14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (The Influence of Atheism)

In light of today’s Gospel in which Jesus sends out 72 of his followers, laborers for the Kingdom of God, it calls to mind the very notion of evangelization. What is evangelization? It’s sharing the faith with others, inviting them into what it has to offer.

That’s not an easy thing to do and even for those of us who are alive in the faith, most of us are at a loss on how to share it without it backfiring. Of course, too many Christians have never really come to life in the faith, and so they don’t really know how to share it.

But I was thinking about how hard it is in our current culture, especially given that we are experiencing the opposite of what evangelization is intended to do. If evangelization is the compelling invitation that draws more people into the faith, we live in a culture where the religious population is shrinking. What’s causing this effect? We could cite church scandals, bishops who have lost our trust, and priests who have done people harm; maybe it’s bad preaching or unfriendly parishioners. Maybe it’s uninspired worship.

There are all sorts of things that may be a reason for one person or another, but one of the reasons is the framework of understanding that’s been gradually constructed in the minds of our youth. Too many of them are leaving the faith. Perhaps it’s for the reasons I just cited, or maybe because the faith was never shown to be meaningful by their parents. But a lot of it has to do with what they are taught in institutions of learning.

Those of you who attended the parish mission with Dr. John Bergsma back in March, recall what he explained about those with atheistic agendas in the field of science—and how many of our institutions of learning are filled with those whose aim is to ‘evangelize’ atheism. Among the more familiar names of this movement are Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Not merely taking the passive approach of live and let live, their aim is to put an end to religious structures. Like the 72 Jesus sent out, their disciples are waiting to form the minds and hearts of your children in our high schools, colleges and universities.

What’s their motivation? One reason is that life seems easier if you choose to do away with God. You get to be your own god, and it feels liberating. But also, some see religious dogma as the cause of wars, hatred and genocide. While it’s true that many have killed in the name of religion, that’s never been what Christianity teaches. Even more, I would argue that wars, hatred and genocide would remain even without religion. Perhaps you recall also all that Dr. Bergsma explained to us that refutes the arguments of atheists, and furthermore, all the compelling evidence he cited for a supreme being.

The voices of the atheists are influencing too many of our young people. Why are they succeeding? I think largely because they seem to be rooted in science and logic. It feels intellectually grounded, in contrast to what we are told are the primitive myths of religion.

To be clear, while there’s no proving to them God’s existence, neither can they prove their claim that there is no God. And for whatever way their claims seem solidly rooted in science, they ultimately have no answers for any original causes, nor for the human desire for transcendence. And here’s the thing: they cast away the idea of God, but what one is left with is a soul that is restless and thirsting for meaning.

As we do away with God, and religion as a means to draw us to him, are we a happier society? Are people at greater peace in their minds and hearts? Does it help us to love ourselves more? I think not. Instead, as a population we are increasingly lost, relying more than ever on upon what our psychiatrists and psychologists can provide and prescribe, to mask the emptiness, and to help give us a will to live, when too many of us don’t want to. The empirical findings and sciences of sociology seem to indicate that when we do away with God, we’re left rootless and lost.

Brothers and sisters, not only is very strong evidence of a supreme being, but even more, He is a personal God—not just some life-force in the background of the universe, observing us remotely. Today’s words from Isaiah speak of God who is tender and nurturing, speaking in words altogether maternal, like a mother caring for and taking delight in her baby—even if we’re a bunch of messed-up babies. The fact is—God loves you like you’re His little one—even if you don’t know it, can’t feel it or don’t care. That love is the notion of God that Jesus sent the 72 to proclaim and that’s the God he still invites us to know and to rest in.