Saturday, April 26, 2014

Second Sunday of Easter

One Sunday while at college, I invited a roommate to attend church with me. “No thanks” he said, “it’s just not my thing.” For him, having faith was fine for those who found it attractive, but he just wasn’t interested. From his perspective, faith is kind of like a hobby. I have a hobby- running- which I enjoy very much. Many people, however, find running boring or painful. Running, therefore, is definitely “my thing.” But is that all my faith is? Is that all your faith is?

Some say that it is. Some even say that faith is our “thing” because we’re “weak-minded.” If you recall, that’s what pro-wrestler turned Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura said to Playboy magazine. But of course, Ventura is far from being alone. Psychologist Sigmund Freud, for instance, insisted that religious faith makes people into neurotic, psychological infants. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, criticized religious faith as the “Opium of the Masses,” a drug we take to keep us from seeing the world as it really is. And bestselling atheist Sam Harris says that religious faith “allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.”

Other critics say that our faith is not only a sign that we’re dumb, but also that we’re dangerous. They point out all of the horrible things that have been done, and continue to be done, in the name of religious faith: Wars, persecutions, forced conversions, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, crucifixions, and the like. At the very least, they maintain, faith flies in the face of reason and creates unnecessary divisions within society: believers versus unbelievers, Catholics versus Protestants, Muslim versus Jew. Because of this, claims God is Not Great author Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: “All religious belief is sinister.”

But that’s not all. According to some critics, like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion, not only does faith make us dumb and dangerous, it also shows how backward and behind-the-times we are. According to them, religious faith is a product of blind evolution that we just don’t need any more. It once served a purpose for primitive, unenlightened humans, offering security in a dangerous, scary world, and providing answers to the meaning of life, but we’ve progressed beyond that now. We don’t need faith anymore to understand our world. All we really need is science.

In today’s gospel, we heard how “doubting Thomas,” as he’s come to be called, refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, even though his friends said it was true. You and I believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Yet there are those who say to us that our resurrection faith shows that we’re crazy, weak, backwards, and dangerous. “Doubting Thomas’” disbelief vanished when Jesus appeared to him in person. But that’s probably not going to happen to us. So how can we keep a firm grip on our faith in the face of criticisms that can easily sow seeds of doubt, and tempt even the most faithful among us, to wonder if what they say might just be true?

We can begin by remembering all of the different ways our faith makes us strong. For starters, numerous studies have shown that people of faith are healthier and live longer. Faith, therefore, helps make us physically strong. And it helps us be emotionally strong too, because our faith can fill us with joy, happiness, contentment, and peace. Even more than this, our faith gives us strength in the face of life’s difficulties, and whenever we confront the realities of pain, suffering, and death. Our faith gives meaning to these events, reminds us that we have a God who walks with us, offers hope for a better life beyond this one, and empowers us to forgive those who may have done us wrong. We should ask ourselves: What kind of people would we be without faith? Probably weaker, less happy, more confused, and certainly not stronger-minded! As the philosopher Kierkegaard once said, life is not a question of belief versus unbelief. It’s a question of belief versus despair.

But does our faith make us dangerous? It’s true that terrible things have been done in the name of Christian faith. As Christians, we should apologize for them and seek to heal any damage that has been done. But let’s not forget that lack of faith has led to far more terrible things. Just think of the tens of millions who have died under Communist regimes. We must also never forget that faith has inspired people and the Church to do wonderfully good things: The promotion of human rights, and the care, protection, and education of the sick, poor, persecuted, and forgotten members of society. Our faith inspires us to a goodness and generosity we wouldn’t have without faith. One prominent atheist today dismisses love of enemies as a “monstrous notion,” while our faith teaches that it’s a virtue. So are people of faith more dangerous than those without it? You tell me.

Yet even if we’re less dangerous, might we still be behind the times? Is our faith nothing more than a left-over evolutionary by-product? Is faith in God is simply a function of the way our brains are wired, and nothing more? Or is it God who wired our brains to have faith in the first place? The answer to that is, well, a matter of faith! But maybe a voice from long ago, St. Augustine, can help us out. He maintained that it is natural for people to have faith. To lack faith, on the other hand, is unnatural, because of the way God has made us. So while there will always be those who say faith is crazy, dangerous, out-of-date, or even just “our thing,” people of every time and place will hunger for Christian faith. Or as G. K. Chesterton once said: “Christianity has been declared dead many times. Thankfully, it has a God who knows his way out of a grave.”

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