Nihilism Reaches the Suburbs

This blog contains something of my personal story. If you want to skip the “personal story segment” and shorten your reading,  jump down to (What is Nihilism?)

What a Year! Those of us who are a little on the older side lived through and remember the dramatic culture changing year of 1968. What an awful year in so many ways. The Vietnam War was at it height and wasn’t going well from the Tet Offensive to anti-war protests here at home. The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King  was earth shaking. Terrible riots followed that dreadful event making matters even worse. Those riots completely reshaped many cities. Robert Kennedy was assassinated later that year. Demonstrations and riots also accompanied the Democratic Convention in 1968. And all through it a steady beat of the sexual revolution eroded modesty and illicit drug use became very public. Disrespect, even hatred of authority in any form was epidemic and reverence for any form of tradition cast aside. Hippies, love-ins, crash pads and a general haze of pot and hash hung in the air of College campuses and places like Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. Slogans like Free love! If it feels good do it! Make love not war! etc. were common. Many College campuses ceased to function under the weight of almost constant student protests. The cultural revolution had reached critical mass.

Yet not all of us in 1968 were radicalized yet. I had a flat top crew cut and was just a young kid. We decorated our bikes with streamers for the 4thof July and attended parades. My patriotic father was heading off to the war, and like any typical boy I was accustomed to building forts, playing German spotlight and king of the mountain. Our little neighborhood in north suburban Chicago seemed worlds away from Haight Ashbury, or even Grant Park in Chicago where Chicago Hippies smoked pot and did LSD. I remember once driving past Grant Park on the way to a downtown museum and asking my mother with shock, “Mom! Why do those men have hair like girls!?”  These strange sights were scary and made no sense. In April of that year Dr. King had been assassinated and though news was less 24/7 than today I remember being terrified to see whole sections of the South  and West Side of Chicago on fire in the news. My mother only told me when I was older that she had barely escaped with her life. She had been substitute teaching on the South Side that fateful April Day when the riots closed in. An angel in a police uniform escorted her out.  It was 1968. The Cultural Revolution had reached critical mass. The nuclear fission bomb of cultural revolution had exploded. But the fallout had not reached the suburbs yet.

Fast Forward just ten years. It is 1978 and I am a Junior in High School.  By now the radiation of the late 1960s had spread a kind of radiation sickness to areas not initially devastated. By now I had long hair, down to my shoulders. I was a little too shy to be far advanced in the sexual revolution and anger and a kind of hatred and  ridicule of authority was my thing. Pop music was OK but heavy Rock Music was my real thing. It fed my anger and made me feel righteous in my disrespect of parents and others in authority. Rock music confirmed and validated my anger and also the dogma that old people didn’t know anything worth learning. I was somewhat at odds with my father and though I could not withstand him, I avoided him and nursed great hostility for him in my heart. And Rock music supplied me all the material I needed. Nihilism had now reached the suburbs and I was one revel in its hostility. Who were you to say what was right or wrong!? What do a bunch of old gray haired men in the Vatican know that is worth anything. Yes Nihilism had reached the suburbs!

What is Nihilism? – Nihilism is fundamentally a philosophical doctrine that exults in the negation of one of more traditionally meaningful aspects of  life. It comes from the Latin “nihil” which means “nothing.” Culturally nihilism exalts in tearing down traditional forms and understanding. In its most radical form, Nihilism argues that life itself is without any intrinsic meaning or purpose. Moral Nihilism argues that there are no moral norms or criteria that are universally valid and that morality itself is just a contrivance;  that good and evil are just human constructs. Intellectual Nihilists deny that anything can really be known. Metaphysical  Nihilists deny that anything is actually real!  But in the end what Nihilism enjoys most is reducing to nothing that which was something. It hates the past, denies that previous generations have anything to teach us. It accepts almost no limits and denies that anything is really true. Everything must go and be replaced by… nothing. Yes it is absurd but it is really more about anger and rebellion than anything reasonable. How could it be reasonable since reasonableness presupposes standards and norms? Nihilism is hostile to the notion that anything can really be known or stated with certainty and is fundamentally deconstructionist because it loves to tear down the moral,  social and cultural fabric that took centuries to develop.  In the end, Nihilism exults in nothingness.

But sadly most people today suffer from some form of Nihilism. Most people deny the fact of objective moral norms. Even more deny the notion of absolute moral norms. Most people today no longer consider things to be true or false. Rather, most everything is seen just as opinion or a subjective point of view. It may be true that many things are just opinion but does this mean that there is really no objective truth to be found? It would seem so, according to many if not most people today. All of this of course leads to a rather deep cynicism as well as an incapacity to come to agreement on many important issues of the day. Since no agreed upon norms exist, life amounts to a power struggle between factions. Nihilism has so permeated our culture that most people don’t even know its there. It’s like talking to a fish about water and the fish says, “What water?” Most people congratulate themselves for their Nihilism by calling it other things like “open-mindedness”, “tolerance”, “acceptance”, “progressiveness” and the like. There are real virtues by these names but it is likely that most who claim these virtues for themselves are actually just suffering from some form of Nihilism. Yes, I want to argue that nihilism has reached the suburbs, the kitchen table, the family hearth.

And more than ever this is why we need Catholic culture and faith. It is only with something that we can battle nothing. I have come a long way out of my Nihilism that reached full flower in the late 1970s. I had turned my sights away from God and the Church and found only  “nothing.”  I cannot say I have fully emerged from Nihilism for it has  so permeated everything. And yet I credit the Catholic faith for restoring to me to truth and its existence. I credit the faith for restoring my hope and healing so much of my anger and cynicism. I thank the Catholic Faith for restoring to me my sight. Truth inevitably leads to beauty and goodness,  and what a beautiful view it is. There is great serenity and freedom in the truth. I know that Nihilism brought me only anger and struggle against perceived enemies (i.e. my father, the Church et al.) that was far from serene.   So here I stand more blessed than I deserve, coming out of nothing into everything, out of darkness into light. The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. (Matt 6:23-24)

This video presents what had been my “theme song” in High School. One of my favorite rock groups was The Who and they published a song in 1978 that resonated very deeply with my Nihilism at that time. I am embarrassed that I ever thought this a theme song. But it surely does capture Nihilism well. Notice how the moral Nihilism gives way to anger, then cynicism, then despair and ultimately a kind of death wish. The song ends by saying in a rather exalted tone: “Here comes the end of the world!”  Nihilism alright, in the end: nothing!

Here are the words to the song you can hear on the video:

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice; I’ve had enough of right and wrong I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good; And doin’ everything like i’m told I should; If you need a lover, you’d better find another

Life is for the living;  Takers never giving

Suspicion takes the place of trust; My love is turning into lust; If you get on the wrong side of me you better run for cover

I’ve had enough of bein’ trodden on; My passive days are gonna be long gone; If you slap one cheek, well, I ain’t gonna turn the other

Life is for the living; Takers never giving. Fooling no one but ourselves;  good is dying; Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world

I’m gettin’ sick of this universe; Ain’t gonna get better; it’s gonna get worse; And the world’s gonna sink with the weight of the human race

Hate and fear in every face; I’m gettin’ ready and I’ve packed my case; If you find somewhere better, can you save my place?

Fooling no one but ourselves; Love is dying; Here comes the end; Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world

48 Replies to “Nihilism Reaches the Suburbs”

  1. Monsignor, would you please stop saying things like Those of us who are a little on the older side? You are a year younger than I am and I sure as heck don’t feel like I’m on the older side yet…sheesh.

    Anyway, now that I got that off my chest – wow- who would have thought that you were once an angry young man? I can only say that had we gone to the same school, you and I would have been buds. Your self-description fits most of the guys I hung around with in school – I wonder how many of them turned out as respectable as we did? (Well, you only have my word for it that I’m respectable, but I am). Mostly. 🙂

    Just goes to show you what God can do…

      1. Actually, they are triplets – you forgot about Shirley – you know…Shirley, Grace, and Mercy.

        Oh wait, that’s a book.

        Never mind.

  2. ” Truth inevitably leads to beauty and goodness,  and what a beautiful view it is.”

    Thank you for sharing this story! I think your quote above captures much of the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church.

  3. Msgr.,

    This is possible the best analysis of what is going on in our culture that I have read. I was once the person you were. Hopefully, someday, I will become the person you are now. Christ Jesus also lifted me out of the fog of nihilism, but I was never able to pinpoint it as precisely as you have just done. Thank you. I would add, that once there is a large portion of the population that has become nihilistic there are those that can manipulate them for their own political ends.

  4. What’s disturbing most is this attitude is creeping into our faith. I actually know people who have not had their children baptized because as they put it, “They don’t want their kids to think that only one religion is right.” So, they celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. The problem is without showing them the religious aspects of either faith, out of fear of making them closeminded, the only thing left is the materialism the world has applied to them. For example, the kids celebrate both holidays but being they are not encouraged to embrace the spirituality, it’s just twice the gifts. That’s all the hilidays are to them and it is amazing at how they will scoff at gifts they don’t like. It’s not about being thankful, it’s all about, “I want what I want and you should give it to me because that’s what we do, give each other stuff.” Sure, the parents scold them for being ungrateful but it fails because all they are teaching is that other people give you what you want during the holidays. The child has a right to be upset. All the parents are doing, in my opinion, is sending mixed signals which do more harm than good. Secondly, by telling them to believe in everything, they actually believe in nothing. Their is and must be something concrete to grab hold of. A debate is always healthy but you can not debate unless you can accept some things as truth, even it is from your perspective only. If there were no moral guidlines and it was a free for all society, just based on human nature alone we would destroy ourselves. We wouldn’t just sit their and leave each other alone and be happy. It is inevitable that what you “feel” and I “feel” would be in conflict and without any laws, what would stop me from taking it from you or trying to stop you from doing it? It’s just plain insanity, in my opinion. God bless you Father for another wonderful post.

    1. Yes, I can’t stand that attitude of not bringing a child up in the faith. The same parents would still insist that their Child go to school etc. All the syncretism just leads to confusion. If everything is true nothing is true.

  5. Firstly I must say that I share some of Jan’s sentiments (I was born in the first half of the 1960’s). I haven’t heard this song in 25 plus years, but I recall that it too was the anthem of one of my highschool friends. Having grown up while nihilism reached the suburbs we used to laugh at how “grown-ups” thought rock n’ roll would corrupt our minds. Yet there was such a void of truth we were all grapsing for something and all too often our answers were found in rock music. I identified much more with “The Wall” of 1979. My parents divorced that year and my world changed dramatically. My father moved halfway across the country and my mother moved to a new neighbourhood requiring me go to a new highschool, which at age 15 or 16 is not an easy thing to do. All in all, they were just more bricks in the wall. My anger was internalized. Through grace of God I have come a long way, truth is absolute and I have never been happier.

    1. “Another birck in the Wall” Pink Floyd? Sorry you had to endure divorce in your high school years. You are right there was such a void of truth at that time. The Church was in meltdown and catechetical confusion in the wake of the Council and had little to say to us. But music was saying a lot and we reached for it.

  6. Monsignor,

    And you had yet another kindred spirit in the Philly suburbs – exactly the same age.
    Grace and mercy indeed – I would not be here without them, and neither would my 6 children!

  7. Msgr.,

    After reading the Gospel for the day and while enjoying my morning cup of coffee I began to think about your blog again. I think the spread of nihilism, for some reason has not spread to the person of Jesus for most people. What I mean is, they think of the Church as an institution and would like to tear it down. However, when they are told Jesus said or did something they are likely to at least respect it because they think of Jesus as a wise teacher. When I taught teens I would never say the ‘Church teaches…’ but that ‘Jesus teaches…’ or ‘Jesus teaches us through the Church…’ It kind of circumvented what I can now call, thanks to you, their nihilism. The Who may say enough of this love your brother thing, but they would not likely have made the jump to enough of this Jesus thing. I would, however, have to admit that for some, nihilism has reached the point that they hate the notion of Jesus and all things Christian simply because it is the predominate religion in our culture. But, not for the vast majority.

    1. Yes, I see your point. But here too I fear an erosion. When I was ordained over 20 years ago it was possible to quote from any scripture and peple thought twice. But Now Paul and his whole corpus of writings is dismissed as sexist and homophobic by many. The OT has been cast out as well in the past 20 years. Jesus is left standing but there are false version of him being circulated. Jesus the “nice guy” is proposed for belief but the Jesus who warns of sin and teaches on Hell is deconstructed and it is dlecared that “he never said that.” So we’ll see where it goes but I am not sure the prognosis looks good.

    2. I think the spread of nihilism, for some reason has not spread to the person of Jesus for most people

      You’ve obviously never seen The Last Temptation of Christ or the “artwork” of Andres Serrano. Granted, their followers are not “most people,” but they are enough.

      Take it from me — you are better off not seeing them.

      And maybe the Who never did (I don’t know, I was never into them), but John “We’re Bigger Than Jesus” Lennon happily sang, “Imagine there’s no Heaven, It’s easy if you try . . . And no religion too.”

      1. Ok, John Lennon, of whom I assure you I am no fan, only meant, in his twisted egoism, that they were more popular. He was not saying better. He did want the end of religion, but not Jesus per se. I understand Msgrs point about the deconstruction of the Scriptures and I would agree that it has bleed into common thinking. That is why movies like The Da Vinci Code are so dangerous. But I stick to what I said about most being angry with the Church or Christianity or Western culture and not so much with Jesus.

  8. I can relate to your “Hard Rock” story – when I was in high school and for years after I was deep into Heavy Metal. For years I tried to reconcile my musical interests and the Church, it was always a struggle. It all became easy after I attended my first Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form. Nothing short of miraculous – my musical interests virtually changed overnight. I lost interest in Heavy Metal and started seeking out Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony almost right away. Not only did that first encounter with the Extraordinary Form impact my taste in music it changed my life. Deo Gratias!

    1. Yes, Church music has also brought me a long way. Chant and polyphony have been real life savers for me. I will also admit a little nudge even from some rock that employed classical themes: groups like Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, and ELO had classical riffs and this opened classical to me.

  9. I think that some of those who stake out a nihilistic positlon, or just keep their mouths shut, do so not so much because they believe everything is relative, but because they fear being seen as judgmental and/or non-politically correct.

    1. Some of us are in teaching positions in which we have to be extremely careful what we say, not only about matters religious, but about matters philosophical as well — even simple things. For example, if we were to construct a dichotomy between, say, opinion on the one hand and whatever belongs on the other side of the dichotomy, what is that thing on the other side? Most people would answer reflexively: “fact,” but this is not correct. What actually belongs on the other side is knowledge. What people fail to grasp is that a fact is a fact, irrespective of whether we realize what that fact is. So how does fact figure in? Fact can be an object of knowledge. In some settings, it would be extremely dangerous for us to point out such a simple thing.

      Placing “fact” on the other side of the dichotomy implies that “facts” are the ONLY things opposed to opinion. The reflexive response of “fact” is invariably followed by an operating definition to the effect that facts can be empirically verified, or are verifiable by “accredited authorities” (whatever that means), or are in agreement with a consensus among experts, or something like that. The problem is that recognition as non-opinion is granted only to “facts” that can be empirically verified; if it’s not a “fact,” then it is only an opinion, and all mere opinions may be summarily dismissed. What this criterion precludes is a realm of Truth, which, though it may legitimately be known, does not belong to the realm of fact. It is to this realm of Truth that morality belongs. Since morality belongs to the realm of Truth, and not to the realm of fact, it is not subject to empirical verification. And so such things as morality are relegated to the realm of opinion, and consequently they are summarily dismissed.

      The putative dichotomy between opinion and fact does have a certain appeal. If a fact is verified, then we can be assured that the assertion that it is a fact is not a mere opinion, and that is a good thing. However, we must be very careful to avoid a formal-logical error here. Consider the following proposition:

      If it is a fact, then it is not an opinion.

      From this proposition, people seem to infer the following proposition:

      If it is not a fact, then it is an opinion.

      Rewriting this argument using symbolic notation:

      (p —> ~q) —> (~p —> q)

      The foregoing argument commits a FORMAL logical fallacy; (p —> ~q) does not imply that (~p —> q). Correspondingly, the proposition that if it is a fact then it is not an opinion does not imply the proposition that if it is not a fact then it is an opinion.

      Examining the first proposition a bit closer, however, we can see that not even it is true. Again, the first proposition is:

      If it is a fact, then it is not an opinion.

      Factuality resides in real, actual things, not in our awareness or recognition of those things. The factuality of my dog sleeping on the couch resides in my dog’s sleeping on the couch, regardless of whether I am aware of the fact that he is sleeping there. I may be of the opinion that my dog is sleeping on the couch, but for all I know he may just as well be chained to the porch outside instead. If I haven’t checked lately where my dog actually is, I may be of the opinion that my dog is sleeping on the couch, but I am not really certain. If I go into the living room and see that my dog is indeed sleeping on the couch, then I become aware of the fact, but my dog’s sleeping on the couch has been a fact all along. I can be of the opinion that my dog is sleeping on the couch, and at the same time it can be a fact that my dog is sleeping on the couch. Thus we see that it is possible for fact and opinion to coincide. In other words, the distinction between fact and opinion does not even constitute a dichotomy, since a dichotomy is a disjunction that is both exclusive and exhaustive.

      Now, as obvious as the foregoing should be, it can be extremely dangerous to point it out in contemporary academia. So the intellectual corruption that pervades contemporary academia extends even to the most basic and fundamental things.

      1. My philosophy professor in seminary said that radical relativists, nihilists and antinomians still opened doors to walk through walls they claimed weren’t there. If the wall wasn’t there who needed a door? So their philosophy wasn’t useful in any sense.

  10. Msgnr I remember those days and I don’t feel one day older.
    My kids for some reason have gotten older funny that

    I grew up a few miles from Frisco, the Haight and the stink of hate.
    All that time I was going to Catholic high school(I remember the kids at the public school down the hill burning building and beating up teachers. Meanwhile I was minding my folks, going to work after graduation (at the AFEES station of all places we had a protest a day in Oakland), met my husband there, we married in the Church had 4 kids.

    I think I had an envelope of faith that surrounded me, or it was my guardian angel’s wings,giving me blinders. For though I remember, as history, all those things you talked about they never said anything to me. Except I was a hawk .and thought Barry Goldwater was a bleeding heart liberal, we needed to help the Vietnames away from the Communists and oppression. I never saw a reason not to help them. People die everyday if not in a war, in an accident by disease, etc. the protests were stupid.

    Meanwhile as the years have gone by, I just believe that God was going to sort it out eventually, but not on my time but in His. It’s wonderful to have complete trust in God you never get into trouble, you cry but only until He dries your tears and send you in a direction to solve the problem or accept that difficulty.
    Yes, I have had doubts here and there but as a whole I blindly trusted and miracles happen to those that believe.


  11. PS If you can post a “theme song” about which you’re embarrassed, I think you can post a picture of yourself with long hair. 😉

  12. Thanks for sharing your personal story! I enjoy reading what other people went through because I can always learn something. I used to hang out with guys like you used to be in high school (my previous boyfriend was in a rock band, haha). My Catholic faith has gotten me out of trouble, too. I still get tendencies where I want to drink and party like most people my age, but because I’m now stronger in my faith I can fight those tendencies a lot better.

    And trust me, you are not old….in the ER we consider 60 to 70 still young (especially in death). The Who rocks by the way! I like them too!

  13. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    God new I couldn’t get thru the revolution alive so HE hid me out in the Marine Corps from ’66 to ’71. Those
    were the years that Jimmy Stewart did jump off the bridge and die, and my country did seem to turn into Pottersville,
    where very few angels got their wings.
    Fast forwarding to the year of the priests,He gave me the gift of daily Mass, and the sure knowledge that
    HIS delight is to be with us.

  14. Msgr Pope,

    Im sure you mean well, and your points about Nihilism are important.

    However, your piece is an example of what is far far too prevalent in Catholic Ministries today. The intention is well placed, the overall theme is correct. But there are important facts that are either absolutely not true or sufficiently wrong in representation to lead those who are not your fan to either rejection what you and the Church teaches, or at the very least to discount significantly the veracity of what you are trying to get across.

    E.g, “The Vietnam War was at it height and wasn’t going well from the Tet Offensive…” I can understand, given the media situation at the time, how folks could believe this to be true. But the fact, the truth of it is, and this is the acknowledged opinion of almost all scholars and experts, the Tet Offensive was a great military victory and marked a virtual defeat of the communist army in S. Vietnam. Your points would have been better served by presenting the fact that the effect the Nihilist attitude ended up serving to create and support the belief that Tet marked THE defeat of the forces fighting for truth and justice. Which ended up in the forces for good pulling out and giving up, which directly resulted in the killing of millions of innocent people. That’s a fact. A fact that came as a result of a selfish, Nihilist people, who claimed to be a Christian nation, turning their back on a people being brutally raped and murdered. One can debate the details, but I think the conversation with God will be fairly clear. War is evil. But I believe in a Just War. And if there is a Just War, and if there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another, how much greater was it, is it now, when U.S. soldiers lay down their life for another? In my opinion, America’s Baby Boomer’s have not faced the fundamental character and faith that led to the difference between the outcome of WW II and Vietnam. Your point about Nihilism is fundamental to the difference. So Im disappointed that you are so ignorant of the truth of Tet, and that you do not see it’s fundamental connection to the point you are making – a noble and necessary point.

    Re: Truth inevitably leads to beauty and goodness, and what a beautiful view it is. There is great serenity and freedom in the truth.
    – Tell me, what’s the difference between what you assert here and Nihilism? Really nothing. Both, to a non or not well educated Catholic, are purely subjective. I know by Truth you mean God. But to the ignorant or poorly educated Christian, this important fact is often missed. And if it is missed the point becomes nothing but a subjective “truth”. More importantly, the statement is deeply rooted in identity with emotion. It is not always true that there is “great serenity and freedom in the truth”. Throughout the world many oppressed suffer tremendously while living “in the truth”. Christ, our Lord, suffered tremendously, unimaginably, “in the Truth” of the Crucifix. It is “teachings” like these you assert, though well intentioned, which make YOU feel good, that cause far greater harm than good. More importantly, by elevating and giving value to the emotional aspect you open further the doors to the Nihilist danger to which you point. The central failure, the central “fall” of the Baby Boomer generation is their obsession with emotion and the way emotion flows through their “thoughts” and buttresses virtually everything they believe and think. Yes Truth inevitably, if followed all the way to its proper end, leads to a far greater place than beauty and goodness. But the journey of Truth, as show to us by Christ, Scripture, and great mystics such as St John of the Cross, Padre Pio, Blessed Mother Teresa, and many many other Saints show us that the way of Truth is not one of “serenity and freedom”. Your leading people to think otherwise is leading them on a path whose focus, as sung in the song, is really on death.

    Re: Sorry sister girl…we’re getting older!
    – Im sorry, are you not a “man of the cloth”? What you said is not evil. But it is a very subtle step on that path to “looking upon a woman”….. In Christo, I wonder if Christ spoke like that? Scripture never even hints at such things. For your sake, please be ever mindful of the Cross you have taken up. And please, from one who knows how gentle and slippery the slope is, walk very very carefully with your words.

    The shift in focus from reverence to emotional fulfillment that took place after Vatican II, and has done such great damage to the Mass and to so many souls, is no different, and in my opinion is but fruit of the loss of reverence and awareness by the Priesthood of what In Christo fully means.

    Nihilism is but the fruit of these things.

    In Christ and in prayer,

    1. Wow this is one of the most picky comments I have received in a long time. Regarding the Vietnam war Tet offensive – whatever — for such a minor aside that was simply setting the tone of the time you aurely wasted a lot of ink. I am my family support the Vietnam war with our blood and the implication of your comments are completely misdirected viz me or my family.

      Re your second point I have little idea what you are talking about. You obviously have little idea what serenity is about is you think it is not consonant with suffering. And as for the “ignorant and poorly educated Christian” (unlike yourself apparently) I think the point I am making is clear enough and that some sophistication can be presumed even of people you look down on.

      Sister-girl is a just good fun. She was goshing me I goshed back. You need to lighten up “brother man” In the Black community where I serve such a phrase is a playful expression of friends and does not amount to “looking upon a woman” as you presumptively suggest. I am a good priest and faithful to my vows and shame on you for your ugly presumptions of me and others you dismiss as ignorant or poorly educated.

    2. HCSKnight —

      Even without Msgr. Pope’s explanation, I would suggest that you perhaps misconstrued his point. And, as I am guessing you already know, “the war” was more than just what happened on the battlefield in Vietnam. To be sure, from the enemies perspective, the more important battlefield was the one right here in the United States.

      While the Tet Offensive was indeed a great victory for the U.S. in terms of wiping out enemy forces, ultimately, that might be beside the point because the number one objective of war is not really to kill the enemy and break things, but is instead to destroy the will of the enemy to resist. And given the reaction to the Tet Offensive here in the U.S., which was indeed nihilist as you say, the “victory” during Tet did not in fact translate into a victory over the will of the enemy but, instead, strengthened his will.

      So, from the overall perspective, especially as seen from history, the war didn’t go well thereafter. That a good portion of the U.S. political establishment was later all too happy to lose the peace after the troops had won the war, and abandon the people of Vietnam, etc. to misery and oppression, does not detract from the fact that the seeds of that were planted back then.

      Regarding the serenity and freedom in truth, on the one hand, and people suffering on the other, consider Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi, where he writes of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was a slave in Africa, who was beaten and flogged repeatedly. Her life was one of complete misery. But once she learned the truth — “that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited” sec. 3 — with this truth, she had hope — she had joy and peace and serenity and freedom. —
      “Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.”

      As for accusing the Monsignor of impropriety and immodesty in his words, your accusations say more about you than his words said about him. I would ask that you reflect on it some more because I think you owe him an apology.

  15. I was fortunate enough to be raised in an intact, observant family, and to go to Catholic schools all the way into my 2nd year of college. I “drifted” away, rebellious, and then stayed away out of laziness. Yet, I always identified myself as “Roman Catholic” culturally, and wasn’t interested in any other religious tradition. Many years passed…
    I’ve become more informed politically over the last few years; and at the same time found myself drawn back to the Church. One of my sisters asked me why, and why now? All I can answer is that belief in Christ is the only way I can see to not drown in despair.
    Thanks for the post.

  16. I don’t remember 1968. As far as news events are concerned, I have a vague recollection of Apollo 11 in 1969. Musically, growing up in mid-Ohio, I remember the Beatles on the radio (CKLW) and the first song I remember humming to myself was Sweet Caroline. I don’t remember any riots, either in 1968 or the super-mega Detroit riot of 1967 (which is what killed Detroit forever – today it is nothing but a rotting corpse of a city).

    In 1978, I remember the death of Pope Paul, who the only time I ever saw him on TV was for a few seconds on the news for Christmas midnight Mass or things like that, and the election of John Paul I. I wasn’t particularly observant at the time, having long dropped out of CCD and my mom not taking me to Mass. I remember the shock of one month later. And then I remember the shot heard around the world with the election of John Paul II, who I remember was a superstar from the moment he stepped out on the balcony.

    I don’t remember any nihilism, but I do remember something more along the lines of existentialism — people felt that they need to “find themselves” and they were into “self-expression” and way too many fell into trendy things like wide-open polyester shirts and long-hair (not hippie long, but totally cover the ears long) in a vain attempt to be cool and hip. I remember the annual Hash Bash (I was in Ann Arbor by then), but I also remember that drugs were called dope, drug users were called junkies, and dealers were called pushers, and the ABC Afterschool Specials would warn against all sorts of things. “Women’s lib” was about not treating women as “sex objects” and empowerment (I am Woman, hear me roar). Musically, I remember everyone was into disco before they all said “disco sucks,” and I remember watching the Tigers on TV win a forfeit game against the White Sox when the fans rioted at Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park.

    Like I said, I don’t remember anything at the time being nihilistic, but I do remember what I later learned was existentialism, the idea that a person’s life does not have any intrinsic meaning or worth, and you have to create your own meaning in life, your own purpose in the universe. Such a mindset of course leads to all sorts of hedonistic pleasure seeking, combined with thinking of meaning in utilitarian terms (the 70s were the “Me Decade”), such that it is actually logical and reasonable that a woman should “terminate a pregnancy” by removing “blogs of tissue” to ensure her happiness. But after the long search for meaning in this manner, and finding none, there is the onset of existential angst, which naturally leads directly into nihilistic despair.

    In nihilistic despair, there being no inherent or instrinsic value to, or meaning in, life, and life invariably involving some degree of suffering, the next logical step is to eliminate the suffering by eliminating the person who suffers. What’s the point of living? Better to just end it all.

    But going back to 1978 for a moment, I think that something momenteous was done to stem that tide toward societal suicide. The seed was planted for a reversal of the culture of death. The Holy Spirit gave us Karol Wojtyla. As he said at his Mass of Inauguration

    “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Be not afraid. Christ knows “what is in man.” He alone knows it.

    “So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.”


    1. “I don’t remember 1968”

      I have a friend in his late 50s who likes to quip: If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.

      1. I apparently “wasn’t there” for the ’80s. There was a notice in my parish’s bulletin about an “Awesome ’80s” dance for which attendees are asked to dig up , among other things, their “hammer” pants.

        ??? Hammer pants ????

        I had to google what they were. Also called parachute pants.

        I freely confess to possessing, and wearing, leg warmers (albeit only during aerobics class) but I did NOT have hammer pants, nor did I know anyone who did.

        Cynthia “under-a-rock-residing non-fashionista” BC

  17. Msgr.Pope, I grew up in that era as a Catholic felt marginalized by one’s own religion and country. Having grown up in a Catholic parochial environment in Dallas, my family moved to a small town with public schools only, in 1963 when I was eleven. That was about the time of Vatican II and you failed to leave that very important bit of revolution and religious nihilism out of the equation. I realize you were barely born but with your religious background you should well understand the church history involved. It was my early Catholic faith, not the latter Catholic Church that has carried me through those nihilistic years. What I learned from my family and early Catholic teachings has given me the moral, ethical, and religious foundations that kept me close to Christ and enabled me to survive the degeneration of a society that was dragged down to a level of civil, moral and ethical disintegration by offering the progressive socialist the opportunity to maniupulate the poverty stricken, ignorant and socially abandoned of the prior generations as well as the Catholic Church at the onset of LBJ’s Great Society. It was in this period that the Catholic Church suffered much in the way of progressive demoralization and loss of faithful parishoners. It is only recently by way of Popes JP II and Benadict XVI that the Catholic Church has quietly tried to reverse the errors of it’s actions from Vatican II. Unfortunately the progressives and perversions of the last fifty years will not so quietly depart. The Who were merely a product expressing the feelings of the time and I wasn’t particularly a fan of theirs but we were all in the same fishbowl trying to get to the outside of the glass.

  18. Msgr Pope, I am a 37 year old man who converted from what a type of Absurdism/Deism to the Catholic Church in 2005 but since that time I’ve been on a slow descent back into my previous philosophy which has recently picked up steam. It all started when I learned about the aftermath of Vatican II and then began to find “friends” of the sedevacantist persuasion. This all led to me doubting the faith entirely (I mean, if this mess is the best Jesus can do then how can I believe anything else?).

    But not just doubt, but also anger and resentment. Now I’m back to the point of finding the claims of Christianity (and all religions) to be completely unreasonable. I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread and have no idea what to do. Searching for some answers is what led me to find this article. If it weren’t for the fact that my previous philosophy offered no hope, no real answers, I’m sure I would be back there already.

  19. Father Seraphim Rose had these words to write about Nihilism in his book “Nihilism: The Root of the Modern Revolution of the Modern Age.” I feel this book directly relates to the spiritual condition (ailments) in and around Chicago. But Chicago is not the only place. It’s an example the the much wider conditions.

    “In the Nihilist “new earth” all human energy is to be devoted to worldly concerns; the whole human environment and every object in it are to serve the cause of “production” and to remind men that their only happiness lies in this world; there is to be established, in fact, the absolute despotism of worldliness. The artificial world erected by men who will to remove the last vestige of divine influence in the world, and the last tracę of faith in men, promises to be so all-encompassing and so omnipresent that it will be all but impossible for men to see, to imagine, or even to hope for anything beyond it. This world, from the Nihilist point ofview, will be one of perfect “realism” and total “liberation”; in actual fact it will be the vastest and most efficient prison men have ever known, for—in the precise words of Lenin—“there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be nowhere to go’.”*

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