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Confronting Secularism Today

 

Catechetical Sunday 2018 Banner

Confronting Secularism Today

Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.

Introduction

Secularism is rampant today, and according to John Finnis ("Secularism, Morality, and Politics"), and has been successful in persuading young people to abandon their belief in a providential God who calls us to a high moral standard.

John Henry Newman implied long ago that the future of morality is dependent on the strength of our individual and collective conscience, which in turn, is dependent on the strength of our belief in God (see Newman Proof of Theism ed. by Boekraad and Tristram). If Newman is correct, then the confrontation of secularism today will require a two-step process – first, a strengthening of belief in God and Jesus Christ, and then a concerted effort to restore the weakened ideas of deadly sins, virtues, and principles (the formation of conscience). Failure to respond to this challenge will lead to an even more rapid decline in religion and moral standards that will bring the United States to the same level as Western Europe within fifteen to twenty years – more than 55% unbelievers with a concomitant decline in Christian moral standards – a pessimistic scenario at best, for world culture.        

The Problem

The rate of religiously unaffiliated millennials in the U.S. is increasing rapidly. In 2014, the PEW Research Center Survey reported that millennials were abandoning religious affiliation at a much higher rate than previous generations.  35% of millennials (born 1981-1996) are self-defined "nones" [agnostics, atheists, and religiously unaffiliated]. – see www.pewresearch.org.

In 2016, the PEW Research Center Survey reported that about half of current religious "nones" who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. See www.pewresearch.org.

There appear to be four major intellectual topics from which these doubts are derived:

  1. A perceived contradiction between God and science.
  2. A lack of evidence for God from science and logic.
  3. An implicit belief in materialism.
  4. A general disbelief in the historicity and divinity of Jesus.

The irony is that Providence has left us with an abundance of contemporary evidence to mitigate millennials' doubts. When this evidence is presented in a clear and objective way, the vast majority of young people who had previously considered abandoning their faith in God, change their minds.

The lesson is clear—in order to help a majority of our Catholic millennials remain believers and active participants in Church, we will have to first respond to their fundamental problems of belief in God, the soul, Jesus, and miracles with credible contemporary scientific evidence.

A Workable Solution

What is the credible contemporary evidence that can effectively reverse millennials' decisions to move toward unbelief? The Magis Center (www.magiscenter.com) has tested several areas of evidence among high schoolers and college students, and determined that seven areas are essential for reinforcing students' faith and reversing the direction of those who were considering unbelief.

  1. Proof of a soul from contemporary peer-reviewed medical studies of near death experiences and medical studies of terminal lucidity.
  2. Evidence of an intelligent creator from contemporary science.
  3. An explanation of six prevalent questions about faith and science—"the Bible and science," evolution, aliens, why some scientists are atheists, Galileo, and the "God particle."
  4. The evidence for the historicity and resurrection of Jesus from recent scientific studies (post 1998) of the Shroud of Turin.
  5. Contemporary scientifically validated miracles.
  6. Four levels of happiness and purpose in life.
  7. Why would an all-loving God allow suffering—and how to suffer well.

Though this material can be quite technical, the Magis Center has prepared two sets of seven modules with age-appropriate content, voiceover power points, and embedded videos for presentation to seventh through ninth grade confirmation, catechism, and middle school classes, as well as tenth through twelfth grade confirmation, catechism, and high school classes. The latter set are appropriate also for college students and adult education. We have beta tested the effectiveness of the 10th through 12th grade modules in 9th grade, 11th through 12th grade, and in university Catholic centers. The response is overwhelmingly positive – 97% ranked the modules as either "positive" or "very positive" for maintaining faith and responding to doubts.

These modules are free of charge and can be viewed or downloaded from www.crediblecatholic.com (simply click on PROGRAMS – the 7 Essential Modules will be the top program). Magis Center instructors are available to train diocesan and parish directors and educators (for both youth and adults) free of charge.

What Millennials Need to Hear to Reverse the Trend toward Unbelief

Let us now proceed to some highlights in the first four of the above "7 Essential Modules."   

(1) Proof of a Soul. We have found that contemporary peer reviewed medical studies of near death experiences are particularly persuasive. Three dimensions of these studies made a "crucial" impact on students' faith:

·         81% of blind people can see for the first time when they are clinically dead.

·         Highly unusual or technical data occurring during clinical death is reported accurately by a large percentage of patients.

·         Loss of death anxiety by virtually all people having an NDE.

It is noteworthy that virtually every person who goes "to the other side" has an experience of a loving white light, Jesus, or deceased relatives and friends who express two common themes about heaven consistent with Jesus' teaching – spiritual transformation and an ambience of love – even unconditional love.     

Medical studies of terminal lucidity – where Alzheimers and dementia patients with severely atrophied cerebral cortexes suddenly attain lucid consciousness one week to one hour before death – have also been persuasive. 

(2) Scientific Evidence of an Intelligent Creator. Many students are aware of scientists' conjectures about the possibility that physical reality is eternal and therefore uncreated. This has made the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Proof (from three top physicists at MIT, Tufts University, and UC Santa Barbara) very important, because it shows the necessity of a beginning of all hypothetical multiverses, string universes, and bouncing universes, leading to the conclusion that physical reality is probably created by a causative agency beyond space and time. Evidence from entropy further substantiates this claim and fine-tuning data provides convincing evidence of the intelligence of that Creator.    

(3) Explanations of Pressing Scientific Questions. Many students are misinformed about the Catholic Church's position on evolution, "the bible and science", aliens, and Galileo. This causes considerable tension with what they are learning in their science classes, causing them to "detach" from their religious beliefs. The third module is vital for warding off these tensions. Students need to know that the Catholic Church not only permits belief in a 13.8 billion year old universe but that the Catholic Church permits belief in evolution in its contemporary form.

Millennials also need to know that the Catholic Church does not require a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis. They also need to know that the Church is open to the existence of aliens and that there are reasonable explanations for Galileo's censure and treatment. If we do not correct these misimpressions, we allow the Church to be marginalized as "unscientific" when in fact a large number of priests have been instrumental in major scientific discoveries) – see Matthew Bunson "Fathers of Science."  

(4) Evidence of Jesus and His Resurrection. Students viewing the History Channel are very likely to get the impression that Jesus was at best a prophet and at worst a mythical figure, and that His Resurrection was a fantastic story designed to win over converts. Thus, students must be made aware of the important arguments for the historicity of Jesus and His Resurrection. Of particular importance is the scientific evidence for Jesus' Passion and Resurrection on the Shroud of Turin. Many students believe that the Shroud was debunked in a 1988 carbon dating that showed the Shroud to have originated in the 15th century. But throughout the last decade four additional dating tests have been performed that position the Shroud at around 50 AD plus or minus 150 years with 95% confidence level.

What is even more intriguing is that this perfect 3-dimensional photographic negative image had to be produced by light radiation (not heat, chemicals, vapors, etc.), because it is restricted to the surface of the fibrils – not penetrating to the middle of the fibers. This implies a supernatural cause which may well be a relic of a spiritual resurrection in glory (much like that described in the gospels and St. Paul).

The other 3 modules – contemporary scientifically validated miracles, the Four Levels of Happiness, and "Why God Allows Suffering" – are also important to help students complete the foundation for their intellectual conversion.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The first step in meeting the above challenge is to direct diocesan, parish, and school directors and educators to obtain the "7 Essential Modules," and review them. They can be viewed or downloaded free of charge by going to www.crediblecatholic.com, and then clicking on PROGRAMS – the 7 Essential Modules will be the top program.

The second step to reversing the trend toward secularism is moral conversion that builds on the intellectual conversion described above. A free resource with 8 modules on moral conversion will also be available in 2019 at www.crediblecatholic.com.

In conclusion, our students are open to faith, but they are besieged by secular stimuli. We have found that if we present the evidence for God, Jesus, the soul, and the foundations of morality to them, most will respond at least partially, and many fully to the call of Christ.

 


Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., the President and co-founder of Magis, is a Catholic Priest in the Society of Jesus and former President of Gonzaga University from 1998 to 2009. While president, he significantly increased the programs and curricula in faith, ethics, service, and leadership, and led the efforts to build 20 new facilities, increased the student population by 75%, and raised more than $200 million for scholarships and capital projects.



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