Theology on Tap: young Catholics' response to relativism

Theology on Tap: young Catholics' response to relativism

Patrick Langrell

Religion and Politics, two topics usually regarded as inappropriate for polite dinner conversation, became the focus of discussions over steak and drinks at PJ Gallagher's Irish Pub during World Youth Day on the evening of Wednesday, 16 July.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver spoke to a crowd of over 950 young people at a Theology on Tap session as part of the World Youth Day Youth Festival Events.

'These are precisely the things we should be talking about,' the Archbishop argued. 'Nothing else really matters. What could be more important than religious faith, which deals with the ultimate meaning of life, and politics, which deals with how we should organise our lives together for the common good?'


Being a Christian these days is neither easy nor popular. But this fact shouldn't discourage us from living out our faith in such circumstances or from advancing and defending our beliefs and convictions in the most courageous, rational and ethical ways.

As a young Christian, I along with many others face what Archbishop Chaput calls the mentality of 'part-time Christianity', the idea that we can create a division between our private personal beliefs and our public convictions and actions. This is the type of cultural conditioning that leads to descriptions of our times as the 'age of tolerance' which might be better described as the 'dictatorship of relativism'.

Today, the image of Christianity which most of us hear through secular media channels seems to be one of Christ without the Cross - a combination of 'nice' ethical and humanist aspirations devoid of the need to transform our lives into one of true love - agape.

With the activities of over 250,000 young people and the explosion of pure joy that immersed the city of Sydney from 15-20 July, the media seem to have discovered that 'God is not dead' in matters of interest to the public. Even television stations such as Sky News and SBS with Ray Martin included footage of Theology on Tap as did Channel Nine. Peter Harvey was even sent to check out Archbishop Chaput's address for a 60 Minutes episode that telecast on the evening of Sunday 20 July.

Theology on Tap is thus one of many fresh examples of the imperative to be 'salt and light to the world' by going against this strain of thought, and being counter-cultural.

Every first Monday of the month in Sydney, hundreds of young people and university students between the ages of 18-30, usually averaging around 600 at each night, gather together for some food and drinks while listening intently to some of the modern Church's best minds on matters of faith and morals.

Past speakers have included recently the Co-ordinator of World Youth Day 2008 and Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, Professor Hayden Ramsay, Fr Timothy Deeter, three Dominican Sisters from Nashville, John Heard, Mike Willesee, and several appearances by Cardinal George Pell.

I've often been asked why Theology on Tap has been so successful in attracting so many young people and have always been amazed at how simple the answer is. Its success lies not in the worldly standard of increasing attendance figures but in the inspiration that it gives to young people to strive for personal holiness and to carry out their apostolate of bringing others closer to Christ.

Everyone is innately receptive to the transcendentals of the true, good and the beautiful. Theology on Tap, through its speakers and atmosphere, presents the Catholic faith in all its beauty and orthodoxy - because truth itself, Truth Himself, has always been and will always be attractive.

For many of us, though, such open embracing of the faith in our public witness, with its real integration of Christ into our own words and actions, can be a daunting prospect.

'We've remade him in the image and likeness of secular compassion,' Archbishop Chaput told us. 'Today he's not the Lord, the Son of God, but more like an enlightened humanist nice guy.' God made in the image of man is comfortable and reflective of our own wishes; however, man made in the image of God is another matter.

New Pentecost

Our events every month don't merely attract the practising Catholics or 'cradle Catholics' but always a healthy contingent of non-Catholic Christians, young people from other faiths or no faith backgrounds at all. For young people, despite what popular opinion may suggest, want to know what the Church teaches. They want to understand it and how to practise it and give witness to it through their day-to-day lives.

Far from being finished with World Youth Day, the Church in Sydney and all around Australia is just about to experience the fruits of a new Pentecost. In the words of Benedict XVI, during his speech at Barangaroo on his arrival, our task now is 'to bring about a new generation of apostles, to bring the world to Christ'.

Patrick Langrell is studying Arts (Philosophy/Theology) and Law at The University of Notre Dame, Australia. Patrick is the founder and host of Theology on Tap in the Archdiocese of Sydney and is also the President of the Notre Dame St Thomas More Society and Co-ordinator of a post-WYD project Viva! on the university campus.

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