Continued from last week…
The Catholic approach to evangelism, Mother Teresa’s approach, was simply to live among and humbly serve the poor of any nation. She said nothing about the Gospel, until she was asked why she was doing this. She would simply respond that she wanted to be like Christ. As often as not the person she was serving would say, “I want to know this Christ.”
True evangelism is different from the quasi-governmental coercion that Mr. Hitchens so hates. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach Christ always. If necessary, use words.” St. Peter says as much in his first epistle. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
The true evangelist lives the Christian life long before he opens his mouth. He opens his mouth to speak Christ only when asked. This is how the faith spread in the first three centuries, and it is how the faith has ever really spread. Perhaps religion can be spread by the sowing and shouting, but faith cannot be.
Mr. Hitchens tried very hard to spread his religion by argument, but I would not want his religion for anything. He seemed so sad, and his last years seemed consumed by his amused hatred for people like me. Booze and cigarettes and sadness, I suspect, ultimately killed him at age 62.
He posed a question that I think I can answer. “What can a believer do that a non-believer cannot?” I would answer that a believer can make a claim that a non-believer cannot. That’s all – just make a claim. I can claim that I am seeking another person’s highest good, which is how St. Thomas Aquinas defined love.
An atheist cannot claim that. Even if the believer is wrong and there is no God, even in his delusion he can make a claim that an atheist cannot. Logically, reasonably, a non-believer cannot claim to know the highest good because he does not admit to the existence of a highest good. If, for the atheist, the highest good is survival, then it must be my survival or at best our survival, which might necessitate the death of another, or others. I learned this from my friend Rabbi Lefkovitz. He said that Jesus’ saying, “Do unto others what you would have them do to you,” is a terrible thing. How do I know what you want? Perhaps what you like best is repugnant to me.
So, an atheist shouldn’t do unto others. Your highest good might decide that my very existence was not congruent with your highest good as did the above mentioned heroes of Nazism and Marxist atheist theory. You may want to die for the cause but please leave me out of it. It is true that tyrants have used the teachings of Jesus as an excuse for the violent aggregation of power. However, they have acted contrary to His will. In slaughtering the millions, the Revolutionists of the 20th century acted in perfect harmony with the teaching of their founders. I assert that the misery of the modern era and every era can be placed right at the feet of man unrestrained by the ethical teaching of the Judeo/Christian moral code. One may dress tyranny up in the trappings of Christianity, but he is not a Christian.
We deluded Catholics agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that to love is to seek the highest good of another. There is the one ethical behavior that a logically consistent atheist cannot do. He cannot love. If love is to seek the highest good, then godless love is not a real possibility. I can enjoy, take pleasure in, desire another. I can strive for our shared well being. I can strive to please another or to make them happy.
The Christian believes that the highest good of another may not always be pleasing to that other, just as a vaccination may displease a squirming five-year-old. The ancients admitted many different types of love among which was Eros, the love that desires to possess the beloved, and philia, the love that finds comfort mutuality and pleasure in another. Much rarer was the word Agape, the love that hopes for no return on its investment in the other. Eros and philia come easily to the atheist, but Agape may not even be a possibility for the atheist untainted by the Judeo Christian ethic.
I may be wrong, but there may be another thing of which the true atheist is incapable: awe. Hitchens mentions some line about, “the stars not giving a damn about whether or not I go to hell.” For the materialist/atheist everything can and will be explained. The universe is just a collection of random rocks, some of which may have the ability to will things. Contrast this with what blogger Fr. Longenecker posted on July 8, 2015:
I like evangelists, faith healers, weeping Madonnas and the Shroud of Turin… Such things irritate all those who worship at the altar of good taste. They annoy the heck out of the rationalists who insist there must be a material explanation for everything…..Apart from anything else, believing that weird things happen makes life so much more fun. How entertaining to think that things are unpredictable, that there are gaps in the curtain between the worlds where angels can get in. What a thrill to believe that the universe is open-ended and that anything can happen. The gospel says, "With God all things are possible." You could read this as meaning, "With God anything can happen." He’s the God of Surprises, the eternal Wild Card. On the other hand, how dull to believe that everything is cut and dried. What a waste to never worship. How prosaic never to pray. How boring to live in a closed universe. You might as well be living in a coffin. On the other hand, what an adventure it is to believe that miracles happen—that with God all things are possible, that it's possible to walk on water, calm the storms, feed five thousand people with a tiny lunch and rise again on the third day.
Wishing does not make it so, perhaps I am wrong. There are lots of reasons I think I’m right, but Mr. Hitchens seems to be doing a lot of wishing himself, such as wishing that all religions and all religious people are the same, that there is only one kind of evangelism, that Atheism is a kind of religion, except of course for his atheism, and on and on and more.
Perhaps his most basic assumption is that I think he is going to hell if he doesn’t join my church. I don’t think he is going to hell. I think he was in a hell of his own making when he did that interview. Where he is or if he is now I don’t know. All I know is that when Christ found me, I found a way out of my own hell. I hope Mr. Hitchens found a way out too.