“To Hell with Culture”: Unacceptable Rejection of Culture-Building for Catholicism
No man is a lone island: we are surrounded by others and in a thousand ways each day we are either helping or hindering each other to act in the image and likeness of God and reach our destination in Heaven.
When all of our stable ways of mutual influence are added together and embodied in social structures they form either an essentially good or bad culture vis-à-vis our purpose as men.
No man is so independent or so strong that he can “go it alone” – and certainly not in the teeth of hostile surroundings. Man in order to be true to his own God-given dignity needs around him a culture embodying the Natural Law enlightened by the Gospel and supported by the Mystical Body of Christ.
Consequently, culture precedes politics. If we want to change the world , we must first educate ourselves and others with the principles of Catholic culture found in the doctrines of the Catholic Faith.
Since culture changes man’s lifestyle, individuals thus change the institutions of society starting with the way of living marriage and family, relating to others in neighbourhood and immediate communities.
Culture must be enlightened by the light of Christ, the light of eternal truths which alone can show the order that must exist in the world, with the harmony between the natural and the supernatural.
Outside of this order there are varying degrees of a defective understanding of man and society reaching at the far end of the spectrum mere pointlessness and nihilism, an anarchic philosophy that opens the way for totalitarianism and bloody chaos.
As Dr. Peter Kwasniewski argues in the context of explaining the integrally pro-life position:
“Since man is a rational animal, human life is necessarily a rational life, which cannot be lived without some intellectual component.
Every person is either well educated or badly educated; no one who lives to adulthood can avoid having his mind formed in some fashion, for better or for worse, be it in contact with natural truths and elevated by the Gospel, or suffering from ignorance and poisoned with errors. Sometimes, as we know, truth and error, insight and ignorance, are messily mingled.
The quality of our intellectual life, its resonance with the primal truth that is God, is not incidental to our flourishing as creatures made to His image and likeness.
The healthiest periods of human history have been those nourished by a truthful vision of God and man, with the God-man Jesus Christ at their center, even as the most harmful social movements — think of the hard and soft totalitarianisms of the modern era — have their roots in philosophical errors that spread like a contagious disease.
We cannot realize our human potential or be mature Christians unless we cultivate our intellectual life in the great disciplines, from literature to philosophy, from the empirical sciences to the queen of all sciences, sacred theology. To be far-seeingly pro-life is to be pro-intellectual life.
Because man is rational, he is also cultural.
Not only does he sense, think, and know; he also imagines that which is not, and makes a world around him with his hands. He brings works of art into being, from humble homes to glorious temples, from furniture and utensils to mosaic-covered domes.
He is architect and builder, poet and singer, painter and sculptor. Just as an intellectual life is unavoidable, so too is a cultural life: we cannot avoid making our world, and we will make it either beautiful or ugly, life-affirming or life-negating.
Our arts will give testimony and bodily form to the noble ideals or base appetites that guide us. Certain pagan civilizations produced lofty art from a lofty vision of the harmony of the cosmos and the nobility of man.
In its Latin and Byzantine spheres, Christian civilization surpassed the best accomplishments of the pagans.
Anti-Christian and post-Christian civilization has sunk far below the level of both pagans and believers, as it sputters out in mass-produced tourist trinkets, humorless parody, and nihilistic self-indulgence. This, however, is a hostile environment for natural and Christian truth.
In the fine arts and the useful arts, Wisdom builds herself a home on earth.
Without the inspiration of a true artistic vision, we grow weary on our journey, we cannot see our way forward. It is like abolishing the sun, the moon, and the stars.
To be fully pro-life, then, is to be pro-cultural life. A good culture emerges from, creatively celebrates, and dynamically sustains the love of human life.” (Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/comprehensively-pro-life )
A Catholic Culture Needed for the sake of every man’s dignity
Since the Catholic desires only the best for everyman and woman, he therefore wants the culture for society that will best contribute to the well-being of all — Catholicism.
For himself he feels the need for this culture more and more urgently as the Dictatorship of Relativism tightens its stranglehold on society.
Living in “enemy-occupied territory” does not favor his perseverance in the Faith: he cannot expect to maintain his Catholic identity without remaining on a war-footing if his education is in state-controlled schools where values are all soaked with agnosticism and relativism; if his information is filtered through anti-Christian mass-media; if his possibilities of professional promotion hang partly on whether or not he accepts the dominant view on population-control, marriage and sexuality.
He may think that as long as his spouse and family keep a Catholic identity he is safe but all of contemporary society from extra-curricular school activities to internet, television, the creation of the consumer society age-class called “teens” pulls the family apart, distancing children from their parents from almost the age of reason.
Post-Western civilization militates against human dignity and against individual Catholics surviving as Catholics: the all-pervasive influence of that culture reaches with its octopus-tentacles into all spheres of life: there are no more deserts or “isles of the North” where the Catholic may isolate himself to live his religion in peace.
Someone once gave an insightful definition of an ideal society and culture: a good society is one in which it is easy to be good. We Christians of course recognize that goodness must always mean the ability to attain the ultimate good of man – Heaven – and therefore a truly good society will be open to the truths of God’s revelation in Christ. And a bad culture will hinder a man from living the moral values and will restrict his freedom to catechize, express his faith in public, and live according to the truths of Catholicism.
This criterion allows us to judge all of history’s cultures dividing them into two essential groups: either they are pro-human dignity and open to the Gospel or they are not. Such a division is of course one with many shades in its spectrum. However it is clear that certain societies were and are intrinsically corrupt: the Marxist-Leninist dictatorships that until 1989 created the cultures of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fostered corruption of spirit through their denial of freedom; by their policies of enforcing atheism they persecuted Catholics and members of other religions. But as the Russian intellectual Solzhenitsyn warned, the post-Western civilization of Europe and the Americas also militates against man’s dignity because it denies his spiritual nature in a secularized and materialistic culture — cultural Marxism.
Many merely nominal Christians living in the midst of post-Western civilization fail to recognize how the dominant culture impedes them from being morally upright people in the daily life of marriage and family, relationships, business, politics and mass-media. They are swimming in a sea of materialism and hedonism and cannot even imagine that a different type of society is possible. They expect it to be difficult to be upright, to hold a marriage together, to enable children to keep their purity and innocence for long, to be just in business-dealings; they take it for granted you can’t trust strangers; that politics is about moral compromise; that to speak about Christ and his values at dinner-parties is faux pas. Just ask yourself: What happens to a Catholic student if he stands up in the university lecture hall and expresses intelligently and with love in his heart and voice the Catholic teachings on abortion, sexuality or embryo-experimentation?
And yet once upon a time there was a civilization in which it was not easy but at least far easier to be good. Once upon a time there was a society in which it was natural to speak about Christ, Mary, the saints and Heaven in the market place and the parliament house. Once upon a time to live like a Christian was to live naturally because the standards of that society embodied the aspirations of men to be Christlike: whether in the Middle Ages or in some of the Christian societies that survived until the last century, the passage through life of the average man or woman was one in which their Christian faith and efforts to live uprightly were supported by the laws and customs of the nation. The Christian culture shielded innocence, protected purity by its standards for public speech and spectacles, fostered the knowledge of God in education, favored prayer in school, stadium and parliament, defended marriage, ensured the safety of the infant in the womb and the old person in the hospital.
Thus, even though the medievals lacked modern discoveries in medicine and surgery, in some ways they still surpassed us “moderns”. Let us not forget that back then the baby in the womb who was handicapped physically or mentally could still count on being allowed to see the light of day and find a place of love in the family; nowadays any baby in a Western womb has a one out of four chance of being murdered. As regards economic well-being, in a world without the hi-tech and agricultural techniques of today, the Catholic culture of the Middle Ages sought to ensure enough food for all and never stood by idly while in the world known to it others died of starvation; nowadays in our globalized world, the rich northern hemisphere knows well that there exists a southern hemisphere, a “Third World” where sub-human standards of nutrition nightly send many children to bed hungry and although some efforts are being made, they are disproportionate to the abilities of the rich northern hemisphere. A complex problem, certainly, but we also have complex means nowadays – which our ancestors in the Christian Middle-Ages lacked.
So, yes, Western Civilization did not lead to a perfect society -obviously in many ways it had glaring defects – but from the perspective of the integral good of man it was better than what existed before or since! As Pope Benedict XVI said on September 16th, 2010 while visiting England and Scotland:
“Even in our own lifetime we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny’ (Caritas in Veritate, 29)….
The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times when a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.
For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum.
Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation.” (Benedict XVI,
Likewise only a civilization built by the Church can restore to so many nations in the Third World their stolen patrimony: here I am referring to the robbery by the nations of the secularized West of the religiously-grounded culture of so many African, Asian and Latin-American peoples. In blind fits of cultural imperialism and arrogance, with an unquestioning self-assurance about its own superiority, it thrust an anti-religious, materialistic culture upon the “Third World” and then abandoned it to face the same chilling effects already evident in the northern hemisphere: a demographic winter with escalating suicide rates, drugs, marriage and family break-down and a general sense of “quiet desperation” about life’s purpose.
The “Civilization of Love” will only come about through, with and in Jesus Christ – and Jesus Christ cannot be separated from His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church, who alone guards the complete blue-prints for the creation of such a society. The Church has already demonstrated her ability in civilization-building. All that is needed to do it again is the will among her leaders, the priests, and other creative minorities of laity in her ranks.