Sunday, May 04, 2003

Belief vs. Unbelief

I had the chance to talk to my Evangelical neighbor Craig this past week and he mentioned that he had been thinking about a topic that had been occurring to me also. The way I was phrasing it was that we modern scientific Americans have lost our sense of the supernatural; Craig put it more simply – the problem facing Christians today is that of unbelief among believers.

I don’t know how many times I have run across someone whom I know to be a fairly faithful Catholic who has made a statement to the effect that they don’t believe in miracles. They put this in different ways, hardly ever directly, but the meaning is clearly there. They may say, “Oh, you know, Jesus didn’t really feed the 5,000 with just two loaves and a couple of fish, all those people had bread and fish McNuggets with them and they shared.” These kinds of statements reflect a kind of crisis in the Church today, a crisis of faith. If the miracle of the loaves and fishes cannot be believed, how can the miracle of the Resurrection be believed?

Thomas Merton wrote, in The Ascent to Truth, that to believe one must choose to believe. A person can faithfully go through all the motions of worship at Mass, day after day, year after year, but unless one makes the ultimate sacrifice of oneself, all that person is doing is going through the motions. It has no interior effect. One of the reasons for a crisis of faith today, as Merton points out, is that there is a failure to think. People will take the word of Barbara Striesand on matters of faith and morals, but never that of John Paul II. People will listen to the Dixie Chicks, never to their Bishop, unless he happens to agree with the Dixie Chicks. Because people become famous as entertainers in society today, they gain instant credibility in matters affecting the deepest issues of life. This kind of thinking shows a loss of the ability to think.

If we are unable to think clearly, we will be unable to have a real living faith. First, we will not be able to understand what it is we believe, and second, we will not consider our faith important enough to make the sacrifices that Christian faith calls for. Merton wrote “Faith means war.” He meant that to have faith is to die to ourselves and be born again as a new creation; it means giving up the trivial distractions of this life for the eternal rewards of the next. It means living, not as an independent person, reliant only on oneself, but living as a branch of the True Vine, dependent only on Christ. To live in faith means to make war on our very selves.

This is the crisis the Church faces today. It is a crisis because too many people do not know there is a battle to be fought. It is a crisis of belief vs. unbelief.

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