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Bishop Anthony’s Easter Message

Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta
Published in Catholic Outlook, April 2010 

At Easter we retell the story of God on the cross and risen from the tomb. We speak of faith and love amidst infidelity and despair. Photo: Kerry Myers.
God is dead! So the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared. Shocking words these and so Nietzsche had a madman announce them. But he meant them. The idea of a god and a cosmic order and a purpose in life were, he thought, all absurd for modern people. So is the idea of a God-given morality: “When we give up Christian faith,” Nietzsche said, “we pull the right to Christian morality out from under our feet.” Instead, we must now make ourselves gods, supermen whose will knows no bounds.

Recently, a number of foreign promoters of the end of God have been paraded around this country. These ‘new atheists’ disdain ‘simple’ people benighted enough to believe in God. These commentators often demonstrate a surprising ignorance of religion, history, even logic. But I do think they get some things right and I think, especially at Easter, that we should take their challenge seriously.

Easter says the atheists are more right than they realise – and more wrong. More right, because the fact is: God is dead, on Good Friday, dead on a cross. Yet they are more wrong, because this shows there is indeed a god to kill and despite our doing our worst He lives.

Nietzsche thought it was cowardice or ‘angst’ that stops us acknowledging the end of god. We fear that without faith we might despair or give up on truth and goodness altogether. We are anxious that robbed of moral absolutes, human will would soon become a law unto itself. Here the father of the new atheists was again more right than he ever guessed.

The past century was the first in history to promote godlessness on a grand scale, and the effects were devastating. The century of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, the era of mass murder, mass abortion and mass breakdown of relationships, this century of state-imposed or culture-supported atheism, has shown there is every cause for angst if people give up on God.

Yet despite the new ideologies, despite the bloodbaths, despite the relativism, consumerism and the rest, more than one billion Christians will be mourning this Good Friday and celebrating this Easter Sunday.

Altruism still regularly trumps our selfish genes. Christianity has proved itself both more vulnerable and more hardy than its enemies imagined. And in this our Church is the image of Our Lord: vulnerable to agony and death; yet resilient in suffering and bringing new life.

If last century’s experiment in atheism had little to recommend it so, sadly, our own attempts at belief often fall far short. The violence, abuse, bigotry and unlovingness of many believers down through the ages have propelled some people away from God.

Tepid faith is also a turn off for people, as they sometimes see us living as ‘practical atheists’, people who say they believe in God but then live as if there was no God or as if His existence had no real purchase on their day-to-day lives. We can kill God for other people by our own failures or half-heartedness.

On the other hand the great Christian institutions of parishes, hospitals, schools and welfare, the great art and music, the achievements of philosophy, science and morality, the lives of the martyrs, mystics and saints, the sacrifices of our families, and the heroic love of so many ordinary believers, all have their magnetic attraction. As C.S. Lewis found, the more he tried to exclude God, the more there came “the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet!”

Try as we might to drive God out of our lives, He keeps coming back, like Fred Flintstone’s cat. Communists tried to banish Him from history and now Christianity enjoys an extraordinary resurgence in the former communist nations. Secularists try to evict Him from the public realm and now politicians compete to demonstrate to the electorate their religious credentials. Cynics try to drive Him from the hearts of our young people, and as we saw at World Youth Day less than two years ago, youth flock in their millions to renew their faith and idealism.

At Easter we retell the story of God on the cross and risen from the tomb. We speak of faith and love amidst infidelity and despair. Above all, we sing of hope: hope that there is more than just blind forces of nature and the imposition of human wilfulness, hope for a future for weak and suffering humanity.

The One who goes down into the tomb at Easter speaks to each one of us of the compassion of God. And He enables us to join Him in making a more compassionate world. God is alive and raises us up to new life!

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