The Critical Danger of Unbelief

Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law (1659) by Rembrandt
Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law (1659) by Rembrandt

I had an interesting discussion with Matt Hadro on EWTN’s “Morning Glory” radio show about the rising number of “nones” in our country. When asked for their religious affiliation, “nones” do not identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, but rather check the “none” box. They tend to be dismissive of “organized” religion and generally believe that it is acceptable to construct a purely personal religious view and understanding of God.

Indeed, we live in times when many people make light of the fact that others do not believe in God or relegate their faith to a solely personal and largely irrelevant aspect of life. This attitude exists even among many Catholics who, though believers themselves, don’t seem to be overly concerned that others are not. What seems to be of greater concern to most believers—Catholics included—is that a person be “nice.” If a person is determined to be “nice,” little else seems to matter.

Frankly, all of us should be concerned by the rise of unbelief in our culture, whether it is atheism, agnosticism, “none-ism,” indifference, or the rampant secularism that relegates God to the margins. We should be concerned because unbelief on a wide scale (as is the case today) is not only unhealthy for a culture, it is dangerous to it.

This danger is fairly obvious when one considers that unbelievers (and most “under-believers” such as “nones”) think that they answer to no one. When one no longer acknowledges that God exists and sees everything, “reinvents” God, selects what he likes from what God has commanded, or doesn’t understand that he will ultimately have to answer to God for what he has or has not done, it is easy to ignore important aspects of the moral life.

Realizing that we will one day answer to God is an important reminder that we are not a law unto ourselves. The knowledge that we will not ultimately escape if we treat others with contempt, engage in serious injustice, live unchastely, or indulge greed, is an important curb on sin (or at least a call to repentance).

This observation does not mean that every unbeliever or “under-believer” lives a reprobate life. There are atheists who live exemplary lives, who exhibit natural virtues, whether they do so because it is to their benefit or simply because they have some ethical sense that comports with the right reason.

But, other things being equal, having large numbers of unbelievers who do not think that they are ultimately accountable for what they do or fail to do is never healthy to good order, morality, or virtue.

Further, when belief is lost by many, so is a common moral reference point. The Judeo-Christian moral view formed the basis for modern law, justice, constitutional rights, and ethics. While sectarian differences obviously existed in the country for 200 years before this rise of unbelief, there was basic agreement on the essential moral issues, based on a biblical worldview. The rise of unbelief has caused this moral consensus to break down. In its place there has arisen a tyranny of relativism, in which numbers matter more than reason. The one who wins is the one with the loudest megaphone, the most power, and the greatest influence.

This, too, is dangerous to a culture. Without a shared cultus, there can be no real culture. The word cultus refers to a reference point (God and His revelation) that is above and outside a culture, that is bigger and more lasting. Without that shared cultus, that devotion to someone higher, there can be no culture.

Today, when we cannot agree on what makes a marriage, or even on something as obvious as whether one is male or female, the tyranny is starting to resemble anarchy and nihilism. No culture can withstand such a basic undermining. Problems of this sort are civilization killers.

Thus, belief is not only important—it is critical. We cannot go on relegating this matter to the realm of the purely personal and largely irrelevant. Being “nice” is not enough. We must be accountable to God and see Him as authoritative in our life. If we are to survive we must do this, both individually and collectively.

The First Commandment says, I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2). This is not some egocentric God, demanding worship and that He have no rivals. This is our loving Father, who knows what unbelief does to us. When we reject Him and/or turn to other gods, we are harmed immeasurably. We lose our way and inherit a lawless and confused world, in which the tyranny of relativism holds sway and no one thinks or acts as if he will one day answer for what he has and has not done.

Do not make light of the rampant unbelief in our world today. It is far more serious than most imagine. God commands the most serious things for our own well-being. The First Commandment is that we believe and that we call others to do the same. There is a reason that it is commandment number one!

8 Replies to “The Critical Danger of Unbelief”

  1. The word nice has changed over time. It used to mean ‘foolish, stupid, senseless; timid, fussy, dainty, delicate’ before it took on the new meaning of kind and thoughtful – according to etymology dictionaries(study of the origin of words). I searched digitally in vain to find that word “nice” in the Holy Bible or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No matches! Looking at the word kindness which is a part of love (Corinthians) what jumped out at me was kindness being described as a “concern for others.” If we have a genuine “concern for others” (kindness) we’ll concern ourselves with the salvation of their souls.

    I don’t believe it is a coincidence that St. Paul at the end of his instruction on who our battle is with (fallen angels & the devil) says in Ephesians 6: 19 and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

    Spiritual battle and speaking boldly — awesome.

  2. The rise of unbelief in the U.S. is old news and just reporting it and lamenting it strikes me as hand wringing. The rise of unbelief is at large measure the result of school-based indoctrination of children regarding their origins, namely, evolutionism. As best-selling atheist author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has explained:“Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

    D.Q. McInerny, Professor of Philosophy at the seminary of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) explained how the education system has contributed to the loss of faith by the substitution of a new, evolution-based world view:

    Over the course of the past century and a half, Western society has allowed itself to be convinced by something which, from a strictly scientific point of view, is singularly unconvincing. I speak of the theory of evolution. But if this theory fails to make the grade as serious science, it has managed to succeed spectacularly as a philosophy, a comprehensive world view, whose presence is pervasive and whose influence is as powerful as it is deleterious. Its invasion of our educational system is complete, and for decades now the nation’s youth have been systematically indoctrinated to accept as an unquestionable “fact” what, in fact, is anything but.” (Quoted from Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism: A Discussion for Those Who Believe, 2016, Institute for Science and Catholicism.)

    1. Not sure your point here and why the dismissal of my view as “hand-wringing.” Perhaps you can make your point in a less insulting way? IOW I think you can make your point without terminology such as “old news” “hand-wringing” and “lamenting” and a general sense from you that you (unlike me and readers(?)) are on top of this issue than the rest of us sniveling late-comers? At least that’s how you come across.

      Instead, maybe you say, “Here’s what I think and here is why” Or, “Here is where I disagree and here is why” and avoid the personal characterizations.

  3. “We should be concerned because unbelief on a wide scale (as is the case today) is not only unhealthy for a culture, it is dangerous to it.” Other than “it’s obvious” and appeals to emotion and fear of the other, what can you offer to support your assertion? Why is no empirical evidence provided to back up your claim? Perhaps you could address why no good reason to fear disbelief is provided, and only prejudices and xenophobia are put forth to justify it.

    1. I was kind thinking your response might be good to engage until your last sentence. Xenophobia and the general invoking of various “phobia” to discredit is such a tired tactic. Noting a danger in a course of action does not thereby bespeak fear. For example, if I note that driving to fast is dangerous I am not indicating some sort of quaking fear. I tend to speed a little anyway. Thus there can be a noting of danger that does not evoke fear. I certainly do not fear you Randy W. But, for the reasons stated, a culture where increasing numbers do think they will have to ultimately account to anyone does raise the likelihood that significant misbehavior and injustice will occur.

      There are plenty of sociological studies that link and correlate unchecked power and a lack of accountability to injustice and moral turpitude. But I think your insistence on studies mistakes this blog for a journal. This is a blog, where discussions are the point. Thus you could have said, “I don’t there is any danger and here is why.” But instead you just use the tired and personal tactic of discrediting of anyone who has concerns and be dismissive. Why not just say what you think and why?

      I would also encourage you to address not address me, but to say what you think, and why and see if other readers engage you.

  4. To the ‘nones’ maybe you live righteously and one cannot and should not judge you but go deeper and you will something more in life. Read through this maybe it will help you, I do not really know. I pray humbly and offer this little newsletter I found from The Little Sisters of the Poor.

    ‘During those days of international fraternity lived by the youth in Poland at World Youth Day, France was once again struck by violence with the assassination of Father Jacques Hamel in St. Etienne-du-Rouvray, while he was celebrating Mass. That same day, a veiled Muslim woman came to the reception desk at our home in St. Denis, a suburb of Paris, and asked to see a Sister. She came from quite a distance, but had lived in St. Denis in the past, and thus knew that there were Sisters there.

    Filled with emotion, she kissed the Little Sisters while offering her expression of sympathy. She was carrying a rose that she wanted to put in our “place of prayer.” A little note was attached to the rose, “All my sincere sympathy. We are heartbroken by this barbarity. Our religion represents peace. Our hearts are with you.”

    After a few minutes of silent prayer together in the chapel, the lady left, leaving the Little Sisters very moved by such a sincere gesture.’

    GOD Bless you Monsignor. I offer my pains and sufferings, little that they are for conversion of hearts of the ‘nones’. YHWH SHEKINAH

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