Thursday, March 29, 2007

Vehige: A Rumor of Angels and Evangelization

I have some things to say about Woodward's previous posts (here and here) but now I want to talk about something Berger brings up in Chapter One of the Rumor of Angels.

For Berger, the line in the sand is clear and unambiguous. On the one side, you have the secular mindset, and on the other, the religious mindset. The secular mindset does not believe in the supernatural (used in the broadest possible sense) and the religious mindset does. For now, let's not make any distinction between religions.

Berger believes that the secular mindset is in the majority. Whether or not this was the case when Rumor of Angels was written (1970) or is the case now -- well, that's a question for another time. But what is true is that the religious mindset is almost constantly besieged by the secular mindset through the mass media, in all of its forms.

Because this is so, the religious mindset is in the minority. This is essential to understand Berger's point.

And what is that point?

Simple: If the religious mindset is in the minority, it can relate to the secular mindset in only one of three ways.

(1) It can adopt a ghetto mentality. This means that the religious man bunkers down and does his best to completely ignore the modern world. He steeps himself in tradition, and only in tradition, and writes off all modern views as both damnable and damning.

(2) It can adopt a liberal mentality. Not political liberalism, but theological liberalism. The kind of liberalism that says that the resurrection of Christ is an experience of spiritual liberation felt by Christ's disciples. The kind of liberalism that tells us Jesus was a great religious thinker, but certainly not God made man. The kind of liberalism that tells us the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is really a miracle of Woodstock -- that Jesus got everyone the bread and fish they were hiding in their cloaks (perhaps under their armpits). It's the kind of liberalism that affirms the divinity of the human spirit, the divinity of the world, but doubts that there is a Divine One who is Wholly Other from His creation.

(3) Or it can take the attitude of open-dialogue with the secular mind.

It's quite easy to adopt the ghetto mentality, the we vs. us mentality. There is much in the New Testament to suggest this kind of black-white, us-they dualism within the human family. Further, its quite comforting. We are going to heaven. They are going to hell. What can be more emotionally satisfying than the salvation of your own soul and the damnation of your enemy's?

Now, as a home schooler, I see a certain logic to the ghetto mentality. There's a false notion today that children should be exposed to the marketplace of ideas. That's nonsense. Children lack the intellectual maturity to think theologically and philosophically, and therefore they have not the means of thinking through the difference between Christianity and Hinduism.

But the ghetto mentality won't do for adult Christians. The ghetto lacks the power to evangelize the world. If we cannot take the claims of the secular mindset seriously, why should we expect them to take our claims seriously? In the marketplace of ideas, the only currency that's valid is intellectual respect and honesty.

The great risk is that the Christian will soon face the ultimate question: "How do I know Christianity is right?" And that's a question the ghetto mentality refuses to ask.

If the thesis is the ghetto theology, the antithesis is liberal theology. Liberal theology simply says that Christianity isn't correct. That it's wrong. The Jesus of history was a great moral teacher, but the Christ of faith is a fiction. It strips Christianity of everything Christian. And therein lies the problem. Once you strip Christianity of everything Christian, you are left with nothing distinctive and original. If Christ isn't God, if Christ didn't perform miracles, if Christ didn't rise from the dead, if Christ didn't offer us salvation through his blood, then what are we left with?

Ethical teaching without metaphysical grounding. Or, simply, if Jesus isn't God then how could he teach with authority?

The synthesis between these two extremes is that of aggiornamento, i.e., an open consideration of the secular, modern mindset. This attitude rejects the isolationism of the ghetto; it realizes that Christianity, if it is to be effect, cannot exist in a hermetically sealed community. The modern world is asking questions. If Christianity is the truth, then it should be able to answer those questions. If it cannot . . . then do we not have a bigger problem at our door?

But the ghetto mentality has a legitimate concern, namely, that aggiornamento can lead to liberalism. What, exactly, is meant by an open consideration of the secular, modern mindset? Of what do these considerations consist? Is there a line between consideration and concession? Where is that line? If the Christian engaged in this open discussion with the modern world is not careful, they will soon loose everything distinctively Christian. They will be left with nothing.

So what is a modern Christian, who is interested in evangelization, to do? The best answer I can give is this: Study your faith. Do not study apologetics, because that won't help you much. Why? Because your study is based on your interlocutor's questions, not on the whole of Catholic theology. If you want to evangelize, then you need to know what the Church teaches, not how to win a debate.

Read the New Testament. Read the Church Fathers. Read St. Thomas. Read the writings of the Popes. Read the writings of contemporary Catholic thinkers like Henri de Lubac, Josef Pieper, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Joseph Ratzinger, Romano Guardini.

Then when you come into contact with a non-Catholic view, regardless of whichever perspective it takes (secular, anti-Catholic, Protestant), you will be able to both defend the Church as well as evangelize the person. Why? Because this kind of in-depth study teaches you that when it comes to truth, one cannot debate, one can only talk.

I've been in many conversations with people who want to debate, and they usually regret it ten minutes into it. Not because I'm an intellectual bully, but because I'm interested in a conversation -- I'm interested in knowing what they believe.

(There's also the fact that I'm completely unflappable when I'm talking about theology, but that's because I don't care about winning an argument. In fact, I'll often help someone formulate objections against the Church. This really upsets them, of course. Once, when talking about the authority of the priesthood, I actually offended a Protestant by bringing up the priest sex abuse scandals. Strange, huh?)

If you're trying to figure out the point of this post, well, I'm not sure I have one. It's more of a ramble, but, then, that's the beauty of blogs.

But I'll leave you with this.

There's only one way to evangelize the world, and that's through knowing your faith.

And there's only one way to know your faith, and that's through real study. Popular teachers like Frank Sheed, Scott Hahn, and Peter Kreeft are good in the beginning, but there comes a point when you must sit at the feet of your intellectual superiors if you're going to really learn anything worthwhile.