RELIGION VERSUS IRRELIGION

"I so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air (I Cor. 9:26).

This is an age of specialization in the natural sciences. And truly wonderful are the inventions and discoveries of the mysteries and powers of nature as they are being revealed to us. Much of this marked advancement is due to the application and concentration of the human intellect upon specific fields of knowledge. The trite saying, "A jack of all trades and master of none," finds little favor with modern scholars.. Individuals must specialize and direct their studies into specific channels if they wish to succeed in this modern world of keen competition. And the net result of their separate efforts combined places before us a panorama of the great wonders of the modern world of which our forefathers did not dream in their wildest dreams. Verily may we say that the intellect has conquered the elements, mind has conquered matter, and reason has been enthroned.

But in this enthronement of man's mind is concealed the greatest danger of the human race. Even the Angels fell through the sin of pride. So also in man, the idolatry of the intellect is invariably followed by the deification of the flesh. For worshipers of the intellect alone the pinnacle of achievement is self-glorification, self-gratification. They may point to their achievement in establishing lines of communication with the most distant nations of the earth by air, sea and land, but they have ceased to commune with heaven. Their merchant vessels may be laden with the riches of every land, but the bark of their souls is without cargo or ballast, tossed to and fro by every wind of error and passion. Their schools and academies, colleges and universities, may impart the most excellent instructions in every branch of human knowledge, but the science of God and revelation, the science of the Saints, is banished from the classroom and the professor's chair. Yes, we are rapidly becoming a godless people. 

All too many are forgetting the ultimate purpose of their creation, namely, to know God, to serve Him, and ultimately to be happy with Him for all eternity. Man may boast of his knowledge of natural sciences, but in the meantime he is ignoring the greatest of all sciences, the science of salvation. We might well, therefore, entitle the first discourse of this series on the Creed "Religion versus Irreligion." Since this is a subject of great moment for all of us, we shall ask you to give us your undivided attention.

(O Jesus, assist us with Thy grace!)

Meaning of Religion.--Man, by nature, is religious. Whether he wills or not, there come some sober moments in every man's life when he imperceptibly drifts from the material things of life to the things spiritual. No matter how engrossed he may be in worldly affairs, the end of his days will not dawn before he will be confronted with the subject of religion. He may gloat over the matter he has analyzed and dissected in his laboratory; he may become elated over his great intellectual acumen. But ultimately the question will confront him: "Whence this matter which I have explored? Who endowed me with this wonderful intellect of mine? To whom may I trace the ultimate cause--or let us at once call Him Creator--of all other matter, of all the other great intellects and powers of nature yet unexplored?"  Here reason will exert itself and confront him with what we call religion, which Cicero defines as meaning "the exercise of careful attention." But St. Thomas says more aptly: "Religion means to bind, indicating the relationship of man towards God."

Viewing, therefore, the word objectively or as a thing, we define religion as "a system of truths, laws, and practices which man recognizes and observes in paying worship to God." Taking it subjectively, as it resides in the individual, we may call religion "a virtue which inclines man to render to God the honor, love and worship which are His due."

Source of Religion (Divisions).--Once man's mind becomes conscious of the existence of religion, of a bond which binds him to his Maker, he also naturally becomes inquisitive to know more about this relationship.  Then human reason begins to exert itself. And through man's natural powers of (human) reason he will be able to arrive at certain fundamental truths, certain laws and practices to be observed. We call it the religion of nature (or natural religion) ascertained through human reason, as St. Paul aptly describes--"the invisible thing of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Rom.1:20). 

Thus, through the natural powers of reason man may arrive at the knowledge of the existence of God. He may even reason to the knowledge of the nature of God, and many of man's duties towards God--duties of worship, love and thanksgiving. And from these truths he may reason to many other truths concerning his own nature and destiny, his duties to himself and to his fellow-man.

Divine Revelation.--But God did not leave man to rely upon his own resources. Knowing the slow reasoning powers of some, the tendency of human nature to err, and the reluctance of many to exert their reasoning faculties, God confirmed even those truth which man might come to know through his own reasoning faculties by divine revelation.  Nay more, God revealed still other divine truths that man could not even come to know through his own powers of reasons. Such are, for example, the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Blessed Trinity, of which we shall speak more later on. This is what St. Paul speaks of, when he tells the Hebrews (1:1): "God who at sundry times and in divers matters spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son."

Necessity and Universality of Religion.--Mindful of the complexity of human society, the lack of leisure, the absence of and reluctance for concentration of mind,            the inability to follow reasoning that is characteristic especially in youth when the character is in process of formation and just at a time when the principles of religion are so necessary for the proper formation of character, we readily understand the vital importance of revealed religion. In revealed religion, God openly confirms even those truths  which man, through his reasoning faculties, might eventually acquire through the course of years.

Man, by his nature, craves for the good, the true and the beautiful.  Religion, natural and revealed, confirms man's reason that God, the Creator, is the possessor of all good, all truth, all beauty. From this knowledge man's reason will lead him to admit other truths that shall be also self-evident--for example, that justice must be meted out to all, obedience is due to just authority, love is due to that which is good and lovable, gratitude is owed to the giver of great gifts, and so on. From all these considerations man can readily see what honor, reverence, love and obedience we owe to God, the all-good, the all-just, the all-lovable, and so forth.

Universality.--From the individual we readily reason to the necessity of religion for society in general. From the Fatherhood of God, we reason to the brotherhood of man. From the family we become incorporated into the community, from the community into the nation, and so on until the family of all nations is bound together with God, the Father of all, through that universal bond we call religion.

Religion, in turn, also forms the basis of all moral obligations, as between the individual and his God, between the individual and society, and between as such and the Eternal Law, given by God to us all. Hence, the Ten Commandments are based upon the principle of religion. Again, religion forms the basis for all divine worship, which is the sum-total of all human acts, whether internal or external, whether private or public, by which man manifests to God the honor and homage that is His due.

So ingrained is this fundamental principle of religion between man and his Maker that all the greatest students of history agree that there has never been a nation or a people which has not been imbued with the idea that there always existed a bond which binds man to God from the very beginning of Creation. Only recently Professor C. H. Toy of Harvard (Introd. to "History of Religion" 5) wrote: "As far as our present knowledge goes, religion appears to be universal among men. There is no community of which we can say with certainty that it is without religion."

Irreligion.--Yet, you may rightfully exclaim: "In spite of all these cogent facts, in spite of all these declarations, why are we still confronted on all sides with the spirit of irreligion? Why has not the science of religion kept pace with the astounding advancement of other modern sciences? Why is the very foundation of all religion being so brazenly challenged on every side today?"

My friends, the reasons may all be summed up under this one fact, namely, that through man's present pride of intellect, the goddess of reason has been enthroned and the God of Creation has been rejected or dethroned. The modern scientist begins with the declaration that religion is the enemy of science; that it is the opiate of the masses. In his estimation, present-day scientific research is so far advanced that whatever the human mind cannot fathom must be rejected as falsehood.

On the other hand, we declare that religion has ever been the handmaid of every science worthy of its name. For science must be based upon the fundamental principle of truth. But religion is based on the Eternal Truth. Hence, the Church or religion has never been opposed to any scientific research. Nay, she has fostered science and every branch thereof, throughout all ages.  From Marconi with the radio to Louis Pasteur, the father of bacteriology, we might range through the field of astronomy, electricity, chemistry, thermics, physiology and medicine, mathematics and physics, acoustics and optics, geology, mineralogy and geography and cite name after name of the sincere Christian scholars who excelled in their specific fields of scientific research. Unanimously, these intellectual giants will tell you that, instead of being a hindrance or an obstacle, their religion served them as an asset, as an inspiration, guide and boon companion in their achievements. 

The man of religion realizes full well that his capabilities for research extend far beyond the test tubes of his physical laboratory. From the material he proceeds to the things spiritual, basing his premises upon the words of St. Paul, who has given us the assurance that "the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Rom.1:20).

Conclusion.--Yes, "religion versus irreligion" is the far-flung battle-cry today. Those who have rejected religion, have enthroned reason as their god. And from the idolatry of the intellect, there is but one step to the deification of the flesh. For such physical evils are the only obstacles to man's supreme happiness. The only virtue they know is the voice of nature and the impulse of the heart, be they morally good or evil. Nay, for such there is no morality as we know it.  For they recognize no Supreme Being. And without a Supreme Being, there can be no Commandments and consequently no Christian morality.

My friends, with these two conflicting schools of modern thought before us, we may now better understand present-day world conditions. As in the past, false prophets have arisen who promise, like the Tempter of old, to solve all world problems and lead their devotees to a new promised land without religion, without a God. Their accomplishments are beautifully summed up by an Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem in these words: "The pageant of twentieth-century civilization has produced profound disillusionment, for moral progress has not kept up with these advances.  In scene after scene of this pageant perils and defects occur--politics without principle, diplomacy without honor, promises without fulfillment, nationalism without love, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, industry without morality, buildings without homes, marriage without sanctity, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, Sundays without worship, religion without God and Christianity without the Cross."

In this heart-weary world disillusioned people are beginning once more to manifest a willingness to turn to religion for succor and light. Let us hasten the day when all will once more turn to those true prophets for leadership and guidance who received their divine commission from the Savior of the world when He commanded them, saying: "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations ... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt.28:20). Yes, heaven and earth will rejoice when religion once more becomes the guiding and motivating force of all human endeavor. Amen.