Street Talk

Street Talk: “I believe in Jesus why does it matter what religion I practice?”

If I was proposed this question by someone on the street/in a setting where I needed to give a relatively brief reply, my response to this question would be as follows:

By this statement, I take it to mean that (1) you believe in God and (2) you believe in Jesus. Is this correct?

If they respond in the affirmative (Yes), then I would ask some clarification questions.

I do not want to make any assumptions. By your belief in God, do you believe there to be only one true God, Creator of all things visible and invisible? And by saying that you believe in Jesus, do you believe that He is God Incarnate?

Assuming that they are Christian and responded to all of the above in the affirmative (Yes), then I would proceed:

If a person did not have “religion” and simply believed whatever they wanted and lived however they desired, would this person truly be led closer to God or be led further away?

The correct response is that by relying on reason alone, because humanity’s reason is weakened and darkened due to sin, man without faith will more likely be led further away from God rather than closer to God.

If they do not grasp this truth, I would explain further: In reality, relying on our reason, intellect, emotions and desires alone, without looking to revealed truths, humanity will more likely be led astray and further from God rather than be brought closer to Him. There are some truths that can be known through reason but it is possible for our reasoning to be wrong and in error. One example of something that we can know about God through our reason/intellect alone is that God exists, but there are many other things that we could never know solely through use of our reason. Some examples of these unknowns: (1) we would never know about the existence of heaven and hell through reason alone, (2) we would never know about the existence of angels through reason alone, (3) we would never know the reality of the spiritual battle that has been occurring between good and evil, Satan and God, since the beginning of time. (And the list goes on.) This is why revealed truths from God are important for humanity to understand reality. It is Faith that elevates our reason and understanding. Using our reason illuminated by faith we will be led closer to God.

I would then continue:

Do you believe in absolute truth? For example, you told me that you believe that there is only one true God. Do you believe this to be an absolute truth – truth that is universal (the same for all men) and that is unchanging throughout all time?

If they are Christian, they would respond yes, so I would continue:

Do you believe that God has revealed various absolute truths about Himself and about humanity to us throughout history (for example, in Sacred Scriptures)?

If they are Christian, they would respond yes, so I would continue:

Do you believe that God would reveal to us contradictory truths?

If truly Christian, they must answer that the absolute truths revealed by God are unchanging and cannot be contradictory or relativistic.

If they do not know the answer, I would explain further: God has revealed truths to us through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and even in creation itself. These revealed truths are unchanging. These truths cannot contradict each other. By definition, absolute truths are not relative but are absolute, which means that they are the same for all people at all times. For example, God cannot reveal that such intentional acts as murder, fornication, adultery, and stealing are okay for some and wrong for others. These things are either good or evil acts. Period.

I would continue:

If this is the case, then what do we do about the situation that some religious groups teach that baptism is necessary for salvation while others teach that it is not necessary for salvation? There are also some groups who teach that all one must do is “accept Jesus into their heart as their personal Lord and Savior” and thus they are saved and can never lose their salvation. Yet there are other groups who teach that this is an error. These groups believe that faith is necessary but additionally one must live this faith through love which includes good works, and these groups preach that one can lose their salvation if they habitually do evil or fall into disbelief.

These are conflicting beliefs and only one of these groups can be right. Only one can be teaching the truths revealed by God.

So if you are to say that it does not matter which “religious group I belong to”, you are wrong. Why? Because this would accept a false notion that either “there is no truth” or “truth does not matter”. Yet when it comes to God, truth absolutely matters because God is Truth. In order to find God, we must search for the truth. Jesus even tells us that He is “the way, the truth and the life; no one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If you are Christian and you believe in all that Christ teaches, it is imperative that you seek for the truth in order to truly find Christ. This therefore means that (1) there are absolute truths that exist, (2) we must search out these truths, (3) there must be a religious community who has the truth, and (4) once we find this truth we are obligated to accept it.

It is possible that they may then state/argue the point that there is no religious community that has the fullness of the truth and that all religious groups are corrupted to some degree. If this is their response, I would then respond by quoting Scripture and Jesus Himself.

Jesus clearly tells us that:

(1) He will establish a Church in order to unite believers and preach the Gospel (“build My Church” in Matt 16:18; “preach the gospel to all nations” in Matt 28:19; in Acts 8:3 and 9:4 shows how Saul persecuting the Church he persecutes Christ)

(2) the Holy Spirit will guide the Apostles, the first leaders of the Church founded by Christ to ALL truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and be with them ALWAYS (John 14:16)

(3) He will never leave those in the Church orphans (John 14:18) and He will be with His Church always (Matt 28:20)

(4) Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church (Matt 16:18)

Therefore, if one accepts the premise that there is no one true Church, then they are calling Christ a liar.

My summation points to this person would be:

So there is absolute truth. There are truths revealed to humanity by God. These truths are handed down to us through the Church that Christ established, which includes through Scripture and the teachings of this one true Church. And Christ promised that this one Church would always be protected.

To support and promote the idea that it “does not matter what religion I practice or what religious group I belong to”, you are actually being relativistic and are professing a view opposed to God and what He has revealed to us. More importantly, if you truly desire to love God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it is important to know God. For one cannot love what he does not know. BUT if one is mistaken about what one knows about the person he loves – in this case God – then his love his not real because all one then loves is a creation in his own mind and not the real Person.

Refections on Two Encounters

As I continue to organize the local Tyler street evangelization team, I have taken two opportunities to go onto the streets with the Dallas team. There is a great group of people in Dallas and they have given me some great advice regarding set up/organizational of the SPSE team. But I have also had some amazing encounters with people through this evangelization ministry. This past weekend when I went out with the Dallas team to evangelize, I had two interesting encounters with young “atheists”, and I wanted to share some reflections.

First Encounter: I met a young man who was in his early to mid-twenties. He was from Korea. He works in cellular phone repair. He came to our table because he saw that we were giving something away. When he was looking at the rosaries, I asked if he was Catholic. He said that he did not believe in God. The more we conversed I discovered that he did not believe in God because he had “just never really thought about whether or not there was a God”. In response to my other questions, some of his replies were “I have never really thought about the purpose of life or why we are here”, and he “never gave much thought to the after-life and just figured we died and that was it”. We had a discussion that lasted at least 15 minutes or so. He took some pamphlets and commented that I had given him some things to think about.

It is hard for me, someone who grew up Catholic with religion always an integral part of my life, to imagine living a life without giving any thought to God. I cannot fathom living a life without a purpose or meaning. This was my first encounter with this form of atheism, but I will not be shocked to meet many more people like this young man in our modern culture. Our battle is no longer with a “pagan” culture as it was 2000+ years ago because at least in the pagan cultures of the past there were some notion of gods and realities beyond the material world, despite how misguided their viewpoints were. But our secular culture today is one that is attempting, and in this young man’s case as I am sure with others succeeding, to remove God and the supernatural completely from the world.

The other issue with the modern culture is that people are losing the reality that we are all a part of a story. As Christians we understand that this story is God’s plan of salvation. From the beginning of time to the present, all of humanity are characters in this story. As with any story, there is also a purpose and meaning for each of the characters. But today, people are losing this reality. People fail to see the meaning and purpose of life, they fail to recognize God and His Providence, and they fail to see how we are all connected. The result of this is that people fall into hopelessness and despair. With no meaning of life, what is the point of suffering? With no purpose for our life and no goal, then why love and care for others? Why not be selfish and have a utilitarian attitude (the idea that someone’s worth is in how much they can be useful to society)?

With this young man, I also just wonder about those around him in his life. In his day to day life, at home, with friends, in various forms of entertainment, how is it that he has not encountered God or at least something that made him question the existence of God? Those around him either share his indifference or they are not living in such a way that Christ is made evident. This reminds me to be a living witness to Christ every moment. Pray and make the sign of the cross publicly, wear a crucifix, tell people “God bless you”, and do whatever I can to evangelize not only in words but in actions. You never know who could be inspired.

I do not know how much my short conversation impacted this young man but I truly hope that my questions will ignite that inner desire for God that exists within each and every one of us. Living a life without God is living in an illusion. It only leads to more and more disorientation and confusion. Not seeing the story of God’s plan of salvation that we are all a part of will only lead to despair and hopelessness. We have to continue to share the truth of God with others because it is only in this that we can give hope and truth to a world where these are desperately needed.

Second Encounter: I met a young girl who was 15 years old. She was walking in the park with her mother. Her mother was Catholic but she stated that she was an “atheist”. She stated that she no longer believed in God. She said that she just knew there was no God. She held the view that we are the same as the animals without any difference. She did admit that murder of other people was wrong, but she also said that she was a vegan because she did not believe in killing any type of animals.  She admitted that there was morality but it was only because society determined what was right or wrong. Morality, to her, could change depending on the society one lived in. We spoke for 10 minutes or so. During this time I did bring up Pascal’s wager with her. With this form of argument, I stated that either God exists or He does not exist. Only one of us can be right. (She agreed with this.) Then I explained that if she is right and God does not exist, then there is no harm in believing or not believing in God. We would both just die and that would be the end of each of us. However, if I am right and she is wrong (God does exist), then we would have a problem. The fact that she does not believe in God, there would be consequences for her (just as there are consequences for how I live my own life). I explained that there is heaven and hell. Heaven is for those who love and obey God in this life on earth. Hell, however, is for those who hate God or do not care about God. Hell is for those who persist in disbelief and hatred for God throughout this life. I explained that the reason I am even here today evangelizing is because of love. God loves her and I love her and we want her to be eternally happy with God in heaven. But, out of love God does allow each of us to choose – we can choose to love and believe in Him or refuse to love and believe in Him (God does not coerce us).

This definitely made her think. Her response that followed was that “If there is a God, then He is loving and merciful and as long as she tries to be good, God will forgive her even if she does not believe in Him. Because of this it does not matter what I believe.” I tried to explain to her how her reasoning was wrong. I told her that God is our Father. God reveals Himself to us in many ways. If we ignore God and have an attitude of indifference, that is not loving God. If we do not know God and are not seeking to learn how God wants us to live, we are living in disobedience. And just as with our human parents (our mom and dad), if we disobey there are consequences and punishments. I explained that if I am right and there is a God, there is also the reality of heaven and hell. These are the consequences that result depending on who or what we love and how we live on earth.

Our conversation did seem to have an effect on her (at least I hope it did). I definitely pray that she will respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit in her heart. She was baptized so I hope that she will cooperate with the grace within her. One of the other team members had been talking to her mom during this time and wisely encouraged her mother to continue praying as did St. Monica.

This experience reminded me of a quote from Benedict XVI. “When one is not aware of the judgment of God, when one does not recognize the possibility of hell . . . then one does not recognize the possibility and necessity for purification. Then man does not work well on behalf of the world, because in the end he loses his bearings; he no longer knows himself, not knowing God and destroying the world. . . “ (Benedict XVI, to Roman clergy, 2/7/2008).

With the secular culture attempting to remove God from the world, one result is this failure to recognize the reality of hell. As Benedict XVI says, this unfortunately impacts not only the individual but the world as a whole. The reaction of this young lady when I presented the reality of hell (basically her lack of awareness of its reality) reminded me of the importance of ensuring that in our efforts in evangelization, out of love we are not omitting even the difficult truths such as the reality of hell. In doing so, we will be imitating Christ. Christ on many occasions preached the reality of both heaven and hell out of love. Denying this reality or not being aware of this reality can lead people astray. Out of love, even the difficult doctrines must be shared, while still having love and joy rather than fear be our primary messages.

Welcome!

Welcome to your local chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization.

St. Paul Street Evangelization is a grassroots, non-profit organization, dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking our Catholic Faith to the streets. We do this in a non-confrontational way, allowing the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of those who witness our public Catholic presence.

Christ’s call to evangelize was made to every Catholic Christian, and the Second Vatican Council reiterated this need, urging each of the baptized to bring the Gospel, found fully in the Catholic Church, to a culture that has largely reverted to paganism. As an on-the-street Catholic evangelization organization, St. Paul Street Evangelization provides an avenue for you to share the Person of Jesus Christ and the truth and beauty of the Catholic Faith with a hungry culture. Click Get Involved on the menu to find out how you can help.

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