Do Nones Really Have No Religion?

Bishop Robert Barron delivered this year’s Erasmus Lecture last Monday, “Evangelizing the Nones“, sponsored by First Things magazine. Your Roving Reporter was there.

Nones are those who profess, when asked by marketers and other such people, no religion. Since this is scarcely possible—even atheists believe in scientism—we can blame the non-specificity of the definition. Nones are those who have given up, or were only mildly exposed, to Christianity. As such, Nones in the West evince a mixture of the most popular Christian heresies. Which, to be fair, so also do many who profess Christianity. To evangelize Nones, then, would seem to require the same techniques used to talk heretics out of their mistakes.

Now many Nones are Millennials, kids unused to hearing they have made mistakes and are either appalled or indifferent to being told they hold false beliefs. How to get to them? Barron has five ideas.

First, begin evangelization by commencing with the beautiful. Before arguing about the Good and the True, show Beauty. In an era of ugly clothing (“designer” ripped jeans), ugly architecture (glass boxes with unopenable windows), ugly music (primitive unnatural sounds), ugly art (giants asses for giants asses), ugly movies (Bad Teachers “will ‘F’ you up”), ugly television (willed ungraceful sodomy), ugly language (heard everywhere) any exposure to Beauty will come as a relief.

So much in art, music, and the rest seems designed to attack the soul. It is as if the art, and not only the artist, hates us. It’s almost as if it’s all intentional, that it’s planned. That couldn’t be, could it?

The Catholic Church has an enormous repository of Beauty. In every instance when confronted by the Ugly, respond with Beauty. Show what happens when man directs his energy to something greater than himself.

Second, stop dumbing down the faith. Barron told the story of a woman who brought her eight-year-old daughter to work. The little girl proceeded to launch into an intricate description of the Star Wars universe, displaying full knowledge of minute details of the timeline and familiarity with all the minor characters. If she can memorize who Obi Wan Kenobi was, she can memorize Methuselah.

This does not mean Thomistic theology need be preached on street corners (we’ll save it for blogs), but it does mean not fearing to be misunderstood. Barron points to Vatican II and the wave of anti-intellectualism it created and ushered in what he called the “banners and balloons” era.

We should (and we do not here) not fear confrontation with, what are at least thought to be, our strongest intellectual enemies. Since one of the biggest errors going is scientism, it’s best to begin by cutting away at its shallow roots. (Scientism is, as has been pointed about endless times, self-defeating: there is no scientific proof it is true.)

Third, learn again to tell a good story about Israel. There were reasons our Lord showed up where he did, and when he did, and under the circumstances he did. Somebody page Cecil B DeMille!

When I was a boy a young atheist asked me “What if Jesus was killed with a shotgun? Would Christians wear little shotguns around their neck?” I thought that argument convincing during my days away from the Church. The answer is, of course, that Jesus chose to appear before shotguns. If you can understand that, you have gone a great distance.

Barron says that if we do not see Jesus as the culmination of the Jewish story, then “Jesus devolves in short order into a sage…a teacher of eternal truths”, a man of no more importance than Socrates, certainly no deity. And the man most people now see.

Fourth, emphasize the god of the new atheists. Nobody believes in the god constructed by new atheists. If the new atheists had any victory it was in convincing people that their fairy story was the God. God is not “one being among many”, as the NAs have it. He is not a fairly but-not-too intelligent scientist magician who lives on the other side of the universe pressing buttons on some sophisticated machine. God is the ground of all being. Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.

Fifth, engage in radical witness, by which Barron meant a “recovery of a radical form of Christian life.” Act like we’re here only for a little while. Act like we mean it when we say we believe Jesus. Act like all that stuff in the Bible is true, and better than (say) politics.

41 Comments

  1. Great post.
    There does seem to be a coordinated effort to make everything we are exposed to ugly. I think it has the effect of convincing people that there is no true beauty, that everything is in the eye of the beholder or subjective.
    Roger Scruton had a very good Documentary on this process. I think it can be found on YouTube.

  2. Exactly the kind of liberal nonsense one would expect from Barron. The only evangelism that works is the preaching of the Gospel. Tell people they are sinners headed for Hell unless they accept the free gift of salvation that Christ offers. Tell them they are sinners, they must admit it, but Christ has died in their place, and offers eternal life to those who believe. The rest of it — books, movies, apologetics — is a damn waste of time. I’ve been evangelizing for over 50 years. Dylan songs don’t save. Narnia novels don’t save. ONLY the preaching of the Gospel saves.

  3. So preach Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in a world filled with the polar opposite of it?

    Indeed.

    I must admit, your point about the significance of when, where, and why Jesus chose to appear when he did and what it matters is something I hadn’t seriously considered – despite being raised in the Church.

    I thoroughly enjoy your prose by the way.

  4. “even atheists believe in scientism”

    No, we don’t. Atheism is a lack of belief in god and nothing else. Lack of belief isn’t a belief, in the same way that no ice cream isn’t a flavour of ice cream.

    “Now many Nones are Millennials, kids unused to hearing they have made mistakes and are either appalled or indifferent to being told they hold false beliefs.”

    As belief in god has been declining steadily for many decades, I suspect it has nothing to do with millenials. What started me on the (long) road to disbelief was being taught the story of Noah’s Ark and thinking: “Where did all the water go?”

    “First, begin evangelization by commencing with the beautiful.”

    What have you got that’s more beautiful than Saturn’s rings as imaged by the Cassini probe?

    “If she [an 8 year old] can memorize who Obi Wan Kenobi was, she can memorize Methuselah.”

    The stories in the Bible are not age-appropriate for an eight year old. Even the story of Noah’s Ark includes the murder of almost evry living thing on Earth, and there are depictions of rape, torture and slavery.

    “The answer is, of course, that Jesus chose to appear before shotguns. If you can understand that, you have gone a great distance.”

    Shame about the millions of people living in the 100,000+ years before he bothered to turn up. They had no hope of salvation.

    “Jesus devolves in short order into a sage… a teacher of eternal truths.”

    I would say not even eternal truths, unless “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” is an eternal truth.

    “Fourth, emphasize the god of the new atheists. Nobody believes in the god constructed by new atheists.”

    Yes, we keep hearing this. You all believe in a near-abstract god and a specific, sophisticated allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Except, it isn’t true. Tens of millions believe in a completely literal interpretaion of the Bible and a vengeful, bigoted god who’s less forgiving and compassionate than any average person.

    “Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.”

    Special pleading fallacy.

    “Act like we mean it when we say we believe Jesus. Act like all that stuff in the Bible is true”

    You’ve had 2,000 years to do that and it’s conspicuously failed. Christians in general never impress anyone with their actions – it’s one of the most obvious ways an atheist can see the whole thing is a total failure.

  5. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “The incoherence of Flew’s “definition” is discussed here:”

    There’s nothing in the least bit incoherent about stating that lack of belief isn’t a belief, unless you want to claim that ‘no ice cream’ is a flavour of ice cream.

    You’ve linked to Eve Keneinan’s blog before. My conclusion then was that I’ve no idea where she gets such a high opinion of herself, as she’s actually as thick as two short planks (as we say in the UK).

  6. she’s actually as thick as two short planks

    An ad hominem does not make your argument wrong, but it does make it weak, since it is not actually an argument. Granted, she is a Platonist and not an Aristotelian, but she is a professional philosopher and logician, so if you bother to examine her post, you may be able to rebut her without a baseless dismissal.

  7. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “An ad hominem does not make your argument wrong, but it does make it weak, since it is not actually an argument. Granted, she is a Platonist and not an Aristotelian, but she is a professional philosopher and logician, so if you bother to examine her post, you may be able to rebut her without a baseless dismissal.”

    I have examined the posts you linked to, and numerous others, and the comments they received several months ago. I don’t need to rebut Ms. Keneinan’s arguments as numerous commentors on her blog have done so very effectively already. I’m aware that she’s a “professional philosopher” – it’s something she blusters about at every turn, but I don’t care as, IMHO, it’s not even a proper job.

    If you want me to rebut an argument, you’ll have to make one first, rather than relying on someone else to do it for you.

  8. @ Mike,

    “Why is claiming that God necessarily exists a case of special pleading?”

    Because the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.

  9. the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.

    You’ve got it backwards. The claim is that contingent beings exist. The consequence is that a necessary being must exist to account for the contingent beings. That among necessary being is one whose essence just is to exist. (Such a being is Existence itself. “Existence exists,” some like to say. And it cannot not exist.) From this one deduces various attributes which in toto add up to “that which all men call God.” That is, God is a conclusion, not a postulate.

  10. Swordfish,
    It’ more silly the claim that God which is the one eternal creator is eternal in the understanding of the clever and the not so clever human being.
    God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him.
    He is eternal. That’s the point. No complicated metaphysical language required.
    The rest if faith or not.

  11. Let’s see if this is altered.
    It’ more simple than that.
    The claim is that God which is the one eternal creator in the understanding of the clever and the not so clever human being.
    God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him. No sophistry required.
    He is eternal. That’s the point. No complicated metaphysical language required.
    The rest if faith or not.

  12. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “You’ve got it backwards. The claim is that contingent beings exist.”

    Wrong. The claim was: “Not only does He exist, it is necessary that He does so, for if He did not, noting else could.”

    No mention of ‘contingent beings’. Now, go and prove that the universe is contingent, prove that the universe has to be created and if you’ve got any spare time, prove that the Trinity isn’t contingent.

    “God is a conclusion, not a postulate.”

    Yeah, right. I’m really, really convinced that they didn’t just start with ‘therefore god exists’ and work backwards.

  13. @ Joy,

    “God is not a created God and therefore it is not necessary to ask who created him.”

    Sorry, but I disagree. IMHO, the God of the Bible was created by people, just like Odin, Osiris, Shiva, and all the thousands of other gods. And how do you know the universe was created?

  14. Mr. Bones:
    Don’t confuse a statement made posterior to the existence proof with the manner in which the existence proof is derived. Of course, one may start with a conclusion and work backward. We did that all the time in mathematics. One has an intuition; but intuitions are not sufficient in mathematics any more than they are in metaphysics or in physics. Maxwell had an intuition that the physics of charged bodies was precisely parallel to that of Ampere’s physics of dielectric bodies and laid it out without any empirical data. But his followers believed in him despite the falsification of permanent magnets and in the end they were justified in their beliefs. Likewise, in engineering and problem solving, one often has a desired end state and works backward to the current state to obtain the solution set. (Simply reverse the steps and you have the solution procedure or the program.)

    The “universe” is the collection of all things that have material existence, and like all collections it is contingent on the existence of the things comprising it. In the case of the “universe,” these are things that come into being and pass out of being. “Not even the mountains last forever,” as the old saying has it. The same is true of stars and galaxies, and even protons and the like. None of them contain within themselves the principle of their own existence. Hence, we have to look outside of them to find that.

    Actually, “contingent” being is not quite the right word. We should say, “generated” being. The first stage of the proof concludes only there are some things that are not generated, such as mass-energy, i.e., a conservation law, and can neither be created (generated) nor destroyed. So these things count as “necessary beings” in the context of the proof. (Although I understand that in current theory, protons are given mass by the Higgs field, which is carried by the Higgs boson.) But this sort of necessity is derivative. This takes us to the second part of the proof, which people often forget about. You cannot establish the necessary existence of mass-energy simply by considering mass-energy as such. Thomas called this the difference between what is “necessary by another” and what is “necessary by itself” – and the latter is something whose existence you could be certain of just by knowing its definition. But nothing in nature is like this, so you need something outside of it.

  15. @ swordfishtrombone,

    “the claim is that the universe needs a creator but god doesn’t. God is exempt from needing a creator because: special pleading.”

    What YOS said. You should buy a copy of Ed Feser’s new book ‘Five Proofs of the Existence of God’. You still might not be convinced after reading it but at least you won’t have the option of attacking straw men.

  16. Swordfish,
    I understand your position completely. I think what you say is sensible and without device or barb or sophistry. Atheists, the ones I’ve known, just stop before they speculate and stay away from what in some ways are emotional and uncertain things.

    I was just explaining why I understand that there is a point at which knowledge and logic fails to describe the universe.

    The never-ending question or puzzle of before and outside and beyond do have an explanation for the faithful. The questions in my mind must be circular and tend to curve round but this is only because infinities are too big and scary or silly to contemplate. Assigning a mathematical symbol doesn’t solve the problem.

    How do I know the universe was created?
    Initially because of the bible but maybe it was matter and energy that was created. Maybe matter and energy is not all there is. That’s what I suspect. Given that these questions even exist and that matter and energy do not explain truth, experience or emotion, I find it rational to believe that there is more than mass and energy.
    “Before Abraham was, I am” is saying something about time. “God is love” is also saying something about mass and energy. It makes sense separate from Biblical authority.

  17. Materialism, positivism, naturalism, empiricism are completely sterile as a basis for any kind of science because they cannot even be made to account for themselves… or even worse, they refute their own base assumptions.

    The fundamental absurdity of any kind of Materialism cannot be rescued by assuming that matter (or mass) and energy are some kind of primordial, immutable “things” that do not need a cause and can, therefore, be the magical “cause” of everything in which they are present or used.

    For one thing they are mutable; liable to be changed from one to the other or from one type to another. They need a cause to make them what they are.

    “Nones” are entirely religious having blind faith in a great superstition that cannot be substantiated by any observations of reality; nor is their religion in any way intellectually coherent.

  18. @ Oldavid,

    “Materialism, positivism, naturalism, empiricism are completely sterile as a basis for any kind of science”

    It’s so obvious now you point it out that science doesn’t work! How could I have failed to notice that before?

  19. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    Your response is just a more complicated special pleading fallacy.

    The universe isn’t a “collection of objects”. It can’t be described as ‘contingent’ as a whole just because it contains (possibly) contingent objects. The universe may be infinite, or may be one of an infinite number of finite universes (or both) – in either case, every possible arrangement of matter would be inevitable. It’s difficult to see how something can be 100 % inevitable and also contingent.

    In any case, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the universe *must* be explained by something outside itself – what does “explained” mean anyway? All you’re doing is saying that the universe requires something ‘outside’ itself, but god doesn’t, purely because you’ve defined him that way. This is just the original special pleading fallacy put in a slightly different way.

    Even if your entire explanation was correct, how can a ‘necessary’, non-contingent ‘being’ create a contingent universe, hold moral values, or have a very contingent son who is part of itself?

  20. “In any case, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the universe *must* be explained by something outside itself – what does “explained” mean anyway?”

    It means there must be an explanation for why the thing exists (The Principle of Sufficient Reason). You concede that the objects in the universe can be explained (by things outside themselves) and yet the universe as whole need not be – special pleading!

  21. The universe might just be a brute fact.
    It is not an irrational position to take and it’s no use telling atheists that it is.

    It simply depends upon your starting point and premises, as with all arguments.

  22. “The universe might just be a brute fact.
    It is not an irrational position to take…”

    I disagree. Actually it’s not even coherent to say that ‘things’ in the universe can be explained but the universe as a whole need not be, because the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents; the universe is just the collection of ‘things’. To admit the possibility of ‘brute facts’ is self-refuting because if they are possible then we deny the principle of sufficient reason, in which case there are no grounds for doing so!

  23. @ Mike,

    “Actually it’s not even coherent to say that ‘things’ in the universe can be explained but the universe as a whole need not be, because the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents”

    “It means there must be an explanation for why the thing exists (The Principle of Sufficient Reason). You concede that the objects in the universe can be explained (by things outside themselves) and yet the universe as whole need not be – special pleading!”

    I think you’re trying too hard. If “the universe doesn’t exist independently of its contents”, then the same explanation may be applied to the existence of the universe as to its contents – in other words, we don’t need any separate “special” explanation for the existence of the universe.

    Everything in the universe exists as a change of state of something else, like energy into matter; chemical reactions; or life itself – following that observation, we may assume that nothing in the universe is created, so there’s no reason to assume the universe must have been. None of this amounts to any sort of “special pleading”.

    Special pleading means claiming that something is impossible (like the universe existing without any cause) so it must have been created by god, then claiming that god doesn’t need a creator because he’s special. I’m not claiming that it’s impossible to “explain” the universe as a whole, just pointing out that it may not be necessary.

    Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?

  24. Everything in the universe exists as a change of state of something else, like energy into matter; chemical reactions; or life itself – following that observation, we may assume that nothing in the universe is created

    So it’s all an illusion? But clearly stuff exists; so what you must conclude (not “assume”) is that creation and transformation are two very different processes. BTW, would it may you happier if instead of saying “form” we said “state” and replaced “formal causes” with “static causes,” because that was a nice summary of transformation.

    Special pleading means claiming that something is impossible (like the universe existing without any cause) so it must have been created by god, then claiming that god doesn’t need a creator because he’s special.

    It would be an example of special pleading if that were the actual argument. But it is not, so it isn’t.

    Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?

    Because shouting IT JUST IS! is no more an explanation than shouting GODDIDIT!

  25. It is only by implicitly denying the very foundations of reason and logic that the fool can say in his heart there is no God.

    The whole material Universe is in motion and flux. That means changes. Even the most unsophisticated reasoning intuitively knows that that requires a thing to be changed and an effective agent to cause the change. However, our most sophisticated narcissists do not allow mere reality to interfere with their egotistical dreams. They most happily assume absurd premises and “reason” their way to impossible conclusions (although it is mostly disguised in elaborate, circular, backwards reasoning; the premises implied, assumed and unstated).

    Unassailable commonsense premises include:
    Things exist.
    A thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist. And the corollary; an effect cannot be greater than its cause(s).
    In any change a thing is not what or where it was before the change and that requires an agent, or cause, to effect the change.

    One of the most commonly and decietfully implied nonsenses is an infinite regression of causes. The implied assumption is that if causes are vanished into the unimaginably distant past (currently about 14.5 bn years) then they become irrelevant because it is assumed that in that time processes and changes that do not naturally occur will have occurred. At this point “modern “science”” is indistinguishable from Voodoo magic.

    A moment’s reflection, detached from insane ideology, would reveal that an infinite regression of causes would come to an infinite cause. But, of course, an infinite cause would have no need of an infinite number of “steps” to produce anything. However, a sane observer can see immediately that there are material things and nonmaterial systems and laws by which they operate… none of which can create themselves out of nothing or randomness.

    If there were not material things consistently operated by systems and laws any kind of physical science would be completely impossible. Logic would be entirely meaningless.

    So, if reason and science is to exist at all there must be an uncaused first cause of all that is changeable (and thus unable to cause itself). This uncaused first cause is what we call God.

  26. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    [we may assume that nothing in the universe is created]

    “But clearly stuff exists; so what you must conclude (not “assume”) is that creation and transformation are two very different processes.”

    We have evidence that things exist but no evdience that things were created. The fact that things exist doesn’t mean that there must have been a previous state of non-existence.

    “It would be an example of special pleading if that were the actual argument. But it is not, so it isn’t.”

    I was responding to the claim that my suggestion that the universe may ‘just exist’ is a case of special pleading, which it isn’t, because I’m not claiming that any alternative explanation is impossible.

    [Why can’t the universe ‘just exist’?]

    “Because shouting IT JUST IS! is no more an explanation than shouting GODDIDIT!”

    I didn’t shout, that’s what you’re (UPPER CASE) doing. The fact that you don’t think it’s an explanation doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  27. We have evidence that things exist but no evdience that things were created. The fact that things exist doesn’t mean that there must have been a previous state of non-existence.

    You are thinking of “creation” as a kind of “transformation,” just another kind of moving of matter around from one form/state to another. A “state” of non-existence cannot by definition exist. Creation, as I said, is an altogether different kind of thing. It is not anything like a dark, empty room and suddenly presto something appears — which is about all that the imagination can conjure up. You must use your intellect, not your imagination.

    Creation is the joining of an Essence to an act of Existence. Nothing prohibits that existence from having always been, as the example of Plato’s Foot illustrates: the Eternal Foot is planted in the Eternal Sand and beneath it is the Eternal Footprint. The Footprint is still Caused by the Foot, even though there was no time when the Footprint did not Exist.

  28. I’m not claiming that any alternative explanation is impossible.

    Special pleading is claiming an exemption from a general rule.

    I didn’t shout

    How nice. But I was making a parody of the kerygma of faith involved in consigning some aspect of material reality to the zone of the unexplanable, in which it must simply be accepted on faith. At least the religious folk have the decency to draw the line outside the material universe and not inside it.

  29. The Universe cannot “just exist” (if that has any real meaning) because in it there is “movement” (i.e. change).

    Time is “a succession of events”; no succession of events (no “movement”) = no time.

    Plato’s footprint is an imaginary effect without a cause… an assumption of no before and after… i.e. no “movement”.

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