It is critical for us who would preach the Gospel to ponder what sorts of presuppositions our listeners bring to the conversation. Today, sadly, there are many trends that have poisoned the culture and thus make our task much more difficult.
But difficult does not mean impossible. It helps to describe modern mindsets, not to despair of them, but rather to look at them with some insight rather than being only vaguely aware of them. If we are more clear on the presuppositions that people bring to the table, we can better direct our message to them and ask them to consider whether or not these notions are helpful or even right. For indeed, most people carry their preconceptions subconsciously. Bringing them to light can act as a kind of medicine or solvent, which will assist us in clearing the thorns so that the seeds of truth can be sown.
I list here six presuppositions; I’ve tried to avoid an overly philosophical analysis, instead using a more descriptive approach. The first few may be familiar to you, but the last three are less often discussed. Feel free to add to this list in the comments box. I will discuss a few other presuppositions in tomorrow’s post.
I. Secularism – The word “secular” comes from the Latin saecula, which is translated as “world,” but can also be understood to refer to the age or times in which we live. Secularism is excessive concern about the things of this world and the times in which we live to the exclusion of the values and virtues of Heaven and the Kingdom of God.
Hostile – It is not merely a matter of preoccupation with the world, but often of outright hostility to things outside the saecula (world or age). Spiritual matters are often dismissed by the worldly as irrelevant, naïve, hostile, and divisive. Secularism is an attitude that demands all attention be devoted to the world and its priorities.
Misplaced Priorities – Secularism also causes those who adopt it to put their faith beneath worldly priorities and views. In this climate, many are far more passionate about and dedicated to their politics than to their faith. Their faith is “tucked under” their political views and made to conform to them. It should be the opposite—political views should be subordinate to faith. The Gospel should trump our politics, our worldview, our opinions, and all worldly influences. Faith should be the doorkeeper. Everything should be seen in the light of faith. Secularism reverses all this and demands to trump the truths of faith.
Secularism is the error through which one insists that faith give way when it opposes worldly ways of thinking or worldly priorities. If faith gets in the way of career, guess which one gives? If faith forbids me from doing what I please and what the world affirms, guess which one gives way? The spirit of the world often sees the truths of faith as unreasonable and unrealistic, and demands that they give way, either by compromise or a complete setting aside of faith.
As people of faith, we should put the world and its values on trial. Secularism instead puts the faith on trial and demands it conform to worldly thinking and priorities.
Secularism also increasingly demands that faith be privatized. Faith is to have no place in the public square of ideas or values. If Karl Marx said it, that’s fine, but if Jesus said it, it has to go. Every other interest group can claim a place in the public square, in the public schools, etc. But the Christian faith has no place. Yes, God has to go. Secularism in its “purest” form demands a faith-free, God-free world. Jesus promised that the world would hate us as it hated Him. This remains true, and secularism describes the rising tendency for the world to get its way.
To make this world our priority and to let it overrule our faith is to board a sinking ship with no lifeboats. With secularism, our loyalty is primarily to the world. This amounts to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” If the world is really all that matters then we are the most pitiable of men, for everything we value is doomed and already passing away.
II. Materialism – Most people think of materialism as the tendency to acquire and need lots of material things. It includes this, but true materialism goes far deeper. In effect, materialism is the error that insists that physical matter is the only thing that is real. Materialism holds that only those things that can be weighed on a scale, seen in a microscope, or empirically experienced (through the five senses) are real. The modern error of scientism, which insists that nothing outside the world of the physical sciences exists, flows from materialism. (You can read more on that HERE.)
In effect, materialism says that matter is all that “matters.” The spiritual is either non-existent or irrelevant to the materialist. This of course leads to the tendency to acquire things and neglect the spiritual. If matter is all that really matters, then we will tend to want large amounts of it. Bigger houses, more things, and more creature comforts are amassed in order to give meaning and satisfaction.
In the end, however, it is a cruel joke, because All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing (Eccles 1:7). Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. [It] is meaningless … The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Eccles 5:10-12). But never mind that; the materialist will still insist it is the only thing real or relevant.
The error of materialism is ultimately tied up in thinking that matter is all that exists and that man, a creature of matter and spirit, can be satisfied with matter alone. Materialism denies a whole world of moral and spiritual realities that are meant to nourish the human person: goodness, beauty, truth, justice, equity, transcendence, courage, feelings, attitudes, angels, and God. These are ultimately spiritual realities. They may have physical manifestations to some extent, but they are not physical. Justice does not walk through the door and take a seat in the front row. Transcendence does not step out for a stroll, give a speech, or shake hands with beauty. Such things are not merely material.
To deny the spiritual is to already be dying, for the form of this world is passing away. To deny the spiritual is to have little to live for other than today, for tomorrow is uncertain and one step closer to death.
III. Individualism – The error of individualism exalts the individual over and above all notions of the common good, and our need to live responsibly in communion with God and others. Individualism exalts the view of the individual at the expense of the received wisdom of tradition.
Individualism demands autonomy without proper regard to the rights and needs of others. It minimizes duties to others and maximizes personal prerogatives and privileges. It also tends to deny a balanced notion of dependence on others for human formation, and the need to accept correction and instruction.
Individualism also tends to be defiant and declare, “I will not be told what to do.” Hence there is little notion of being required to conform to the truth or even to reality. The notion that I should live by the “creeds of dead white men” is rejected as absurd, repressive, and even unhealthy.
Most individualists think of themselves as having an intrinsic right to make their own religion, to invent their own deity, and even to craft their own reality. In the past these sorts of things were called idolatry, syncretism, heresy, and delusional thinking. But today many in our culture celebrate this notion as a strange form of liberty, not seeing it for the isolation that it is, and not recognizing that they are consigning themselves to the status of spiritual orphans.
Personal freedom and autonomy have their place and should not be usurped by government or other collectives, but freedom today is often misunderstood as the ability to do whatever one pleases rather than the ability—the power—to do what is good. Freedom is not absolute and should not be detached from respect for the rights and welfare of others. Individualism ultimately scoffs at this idea.
Never mind that excessive and mistaken notions of freedom have caused great harm in our culture and that it is often children who suffer the most. Sexual promiscuity, easy divorce, abortion, substance abuse, etc. are all abuses of freedom and cause harm to both children and to the wider society that must often seek to repair the damage caused by irresponsible behavior. Individualism still scoffs at this, refusing to acknowledge any personal responsibility for societal ills.
Individualism, because it rejects the collective wisdom of the ages, also leads to the iconoclasm of the next problematic area: the hermeneutic of discontinuity.
IV. The Hermeneutic of Discontinuity – The word “hermeneutic” refers to the interpretive key by which one sees and understands the world. Thus, the phrase “hermeneutic of discontinuity” refers to an interpretation that the wisdom of previous generations is flawed, erroneous, naïve, and so forth.
It is true that no past era was perfect or all-wise. Nevertheless, there is an accumulated wisdom that has stood the test of time.
But those possessed of the hermeneutic of discontinuity will have none of it. It is old, and therefore bad, irrelevant, unenlightened, bigoted, naïve, superstitious, backward, medieval, etc.
In the Church, we are just emerging from a time when anything “old” was dismissed as “pre-Vatican II.” There was a presumed break and a great chasm with the past that we “ought” to observe, that it was somehow “wrong” to quote St. Thomas or the Council of Trent.
There is a widespread, arrogant, modern notion that we have “come of age.” We confuse our technical knowledge with wisdom. But our arrogance cuts us off from the collected wisdom of our ancestors and we make mistakes that were long ago recognized as harmful and foolish.
Here, too, as the Church “re-proposes” the Gospel, she is proposing the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the ages. Yet a modern world, often locked in the hermeneutic of discontinuity, scoffs merely on the basis that what we propose is ancient rather than modern.
Regardless, we must continue to insist upon and preach the wisdom of God, in season and out of season. We must refuse to be swayed by false notions of and demands for relevance. The true meaning of the word relevant is not “modern” or “hip.” The word comes from the Latin re (again) + levare (to lift). And thus, it means to take up again what was dropped or which fell by the wayside.
Our job is to persevere and by our persistence to keep the wisdom of God ever before humanity like a burning torch. We must preach the Gospel in season and out of season and not confuse ephemeral notions with wisdom. But neither should we imagine that there is nothing good today or that something is bad simply because it is modern. Jesus says, Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Mt 13:52).
V. Neo-Nominalism – There are at least two main versions of nominalism. One version denies the existence of universals—things that can be illustrated by many particular things (e.g., strength, humanity). The other version specifically denies the existence of abstract objects since they do not exist in space and time. Most nominalists have held that only physical particulars in space and time are real, and that universals exist only subsequent to particular things. The term “nominalism” stems from the Latin word nomen (name).
The modern and lazier version of nominalism, which I will here call neo-nominalism, holds that words (nomen = word) are simply arbitrary sounds we assign to things, and that they reflect us more than they reflect anything we call reality. In a more sweeping way, whole categories are also dismissed.
Thus, for example, words and categories such as male, female, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc. are just words we assign; they are mere human constructs that do not exist in reality. So, many claim the right today to move beyond human words and categories such as male, female, marriage, and so forth. They also claim the right to assign new words to describe these realties. Abortion becomes “choice,” “reproductive freedom,” or “women’s healthcare.” Unnatural acts of sodomy are called “gay” (a word that used to mean happy) and anal sex is celebrated as an “expression of love.” Same-sex “pseudo-gamy” is called “marriage.” Suicide or killing of the aged or imperfect is called “euthanasia” (a word that mean means “good death” in Greek). Sexual identity is now called “gender” (a grammatical category of nouns in nearly one-fourth of the world’s languages, not a word for human sexual differentiation).
Neo-nominalism claims the right to define new reality and scoffs at the humbler proposition that we ought to discover reality and conform to it. Nominalism casts aside such humility and claims the right to merely define reality by inventing new words and thoughts and then imposing them on what really is. And thus we get endless absurdities such as LGBTQ (and Lord knows what letter will be added next). We have bizarre notions such as being “transgendered,” a concept that denies human distinctions that could not be more obvious and are literally inscribed in our bodies. But the neo-nominalists will not be troubled with reality.
The next and even more absurd “edge universe” for many of them is the so called “trans-human” movement, in which even the reality of being human is dismissed as a mere construct. People will claim the right to start calling themselves other species and (presumably) the right to engage in all sorts of bizarre consort with animals, the “right” to develop cross-cloning, etc. After all, who is to say what is “human” to these neo-nominalist iconoclasts?
For them, there is no reality per se, just human constructs that are fungible. So-called “reality” is merely to be toyed with and defined according to the latest whim and need for self-justification through the re-describing of what is actually happening.
Neo-nominalism gets dark and absurd very quickly, as we are observing every day in our increasingly indecipherable “anti-culture.”
VI. Hedonism – This is the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the chief good in life. It comes from the Greek word hēdonē “pleasure” and is akin to the Greek hēdys meaning “sweet.”
Of course pleasure is to be desired, and to some degree sought, but it is not the sole good in life. Indeed, some of our greatest goods and accomplishments require sacrifice: years of study and preparation for a career; the blood, sweat, and tears of raising children.
But hedonism seeks to avoid sacrifice and suffering at all costs. Hedonism is directly opposed to the theology of the cross. St. Paul spoke in his day of the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Php 3:18–19). He also taught that the Cross was an absurdity to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23).
Things have not changed, my friends. And thus the world reacts with great indignation whenever the cross or suffering is even implied. And so the world will cry out with bewildered exasperation and ask (rhetorically) of the Church: “Are you saying that a poor woman who was raped needs to carry the child to term and cannot abort?” (Yes we are.) Are you saying that a “gay” person can never marry his or her gay lover and must live celibately?” (Yes, we are.) “Are you saying that a handicapped child in the womb must be ‘condemned’ to live in the world as handicapped and cannot be aborted and put out of his (read ‘our’) misery?” (Yes we are.) “Are you saying that a dying person in pain cannot be euthanized to avoid the pain?” (Yes, we are.)
The shock expressed in these rhetorical questions shows how deeply hedonism has infected the modern mind. The concept of the cross is not only absurd, it is downright “immoral” to the modern hedonistic mentality, which sees pleasure as the only true human good. To the hedonist, a life without enough pleasure is a life not worth living. And anyone who would seek to set limits on the lawful (and sometime unlawful) pleasures of others is mean, hateful, absurd, obtuse, intolerant, and just plain evil.
When pleasure is life’s only goal or good, how dare you, or the Church, or anyone seek to set limits on it let alone suggest that the way of the cross is better or is required of us! You must be banished, silenced, and destroyed.
And indeed many faithful Catholics in the pews are deeply infected with the illusion of hedonism and take up the voice of bewilderment, anger, and scoffing whenever the Church points to the cross and insists on self-denial, sacrifice, and doing the right thing even when the cost is great. The head wagging in congregations is often visible if the priest dares mention that abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, contraception, and so forth are wrong; or if he preaches about the reality of the cross. The faithful who swim in the waters of a hedonistic culture are often shocked at any notion that might limit the pleasure others want to pursue.
Hedonism makes the central Christian mysteries of the cross and redemptive suffering seem like a distant planet or a strange, parallel universe. The opening word from Jesus’ mouth, “Repent,” seems strange to the hedonistic world, which has even reworked Jesus and cannot conceive that He would want them to be anything but happy and content. The cry goes up, even among the faithful, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” And on this basis, all sorts of sinful behavior should be tolerated because insisting on the opposite is “hard” and because it seems “mean” to speak of the cross or of self-discipline in a hedonistic culture.
Bringing people back to the real Jesus and to the real message of the Gospel, which features the cross as the way to glory, takes a lot of work and a long conversation. We must be prepared to have that long conversation with people.
I will discuss four other modern trends in tomorrow’s post (reductionism, scientism, “designer” religion, and arrested development).
11 Replies to “Six Cultural Trends that Challenge the Modern Evangelizer”
Do not misjudge secularists, for some of them are also against what you call “neo-nominalism,” as can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i80qaETtw8
Do not forget that everyone shares in the truth, because everyone is made in the Image of the Truth and everyone searches for God among shadows. Indeed, we receive God masked by shadows in the Eucharist.
“Neo-nominalism,” though, is just a misunderstanding of what’s happening. Where education is lacking, con artists trick people into giving them money and attention by offering pseudoscience, magic, conspiracy theories, and other “alternative solutions” to their problems while claiming science, religion, ideology, etc. are racist, sexist, homophobic, illogical, fallacious, subjective, etc., because if people know about science, religion, etc., than they’ll figure out the con artists are tricking them.
Trends aren’t the problem, anyways. Sin is not a trend. Sin is the problem. Our conscience, a fruit of Original Sin, is the problem. We must fight our concupiscence and sins. We must fight our greed by not pirating and by not making money off the Gospel, we must fight our pride by not calling evil those who disagree with us and those who do not believe the same as us. We must remember that our sins crucify Christ anew, while His Grace makes us repent unto eternal life.
We must do penance is this “time of repentance,” to use an Acts of the Apostles term for the Messianic Age: a term which is Jewish, by the way, because when the Messiah comes, the world will repent of its sins, and since Christ’s Coming, the world has been repenting just as Creation has been journeying to its consummation: because He Who perfects the world also works secretly in our sinful hearts.
Fair enough. But please note another modern trend: taking what someone (me) says, absolutizing the point, and then critiquing the point for its absolutist quality. No article or point can include all possible exceptions and/or distinctions. One has to hold other things equal or take for granted that the reader (listener) can make a few distinctions and qualifications of his own and presume the author or speaker does not mean. Thus, for the record I do not assume all secularists believe or do everything stated here.
I know you cannot say everything, but God has said everything in His Word Incarnate, and in the Selfsame Lord we fly from errors, such as fallacies. So, far from absolutionism, I am pointing out your hasty generalization fallacy, as well as your misconception of secularism and mistaking secularization for radical secularization.
Secularism isn’t excessive worldly concern or antireligious; rather, it is an ideology about human virtues, rights, values, conscience, etc. Religion is a human virtue and secularism is a share in Natural Revelation, since Natural Revelation includes human virtues, rights, values, conscience, etc. Or, as as pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI:
“It seems to me obvious today that secularism in itself is not in opposition to the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith because the Christian faith was a universal religion from the very start and consequently could not be identified with any single State; it is present in all States and different in these States. It has always been clear to Christians that religion and faith are not politics but another sphere of human life… Politics, the State, were not a religion but rather a secular reality with a specific role… and the two must be open to each other. In this regard, I would say that today, for the French, and not only for the French, for us Christians in today’s secularized world, it is important to live the freedom of our faith joyfully, to live the beauty of faith and to make visible in the world today that it is beautiful to be a believer, that it is beautiful to know God, God with a human face in Jesus Christ… thus to show that it is possible to be a believer today and even that it is necessary for contemporary society that people exist who know God and can therefore live in accordance with the great values he has given to us and contribute to the presence of values that are fundamental to the construction and survival of our States and our societies. ”
– Benedict XVI, Interview on September 12, 2008
Secularization and radical secularization are different: the latter marginalizes, privitizes, and persecutes religion, while the former defends religion as a human virtue and defends the human right to freedom of religion.
Indeed, you would not claim that Catholics who commit abortion live by their baptismal vows, for such would be a lie; nor would you claim that Catholicism is the same as terrorism, thereby implying all Catholics are terrorists, for such is a false equivalence fallacy; so do not be so quick to misjudge secularists or secularism either.
It is so easy to recognize sin in others as well as to grade the sin(venial vs grevious). Is abortion worse than gay marriage? Is gay marriage worse than euthanasia? I remember a Protestant (former Catholic) friend who struggled with re-entering the Church. He would say “sin is sin!” As a ministry leader for Catholics Returning Home, it was my job to accept each person where they are and “love them back into the Church.” He eventually returned and became an outstanding example of faith. We are all susceptible to the sins you describe above in one degree or another because we are all sinners! This is an excellent article to use as an examination of conscience. I believe we are obligated not to judge one’s final salvation but we absolutely are morally obligated to judge behavior. However, as confusing as it sounds to some people, we must love the sinner but hate the sin. Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. We have been given a powerful tool to use in prayer! We may not witness the world change, but we can be confident God (goodness) will triumph over Satan (evil). Our prayers matter individually and collectively as sinful as we all are.
On Materialism: The claim that the only things that are “real” are those that can be sensed or measured always astounds me. If that were true, then there could be no more scientific discoveries, because what is newly discovered was previously not “sensed” or measured, therefore it could not have existed (according to the logic of Materialists). I cannot believe intelligent people would contend the 5 senses, which are limited by nature, are the criteria for existence, when evidence suggests other creatures’ senses detect things ours cannot (a dog’s hearing or smell, for example) and therefore reveal our senses are not adequate to guarantee we know about all that exists. The absurdity of that seems to escape them.
On Nominalism: It seems to me a common adolescent ploy is to deny something by parsing meanings and selective interpretation of language. (I didn’t cut school…I just went out for a long lunch. I didn’t steal that $20 from your wallet…I just borrowed it.) Yet its use is widespread by politicians and activists. The change the language to suit the politics makes it almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion. It is a deeply embedded lie, and only with the passage of time does truth bear out. By that time many have been deceived and ruined their lives. I am surprised more politicians and activists are not called out on the ploy.
I have often thought of how God creates, but the devil destroys. It takes only a short time to knock down a building, but took months or years to build it. It takes but a few minutes to burn a book or piece of art, but months or years to write or paint it. It takes but a short while to cut down a tree, but took years to grow. It is a lot easier to destroy than create.
Our one opportunity to evangelize is when someone in their own lives sees the lie behind one of those trends they have latched onto, and sees the failure of it on a personal level. Then they can hear. Hopefully someone will be speaking the truth at that time so they can hear it.
May God bless you always father.
I would, though, add to the list – in fact, I would place it right at the top: unthinking assumptions about evolution (including so-called theistic evolution) and every aspect of Darwinism. I would recommend that every Catholic – and especially every priest – reads Thomas McFadden’s “Creation, Evolution and Catholicism – a discussion for those who believe”, published earlier this year. I’m waiting for a Catholic scholar to gainsay it, but so far none has come forward to the challenge. For McFadden has the evolutionists in checkmate, I believe. It’s available as a free PDF through many Catholic web-channels (just Google the title). However it’s also available for a very small fee on Amazon Kindle which is highly recommended because McFadden – designing his work rather as an online information portal – supplies the reader with scores of working hyper-links to the documentary evidence that would seem to completely blow the fraud of evolution apart. My response to anyone wishing to respond to my post is already given: read McFadden.
Thank you for elucidating these principles without heavy language. You put into words what those of us know and feel but can not elaborate on. The cream on top, was your reply to the above comment.
I am unable to define these terms in social settings, but when I have tried, the “misjudging” flag goes up usually.
People love the “Who am I to judge?” and the “golden rule”, but hate (or at best forget) the shema that precedes it.
I think this is all good, as usual, Monsignor. But it neglects what I think is the one overarching ‘trend’ which unifies all of them; these are all distinct things, and have their own histories (even with much overlap), but they have always been fringe movements which the nominally Christian culture had managed to suppress or resist to varying degrees. That is, until the Sexual Revolution.
The Sexual Revolution was induced by the Pill, which was legalized in 1965, in the Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut. It was this decision which introduced the legal concept of a “right to privacy”, which was said there to reside in the “emanations of the penumbra” of other rights. This makes no sense, of course, because emanations are rays, and penumbra are shadows; shadows emit no rays. This is not legalese, just bad poetry, but it expresses the darkness that would follow quite appropriately.
Almost immediately after that decision, the entire culture was caught up in a materialist, individualist, nominalist and hedonistic rebellion against all that had gone before (thus ‘discontinuous’), including any notion of objective morality, which is most often associated with a Creator God –thus secularism.
Ever since Eden, people have been tempted by the adolescent fantasy of consequence-free sex, but reality always imposed itself. Every culture, everywhere, ever, had to enforce the natural ethos of sexual responsibility, which implied self-control, chastity, public commitment and even chivalry of varying sorts –precisely because sexual activity was so clearly ordered toward reproduction. Young men and women were always trained in these positive virtues, and stigmas and penalties were always, everywhere, imposed on their violations; thus laws against prostitution, fornication, divorce, and even sodomy and masturbation. This was normal, and reasonable.
But the Sexual Revolution turned all that upside-down. The older generation had taken the ‘old’ values as first principles, and the foundations of morality and society, of all decency really, but they were so fundamental, unspoken and common that they’d never had to be articulated, so too many people failed to challenge it all effectively. Eventually, resistance to the Revolution came off seeming ignorant, backward, and reactionary. And then even the adults realized that they could get away with privately giving in to their temptations, depending on the Pill. Resistance fell away, and a whole generation was lost. Then they raised a generation, which is now raising another generation which takes all this for granted. It has saturated the culture.
By now, one of our political parties has adopted what used to be an adolescent fantasy, and turned it into not only an ideology, but right, and an entitlement. The “culture war” is over, and now we are just negotiating the terms of surrender. The Obergfell decision’s equating the social significance of anal intercourse with sexual intercourse was not as much a nail in the coffin of the old view, as it was simply symptomatic of just how established the Sexual Revolution is.
The Sexual Revolution is the single greatest catastrophe in history. If we only count abortion, then 60+ million dwarfs the 12 million of the Holocaust or the 25 million of the Black Death. And this doesn’t count the social devastations for the survivors –broken families, the feminization of poverty, etc. But most people, and certainly the powers that be, all take it for granted now, and unreflectively assume it is all great progress, and that the Church (presenting the only formal resistance, haphazard as it is) is therefore The Enemy of Progress.
This is the world we live in. We need to be able to articulate it in terms people can understand, but first we need to understand it for ourselves. All the “-isms” you mention are real problems, but they could seem academic or abstract. When we put the ‘culture’ in terms of the Sexual Revolution and the wreckage it has wrought, those ideas are all included, and it is already familiar to almost everyone. Many are intrigued when they hear an intelligent challenge to their unspoken assumptions.
(@ Steve) I think one of the evil seeds of the Sexual Revolution was Freud.
Freud says that our behaviour is governed by a tension between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. The pleasure principle is the driving force of the ego, seeking gratification of its needs wants and urges, such as hunger, thirst, anger, sex (we naturally pursue these desires) and if they are not met, we get anxious or frustrated.
The reality principle says that we can’t always get what we want. We often have to deny ourselves from excessive pleasure because we know the consequences are negative and greater than the pleasure. For example, if I eat a gallon of ice cream, the reality is that I’ll gain weight, and so I deny myself to avoid the reality principle (stomach pain, gaining weight, etc.)
Addictions are all associated with excessive indulgence in pleasures. If I have an uncontrollable addiction to eating a tub of ice cream every day, the reality principle is that I will gain weight, but if you can get away with it and not experience the reality principle, then
go ahead and do it. This is the world’s lie, and it was this kind of thinking that introduced the Pill.
Pope Paul VI knew that and tried to warn the world, but the world wouldn’t have it. Now the world is paying the price.
I also note chronological snobbery. Which says anything written in the past must be outdated and not valued.
When you discussed hedonism, Monsignor, I could see myself. I found the concept of redemptive suffering not only alien but alienating. I thought that Jesus suffered on the cross so that no Christian would ever have to suffer again. If a Christian did suffer, I thought it was because of a) a Christian’s lack of faith and/or b) the malevolence of God. I saw suffering as the main evil of the world — I believed that it inevitably led to sin, and that we therefore had to avoid suffering at all costs with a Buddhist-like detachment from anything that could affect us.
I began to reconsider this only after I first received effective antidepressants a decade ago. Then the concept of redemptive suffering still seemed alien, but no longer alienating: I began to be open to the cross, whereas I mightily struggled against it before that. I still have trouble with it (as well as the concept of free will), but it no longer makes me want to scream in terror. Thank you very much, Monsignor! 🙂
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