Appearing by video at the 3rd New Evangelization Summit in Ottawa May 13, Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, says that Millennial Catholics need to be argued back into the Church. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Millennial Catholics need to be argued back into the Church: Bishop Barron

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  • May 17, 2017

OTTAWA – The New Atheists have argued Millennial Catholics out of the Church and they need to be argued back in, says Bishop Robert Barron.

Appearing by video at the 3rd New Evangelization Summit in Ottawa May 13, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries addressed the growing proportion of those who tick “None of the Above” when they answer surveys on religious affiliation.

Bishop Barron called “the crisis of the Nones” a “crisis of major proportions.”

Recent surveys in the United States show “Nones” has risen to 25 per cent of the population from about three per cent in the 1970s, when almost everybody had a religion, he said.

“It gets worse among young people,” he said. Among those 30 and under, the proportion of “Nones” rises to 40 per cent. Even worse, among those with Catholic backgrounds, 50 per cent in that age group “would claim no religion,” he said.

“Think of all the kids baptized and confirmed over the last 30 years,” he said. “Half have left the Church.”

A recent Pew Research study that asked why young people were leaving found three main reasons: 1) science disproves religion; 2) religion is just a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and 3) religion is behind most of the violence in the world, he said.

“I think we should respond to those three concerns,” Bishop Barron said.

The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris “didn’t hug young people into their way of thinking,” they “argued” them into it, Bishop Barron said, noting he meets “their disciples all the time” in various settings.

Bishop Barron first tackled the argument that science disproves religion, examining the “lack of any scientific evidence for a Creator.”

What people are mistaking for science, however, is “scientism,” a view that “the only way to be rational is to be scientific,” and “tests of hypotheses the only way to generate truth.”

The Catholic Church continues to embrace the sciences and the originator of the Big Bang theory, now widely accepted, was a Catholic priest, he said.

Trying to find evidence of God inside His creation is like trying to find the architect in the building he has made, he said. “God is not a being among many, one item in the universe.”

“God is the reason why the universe should exist at all,” he said.

St. Thomas Aquinas provides many rational arguments for the existence of God, but the one the “galvanized me,” is the ‘argument from contingency’,” the bishop said.

“The world is full of contingent things” that exist but whose existence is dependent or contingent on “all kinds factors,” he said. Using himself as an example, he said his existence was contingent on his parents, the food he eats, the air he breathes, on things that are themselves contingent on other things.

“I now look for a cause,” he said. “Is the cause itself self-explanatory, or also contingent?”

“Back and back we go, but we can’t go back infinitely or we never have an answer to the question,” he said. “We must come to some reality that is not contingent. Something whose very nature is to be,” he said. This is “the ground of being, the non-contingent cause on which all the rest of existence depends.”

Bishop Barron said the New Atheists fly from this argument “like vampires from the light,” because they are so committed to atheism and “they find every possible way to resist it.”

The sciences emerged in a particular religious/cultural framework that made them possible, he said. One is the “deep conception the world is not divine.”

“If it were divine you could not cut it apart and analyze it, you are going to worship it,” he said.

The second is the scientific assumption “the world is intelligible.”

Bishop Barron traced the philosophical origins of the “wishful thinking, pie in the sky when you die” view to philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach who influenced Karl Marx. Feuerbach said God was merely the projection of man’s idealized self and that a “no to God was a yes to man.”

These ideas continue to “beguile the minds of young people,” he said.

To this argument, Bishop Barron said he used the “tu quoque” approach, that says, “you, too” are doing the same thing, engaging in projection.

“I think atheism is a wish-fulfilling fantasy,” he said. If there’s no God, that means there are no moral criteria and “no one is watching my life.”

“If there’s no God, it’s totally my life and I can live any way I want,” he said.

“Religion does correspond to the deepest longings of the heart, but that doesn’t imply it is simply a fantastic unreality,” he said. The human spirit is hungry for goodness, truth and beauty; hungry for God.

As for the third argument that religion is responsible for violence, Bishop Barron called that “an old argument that was revived very much after 9/11.”

Though religious people have behaved badly over the centuries, other factors are usually found behind most wars, he said. In the 20th century, “the bloodiest century in human history,” secularist ideologies explicitly opposed to religion were responsible for the most deaths, he said.

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