In the Beginning . . . Where Was God?

I don’t spend a lot of time surfing the Net for news and comment, but every once in a while someone sends me an article that I stick in a folder for future use. Unfortunately, in our short-attention culture, day-old news is as stale as a week-old cupcake and as obsolete as a TV vacuum tube.

But that won’t stop me from blogging about a story on the beliefs of Icelanders from last month, because some stories are just too telling about our culture to pass up. The story is Rick Noak’s Washington Post article, “In This Country, Literally No Young Christians Believe That God Created the Earth”. Yes, the headline tells it all. According to Mr. Noak, emphasis added:

If you happen to have the chance to talk to young Icelanders about their religious beliefs, be prepared for a surprise. Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.

Only 20 years ago, nearly 90 percent of all Icelanders were religious believers. Today, less than 50 percent are.

With its growing number of non-believers, Iceland is distinct from much of the rest of the world, as a recent Gallup International and WI Network of Market Research poll found. In fact, internationally, those younger than 34 tended to be more religious than older citizens — especially in Africa and the Middle East, where eight out of 10 people consider themselves to be religious.

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So, why are young Icelanders so different from much of the rest of the world?

“Secularization [in Iceland] has occurred very quickly, especially among younger people,” said Bjarni Jonsson, the managing director of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, an atheist nongovernmental organization. “With increased education and broad-mindedness, change can occur quickly.”

As Mr. Noak points out, religious structures and sponsorship of Lutheranism explain much of Iceland’s experience. But one cannot dispute that secularization has also occurred very “quickly” in the U.S. The last two generations have experienced accelerating shifts in culture, and even greater shifts in our educational “system” and its “broad-mindedness.” In fact, of course, education has become less broad-minded because only one perspective is permitted in texts, lectures, and classroom discussions. All traces of the Judeo-Christian experience and values have been eliminated or ridiculed, leaving our youth with little sense of cultural “place.”

One is reminded of the Gospel parable about the demons who take over the empty heart (Matt. 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26). Now that American schools, even Catholic schools, have diminished the connections between science and faith, eliminated any reference to metaphysics, and adopted scientific materialism, the house of the student mind is often emptied of God and faith. As a result, the scientism, relativism, utilitarianism, libertarianism, positivism, consequentialism, emotivism, and the other demonic -isms that dominate American education have moved in to dominate students’ belief systems.

This phenomenon is particularly problematic for students exposed to so-called “advanced placement” classes and “running start” programs at community colleges that give students both high school and college credit. The aggressively secular texts of these more “sophisticated” courses and the anti-religion attitudes typical of college professors too often overwhelm the resistance of high school students and college freshmen. Our only hope is to present those students with the truths offered by the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Hence, the Cluny mission.  And hence, our excitement in publishing Thomistic Evolution.