Secularism, Naturalism, and the Modern Anti-Culture

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The modern world finds itself very anti-Christian and very anti-religious in nature. I would go further to add that the modern world which we find ourselves in is specifically anti-cultural in nature. Christopher Dawson states in many of his books on culture and religion that it is specifically the religious aspect of a particular culture than helps us to understand a certain given culture. Christopher Dawson points out that amongst the many cultural aspects of a certain civilization, it is the religious aspects itself which is the best indicator of how advanced and civilized a given culture is. Race, nationality, language, and many other cultural indicators are really not that important in Dawson’s eyes in regards to culture. Rod Dreher himself states many times in various articles that it is specifically the religious nature of things which gives culture its essence and identity.

Catholicism and Christianity as a world view drastically changed the nature of things as they relate to their nature and essence. Some of these examples can be seen in the transforming effects of Christianity to the world it had influenced and molded. Human dignity for example was given a completely new identity. The Catholic Church for example prohibited the widespread infanticide including abortion and the killing of infants which was widespread in the pagan world in both Greece, Rome and the other lesser known pagan cultures. Similarly Christianity as a world view took a new meaning to modestly and likewise to the value of things like Marriage, Family, and the marital act of sex as God ordained and expressed in nature and natural law. Sex was for marriage and to be used openly for the act of procreation which was seen as a sharing in the creative aspect of the Holy Trinity. Women took drastic care of veiling their dignity based on this understanding.

In a more practical level Christianity as a world view drastically changed the way the world was seen. This can easily best be shown in Medieval Christendom. What made Medieval Christendom so great is that religious expression was rampant. Not only any religion and religious expression but Catholicism which is the fullness of truth and is in fact the only religion that can honestly claim a direct and complete Revelation from God in its entirety. In every aspect of medieval culture and society Catholicism influenced society and was expressed and symbolized in every possible regards.

This is why Medieval Christendom could be called the most ideal Christian culture and society. Despite its obvious imperfections, for any society in a fallen state subjected to the stain and effects of original sin are bound to have imperfections. Yet once again Catholicism was best expressed in such society.

Boniface from the Catholic blog Unam Sanctam Catholicam has solidly explained how the Medieval world view which was specifically a Catholic world view was one of profound unity and harmony. This is not harmony in a secular sense as Boniface explains, but harmony in the fundamentally held belief that everything can and should work together.

Boniface goes on to explain how the medieval world exceeded profoundly in the quest to see how everything fit together. The medieval world could be called an age of universal synthesis. This was a time in which there was no actual, but rather only apparent contradictions. The Medieval world view was so united not only in religious expression but also in the classical humanities and sciences because of their profoundly held belief that everything truthful was situated around Truth Himself- God in which they had their source.

If there was one ideal that characterizes the Middle Ages and sums up the entire character of that long epoch in a single word, it would be harmony. Not harmony in the sense of temporal peace, for the Middle Ages were as tumultuous and violent as any age of the sons of Adam. No, we do not mean harmony in the sense of peace, but harmony in the sense of the belief that everything can and should work together.

No human era tried so hard to find a place for everything within a single system as did the Middle Ages. It was an age of synthesis, when the most contradictions were only apparent, when it was believed that centrifugal forces in society could be held together, when it was assumed that the world was a single, gigantic system in which everything from the highest angel to the most fragmentary piece of prime matter had its place in God’s great cosmos. No culture ever worked as diligently to reconcile the One and Many as the medievals.

And what sort of divergent forces did the medievals manage to reconcile? In my opinion, I believe the medieval synthesis consisted in three fundamental harmonies: Faith and Reason, Church and State, Spirit and Flesh. The medieval synthesis consisted in being able to maintain a harmonious balance between these three sets of contraries, reconciling them all in God’s goodness. So long as this great balance was maintained, medieval life flourished.

These three great syntheses gave rise to multiple other syntheses that flowed from them: mercy and justice, hierarchy and equality, localism and universality, collective and individual, law and custom, town and country, poverty and wealth, will and grace, private good and public good, position and humility. We could go on and on. Of course medieval society was far from perfect; but at least the medievals believed these things could all be reconciled with one another.1

In modern society we are seeing a re-paganization of society. Even more sadly we are seeing secularization in general. We see these realities in the social acceptance of things like same sex “marriage”, abortion, contraception and even in the roots of the Sexual revolution which much of modern sexual immorality finds its roots in. The sexual revolution and modern society itself could be considered an anti-culture namely because as Rod Dreher and Christopher Dawson explain, it tried and has tried to get rid of the religious influence- the best cultural aspects of any given society.

Though he might not have put it quite that way, the eminent sociologist Philip Rieff would probably have said yes. Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been underway since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it has reached a more advanced stage than most people-least of all Christians-recognized.

Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus-a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.2

Rieff states again

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise. 3

Rod Dreher states in his article Sex After Christianity that it was specifically the Christian world view that helped create a new culture specifically by transforming the view of things like sexual morality with a proper understanding. It was specifically the religious restrictions and sexual reorientation of morality that helped create a cultural atmosphere. The sexual revolution was the opposite of holiness for they preached sexual liberation and sexual expression. Namely a complete unveilingness of things which are to be treated as holy. Rod Dreher states that the Sexual Revolution thus created an “anti-culture” by its rejection of this moral and religious view.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.

How this came to be is a complicated story involving the rise of humanism, the advent of the Enlightenment, and the coming of modernity. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.

Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor writes. In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.

To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, “The answer to all questions of ‘what for’ is ‘more’.”

Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.4

Once again modern society in its entirely going as far back as the Enlightenment itself could properly be called an anti-culture for it is the very rejection of not only Catholicism and Christianity but of religion and God in general. It is naturalism. Secularism is in reality the most anti-cultural element and it is the furthest from any religious ideal. Secularism is as Fr. Salvany wonderfully expressed in his book Liberalismo es Pecado (Liberalism is a Sin) as social atheism. Is not secularism the manifestation of atheism in the social and political sphere? The ideal Catholic society and State is one in which the Divine Truths of God as revealed to His Church and furthermore His people are expressed in the social and political life. One in which Catholic Truth molds and shapes society and people’s lives both privately and publicly. Secularism is really then the arch-enemy of such concepts and is furthermore the arch-enemy of culture in general if we take Dawson’s and Dreher’s view of culture and religion. Secularism is naturally the ideal of atheism as a social aspect since no beliefs shape society, or even a false sense of something like religious “freedom” which leads to a plurality of self-contradicting religious principles in which nothing meaningful in general influences society.

Notes:

 1) Dissolution of the Medieval World
2) Sex After Christianity
3)ibid
4)ibid

 

 

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