The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mass Psychosis

What a world humanity has created for itself. That, of course, is the problem: we have tried to create our own world instead of living in the world God created for us. Unfortunately, unless we manage to recover our collective sanity, the result will be nothing less than the collapse of our civilization. I believe this collapse could well occur soon and quickly. Although civilizations can take centuries to develop, their ultimate collapse can occur virtually overnight.

Now, whenever I ventilate these thoughts in polite company I usually get that "here he goes again" look. It's okay, I expect it, because nobody likes to be told that everything they hold dear might soon disappear. Nobody likes to consider the possibility that the society they live in, that the good ol' USA, is moving into the final stage of decadence. Complacency and comfort go hand in hand and ensure such unsettling thoughts are quickly suppressed. An even greater obstacle, though, is a kind of postmodern egoism that won't allow the possibility that progress might not be the inevitable movement of humanity. This egoism is so strongly ingrained that even a confrontation with the facts of history has no impact.

Yes, we moderns have progressed so very well these past 100 years, haven't we? Let's see; how many hundreds of millions have we murdered and maimed since 1914? And what were some of our motives for committing these crimes?

"Oh, you say you don't agree with our theory of history and progress? So sorry...Bang! You're dead."

Or "You believe that the glorious leader of our people is actually a vicious, murderous dictator? How unenlightened of you...Here's a one-way ticket to our 'reeducation facility'."

Or "You're a Jew? In that case, you have a problem, and we have the solution."

Or "Yes, ours is a 'religion of peace' which is why we devote ourselves exclusively to terrorizing anyone who believes otherwise."

Or "Pardon me, little unborn person, while I cut you to pieces or suck your brains out of your skull...but, really, your birth would be extremely inconvenient right now."

Have we become so jaded, so inured to this kind of institutional violence and the thinking that spawns it, that we are unable to recognize the world's death spiral? And has this blindness caused us to confuse evil with good? Apparently so. This very week, for example, an indignant world is raising its collective voice against Israel for finally deciding to defend itself against neighboring Gaza, a strange little piece of land ruled by Hamas, a self-proclaimed and widely recognized terrorist organization. These terrorists, by the way, have been attacking Israel almost daily for years. And so, naturally, the world has turned the terrorists into victims and the defenders into aggressors. Go figure.

Actually, we can figure...because it all started centuries ago. I'm not enough of a historian or philosopher to pinpoint a specific incident or person, but my guess is that one culprit was the nominalism that arose toward the end of the Middle Ages, a philosophy that denied the existence of universals and ultimately led to a denial of anything that cannot be perceived by the senses. This, in turn, led to the denial of any kind of transcendence, any kind of absolute truth. And so, modern man, like the sneering Pilate, can stand in the presence of his God and ask insolently, "What is truth?" He can do this because he no longer believes in anything beyond himself. And he certainly doesn't believe in something as absurd as original sin.

Yes, despite his destructive habits, our evolved modern man considers himself naturally good. Any defects he might occasionally exhibit can be cured by education or social programs; he certainly has no need of religion. Like the rationalists who preceded him, he sees no point in asking such questions as, "Why are we here?" After all, if we are merely the evolved products of an unthinking nature, such a question is meaningless. And the idea that man is created in God's image can now safely be rejected, for modern man sees himself as a materialistic, consuming, wealth seeking animal.

All of this has led to a sort of mass psychosis in which most people seem to possess an unassailable optimism in the midst of all this decadence, alienation and violence. Unlike the long-term optimism of the Christian, an optimism that stems from a fervent faith in the promises of a loving God, this is the blind optimism of those who are totally convinced of man's continuing progress. It is blind because it refuses to acknowledge the extraordinary brutality, perversions and dishonesty of our times. It also ignores the fact that these evils are increasing, not decreasing, over time. Few of us are immune, for this mass psychosis has even infected many who claim to be Christians and yet live as if they are modern materialists. They apparently repress the fact that we can't be Christians and live in a way that rejects the fundamental tenets of our faith.

And yet, despite my belief that our civilization is crumbling around us, I also believe that out of this will come a true Christian moment. Evil and discord cannot be sustained because they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Yes, we Christians will continue to suffer persecution; after all, persecution is one of Jesus' promises. But He also promised to be with us always, even to the end of time; and so persecution will always lead to a renewal of the Faith. This is the optimism of the Christian, an optimism based on the historical record of God's continuous care for His people from the time of Abraham until the present day. How different from the hysterical optimism, the mass psychosis of today's materialists who, to maintain their faith in themselves, are forced to deny the truth.

"Be not afraid," Jesus commanded us. Listen to Him.

1 comment:

  1. You're not alone. Peter Kreeft says in _C. S. Lewis for the Third Millennium_ that we're at the very least in the worst period of history since Ancient Rome, if not headed for something more like the time of Abraham.

    So many commentators from all perspectives giving the reasons they think America is dying, but to me, the biggest sign is in our youth.

    I'm gonna be 32, and when I talk with my students--some of them only a few years younger than I--I feel like I'm 80. Forget Plato, C. S. Lewis, Aquinas or Jane Austen: these kids don't even know the Muppets, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alfred Hitchcock or Billy Joel. The generation of Internet, Ipods and Idol has no sense of tradition or continuity or culture, just moving from novelty to novelty.

    Marketing experts say that todays' youth are immune to advertising, yet in some ways they're the most purely commercial human beings we've had yet, the culmination of a century of social engineering.

    The signs of hope we saw in our culture in the 90s and early oughts--the dynamic waves of Evangelical Protestant teens and orthodox Catholic teens--have been replaced by polls that say the vast majority of teens today think "Christianity" = "hate." 81% of Catholics think abortion should be legal and "prevented." Disney pulls out of Narnia and Entertainment Rights pulls the plug on Veggietales. Mel Gibson follows _The Passion_ with a weird movie about cannibals and a drunken tirade.

    An ex-KGB guy turned Poli Sci prof says the US today is where the USSR was 20 years ago, and Henry Kissinger says Obama, called the Enligthened One by all the leaders of the New Age, will usher in the New World Order.

    And, yet, in spite of this, we know Who wins.

    At my holy hour tonight, I was reading selections from Fr. Hardon's _Treasury of Catholic Wisdom_. I forget which it was, but there was a passage from one of the Saints calling the Eucharist the new and permanent Rainbow.