Practical Atheism

Excerpted from Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey by Michael H. Crosby O.E.M. Cap., © 2009:

Solanus Casey interpreted the conflicts of his time as grounded in theoretical or practical atheism. Theoretical atheism involved one’s denial of God’s existence; practical atheism stood for the lack of faith-in-action in people who embraced their culture’s patterns to the detriment of their professed beliefs.

I like the term “practical atheism.”

America abounds in obvious examples.


There Can Be But One

“If religion can be defined us a science, and I claim it is unquestionably the greatest science of all times– in fact it is nothing less than the science of our happy relationship with God and our neighbors, then, there can be but one religion, though there may be a thousand different systems of religion.” ~Solanus Casey, quoted in Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey by Michael H. Crosby O.E.M. Cap., © 2009

Flowing From and Leading Back To

“When he was speaking with you, you felt that he was constantly God-centered, on fire with love for God, and constantly God-conscious, seeming always to have his eyes on God. He seemed to see everything as flowing from God and leading back to God.” ~Gerald Walker O.F.M. Cap., speaking of Father Solanus Casey, quoted in Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey by Michael H. Crosby O.E.M. Cap., © 2009

That’s not a bad way to be remembered at all.


In this excerpt from The Chris Farley Show:  A Biography in Three Acts ©2008, Father Tom Gannon talks about Chris Farley and faith:

Chris was caught in a transition in Catholicism between an old-church approach to faith and a newer way of thinking. The old view of spirituality was that life was like climbing a mountain. You have to fight onward and upward, climbing with your spiritual crampons until you reach the top – and that’s perfection. You pass the trial and you pass the test and you get so many gold stars in your copybook. Then you come before the heavenly throne for judgment, and maybe you got a couple of indulgences in your back pocket in case your accounting was wrong.

But that kind of faith only gets a person so far. Your spiritual life isn’t like climbing a mountain, waiting to find God at the top. It’s a journey, full of highs and lows, and God is there with you every step of the way, in the here and now and in the hereafter.The first approach is really a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s only the second one that allows a person to grow, but that second view is hard for people to get a hold of unless they get in touch with themselves.

Chris didn’t feel that he was worthy of God’s love. He felt he had to prove himself. Well, you’re never going to get very far in any relationship with that kind of belief. Imagine if you had to prove yourself to your spouse every single day; that’s not the way love works. In all of our talks, that was the one thing I really tried to work with him on, adjusting to this different idea of faith, but he never really moved from one to the other. It’s hard. It takes a long time to come around to that way of thinking, and Chris just ran out of time.

Rejects Nothing

The local Catholic church used to run a column in the paper explaining their faith to a largely Baptist audience.  This is one that always resonated with me.

This is a transcript of a yellow, faded article- brittle now with age- that I cut out and saved.  The part I particularly like I highlighted in blue:

Catholic Approach To The Bible
Article 37
Sept. 15, 1982

The priest is a man chosen from among men to offer sacrifice and to lead the People of God in the worship of the Lord.  Of him, as of the apostles, it can be said:  “You have not chosen Me-I have chosen you”  (John 15:16).  Jesus is the vine; all others are branches on that vine.  Without Him, nothing happens; with Him, great things happen, especially in the inner depths where each of us meets God.

The spectacle of religion without a priest is relatively recent.  After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there was no further Jewish priesthood.  The morning and evening sacrifices which had been offered there and there alone (Deuteronomy 12) for centuries, suddenly ceased.  Synagogues became places for reading of the Law and the Prophets throughout the Diaspora, but these services were conducted without priests.  Lay-organizations prayed together and studied the Sacred Writings together, and with the passage of item a set format developed.

Islam is the name peculiar to  the religion founded by Mohammed (570-632 A.D.).  It is fiercely monotheistic:  Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is His prophet.  Islam has no real clerical cast, no liturgy (other than prayer five times a day), no church organization, and no monasticism.

Just as the Jews have certain outstanding rabbis who enjoy great prestige (Maimonides, for example), the Moslems have their special interpeters of the Koran.  Who has not heard of the Ayatollah Khomeini?

The Catholic Church’s relation and attitude toward all non-Christian religions was spelled out at the Second Vatican Council,  in a marvelous document dated October 28, 1965.  The scope of this document is much wider than the Jews; it includes also the Hindu religion, Buddhism, Islam, and all others.  It recognizes the universal longing of all peoples to understand what life and death are all about, and what meaning is to be attached to life.  The Catholic church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions, and seriously urges her children to work with them for mutual understanding through dialogue and collaboration in the areas of social justice, peace, human rights, (and) freedom.  “Maintain good fellowship among the nations” we read (1 Peter 2:12), and as Paul advised, “Live in peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).  “Be children of the Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

Since the 15th century, most Protestant church services are conducted by ministers or pastors both male and female.  Anglican and Lutherans and the Greek churches also have bishops and priests.

The Catholic religion is an organized religion, that is, it presents to the world a unified picture of divided responsibilities towards God and neighbors.  The Pope is the Number One man; today he is John Paul II, a fearless crusader for Christ, a man forged in the crucible of Communism.  As the gigantic machinery of the Vatican cannot be managed by any one man, the Pope is assisted by a “cabinet” of Cardinals.  Cardinals are highly intelligent priests who have amply demonstrated their good judgment and organizational ability, and represent a cross-section of the whole Catholic world.  Sometime they are ambassadors or papal nuncios, sometimes they are the head of archdioceses.  Archbishops and bishops preside over and direct local provinces.

But it is through the parish priest who is so intimate a part of “grass-roots” Catholicism, that most people meet the church.  He is called “Father” because that term describes his loving care a solicitude for his little flock.

Copyright © 1982, Richard T.A. Murphy, O.P.