After perusing the latest Pew Study on why young people are leaving the active practice of Christianity, I confess that I just sighed in exasperation. I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of those who responded to the survey, but the reasons they offer for abandoning Christianity are just so uncompelling. That is to say, any theologian, apologist or evangelist worth his salt should be able easily to answer them. And this led me (hence the sigh) to the conclusion that “we have met the enemy and it is us.”
For the past 50 years or so, Christian thinkers have largely abandoned the art of apologetics and have failed (here I offer a J’accuse to many in the Catholic universities) to resource the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition in order to hold off critics of the faith. I don’t blame the avatars of secularism for actively attempting to debunk Christianity; that’s their job, after all. But I do blame teachers, catechists, evangelists and academics within the Christian churches for not doing enough to keep our young people engaged. These studies consistently demonstrate that unless we believers seriously pick up our game intellectually, we’re going to keep losing our kids.
Let me look just briefly at some of the chief reasons offered for walking away from Christianity. Many evidently felt that modern science somehow undermines the claims of the faith. One respondent said, “rational thought makes religion go out the window”, and another complained of the “lack of any sort of scientific evidence of a Creator”.
Well, I’m sure it would come as an enormous surprise to St Paul, St Augustine, St John Chrysostom, St Jerome, St Thomas Aquinas, St Robert Bellarmine, Blessed John Henry Newman, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis and Joseph Ratzinger – all among the most brilliant people Western culture has produced – that religion and reason are somehow incompatible.
And to focus more precisely on the issue of “scientific evidence”, the sciences, ordered by their nature and method to an analysis of empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs within the universe, cannot even in principle address questions regarding God, who is not a being in the world, but rather the reason why the finite realm exists at all. There simply cannot be “scientific” evidence or argument that tells one way or the other in regard to God.
Mind you, this is by no means to imply that there are no rational warrants for belief in God. Philosophers over the centuries, in fact, have articulated dozens of such demonstrations, which have, especially when considered together, enormous probative force. I have found in my own evangelical work that the argument from contingency gets quite a bit of traction with those who are wrestling with the issue of God’s existence. What these arguments have lacked, sad to say, are convinced and articulate defenders within the academy and in the ranks of teachers, catechists and apologists.
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