The title words were Pope Paul VI’s in 1964 in his encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (99-106), as he described challenges in the modern world evangelizing to a pluralistic culture. As with almost any encyclical, nearly fifty years later it appears that his words were not only prophetic, but are still relevant. If you’ve ever had concerns about atheism, read these words written decades ago.
They parade their godlessness openly, asserting its claims in education and politics, in the foolish and fatal belief that they are emancipating mankind from false and outworn notions about life and the world and substituting a view that is scientific and up-to-date.
Pope Paul VI called this the “most serious problem of our time” because the basic propositions are so profoundly absurd that they erode man’s acceptance of a rational order, in the universe, in society, and in himself. Atheism confuses the mind, informs man that there is no purpose for his existence, and that he can do nothing to solve life’s problems. It “degrades” and “saddens” human life. Consider what has become of many societies since the 1960′s. Can you name one society that has turned away from God, and has, as a result, flourished into a free land that holds high the ideals of justice, freedom, and dignity for each and every human?
In 2012, marriage has become meaningless to many people. Gender is becoming subjective with the false assumption that a person can transfer between one gender or the other, either physically or emotionally. Human life itself, in its most dependent and fragile state, has all the significance of garbage for those who have turned killing into a business, and creating new human life is rapidly becoming the equivalent of commissioning a new piece of furnity. In some places, medicine is becoming more about hastening death than healing. Other societies are full of violence and rebellion because humans, even those in power, have become as expendable as used up objects.
“Any social system based on these principles is doomed to utter destruction. Atheism, therefore, is not a liberating force, but a catastrophic one, for it seeks to quench the light of the living God.”
His remedy? Well, this encyclical was written to encourage and teach Catholics how to share the gospel message, the right way to approach ecumenism, to dialogue when reasonable, to recognize when dialogue is not possible. His remedy was resistance, safeguarding the truth, love, and hope. His remedy was perseverance.
We shall therefore resist this growing evil with all our strength, spurred on by our great zeal for safeguarding the truth, inspired by our social duty of loyally professing Christ and His gospel, and driven on by a burning, unquenchable love, which makes man’s good our constant concern. We shall resist in the invincible hope that modern man may recognize the religious ideals which the Catholic faith sets before him and feel himself drawn to seek a form of civilization which will never fail him but will lead on to the natural and supernatural perfection of the human spirit. May the grace of God enable him to possess his temporal goods in peace and honor and to live in the assurance of acquiring those that are eternal.
In those times as well as in these, there was the historical, present, and future threat of communist oppression, the result of atheistic ideology, and Pope Paul VI called for Catholics to resist it, repudiating the oppressors for restricting religious freedom and affirming the excellence and importance of religion. Sound familiar? It is disturbing today to hear third world atheist cries for freedom from religion, when it was atheistic philosophies about economic, social, and political regimes that, in fact, did oppress entire populations. Why are they not held to account for this failure of their philosophies?
Peace-keeping Christians who want to pray and live their lives in appreciation of truth, beauty and justice are not the oppressors. Want proof? Name the populations of atheists today being oppressed by Christians? Where are they? There are multitudes more Christians than atheists, and if domination and oppression were the goal, it would be easy to achieve, no? Sure, some of them would have us believe that encountering crosses in public and observing people bowing in prayer is the pinnacle of oppression, but even a child wouldn’t accept that nonsense. Some of them shrivel at being told they did something wrong, and refuse to submit to any authority. One can only wonder the mortal fear such people must experience upon encountering stop signs.
Pope Paul VI acknowledged, too, that dialogue can be difficult with atheists, if not impossible, but he urged, “For the lover of truth discussion is always possible.” Not all self-identified atheists are belligerent, some are sincerely searching. We can hope they realize that open and respectful dialogue is hindered by a distorted moral order and restrictions on freedom in a society. Restrictions on freedom of thought and action are obstacles to dialogue.
What is also frustrating is that, unbounded to any noble standard of integrity, people are free to misuse words in a calculated way during a debate, “so that they serve not the investigation and formulation of objective truth, but purely subjective expediency.” It is, after all, hard to dialogue when words have lost consistent meaning.
In the extremes, instead of dialogue, he says, there is silence and the only voice that is heard is that of “an oppressed and degraded society, deprived by its rulers of every spiritual right.” Chilling words in 2012.
“How can a dialogue be conducted in such circumstances as these, even if we embarked upon it? It would be but ‘a voice crying in the wilderness.’ The only witness that the Church can give is that of silence, suffering, patience, and unfailing love, and this is a voice that not even death can silence.”
There are varying degrees of communist oppression throughout the world today, there are also growing numbers of atheists. Some societies identify as socialist, some as democratic even though an increasing portion of the population has become dependent on the government to sustain them. Dependency is not freedom, it’s slavery.
What will we do in the years to come? Will we hope and love? Will we persevere? Will we continue to try to dialogue? Will be silenced? Will we be oppressed? Will we be martyrs? Or will there be freedom, honor, and respect among people because dialogue did occur with integrity and genuine search for truth? What will our children and grandchildren say of us in 2060? It seems we all could be united in the hope for a better future.