Can you be GOOD without GOD? Reflections from Fr. D. Longenecker

Father Dwight Longenecker wrote an article asking a provocative question: “Can You Be Good Without God?’

What got my attention was his supposition that if this question was asked of our students in our CATHOLIC schools the answer would overwhelmingly be “Of course.” I’ve experienced it first hand teaching for seven years in Catholic high schools. Their attitude would be “As long as you don’t - like - kill someone or something, - like - Jesus still loves you, right? So why wouldn’t I go to heaven after I died. I’m basically a good person and all and I don’t even go to church every Sunday….”

Sound familiar?

I am intrigued by his insights into the shift of the Catholic faith. The focus on the good, true and noble activities of advocating for social justice shifted our faith so that our faith emphasis became what we “did.” Good stuff, nothing wrong for advocating for the helpless, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, etc…Nevertheless, I’m ordained 17 years and, for those 17 years I continue to hear discussions (and warnings) about priests needing to understand the difference between focusing on being a “human BEING and not on being a human DOING.” This conversation often emerges when one of our confreres leaves the priesthood simply because he stopped praying and the ministry had become totally empty to him. In the midst of busy parish life, this is a VERY easy trap to fall into.

I think that it was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J., the French philosopher and Jesuit priest who coined the phrase years ago, “The Catholic of the future will either be a mystic, or nothing at all.” I think that’s where we’re at now. I know many fine people in the pews who practice their faith but it might not be enough. We all have to go to a deeper place. And I’m not saying that I have the answers on HOW we accomplish this. Prayer is going to play a much bigger part of this. Adult catechesis will also be instrumental. Beyond that, I’m still looking for the answers myself.

I think that Father Longenecker is onto something here. Why did so many Catholics leave? Were they not being fed? Was it too easy? (Just “be nice and go sit in the pew for an hour and that should be enough”). Did we not have the materials to take them to a deeper place? The Catechism had not yet been written and solid ROMAN CATHOLIC scripture study was simply not available much less something like Jeff Cavin’s “Great Adventure Bible Series.”

Here’s the good news, I think that this is changing. We have all heard how hungry people are for more solid spirituality in their life. New materials are being developed every day. But we DO need to not only preach that the “getting to heaven by works” message is invalid, but “getting to be good without God” doesn’t work either.

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