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Evangelization “unmasked”

Christian evangelization in the modern world should start by asking a provocative question.

(Image: DDP | Unsplash.com)

Survey after survey of religion in America demonstrates that atheism, agnosticism, and the “nones” are steadily increasing, with many of the “nones” once identifying as Catholics and other Christians. While some of these profess a “spiritual” perspective, such beliefs often have little to do with Christianity, or even a personal God. Accompanying this trend is the widespread elite narrative supposedly unmasking historical Christian evangelization as a product of cultural imperialism, religious mania, or a kind of quota system imposed on clerics, presenting today’s evangelism an assault on the “target’s” freedom of conscience.

When the reality and certainty of death is presented to “nones”, responses typically fall into four categories: 1) our atoms disperse and we are utterly gone (atheism), 2) we “survive” within a circle of life, 3) we are absorbed into a mysterious universal consciousness, like a drop of water in the ocean, 4) perhaps there is a Creator who keeps human beings at arms length or has something in store for us we cannot hope to fathom—belief systems ancient in origin, dressed up to appeal to modern tastes.

How, then, do we evangelize this lost culture when so many of us are confused or conflicted about the word?

In fact, the narrative unmasking historical Christianity attacks a straw man rather than what history actually reveals. Kateri Tekakwitha and Yáng Tingyún exemplify countless converts to Christianity from around the world: Kateri, a Mohawk maiden inspired by a faith that proclaims “God-with-us”; Yáng, an earnest Chinese philosopher/searcher, finding answers to lifelong questions in Christianity.

We could fill volumes with others who came to Christianity because Jesus answers questions no one else can, because he offers more than other beliefs and theories.

We have a Narrative too, ours based on God’s saving presence in the pre-Christian world; Jesus’s altogether unique life, death, and resurrection; his life giving presence in a storm-tossed Church and the lives of numberless saints. Even modern science testifies to a universe far more majestic and mysterious than human beings ever imagined. Why wouldn’t we want family and friends to partake in such an adventure?

Christian evangelization unmasks atheism, circle of life, universal consciousness, remote Creator belief systems that settle for meager cramped visions of human life—cramped visions of who we are and who we are meant to become. Jesus reveals an unimaginably larger life, an unimaginably bigger image of who we are and who we are meant to become. In contrast to assaulting freedom of conscience, Christianity frees the conscience to consider and contemplate what has not yet been imagined.

Let’s add one more popular narrative about Christian evangelization: if a merciful and good God exists, no one will be consigned to hell, so Christianity is no better than living according to one’s own lights. On the contrary, hell is consistent with human freedom and human choices, whether or not we desire intimate communion with a Creator for whom the purpose of life is personal encounter (Moses on Mt. Sinai), the purpose of encounter friendship, (Jesus: “I have called you friends”), the purpose of friendship unconstrained giving of self (Mary: “May it be done to me according to your word”)—the larger life for which we were created. In the Catholic tradition, Purgatory is the process of fully embracing intimate communion with God, purging all impediments preventing us from unconstrained giving of self, hell the self-elected sundering of those whose informed and willful choices (“one’s own lights”) make communion with God repellent.

The risen Christ tells his apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). A Church without this mission as its first priority is a Church without Jesus. Christian evangelization in the modern world should start by asking a provocative question: “Why settle for so much less?”


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About Thomas M. Doran 59 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), and its 2018 sequel, The Lucifer Ego. He has worked on hundreds of environmental projects for four decades. He’s a Fellow of The Engineering Society of Detroit and was an adjunct professor of civil/environmental engineering at Lawrence Technological University.

4 Comments

  1. Doran asks “how then do we evangelize…”

    It could be that evangelization today depends upon an earlier step of deprogramming of the culturally brainwashed or anesthetized. Possible jump-starts might include these:

    The testimony of worshipped CELEBRITIES who grew up and have turned their lives around;
    Exposure of cultural CONTRADICTIONS as in the modern-day fixation on Galileo seeing the external universe through a telescope, while young girls in our smug “scientific age” are prohibited from viewing an internal universe—an unborn child with unique DNA—through the ultrasound;
    HISTORICAL regression rather than “progress,” as (especially) with today’s late-term abortions set alongside, say, Aztec human sacrifices;
    RIDICULE as when the waif Topsy in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is asked “who made you,” and he responds: “Nobody as I knows. . . .I ‘spect I (just) grow’d”—upstaging Richard Dawkins’ metaphysics-free cosmology by a century and a half (!);
    revealing QUOTES such as what Darwin himself said (in his Autobiography) about the limitations of his highly focused and specialized mindset;
    LEGAL reductionism as with Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes who over a century set the table for the “nones” not-so-new post-modern agnosticism/atheism: “. . . I often doubt whether it would not be a gain if every word of moral significance could be banished from the law altogether. . .”

    Admittedly not adequate—-the above jump-starts—-but maybe they serve as side-plate delicacies at otherwise insipid and predictable millennial cocktail parties. For more of this sort of thing some readers might be curious about my recent author interview with Catholic World Report:
    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/03/29/a-generation-abandoned-why-whatever-is-not-enough/

  2. I totally agree with you, sir, but people just seem so hard-hearted, conditioned to not believe there is something beyond their cramped cosmos-view.

    For believers, growth in personal holiness by way of daily prayer (especially the Rosary), frequent recourse to the Sacraments & the struggle to lead the virtuous life are a prerequisite for evangelizing. In doing those things, I believe God will tell us what our next move should be.

  3. It is possible – St. Paul evangelized in a similar world. After prayer, the first thing might be to get ourselves and our own lives in order – especially spiritually. Jesus most often preached about individual behavior. I think this is because change comes from the individual and moves up to the more social. I have many devout lady friends who are cheerful people too. People are attracted to them – why are they happy, others wonder, even when they are in a time of suffering? They are also knowledgable about their faith and can explain Church teachings. Some have brought others to the faith through friendship.
    Are we joyful Catholics? Often yes, but sometimes not so much. Sometimes we can get caught up in too busy a life, worldly success, wanting the materially “best” for our children without counting the spiritual cost – often trying to have it both ways. The suicide rate is higher than ever. We live in a world of modern conveniences and medicines that have prevented many young deaths – yet people are very unhappy. There is fertile ground for evangelization.

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