When People Stop Believing in God

John ArmstrongLordship of Christ

The famous twentieth century Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton once said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing—they believe in anything." This is profoundly true and our time increasingly demonstrates this point in day-to-day life.

There can be no doubt about the fact that we are experiencing a dramatic social and moral upheaval in today's world. This amounts to a seeming breakdown in values and morals altogether. Ours has become a non-stop world. We cannot stop it nor can we find a place to stop in it. Boundaries are less and less important, whether political, cultural or religious. We call this globalization in business but in the West it is causing the disintegration of almost everything we valued in the past as true life. It also increasingly subordinates virtually everything we know and believe to cash flow and maximizing profits. Add to this a growing commitment to individualism and the end result is spiritually and morally deadly. The concept of the good, of what is really proper and proportionate, is being lost. Faithful or unfaithful, it doesn't really matter. Just listen to the news each day. What matters is that we maximize the self. But in the end we are actually losing the self.

This stress on individualism has made freedom and prosperity the magic words of our time. In order to be flexible we have to live without commitment, we have to go where we want to go, and do what we want to do. This means we live life to pursue what we wish. This way of living works against true faith in the living God. Where does a person go in this culture who wants to live a life of faith and commitment? In the past the answer was they went to the church. Today we are less sure of that answer. The church seems intent on making itself relevant but in the process may lose its own soul. The church seeks to reach the culture by becoming too much like it. The line we walk between reaching the culture, and being like, it is very thin at times.

Whonegobychc-b Cristoph Cardinal Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, addresses these questions in his new book, Who Needs God? (Ignatius, 2009). Cardinal Schonborn says that the world we now live in, at least in the West, has become preoccupied with usefulness and results. Does faith offer anything to me in such a modern context? His answer may surprise you, at least at first, but he has to be correct.

The Gospels are full of utilitarian and profit-motive considerations says the Archbishop. Consider that Jesus is quite unashamed in appealing to his followers to count the cost and then to consider the outcome of living for him. "Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous mammon" comes to mind here. A man should plan for the harvest and then live accordingly. According to Jesus to not do so is to become a full-fledged fool.

What then is the use of belief? Schonborn says, "I know where I am going; never mind when I will get there, but I know where I am going. I know that my life has a goal, that a period of time has been allotted to me, that I have received this time as a gift and should make the wisest possible use of it. I know I can be confident, even God is looking out for me." Schonborn says that when he was a young Dominican a superior said to him that he had a "brazen confidence in God." He says that was a great complement. I concur. I desire to have no confidence in myself but  I want to possess a "brazen confidence in God." I think there is a huge difference and this difference is what allows me to live with real confidence in this fast-changing world.