Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why the New Evangelization won't be like the Old

J. Budziszewski, "This Time Will Not Be the Same" (First Things, Marcy 2014):
God willing, the new evangelization will happen, but let us not imagine that this time will be like the first time. The old evangelization proclaimed the Good News among pagan, pre-Christian peoples to whom it came as something new. Nothing like that had been done before. But nothing like our task has been done before either.

Re-evangelizing is not evangelizing as though for the first time again; the very fact of past proclamation makes re-proclamation different. For we proclaim the Gospel to a neo-pagan, post-Christian people to whom it does not come as new. The old world had not yet felt the caress of grace; our world, once brushed, now flinches from its touch.

Is re-evangelization completely and radically different from evangelization? No. The same Christ knocks at the door of the same human heart, though a heart with a different history. Is it more difficult? In some ways. Easier? In some ways. But different.

Here is one great difference: The pagan made excuses for transgressing the moral law. By contrast, the neo-pagan pretends, when it suits him, that there is no morality, or perhaps that each of us has a morality of his own. Since they had the Law and the Prophets, it comes as no surprise that the Jews took morality for granted. But to a great degree, and despite their sordid transgressions, so did the pagans....

Related to that first great difference is another. The pagan wanted to be forgiven, but he did not know how to find absolution. To him the Gospel came as a message of release. But the neo-pagan does not want to hear that he needs to be forgiven, and so to him the Gospel comes as a message of guilt....

Not only was the pagan devoid of nostalgia for a Christian past, he was also unencumbered by the anger of guilt for rejecting it. The neo-pagan is susceptible to both nostalgia and the anger, and he may even feel both at once....

... If the pagan was at all inclined to admit that his nation had ever done wrong, he had no one else to blame. But the neo-pagan can blame his culture’s sins on Christianity. The trial of Galileo, the plunder of the American indigenes, the Spanish Inquisition—they were all the Christians’ fault.

Surely these things were gravely evil, though if neo-pagans were consistent, they would set the thousands killed by Christian inquisitions against the millions killed by atheistic inquisitions. Yet it is easy to see why they don’t. Christian offenses are easier to invoke, because the Church admits them, and they are also more scandalous, just because of the Gospel of love....

[T]he pagan knew he was not a Christian. By contrast, a certain kind of neo-pagan may think that he is one. This oddity is perhaps the most challenging difference between evangelization and re-evangelization. In the ancient world, the people who needed to be evangelized were outside the walls of the Church; today they include thousands who are inside but who think just like those who are outside. When the Gospel is proclaimed, they complain.

A pew is a difficult mission field. It is hard for the shepherds to bring home the sheep if they think they are already in the fold. But that is a story for another day.


Ralph Roister-Doister


How about when the neo-pagans are not all in the pews? Cf, the Kasper blog above