As part of our recent examinations of the current culture, today’s post considers the culture of death that we have increasingly become. We use as our interpretive key a text from the Book of Wisdom that prophetically interprets the overall times in which we are living. Over the thirty years that I have been reading this text in the Breviary, I have found that the pieces of its prophecy are continually falling into place. In my earlier years, I though the threats of persecution were overstated for the times; that is changing now and slowly I am seeing each element become more clear.
The passages that follow are from the first and second chapters of the Book of Wisdom. (The uninterrupted text can be read here.) My commentary appears in red.
But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering it a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with death, they deserve to be in its possession. Thinking not aright …
Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict both spoke often of the culture of death. What is the culture of death? It is a culture in which death or the nonexistence of human beings is proposed as a solution to human problems.
Some express concern about overpopulation, pollution, and the straining of resources. Their solution? Death—in this case, the existence of fewer human beings through contraception. Is a child in the womb inconvenient or unwanted? Kill him. Is a child in the womb possessed of possible birth defects or likely to be born into poverty? Kill her. Is someone in the advanced stages of a disease, or old, or depressed, or suffering? Kill him or help him to kill himself. Has a heinous crime been committed? Find the offender and kill him. Even entertainment is saturated with violent and death-oriented solutions. In the typical adventure movie, the hero resolves the problem after 90 minutes of car crashes, blowing up buildings, and killing people; finally killing his opponent and marching off victoriously with the girl on his arm as the city burns in the background and the credits roll.
This is the culture of death: a culture in which death is proposed as a solution to problems.
And thus as the text says here, many today summoned death; considering it a friend. They champion contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. They call these things “friends” or “rights” and associate these deathly things with dignity and freedom.
The text also says that they think not aright. Indeed, after many decades of bloody wars throughout the world in the first half of the 20th century, and after aborting and contracepting in even greater numbers in the second half, many parts of the decadent West are beginning to experience the first waves of population decline. We are discovering that declining populations often cannot perform basic functions such as caring for the elderly and growing the economy. Declining populations lead to declining markets and a declining ability to supply many services.
Thus the text says, summoning death, they deserve to be in its possession. God’s judgment on the culture of death is to hand us over to it. Unless we repent soon we are doomed to become the death we summon, celebrate, and call a solution. The final solution will be exacted upon us.
Where did all this death-directed thinking come from? The text says simply that those who engage in it are “ungodly.” Life loses its meaning without reference to the life-giver, who is God. Suffering is also meaningless without reference to God; many today prefer death to even modest suffering.
We cannot separate the culture of death from the secularism and atheism that have largely produced and coexisted with it. Modern atheists are forever decrying all the deaths from religious wars. But the truth is that the death toll from secular and atheistic systems is far higher than the (admittedly disgraceful) death toll from religious conflicts. It is hard to overestimate just how bloody the 20th century was. The most conservative estimates put the number at 100 million deaths resulting from ideological and political motives. And this does not even count the dead due to abortion or those who never lived because of contraception. Faith, whatever its shortcomings, puts a limit on human schemes and solutions. Without God, man moves himself to the center and is a terrifying and despotic ruler, one who increasingly knows no limits and thinks himself unaccountable.
They said among themselves: Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot.
And here is described the philosophy of hedonism, which sees pleasure as the chief purpose of human existence. The Greek word hedone means pleasure. Casting aside moderation (an important key to true happiness) and indulging every excess, our modern world knows few limits.
Most people today see happiness and pleasure not only as goals but as rights. As the text says, they believe that this is our portion, and this our lot. Even among the religiously observant there is often a strident rejection of the cross. Many dismiss the demands of faith by invoking God himself! “After all,” they say, “God wants me to be happy.” Almost any call to moderation or to the cross for some higher purpose (such as holiness) is dismissed as practically immoral. “How dare you interfere with my pleasure and happiness!”
The hedonistic cry of indignation goes up against every Church teaching that interferes with the indulgence of passing pleasures: “This is our portion! This is our lot!”
Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow.
In our time, social justice is “in.” However, the “social justice” that is extolled is a big-government solution that often actually oppresses the poor. Our intrusive government solutions break the normal bonds of family; many of the recipients of government welfare are single mothers. Under current welfare rules, it is often the case that a woman is better off financially without a husband.
In such a system, men among the poor are worse than useless—they are downright harmful. As such, they withdraw to the margins and are often pulled into joining gangs, engaging in criminal activity, or descending into addiction. However well-intentioned, our welfare programs often oppress rather than help, and there seems to be little ability or will to reform their worst and most oppressive aspects.
Nor do they regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
Disrespect for the wisdom of age and the experience of tradition has become rampant in modern times. Even in the Church, we threw overboard the wisdom of centuries during the 1960s and 1970s. The Church is always in need of reform, but severing our ties with the tested wisdom of previous generations was foolhardy.
Today, youth culture predominates: old=bad, young =good. Parents, especially fathers, are portrayed as buffoons and fools. Children are all-wise, hip, and clued-in.
Adults are too often obsessed with having young people like them. Many adults try to be like youths. They obsess about being youthfully thin and indulge in all sorts of fleeting fads. The power and vigor of youth is esteemed rather that the wisdom and mature reflection of age.
Then enter the euthanasia movement, which seek to help the aged by killing them. This false compassion brings into full light the culture of death’s notion of death as therapy, of killing as medicine.
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.
I have written at some length on the stages of persecution (Stages of Religious Persecution). For the purposes of this post, however, let us merely note the recent attempts by government officials to compel Americans to support same-sex unions. Some Christian bakers and photographers have been forced to either supply services to such “weddings” or to face penalties. Some ministers are being threatened with legal action for refusing to perform these “weddings.” The sermons of some Houston clergymen were subpoenaed by city attorneys. (More is available here: Threats to Religious Liberty.)
This will only grow as more and more people find our existence as Catholics and committed Christians to be “inconvenient.” They will not “tolerate” (to use their word) our (reasonable) stance that much of what they propose is sinful and contrary to natural law. It is becoming increasingly possible for them to actively persecute us and legally punish us. Little by little, they are setting aside all pretense of “tolerance.”
This text is being fulfilled before our very eyes, even here in America where we thought we had constitutional rights. The steady erosion of religious liberty may soon lead to a major breach in the dam holding back the flood waters of more open and explicit oppression. For indeed, as the text says, the very sight of us is a burden to them.
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls; for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.
Yes, they are deceived and have been led astray; sin darkens the intellect. As St. Paul wrote, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:21-22).
Pay attention, fellow Christians, the presumption that we are dealing with reasonable people is set aside by this text; it describes them as blinded by wickedness. While it is not for us to attribute wickedness to every person who opposes us (and it would be uncharitable to do so), nevertheless we must be sober that the collective reality with which we deal is no longer rooted in reason; it is rooted in dark passions and sins.
Stay sober, my friends!