The Secular Vs. Religion?
became quite irritated about what he described as "the attitude of those militant atheists who hold believers in contempt":
"For them, what matters is what can be proved to be true. That's it. But in the real world, outside the walls of their intellectual ivory towers, that's not it… Humanity is too complex for that…
Yes, we loathe and fear the fanaticism that leads to a man strapping a bomb to his body and blowing up other human beings. But we should also fear a world in which the predominant values are materialism and consumerism, and the greatest aspiration of too many children is to become a "celebrity".
That is the heart of the matter. The conflict is not between religion and the secular but between the searchers for deeper meaning and those who believe that human life has no meaning beyond what can be measured, analysed and scientifically proved. It is a conflict ultimately between faith and the ideology of secularism.
"While it rejects every relationship between God and the world, between God and humanity, secularism absolutises earthly reality, especially the human being him/herself".
The secular reality is the world in which we live, the world which God loved so much. Secularism is the ideology which believes that there is no answer to the fundamental questions about the meaning and destiny of human life.
The Fullness of its Meaning
Contemporary Ireland is not noted for abstract discussion about the meaning of life, except perhaps, towards the end of the evening in the pub. But these questions are not simply abstract; they are about who we are.
As we track the tiger we see that a process that had begun even before the tiger was a cub, has accelerated as he grew in strength. It was a process in which we developed in many ways as a country. But underneath that undoubted progress we could hear the disturbing question which gave the title to the first Céifin Conference: ' Are we forgetting something?'
Our affluent society has certainly forgotten something. We know – often only in theory I'm afraid – how, a few hundred yards from comfortable affluence, decent people live surrounded by burnt out houses, burnt out cars, intimidation, poverty, unemployment, violence and drugs: conditions which the rest of us would find intolerable. Yet their plight remains largely invisible.
There are many kinds of forgetfulness in our society – ways in which people feel excluded, lonely and neglected, in which the provision for health care and education remains inadequate. In being forgetful in these ways, we diminish ourselves and the way we relate to one another.
By failing to answer the question 'who are we?', we reduce ourselves to the level of superficial and limited questions. If we do not ask those questions we no longer see ourselves and one another as we truly are, but simply in various roles – a citizen, or an employee, or an example of a social problem – with no 'bigger picture'. But there is more to us than that.
Flannery O'Connor once pointed out that, in a world which has lost the sense of the divine power 'that could produce the Incarnation and the Resurrection', people become "so busy… reducing everything to human proportions that in time they lose even the sense of the human itself, what they were aiming to reduce everything to."
The address of Pope Benedict at the University of Regensburg, which generated a great deal of controversy last year, raised very significant questions for the future of civilisation. One of its main themes was how the role of human reason has become reduced. The advance of science has brought extraordinary benefits, but it has tempted us to think that only what can be scientifically proven can be regarded as true. That in turn has led us to view ourselves through this restricted and reductive lens. He describes the situation that has resulted:
"First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion.
… It is the human being himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective".
When that happens, 'the big questions' get lost – the questions to which faith speaks, to which Christian faith offers a response which "marvellously fulfils all the heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them". Pope John Paul brings the issue more clearly into focus; the secular dimension is "not simply an external and environmental framework, but… a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the ...
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