Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 22, 2003
Church offers cultural guidelines
The Canadian government's current push to allow same-sex marriages exemplifies the cultural crisis in this country. One thing that prevents us from seeing this is the tendency to define culture in a narrow fashion - as only including music, the arts, drama and perhaps the mass media.
But the culture of a nation is something much broader. It includes our attitudes towards work and family, our systems of learning, how we spend our time of leisure and recreation. Our culture includes how we care for the poor, the sick and the young. It is exemplified in our relationships with our bodies and with the natural environment. The culture includes a society's methods of decision-making - the extent to which they are either coercive or persuasive. At the root of a culture is its religion - not just our churchgoing habits, but more basically, our understanding of God and our relationship with him.
Ultimately, it is the culture more than the economy that determines whether the people are happy and living with human dignity.
While there is much that is good about our culture compared with cultures in other times and places, there is still a serious illness in Canadian culture, one that threatens to destroy that which is good. That illness is due, in part, to our relative wealth: It is also due to our turning away from God.
We have a culture that, in the name of tolerance, exalts the rule of reason without faith. Our culture is individualistic - commitment and traditional forms of community are waning. It is hedonistic - delayed gratification has given way to the quest for instant gratification. And there is a split between freedom and truth - we believe freedom is absolute, not responsible to moral truth.
The attempt to enshrine same-sex marriage is but one symptom of this cultural illness. The others are myriad - legal abortion, the lack of affordable housing for the poor, underfunding of education, underfunding of foreign aid and efforts to build world peace, the lack of any plan to help the perennially poor to find meaningful employment, growing rates of family breakdown, the culture of gambling which preaches the gospel of wealth without work. The list goes on and on. One might also include the low rates of church attendance.
The Church helps society find a cure for the disease. Its contribution is evangelization. This evangelization occurs in the narrow sense of persuading people of the truth of the Gospel and to give their lives to Christ. But it also takes place in the wider sense of encouraging the development of a culture that honours universal values.
The Church does not offer a model for economic growth or equality. But it does offer cultural guidelines. It offers the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25 ("I was hungry and you gave me to eat, . . .) and Romans 8 ("To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace").
Eight years ago in Baltimore, Pope John Paul said, "Democracy cannot be sustained without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person and about human community." This is the healing that the Church offers - to bring true democracy by building a shared commitment to moral truth.
There is no imposition of values here. Rather, there is an attempt to build respect for the highest dignity of the human person. Others would argue that there is no inherent dignity to the person, only that which we arbitrarily make up. One thing we have to say about that is look at experience.
Whenever the powerful deny the existence of human dignity, there is oppression, violence and death.
Whenever there are attempts to respect that dignity, life becomes liveable for the majority and happiness is a possibility.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.