Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Manifestations of Modernism

By Peter Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 01, 2005

With the recent scandals in the Church, groups have arisen to try to address the need for Church reform. However, some proponents of “reform” are using the sex scandals to champion Modernist causes, demanding that the Church change both its divinely-instituted structure and its morality to adapt to the demands of the present generation.

What Is Modernism?

Many of the proponents of “reform” in the Church are following the Modernist blueprint. Essentially, a Modernist is one who believes that the Church should adapt itself to the changing mindset of each generation; that the evolution of society requires an equally evolving system of faith and morality. But to argue that truth must remodel itself according to the demands of society is a fallacy.

To the Modernist, revealed truth is at best a distant reality which cannot be fully grasped by the human consciousness. As such, Modernism is the complete antithesis of Catholicism’s primary doctrines. If, as Modernist “wisdom” suggests, truth takes its form only as the collective consciousness of the current era, then truth is relative. Moreover, since truth can be grasped only in this community form, the papacy is irrelevant. If there can be no such thing as a known absolute truth by a single individual, and a collection of individuals can only approximate it by common consensus, then the concept of Magisterium, including papal infallibility, is not even a matter of discussion.

To the modern world, and to the Christian / Catholic Modernist, a relationship with God is something vague at best and something completely unattainable at worst. And since moral truth is represented best by a sort of cultural consensus, the personal pursuit of a relationship with God is sheer hubris, and nothing more.

Modernists and Social Activism

The defining note of Modernist morality is generally social activism in accordance with the prevalent fashionable opinions of the current culture. This is because it is only by participation in the community zeitgeist that the Modernist can reach a higher level of moral awareness.

Unfortunately, and contradictorily, in many groups committed to social activism the participation quickly changes to dictation. By virtue of his alliance with the prevailing cultural opinions, the Modernist becomes convinced of certain moral certainties. Those who don’t accept the prevailing views need to be informed of these quasi truths for their own benefit. Moral certitude becomes moral superiority, and Modernists—who demand relative moral standards from the Vatican—do not hesitate to impose definite moral (or amoral, or immoral) standards on others.

Many mainstream Christian social activist organizations espouse a vague worldwide common system of human values. I say “vague” because there is little legitimate empirical evidence to support many of their social agendas, and even less that makes philosophical sense. The means are often specific (but misguided); the goals sound glowing but are generally utopian and unrealizable in actual practice. Given the roots of Modernism in the larger culture, it is no surprise that such organizations mirror the agendas of their larger secular counterparts.

The Example of Suffering

Perhaps the mainspring of the Modernist error is a fundamental misunderstanding of human suffering. Whether or not suffering has any transcendent value is of paramount importance to many aspects of our Faith.

The ultimate goal of all Modernist social agendas is to eliminate suffering. After all, it is something that we all have (and some more than others) that we all don’t want. Therefore, any moral stricture that stands in the way of this goal must be changed. If a couple is suffering from not being able to have unrestricted sex, the moral law regarding the purposes of the sexual act must be changed. If a man is physically attracted to another man, the law prohibiting sodomy must be changed. Again, it is not surprising that Modernists so often focus on socio-sexual issues, given the surrounding culture’s obsession with sex. In any case, to one of the Modernist persuasion, the sufferings caused by the clergy sex scandals provide opportunities neither for holiness via suffering nor for a return to Truth (Traditional faith and morals). Instead, we hear promotion of both doctrinal and disciplinary changes that have their own selfish motivations. For example, we should eliminate clerical celibacy and the restriction of priesthood to males, accept and encourage homosexuality, and so on.

Essentially, the proposed way to end sex abuse by the clergy is to provide the clergy with sexual freedom—the same kind of complete sexual freedom that the Modernist laity demands for itself. The formally unrecognized implication is that the Church is turning its clergy into pederasts; the fact that pederasty reflects a lack of adherence to Church teachings in not considered.

Suffering “My Way”

It is not true that Modernists want to eliminate all suffering. Most Modernists will agree with the axiom “anything worth having is worth suffering for.” They will suffer, and suffer gladly, and praise suffering for the sake of any number of things: wealth, power, sex, “freedom / empowerment”, career, sport, etc.

Hence, the theology of suffering with Christ for the transformation of self is replaced by a willingness to suffer only to more effectively indulge one’s passions in the long run. The Modernist ultimate goal for self is to reach a point where one can maintain one’s own selfishness without having to suffer for it. Hence the modern obsession with frantic wealth acquisition (during which you suffer) so you can build a high state of earthly existence, retire early and maintain that elevated state until your euthanasia.

The ultimate social goal is to teach others how to attain freedom, wealth, power, and sex in roughly equal measure to your own—and hence end suffering in the world. In the process of doing this, all people will be welcomed into the world social community and adopt a common cultural morality that will lead to world prosperity and peace.

The point is that to the Modernist there is no suffering that is worth undergoing without getting some physical reward in the present. In the realm of Modernist goods, that which is physical is most easily believed, that which is moral is what makes everybody “feel good”, and that which is not physical has no moral value and therefore no relevancy.

Irrelevant Faith, Irrelevant Church

It is fairly apparent that to call oneself “Catholic” but to adhere to Modernist principles is an untenable position. The Modernist rejects several essential principles of the Catholic Faith—most importantly the dogmatic principle, that God’s revelation is both exceedingly specific and safeguarded by earthly successors to Christ who, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, are able to “bind” and “loose” with admirable precision. Thus, whenever popes teach something contrary to the Modernist creed, they are dismissed as outdated and, therefore, irrelevant.

As with the relevance of the Church, so too with the relevance of God Himself. God can hardly be relevant without a clearly recognizable plan for humanity. Unless enduring, consistent truths are derived from Revelation, there is no relevance. Yet the Modernist believes in a God so contrary to the attribute of immutability that the Modernist faith borders on atheism.

In fact, perhaps this best sums up the case: Whether they realize it or not, Modernist Catholics are atheists hedging their bets.


Peter Mirus is a business, marketing, and technology consultant with more than 20 years of experience working with companies and nonprofits, ranging from start-ups to large international organizations. From 2004-2014 he contributed articles on the Catholic Faith, culture, and business to the website.
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