Michael Terheyden on 'Why I am Catholic: Confronting Secularist Culture'
is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves."
Pope Benedict goes on to say that "the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice," and "the State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions." But in many ways today the secular nations of the West are restricting religious freedom, and, while they are not imposing religion on the people, they are imposing a secular ideology on them.
Modern Western secularism is not open to religion educating the human conscience or advising and guiding people in their affairs as the Deputy Patriarch and Pope Benedict have indicated. Rather, modern Western secularism is an ideology, a belief system with its own value system. By definition it is supposed to be neutral toward religion, but in practice, it is aggressively anti-Christian because it wants to educate our conscience according to a materialistic and atheistic world view.
This is the second sense of secularism that I alluded to. As I now understand it, modern Western secularism is about who controls the values of society. It is about who determines what those values will be and on what basis they will be determined. The aim of modern Western secularism, then, is to overturn Christian morality and replace it with secular values. When I realized this, my first thought was that I had to find out what its values were.
Although there are others, I will discuss four of these values, or beliefs. All four played a important role in my faith journey, as they helped me see popular secular culture for what it was and reject it. First, secularism rejects the influence and contribution of religion in society, that is, in public and political decisions. But it is my understanding that this secular value is fundamentally flawed.
Based on my understanding, the glue which holds society together and enables it to grow is derived from virtue, especially justice and worship. Whether a society is healthy or sick, strong or weak, depends on the degree to which it is virtuous, just, and religious. Moreover, religion has the ability to tie the virtues together. So I see society as relationships rooted in religion. If my understanding is correct, then secularists cannot do away with religion.
Second, secularism values a materialistic philosophy. As materialists, secularists view themselves as highly rational and scientifically minded, and they claim it is irrational to believe in anything that cannot be shown to be true. As a result, they regard religious people as irrational. But the Christian faith is not irrational. God can reasonably be shown to exist, and even if Christians cannot understand the great mysteries of their faith, they can see that these mysteries logically flow from God's attributes. For instance, although no one can understand or prove the existence of the Trinity, they can logically see that an all-powerful, infinitely perfect intellect and will could be triune.
Of course, secularists try to debunk this kind of reasoning. One of the ways they do this is by claiming that science offers the only legitimate knowledge of reality. But this claim itself is not rational or scientific since it cannot be established by any science. Faith and science do not deal with the same subject matter. They ask different questions. Consequently, their answers do not conflict with each other; they compliment each other.
Third, one of the common reasons secularists reject religion in the public domain is their belief that religion causes wars. This is especially true of Christianity, they tell us. But it seems to me that much of the condemnation against Christians is based on distorted information, and when viewed within a historical context, it appears that Christians have generally held to a much higher standard than the norm. However, Christians have given great scandal at times, even waged unjust wars, which was terribly wrong.
On the other hand, it is not Christians who have waged the bloodiest, most devastating wars in human history. That disgrace belongs to the devotees of atheistic, materialistic, relativistic, and pragmatic philosophies, and their children: Nazism, fascism and communism. It seems to me that the most immediate threats to peace today are radical, postmodern secular ideologies and radical Islamism. Christianity is not the problem in the world; it is the world's hope.
Fourth, secularists claim that Christians are intolerant because they have firm beliefs based on objective moral norms (natural law). This claim is silly. Even secularists, relativists and subjectivists exclude every belief that is not compatible with their world view. In Volume 2 of his book, Living A Christian Life, the renowned Catholic theologian Germain Grisez says, true tolerance is not indifferentism; it is respect for those who hold another world view.
He also says secularists are not immune from intolerance. Because they do not acknowledge a higher reality or an objective moral standard to which all reasonable people must submit, Grisez believes they are especially tempted to lying, manipulation, exploitation, suppression, arbitrary behavior and self-righteousness.
After analyzing secularism and some of its main beliefs--materialism, atheism, anti-religion, anti-Christianity, tolerance, relativism, and subjectivism--I realized that secularism was irrational and seriously flawed. I could not accept popular secular culture and its values, but I was still not certain what to believe, so I continued searching for truth and the meaning of my life.
If I had known what to believe back then, after I realized that secularism had wedded a materialistic and atheistic world view, I would also have known that our nature reaches beyond the material universe in search of God. But not just any god, the Christian God; for the only real solution to the human condition is a God of infinite love and mercy who would become one of us, be willing to die for us, and raise us up to a life of supernatural love in this world and in eternity. This God has a name above every other name and at which every knee shall bend, Jesus (Phil 2:9-10).
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Secularism, Faith, Christianity, Catholicism, Catholic Church, Michael Terheyden
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