“A Tsunami of Secularism” by Rev. Benjamin P. Bradshaw

At the turn of the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Socrates found himself in a moral dilemma. Plato, the brilliant disciple of Socrates, chronicles the last moments of his teacher’s life in the Phaedo. Socrates finds himself face-to-face with a number of the sophists and intelligentsia in Athens of the day, who openly advocated a certain degree of immorality and denied the concept of objective truth. Socrates however, deftly outmatched his interlocutors by articulating that there is indeed an objective truth based in reason and virtue to which all should uphold and live by. In their aggravation, the sophists condemn Socrates to a death by taking poison Hemlock. Given the opportunity to escape, Socrates chose rather to remain and die for virtue and truth.
Roughly 400 years prior to the birth of Christ, Socrates recognized by way of reason and, Catholics believe, the natural law, that there is in fact a moral truth worth defending. Of course it didn’t hurt that Socrates was a brilliant thinker and teacher. He understood on a deeper level that there are some things worth defending, even if those “things” demand some pretty high sacrifices, namely one’s life. This willingness to defend what is sacred, even at the risk of being personally wounded for it, leads to what we commonly refer to as moral character.
Many years later in Jerusalem, Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate on a Friday afternoon, while a hostile crowd demanded his death. Pilate then asks Our Lord a simple, but aching question: “What is truth?” This is a question every human being must answer if he/she is ever to find meaning in his/her life. One can be raised in the faith, come to mass every Sunday for years, and still never ask him/herself this fundamental question. It was this question that even Socrates understood needed to be answered both for one’s personal growth and likewise for a virtuous society. The ancient Greeks well understood that man is by nature a social being who flourishes in community and that the community itself flourishes when man grows in virtue.
In coming to know the authentic truth who is Jesus Christ, we come to a deeper awareness of our anthropology based in Christ as well. As we grow in this understanding this spiritual awareness impacts us, our marriages, families, and the culture itself as a whole. In 1947, Fr. Henri De Lubac SJ wrote: “By revealing the Father, and by being revealed by him, Christ completes the revelation of man to himself” (Catholicism. Ignatius. 1988. p. 339). Likewise, a number of years later the Second Vatican Council would affirm this anthropology of man in Christ by reiterating De Lubac’s argument: “Christ… fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes. #22). Thus, it is only in the truth of Jesus Christ, the source from which we came and will ultimately return, that our personhood and humanity mature into what and whom we are called to be, namely saints formed in truth.
In a recent address at the Synod for the New Evangelization, Donald Cardinal Wuerl began by affirming that in the West we are witnessing a “tsunami of secularization” (October 11, 2012). What does this mean practically for us as Catholics in the United States? It means, among other things, that we are witnessing the unprecedented cultural phenomenon of the following: Roughly 35% of Catholics attend mass weekly (CARA, 2005). Many young adults and middle-aged adults see absolutely no moral problem with cohabitation or premarital sex prior to marriage. The killing of a defenseless human being is understood as “freedom” and “rights.” To speak of marriage as solely between one man and one woman is understood as “unloving.” In the pursuit of unbridled capitalism, the poor are often altogether ignored in a Darwinian acedia which is increasingly apathetic to the plight of others. And though quite subtle and nefarious, the public understanding of religion itself is rapidly being driven underground and privatized to the extent that openly sharing one’s faith may warrant the accusation of “intolerant,” “fundamentalist,” or “extremist.”
In the 18th century Jean-Jacques Rousseau, though having been a former Calvinist and Catholic, was certainly no friend to religion as a whole, as was fashionable with many of the Enlightenment thinkers of his day. Rousseau however, argued that religion, at least to some degree, should be permitted, though it should be kept as essentially a private venture based almost entirely on personal feelings rather than objective truth. Rousseau’s logic is clearly evident in much of the secularism within our culture, whereby a private and “polite” religion may be nominally tolerated but the public claim to an objective truth is not, leading to a situation evangelical scholar D.A. Carson has referred to simply as the “Intolerance of Tolerance” (Eerdmans. 2012).
We need to be unmistakably clear about two things: 1.) This societal amputation of God from the public sphere was never intended by the founding Fathers of the United States, as any preliminary reading of the Declaration of Independence will readily attest to. Even young children tend to understand this fact. 2.) These secularist approaches will have eternal consequences, as Our Lord unequivocally informs us in the Gospels. On the night prior to his election as Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger referred to this cultural trend as a “dictatorship of relativism” (April 18, 2005). History informs us that the modus operandi of dictatorships is often persecution and the imposition of dominance, in this case the imposition of denying moral truth; the same lot faced by Socrates so many years ago. The great irony herein lay in the fact that secularists often accuse Christians of what they themselves are guilty of, namely, “imposing” their beliefs on the culture. The Pope again referred to this phenomenon in his general audience on October 17, 2012 noting: “Individualism and relativism seem to dominate the mind of many of our contemporaries, we cannot say that believers remain totally immune from these dangers.”
How are we then to confront the sophistry of relativism and secularism? I would argue the answer lies with a person, not a plan: Jesus Christ. Most would likely agree that secularism is generally understood as the movement towards amputating faith from the public sphere, often under the premise of the separation of Church and State. As has been said, the political “rub” herein lies in the fact that many identify the separation of Church and State as the subordination of the Church to the State, thereby driving all matters of faith behind closed doors and closed consciences. For Americans, the solution to this quandary often belies a deeper issue however, namely, the fear of being “insensitive” or “preachy” towards others in publically sharing one’s faith. Add to this that some Catholics understand these matters simply as something to be addressed by Church hierarchy but not really relevant to their own lifestyles and choices.
Let us be frank: Hell exists and it is eternal (CCC#1033), though few wish to hear or acknowledge this fact. Hell will include the eternal separation from God in our souls and ultimately in our bodies as well, following the Second Coming of Christ (Mt 25). The “tsunami of secularism,” at least within the United States, is not infrequently fed by the loss of a healthy sense of sin and the hyper-consciousness of most Americans towards respect of other’s faith to such an extent that we are timid about sharing our own beliefs. Catholics who suffer from this attitude would do well to recall the word St. Luke often describes the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles, “boldness”: “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Boldness does not mean a lack of social tact or prudence, it does definitively mean however, pushing our comfort zones. If this involves asking someone in our family for forgiveness after many years of infighting, we do it. If this involves sacrificing one Saturday a month to work at a soup kitchen, we do it. If this involves turning off the television, computers and cell phones for half an hour a week to pray the rosary as a family, we do it. And if it means being unpopular at work, in our family or even from the pulpit in defense of moral truth, we do it. To fail to prudently defend what is just is to yield to fear in a synthetic climate of non-confrontation.
Christianity, properly lived, is not a comfortable faith. In fact, we can be assured that it will be quite daunting and often down right painful, not infrequently leaving us in tears and perhaps at times discouraged. However, the truth of Christ ultimately brings profound joy, hope, perseverance, and holiness as we discover in him this deeper anthropology we are called to.  Are we ready to live and die for moral truth? This death may not be physical though it may involve a reputation or a certain loss of financial security. Socrates did not even know Christianity and yet he understood the value of moral character and was willing to die for it. As Christians we will be held to a higher accountability than even Socrates was held to. How do we know this? Because Jesus tells us so: “To whom much has been given, much will be required” (Lk 12:48). We have been given more and we must hold fast to truth amid a tsunami of forces attacking it. It is only in this truth of Christ that we find the peace of authentic human freedom (Jn 8:32).

About thereserita

Happy Catholic seeking to share that happiness with others.
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2 Responses to “A Tsunami of Secularism” by Rev. Benjamin P. Bradshaw

  1. Pingback: A Christian Never Engages in Secular Activity « Living On Tilt

  2. Anonymous says:

    There are some fascinating closing dates in this article but I dont know if I see all of them middle to heart. There may be some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like extra! Added to FeedBurner as properly

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