Around National Census time, there is none more evangelical than the various atheist organisations. Not content with recording their own lack of religious belief on the census form, these groups pop up every five years – at their proselytising best – to encourage Christians and Catholics in particular to make the jump to the ‘no religion’ box in the census.
This year is no exception.
A marketing campaign, backed by opinion pieces appearing in sympathetic media outlets is asking people to cast off their cultural Catholicism and declare themselves to have no religion.
The campaigners target those who do not practice a particular religion or who might struggle with or even reject some religious teachings, insisting that this is the same as having ‘no religion.’ In doing so, these activists deliberately or ignorantly misrepresent what religion is.
Religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means ‘to bind.’ Religion is the binding of each individual to God and to each other. Declaring ‘no religion,’ therefore, declares that we have severed these ties with God and people, or at least that we aspire to do so. It is not the severing of ties with a particular teaching with which you might disagree, a particular priest or bishop you don’t like, or particular scandal you cannot overlook: it is the ultimate throwing of the baby out with the bathwater, declaring that you abandon every aspect of religious belief and practice.
The atheistic campaigners want you to believe that such an ‘unbinding’ brings freedom; that removed from even a cultural or sentimental attachment to God and others will be liberating. They will also tell you that it is the most ‘authentic’ way to describe yourself. “After all,” they whisper, “you can’t be religious if you don’t go to Church.”
The opposite is true.
It is our bond with God and with one another that delivers our true freedom and reveals to us our most authentic self. This has always been true but it has been especially evident these 18 months past, as places of worship have been closed and Australians have been encouraged to socially distance or forced to isolate.
We know from our experience of this pandemic that our bonds with family, friends and community are an expression of our true freedom. We know that even those who rarely darken the door of a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) know there is something missing when those doors are closed.
We know that even those who might not be the best or most frequent pray-ers still turn to God during times of great trial, confident that however long they have practised social distancing with Him, He has bound Himself to all of us for all eternity, and is waiting to hear us when we call. This has been clear throughout the pandemic, with a third of Australians reporting that they increased their prayer and spiritual practices during lockdown.
atheistic campaigners…appeal to their sense that they are not ‘real’ Christians and to their fears that they have distanced themselves too much from the God who loves them.
Just as God remains bound to humanity, so too does the Catholic Church. Catholic schools educate Catholics and non-Catholics, right across the country and make provision for many of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable students. Catholic hospitals provide care and healing to all-comers, irrespective of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. So too Catholic aged care facilities and nursing homes.
Catholic welfare agencies offer assistance to everyone, without checking which box they ticked on the Census form. Priests baptise our babies and bury our loved ones, even when their families have been away from the Church for a long time. Because our Priests and those who work in various Catholic ministries have bound themselves to God and to God’s people.
The atheistic campaigners want to take religion, religare, the ties that bind away from people by appealing to their sense that they are not ‘real’ Christians and to their fears that they have distanced themselves too much from the God who loves them. Such a campaign is insidious and evil, because these campaigners have no interest in being a community for or with those they are encouraging away from the Church. Instead, they are only interested in using them.
Behind their push for statistical confirmation that Australians are losing their religion is a desire for a more secular state, one where religious belief and believers are marginalised, as well as a push to remove public funding from Catholic schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, despite them providing essential services to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Catholic Church declares that people are always an end and must never be used as a means. The atheist campaigners have no problem with using people as a means to achieve a militantly secular end. Why anyone would choose to join their ranks is beyond me.
Even if you have been away from the Catholic Church of your upbringing, it is still your home. It is still a place where you will be welcomed back whenever you find yourself longing for an end to social distancing and isolation, and seeking to be bound to the one who has bound Himself to you. Identify yourself as part of our family and tick ‘Catholic’ on the census.