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What keeps me Catholic? Atheism

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January 23, 2012

By Michael Daley

Ushering in the new year, a long-time thorn in the side of Christianity died — British American journalist Christopher Hitchens. Actually, he was more than a thorn. Not only did Hitchens deny the existence of God, he dismissed the value of organized religion altogether. This was made abundantly clear in his “New York Times” best seller, God is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything.


Hitchens was not alone, however, in his public advocacy of atheism. In fact, over the past few years, there has been a culturally respected and well received resurgence of it.


Comedian Bill Maher combined the words “religion” and “ridiculous” and made the movie “Religulous.” Other best selling books have been written extolling the virtues of atheism, for example, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. One of TV’s most respected physicians, Dr. House, is an avowed one. On my morning commutes, I’ve even seen a bumper sticker proclaiming atheism: “When Religion Ruled the World, they Called it the Dark Ages.”


This is nothing new, though.


People long struggling with the question of evil and the assertion of an all powerful, all knowing, and all loving God have denied the existence of God. Others have argued that all religion does is desensitize them to the suffering of this world with promises of heaven. As philosopher and economist Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the people.”


Borrowing an image from the psychologist Sigmund Freud and the classic Peanuts cartoon strip, like Linus’ security blanket, some see in religion only a “crutch” that keeps us hobbling rather than letting us walk on our own two feet.


Those scientifically inclined are ever more able to appeal to modern science and reason for proofs against the existence of God. They are no longer swayed by the “God of the Gaps” argument.


Many of our neighbors, co-workers, spouses, sons and daughters and relatives have embraced an atheism of neglect. Having once practiced the faith, God and religion today just don’t answer the ultimate questions of meaning for them; they’ve found it irrelevant.
In defense of Christianity, rather than get alarmed wanting to wring the neck of whomever is saying this, I say, instead, “Thank You. In some ways, I don’t disagree.”


Most challenging for me is a statement made at the Second Vatican Council: “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.”


Yet, I remain a believer. Why?


Maybe not answering all of their questions, the Catholic tradition that I am a part of accompanies people in their moments of pain, grief and suffering, presenting the all loving God of Jesus the Christ.


Through their involvement in countless healing ministries, whether spiritual, psychological, or physical, the Catholic tradition that I am a part of, echoing the words of Jesus, says, “Get up and walk. You are free.”


Countering the anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism of our age, the Catholic tradition that I am a part of says the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and science will not lead us away from, but closer to God.


For those who have dismissed Christianity and the person of Jesus as meaningless, the Catholic tradition that I am a part of, through its humble, lived witness says that the questions at the heart of the human journey are found in the person of Jesus.


What keeps me Catholic? As paradoxical as it sounds — atheism.

Daley is a freelance writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School.

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