I am constantly coming across texts that tell us that belief in God (adherence to a religion?) is decreasing in France and other European countries. Americans refer to such people as nones, those who would tick the box in a form saying none (belonging to no religious tradition). At the same time, we live in a time when apocalypticism is back in vogue. I read an opinion (scientific?) that Covid would mutate into ever more deadly strains until we all die from it. The “climate emergency” would give us less than fifty years before the earth becomes totally hostile to human habitation – unless we stop eating beef and driving cars. I express a common caricature of the ecologist narrative à la Extinction Rebellion.
According to a recent survey (I never trust them completely, since I have never been surveyed) only 49% declared themselves to be believers compared with 66% in 1947. According to a priest I know in the Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre, one of the most spiritually barren parts of France, only 1% of nominal Catholics attend Mass. Would this be regular Sunday attendance or main feasts like Christmas and Easter together with baptisms, weddings and funerals? Are the 51% all hard-core materialistic atheists or “spiritual but not religious”?
If anything, the Covid pandemic and the chain of lockdowns have not improved the situation. 91% of those polled believe that the global pandemic has not brought them closer to religious practice. My own experience with most people I meet is that they are not atheists Richard Dawkins fashion according to the exalted science of the nineteenth century. Most believe in the existence of some kind of universal consciousness and life after death. What they do with such an idea differs from person to person. What is the prevailing idea about the meaning of life when it is not social status and money?
The institutional Church is used to blaming ordinary people for their pleasures and the things money can buy. Take them back fifty years and they will learn! Not so. Churches have been most inadequate in the quest for bringing man a credible and spiritual message. This is not only the “modernist” time since the 1960’s and 70’s, but right the way back to our reaction against the notion of religion being a simple and mechanical system of rewards and punishments. We witness in all Churches the growth of a kind of neo-clericalism or bureaucracy that excludes the little people and the poor. Gentrification seems to be the word. We live in an era of nihilism and deconstructionism, as happened in eighteenth-century France and nineteenth-century Russia.
Socrates once said that “wisdom begins in wonder”, what the Old Testament calls the fear of the Lord. Conversely, madness begins in denial and the narcissistic sense of self-entitlement. A large segment of society adhering to the Woke ideology wishes to deny and cancel everything. God is not found in barrages of words or marketing, but by truth, beauty and goodness, the famous transcendentals of Plato.
I was deeply impressed with this interview with Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace.
We are now on the subject of what people believe in when they cease to believe in God and Christ. As G.K. Chesterton once said “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything“. Whether what this guy says stands up to objective scientific evidence, I have no way of telling. All I can say is that I open my door and look and feel the weather and temperature – and find no difference with what I experienced of this world in my childhood. There are terrifying weather events which can happen anywhere, and the pollution of this earth mainly by industry is horrific. In reality, the apocalypse to which we need to be attentive is our own death, and many of these shrieking sayings only show our fear of death and desire to project it on the whole of humanity and nature. I think that Patrick Moore has many sensible things to say, though some may not stand up to informed criticism. I have no way of knowing.
As always, and I say more or less the same things.
– Declare our independence from peer pressure and social status,
– Appreciate the time we spend alone to face truths,
– Love nature and be a part of it, not its lord and master,
– Become aware of those moments of wonder faced with natural or human beauty,
– Come to terms with our true selves and our relationship with the Transcendental,
– Teach by example, not by word.
I could add many others like “out-of-the-box” thinking and being as eccentric as we may be. That is the door by which Christ may enter our souls and bring us to that Heaven which is already within us.