WHO NEEDS GOD?
by Barbara Stockl with Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Ignatius, 2009, 193pp, $29.95, ISBN: 978-1-58617-284-8
Reviewed by Br Barry Coldrey
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, is a towering figure in the European Church. In addition to his extensive pastoral duties, he is the General Editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a prolific writer.
His interviewer, Barbara Stockl, is an Austrian television and radio journalist with significant experience in broadcasting.
Who Needs God? is a book-length exploration of contemporary issues facing the Catholic Church in Austria as well as Western Europe and is the result of a series of interviews with the Cardinal.
The nub of the matter is that throughout Western Europe – once the epicentre of Christian faith and Catholic practice – most Catholics have abandoned their Catholicism since World War II.
In fact, the crux of the new evangelisation launched by Pope John Paul II, is not focused essentially on reaching "pagans" who have never heard of Christianity, but on re-evangelising the Christian and Catholic masses in the Western world who have seen their faith eroded by the dominant secular culture.
Moreover, the new evangelisation attempts to dialogue with those of the active Catholic minority who have abandoned key areas of their faith as they move to a "cafeteria" Christianity according to their shifting tastes, specifically:
• the large numbers of Catholic couples who cohabit from an early age without any thought of marriage;
• the many remarried divorcees, some of whom are Catholics who wish to receive Holy Communion at Mass;
• the increasing reality of same sex partnerships even among some who consider themselves active practising Christians in the Catholic tradition; and
• the public disregarding by some theologians, priests and religious of definitive decisions of the Church's Magisterium such as the question of the ordination of women.
There are many Catholic thinkers and apologists who grapple with these issues, exploring how this situation arose and what to do about the scene in view of Jesus Christ's direction to "Go, teach all nations!" Cardinal Schönborn is one of them.
With Barbara Stockl, the Cardinal explores the social context: the atmosphere of dramatic social upheaval across Western Europe, the frenetic pace of modern urban life, the prevailing climate of individualism, freedom and prosperity as the magic words. Therefore, many wish to live flexibly without commitment. These secular attitudes do not facilitate a confident belief in God, Jesus Christ, the Paschal Mystery or the Church.
Europe is bored with Christianity. Spiritualities are "in", and Christian commitment is at a discount – for the majority.
Cardinal Schönborn and his interviewer raise and discuss many of the current questions: Whom do people allow to be God? Who is their "pilot" through adult life: the personal trainer, the secular psychologist, the investment counsellor? With security in the "Welfare State", who needs God? What can God provide that the "Welfare State" does not?
Who Needs God? is a serious book for the sophisticated reader, whether Christian or searcher after truth.