Religion has suffered a series of devastating blows over the past half century that has sent it into a full retreat from the public sphere. Internal divisions and scandals, in the face of an often hostile and virulently anti-religious secular discourse, have created a number of crises that now threaten the core of faith identities and the faithful’s trust in their religious institutions. People of all faiths are finding themselves increasingly leaderless and in confusion regarding the place of their traditions apropos of their wider social contexts and cultures. Working apace with this withdrawal of faith the prevailing schools of secular atheism have been fortifying their new ground to defend against the potential return of religion and the religious.
It is now ‘open season’ on any and all forms of religion in culture, in the academy, in the media, and in political life. A new atheism; now the social default, less prepared to engage with the philosophical and theological grammar of religious thought than its classical predecessor, has constructed walls to exclude as much religious expression as it can from the marketplace. Viewed from within the Church, these dynamics and forces must be cause for alarm. Pragmatic atheism, long the survival strategy of a wilting clergy, has left the Church in many areas of Christendom rudderless – and we are paying the price.
Distinctly Abrahamic foundations for ethics and morality are being openly treated with contempt by the new informers of culture – or worse, mocked and ignored. In both camps the end of Western Christian Orthodoxy has become a real possibility. What was in the 1960s and 70s a culture war has become for faith in the West a war of annihilation – a struggle against extinction. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that the end of all mumbo-jumbo isn’t the end goal of this nemesis.
The great threat in today’s world is the loneliness of hearts oppressed by greed.—
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 22, 2014
One way or another, this Prometheus is a child of the Church, and – intent as it is on patricide – it is a monster we must face. We must ‘radicalise’ the faith for the new challenges of the twenty-first century, and this means rediscovering and recognising the Spirit in the life of the Church and the work of God in the world. Rather than a thin hope in the invisible and the imaginary foisted on us in our acquiescence to the narrative of secular meaninglessness, this is an immediate incarnational expression of faith-in-action in Christ. It is a revolutionary action towards the world rather than from it, for now ever inch that we gain is redemptive and salvific.