Jesus engaged Nicodemus at night. Will he engage visitors in our age who come in the night? What about the “Nones”, that growing group whom surveys say are leaving their religious traditions because they have stopped believing in their teachings.
Charles Taylor in his book “A Secular Age” may have insights into the “Nones”. Some become unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Many leave a religion because “they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money.”
It’s interesting to see, Taylor writes, that “ far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.”
The theory that religion will disappear as science advances doesn’t hold up, Taylor says, because there’s a search for “human fullness” for a “higher world” that doesn’t go away. Surveys indicate that’s the case among the unaffiliated today
But Taylor also recognizes that people find religions difficult today. In the western world, our secular age is an age of “expressive individualism;” people want reasons to believe and belong. They need religious places that meet them as they are. They’re looking for religious experience.
“Those who believe in the God of Abraham should normally be reminded of how little they know him, how partial is their grasp of him. They have a long way to go…Many believers (the fanatics, but also more than these) rest in the certainty that they have got God right (as against all those heretics and pagans in the outer darkness). They are clutching onto an idol, to use a term familiar to the traditions of the God of Abraham.” (p.769)
Churches need to engage the world with reasons, not with condemnations. Belief leads us to the mysterious Unknown, not sharp certainties. Jesus kept speaking to Nicodemus many nights, it seems. His story and the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus says it takes time to believe. We’re slow learners. We have to keep talking to the “Nones” at night, praying they find him “in the breaking of the bread.”
I am not certain from your intro that you have Thomas right. While John as the gospel writer seems to portray Thomas as a doubter don’t forget that Thomas went on to be one of the bravest disciples who took the gospel first to Persia, then to South India where he was eventually martyred for his faith. Some of the Bible scholars claim Johns real beef with Thomas was he was one of the alternative gospel writers whose Gospel was eventually left out of the Bible because he taught that although Jesus had the light, his followers could also share in that light. He was also the disciple who when the other disciples had tried to talk Jesus out of revisiting a community where a threatening crowd had wanted to stone Jesus, it was Thomas who supported Jesus in his plans.
Thanks for you comment. I don’t think Thomas was the only doubter and I agree with tradition that Thomas was an outstanding witness to the gospel in Persia and India. His words “My Lord and my God” seem to indicate that John saw him too as a great witness to the resurrection. The easter readings seem to accept questioning people among the followers of Jesus. There’s a Thomas in us all. We follow Jesu from question to question. Eventually we hope to know in ful. FVictor
How good it is to know that God hears our questions along with our praise. In that great coud of witnesses who have gone before us, I’m sure there were times of doubt during their lives on earth.
Dear Father Victor, thank you for your reflection in which we all meet in that “Hidden Ground of Love” (Thomas Merton) we call God.
“they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money.”
Taylor is on target here. I’d add another reason: time. Belonging to a worship community requires time. I’ve heard it said, “We’re too busy and have no time for church.” Why? Economics demands working long hours to support a family. Now most businesses and retail stores are open on Sunday. One mother was asked why she was not in church with her son during the children’s Mass. She said she was across the street in the laundromat…the wash cycle ended!
You could say that church is counter-culture today. On Sundays many parents are out on the field, cheering on their kids as they play baseball, football or soccer. They are experiencing the joy of their athletic kids but not having an experience of God in community worship. Let’s pray that one day their eyes will be opened in the breaking of the bread.
Hear the song: In the Breaking of the Bread