Catching up on Sky View posts? "Attitudes and the Upsurge" is being reposted for new Sky View readers. Originally posted in 2011.
Upcoming new post: "Bishop McFadden, Bishop Sheen and Totalitarian Schools." Compelling insights by Bishop Joseph McFadden of the diocese of Harrisburg.
In the Second Special Assembly for Europe, Archbishop Giuseppe Germano Bernardini, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Izmir, in Turkey, spoke on "the problem of Islam in Europe today" (L'Osservatore Romano, November 17, 1999). He said, "During an official meeting on Islamic-Christian dialogue, an authoritative Muslim person, speaking to Christians participating, at one point said very calmly and assuredly: 'Thanks to your democratic laws we will invade you; thanks to your religious laws we will dominate you...'" (Fr. James Schall, "Assessing What is at Issue in This War." 2001)
Godless Confidence Emerges:
Frederick Nietzsche, a 19th century atheistic philosopher from Germany, broke new ground by boasting that “God is dead.” In those days, his claim had a great deal of shock value. With a brazen confidence he predicted the ushering in of a new godless age. He even predicted how Christianity would decline; this, he did when Western Civilization was professedly Christian on the outside but lukewarm on the inside. Indeed, at the time, he was among a small minority of militant atheistic thinkers. Nevertheless, he sensed that Christianity had begun to weaken from within. In his book, Daybreak, published in 1881, he wrote the following: “[O]ne should notice that Christianity has thus crossed over into a gentle moralism: it is not so much 'God, freedom and immortality' that have remained, as benevolence and decency of disposition…” “And [when] the belief,” he continued, “that in the whole universe benevolence and decency of disposition [should] prevail: it is the euthanasia of Christianity.”
Attitude of the Upsurge:
Historically, whenever a religious or social movement is on the upsurge, having momentum on its side, there is an attitude of confidence and boldness which accompanies its supporters. This couldn’t be more true for the upsurge of the Secularist-liberal movement in 19th century in Europe. Although such movements may be a minority at the time of their surge- being far outnumbered by other associations and institutions –their advocates nevertheless know, as if by instinct, that the majority of people surrounding them have grown complacent and even timid. Nietzsche was one such man and to be sure, he exploited the situation to the maximum.
Success: It Softens the Soul
Few people appreciate that it is one thing to summit the mountain and quite another thing to stay atop the mountain. That is to say, it is one thing to achieve greatness and another to sustain it. There comes with success and triumph a number of perks and privileges. However, the downside is that these advantages soften the human resolve to sustain greatness. The majority simply ends up lacking the character and audacity to take risks and to endure evil. As a result, they settle down into a comfortable mediocrity. What ends up happening is that the virtue of sacrifice is less valued and the cost of achievement is counted to be too high. Borne from this weakened value system is what Tocqueville referred to as “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” This is exactly what unfolded in Western Civilization over the last several decades.
Tocqueville’s flock of timid and industrious animals that look to the government can certainly apply to a good number of Americans; perhaps even most Christians! As for Nietzsche’s sinister prediction, it couldn’t be more true. Many Christian virtues have been reduced to a general disposition of benevolence and decency. Indeed, Christians in the West have embraced a Christ without a Cross; a false version of Christianity which emphasizes the benevolent and non-offensive portions of the Gospel to the exclusion of all the rest.
Secular-liberal and Islamic Upsurges:
What religious or ideological movement is emboldened by an upsurge in today’s United States? Certainly, the Secularist-liberal movement has infiltrated just about every public institution in America. In particular, the Environmental movement, inspired by Marxist principles, has intimidated many of its opponents or even those who resist their activist policies. And we cannot forget the gay-rights movement who has been known to march into Catholic cathedrals to protest and shutdown anyone who publicly opposes the homosexual lifestyle as immoral. What has been protected in the past as “free speech” is now moving into the category of “hate speech.” The preacher's right to condemn sexual sins will be challenged in the months and years to come. These movements- Environmentalism and gay-rights activism -are but two branches from the same tree; the tree being Secular-liberalism. Their attitudes, so characteristic of movements on the upsurge, are one of audacity, assertiveness and intolerance. Yes, they dare the majority of people to disagree with them; especially Christians.
Another formidable force- coming from the opposite direction and one that enjoys full confidence and zeal by its members -is militant Islam. For instance, Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, once said, "The cry that comes from the heart of the believer overcomes everything, even the White House." And as mentioned above, according to Archbishop Giuseppe Germano Bernardini, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Izmir, in Turkey, said remarked that an authoritative Muslim person said to a number of Christians gathered at an official meeting on Islamic-Christian dialogue, said very calmly and assuredly: 'Thanks to your democratic laws we will invade you; thanks to your religious laws we will dominate you...'"
Hence, on both sides- to our right and to our left -there are ideological and religious upsurges which exude confidence. Although the dictatorship of relativism (as coined by Pope Benedict XVI) or Secular-liberalism is being advanced by a minority of Americans, and although jihad is being waged by a minority of Muslims, still, they bring to the table an attitude that has the power to change our social, political and religious landscape; and that attitude is marked by confidence and zeal.
It seems to me that the Catholic Church must come to terms with two things: How to respond to these attitudes and how to recover what has always been a native attitude of the Christian spirit; an attitude we find in abundance among the Saints. It is important to note that if Christians do not have the confidence in the Word of God to conquer souls, then either Secular-liberalism will conquer with the scepter i.e.all-powerful State or militant Islam will conquer by the sword. The choice is really that simple.
The Mark of the Christian Spirit:
Timidity and cowardice are not the marks of the Christian spirit. As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (II Timothy 1:7) To be sure, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is fortitude or courage. But like any gift, the gift of fortitude can go unused. I would go so far as to say that the act of being bold and magnanimous for Christ's sake has been discouraged in many Catholic circles. There has been an overall posture of "playing it safe." Nevertheless, our Lord told Saint Faustina that it grieved him that so many Christians lacked confidence in him. This lack of confidence has manifested itself in the way we approach the world and other religions. Pope Benedict XVI brought attention to this weakened approach in his book, "Truth and Tolerance." He said that two words are frequently missing from the Catholic vocabulary. And those two words are "mission" and "conversion."
Paragons of Confidence:
The soft, timid spirit that has permeated the Catholic Church is only a recent phenomenon. We do not have to go back very far in time to find heroic examples when Catholic men and women put everything on the line to glorify God.
In the early 20th century, Pope St. Pius X wrote the following to his priests, knowing that by fulfilling their duty they would run the risk of being persecuted or riddiculed: "Catholic 'Liberals' are wolves in lambs clothing; hence any priest worthy of the name must unmask for the faithful confided to his care their insidious plotting, their unholy design. You shall be called papists, clericals, retrogressives, intransigents. Be proud of it!"
In the 19th century Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore cautioned his priests that courting human respect undermines a confidence in one's mission: "The vice opposed to self respect is human respect. Human respect is a base condescension by which, from the fear of offending others, or from the desire of acquiring their esteem, a man says or does what his conscience conceives to be unlawful. It is not easy to exaggerate the baneful influence which this moral cowardice exerts on mankind, especially on impressionable youth, under the alluring guise of friendship and love of applause..."
And lastly we come to the early Christian spirit which was full of love and confidence...even in the face of death. One second century Church Father, a native of Africa, represented this confidence and their mission to win the whole world to Christ was a man by the name of Tertullian. Knowing full well that his letter to the governors of the Roman provinces (which ended up being widely circulated) could lead to his death, he nevertheless challenged the Roman authorities for unjustly persecuting the Christians. Written in 197 A.D., the letter was known as "The Apology" (The Defense). And to be sure, he exuded an attitude of confidence and boldness which represented the upsurge of early Christianity.
“We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods…Without arms even, and raising no insurrectionary banner, but simply in enmity to you, we could carry on the contest with you by an ill-willed severance alone.
For if such multitudes of men were to break away from you, and betake themselves to some remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, whatever sort they were, would cover the empire with shame…you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world.”
Oh! How I wish the followers of Christ were animated with this same attitude! Christianity would, no doubt, witness a new upsurge.