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Obstacles to Evangelization: No. 1

We have spoken a lot about evangelization and the fate of the Church here. We have explored Ross Douthat's critique of liberal Protestant churches, investigated Campbell and Putnam's charge that the problem is that Christianity is seen as too politically conservative, and lamented the Pew report that the third largest religious group in the country is ex-Catholics.All of these sociological studies are important and worthy of our consideration. But I want to suggest that Christians interested in evangelization have more fundamental problems in this society. Here is one that I see. I will try to identify a couple of more over the next few days.1. Do people care about the question that Christianity proposes to answer?Do people in the developed world frame the fundmental existential problem in the way that Christianity does? As I understand it, the fundamental question that Christianity tries to answer is that posed by the rich young man in the Gospel: What must I do to obtain eternal life? That, of course, is not the question that Buddhism asks, as Archbishop Joseph DiNoia pointed out in his book. I wonder whether Christian theologians need to think more about how to make this question relevant in our time or place. I think the idea of eternal life was extremely and intuitively and self-evidently attractive in a time when people died young or violently. In our era, however, where many people live longer and the second half of their lives is a long, slow, diminishment, I think that the idea of eternity and eternal life is not as intuitively attractive. It needs a different type of attention from theologians in our era. We tend to think of eternity as a never-ending span of time. But as Augustine helped us see in the Confessions, eternity is far more than that -- it is possessing the fulness of one's being at once. Apart from great tragedies and unusual horrors, Americans see acedia and boredom as a problem, not a fundamental threat to existence. Christians need to put more time and effort into thinking about eternity, I think, so that it isn't pictured as more of the same.What about Aquinas's idea of the beatific vision? I think it strikes many people as an endless church service.What about the idea of a heavenly banquet? Better, but even so, not helpful enough. I think of a long wedding reception at a Hyatt.Unless we can do a better job of connecting Christian life in this world with Christian life in the next, in today's context, I think evangelization is going to be hampered.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Interesting that you see the "question" that way. I always thought the fundamental question was "what would God like me to do with this gift of life?" (another way of saying "what is God's will for me", but the phrasing I use helps me remember that God's given me free will, so God's not going to dictate His will that way. OTOH, in consumerist/achievement-oriented America, the "reward" of eternal life is more like the "grand prize" or an explicit goal that one must pursue, so maybe more people would be reached by making that the focus. I personally find it a not-so-God-oriented mindset. I'll be interested in what others have to say.

What a wonderful question.My own view is that many/most people aren't very reflective, and they need help to see the reality of life: the way we try to marginalize and deny the reality of death, the ennui of the acquisitive/plentiful Western life style, the lack of satisfaction and terrible toll on society from sexual 'freedom', the dead ends of booze and drugs, the paradox of leading an isolated life in the very midst of more people than have ever before inhabited the planet. Christian discipleship provides a tonic to all these things.I think that all of these things are barriers that prevent us from even getting to the point of asking the right questions.

I too would frame Christianity's basic question differently -- "will creation be redeemed?" Perhaps followed up by "and can we live now as if that has already happened?"

Yes, do we as Christians live the question of acedia and boredom, lack of meaning, lack of being, or do we distract ourselves like everybody else? Is Christianity the answer to a human question that we have, or is it for us an evasion of the problem of living?

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love her." --

1. Do people care about the question that Christianity proposes to answer?This is a good question. Paul Tillich said that no one can receive an answer to a question he hasnt asked. Teachers spend a good deal of time trying to evoke in their students the questions needed to understand and to judge what the teachers are saying.I think it also may be that the fundamental existential question that Christianity addresses is that of the rich young man in the Gospel: What must I do to inherit eternal life? But Im not sure that this is a question about eternal life if by this is meant life after death. In its context in Marks Gospel (10:13-31), the young mans question is equivalent to asking about receiving or entering the kingdom of God (10:14-15, 23); and this relates immediately to the fundamental theme of Jesus preaching: The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Gospel. N.T. Wright comments: This was, of course, the question of the kingdom: what must I do to have a share in the age to come, to be among those who are vindicated when YHWH acts decisively and becomes king? (It is not, that is to say, the medieval or modern question: what must I do to go to heaven when I die.) The contrast between this age and the age to come (Mk 10:29-30) is not, then, that between life on earth and life after death." The issue, as in so many of Jesus parables, is what sort of life one must live if indeed the reign or kingdom of God is at hand and one wishes to be at home in it.Still it is a good question whether people in the developed world are asking questions about eternal life, that is, about life after death. Have any surveys or polls been done on this? I have a vague memory that Americans rank higher in belief in an afterlife than people in other nations of the developed world. As for whether the idea of eternal life (=life after death) is attractive to our contemporaries, a certain amount of purging of the imagination is necessary as when Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas speak of eternity in God, not as endless time, but as the complete possession all at once of illimitable life, in which the blessed may participate. This notion may surely be invoked when images such as an endless church service or a long wedding reception at a Hyatt are offered. Augustine already was cautioning people from fearing that they will grow tired of singing Alleluia! for all eternity. But surely we can rescue the idea of a wedding banquet from Hyatt!But the idea of connecting Christian life in this world with Christian life in the next is a good one, and in fact, it returns us to the rich young mans question and to Jesus answer and call, which, in todays context, may not be any more welcome than it was to that young man who, Mark tells us, went away sad. If this instance of evangelization failed, Im not ready to blame Jesus for it.

The sociological data also suggest that a recovery of belief in Hell would be useful:

" I think the idea of eternal life was extremely and intuitively and self-evidently attractive in a time when people died young or violently. "The same happens today when someone has had a near death experience or experienced a crisis. No question the nearness of death prompted more after life concerns than now. But as we all know for most when the crisis passes concern for "wordly" things dominates again. In general we should be careful about stating that the past was more spiritual when there is really no evidence. Religious matters may have predominated more as in the Middle Ages but people lived horribly under feudal lords. Church officials were many times those feudal masters. The third century is called the "Age of Hypocrisy" while the continuation of papal legates and papal coat of arms makes a mockery out of evangelization."Unless we can do a better job of connecting Christian life in this world with Christian life in the next, in todays context, I think evangelization is going to be hampered."No question the entire Christian right is championing riches. Substantial parts of Protestant theology is based on material prosperity as the equivalent of God's approval. The Christian left has not exactly sold all they have to the poor either. In effect both poles seek the material over the spiritual and this may be where the problem lies. The words of Jesus are truly amazing in that it is hardly preached or practiced. All those good things the rich man observed are part of the Christian ideal as consonant with wealth. Christians pursue celebrities the same way others do. Most preachers and theologians state that the words of Jesus to the rich man were advisory rather than mandatory. Thus the regal and royal church over that of the crucified."Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property."

I guess the questions Christianity tries to amswer for me is whether God does exist, whether he's good, if he loves me and everyone else, what it means if he does, and how the answers to these questions can help make the world a better place.

Oops - that should be "are" whether ;)

As I understand it, the fundamental question that Christianity tries to answer is . . .Not necessarily. That might be one of the fundamental questions that are asked by those who already believe. But Christianity is not solely concerned with those pre-existent believers. Rather, it is also concerned with non-believers out in the world. And for them, the fundamental question is different.We are called to go out into that world, a world that history has shown is full of hardship and strife, and proclaim the "Good News."The Good News. That is the answer that Christianity proposes to the world.And what would be "Good News" to a world filled with hardship and strife? What is the news that people would be happy to get, that would allow them to rejoice in the midst of suffering?That is the fundamental question to which Christianity proposes an answer to the world.

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." It is not that Christ offers merely preservation from death, which people may or may not be all that concerned with, e.g. Buddhists, but that He provides the answer to all hardship and suffering. He provides the answer of hope -- authentic hope, by which one is already saved from that hardship and suffering.The answer that Christianity provides to a world where life is hard, and suffering is unavoidable (even though some may vainly try to avoid it with money and wealth and power), is to proclaim glad tidings to the "poor" (which encompasses not only the economic poor, but every type of poverty, especially the poverty of being unloved), to proclaim liberty to those held in captivity and slavery to error and immorality and vice, and to offer recovery of sight to those who are blind to truth, to help those oppressed by this world of hardship go free.The answer that Christianity provides is the plans and material to building your life on rock, so that it might withstand the storms and winds and rains, rather than building one's life on sand, where it is so easily swept away in the storm waters of life.

"Do people in the developed world frame the fundamental existential problem in the way that Christianity does?"Perhaps we need to know how people in the developed world frame that problem now. I imagine there would be a number of answers, most of them revolving around how to make the world a better place for more people, and perhaps also (less worthy???) to be remembered after death for contributions to that end. If the fundamental Christian answer is to help to fufill the will of God, rather than (say) to escape the fires of hell, or make it into heaven, how do we convince people that God's will is worth following? One of the obvious answers (though probably not convincing to a non-believer) is a pragmatic one: that it will help bring into being this better world. My own sense is that all of us, believers and non-believers alike, are living off a kind of cultural and moral capital bequeathed us by earlier, more religious, ages. Much that we tend to secularize now (e.g., the idea of innate human rights) may not fare so well in the future when that religious capital has become further spent down. (Why, for instance, in an increasingly Hobbesian world, should I not kill? or steal from others? or covet my neighbor's wife, ox, and ass? &c. &c. Why should we not do away with the incurably ill, for instance, and thus help to keep down our health care budget? Are there good, purely secular arguments against such a course, once the religious capital is gone?)But that pragmatic answer will not satisfy religious believers (nor should it). It may, however, be a starting point for the non-believer. The introduction of God's will as a factor should suggest a transcendence, a reminder that this better world for which we are all concerned, should not simply be judged against the reigning ideas of our particular times, cultures, ideologies, budgets, and so forth.Christianity in particular has a role to play here, perhaps larger than some other religions. A scholar of Buddhism once suggested to me that a weakness of Buddhism has been a too great concentration on the achievement of Nirvana, and too little attention paid to changing the ways of the world rather than simply one's own individual ways. Of course there are exceptions to that -- the Mahayana conception of the Bodhisattva who voluntarily postpones his own (and historically it usually is "his") entry into Nirvana to stay behind and help his less fortunate bretheren. Still I think that the idea has some truth in it. None of that is very satisfactory, I'm afraid. But Cathleen Kaveny's original question remains an important one.

I appreciate the question and various responses and clarifications.I would only add that in my 15 years of being a hospice chaplain to persons of many "faith" traditions -- often a vague, benevolent one --I did not see as many grapple with the "what's next" as most might think. A great many are quite anthpomorphic in approach. Although often, I believe, it was simply metaphor for enjoying oneself in the manner one was most comfortable here; the imagers of fishing, golf, cards, and meals abouned- usually in the context of a reunion witha beloved figure-- Christ was rarely mentioned. Many times more clarification wasn't necessary or possible, so this falls between that literal expression and a "sense of comfort and fun -- and maybe delight."Yet the essential question posed remains very relevant.

I meant to add that the idea of heaven as a long, boring church service reflects simply a spiritual illitearcy and lack of imagination -- above all because it conceives of eternity as taking place in time, as we construct the notion.

Years of teaching philosophy many years ago impels me to say that any approach to getting people to think about ultimate questions must bear in mind several things:* Many people -- maybe even ALL of us -- despise/hate/abhor having our fundamental assumptions shaken up (even when we're not fond of them), and any attempt at evangelization is likely to shake up a goodly number of people. Many will feel threatened. The process will therefore require a great deal of empathy before the first question is asked.*There are many routes to the transcendent and to the relationship between it and us. The first question to ask will differ with individuals, and this implies, I think, that different Catholics should approach different people depending on common interests and experiences. No single approach will do it. * There are questions of ultimate concern which we share, and some of them might need to be asked even before bringing up specifically theological ones. They include: Is there a God? What must I do/not do to be happy? Is there a relationship between the two? Or, what are people for? Anything particular?Finally, we must discover this: what are *their* fundamental questions? That might in the case of college-educated folks of interest to Commonwealers require us to get to understand Nietzsche. (Ugh!) Yes, he's still *extremely* popular in the US. He's all over the place, if not by name.So where to start? Variety, variety.

Thank you, Ann. If it makes sense to explicate more about Nietzche, I would appreciate it.I see your questions and believe in their utility. It is perhapsp more by association and in no way meant as an equivalent or to dean these to say that it drew me back to "Who made you?", etc.... I guess that primordial core from first grade in the '50's Baltimore Catechism still resides even with lots of theology and some other disciplines.

I think one obstacle to evangelization is the understanding most people have that interfering with other people's beliefs is vile.Most of us are aware of what forced conversions meant for our ancestors. E.g., for the Saxons, it was convert or die. The Wiki article on forced conversion has an interesting quotation from Pope Innocent III: of us Americans, North and South, are aware of what forced conversions meant for the indigenous people of our countries. It's strange, imho, that anyone still considers him/herself on a separate plane from the rest of humankind, in a position to "evangelize" the lesser beings who have not adopted his/her crude metaphors about creation, eternity, etc. Are people still entering missionary orders? Are missionaries still being missioned to foreign missions? (I never ransomed a pagan baby. I wish Commonweal would send some investigative reporters to the countries where all that money went to find former pagan babies and see how they turned out. Did they really get baptized with the names the ransomers chose for them? Did they really get the $5.00?)

". . . the idea of innate human rights) may not fare so well in the future when that religious capital has become further spent down. (Why, for instance, in an increasingly Hobbesian world, should I not kill?"Nicholas C. --Nietzsche was the one who proclaimed that "God is dead", and he explicitly tried to destroy the idea of human rights. His notion that by act of our own will alone we constitute our own reality results in the destruction of the notion of human nature and with it natural law theory. So why shouldn't one kill according to him? Individualism, thy name is Nietzsche.It occurs to me that John Holmes is a fine example of a Nietzschean superman/uber-mensch. Look at the orange hair. It says "I am what I have *chosen* myself to be -- orange-haired!" His military gear expresses a delight in Nietzschean power and aggression. His choosing to kill and maim randomly shows his contempt for "the herd". I'll not be a bit surprised if the police find some of N,'s works in Holmes' apartment. He's the Nietzschean poster boy.Anyone approaching agnostic and atheist college-educated folks had best understand this mind-set very well.

I've tried for some time to think about this matter. First of all, how do I, at my elderly age, need to be evangelized? Here I've found Jean Vanier's "Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John" to be of great help. So too, as Fr. Koimonchak says, is N. T. Wright's "Simply Jesus." And I've just discovered Peter van Breemen's "The God Who Won't Let Go."In thinking about how other people might be evangelized, e.g., my children and grandchildren and friends, I've found a section of "Yves Congar: The Essential Writings" edited by Paul Lakeland, to be instructive. It's a section from Congar's "Faith and Spiritual Life." this particular section is called "The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life." The C ongar piece is no "recipe for success," but it does fill out, in a way, some of the things Ann mentions above.Just yesterday I sent my sons copies of the Copngar piece and added, by way of explanation, that I was doing so because I am often disappointed with the way our faith is presented. I said: "I'm convinced that our faith is relevant and important.Its core message is that God always cares about and loves each person, whoever he or she is, unconditionally, no matter what we do. And he tells us how we ought to respond, namely by caring for one another, especially "the widow, the orphan, and the stranger." All too often, though, this message appears to get reduced to talk about lists of rules or lists of do's and don'ts. All too often these lists turn out not to be genuine answers to many of the vitally important questions that trouble people."

I meant to add to my mesaage the following: Nothing of this is original with me. I've learned it all from the authors I've mentioned above.

P. S. No, I'm most certainly not implying that all Nietzscheans are like John Holmes. But the point about Nietzsche's philosophy is that it does allow you to be *anything you choose to be* (including what Homes chose). To countenance Nietzsche is to countenance Holmes, and the the Nietzscheans need to face that fact.

"Its core message is that God always cares about and loves each person, whoever he or she is, unconditionally, no matter what we do."Bernard --That's a hard if not impossible message to get across when a person finds only disappointment after disappointment, as so very many young people do these day (and many old ones too). It's the problem of evil writ small, and, being a personal problem, it's just as hard to solve as the big metaphysical one. I suspect the answer is to be found not in philosophy or theology but in the experience of grace in individual lives, whether being convinced by the heroic virtue and beauty of the saints' lives or by finding special grace in one's own life when needed. The former requires story-telling, of course, so enter the artists. Theologians alone can't do the whole project of evangelization.

As to the question that Christianity might have an answer for, that seems easy: "What is love?" Everybody cares about that!One obstacle to evangelization might be our unwillingness to listen, to be de-converted. How can we hope to evangelize if we don't meet the other half way? But that would mean letting go of our faith, pushing it away as we listen to the other and try to understand them. It's scary. We would like the other to change, but are we ready to run the risk of being changed ourselves? (That was Ann's first point about having fundamental assumptions shaken up and feeling threatened, I think).Once I told a friend "I feel lost" and he answered: "No you don't, not really. You have no idea of what feeling lost is really like. That's because you're a Christian. You have this basic trust in God's love for you. You can't understand the concept of being lost." Then what? How can we shake that kind of fundamental assumption? (That may have been her point about the need for empathy, I think).

Ann, of course you and Claire are right that we have to manifest love to anyone that we want to reach with the christian message. But we also have to talk with them about what we believe and seek to practice in our own lives. You are right that what we say will not matter unless we can show that we care about them. But that caring includes offering a way of thinking about the problems and hardships they experience. As I admit, there's no guaranteed formula for success. But empathy sans message is too little. By the way, Ann et al, for a good, accessible reflection on the limitations of Nietzsche's approach, see Luc Ferry, "A Short History of Thought."

As a side note to Professor Kaveny's comment about ex-Catholics supposedly being the third largest religious group in the U.S., I would point out that ex-Catholics do not meet with one another to hold religious services or meetings. For this reason, I do not think they should be referred to as a religious group.They just happen to be people who have a former religious affiliation in common.

I thank all the posters for their thoughtful comments. This is a wonderful discussion. When I was younger, I thought people needed information, the "right" information and that would be effective evangelization. Needless to say, years and experience have shown me not to value dogma, ideas and intellectualism, at least as it pertains to evangelization, as a remedy for the "lost." Those of us who have faith in Christ need to be and act as Christians. There have been people in my life who have modeled the Christian way, some now dead, some still on the earth and I am grateful to them. No shouting, no certainty, no chest-thumping teaching. Just their presence and their simple witness - an ego free Christianity.

"Do people care about the question that Christianity proposes to answer?"I think a larger issue is that do people actually Christianity proposing the or an answer? Churchianity seems to predominate with its fixation on code and cult. Creed, if fostered at all, almost seems to be an afterthought.

"The sociological data also suggest that a recovery of belief in Hell would be useful:"In the past that believe had a lot to do with maintaining a negative faith based on fear, rather than a positive faith of hope and desire.What makes anyone think that things would be different this time around?

Its core message is that God always cares about and loves each person, whoever he or she is, unconditionally, no matter what we do.Bernard: this is hard to sell when a church attempting to sell it takes an attitude of "our way or the highway."

I can't think of any vision of eternity better than George Eliot's "choir invisible"--music made by the saints that is "to other souls the cup of strength" until creation is redeemed and time is no more. This is life to come, Which martyred men have made more glorious For us who strive to follow. May I reach That purest heaven, be to other souls The cup of strength in some great agony, Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love, Beget the smiles that have no cruelty Be the sweet presence of a good diffused, And in diffusion ever more intense. So shall I join the choir invisible Whose music is the gladness of the world.I think it's hard selling this to young people, particularly in a world where charity is not viewed as an attitude but an action, usually a to wearing a pink tee-shirt once a year and running 5K to combat some sort of disease.Apologies if this point has already been made, but I also think that even if you're able to sell people on wanting to join the choir invisible, it's hard to persuade them that they can only get in through church. Mass often strikes me as the most spiritually arid place on the planet, but I will readily concede that that fault stems from my own lack of imagination, obedience, and love of humanity.

"Mass often strikes me as the most spiritually arid place on the planet, but I will readily concede that that fault stems from my own lack of imagination, obedience, and love of humanity."Your attitude may be at fault, but have you actually attended a mass at a typical parish - usually suburban - recently?Latish aridity seems to be the rite of choice. I thank God every day that I have access to a rare exception, when and if I choose to avail myself. When I don't, that is my problem, not the parish's.

I wonder if anyone on the blog has any thoughts about looking at eternal life as the Omega point as Ilia Dellio points out in her wrtitings on Christ in Evolution. We are all here to move this world forward in some way toward final evolution into God. Jesus has shown us the way to live in accord with earth, and all things and people on the earth. As Joe points out the kingdom of God is here and we are living in it. True joy and peace can only be found by living Christ's teaching. True that sorrow, death, disasters, are all part of this evoluntionary journey, but science points that the earth and man are sometimes renewed and moved forward by what we call tragedies. The goal would be to learn from past tragedies to make life joyous as we live it here and now. I think that each time tragedies strike, and we learn a little bit, we move all creation toward God's final plan. Evolution can take millions of years. it is a slow minute process. Be patient.

Many stirring edifying thoughts. Grazie. You gotta hand it to Nietzsche. He sure makes you think. I mean he directly challenged Jesus in stating that helping the poor is the worst thing to do. He felt that it is the gospel which keeps us down. But Nietzsche was right about the fact that Christians do not look redeemed. (Although many of the posters on this thread give a solid impression of redemption.) Rome certainly does not look redeemed except for people like John XXIII. The Sistine chapel and soaring cathedrals might be captivating but they have not set the captives free. The point of the miracles of Jesus is that he made people whole. They changed their outlook on life, their attitude. They felt and looked redeemed and shone before others. "I think its hard selling this to young people, particularly in a world where charity is not viewed as an attitude but an action..."

Bernard: Thank you for your post. But shouldn't Christianity's core message include something about Jesus Christ? It's not a general truth, however valid, but the specific message that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

The notion that Christianity proposes the answer to a question about eternal life is neat, but perhaps too neat.Most of the people I've known who have freely come to believe are far more interested in what faith means for them now than what it will mean after they die. They are not necessarily driven by a question as much as they are the possessors of clues and intuitions, hungers, desires, longings, and a capacity to be surprised.And all this is very good, because the truth of God to which Christianity bears witness is glimpsed before it's grasped, it's food for the hungry, it's the place where restless hearts find rest and the poor hear good news, and it's always, always surprising. The Christian story is a parable, not a philosophical discourse. So I am not sure that we get any better at evangelizing by trying to repackage the answer to a question, or to elicit the right sort of questions. I think we need to get better at telling the story -- become truly engaged with it ourselves -- and regain a certain confidence in the parable-like nature of the story, which is easily eclisped when we focus too much on institutions and order.

I wonder whether the contemporary mind isn't a lot more satisfied with not knowing than were pre-industrial minds, drawn strongly to systems offering ultimate answers. We've become comfortable with a world in constant palpable flux, in which there are no certainties that aren't likely to be overturned tomorrow. To convince most Westerners that they should settle on one fixed answer to all final mysteries would likely take a strong dose of mass hypnosis. If God isn't dead, Ann, He's playing possum.It seems to me that there's a belief gene, which some have and some don't. I wonder whether the combined whammy of the industrial and information revolutions didn't pretty much kill off creatures strongly inclined to believe in ultimate knowables.

"As I understand it, the fundamental question that Christianity tries to answer is that posed by the rich young man in the Gospel: What must I do to obtain eternal life?"The rich young man was already a very "religious" person. The real fundamental question is the one that Zacchaeus asked implicitly by climbing on his tree. It is the fundamental, restless expectation for God that lives at the bottom of every human heart. However, this question remains irreparably confused until Jesus steps on the scene and invites himself for dinner. So, I think the problem is not that people do not ask clearly the right questions (which is itself a fruit of grace) but that sometimes Christians fail to witness that Jesus is the answer to our humanity. One distraction, of course, is all the infantile moaning and groaning about the faults of the institutional Church. Another huge distraction is the fiixation of "importing" secular categories like "liberal vs. progressive" into the Church.

"I wonder whether the contemporary mind isnt a lot more satisfied with not knowing than were pre-industrial minds, drawn strongly to systems offering ultimate answers."David S. --Are you sure this isn't mainly you?

David Pasinski ==I would say more about Nietzsche, but I don't really know much beyond the obvious. I've read very little by him. When I was teaching, most of my students, largely poor black ones, had never even heard of him, so I rarely talked about him. That may have been a mistake.vvBut it is a fact that since at least the 80s he is widely-read in the U. S. -- just take a look at the philosophy section at Barnes and Noble. I dare say there is more by and about him than any other philosopher. His influence, direct or indirect, is crystal clear. The "Do your own thing" of the 60s, the "I am Woman, I am invincible" of the 70s (silly song, that), the rejection of God ("God is dead" was original with N.), the anti-dogma, anti-Christianity (except when he was saying things like "The last Christian died on the cross" -- such ambivalence!), his supreme self-confidence that the individual can find or invent truth without the help of authorities, all these are his themes. And if you look at the loss of religion in Europe in the late 19th-early 20th centure you'll find his tremendous influence there before he hit the general population here. The Europeans were just ahead of us.One of the reasons that I think he has been so influential is that he is a very dramatic and clear stylist, which helps make him popular. There's a lesson there for the other philosophers and theologians who these days seem convinced that ordinary people are incapable of thinking serious thoughts or that only books for academe are worth writing. Nietzsche knew better

Oops -- that should have been "since at least the 60s he has been widely read here".P. S. As I remember, he had a huge influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson, that paragon of individualism and anti-organized religion. And Emerson influenced the poet Whitman strongly in important ways. So both early and late, directly and indirectly, Nietzscche has had a powerful influence on our culture.

Many ex-Catholics think of themselves as having moved beyond Christianity. They have tried Catholicism, possibly made a good faith effort, found it to be wanting, and moved on. They think that the question that Christianity proposes to answer is: "What is the meaning of life?", and that the Christian answer is an illusion. They see themselves as enlightened and us as superstitious. They might even have nostalgic memories of things such as midnight Mass at Christmas, but it is the same kind of nostalgia as when one remembers waiting for the tooth fairy. But don't people care about the meaning of life? Not so much if they have decided that it was an unanswerable, fruitless question. Like the questions listed by Ann, it can seem sterile: metaphysical questions are good enough for teenagers with time to waste, but the rest of us have more immediate worries such as earning money to raise our families, trying to keep our jobs, etc.Do people care about love? More so, I think. It never quite loses its relevance to people's daily lives, does it?

Ann: I think the influence is the other way 'round: Emerson's on Nietzsche. There's a recent book on it.

I'd like to share the experience of observing evangelization take place last week at our daughter's voice lesson. The lesson took place in a converted bride's room at the cathedral in Atlanta. When we first walked in, the teacher's face had an expression of care and exhaustion but lit up when she saw Suzanne. As the lesson progressed, she would occasionally leave her place at the piano and come over and place her hands on Suzanne's face to show her how to hold her mouth or neck. She explained that Suzanne's tongue was trying so hard to help the voice come out but was actually hindering it. When Suzanne succeeding in "freeing her voice," she would ask, "Did you feel that?"Every week this woman gives her complete attention and all the skill she has acquired, through considerable effort and patience I am sure, to Suzanne so that Suzanne will be able to do what she likely can no longer do herself. She is teaching our daughter much more than how to sing.Something happens in that room every week. I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm pretty sure it's connected to the psalm "Lord, make your face to shine upon us" and I'm pretty sure it's evangelization.

Fr. Komonchak, you are surely right that the core message has to make strong reference to Jesus. If we Christians have any mission to humankind, it is surely to continue to give witness to who Jesus is and what He taught about God's redemptive work. I ought also to have noted that a crucial part of Jesus's work is showing us how to suffer and die, showing us that death and suffering We all suffer and we all will die. That is a reality that many people, apparently in every age and culture, have a hard time dealing with. I think that part of any good evangelizing is making sure that the "death question" is not concealed, even from young adults. Here is where I think that Vanier's and Wright's works are so relevant.The "scandal" of sickness and death, which bedevils philosophical theodicies, is, I thinkn, the wedge that can open up a path to see the true importance of Jesus. Ferry, whose book I mentioned, makes clear the crucial import of the question of death. He himself says that if he could believe the Christian answer, he would because, if true, it would be the best of conceivable answers. But he says he can't believe. Nonetheless, for those of us who have been given the gift of faith, the "answer" Jesus gives by his life and his words is what we have to offer to others and, of course, try to live out ourselves.

I would think that the fundamental question that Christianity tries to answer would have to be linked to the two key commandments, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That, and the fact of the Incarnation, whatever we take that to mean. And that gets to the quandary - how do we understand and express age-old truths in and to the modern world?To me Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) really does have a wealth of answers to questions such as why is there not nothing, what does it mean to be human, how should we behave, how should we worship, and how do we find happiness. As Fr. K. quotes, the complete possession all at once of illimitable lifethats kind of a big deal. I cant imagine its an endpoint that people wouldnt find attractive. I wouldnt dismiss the beatific vision as an endless church service - contemplative bliss comes closer to it for me, something the modern world with its interest in meditation shouldnt find that strange. Eat, Pray, Love compared to Augustine and Aquinas is pretty thin gruel yet look at how popular it was. The hunger is there. Yet the young, the quizzical, the semi-faithful, the somewhat churched, the unchurched, the agnostic, and the fallen away no longer look to faith for credible insight into how they should live their lives.Why? Because faith has such a hard time passing the crazy test. The whole thing needs to be excavated and rethought, thoroughly and entirely, top to bottomthe common memory, the structures of authority, the whole mess.For the past couple of hundred years, reason has hugely expanded the boundaries of knowledge. What was once unknown (often explained by faith) is now understood. As knowledge builds through time, we can expect that this will continue. Nevertheless, no matter how much knowledge expands, mystery still persists. The line between mystery and knowledge just moves. Much of the conflict between faith and reason is generated by drawing the line between mystery and knowledge in the wrong place. If mystery is overemphasized, we find ourselves expected to accept things on faith that are clearly in the realm of knowledge. We fall into the trap of fundamentalism, which is irrational. If knowledge is overemphasized, we find ourselves dismissing anything not scientifically verifiable. We fall into the trap of scientism, which is irrational. So we need to haul everything out of the tradition, take a look at it, turn it inside out and upside down, and figure out how to restate it in terms that people can understand today.As John OMalley says in What Happened at Vatican II, it comes down to identity: how to maintain it while dealing with the inevitability of change, and then how to make it effective in new but recognizably authentic ways.

"Something happens in that room every week. I dont know exactly what it is, but Im pretty sure its connected to the psalm Lord, make your face to shine upon us and Im pretty sure its evangelization."Very nice, Mary. Made me think of St. Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body but yours,No hands, no feet on earth but yours,Yours are the eyes with which he looksCompassion on this world,Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Bender: I'm struck by your comment that the young rich man's question might be a fundamental question, but only for those who are already believers. That sounds exactly right.Bernard: The end of life of my mother, full of hope and faith, made a big impression on me, and I have recently been thinking that if all else fails, as a last resort I can still try to evangelize my children by having a "good" death when the time comes!Jeanne: I agree with everything you said.

JAK --OOPS!! YOu're right. Emerson influenced Nietzsche, not the other way round. But it's important to realize that the ideas of self-independence, anti-organized religion and Christianity especially, go back into the 19th century and are very strong. Nietzsche confirms what was there plus contributing some other basic '60s ideas.When I was a high school sophomore in 1943 in a high school run by the St. Joseph nuns, we had to read Emerson's "Self-Reliance". (I couldn't stand it!) But that it was required reading shows, I think, why the 60s were ripe for rebellion. (Hey, maybe the CDF is on to something about the American nuns? Anarchists all from way back? :-)

Bernard --I think you're right that "the death question" is a central one. However, I don't think it can be addressed directly, at least not in the American culture which seems to run away from it as fast as it can.Maybe it could be addressed indirectly through kids' acceptance of ecological processes. They might reflect that death is a necessary part of the process of nature, and it's even benign sometimes. On second thought, maybe not. They probably have to have some hope that life-after-death is a happy thing to even start to consider death as benign.(Sometimes I wonder if the drought that has already begun here is God's way of suggesting to the U. S. that it is not intrinsically immortal. Food next year is not going to be quite so cheap.)

Jeanne --I agree with all you say. Especially about fundamentalism. Fundamentalists reject looking for imperfections in their own beliefs, imperfections found largely by logical, philosophical criticism. Their's is the unexamined life par excellence, and there are Catholic fundamentalists (including many in the Vatican). It seems to me that one of the biggest differences between liberal and conservative Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, is that the liberals are willing to criticize their own beliefs where necessary in order to rid theology of some of its contradictions/irrationality, while the fundamentalist conservatives are not. By turning a blind eye to the contradictions, they immediately lose the young who are steeped in Socratic questioning and Nietzchean individualism. (Have any sociological studies been done of whose children -- those of liberals or those of conservatives -- are more likely to leave Christianity?) ISTM that conservatives are more prone to appeal to that catch all notion, "mystery" (a fundamental and apparently contradictory belief such as the Resurrection and the Trinity). Yes of course there are mysteries, but the problems are in the ways we try to comprehend them, not in the mysteries in themselves. It seems to me that the Catholic fundamentalists don't usually see it like that -- they just accept the theology as it stands. They want nothing to change.

Claire --The metaphysical questions can be dry for most people == until they need answers or simply start to wonder about life. If they never need answers, if life goes along pleasantly the way many American lives have done (until it's time to die), then many Americans will never ask the questions or will avoid them like the plague. But will their lives be truly rich for not being inquisitive? I think not. Often those who are inquisitive but end up skeptics end up thinking that the best life has to offer are those "whooshy" experiences recently extolled by a couple of American philosophers (Dreyfus and Kelly). Those experiences can include a cup of coffee with a friend or a Super Bowl game. As Simone de Beauvoir asked, "Is that all there is?"See the dotCWL discussion of the whooshy here

Claire, thanks very much for telling about your mother's death. That's a story with lots of relevance to evangelization.

Ann, I didn't mean to criticize asking metaphysical questions, sorry! I was trying to be descriptive but it was in no way a value judgment. You write: "The metaphysical questions can be dry for most people, until...": that's all I meant to say.

Claire,I was just commenting on how many Americans feel about hard abstract thinking. We tend to avoid it unless it's laid out by master contemporary teachers, like Nietzsche and Sartre. (Yeah, I think of N as a contemporary. He's still being read widely.) True, we don't mind reading about easy philosophical answers, such as an incompetent like Dawkins presents. But thorough investigations of both sides of fundamental, highly abstract issues? We're not likely to do that unless a college teacher forces us to. Too impatient, I fear, and also fearful of what the answers might end up being.And that's where I think the official Church is failing the unchurched. It doesn't regularly seek *their* questions, and it when it sometimes does (e.g., the question of predestination) it doesn't present *all* sides of the issue and then try to persuaded the inquirer of the truth of Christianity/Catholicism.I also think that Rome doesn't understand that evangelization has to deal with two kinds of prejudice -- against Christianity in the widest sense and against Catholicism specifically. And it's the latter that it the much harder job!

Cathleen wrote, "As I understand it, the fundamental question that Christianity tries to answer is that posed by the rich young man in the Gospel: What must I do to obtain eternal life?"There are so many good questions. One of my favorites is, "Who do you say that I am?" Another is, "And who is my neighbor?" Still another is, "Were not our hearts burning within us?" Or how about, "Do you love me?" Or, "Master, to whom shall we go?" Could not all of these questions be posed in such a way that they could be relevant to people today?

And let's not forget, "What's for dinner?"

I am having trouble with the angle taken in this thread: There is a basic question that Christianity proposes to answer. If people don't care about that question, it's an obstacle.It seems to me that Christianity is not fundamentally about answering questions. It does propose answers to some questions, but that is probably not the way in which people convert, by asking questions and finding that Christianity has an answer. Christianity may be more about filling a need (a spiritual hunger). The need may be expressed by a question, but the question itself is less important than the need that caused it. Evangelization would address the need rather than the question.Maybe the young rich man really meant: "I seem to have done everything right, by the books, and yet there is still something missing. What is it?"

And I see now that my last comment is a mere echo of Rita's comment.

Claire, No doubt that describes some people, but not all. Consider also the former believers, those who for some reason (often the problem of evil) find what they have been taught to be contradictory, and reject it. Evangelizing them will require what? Surely not an answer to "How can God cause suffering in innocents?" There is no good answer to that.I also wonder about making conversion a matter of simply fulfilling needs that are called "religious". There are all sorts of needs. How can we even be sure that a so-called religious need is indeed directed towards God? I'm thinking of some so-called "mystics" who are not what most would consider religious people -- they're too conceited and selfish. Not to mention the garden variety of "religious" or "faithful" person who delights in pronouncing other people to be damned for no good reason. (OK, so now I'm getting into some purely relative, even subjective sorts of judgments myself.)

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