Evangelizing in the PostModern World

In today’s postmodern world it is a common cultural assumption that we all live by our own “truth,” worldview, or ethical principles.  They are merely subjectively chosen without regard to any real traction in the extra-mental world around us.  They give our lives meaning because we choose them as one choses a favorite ice cream flavor.  We create them as arbitrarily as Jackson Pollock splashed paint across canvases.

A Jackson Pollock painting.

A Jackson Pollock painting.

There is no push back from the real world, from the way things really are, from the unforgiving facts.  This is in stark contrast, so we are told, to science whose theories are always tethered to the facts yielded by running experiments which keep wild theories in check revealing a hypothesis to be verified (true/correct) or falsified (false/wrong).  When it comes to matters of ethics and religion there are no facts that can push back correcting faulty beliefs in the marketplace of ideas.  Rather, to the postmodernist every ethical or religious idea is just as correct as another since no ethical or religious idea has to do with the way the world really is, what is the case, the true state of affairs.  In principle there is no way to verify or falsify competing and often flat out contradicting ethical and religious beliefs.

According to this postmodernist worldview any attempt to convert others to a specific religion cannot but appear as an act of imperialism of the worst sorts.  “How dare you suggest other people should adopt your ethical/religious beliefs about the world?  They are as unique and personal to someone as their favorite color, or season of the year!”  At best the efforts to pass on religious and ethical beliefs are a naive medieval holdover, at worst these efforts become a violation of the essence of human freedom.  Freedom which the Supreme Court of the United States of America has defined as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

No wonder when the YOUCAT answers the question “Why do we hand on the faith?”, even faithful Catholics might cringe and think, “Handing the faith on to my children is all fine and well, but am I really supposed to hand on the faith to other people?”

The YOUCAT instructs:

We hand on the faith because Jesus commands us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

No genuine Christian leaves the transmission of the faith exclusively to specialists (teachers, pastors, missionaries). We are Christ for others. This means that every genuine Christian would like God to come to other people, too. He says to himself, “The Lord needs me! I have been baptized and confirmed and am responsible for helping the people around me to learn about God and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4b).” Mother Teresa used a good comparison: “Often you can see power lines running alongside the street. Unless current is flowing through them, there is no light. The power line is you and I! The current is God! We have the power to allow the current to flow through us and thus to generate the light of the world: JESUS – or to refuse to be used and, thus, allow the darkness to spread.” (YOUCAT question 11)

So what is the answer?  What is a Catholic disciple of Jesus to do?  Well before we go about the work of spreading the Gospel, sharing the Good News of the Person of Jesus, in other words, evangelizing, we have to do a little preparation work.  First we have to point out false beliefs present in the postmodernist worldview as described above.  Many systems of ethics and religions throughout history make claims far beyond sentimental subjective meaning.  Rather many ethical and religious beliefs, Christian, Pagan, and those of other religions, make claims about the nature of the objective world, what really exists outside my mind, the state of affairs as they really are, the cold hard facts.  When we proclaim the Gospel it is never with violent force that thwarts free will, rather the inner draw of love, joy, peace, and the other fruits of the Spirit that flow from living in union with Jesus Christ.

But, in the words of our current President, “let me be clear!”  When we proclaim the Gospel and the worldview it reveals we are not merely proposing one more flavor in the Baskin Robins of the world marketplace of religious beliefs; rather, we are proclaiming that the Author of the Universe has spoken fully in Jesus Christ and has revealed the instruction manual to the entire Universe, most importantly to the human heart in this life and beyond death.  Meaning is not something we make, but rather something we discover through things in the real world (creation) and fully in the revelation of Jesus Christ and His Church.  Let us boldly invite others to check their beliefs against their experience of the created order and invite them into a life-changing encounter with the Lord of all that is.

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