Friday, March 7, 2008

True Words

Father George Rutler of Our Savior with words for our time:

The middle of Lent, marked as Laetare Sunday, points to the Heavenly Jerusalem as the goal of all living. This is not escapism, any more than a lighthouse on a far coast is a distraction. The fullest life is one lived in knowledge that mortal life leads to eternal life. The alternative to this truth is utopianism, the attempt to create an earthly paradise. It is the delusion of both the watered-down kind of religion called "Modernism" and the controlling kind of politics called "Statism."

As Modernism, in its denial of a supernatural perspective, is a contradiction of religious truth, religious denominations that teach only vague precepts about earthly happiness dwindle quickly. Reliable statistics for last year indicate that the more a religious sect embraces the materialistic trends of a secular culture, the more it fades. While denominations with firm counter-cultural beliefs, however inadequate they may be, grew (Southern Baptists: +0.22%; Mormons: +1.56%; Jehovah’s Witnesses: +2.25%), the once popular "mainline" denominations are melting from the scene (United Methodists: –1%; Presbyterian Church: –2.36%; Episcopalians: –4.15%). The Catholic Church, which is not a denomination but rather the rock from which denominations are chipped, increased 0.88%, or about 640,000, and these figures, including priestly vocations, are highest where doctrine is clearest.

It is characteristic of Modernism that it engages platitudes about the human condition. Our Lord warned against the allurements of this: "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so much that, if it were possible, they shall deceive even the elect" (Matt. 24:24). The true Christ never uttered platitudes. His words cut liars and consoled the innocent.

As with Modernism in religion, so does Statism in politics tend to be platitudinous, with what Chesterton called "easy speeches that comfort cruel men." Statism is the veneration of the secular government as the primary agent of human happiness. It removes faith and hope and love from their focus on God and reduces them to exclusively civil virtues. The language has emotional appeal, and can even foment hysteria, but it soon collapses, though its human toll is painful to count.

The twentieth century was littered with disasters caused by substituting illusions for the Heavenly Jerusalem. "But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:23). Unless human enterprises keep an eye on the ultimate goal of Heaven ("sub specie aeternitatis"), faith in progress is superstition, hope for the future is fantasy, and love of the good things of life is delusion. To fear nothing but the loss of Heaven is to activate the highest human virtues. To fear nothing but the loss of earthly life is to reduce all emotion to one mood, which fluctuates between mere neurosis and blatant despair, and that mood is terror.


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