In commenting on a First Things article, which in part talks about the intellectual listlessness of contemporary fashionable unbelief, Mark Shea gets to the heart of the need to strategize our evangelization efforts.
Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there. In their place, there is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness.
Mark Shea comments:
True enough. And Christians likewise have reached similar impasses in the past. You could tell those impasses had been reached because the dialog between the Church and the culture reached the point where the culture was crucifying, burning, shooting, and hanging Christians. The solution of the Church to such impasses (offered by Jesus) was “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:6) Jesus’ counsel to the Church is not to beat your head against a wall, but “wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” (Lk 9:5–6)
He goes on to discuss how we frame the presentation of our faith – and on whose terms:
“But our intellectual elites have a lot of influence!” Yep. Which means we don’t stop talking to them and about their ideas (some of which are good and some terrible), but we also don’t make conversion of their cold, dull, and uninterested hearts the criterion by which our evangelistic efforts stand or fall. Instead, we recognize that they offer a counter-gospel–and a dull and boring one it is: a gospel so boring even they aren’t interested in it. Then we present the joy and glory that Christ offers to the people in our culture who will listen. There are still lots of them, as the thousands of people who just entered the Church at Easter attest.
Personally I find this all very interesting. At its core, the question of evangelization becomes a debate about how we frame our Catholic faith. Do we discuss it in terms that others (whether it is the average joe secular or our own elite as this article comments on) can understand, or do we focus on educating ourselves?
Cardinal Ratzinger did say in 1969 that “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.” So do we build an army of evangelizers that is small and mighty, as then Cardinal Ratzinger predicted would bear out, or do we build a larger army that may have some weaknesses?
I think this is probably ultimately a false dichotomy. We can do both. But it is also true that our own Catholics must understand the faith before they can evangelize the world. The question is then do we talk to the world about our faith through the mouthpiece of the cultural elites on television, or instead through Joe Catholic at the office.
By Ryan Bilodeau