Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Catholic Evangelization: Listen to an Atheist

There’s been a big emphasis lately on Catholic evangelization. However, telling other people about our faith in Christ is not something most American Catholics feel comfortable doing. So, despite the recent emphasis, the vast majority of us choose to keep silent and leave that job to the professionals: priests, deacons, nuns, etc.

One of the best reasons to evangelize comes surprisingly from a confirmed atheist. Penn Jillette is one-half of the humorous magic act, Penn and Teller. He is loud, outspoken, intelligent, and very certain that God does not exist. But unlike many atheists, who become livid at the mere thought of Christians discussing their faith in public, Jillette thinks Christian evangelization is a good thing—and quite logical, given what Christians claim to believe.

Jillette puts it this way: “How much to you have to hate someone to not proselytize? How much would you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Jillette does not believe in God, nor life after death, nor any basic Christian doctrines. But he’s smart enough to understand that Christians who refuse to share their faith with others are not being polite, they are instead showing great disrespect toward those people; maybe even hatred.

Think of it this way: imagine that a terrible, infectious disease is sweeping the nation. Millions of people are dying. The latest reports indicate this plague will reach your town within a couple days. Fortunately, a local doctor has developed a vaccine that makes people immune to the illness. You quickly get vaccinated, and now you’re safe; you will not get sick and die. But then, at this point, you choose to do nothing to help spread the news to your fellow citizens that a vaccine is available, and you don’t offer any assistance to the doctor as he desperately tries to vaccinate as many people as possible. When the disease hits your town, the vaccinated people are spared, but thousands of others die. And here is your justification for doing nothing to help: “Well, I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on others. Everyone should decide for themselves what’s best.”

Um, yeah. That sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? If that actually happened, and if you really behaved that way, no one would ever call you polite. They instead would call you callous and heartless. They could make a strong case that your inaction showed downright hatred toward other citizens.

The basic message of the Gospel is similar to this scenario, except for two major differences. First, the Good News of Christ addresses a spiritual sickness—sin, and the resulting separation from God—rather than a physical sickness. Second, the “vaccination” offered by Jesus provides eternal life, rather than a medical vaccination, which only delays a person’s inevitable death. In that regard, you can make the case the Good News of the Gospel is far more valuable than a life-saving vaccine, since eternity is a whole lot longer period of time than even 80 or 90 years.

After all, don’t forget, that is exactly what Catholicism teaches us: whoever repents and puts his or her faith in Christ will receive the gift of eternal life in Heaven. Atheists do not believe this, of course, and most atheists may bristle when the Gospel message is discussed in public. But at least one atheist has looked at this situation logically. And this might be the first time I’ve ever said this: follow the advice of an atheist. 

Penn Jillette’s comment is right on the money. If we truly believe everlasting life is possible, and yet we don’t tell people about it, we are not being charitable at all. You could even say we’re being hateful.

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