In the last half of the 19th century, the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche famously declared, “God is dead.” Not so, it turned out. By 1900, Nietzche, not God, was dead. Still, the 20th century tried to sustain his vision of the Ubermensch (superman) by doing everything to banish God and the love of God from public view, especially in the First World. The result was what the Catholic convert and brilliant editor of First Things, Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, has called, in his book of the same title, the “Naked Public Square.”
Nowhere was this more evident than in the United States, a country built under a “sacred canopy,” to borrow Peter Berger’s phrase, and where more than one hundred years ago Alexis de Tocqueville, in his classic Democracy in America, saw religion as “the first political institution.” There, public prayer was banned in schools and other public institutions on constitutional grounds and suddenly it was no longer politically correct for one to be seen praying in public. The Europeans for their part decided that having to acknowledge their Christian roots in the European Constitution would run counter to the secular vision of Europe.
As that most violent of all centuries ended, many felt the movement against God had finally succeeded. Much of the Christian world had been dechristianized and paganized; the consumerist market had won, and materialism had become the dominant way of life after the collapse of the Soviet empire, and atheistic and materialistic communism was formally declared to have lost. In its millennium issue, The Economist of London, one of the most influential secular magazines in the Western world, was bold enough to run an obituary of God. But again, as Mark Twain would have said, news of God’s death was grossly exaggerated.
Towards the end of 2007, the Economist admitted its mistake. In its Nov. 3, 2007 special review of religion and public life, the magazine reported that far from turning away from religion, more and more people had been turning to it in the last hundred years. From 1900 to 2005, the magazine noted, the number of people identified with the world’s four biggest religions----Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism— had risen from 67 percent to 73 percent of world population. Evidently, the number of believers continues to rise. But so also the intensity of the ideological attack on God and religious belief. Gone are the great religious wars, but the war against religion itself has arrived. Science and technology has become the bearer of the New Age, proclaiming a way of life without God, or with God totally on the outside. With man now able to make another man (in test tubes), his relationship to himself has been fundamentally altered, so wrote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Post-modern man now looks upon himself as “his own product --- no longer a gift of nature, or of the Creator God.”
It is a crisis ---a world crisis--- of man’s truth. Men and women no longer seem to know what and who they are –whether in relation to themselves or in relation to others, most especially the Wholly Other, God. Whereas Christianity, according to Sheed, produced a civilization that listened to God while looking at man, post-modernity simply shattered its ear drums. Albert Camus once wrote: “I wonder what the future will say of modern man. A single sentence will suffice: ‘he fornicated and read the papers’.” That dim view of postmodern man has apparently arrived. Filled with self-love, he seems, forsooth, to have left no space for anyone or anything else. T. S. Eliot looks into it more deeply in ‘Choruses from The Rock’:
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycle of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
Examine our social discourse, our politics, our economics, etc. We seem to have replaced the first principle of practical reason (synderesis) which bids man to do good and avoid evil, with the pleasure principle, the driving force behind the “sexual revolution” and in particular what Pope Benedict XVI calls the “dogma of hedonism,” which has sought to turn everything upside down. American sitcoms, soap operas and movies, observes the philosopher Peter Kreeft, never glorify murder or rape or stealing or even lying. But they never fail to glorify fornication, adultery, sodomy, abortion, etc. They tell you to control your drug addictions, and your gun addictions, and your smoking addictions and even your overeating addictions, but never your sex addictions, he writes. Everything has been or is being deconstructed with sex---marriage, family, culture, man himself.
You deconstruct when you try to show that certain universally held concepts are not truly universal after all. Nietzche invented this technique, but the French philosopher Jacques Derrida was its last acknowledged master until his death in 2004. In one interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Derrida proposed that the word “marriage” be deleted from the French civil code to clear the juridical path for homosexual unions. That failed to take off, yet same-sex “marriage” is today performed in at least five countries; civil unions, domestic partnerships, common law contracts, pacts of common interests, civil pacts of solidarity, etc. grant to homosexual couples benefits akin to those associated with marriage in at least 23 countries, including parts of the United States. Within the United Nations system, the term “reproductive rights” has become the mantra that threatens to divinize the killing of millions of unborn children each year. So while Western activists denounce “genital mutilation” in some African tribes as barbaric, “fetal mutilation” – the mutilation of the fetus – has become the crowning glory of the legal system of at least 149 countries, and counting, starting with the near-mighty G-8.
That millions of unborn children are killed every year in the name of a false right and a false freedom cannot be an expression of man’s love even of himself. It is a desecration of man and his preeminent place in the natural order of created beings and things. But no monstrous crime can ever turn God against man. God has not revoked his promise to Abraham in the Book of Genesis, that if there be but ten righteous men in Sodom, “I will not destroy it” (Gen 18:32); in the fullness of time, the Father sent His only begotten Son to redeem the whole of mankind from sin. Thus, Benedict XVI assures us in his first encyclical that Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), and again, in his second one, Spe salvi facti sumus (In hope we were saved), that we have a “God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’.” And that, “if we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we ‘live’.”
There are no seasonal truths. Every moment is an opportune time for fallen and redeemed man to see how he has lived the Love of Christ, the only Love that, in Dante’s words, “moves the Sun and the other stars.” The world has tried to bury this Love in endless ways that put the pleasure of the senses above everything else. This is not, and cannot be for those who listen attentively to the voice of reason, even though they may not yet know Christ. Unaided by anything supernatural, they can see by the use of natural reason alone that the dogma of hedonism contradicts the very reason for their earthly existence; man is not a mere mound of clay molded and plugged into an energy field built by science, nor a coming together of various sensual appetites; he is body and soul fused together by the breath of God, and ordered to an end higher than himself. Moved by faith, hope, and charity, the individual Christian will see beyond natural reason’s ability to see, and he will see himself as an imperfect being capable of being perfected only by the grace of God. His real life is in God; he dies forever outside of the living God.