God Makes Headlines


God is popping up in the most unlikely places.

The confluence of several events made God a big topic of conversation in September.

The faith of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. was sharply questioned in a sort of reverse inquisition during his hearings before the Supreme Court. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter wanted the judge to assure America that he wouldn't take his faith too seriously as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Roberts did his best to assuage him.

The movie the Exorcism of Emily Rose, a respectful film by an evangelical Christian director, put God and the devil in the spotlight. The Register's own publisher and editor-in-chief, Father Owen Kearns, was invited to appear on the Fox television show “Geraldo” to talk about how carefully the Church approaches claims of the demonic.

But Hurricane Katrina got God the most attention. Early on after the killer storm, a few columnists timidly questioned whether a harsh Mother Nature was compatible with a loving God. But soon a new kind of story overwhelmed the skeptics: the story of how much better Christians and Catholics had been in responding to the storm than the local, state and federal governments.

One of the most telling columns was one by “unrepentant atheist” Roy Hattersley, a British socialist. Here's what he wrote in London's The Guardian. It's worth quoting at length:

“The Salvation Army has been given a special status as provider-in-chief of American disaster relief. But its work is being augmented by all sorts of other groups. Almost all of them have a religious origin and character. Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs and atheists’ associations — the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil.

“The arguments against religion are well known and persuasive. … Yet men and women who believe that the Pope is the devil incarnate, or (conversely) regard his ex cathedra pronouncements as holy writ, are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.

“Last week, a middle-ranking officer of the Salvation Army, who gave up a well-paid job to devote his life to the poor, attempted to convince me that homosexual [acts are] a mortal sin. Late at night, on the streets of one of our great cities, that man offers friendship as well as help to the most degraded and (to those of a censorious turn of mind) degenerate human beings who exist just outside the boundaries of our society. And he does what he believes to be his Christian duty without the slightest suggestion of disapproval. Yet, for much of his time, he is meeting needs that result from conduct he regards as intrinsically wicked. …

“The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand. … Whatever the reason, believers answer the call, and not just the Salvation Army. When I was a local councilor, the Little Sisters of the Poor — right at the other end of the theological spectrum — did the weekly washing for women in [tenement] houses who were too ill to scrub for themselves.

“It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte. … Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.

“The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.”

It's a shame that Roy Hattersley never met St. Jerome. The great early Christian saint was a formidable scholar who translated the Bible into Latin. He had a reputation for being always at his books and for being a little rough around the edges.

However, when a natural disaster — some say it was an earthquake — displaced Holy Land families in his own day, St. Jerome left his books for more than a year, saying, “When brothers are in need, the vocation of every Christian is to serve.”

Register readers can relate to St. Jerome. Catholic World Mission reports that our partnership in “soul-aid” efforts to serve hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast was a huge success. Thousands of Register readers responded to the call to help.

God doesn't need the secular media to get his message to the world. But it's nice to see that, more and more, secular minds are seeing that they just might need God.