“Modern man does not know what he is doing because he does not know what he is undoing” (G.K. Chesterton)
Daniel Bell, the famous Harvard sociologist who died in 2011, was deeply concerned about the type of country we would be living in if the religious dimension of society was eclipsed by secularism. In 1976, in somewhat prophetic words, he wrote: “Modern societies have substituted utopia for religion – utopia not as transcendental, but one to be realized through history…with the nutrients of technology….The real problem with modernity is the problem of belief. To use an unfashionable term, it is a spiritual crisis, since the new anchorages have proven illusory, and the old ones have become submerged. It is a situation which brings us back to nihilism; lacking a past or a future, there is only a void…What holds one to reality if one’s secular system of meanings proves to be an illusion? I will risk an unfashionable answer – the return of Western society to some conception of religion.”
Here in the United States we are witnessing our democratic form of government clamoring for life and vitality because it is detached and removed from its Christian heritage. We are witnessing first-hand what happens to a democracy that was so fortunately undergirded by Christian moral principles, when it then decides to abandon those moral principles and to replace them with a system of moral relativism masquerading as tolerance and pluralism. And we are beginning to wonder: can that democracy survive? And we see that the society our children are inheriting is a strangely different society than the one we grew up in; and one senses a painful paganism – really a materialism – permeating the whole country. The great Saint John Paul II saw this horrifying reality taking place in the Western world. Here is what he said in his very important encyclical, The Splendor of Truth:
“This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, “if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” (from # 101)
This is happening folks, right now, right before our very eyes. The victims: most especially our kids, with profound desensitization to the spiritual life and to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, i.e., the only true Kingdom. Our kids at least have a right to see what is transpiring, how they are being robbed of such a humanizing, transcendent force known as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are witnessing first-hand a massive loss of faith – virtually an apostasy. Do we realize what this loss of faith means to the future of our democracy?
In his classic work, Democracy in America, Alex de Tocqueville pointed out that the Christian faith of the American people was a great benefit to the success of their democracy. He said: “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” One wonders what a modern day Tocqueville would have to say about the situation of our current democracy where Christians, more and more, are becoming second class citizens (think, for a moment, of the chilling effect on free speech for American Christians who are silenced out of fear of losing their jobs).
With paganism comes a loss of sacramental life, and with a loss of sacramental life comes a corresponding loss of salvation. “Ay, there’s the rub.” Indeed, with fewer baptisms will come a corresponding loss of supernatural life in society. The “free man’s worship of nothing” does not bode well for American democracy. One day you may wake up and suddenly realize that with your own children and grandchildren you are an eyewitness to the reemergence of your pagan line of descendants (after how many generations of Catholics who sacrificed so much so that your own progeny could inherit the priceless gift of faith?). Well, be consoled, at least they have really top notch cell phones!
And Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Tom Mulcahy, J.D.
Reference. The edited quote from Daniel Bell is taken from his famous book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, p.28. During a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina my wife took this picture of me at the Billy Graham Library. We agree with the message expressed in the poster.
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