Religion in a Culture of Science, Skepticism, and Do-It-Yourself Spirituality
Skepticism fails to satisfy
For many people, it’s not science but skepticism that makes religion irrelevant in the modern world. With so many religions and philosophies giving so many different answers, it is easy to dismiss them all and adopt a philosophy of relativism and an attitude of skepticism. Religion is irrelevant, modern skeptics assert, because it cannot provide answers for everyone. We must not impose our values on others, they insist, but let everyone formulate their own philosophy of life and find what is right for them.
Despite its initial appeal, skepticism cannot satisfy. No matter how much we assert a relativistic morality, we live our lives in such a way that a sense of a universal morality constantly reasserts itself. We still hold people accountable. When we judge the behaviors of other people, when we insist on justice in the world or complain about injustice, when we condemn evils in the world, we show our sense of a universal standard of morality to which all are accountable. We even hold ourselves accountable. When we violate certain standards, we argue with ourselves and justify our actions to ourselves.
Who are we arguing with? We may say it is our conscience and then try to dismiss it as the result of our upbringing. “It’s just that Catholic guilt!” we might say. And yet if we pay close attention to these interior debates, we become aware that our conscience appeals to a standard of measurement, a standard of right and wrong that is external to us and to which all are accountable.
Skepticism quickly loses its appeal when we encounter those who violate these norms of morality, whether in the name of political ideology, religious militancy, or personal gain. We easily see the evils of political ideologues, religious terrorists, and depraved criminals. No matter their cultural, religious, political, or personal worldview, we condemn those who murder the innocent.
Such evils have particularly characterized the contemporary world and have repeatedly shown the vacuous emptiness of relativism. Those hints of a universal morality within our own experience and the need for a morality to which all are held accountable should lead us beyond the narcissistic appeal of an individualized morality to consider that universal moral standard. Religion once again becomes relevant. Although religion has been used for evil, and some continue to foment violence under the guise of twisted religious ideologies, religion provides an ancient and continuing witness to the commandments, the values, and the virtues of the moral life.
With its teachings on the natural moral law, the Catholic faith is particularly relevant in an age of relativism. It appeals not just to Catholic believers but to all people of goodwill, as rational and free persons, to follow the universal precepts of the law we all share by our common human nature.
But the Catholic message does not end with the natural law; the Church proposes a way out of skepticism through divine revelation: God has pierced the darkness of our skepticism with the illuminating light of his divine Presence in Christ. In our confusing age, in which truth can seem so elusive, it is easy to adopt a skeptical outlook. Yet the Catholic Church offers the hopeful proposal that God seeks to rescue us from our mental and moral confusion. God has stepped into history as man in the Incarnation of Christ, revealing the truth about God and humanity and offering that truth to us as a gift. The Catholic Church is called to witness to this gift of truth and to offer that gift throughout history. This gift has the utmost relevance to our confused relativistic age and offers the hope of attaining truth a skeptic ought not ignore.