefore, “what ancient wisdom evokes with the myth of Prometheus has not faded: man thinks he himself can become a ‘god’, master of life and death.”

Three paths to God: the world, the man, the life of faith

     And then, what do you do now? In the middle of his speech, the german Pope proposed three "words" by the hand of St. Augustine. Each of them is a path that leads to God.

     First, the contemplation of the world. "The world is not a shapeless mass of magma, but the better we know it and the better we discover its marvelous mechanisms the more clearly we can see a plan, we see that there is a creative intelligence” . Benedict XVI evokes the words of Albert Einstein when he said that “in natural law is revealed ‘an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection’” (The World As I See It, 1949).

     Secondly, man. In our noisy and scattered world, we run the risk of losing "the ability to pause and look deeply into ourselves and to reinterpret the thirst for the infinite that we bear within us, that impels us to go further and to refer to the One who can quench it" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 33).

     And the third word, faith, or more precisely "life of faith" or “living faith”, for him who believes “united to God and open to his grace, to the power of his love." So –observes Benedict XVI linking with the last part of his argument– the existence of the believer "becomes a witness, not of themselves but of the Risen One, and their faith does not hesitate to shine out in daily life, open to dialogue that expresses deep friendship for the journey of every human being and can bring hope to people in need of redemption, happiness, a future".

      This is because faith implies to share in the life of Christ: he who believes shares the light that comes from having the "mind of Christ" and participates in the love that comes from the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Co 16)

     The then Pope went on to explain that faith is an encounter with God who speaks and acts in history and transforms our daily lives, transforming our mind, our value judgments, decisions and actions. Faith is not a mirage or an escape from reality. It is neither a comfortable shelter nor sentimentality, “rather it is total involvement in the whole of life and is the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News that can set the whole of the person free”

The testimony of “living faith”

      Therefore, Benedict XVI concludes: "A Christian and a community that are active and faithful to the plan of God who loved us first, are privileged paths for those immersed in indifference or in doubt about their life and action". But beware, this requires certain conditions: "However, this asks each and every one to make their testimony of faith ever more transparent, purifying their life so that it may be in conformity with Christ"

      In short, historical experience shows that without God (and God, do not forget, you can get by reason), the truth, goodness and beauty are darkened. Faith, when it is "truly lived" (id est, in union with love), is the light that shows the way for the full life: the knowledge of God and the encounter with God.

(first version published in, 20-XI-2012) 

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