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January 23, 1998     The Message
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January 23, 1998

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0 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana January I 0 Anti-theists, nontheists and atheists I have By FATHER ROBERT L. KINAST Catholic News Service One summer when I was helping with the parish census, I knocked on the bro- ken screen door of a run-down home. Someone inside yelled harshly, "Who's there, and what do you want?" I answered that I was from the local parish, and immediately a large man in a wheelchair spun into the hallway. He began shouting angrily: "Look what your God has done to me. I'm crippled for life. I don't want anything to do with your church or your God. Now get out of here." Since that day I have met other people who harbor similar anger and refuse to believe there is a God. I think of such peo- ple as anti-theists. They are fighting against God, resisting any suggestion that there is a God who might care about them. My first instinct is to avoid anti-theists, but when I have resisted that temptation, I have learned a valuable lesson: People often reject God because of God's representatives. Vatican Council II acknowledged this when it listed among the causes of atheism the carelessness of believers about their faith and failures in their religious, moral or social life (Con- stitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 19). Anti-theists make me more aware of how much GOd relies on believers to rep- resent and share the divine life with oth- ers. This is a great testimony to God's trust in us and a stimulus for living our faith as authentically as possible. Then there are people I call "nontheists." A few years ago at a professional the- ology meeting I was very impressed by a professor's presentation on belief in the resurrection among the earlyChristians. Afterward I was discussing the lecture with a colleague who knew the presenter well because they teach on the same fac- ulty at a state university. The colleague acknowledged the pro- fessor's scholarship and creativity, then added: "The irony is that he doesn't believe a word of it. He finds the origin of Christianity completely fascinating but has no personal religious convictions of any kind." This professor is an example of people I have known who are nontheists. They simply do not include God in their per- sonal beliefs. They may have great knowledge about God and religion, but it never seems to enter into their person- al, spiritual lives. Such people remind me that faith is not the conclusion to a logical argument. It is always possible to separate the evi- dence for faith from the act of faith. For, faith is a free choice, a decision. And ultimately faith is a mystery that leads to a personal relationship with GOd. The non-theists I have met make me realize how grace-filled and humbling it is to believe. Finally, there are atheists -- "a-theists." The only millionaire I ever knew was also one of the most generous, thought- ful and caring people I have ever known and a nonbeliever. We became friends through a mutual acquaintance and enjoyed each other's company simply as persons. The fact that I was a priest and theolo- gian never made my millionaire friend feel uncomfortable or obliged to seek God, even though we talked about it many times. He may have been the only genuine a- theist I ever have known. He did not reject God or refrain from believing; he simply did not experience God as real. God was literally a nonentity to him. Even when this man was dying of can- cer, he did not feel a need to reconsider his nonbelieL Life was more than enough for him, he said, and he had lived fully and generously. Indeed, he had. My friend the a-theist reminded me that sometimes believers can avoid involvement with the challenges of this life by focusing too much on the next life. Often enough I have recognized in myself an impulse to pray for people when I could also have spoken or acted directly to help them. Vatican Council II warned against making this dichotomy (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 34), and the example of my friend has been forcefully persuasive. All in all, the anti-theists, non-theists and a-theists I have known have made me a better believer. I can only hope my believing also has sons -- and more Father Kinast is the director. for Theological Reflection, Beach, Fla. i After accepting the divine call to speak in God's name, the people's response was to ridicule Jeremiah, to torment him. Often Jeremiah spoke under strain. "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped .... The word of the Lord has brought me derision." This was more than the sensitive prophet could endure, and he decided to give up his ministry. But that decision caused him untold agony. Thus, we read: "I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in myheart .... I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it" (Jeremiah 20:7-9). God came to Jeremiah's aid, reassured and strengthened him, and he perse- vered for 50 years in spite of everything. Like Isaiah's servant of the Lord, he could say: "Though I thought I toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent Belief in God was so fundamental in tnlical times that it needed no prooL The biblical writers attempted no such demon- stration. It would have seemed like "prov- ing" that the sun r/ses or the rain falls. Anyone who questioned God's exis- tence was considered, quite simply, a "fool," a term with sinister moral under- tones. "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God"' (Psalm 53:2). Even to question God's existence in those days was not actually to deny God's existence. Rather, it was tanta- mount to asserting that God didn't care what people did. Faced with the harsh realities of life, many were tempted to doubt God's lov- ing care for them. The prophet Jeremiah was tempted to such emotional anguish. By FATHER JOHN J. CASTELOT Catholic News Service my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord" (Isaiah 49:4). At one low point in their history, the" Israelites were sure GOd had abandoned them. In desperation they proclaimed a national fast. When their situation did- n't improve immediately, they were con- vinced that nothing could get God's attention. But they received this won- derfully reassuring message: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Isaiah 49:15. In the days of Jesus, Jairus' tentative faith grew strong when, on the way to his house, he witnessed the cure of the woman with a persistent hemorrhage. But just at that point he got word that his daughter had died. The bottom fell out of his hopes. Jesus said to him: "Do not be afraid; , bli ..... onbel=ef. just have faith" (Mark restored the little girl Even something . match for trust in God. Father Castelot' is a author, teacher and lecturer. Unbelief in It mea that are ' i  "i W  ., Father Robert L. Kinast recalls a man in a wheelchair who angrily at him: "Look what your God has done to me. I don't want anything to do with your church or your God." Kinast, "I think of such people as anti-theists. They are God, resisting any suggestion that there is a God who mi8 ht them." CNS photo by