Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cultural Decline

Cultural Decline

          “It is when the first faint warnings [of cultural degradation] come that one has the best chance to save himself; and this, I suspect, explains why medieval thinkers were extremely agitated over questions which seem to us today without point or relevance.  If one goes on, the monitory voices fade out, and it is not impossible for him to reach a state in which his entire moral orientation is lost.  Thus in the face of the enormous brutality of our age we seem unable to make appropriate response to perversions of truth and acts of bestiality” - Ideas Have Consequences.
          Those words were written by Richard Weaver in 1948.  They were certainly timely, shortly after the Second World War, but I wonder what Weaver would write about our own time.  If, in 1948, the West was unable to make an “appropriate response to perversions of truth and acts of bestiality,” what could possibly be said about us in 2012?
          Weaver also argues in his masterpiece that “cultural decline is a historical fact,” and that the challenge is to demonstrate that fact to people who need to be awakened from a “hysterical optimism” that believes that every advance in any field (other than philosophy, theology and morality) is progress, and that all progress is good.
          So let’s take a trip back to that degraded time of the late 1940s and compare today’s culture to that and see if we progressed.  I wonder if any American in 1948 could have predicted our culture in 2012, and what they would think of it.
          Would anyone in 1948 have felt at home in a world in which nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, including 40% of first marriages?  Could anyone in 1948 have predicted that over 40% of children would be born to unwed parents?  Would anyone in 1948 have even conceived of the idea that in the United States of America the most dangerous place to be, statistically speaking, could be your own mother’s womb?
          I think if you told most people, in 1948, that this was to be the America of 2012, they would have told you that you were crazy.  It is impossible that this could be true.
          Could it be true that in less than 65 years, people would use technology to conceive children without a physical partner?  Would it be at all realistic that the major social question might become whether both a man and a woman (or even whether only a man and a woman) are necessary for a marriage?  Could it be possible that pornography would become a multi-billion dollar industry, marketed to and featuring children?  Could the Catholic Church, of all organizations, be demanded, by the President of the United States, to provide abortion-inducing drugs?  Would that President send millions in taxpayer money to help pay for the destruction of innocent children overseas?  Would he defend the killing of children simply because they are girls?  Is it even conceivable to the 1948 mind that human beings would be created, only to be destroyed through scientific experimentation?
          These things would certainly have been conceivable to people in 1948.  The Nazis had just been defeated three years earlier.  But certainly, to them, this could never happen in the United States.  We were still celebrating the heroes who sacrificed their lives to spare Europe of this nightmarish scenario.
          I’m not suggesting American culture has seen no improvements since 1948, the most notable being racial justice.  But if I had lost a son or a brother or a buddy in World War II, I would be furious to know that my country would abandon so fiercely those values that he died to defend.
          Richard Weaver assessed his own time correctly when he wrote his book.  I wonder if even he envisioned where things were going.  Ironically, there were a few things happening in 1948 that would have lasting and devastating consequences, and lead to the evils just discussed.  Margaret Sanger founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 1948, which has been possibly the most destructive social force worldwide in the last 65 years, if not all of human history.  And the destruction of cultural morality was also assisted by Alfred Kinsey’s piece of trash, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948.
          Richard Weaver said that it is at the beginning of cultural decline that a people are still sensitive enough to it to potentially save themselves.  He believed that in his time the West may have already passed that point.  If it wasn’t true then, it certainly is now.
          What do we do, then, throw up our arms in failure and find a safe hiding place to await the Apocalypse?  Well, we all have to prayerfully decide how to prepare for a future that may be quite perilous.  But Jesus said that one does not light a lamp and put it under a basket.  We are the light of the world, and we still have a responsibility to try to reclaim and rebuild this culture.
          In the film The Return of the King, King Theodin is preparing to lead his men to battle when he is advised that he can not defeat the armies of Mordor.  “No, we can not,” he acknowledges, “but we will meet them in battle nonetheless.”
          We may sometimes believe that the culture war is one that we can not win.  But we are called to fight the battle nonetheless.  And we must never forget that the King at the head of our army is the King of Kings. 
Win?  We will win.  Christ has risen.  As Father Frank Pavone likes to say, victory is our starting point.  One way or another, we will be victorious.  And, God willing, we will lead many to the field of victory with us.