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'Homo Indifferens' Is Still a 'Homo Religious'

Cardinal Poupard's Take on Secularization in the West

MINSK, Belarus, DEC. 19, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is an excerpt of an address Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, gave during a conference Dec. 10 at the Saints Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute.

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Christianity and the Challenges of Secularism, Unbelief and Religious Indifference

Cardinal Paul Poupard,
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

Your Eminence Metropolitan Filaret,
Reverend Fathers
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,


The Changing Face of Unbelief

Earlier this year I led the members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for Culture on a reflection intended to give a new impetus to the response to the challenges of unbelief and religious indifference. We began by making an updated map and analysis of unbelief in the world.

As regards the analysis of the state of unbelief in the world today, let me share with you the following conclusions:

1. Globally, unbelief is not increasing in the world. It is a phenomenon seen primarily in the Western world. The cultural model it inspires spreads through globalization, and exerts an influence on the different cultures of the world, and erodes popular religiosity from them.

2. Militant atheism recedes and no longer has a determining influence on public life, except in those regimes where an atheistic political system is still in power. Contrarily, a certain cultural hostility is being spread against religions.

3. Atheism and unbelief have changed their profile. Today the phenomena seem to be connected more to lifestyle.

4. Religious indifference or practical atheism is growing rapidly. A large part of secularized societies lives with no reference to religious authority or values. For "homo indifferens," "Perhaps God does not exist, it doesn't matter, anyway we don't miss him." Well-being and the culture of secularization provoke in consciences an eclipse of need and desire for all that is not immediate. They reduce aspiration toward the transcendent to a simple subjective need for spirituality, and happiness to material well-being and the gratification of sexual impulses.

5. A dwindling number of regular church-goers can be seen in those societies marked by secularization. But this undeniably worrying fact does not, however, mean that unbelief is on the increase. Rather, it points to a degraded form of believing: believing without belonging. It is a phenomenon of "deconfessionalization" of "homo religiosus," who, refusing to belong to any binding confession, jumps into and out of an endless confusion of heterogeneous movements. This often silent exodus often heads for the sects and new religious movements.

6. In the West, where science and modern technology have neither suppressed religious meaning nor satisfied it, a new quest that is more spiritual than religious is developing, but it is not a return to traditional religious practices. Often, this spiritual awakening develops in an autonomous fashion and without any links to the contents of faith and morals handed on by the Church.

7. Finally, at the dawn of the new millennium, a disaffection is occurring both in terms of militant atheism and in terms of traditional faith. It is a disaffection in secularized Western cultures prey to the refusal or simple abandonment of traditional beliefs, and affects both religious practice and adherence to the doctrinal and moral contents of the faith.

The man whom we call "homo indifferens" never ceases to be a "homo religious"; he is just seeking a new and ever-changing religiosity. The analysis of this phenomenon reveals a kaleidoscopic situation where anything and its opposite can occur: on the one hand, those who believe without belonging, and on the other, those who belong without believing in the entire content of the faith and who, above all, do not feel obliged to respect the ethical dimension of the faith. In truth, only God knows what is at the bottom of our hearts, where His Grace works secretly.

I can give you a similar description by reading a report from one of the groups of bishops who once every five years come to Rome to pray at the tombs of the apostles Saints Peter and Paul. The report recounts the familiar story:

"In many parts of the Western world, the numbers attending Church are decreasing while the numbers of those who live as though God did not exist and of those who are categorized as 'believing without belonging' continue to rise. Paradoxically, 'faith' in atheism is also flailing with levels down to just 1 or 2%. The old interlocutors of the dialogue with nonbelievers, the famous theorists of atheism, such as Nietzsche and Marx, are somewhat ...

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