Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 15, 2002
You can change the world
In 1948, the founder of The Christophers, Father James Keller, published his book, You Can Change the World. Keller saw the rise of "materialistic atheism" in the United States as undermining the future of democracy. But instead of wanting to hound all communists out of places of public influence, Keller maintained good people had to develop their talents so that they, not the communists, could fill those positions of public influence.
Keller's book sold hundreds of thousands of copies and his ideas were an island of sanity in the ensuing period of McCarthyism. They found an echo in the Second Vatican Council one of whose key ideas was that the role of the laity is to "endeavour to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order."
Over the decades, many people have taken Keller's ideas and, in particular, his dictum "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness" seriously. One cannot begin to guess how much good has been done by people who took simple, concrete steps in their lives to make the world a better place.
Today, communism is a discredited ideology with few adherents. But the "materialistic atheism" that Keller asked us to supplant remains a threat, even if it wears different clothes.
Canada and the United States have become highly materialistic nations. The materialism that ravages us is not communism, but a distorted capitalism that maximizes profits all the while paying little heed to its effects on the environment and the poor people of the world.
A report on children in Edmonton, released April 4, noted children in poorer neighbourhoods are more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems and experience stress in the home. Child welfare cases have risen 63 per cent in the last five years.
But if the dire effects felt by those in poverty are a result of "materialistic atheism," so too is the all-too-common view that Christianity is a source of social evils. We have to wonder out loud, for example, whether that view underlies the inflexibility with which the federal government has dealt with Christian churches on the issue of Indian residential schools.
In short, we face two forms of atheism in Canada today. One is the practical atheism which does not so much deny God's existence as make money and material pleasures the reason for one's existence. The other is the more militant atheism which does deny that the role of government is to protect God-given rights and which actively seeks to undermine the role religious institutions play in society.
The main part of the Christian response must still be what Father Keller and Vatican II advocated - for lay Christians to make lifetime vocations out of loving God and one's neighbour. Those vocations can be lived out in any field of endeavour from tradesman to secretary.
But Keller emphasized the importance of having "good people" in fields of public influence - education, government, labour-management and the media. It is ideas, not things, that set the course of a nation. "Most good people," he said, "are taking care only of themselves while most evil people are taking care of everyone else."
The way to bring Christ to the marketplace, Keller wrote, is to have "
Too many Catholics still see these qualities as exclusive to priests, brothers and sisters. But unless lay Catholics, by the hundreds of thousands, take up such an approach, the future of our nation is bleak. Keller's relentless optimism led him to hope for a bright future.
The hour is never too late.
The followers of Christ can always pick up the plough and not look back.
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