The West in 2020 is going through an immense shock, a powerful current of change emitting destabilizing pulses into deep-rooted fault lines of human imperfection. The proximate causes are ostensibly well-documented and include the global pandemic, economic stress, racial and social tensions and the limitations placed on worship and the sacraments. Starkly revealing as these triggers are, they have unmasked something more sinister, profoundly worrisome and proto-apocalyptic.

Human deification emerges in this novel global order which rejects pre-ordained objective morality as the source of right reason, goodness and peace. This remote cause is sparking the unfolding drama we are witnessing. Its fruits are increased personal anxiety and communal insecurity due to the violent untethering of the culture from its Judeo-Christian moorings. It is drawing man closer to what could become a new reign of terror involving man’s inhumanity to man.

An Age of New Idols

Humanitarianism is described in The Idol of Our Age as the negation of the natural and divine order of human life. The Creator’s ordering of His creation, now rejected, opens up a void in which man fills with his own natural hierarchy of moral goods based solely on his reason, conscience and common sense – but in the absence of supernatural faith.  The measure of happiness in a despiritualized world is counted by the accumulation of material possessions Through his adherence to egalitarian ethics he is convinced that he is able to achieve, here and now, utopia.

In a warning to the West given over 40 years ago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke about the “calamity of a despiritualized world and irreligious humanistic consciousness” and its grave consequences:
“To such a consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes…”
One of the best literary depictions of the “consequences of mistakes” is found in Robert Hugh Benson’s provocative and dystopic novel “Lord of the World” written in 1907. Benson was an English Anglican priest who was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1903. Benson’s novel focuses on the nearly universal loss of the Christian religious and cultural identities accompanied by the growth of heresy, apostasy and the abandonment of the Triune God. In its place is the fruition of the ancient Adamic temptation, the original sin of pride. It is a world in which man’s faith is in himself – Man is the true beginning and true end.

There is a scene early in the novel where the bureaucrat, Oliver Brand, standing at the threshold of his domicile and surveying the marvel of London, advanced both in technology and in the new religion of humanism, is reassured by “the grey haze…really beautiful, this vast hive of men and women who had learned the primary lesson of the gospel that there was no God but man, no priest but politician, no prophet but the schoolmaster.” In this brave new world, Christianity is marginalized and most especially Catholicism, “that strange faith” whose claim to authority was revealed by both a transcendent and incarnate God. To Brand’s mind, the Catholic Church was “the most grotesque and enslaving.” It is no longer tenable for most Londoners and Westerners, Brand muses, thinking that “(i)t was simply impossible to treat (it) seriously.”

To the enlightened, Brand’s ‘“God”’ is neither a transcendent nor a personal being but an immanent “impersonal (U)nity”. He is everywhere present in the world and in Man whose immanent  spirit is “the developing sum of his created life”. All belief is focused upon a “universal” Man which is the foundation of a new creed which rejects the uniqueness and dignity of individual persons whose source is the supernatural. Religion is not eradicated but ‘humanized’. It is retained for the masses to pacify and fill them with good feelings and to inculcate in them an efficient and unchallenging morality.

The city of God is replaced by the Man’s city of harmony. For the likes of Oliver Brand, the full potential of Man is achievable by a new world governing authority that liberates and leads to an earthly Eden made kinder, more tender, and enlightened by scientific knowledge and applied technology. The conclusion of this story is not unexpected – this revolution ends in failure. The world is consumed, too, and the novel’s final words are: “Then this world passed, and the glory of it.” (Sic transit gloria mundi)

Proclaiming the Gospel Again and Again

Man’s misdirected quest for happiness, tempted by materialism and pride, and repeated often in history, never ends. The Church’s counter-revolution repels these wicked forces firstly by rediscovering the transcendent and personal God. It witnesses His great creation and man’s true nature as creatures whom He loves as children and for whom He desires their eternal happiness.

The Church’s mission is to spread the Gospel and be the instrument of salvation. Constantly under attack, it is challenged and undermined, even from within the Church. Recently, many have suffered from the absence of the sacraments of confession, anointing of the sick and dying, and baptism. Most have had the holy Mass, the perfect sacrifice of the incarnate God, physically taken away for a prolonged period, deemed non-essential to their spiritual lives. An Archbishoptold his flock that his main priority, most tellingly, was their physical health and safety. 

The time is now for the Church and especially the bishops to raise the Cross of Christ in all its scandalous splendor and unending charity high above the rising tide of the world’s secular spirit. Christ’s church demands nothing less from all her members and in a special way from her clergy and hierarchy. Souls are in danger without the serious commitment of time, effort and even sacrifice to accomplish this mission. There must be a return to more regular and fervent prayer, especially mental prayer that meditates on the life of Our Lord, the Trinity, Our Lady and the Saints to counter the increasingly materialistic, humanistic and therapeutic spirit of the age. 

In the same speech, Solzhenitsyn wisely teaches:
“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material good and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become a become an experience of moral growth…”
 For believers, growth in moral virtue, powered by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and super-naturalized by grace is the narrow path to sainthood. The Church and her clergy would do well to muster the faithful to this life of renewal in Spirit and Truth.