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Our Society is Destroying Itself

August 26, AD2017

Our society is in sad shape — or at least it is from what I can see. As universal acceptance of values and religion has dropped, so has the accepted standard for what constitutes a good life. Even from a non-Catholic perspective, one hears about too many crimes to remember just by turning on the radio or reading some Internet headlines. For example, I recently read about a man who was shot dead just before his girlfriend gave birth to twins. Very sad, especially regarding the fatherless twins, but not extremely unusual.

Just a few years ago, when I was a teenager, like crimes seemed substantially rarer, at least to me. Furthermore, from my observations of relatively ordinary non-religious people who are not convicted criminals, they seem selfish and inconsiderate as a rule. But, I’m not envious of their “happy” religion-free lives either. Rather, I have a simple question for people like these:

If everyone is free to live exactly the lives they want, with church and God out of the picture, then why is our society coming apart at the seams?

The World is Inherently Good…

I have a hypothesis: without recognition of morals, the world is destroying itself because it has rejected the plan that God intended for it. From the Catholic perspective, God created man to be a certain way by nature. Then, understanding perfectly what He made, He understood the circumstances in which His creation could best flourish. Actually, this is one explanation for it, but there is also another interesting way of thinking about it. God is, according to His nature, pure goodness. Thus, it is literally impossible for Him to do bad. Therefore, the world and everything in it was made according to His goodness.

…but Glorifying Evil Doesn’t Make it Go Away

So the world was made to be good, but what does that have to do with everything decaying? Is it not still good? Well God, being all-good and all-knowing, intended for all of us to live a perfect life, aided by the real, true goods He set out for us. However, when we rejected those goods through sin, we created a disorder, an evil that He never intended. That evil, in turn, served then just as now to lower human life—and the world—as a whole. I’m sure we know that every sin hurts the whole body of Christ, meaning us Christians, but, beyond that, the sins that are becoming so widespread have earthly consequences, too. This is a further illustration of why God never willed them; they hurt us in an earthly way as well as spiritually. If we overeat, we gain weight. If we do not attend to our work, it never gets done and we miss out on the opportunities that finishing it would have brought, and so on.

The bigger problem here is that, when people reject God and religion, they almost always reject the idea of evil as well. Their desires and passions correspondingly become the only arbiters of good and bad, but good and bad will still exist no matter how few people believe in them. That is why everything seems to be falling apart these days.

A secular person could dismiss this “natural order” argument, saying, “Hey, if I want to do something ‘bad’ according to you, that’s my personal problem. I’m not ‘hurting’ anyone but me.” Really not hurting anyone but yourself is no mean feat. While this idea may work as an argument for something small like overeating, how would something like getting a girl pregnant and not taking responsibility for it hurt “no one” but the guy? Some men might even push their girl to get an abortion, which only compounds the damage. In that situation the consequences for fornication are so big that even if the couple in it are responsible and get married, they are still closed off to other possibilities. Additionally, fornication can be a very public sin, and could more easily cause scandal or lead others astray than more private transgressions.

The Role of Christians in Society

Furthermore, as more and more people participate in these big sins, degrading things like the sanctity of life and the institution of the family, these terrible occurrences become less and less the sad exception and more and more the rule, a part of the culture. This means that indeed, not one man, but everyone suffers as we become desensitized to evil, mistaking it for good, rather than something that needs to be eradicated. That leaves the question: with secular society only becoming worse, what are we Christians left to do? We can always pray, but Christ never said prayer was all we needed to enter the kingdom of God; He said “Go and make disciples of all nations.” That being said, you can only lead the horse to water, and most people probably would not take kindly to being told that their lifestyle is selfish and destructive.

Following from these cautions, I would think the best think for us to do is to act like Christians. After all, as St. Paul said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Furthermore, Christ died and rose for us, so at the very least we have something about which to be joyful. Thus, we need to show the inherent goodness of the Christian life and its virtues through living them out.

The Reward of Virtue is Self-Mastery…

On the other hand, it is definitely true that it is very difficult to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” as Rudyard Kipling put it. It’s especially difficult to consistently be kind and charitable and honest, especially when all societal pressures push toward the other direction. But, are the virtues rewarding? Undoubtedly, yes! Of course, each virtue creates specific joys; for example, courage gives a person the strength to do heroic things in spite of fear. Additionally, there is one great thing all the virtues share—they help us attain true mastery of self. Someone who is truly virtuous rules himself rather than letting his passions rule him.

…And it’s Important, Whether Religious or Not

I imagine most products of this culture, upon hearing this, would say something like, “Who cares? I’m happy; who said I needed to be perfect, especially if I’m being judged by your arbitrary religious distinction of perfection? Perfect is the enemy of happy anyway!” But, this is not a question of perfect vs. imperfect, or obedience to God vs. the devil, but, again, of mastery. Being master of oneself is something Aristotle extolled in the Nicomachean Ethics, before Christianity existed.

Understandably, Christians have supported this mastery too, but not always for the sake of Christianity. C.S. Lewis provided citations for a universal virtuous value system outside of religion in The Abolition of Man. Furthermore, he was able to deduce its absolute necessity, not only for Christians, but for everyone. Author Matthew Kelly calls the mastery “becoming the best-version-of-yourself,” and, though Kelly writes to a Catholic audience, there is no immediate reason outside of appetite gratification why an atheist could not desire the same thing. That seems to provide some basis for disciplining the passions.

The products of this society could just reply, “I don’t care about ‘passions.’ I just want [insert vice] and you can’t stop me from having it!” Very true, but apply the same principle to other areas of life. What about dieting? What about working toward a job promotion? This is simple hypocrisy, endorsing self-mastery in some specific areas, but backing away in most others. For the moment, though, that can be disregarded. Instead, look at the results of these respective ideologies. Self-mastery leads us to be able to do things like become healthier, cultivate a talent such as painting, and follow through with commitments. In short, it helps us to lead good lives, becoming the type of people with an ordered character worthy of imitation.

Disregarding Virtue Leads to Brutality

By contrast, what does a man do when left to his own devices? Again, he tends to make bad decisions, ranging from the small like intemperance or losing his temper to large ones like promiscuity and murder. Another point from the Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle’s warning against three separate levels of evil. The first, incontinence, is committing minor evils, followed by viciousness — choosing great evils — and, finally, brutality, which is when a society praises evil to the point that its members have a greater capacity and love for evil than they would by themselves. While I am neither a philosopher nor an anthropologist, it looks to me like, while our society may not have reached total brutality yet, it is definitely on the way there.

But I have commented enough for now; you be the judge. Sleep with twenty people, men and women. Eat nothing but Oreos and chips for a week. Yes, you are certainly exercising personal freedom without letting religious injunctions and alleged virtues get in the way. Now let me ask you this: are you happy? Cookies and sex are certainly good, but do you want them to be your entire reason for living? The present condition of society is as far as such a type of living has gotten us, which only illustrates that some societal quality is greatly distorted from what it should be. From God’s good order came the standard of universal morality that we all have written on our hearts. Following that standard, according to our nature, is the only way to true happiness.

We Christians, in turn, need to be the first in showing this, in order that the rest of the world can see it too.

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Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Cecily G. Lowe received her B.A. in History in 2016 from a faithful Catholic college, which she credits as having a great impact on her faith. (Her least favorite thing about her college career was that it ended after four years.) She now has hopes of one day earning an M.A. if God wills. She began at CS in 2015, and greatly appreciates the opportunity it has given her. Though having been physically disabled from birth, she does not let that limit her, and counts interpretative dance among her hobbies along with singing, reading, and maintaining a mental encyclopedia of eclectic quotes.

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  • DLink

    A reflective article. To go right to a basic factor, license has been confused with freedom. The fact that we have freedom of choice does not mean that every choice is equal and/or right. That seems to be unclear among many who make bad choices and then ask “What Happened?” (also the title of a new book). As a sub-corollary, hypocrisy is not all bad. In the words of Oscar Wilde (and he should certainly know), “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”. I might add that it often makes for an orderly society also.

  • captcrisis

    Either:

    1) follow Catholic teaching in all respects, or
    2) eat Oreos and chips all day, and sleep with as many people as possible.

    There doesn’t seem to be any third alternative for this writer. It’s impossible for someone who disagrees with Catholic teaching to exercise self-denial or be virtuous.

    • Me

      I am not speaking for the Catholic Church as a spokesman, but as a solitary Catholic. Nor is this a defense of this specific article. Rather, it is where my experiences in life have lead me, based upon, ultimately, my choices in reacting/responding to those experiences.

      For a Catholic, our primary concern is our salvation, which we see only through the intervention of Jesus Christ. I believe that only He has the final call regarding the ultimate destination of a soul, which I believe that each person has from their creation. So, in simplistic terms, without a belief in Jesus Christ, there is no heaven for someone, ultimately, regardless of the virtues they have/display/practice. However, It is Jesus who makes that choice, not me. Personally, I believe that if one, as objectively and honestly as one is capable of being/practicing, pursues the truth, ultimately, they are pursuing Jesus, who is the truth. I believe that Jesus knows one’s pursuit of truth, period. That is THE bottom line for me. If one rejects Jesus, KNOWING that Jesus is God, who holds all things in existence, I could not imagine the possibility of an eternity with Jesus.

      That is how I try to live my life.

      Being virtuous is different for each person based upon what each person believes, I think, so what might be virtuous to one might be folly or even wrong, to another. This seems where things become troublesome, at least as I think that I understand things.

  • Jim Lion

    “Certain people” always make the argument that morality exists outside of religious belief. And it can. But that argument is disingenuous and obviously promotes the anti-religion worldview. This is a Catholic site, so Cecily’s writing is what people expect to find here. To constantly make nasty, anti-religion, and anti-Catholic comments here is the clear mark of internet trolls. It is inappropriate and should not be accommodated.

    Cecily’s article is about the inherent goodness of a moral and temperate life, with religion as a secondary point. Religion reveals to us and points us toward what is ultimately the best life regardless. She clearly shows how our society’s morality is disappearing (not that she needs to because anybody who doesn’t live in a bubble can see it). Whatever the cause of that, it is hard to deny the fact. And considering how much more popular atheism has become and how it rejects any kind of objective truth other than the material, it is not an unreasonable assertion that the two phenomena are related.

  • "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad." https://t.co/mq92P769ud— Henry Makow (@HenryMakow) August 25, 2017

  • captcrisis

    Things are actually going pretty good these days, except for Trump being President.

    The emerging generation is happily free of the uninformed dogmas of the past. They are refreshingly un-homophobic, un-racist, and un-misogynist.
    They have a moral center, unlike conservative Catholics who depend on Church teaching.

    • Me

      The emerging generation is programmed, in the U.S. by liberal, secular humanist errors and, similarly in Europe. You are naive if you really think their inherent biases, those of the current young, are not potentially malignant. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, based upon my life’s experiences and how I was raised, but I suspect you are not naive, but more likely hardened in your beliefs/presumptions. This, like all positions, is your choice.

      In time, unless the young educate themselves in freedom, it will emerge that their biases will, as history seems to have shown time and again, become increasingly oppressive, controlling and destructive of freedom, but disguised, at least to themselves and those who think similarly, as tolerant and open. Civil unrest and perhaps, eventually, open warfare is the possible result of the huge differences in morals and ethics, that have and continue to be developing.

      Without the moral compass of God, society may well descend into a technological middle ages of repression and death. I urge you to reconsider your beliefs, captcrisis.

    • James

      But the young also have a desire to associate themselves to a cause greater than themselves. In the absence of good religion and noble causes, they will be attracted to bad religion and horrible causes.

      You say the young are happily free, but how many are being drawn into anti-social extremist movements, such as ISIS, the “alt-right” and the far left?

      Or there is also heroin.

  • Me

    No kiddin’. Been on self-destruct for decades. I am 63, since I was a liberal kid, this madness has been on going.

    Science, my friend adam aquinas, is the tool of fools, frequently. I have multiple degrees in hard science, whoopee! It is abused, as is religion. There is no good or evil without an objective place to start. Science is not worthy of worship, as you appear to be doing.

  • adam aquinas

    Your reasoning betrays your solipsistic world view. “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it. ” Most of the “decline” in society which you allude to is hidden under the guise of religion.. I work with the disability community and care for a severely disabled and medically complex child. None of my motivation and work stems from any belief in religion or a particular god. Most Christians, especially evangelicals, shy way from this work. This is the decline of society as is clearly defined in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats. You need nothing except your humanity to be a good and moral person person.

    Study the science young Catholic lady: religious upbringing does not lead to human empathy or altruism:
    https://news.uchicago.edu/article/2015/11/05/religious-upbringing-associated-less-altruism-study-finds
    http://www.medicineandreligion.com/predictors-of-empathy-do-spirituality-religion-and-calling-matter.html
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/06/religious-children-less-altruistic-secular-kids-study
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2015/11/05/religion-morality/#4dec3ec57aea

    The decline in values, morals, empathy, justice for all, etc. are a function of religion which is the basis of most division and conflict in society. “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it. ” Hitchens

    • Brian W

      See, just throwing out quotes from Hitchens and citing your own perceived altruism is not proof of anything.

    • Mal

      Human decency precedes religion he says. From where or what ancient writing did adam and his guru, Hitchens, get this? I have read a book that told us that religion existed from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden. Love God and be good stewards of the world was the fundamental teaching. It has always been the fundamental tenet of religions that cropped up later. It was only after Adam and Eve disobeyed God – they ignored religion – that jealousy and murder etc entered into our lives.

    • adam aquinas

      And just what book is this? Would love to know…..

    • Mal

      What evidence do you have that decency preceded religion. I believe that the bible contains the truth. Hitchens should have heeded his own assertion and not presented statements without proof.

    • adam aquinas

      Again, and what book of scholarship would that be…don’t evade my question!

    • Mal

      Scholarship? The Bible is read and studied by more scholars than any other book.

    • adam aquinas

      And the 79 prohibitions of Leviticus are proof of what? and the 1035 biblical contradictions are proof of what? And what studies (scientific) prove that religious indoctrination of the young ( who do not have the ability to choose) have them become more altruistic and adherent of Matt 25.

    • Mal

      still providing unproven statements.
      I am sure that you are not aware that some of the laws in Leviticus are for spiritual guidance and others are cultural and legal in nature. The Old Testament is not just about spiritual laws but the many books also deal with the history of the people – warts and all. The New Testament, on the other hand, help us to better appreciate God and his infinite love for us. This is why we generally quote Jesus and his disciples. It is true that generally the young are guided by parents and elders as they are taught history, maths, science, morals etc (which you can call indoctrination). Some elike them to follow in their ignorant, God-denying ways.

    • adam aquinas

      When you bring a child into the faith and baptize then before the age of consent and reason,,,,that is indoctrination. That is why so many leave….

    • Mal

      When you bring a child into the world you feed and care for the little human being for the child’s good. The child has no say in what is being given. Later on, the grown child will eat whatever it wants. The same apples to the other components of the human soul, namely, mind and spirit.

    • cestusdei

      Yet you raise your children in your faith or lack thereof. Thence you indoctrinate them in your pov. They don’t get to decide. Yet you want to decide for us and our children, who do NOT belong to you. You are a hypocrite.

    • Brian W

      Do better because you make yourself look like a total fool. There are no contradictions: the books are all different. Some literal, some poetry, some allegorical. Only people who take things out of context in the most extreme and intentional way believes that garbage.

    • adam aquinas

      1. Ad hominem argumentation is rude and unChristian.
      2. Here is a small compilation of contradictions
      https://infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/contradictions.html

    • Brian W

      Right off the bat that’s a laugher: light doesn’t exist because of the sun. In point of fact, Big Bang suggests that the universe did begin with a flash of light. The sun didn’t pop into existence and then have planets form around it.

      I will read anything until I read the first lie…..I made it one point in your little list.

  • Jim Dorchak

    I am so happy to have escaped the decline!
    It is still like 1950 here in Chile where the Family and God are tops.
    Yes there are still issues, but none of the crime and such you speak of in the USA.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Matamoros

    You are wrong, society is not destroying itself. The forces of evil are inside the gates and attempting to overthrow society by violence and non-stop promotion of evil.

    As Catholics we must not only put on the whole armor of God, as St. Paul says, but get our priests and bishops to do exorcisms of our towns, states, and country to drive out the evil spirits behind all this:

    Ephesians 6:12-14
    …11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.…

    America is the bastion of freedom, prepare to protect your children and families if needs be, but be prepared, don’t put your head in the sand or evil will win.

  • momthree789 .

    “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?” Jeffrey Dahmer….repentant mass murderer.

  • john654

    VERY well written! You get it. I’m 66 years old and lived through the Sexual Revolution, ETC. I praise God that your eyes have been opened. You are a beautiful gift to the Catholic Church. I always say that society is committing suicide using the “DEATH PILL”.

    Peace, Joy, Love, Kindness, Obedience,
    John