For those who accept the Catholic Church’s faith as the norm of their Christian faith, the reasons why it is good to be a Christian serve as reasons why it is good to be a Catholic.
By themselves, considerations pointing to the credibility of Christian faith are not sufficient reasons to be a Christian—to make and keep the baptismal commitment, as faith requires. One makes this commitment and perseveres in it, as in any other, only for the sake of goods in which one hopes to share: in this case, the goods pursued by Jesus’ covenantal community in following him.
Today, most morally earnest Christians see some form of secular humanism as the only tempting alternative to their faith.59 Secular humanists claim that Christian hopes are a naive illusion, mere wishful thinking like children’s dreams of Christmas morning and the gifts Santa Claus will have left. Such wishful thinking, they maintain, is irrelevant for modern men and women, who realize that humankind’s problems must and can be solved by autonomous human efforts. Nevertheless, despite technological progress, the human situation as a whole is not improving, and in some ways is worse than ever.60
a) Secular humanism is a poor imitation of the gospel. The appeal of secular humanism to the contemporary world transcends base motives only to the extent that it retains some residue of the gospel. Rejecting not only faith but what almost all men and women have acknowledged about God, secular humanists propose to fulfill the splendid hope which the gospel aroused and to do so without God. They expect merely human efforts and technology to bring about on earth an approximation to the heavenly kingdom.
However, their strategies for overcoming evil are unrealistic, and their promises to suffering humankind have proven empty. Most significantly, no secular humanist can come to grips with the greatest evils: sin and death. Virtually all of them reduce sin to nonmoral evil—psychological illness, ignorance, insufficiently evolved social structures, lack of adequate know-how, and so forth—and relinquish hope of immortality.61
b) Secular humanism leads to moral irresponsibility. While all secular humanists prize freedom in various senses, they reject the kind of freedom which is most essential for morality: freedom of self-determination. By denying the human capacity to make free choices, secular humanists undermine personal moral responsibility, and so make it easy to rationalize sins by blaming them on social structures, inadequate education, psychological problems, breakdowns in communication, and so on. Not thinking “My choice will make me be what I shall be” but “Factors beyond my control make me choose as I do,” people influenced by deterministic ideas find it hard to resist the temptations to which fallen human beings always are exposed.
In this situation, people everywhere—in places still influenced by Marxist ideology as well as in those shaped by the liberal ideologies prevalent in affluent nations—are tempted to seek security in possessions and status. In both public and private life, lying and manipulative behavior, heedless and sometimes brutal competition, and exploitation of the weak by the strong are common. Anxiety also tempts people to seek escape in immediate distractions. Transient arrangements for quick gratification often are preferred to faithful relationships based on lasting mutual commitments.
c) This moral irresponsibility undermines humanist aspirations. Such moral irresponsibility undermines the earnest concern of secular humanists regarding the moral heart of humankind’s problems: injustice. Hence, despite its aspiration for a better world, secular humanism lacks the moral resources to build a just and good society. Proponents of each form of secularism claim that their particular approach, if not frustrated by the proponents of alternatives and by the dead weight of tradition, would make the world peaceful, prosperous, and happy. However, the various forms of liberal secularism adopted by many people living in the wealthy nations rationalize abuses of liberty and unrestricted consumption of the world’s goods, alongside neglect of those in dire need.62 And while Marxism proposed to liberate the poor and oppressed, it only enslaved them the more.63
d) Secular humanism does not respect human persons’ dignity. Every kind of secular humanism denies that there is any more-than-human and unchanging basis for meaning and value. Denying that there is a creator, secular humanists deny that people are endowed with inalienable rights. Most secular humanists therefore support various evil policies, such as legalized abortion and nuclear deterrence. Furthermore, even if secular humanism were able to achieve the better world it promises, that paradise would come too late for those who, in the meanwhile, are being deliberately killed or allowed to die miserably for the sake of “justice” and “freedom.” To opt for any kind of secular humanism is to opt not for life but for death.64
The positive reasons why it is good to be a Christian are found in the blessings which the gospel promises to Jesus’ faithful disciples.
a) Faith in Jesus is in human persons’ ultimate self-interest. Self-interest often is equated with selfishness, but that is a mistake, since selfishness impedes friendship and other goods essential to real self-fulfillment. Unselfish people normally enter into good personal relationships in the hope of enjoying various goods together with others. The gospel itself appeals to true self-interest (see Mt 16.24–27, Jn 12.25–26).65 Thus, although making and faithfully fulfilling the commitment of Christian faith may not be in one’s temporal and earthly interest, it is in one’s true and everlasting interest.
Faith in Jesus reconciles human persons to God, enables them to be his children, and holds out the hope of everlasting joy in heaven (see 1 Jn 3.1–2). Thus, faith is good for those who accept this great gift. It is also right to believe, for God is like a good parent to created persons. Good parents bring their children into existence out of love and unselfishly provide them with many other gifts. They ask little but to be loved in return. It is right that children revere such parents, express gratitude to them, and remain in loving communion with them. Thus, faith is right, because it responds affirmatively to God’s will that human persons be in communion with him, and this pleases him.
b) Faith in Jesus also serves every other human good. Cooperating with Jesus’ redemptive work, one is empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a meaningful and good life in this fallen world. Enlightened by faith, Jesus’ disciples know the truth about the deepest and most important matters, a truth which liberates them both from the inadequacies of other world views and from the purposeless existence of those with no conscious world view. Able to love one another with genuine and unselfish love, Christians can enjoy the benefit of fellowship in the Church.
Sharing sacramentally in Jesus’ gloriously risen and immortal body and blood, one can look forward confidently to personal, bodily life after death. Knowing that God loves and sustains what he has made (see Wis 11.24–26), one also can hope to find again in heaven, “cleansed of all dirt, lit up, and transformed,” all the “good fruits of our nature and effort” which were nurtured on earth (GS 39). In other words, faith promises the renewal and completion in heaven of every good which the blessed wished to protect and promote in this world (see CMP, 34.E).
59. See James Hitchcock, What Is Secular Humanism? Why Humanism Became Secular and How It Is Changing Our World (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1982).
60. On the state of freedom in the contemporary world, see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, AAS 79 (1987) 557–64, OR, 14 Apr. 1986, 1–2. John Paul II, Homily at Mass in Turin, 3, AAS 72 (1980) 289, OR, 21 Apr. 1980, 3, calls attention to fear of death, nuclear arsenals, and terrorism: “Incidents of this kind have always occurred, but today this has become a system. If men affirm that it is necessary to kill other men in order to change and improve man and society, then we must ask whether, together with this gigantic material progress, in which our age participates, we have not arrived simultaneously at the point of wiping out man, himself, a value so fundamental and elementary!” He also teaches, Dominum et vivificantem, 57, AAS 78 (1986) 881, OR, 9 June 1986, 12: “On the horizon of contemporary civilization—especially in the form that is most developed in the technical and scientific sense—the signs and symptoms of death have become particularly present and frequent.” As examples, he mentions the threat of nuclear holocaust, death-dealing poverty and famine, abortion, wars, and terrorism.
61. See Ratzinger, “Freedom and Liberation: The Anthropological Vision of the Instruction,” 69–71.
62. See John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 11, AAS 72 (1980) 1212–15, PE, 279.109–16.
63. See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation”, 11.10–11, AAS 76 (1984) 905–6, OR, 10 Sept. 1984, 4.
64. Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus, AAS 31 (1939) 422, PE, 222.25, commented on the situation at the beginning of World War II in a way which remains valid: “No defense of Christianity could be more effective than the present straits. From the immense vortex of error and anti-Christian movements there has come forth a crop of such poignant disasters as to constitute a condemnation surpassing in its conclusiveness any merely theoretical refutation.”
65. See CMP, 20.G; Paul VI, General Audience (9 Feb. 1972), Inseg. 10 (1972) 126, OR, 17 Feb. 1972, 12.