Recently my husband and I were strolling through a busy summer art fair. In addition to the booths selling all kinds of crafts and colorful clothes, we came across a few informational stands representing different local churches as well as political organizations.
One of the booths was being run by atheists. As depressing as the sight was, as we passed their set-up I immediately thought of a recent and very revealing article in The New York Times Sunday Review, of all places — an article that brought a little smile to my face and caused me to say a prayer for the men sitting behind the table. It was a story that provided a real glimmer of hope regarding those, much like the two manning the atheists booth that day, who claim that we’re nothing more than an assembly of atoms, with nowhere to go but six feet under when our time on earth is finished.
The phrase “glimmer of hope” might seem odd to associate with those who go around pointing to organized religion as a crutch. And that’s putting it mildly. How many times have we heard the Church regularly referred to as backward and her teachings on sexuality oppressive and unconstitutional? Too many to actually count quite frankly. And then there is the research. The New York Times piece, “Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s,” pointed to several recent polls that show a major decline in religious affiliation as well as religious practices. The Pew Research Center also found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who expressed strong confidence in the existence of God has also taken a nose dive from 71 to 63 percent. So, you might be asking, exactly where in the world is this “glimmer of hope” coming from? Well, from the so-called atheists and agnostics themselves.
“Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion or at least the depth of what you might call the ‘religious mind’ — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice, does not reflect a decline in underlying spiritual inclination,” the article stated.
The article went so far as to say the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. People continue to search for meaning in something, somewhere, outside of themselves. And while we’re again often looked down upon as weak and ignorant for believing in God, many of our same critics have no problem believing ideas about U.F.O.s, or intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans. And despite the mounds of evidence to support Christianity and the lack of any proof for Marvin the Martian, Obi-Wan Kenobi or the Force, we’re considered the crazy ones.
“An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in non-traditional supernatural and paranormal phenomenon are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion.” Don’t get me wrong. The writer didn’t exactly suggest readers should head to St. Patrick’s Cathedral or their local parish after reading the article. But he did raise some questions that the former believers and non-believers just might ponder. In essence, who are we? Who made us? And why are we here? Sound familiar? The moral of the story? Keep smiling and keep praying. Sooner or later more folks will realize as many of us, thanks be to God, already have — that Obi-Wan Kenobi is hardly our only hope.
This column first appeared on OSV Newsweekly. To read Teresa’s latest OSV columns click here.