1. Desensitization of Faith
Borgjie B. Distura
Pope Benedict XVI has declared a Year of Faith that will start on October 12, the 50th
Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and will end on November 24 of next
year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. This Year of Faith according to the Holy Father is an
avenue to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed
enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.i He also affirms the profound crisis of faith caused by
much concern of Christians for the social, cultural and political consequences of their
commitment while denying the presupposition of faith.
A crisis is both a danger and at the same time, an opportunity. And the Holy Father wants
that this crisis be an opportunity for rediscovery and a renewal of a desensitized faith. We must
not accept that the salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt. 5:13-16).ii
The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan
woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of
living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14).iii
Can we turn this crisis into an opportunity of rediscovery and renewal of our faith? To
answer this we must first know some of the reasons of this crisis, in this case in philosophical
terrain because faith involves reason also. And at the end offer some proposals for the spring
time of faith.
In his book Christian Philosophy, Fr. Joseph M. de Torre states that, “there is a trend for
practical atheism which sometimes not only practical; i.e. living as if God did not exist, ignoring
altogether but full conscious and theoretical people who are openly godless, and they say so.”iv
This trend of religious indifference in the twentieth century is an undeniable fact today. It
is true that vast and increasing numbers of men looked upon God as dead and gone.
The General Catechetical Directory, a post conciliar document of the II Vatican Council
affirms this problem of atheism. It says that, “very many people gradually fall into religious
indifference or run the risk of preserving a faith which lacks the necessary dynamism and real
influence in their lives.”v
The problem is not only with the ordinary people. The document also stresses that the
problem also affected many baptized people. In section seven of the same document, it affirms:
“many baptized people have become so distanced from religion that they profess religious
indifference or, almost atheism.”vi
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) states
that: “atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time, and
one that deserves more thorough treatment.”vii
At this point we might as well ask what caused people to expressly deny the existence of
God. What caused others to maintain that man cannot make any assertion what so ever about
Him? Or what caused others to languish in their faith? Or what caused others to affirm man
while denying God?
We can ask many questions about the cause of atheism, but from the above questions we
single out the main question i.e. What caused the decline of man’s belief in a Supreme Being? Fr.
de Torre in his book Christian Philosophy asked a quite similar question: “How did we come to
this situation (religious indifference)?”viii
2. According to him there are reasons why so. First, he said: “very often the so-called
atheists are people who have not studied their faith seriously. Religious ignorance is rampant,
and particularly damaging among educated people who are becoming the majority.”ix
The Second Vatican Council also states that: “atheism is born…from the fact that certain
human ideals are wrongfully invested with such an absolute character as to be taken for God.”x
Those giants but religiously ignorant men clothed wrongfully those ideals. Take for
example the ubermensch of Nietzsche or Marx’s cosmic classless society as having absolute
Secondly, the rapid growth of materialism in the way people live and think is another
reason.xi According to him there are people who are also materialist in life and practice: they take
material values as the supreme values in life, such as wealth, strength, comfort and health.
There is nothing wrong with all the material comfort but what is wrong is to consider
them as the highest standards and eventually be blinded by it.
Vatican II council affirms this: “… because it (modern civilization) is so engrossed in the
concerns of this world, (obsession into the world) can make it harder to approach God.”xii
With too much concern and identification of man with the world often develop into
prolonged, permanent, spiritual separation of man from his Transcendent Creator.
Lost in the love of the ever-present and splendid universe, the creature comes to possess
himself, his society and his world as if they were exclusively his own.xiii
Thus atheism arises from a mentality and attitude which involves a flight from the
invisible to the visible, from the transcendent toward the immanent, from spiritual toward the
material in such a way that not only are the invisible, transcendent, spiritual rejected as
dimensions of reality but they are denied existence itself.xiv
Materialism therefore pushes the individual to prefer himself and the world (that which is
material) over and above God, the Invisible, Transcendent and Spiritual Being.
Lastly, the believers themselves caused others to languish in their belief. The way
supposed-to-be-believers live lives and witness their faith sometimes can be considered as the
culprit of the decline in religious aspects.
“Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of
atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction
in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their
religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather
than to reveal the true nature of God and religion.”xv
We might as well ask what’s the difference between a consistent hardened sinner who
still believes from a practical atheism?
Both i.e. the believer and the atheist, break the bond of communion with God. But the
sinner’s practical atheism is not so much a denial of God’s existence. The believer still clings to
the cadaver of faith as a last link with God.
The believer-sinner or the practical atheist is a scandal to his fellowmen, encouraging
religious indifference and even, at times, complete unbelief in those they scandalize.
To top it all, it is very obvious from the above reasons and observations that the first
shoots of indifference arise from the infidelity of man to his God. The causes of atheism always
remain within the creature himself not to any other. Fr. Vincent Miceli writes:
3. “What the atheist does not see is that in rejecting God he rejects
himself. In refusing to give himself in spirit to God, he refuses to
transcend himself… In effect he banishes from the infinite
visibility of God… God no longer influences his life or his world
because God…no longer lives or exists everywhere.”xvi
After considering some of the reasons and causes, what can we offer for the rediscovery
and renewal of our faith in crisis?
First, the renewal of the Church can be achieved through the witness of the believer in the
face of the upsurge of materialism and secularism. The believer’s existence in the world is one
that is expected to illumine and radiate the word of truth of the Gospel.
Second, the call to be committed to commitment is an avenue for rediscovering the joy of
believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Through this commitment to love the
faith makes this very same faith to grow in as much as it is lived as an experience of love.
And lastly, it is through believing that others are strengthened and oneself too. So it is in
believing that faith grows and becomes stronger.
Porta Fidei, 2
Ibid, p. 3.
Ibid, p. 3.
J. de Torre. Christian Philosophy, Vera-Reyes, Inc., Philippines, 1989, p. 6.
A. Flannery, ed. Vatican Council II: More Postconciliar Documents, Vol II, Paulines Publishing House,
Pasay, Philippines, 2000, p.534.
Ibid., p. 534
A. Flannery, ed. Vatican Council II: The Conciliar Documents and Post Conciliar Documents, Vol I,
Paulines Publishing House, Pasay, Philippines, 2000, p.918.
Cf. Christian Philosophy , p. 6
Ibid. p. 6.
Cf. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 19
Cf. Christian Philosophy, p. 6.
Cf. GS 19
V. Miceli, S.J., The Gods of Atheism, Arlington House, New York, 1971, pp. 1-2.
Ibid. p. 2.
GS 19 § 3.
V. Miceli S.J., The Gods of Atheism, Arlington House, New York, 1971, pp. 11-12.