Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The End of the American Era: The basis for hope and despair

“[A]s there is nothing good in nature which is not to be referred to the Divine goodness, every human society which does its utmost to exclude God from its laws and its constitution, rejects the help of this Divine beneficence, and deserve, also, that help should be denied it. Rich, therefore, and powerful as it appears, that society bears within itself the seeds of death, and cannot hope for a lengthy existence.” Pope Leo XIII, On the Religious Question in France 1884

Recent economic indicators such as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) prediction that that the U.S. economy will be surpassed by China in 2016, the growing US Federal debt and the uncertainty of oil prices, suggest that things need to change in America. Sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. However, we have to remember that in the context of history these things derive from and are sustained by a robust spiritual foundation.

If you accept the premise that the spiritual order is the cause and the temporal order (i.e. politics, economics, education etc.) is the effect; or that the actions of God comes first and everything else follows; then you will more easily understand that what happens within the Catholic Church sets the pace for the rest of society. The Fathers of the Church referred to her as a “Mother” of Christians; not only of Christians but of all people (Pope Benedict XV said in the early twentieth-century that he is the father of all people whether they know it or not). As such, the Church's moral and spiritual health affects even those estranged children of hers who do not even accept her divine authority.

With that said, it is no exaggeration to say that the Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members become worldly, society falls into immorality and fragments; on other hand, when Catholics are zealous for the things of God with a world-renouncing spirituality, society is well ordered and free from tyranny. In a word, when the Catholic Church speaks and behaves according to what she is called to be by Jesus Christ then civilization prospers. As such, nations benefit from her light. It is a light emitted by that “city on the hill” which is none other than the Church herself.

What resurrected the fallen Roman Empire- later turning into the Holy Roman Empire or Christendom (the latter two being a civilization comprised of many Catholic nations before the Reformation 800 A.D. to 1500 A.D.) –are the very principles that can save America and Western Civilization at large. As Pope Leo XIII said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.” What are those principles of recovery and what is the disease?

To begin with, as most Christians know, the disease is the decline in faith and breakdown of marriage and family in America. However, when these pillars of civilization suffer decline something else must replace it. That something is invariably the State. In his 1919 pastoral letter to the Church in America, Cardinal James Gibbons said, “It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs; its will is the last word of justice, its welfare the determinant of moral values, its service the final aim of man's existence and action.” (Gibbons, Pastoral Letter 1919)

The perceived need for an all-powerful State increases in proportion to the failure of both the Church and families to fulfill their God-given vocation. Therefore, in the attempt to save America the supernatural order (i.e. God/Church/faith) as well as the natural order (i.e. society/politics/economics etc) both have to be considered. To repeat, the former is the cause, the latter the effect. Until we come to appreciate this cause and effect relationship between the spiritual order and society, we are likely to get bogged down in treating symptoms instead of causes.

Leo XIII said if we want to recover or renew something, we have to return to those principles which brought that something about. Ideas alone (be they conservative, constitutional or traditional etc) are insufficient.

What brought about the greatest civilization ever to have existed in history was the infusion of new life through the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Sacraments and the Divine Liturgy (i.e. Mass). And what resulted from the prophetic ministry was a keen awareness of human dignity in society. From there institutions and humanitarian enterprises were born such as charities, hospitals, orphanages, capitalism, a just legal system, democracy, science, and education for the common folk. Ideas or truth alone cannot not account for this revolution of progress. Not only did Jesus come to give the light of truth to world but he came to infuse new life into humanity with his grace! Revealed truth and divine grace will lead to America's recovery. But Christians must first be unabashed in pointing this out to the public.

As I said, sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. But they need to be bolstered and sustained by a solid religious and moral foundation. The exclusion of God from a nations institutions has within it the seeds of death. Under these conditions we cannot hope for America's lengthy existence. On the other hand, a bold and speedy return to God will hasten our nation's recovery.

Next blog- just a few words on those principles of recovery.

For related posts:

Reclaiming Education from the State (March 2011 archives)
The Emnity Between Catholicism and Totalitarianism (Febrauary 2011 archives)
Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech (January 2011 archives)
What a Childless Nation Portends (December 2010 archives)
Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties (November 2010 archives)
God's Answer to World Revolution (October 2010 archives)
Catholic Fiction: Separation of Church and State (October 2010 archives)
A Nation of Traitors (October 2010 archives)
Philosophy at War: Democracy in Education (October 2010 archives)
Conservatism is Not Enough (September 2010 archives)
Democracy in America: Soft Despotism (April 2010 archives)

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