CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Absenting God - A discourse on the antithesis of atheism in the modern age

Brother Jess Matias
 
The contemporary conversation on not being religious yet professing to be spiritual signifies for many conservative Church observers the mark of a growing secularisation, if not a growing empathy for the atheist sentiment.
 
It has raised a most fundamental question on the paradox of atheism: Can someone be spiritual without professing the use of the word “God”?
 
My daughter keenly observes in her young generation that more people would rather call themselves spiritual rather than religious. Is there any reason for an apparent aversion to the use of the latter description?  
 
Perhaps I may be accused of a biased affinity for the nostalgic, but may I remark that in our day, which would be 30 or 40 years ago, there was hardly any such distinction. Or if the distinction ever existed, it was conveniently subdued.
 
Both terms are short of being deemed synonymous, if it were not for the distinction of religious being referred to those committed to the consecrated community life.
 
But if religious were defined according to its common usage, then there would hardly be any notion of one being religious yet not necessarily being spiritual.
 
It has been our common understanding that if a person is professing a faith or enacting a particular norm of conduct, then there exists a conditioned personal recourse to the divine. How else can we interpret the experience of being spiritual without being religious?  How can one be spiritual without a spirit?
 
Now, however, we have a peculiar dichotomy of two faith identities, two ways or categories of identifying their faith-stance. How did this situation come to be? Why would we now seriously consider having a spirituality without a God?
 
The answer to these questions may contain the key to comprehending the antithesis of atheism; a deeper reflection on these novel circumstances may reveal that absenting God may actually be less an act of denying the existence of God than an act of rebellion against our hypocrisy in professing faith in him.
 
Consider this thought experiment: echoing Rahner’s anthropological speculations on the human thirst for transcendent reckoning, believers and non-believers would agree that there will always be a “mystery out there.” 
 
There is something—or what many of us would recognise as someone—outside ourselves that we may never fully grasp, yet has ultimate control upon the workings of the cosmos.
 
Our exponentially growing awareness of cosmological realism has demonstrated that we are but a tiny speck of dust in a cosmic ocean.
 
How then can such a puny particle of homo sapiens be in governance over the dynamics of its energies?
 
There is much more to speculate than to simply accept in uncritical doctrinal fashion, that “humanity has dominion over creation.” It is a foregone view, now understood to have been written in an ancient context when anthropocentric domination was still in vogue.
 
To thus attribute everything in the universe to orchestrated and unified human interventions, rather than simply acknowledging the evolving process of acting and reacting forces, manifesting itself in the drama of random appearance and disappearance of cosmic bodies, will be ridiculously pelagian.
 
There are realities in that dark abyss beyond our comprehension and much more beyond our control. This is not the divine in the strictest sense of the word and we may choose to disregard the essence of transcendence altogether just for the sake of this discourse, but it cannot be denied that there are occurrences and events happening around us emanating from forces that are not human.
 
So, even a steadfast non-believer has to admit that there is always a perennial mystery in the cosmos, a force that animates it and that compels everything to become what it is meant to be, an agent of the history of the heavens.
 
A non-believer will at the very least be compelled to agree that such a force is impersonal and intrinsic within the cosmic bowels and that believers are only different because we have decided to call this force “God.”
 
Indeed, there is “common ground.”
 
If there is now such an action enabled beyond human volition—which may aptly be described as within the realm of divinity—and occupied in interplaying with it, then spirituality—if defined as the transformative dialogue between humanity, its real world and transcendent realities—can exist.
 
If we find ourselves in conversation with this God or with this force, whether in a simple contemplation of the unfathomable heavens, or in the rhythm of recited prayer, for as long as that conversation leads to an inner transformation that guides and directs us to become what we were meant to be, then spirituality exists. UCAN
 
 
 
 
 
 
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order.
He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City,
coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines,
and prison counsellor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.