December 14, 2012
In this Year of Faith and the call for New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI sets the standard for all of us in outreach. His establishment of the Courtyard of the Gentiles to engage atheists has created an atmosphere not only where intellectual discussion occurs, but also where behavior is challenged.
Outside of the initial convention in Paris in March of 2010 when the Pope addressed the conference via video, he has not participated. This November in Portugal was different. The Pope sent a message personally written by him, to affirm the theme of the gathering, the common wish “to affirm the value of human life against the rising tide of the culture of death.”
Statistics on our recent election show that 20-25% of those voting for Obama do not subscribe to any religion. That is a huge number of people – in the millions. Even if some of them would call themselves believers in God with no religious affiliation, all too many behave as if there is no God. Many would comfortably call themselves atheists even if they wouldn’t admit it in public.
We are walking among these persons daily with no frame of reference to engage them – worlds apart separated by mere inches at malls, at the office, at grocery stores, and everywhere else we may go. Pope Benedict boldly issues a challenge to them, setting an example that we can use and incorporate into our daily witness to the Gospel.
From his letter dated November 13, 2012:
Yet, if reason can grasp the value of life, why call on God? I answer with human experience. The death of a loved one is, for those who love him, the most absurd event imaginable: this person is unconditionally worthy of life, it is good and beautiful that he or she exist (being, the good, the beautiful, as a metaphysician [in the philosophical sense] would say, are transcendentally interchangeable).
Similarly, the death of this person, in the eyes of those who do not love him or her, seems logical (not absurd). Who is right? The one who loves (for whom “the death of this person is absurd”) or the one who does not love (for whom “the death of this person is logical”)?
The first position is defendable only if every person is loved by an infinite Power; and this is the reason why it was necessary to call upon God. In fact, anyone who loves does not want their loved one to die; and, if he could, he would stop it forever. If he could… Finite love is powerless; infinite love all powerful.
Now, this is the certainty that the Church proclaims: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Yes! God loves each person who, therefore, is unconditionally worthy of life. “The blood of Christ, while it reveals the grandeur of the Father’s love, shows how precious man is in God’s eyes and how valuable is his life” (Evangelium vitae, n. 25).
In modern times, however, man has wanted to avoid the creative and redeeming gaze of the Father (cf. Jn 4:14), relying on himself and not on Divine Power. It is almost like a windowless building of cement, in which man controls the temperature and the light; and yet, even in a self-constructed world, we draw upon the “resources” of God, which we then transform into our own products. What can we say then? It is necessary to reopen the windows, to see again the vastness of the world, of heaven and earth, and to learn to use all things in a good way.
In fact, the value of life becomes evident only if God exists. Therefore, it would be nice [I am not sure if the Pope actually used this word or if it is a weak translation of something more powerful.] if nonbelievers were to live “as though God existed”. Even if they do not have the strength to believe, they should live on the basis of this hypothesis; otherwise, the world cannot work. [At last we have a clear claim that “Can’t we just all get along?” has to be based on objective truth and is impossible otherwise!]
There are so many problems that must be resolved, but that cannot ever happen if God is not at the center, if God does not become visible once again in the world and determining in our lives. Whoever opens himself to God does not alienate himself from the world and from mankind, but finds brothers: in God our walls of separation fall, we are all brothers and sisters, we are part of one another.
This is the only viable starting point for resolving the divisions in our country and in the world. The question then becomes, will individuals and leaders have the humility to come together on this basis, or will they continue to declare themselves to be god in opposition to objective reality? Secondly, will we fearlessly engage non-believers on the terms the Pope has set out? Live as though God exists.
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