Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 11, 1999
Post-Christian West full of darkness
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Last year at the Christian summer camp my daughter attends, one of the clerics in attendance commented to her about my newspaper columns with the query "Isn't there anything that he likes?"
Well, actually there are quite a few things, but it was a fair observation, because I find plenty not to like about late 20th-century culture, and that is what I tend to write columns about.
I thought of the priest's remark this week as I read a review of the PBS Frontline season premiere: John Paul II: The Millennial Pope which aired on Sept. 28. The reviewer, Josh Greene, noted:
"To say the pope is against much of mankind's 20th-century path is an understatement. He has voiced his papal displeasure about everything from materialism and birth control to the ordination of women."
Greene goes on to quote PBS journalist Roberto Suro's observation that. "The pope (seems a) lonely, pessimistic figure" - a man who appears only to view the dark side of modernity - "convinced that humankind has lost its way. A man so dark that he loses his audiences."
Well, having many times been accused myself of excessive negativity and of seeing only the darker side of things, I guess I'm in the best of company.
I can't speak for the accuracy of Greene and Suro's assessment of Pope John Paul's worldview, but I can affirm my own, and yes, I am mightily displeased by the distempers of post-Enlightenment modernity, and I do believe that the post-Christian West has not only lost its way, but is headed for hell in the proverbial handcar.
From a traditional Christian perspective, there is no other reasonable conclusion. The modernist ethos is rooted firmly in the notions of the so-called philosophical "Enlightenment" of the 17th and 18th Centuries, and is aggressively anti-Christian in the context of Christian understanding over 19/20ths of its history.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the Enlightenment (die Aufkl„rung or 'clearing') as follows:
"The Aufkl„rung combines opposition to all supernatural religion and belief in the all-sufficiency of human reason with an ardent desire to promote the happiness of men in this life. . . . Most of its representatives . . . were hostile to Catholicism as well as Protestant orthodoxy, which they regarded as powers of spiritual darkness depriving humanity of the use of its rational faculties. . . .
"Their fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature, which blinded them to the fact of sin, produced an easy optimism and absolute faith of human society once the principles of enlightened reason had been recognized."
The Enlightenment spawned 19th and 20th century secularist liberalism, which stands in antithesis to Christianity on virtually all points: denying the supernatural; affirming the all-sufficiency of human reason; rejecting the fall from grace and original sin; denying Christ's divinity and his resurrection from the dead; believing in the perfectibility of man; deconstructing the Bible.
You simply cannot make a coherent synthesis of post-Enlightenment liberalism and Christianity, although that is precisely what many these days try to do.
Others recognize that Christianity and Enlightenment humanism are utterly incompatible, as a reader's letter to Maclean's magazine recently articulated. "The Church has been the basis of our value system, but thankfully we are evolving from a fear-based, external control system to one of love and personal responsibility.
"Organized religion is eroding, and the quicker it dies, the faster people will gain personal responsibility and respect, and the sooner they will have confidence to make positive political and social changes."
If I am pessimistic, it is the degree of cultural purchase ignorant humanist claptrap like that exerts on our society that makes me so.
Secular humanism is junk philosophy, but like junk food it appeals to popular tastes because it is easy and immediately gratifying, and makes people feel good, at least temporarily, even though it is ultimately destructive to their health.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said he wrote "to make things harder for people" - a sentiment I can identify with, not out of perversity or mean-spiritedness, but because I believe that Jesus Christ knew what he was talking about when he said "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, " but "narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life."
Secular humanism simply does not and cannot deal with the problem of innate human sinfulness and evil, because it refuses to address or even acknowledge their existence. It's no coincidence that this most "Enlightened" of centuries has also been history's most bloody and depraved.
"Did he see something that many of us are missing?" Roberto Suro asks regarding John Paul II, concluding if that indeed is the case, "the tragedy is ours." Indeed it is.
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