Following my recent column outlining the impediments to Faith characteristic of the modern world, many have written to suggest other aspects of our current culture which impede our relationship with God. These fresh ideas fall into several categories.
Electronic Media: The first category includes the problems caused by the omnipresence of electronic media. Several readers pointed out that young people are inundated with electronic information, entertainment and stimulation from stereos, radios, televisions, movies, computer screens and various hand-held communication appliances. The result is exposure to huge numbers of images, massive amounts of commercial propaganda, and enticing virtual worlds long before a person is mature enough to handle it all. All of this tends to arrest human development and lock the individual in a self-centered sensory world in which the God question is kept at bay.
Competing Authorities: A second and closely-related category covers the problems posed by competing authorities. Our pervasive media exposes us to disparate authorities which compete with the traditional authorities of home, church and state (which, in the modern world, have been disparate enough). Mass culture imposes its own authority, and the Internet puts people in instant touch with various self-proclaimed authorities on every individual subject. Even before complete media immersion, the mass media frequently broadcasted a sort of authority of the fashionable, including the so-called intelligentsia, which undermined traditional thinking and behavior patterns. Competing authorities undermine our sense of God as a single authority who speaks truth about reality.
Diabolical Influence: Other readers have suggested that the more sinister features of modern life, at least when pushed to their extremes, constitute a category of growing diabolical influence. Thus the devil’s grip increases as each individual person tends to become separately addicted to certain stimuli, becomes more focused on self, and is ultimately drained of meaning. This in turn very often leads to a fascination with sexual experimentation and, for reasons psychologists and exorcists may combine to explain, preoccupation with death. Obviously, not all are affected in the same way or to the same degree, but this pattern poses a grave danger for our culture, with isolated individuals enclosed in impenetrable false worlds throughout much of their lives.
The Failure of Relationships: Several correspondents also called attention to the contemporary crisis of relationships. To be sure, the problems of all the preceding categories have militated against deep and abiding relationships, which have been discouraged by media dream worlds and replaced with virtual relationships in virtual worlds. But other forces have clearly been at work, including the extensive individualistic mobility of modern social and especially commercial life. This individualistic mobility has profoundly damaged all social ties, especially the family and even marriage itself. The divorce rate and widespread use of contraception support the contention that our deepest relationships are defined by the proverbial egoism à deux. When human relationships are truncated or broken, the natural ground and model for relating to God is swept away.
A Crisis of Thought: A fifth category of impediments, or perhaps a new consequence of all the others, is what readers describe in various ways as a crisis of thought. Indeed, there does appear to be a singular absence of deep thought in our world, almost in direct proportion to our material dominance and our power to publish (ahem). Sadly, not a few who contributed to the discussion also pointed out that, in opposition to this flight from reason which characterizes our age—and on which Pope Benedict XVI has so frequently remarked—the Church in general has not had a great deal to offer.
The Church: And so we come at last to an enormous sixth category, the failure of those who have been given much to credibly represent the Faith to others. Complaints range from the failure of leadership and zeal on the part of clerics who are way too comfortable to the lukewarmness which afflicts us all. Particular note was taken of the seeming refusal of many bishops to teach the whole truth about any sensitive topic. And of course there are all the scandals. I’ve commented on much of this in various columns and blog entries over the past couple of years. I wish this were sufficient to prove I'm not lukewarm myself, but it isn't.
This is a depressing catalogue, to be sure, but it is hardly the last word about anything. If you’re still wondering what it’s all about, see the column that started it, A New Apologetics. I’m deeply grateful for all those who sent me their insights on the important question of what keeps modern man from taking the Catholic faith seriously.
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