People turn away from the Gospel because they are bored with what they think Christianity is.
Catholic Way -
Last time I spoke about a tendency, which I think is widespread today, to look upon any form of Christianity as a familiar and boring story. People turn to the legends and stories of Hinduismto practices such as Yoga or Zen meditationin part because they are bored with what they think Christianity is. Now can anything be done about this? In answering this question I will draw mostly upon my own experience, because I think it is, at least in part, relevant here.
I think that if the only form of Christianity I had ever known was that which our society half-heartedly offers, I too might well have rejected it.
The family I was raised in, though not adhering to orthodox Protestantism, was nonetheless culturally Protestant. Our church attendance included at different times, the Unitarian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. When I first encountered Catholicism, I was struck by the things in it most unlike the often vapid or stuffy Protestantism of my youth, by the vibrant colors of New Mexican religious art, by the masses of people of all social and ethnic types, by all that seemed different from what I was used to. And I found these same exciting differences in the Catholic authors I was readingin Knox, Chesterton, Belloc and others. I saw the Catholic Church and the culture it produced as other, different from the culturally boring Protestant Christianity that was vaguely present in the culture around me and in the atmosphere of my family. I think that if the only form of Christianity I had ever known was that which our society half-heartedly offers, I too might well have rejected it. But, thanks to the mercy of God, I found in the Catholic Church not just the true Faith, but the beautiful, the compelling, the fascinating Faith. I did not lump Catholicism in with the half-dead Christianity that is today almost all that is left of our cultural heritage, because Catholicism seemed to me to represent the other, just as for some people Hinduism or Buddhism does.
But,of course, the question is, "can the same thing happen to others?" Can they be brought to see in the Catholic Church anything but the same stale sort of Christianity that they instinctively reject? If over familiarity is one of the causes of their imaginative disgust with Christianity, can people be brought to see Catholicism as somethng different? Here in the United States the unbelieving population is chiefly made up of two groups, ex-Protestants and ex-Catholics.
Most people do not suspect that there is any form of Christianity which is not Calvinist, any form which does not regard human nature as evil and radically corrupted.
Many of those in the first group were never theological Protestants, but they were nevertheless cultural Protestants. That is, their moral, aesthetic and social upbringing was within the Protestant milieu, even if considerably watered-down. Thus the only kind of Christianity that they know is either a vapid Protestantism with nothing to attract them or a fundamentalism which affronts their intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities. Most of them have never suspected that there is a form of Christianity that is so different from what they knew in their youths: a form of Christianity that is incarnational, that does not despise matter or the body but that uses both in the worship of God, that fosters intellectual inquiry and the arts, that offers the fascination that some look for in Hinduism or Buddhism.
Most people do not suspect that there is any form of Christianity which is not Calvinist, any form which does not regard human nature as evil and radically corrupted. So if we can present the Catholic faith in its fullness, both doctrinal and liturgical, then there is a chance that some will respond. Certainly not everyone will be susceptible to this kind of appeal, but I think that many will.
Curiously, in order to attract the other kind, the ex-Catholics, the same remedy is in order. For though they grew up as Catholics, very often they never knew the real fullness of the Faith. Whether they reacted against meaningless Modernist catechesis or liturgies that resemble talk shows or the moral Jansenism that still exists among us, most ex-Catholics did not know what they were leaving. Therefore there is hope that if they are offered the beautiful fullness of the Faith, they may return to the Faith they never really knew.
Most people have never sat down and argued out why they do or do not believe in God, go to church or practice a particular religion. So they either reject all religion or turn to some type they find interesting or supportive based on non-intellectual reasons. But if what I have written here is correct, then a big part of the reason for the widespread rejection of Christianity lies in the imaginative background of each person's thoughts.
We cannot very well get at this imaginative background by rational argument or apologetics. But by presenting and trying to live the Faith in its fullness, then we have at least some chance of drawing them back again to the Gospel, to the story, not only fresh and fascinating, but true, of God's love for man and his making his dwelling among us.
© 2000 Thomas Storck