Sunday, 28 December 2014
Our Christmas...and an atheist's rejection of it
We had the expected good turnout for our Christmas Masses, where I spoke about Christmas having a romantic feel with carols, a story of angels and shepherds, and the sharing of gifts between family and friends, but noted too that Christmas has a more significant message than romance or even family: it is about Redemption. The babe in the manger is God-made-man, come to die with us and for us that we might be saved from our sins. We sing about the babe in the manger being ‘wrapped in swaddling bands’ not realising we are singing about nappies (diapers!); of a God who has humbled Himself to the wearing of nappies so as to die on a cross for you, and for me.
Our Church and our Christmas Crib
I noted that we should of course value the family as the bedrock of society, and enjoy the time spent with our own family. After love of God, we should love our families most of all, because it is there we learn to share; to give and take, to be just and compassionate. If there are divisions, we should try to heal them, and so enjoy the love and peace that Christmas promises.
That said, one of my regular parishioners told me yesterday that her wayward child said “I’ve come to Mass and Christmas dinner because Christmas is about family, but I don’t believe in God because I can’t see Him. Anyway, science knows so much about how the world works that we don’t need to believe in God”. I wondered how many of those sitting in our congregation would say the same thing, and pointed out that her daughter was speaking as a materialist: someone who believes in only what she can see and touch and measure, and who places her faith in the limited endeavour we call science.
Let’s take ‘not seeing God’ first. What we mean by ‘seeing’ is ‘something we can measure with a ruler; weigh in scales, touch with the hand, describe according to shape, colour and texture’. The person who believes only in such material things is destined to live a sad and cynical life because they will never be able to believe in love, love being something we cannot see, touch, or measure; it has no size, shape, colour, weight, length, height or width. If this girl only believes in what she sees, she can never believe in love, or peace, or justice; in joy, in happiness or even sadness, because these are emotions, and emotions have no shape, size, colour or weight: like God, they cannot be seen or touched. We can experience emotions, but not see them; we can observe their effects, but not touch them. The same is true of God: we can experience God in prayer if we are truly open to Him; and we can see the effects of God in the lives of the saints. This girl’s refusal to follow God is more honestly the refusal to submit to God; she wants to live life following her own desires without any boundaries of behaviour except those she chooses for herself. It is a completely selfish way to live, and often results in one being an unlikeable person.
As for saying “Science knows so much about how the world works that we don’t need to believe in God”, there is as much sense in that as in saying “we know so much about how a car works that we don’t need to believe in car manufacturers”. None of what we know about how a car works proves the car was not manufactured (made) and designed, nor does knowing about physics, biology or chemistry mean we don’t need to believe in God who manufactured (created) the world. The girl is using the false idea that science and religion are opposing forces when in fact they are complementary forces: science tells us how the world works and how it was created, religion tells us why it was created. How and Why are completely different questions, they focus on different aspects of the one reality; only if science and religion were asking the same question and giving different answers could they be seen as contradictory. But they actually ask different questions, and as such can never truly be in conflict.
It is true that religion has conflict with individuals who have a kind of religious scientism; an attitude of “whatever we can do, we should do”. Thus they say “we can create animal-human hybrids, so we should; we can clone, so we should; we can contracept, so we should; we can abort, so we should; we can euthanize, so we should”. But just because we can do something does not mean we should. Whether we should or should not do something is a moral question; and morals are non-physical truths, so they are outside the boundaries of science which can deal only with the physical things of the world (its physics, chemistry and biology).
That this girl has come through Catholic schooling and gained an A grade in Religious Studies yet knows nothing about the complimentarity of faith and reason, or have any idea about the limits of materialism, is an indictment not of the girl but of Catholic education and the syllabus we have given our teachers to teach. If Christmas means nothing to this girl in its reality of God-made-man for her salvation, who is to blame? Is it her, for following her own selfish desire to live without religious moral boundaries, or is it the negotiating-indulging parenting style of today and the schooling she received which taught her to “do what is right for you”? Both are to blame, I think. Yet the greatest responsibility lies with the Bishops for not ensuring that what is taught in our schools and preached from our pulpits is good, solid catechesis rather than subjective, relativist intellectualism, simply for the sake of looking intelligent to the secularised masses. Taught to our children, solid, faithful Catechesis could have truly evangelised the parents. How many lost souls the Bishops and priests of the last fifty years may have to account for when they face God.