Confronting Secularism Today
Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.
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
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 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.
appear to be four major intellectual topics from which these doubts are
- A perceived
contradiction between God and science.
- A lack
of evidence for God from science and logic.
implicit belief in materialism.
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
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
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.
- Proof of a soul from contemporary
peer-reviewed medical studies of near death experiences and medical studies of
- Evidence of an intelligent creator from
- 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."
- The evidence for the historicity and
resurrection of Jesus from recent scientific studies (post 1998) of the Shroud
- Contemporary scientifically validated
- Four levels of happiness and purpose in life.
- 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
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.
unusual or technical data occurring during clinical death is reported
accurately by a large percentage of patients.
death anxiety by virtually all people having an NDE.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.