My family and I lived through the 1979 communist revolution that violently overthrew the previous regime in my home country. It was estimated that the toll was over 50,000 people dead. And yet, I was optimistic. I believed that a new dawn was shining for my home country. In just a few months, those dreams would be shattered.
Communism is an example of a meta-narrative that gives meaning to people’s lives and that helps them cope with austerity, trials, difficulties since it provides a sense of purpose. For decades, many young people gave their lives and their comforts to join a group of dreamers who fought for a better world. It demanded the best from them and many of them gave it all.
Douglas Hyde, a catholic convert from communism would highlight how many ex-communists would recall with nostalgia their younger days when they believed the utopia and would enthusiastically give their all for it.
The 20th century saw the collapse of many of these utopias or meta-narratives that gave meaning to so much effort. Some of them, like Nazism and Communism cost the lives of many millions who would be exterminated at the price of an ideal. As a consequence, now we run the risk of giving up having any ideals. So what do we believe in today? Many just believe in the here and now and making the most of it. For the vast majority that means maximizing the share of pleasures that could be squeezed out of their situation. In destroying past meta-narratives they end up creating a new one: the meta-narrative that the world is chaotic and random and that through a process of survival of the fittest, this complex world came to be. Hence, since there is no purpose beyond this world, we are to maximize what we can get from this world for ourselves.
This atheistic meta-narrative is a philosophical premise that inform the lives of many. They believe that it is scientific and yet, many do not realize how far from science this premise is. This would be tantamount to saying that we have scientifically proven that a specific action is ethical. (If we consider that the ethics of an action is measured by the physical amount of good produced, maybe this could be achieved. However, many people would reject this utilitarian approach to ethics). And so, atheists cannot deny the existence of the spiritual realm because it is beyond science, which deals with quantifiable realities. They can only believe that there is no spiritual realm.
Any way we put it, people cannot live without some faith of sorts. Christian faith has to do with a system of belief that supports the entire spectrum of our lives. In Isaiah, the Lord sends a message to King Ahaz: unless you place your support in me, you will have no support at all. This is what God asks of us. Trusting in him requires that we see the world the way that he sees it. If we see the world from God’s point of view, we will understand many things. Then, we will be able to bear trials, tribulations, injustices and in the midst of it all, we will be able to cheerfully respond to evil with good. This is what faith does. More than just a belief in a doctrine, it is believing in a person and it entails a relationship with that person, God.
Christian faith will stir us to fight for justice, to have noble ideals. It invites us to appreciate the good in every human person and to see in each an individual called to be a son or daughter of God. Our faith is demanding, not easy to be lived out and many times we will fall short. Given the high demands that it places on us, some believers may come to waiver and falter. There is room for doubt and even for rejection.
Atheists and agnostics will call us out on the arbitrary nature of our faith. We will admit that even though we hold our faith to be reasonable, nobody can believe in God unless he wants to. On the other hand, we will counter argue that the same can be said of in their case. Their denial of the spiritual realm is even more arbitrary. They will then propose meta-narratives that fills the void of a perceived meaningless and chaotic world. Many times atheists will claim their meta-narratives as scientific. And yet, these escapes any possibility of rigorous scientific proof. Hence, here too there is room for the atheist and the agnostic to doubt their stance; there is room for conversion.
Ultimately Christian faith is belief that God is a communion of love among three divine persons and that he has created us to participate in that communion. We have been given existence for one purpose, to choose love and to grow in love in such a way that we may be adopted as children of God. Everything else is context.
Questions for pondering:
1. Does my faith help me to understand the world in which I live?
2. Does my faith lead me to believe in someone or is it just a mere series of precepts and doctrines? Do I have a close relationship with Christ?
3. Has my faith wavered at any moment in my life? How have these crisis been resolved? Did I come out stronger in my faith?
Fr Lino Otero, LC: Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me