Easter 02, Year B

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
They may observe your good works and glorify God (1 Pt. 2:12)

To put the kibosh on religion--Jewish, Christian or Muslim--is apparently the purpose of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (cf. the review in the March 27, 2006 issue of America and various comments at [1]. “Faith,” says the author, “leaves otherwise well-intentioned people incapable of thinking rationally about many of their deepest concerns; at worst it is a continuous source of human violence.”

In Harris’ view, we have to put an end to religion, first, because it is a threat to reason. If religion prevails, it would mean repudiating the advances in secular politics and scientific culture and returning to the world of “sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.”

Secondly, we have to put an end to religion if we are to put an end to what religion ends up in, namely, violence and war. Religion is the cause of violence and war, and for this reason, we have to put an end to it if we do not want civilization to end. According to Harris, those who believe in the afterlife cannot help excluding from what they understand to be the Kingdom of God those who do not agree with them. And soon enough, drawing the conclusion from premises provided by their belief, they cannot help disrespecting either those infidels they consider beyond salvation. So then, the divergent, irreconcilable, and untestable notions of the different religions, along with the ever more destructive arms each religion fabricates to protect itself from others that are perceive as threats, constitute a recipe for the fall of civilization. And, as Harris sees it, it is not just the fanatics or the extremists that are to blame; the root of the problem is religion itself. The moderates too are dangerous because by continuing to “cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence,” they drive us toward the abyss.

I think I can easily brush aside the above-mentioned arguments, and take them to be preposterous, by simply pointing out that what the author affirms of the different religions can also be affirmed of the different and clashing political systems and cultures or civilizations. Each of these has its stubborn presuppositions and claims to be in possession of certain truths that the others are not capable of discovering. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” cleverly points out that religion is not the only thing that could lead to problems. There too are countries and possessions. Also, last November 2005, there were reports of Augusto Pinochet claiming that all that he did, he did for God and Chile. Has Harris perhaps advocated that we put an end to all types of political system, of culture or civilization or way of life, and also to all kinds of country demarcation lines and of ownership?

What cannot, however, be easily disregarded are the atrocities that have been committed by those who believe in Yahweh or Christ or Allah. Surely, we Christians have to acknowledge that, not a few times, we conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion (GS 19). Pope John Paul II himself deemed it appropriate that the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children (Tertio Millenio Adveniente 33). The Holy Father admitted that “among the sins which require a greater commitment to repentance and conversion should certainly be counted those which have been detrimental to the unity willed by God for his People” and that “another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth” (TMA 34 and 35). There is no doubt, then, that we children of the Church have “departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal” (TMA 33).

The true kind of witness to both the resurrection of Christ and the efficacy of its grace in believers can certainly refer to the life of communion that is attested in today’s first reading. This life of communion, which keeps the commandments and finds favor with people, proves that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. For if believers in the Risen One are all of one heart and mind and have everything in common, so that no one claims his own anything that he possesses and there is no needy person among them, then it means that fulfilled is Dt. 15. This law acknowledges, for sure, that the state of affairs is such that poor people will never be lacking in the land; yet it enjoins that the poor should be helped and that there should really be no one in need among God’s people (Dt. 15:4, 7-8, 11).

The true kind of witness that does not cause scandal nor sully the face of the Church is that of the person who, not having seen the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands nor having placed her fingers into the nailmarks or her hand into his side, believes anyway and thus allows Christ to pass through doors that are locked on account of either the fears of the senses or the incredulity of reason. And if this same person fully mirrors, through her witness of patient love, humble meekness and tender mercy, the image of her crucified Lord, she will also be a witness, like Jesus, that the “the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power” (cf. TMA 35).

Please allow me to submit that if we Christians manage to give these kinds of witness, we will contribute not a little to putting the kibosh on such claims as those of Sam Harris.