Thursday, July 04, 2013

Atheism isn't a religion

Fr. Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, has spen a lot of time debunking the arguments of the modern atheists. I think he quite correctly says that one of the problems is that they aren't really all that new. All they're doing is rehashing arguments put forth by Frederich Nietzsche (God is used by the powerful to keep the powerless from becoming self actualized) and Karl Marx (God is useful like a kind of drug: it's a delusion that stops people from realizing the horror of alienation).

Recently, atheists in Florida erected a bench with some of the more shallow religious criticisms on it. Many atheists want their views to be recognized as a religious perspective so that it can be taught in religious studies departments. The problem is that it's really not a religion inasmuch as a reaction to religion. If there were no religions, there would be no atheism. That's why you can read this story on about a little boy who was killed when he fell off a float in a parade and read HORRIFIC comments from atheists. They react, oftentimes exceedingly pessimistically, cynically, and derogatorily, towards people who do believe. And, in the US, their voice seems to be getting louder and louder.

But, I don't think atheism should be considered a religion specifically because it doesn't contribute something positively to the conversation. Take the issue with the bench. This is a reaction to a 10 commandments monument that was allowed on a part of public soil. Say what you want about them but the 10 commandments are a positive statement of a way of life. Love God with your whole heart. Don't kill. Don't steal. Don't covet your neighbors goods. The bench doesn't provide a positive way of living life. It's just a reaction. Its statements are all about how God and religion shouldn't have anything to do in the world. Okay, so what should? Atheists can't tell us what they believe because they have no set of core beliefs. They only thing that unites them is not believing in something. Should we take care of the poor (Marx) or is the loss of a poor person simply part of survival of the fittest (Darwin)? Atheists can't agree. Is life essentially meaningless suffering (Sartre) or are we supposed to craft our own meaning (de Beauvoir)? Atheists are split. Should atheism erect a bench with anti-religious statements on it (those who won the lawsuit) or should they just try to get the 10 commandment monument taken off (those now critical of the "bench")? Atheists cannot agree. I could keep going but you get the point.

Ultimately, I personally believe atheism's downfall is that it is inherently pessimistic because of it's reactionary underpinnings. Atheism either says nothing to people who have lost a child or says that they are fools for seeking comfort. Religion offers hope that, despite all the chaos and apparent hopelessness, there is hope because there is something rather than nothing. Life will never be the same on earth for these parents and they deserve time to mourn and support from family and friends. But I hope these folks find comfort in the fact that the same God who made everything visible can also make something that is currently invisible where all pain and suffering is gone.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Priority to Christ

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Peace be with you. What’s the first thing you do in the morning? What about the last thing you do at night? For most of us, we turn on the radio or television to see what’s happening in the world while we wake up a little. If you’re a little younger, you might unplug your smartphone and check facebook or Twitter and see who said what overnight. One of the hardest things we have to learn in our lives is how to set and honor priorities. Parents need to teach their children that they can’t spend all day watching TV or playing video games when there are other important things that need to get done like chores. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email that required a carefuly, well thought out response. I started working on it in the late afternoon and four hours later I was finally ready to push send. Now, I was glad that it wasn’t a phone call or a face to face meeting but I did have to question my use of time when it took four hours to complete. And the worst thing as I was thinking about it was that I knew it would demand another complex email the next day which ended up taking another three hours. I had to ask myself, in the end, if the responses deserved the priority that I was willing to give them.

Our readings today challenge us to reflect on this issue of priorities. In the first reading, it’s Elijah who is choosing his successor Elisha because God told him to. Now, I like the story of Elisha a lot. I like him partially because he was bald. But, I also like him because he was a person who made mistakes and learned from them. For instance, when called by Elijah to be the Prophet of the Lord, Elisha wants to say goodbye to his family. Now you might ask: What’s wrong with that? A similar thing happened in the Gospel. Someone felt called by God to follow Jesus but implied that he wanted to end up in some physical building in the end. Jesus assures him, as we know all too well in our cluster, that Jesus isn’t contained in buildings. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The next person wants to bury his father and receives the rather abrupt and, seemingly callous response to let the dead bury their dead. The last person, like Elisha, simply wants to say goodbye to his family. In all these situations, we may be tempted to think that either Elijah or Jesus wasn’t being fair in not allowing the person to take care of something that is high priority. But, think of it like this: imagine if you’re sitting there in your living room when the last number of the lottery is listed and you realize you just won a hundred million dollars. Would your first reaction be to call up a friend and say hello? Or call that friend who is sick and hope they feel better. Of course not. That lottery ticket would become your sole priority and everything else would become secondary. That’s the reaction that the Lord has in each of these situations.

A couple of weeks ago, the priests of this Archdiocese gathered with our Archbishop to learn about the issue of internet addiction and, in particular, addiction to pornography. I was very surprised to learn that 50% of marriages end, in part, because of one of the spouses involvement with pornography. It has a way of drawing people deeper and deeper into it searching for that next, better “high.” Technology has made setting priorities difficult. Now don’t get me wrong. Technology can be used for good things like taking the time to give a thoughtful response to a question that demands it. But it also has a tendency to want to take over our entire life. So, how about giving the first hour of the day over to the Lord? Don’t turn on the radio or television and just leave that smart phone on the charger. Instead, take some time to read sacred scripture or pick up those beads and pray a rosary or take out your favorite prayer book and pray those treasured prayers. Now, I know what you’re going to say. You’re thinking that you’re just not a morning person and, trust me when I tell you that I have nothing but sympathy for you. Anyone who has gone to 7:30 mass on Friday morning in Britt knows that I tend to show up at 7:27 or so just giving myself enough time to throw on my vestments before mass. I don’t like mornings. So, give the Lord the LAST hour of your day. Shut off the computer and television and do all that I suggested the others do in the morning. Give the Lord priority in your day to remind yourself what we all can’t do without.