|Vatican Document Weighs How to Evangelize Culture
VATICAN CITY, 11 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
Indifference or hostility to
religion is a well-established phenomenon in many Western countries.
Recent events such as the Mohammed cartoon controversy point to the
serious consequences that follow when secular society is unable to
appreciate religious sensibilities, giving rise to needless offense.
In this context a document made available a short while ago on the
Vatican's Web site merits a closer look. "The Christian Faith at the
Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious
Indifference" contains the conclusions of the March 2004 plenary
assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
To prepare for the meeting, the council gathered information from
countries around the world. The answers provided give an overview of
some of the main characteristics of secularization.
The document starts by noting the loss of faith in today's world. "There
is a rupture in the handing on the faith, intimately linked to the
process of abandonment of a popular culture long attached to and
impregnated by Christianity," the introduction states. The weakening of
this popular religious culture brings with it serious consequences in
terms of how people think, behave and judge.
"The Church today is confronted more by indifference and practical
unbelief than with atheism," the pontifical council commented. With few
exceptions, governments no longer publicly affirm atheism.
Yet while the number of regimes marked by an atheistic political system
has declined, a certain cultural hostility against religions has spread.
This is palpable in some sectors of the media and is directed against
Christianity, particularly Catholicism, the document observed.
The threat here is more subtle. "It is a veritable sickness of the soul
which induces to live 'as though God did not exist,' a neo-paganism that
idolizes material goods, the achievements of work, and the fruits of
power," the pontifical council noted. This leads to what the document
terms as "homo indifferens," and often the search for happiness is
reduced to a desire for material prosperity and the gratification of
Causes of unbelief
The document notes that there are old and new causes behind the loss of
religious belief. Drawing, in part, on the analysis made in the Second
Vatican Council's pastoral constitution, "Gaudium et Spes," the
Pontifical Council for Culture identifies some of the main factors.
presumptions of modern science. The vision of the world without any
reference to God, that rejects his existence on the basis of scientific
principles, has become widespread and commonplace.
as the center of the universe. Western culture is permeated by a form of
subjectivism that professes the absolute subjectivity of the individual
and denies the existence of objective truths or values. This exaltation
of the individual means that the Church is no longer accepted as a
doctrinal and moral authority.
problem of evil. "The mystery of evil has been and always will be a
scandal for intelligent man, and only the light of Christ crucified and
glorified can fully reveal and express it," the Pontifical Council for
Culture notes. Today, the document adds, awareness of the presence of
evil is amplified through the power of the mass media.
limitations of Christians and the Church. Negative or unpleasant
experiences, or scandals caused by priests, can estrange some people
from the Church.
Handing on the faith. Changes in the family and Catholic schools make
the transmission of the faith to new generations more difficult. The
power of the mass media also undermines traditional cultural practices
in the area of religion.
Secularization. Many believers follow a lifestyle in which God or
religion is of little importance.
Changes in sexual morality have also had negative effects for the life
of faith, the document notes.
Believing without belonging
Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that this means religion ceases to
have a role, the pontifical council contends. After an initial rejection
of religion there is a sort of reaction, by a portion of the population
at least, and people look once more for spiritual sustenance. But this
search is no longer directed through the established churches or by
means of traditional forms of worship.
What ensues is a search "for an experience which is entirely individual,
autonomous and guided by one's own subjectivity." This sort of
instinctive religiosity, the pontifical council explains, is based more
on emotions than on doctrine and is expressed without reference to a
personal God. The document describes it as "believing without
Modern culture is, therefore, characterized by a twofold phenomenon:
"unbelief and bad belief." Both of them have in common a desire for
autonomy. The Pontifical Council for Culture also identifies a number of
other characteristics of these new forms of belief.
is a romantic form of religion, a religion of the spirit and of the self
which has its roots in the crisis of the subject who is more and more
narcissistic, and rejects all historical and objective elements. This
do-it-yourself religion leads people to create a new image of God at
different stages of their lives, according to the needs they perceive.
is a strongly subjective religion, where the individual is under no
obligation to give an account of his reasons or behavior.
is an adherence to a God who often has no face or personal
characteristics. God is often seen more as a force or superior
transcendent being, but not as a Father. In some circles this leads to a
return of pantheism.
is a religion in which there is a lack of interest for the question of
the truth. For many, truth has a negative connotation, associated with
concepts such as "dogmatism, intolerance, imposition."
The Pontifical Council for Culture went on to propose a number of ways
to tackle the problems outlined.
Dialogue, which is personal, patient, respectful, loving, sustained by
prayer. This dialogue can be based both on fundamental questions of
meaning of death, religious experience, the inner freedom of the human
on major social themes, such as education of the young, poverty, human
rights, religious liberty and bioethics.
Evangelization of culture. This can be done in a multiplicity of ways: a
public witness, such as the World Youth Days; city missions that carry
the Church out into the marketplace; the work of Christian movements and
associations in the public sphere and the mass media; the cooperation of
the Church with organizations of nonbelievers to do things that are good
in themselves; the promotion of public events on cultural themes. In
general, this evangelization needs to ensure the presence of the Church
in the public arena, which will help bridge the gap between the
spiritual realm and daily life.
Help families transmit the faith. This can be started as part of the
assistance offered to couples during their preparation for marriage.
Once the couple marry and have children they need to ensure that their
faith is lived out in concrete ways, such as the proper celebration of
religious feasts, family prayer and visits to churches. Through these
means parents can help build up solid roots of faith in their children.
Improve religious education. This needs to be done both at parish level
and in religious schools.
Giving witness of Christian charity, by means of forgiveness and
Toward the end the document takes note of the need to convince
nonbelievers that they will only find the fullness of their humanity in
Christ, true God and true man. A task that could test the faith of any