21 March 2014

Tragically diminished without God

NB. The Times-Picayune published this piece in their Friday newspaper, but they have yet to post it on-line. Not sure why. I had hoped to send some traffic their way. . .oh well.  If they post it tomorrow, I'll add a link.

Tragically diminished without God
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. – W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919.

Though Christ has not yet been chased completely out of the twenty-first century public square, his presence and influence are quickly fading. And fading by design. While Yeats watched Western Europe tear itself apart in the first two decades of the twentieth-century, members of the intelligentsia were still applauding Nietzsche's 1882 announcement that “God is dead” and speculating on what western culture should look like after His funeral. For the most part, they cheered the idea that we were all better off without God. However, as modern history has shown, western culture is tragically diminished in the absence of God.

In Yeats' time and in ours, things fall apart and the center does not hold. Those who believe that things should fall apart and that the center should never hold promote the “death of God” as the greatest event in the history of human liberation. Without God to inform and enforce objective standards of truth, goodness, and beauty, we are free agents in the design and construction of our fate. Ultimately responsible for every choice, each one of us is left utterly alone in our freedom. Secularists argue that this is a good thing. However, such freedom, understood as license, comes with a high cultural and personal price: anxiety, desperation, and grief. All too often our survivalist's instincts lead us toward nihilism and, eventually, self-destruction.

And how can we look back on the twentieth-century and fail to see ourselves committing cultural suicide in the absence of God? World War I killed 37 million. WWII killed more than 60 million. Stalin murdered 20 million; Mao between 45-72 million. Add the death toll from other secularist regimes and the total verges on the incomprehensible. But it's not just wholly secularist nations that contribute to the butcher's bill. In the U.S., since 1973, secularist ideology has provided the legal framework for domestic genocide: 53 million abortions and that number grows every year by 1.7 million. It's no accident that 65% of these abortions occur outside the marriage bond. Without the transcendent, without God, all we have left is our belief in nothing and everything is permitted.

Over the decades many secular thinkers have tried to replace God with a useful, all-too-human idol. Nietzsche gave us the √úbermensch, the Super Man. Marx gave us The Worker in Class Struggle. And Freud gave us the Neurotic, drowning in his sexually repressed unconscious. None of these idols brought the human person to the fullness of true freedom, nor can any of them bring us closer to the truth, goodness, and beauty offered by classical western theism. What they did bequeath to us is a severely diminished culture crippled by the secularist myth that believers are little more than superstitious primitives who are best ignored, if not outright eliminated. Why? Because left alone to influence the shape and direction of a nation, believers will inevitably turn a democracy into a theocratic gulag. Or so the myth goes.

To better understand why we need God, we need to think about why secularism wants Him out of the cultural picture. Catholic philosopher, Charles Taylor, defines culture in terms of the “social imaginary,” that is, culture is more than just how we do things, it's how we imaginatively arrange both our internal and social lives as the two interact. For the Christian West, the social imaginary has always been rooted in the reality and availability of the transcendent God who became flesh to dwell among us. If the incarnation of Christ tells us how to think about our ultimate end and we use this knowledge to organize our social lives, then those virtues given to us by God (faith, hope, love) become real, enforceable social norms. In other words, morality is objective, knowable, and actionable. If the secularists are right and God is dead, then so are the virtues He infuses into the human person.

So, where does that leave us? Exactly where we've been left time and again by secularist ideology: the one with the most money and guns wins. And there's no appeal to a higher authority if you are among the losers. Fortunately, we don't have to stay here. Lent is that time of year when Christians confront the difficult difference between living in the world but not being of the world. Our graced task is to stand among the ruins and reconstructions of our diminished culture and show our neighbors – through word and deed – how the world can be both a sign of God's love and a tool of devilish temptation. We do this by digging into the hard work of charity, the seriously earthy work of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, praying for our enemies, and fasting in sacrificial love, all the while keeping our hearts and minds stubbornly turned toward God's promise of final rescue. If secularism has again unleashed “mere anarchy” upon the world, then we who follow Christ must give our lives upon the cross to show the world again that Christ is King.

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  1. I'll have to read this again when my brain is fresh - I really liked the ending, but was having a hard time with the rest of it...likely because I'm tired. So I'll give it a fresh read when I'm on the boat in the morning, and let you know my impression then.

    1. Yes, my brain was tired! I think you tackled a big subject and in the limited space provided gave an intelligent and reasoned argument. I do think you may have presumed a certain amount of background knowledge from your readers - in other words, you respected their intelligence. I was neither disappointed by the manner in which the article was presented/written, nor thought that you were talking down to me (which is so often my reaction to newspaper articles). It seemed more like an intro piece to a series of articles, though, because of necessity you could not develop your thoughts, which begged to be developed!

      I really liked it, but are you sure the world is ready for your brilliance? ;-)

    2. Um, not sure how to answer that last question. . .crickets chirping. :-)

      The article posed a number of difficult problems. My assigned topic was "how secularism diminishes culture." Big topic for an article under 1000 words. Next, I had to write in such a way that the average reader would be engaged but not overwhelmed. Then, I had to present the Catholic view w/o alienating non-Catholics. And finally, direct it all toward the traditional practices of Lent!

      I don't think the article is a success on all counts. The first two drafts were too polemical. Imagine: me being polemical! :-) This one is less polemical but still fiery enough to arouse conscience, I think.

      Thanks for your feedback.