Friday, February 3, 2012

The Decline of Man

Pope Benedict's phrase "the decline of man" came to mind when reading this article. It takes a long view of it and goes back to William of Ockham and St Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas, in line with patristic Christianity and Greek philosophy, gave primacy to the natural reason as formative in our free choices. The human will, he taught, was inclined to the good, to happiness, to being, to truth, and beauty, and the intellect was ordered toward knowing where these are found. These transcendentals are positive, spiritual realities that attract the will and the intellect. This attraction precedes the free will choices we make. Our freedom derives from the use of reason ordered to truth, and the will ordered to the good, the two uniting to make a choice.
The point is that the will being ordered towards the good has been degrading over many centuries now. We are at a point where many don't know what good is or even if it exists. Reason ordered towards truth has taken a beating as well. We have advanced in our understanding of scientific truth but have declined in our ability to grasp deeper truths. We know the mechanism of things but not the meaning.

You see it in politics. When I was young there were still politicians who were trying to do good. Now we are just looking for someone who will refrain from gravely immoral acts. The chances of even that happening are slim and none. Then there is religion. Decade after decade we see a drop in faith and a rise in all sorts or immoral behavior. There is just a lot of bad news.

So where does it go? Is this general decline we have seen since the 13th century going to just continue? I was thinking that the seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs. So once it gets to a point where Christians start getting killed simply for being Christian then the world will see that something has gone amiss. In many parts of the world they are already doing that. The West does not seem that far off.

But look at WWII. The west had to face the reality of evil then. What happened? They went back to church for a while. But the next generation, the baby boomers, they picked up the same ideas as before the war and ran with them. The WWII generation didn't look very deep. They didn't ask what truth were they missing or what evil were they tolerating that allowed WWII to happen. It was more that they were scared. They almost lost their freedom. Many almost lost their lives. So they went back to their old faith. But they didn't go forward to a closer union with God.

The fact that it was WWII should have been a clue. Responding the same way people did to WWI had already proven inadequate. Embracing the faith of your fathers or even your grandfathers is not going to do it. The seeds of the decline of humanity were already in that faith. It was like trimming the weeds rather than pulling the weeds. It was only a matter of time before evil returned.

I do think we will see a revival like that.That is a returning to God as people currently understand Him which is still a degraded understanding based on false philosophical assumptions. That kind of revival happens every once in a while. They are part of the longer story of the decline of man. But will the errors in Christian thinking that this article traces ever become less dominant? That might take longer.

I do think that evil is growing stronger. Man is more capable of violating human dignity and less capable of seeing why we shouldn't. We might be creating an environment where lesser faiths have trouble surviving. Catholicism will always survive. It can take anything the devil can throw at it. Other faiths have survived a long time. Islam is almost 1400 years old. Protestantism is almost 500. But they require an absolute belief in a book without really addressing questions about where that book comes from and why we should believe it is true. With modern technology it is getting harder and harder to avoid scrutiny. Young people will find websites that ask all the hard questions and ridicule their family's faith.

The good news is that God is real. The Catholic church has been growing in it's understanding. As people's questions get more sophisticated the church's answers have gotten deeper and more beautiful. That is the grace of God that has been poured out despite the fact that many have rebelled. God has kept a people for Himself in every generation. So the answer is there when people want it.

The biggest issue is people's desire for good. They have set the bar low. When will they see that? When they encounter a saint. When they see someone living a truly holy life they realize what they are pursuing is junk by comparison. Then they won't need to be arm twisted into joining a religion. They will want it.


  1. You might be interested in this latest report from the FSSP:

    Persecution is likely what's going to get the ball rolling for people to wake up. That said, Pat Buchanan's recent article says Obama wont be re-elected without the Catholic vote, so there will most likely be some reversal.

  2. This issue by itself is not enough. It is part of a larger trend. The bishops are getting more orthodox and society is getting less tolerant of Christianity. Something has to give.

    Political wisdom says Obama should tone down his anti-Catholic stances. It has not happened yet. He is usually pretty smart that way but when it comes to abortion or contraceptives he does not seem to get it.

  3. How could this issue not be enough in itself if it resulted in one of the biggest hits to the Church in our history? There wont be other chances if we lose most of our institutions.

  4. If we lose institutions they will be the ones that have ceased being authentically Catholic a long time ago. That is what happened with the adoption agency in Illinois. Their money was coming from the government and much of their ideology was as well. So they became secular without losing much. We could see a lot of that.

    The ones that are truly Catholic will be more of a problem. They will pay a penalty and not provide their employees with health care. But that won't be the end of it. The government will label them bigots and tell them they may not teach anything that disparages gays or abortion doctors or anyone else that might be offended by Catholic teaching. That is where it is going.

  5. I see what you're saying. Most of the Catholic institutions have already long caved in to secularism so really what will be affected is a much smaller audience. But if they lose their right to exist, that's still pretty serious for it would mean it would be impossible to have a Catholic institution at all.

    I've heard in Canada it's already at the point where it's illegal to speak Catholic morality against homosexuality, but I've not heard any major opposition by Catholics. I'm not sure what that hasn't happened here yet.

  6. The right to exists is not conferred by the state. It comes from the desire of Catholics to do the mission and to do it in an explicitly Catholic way. To the extent that that exists the institutions will continue. To the extent it does not they won't matter.

    The government can help them or they can fight them. There are problems with both. It looks like we are moving from one to the other. Life will be very different.

    I live in Canada and I am not sure what you mean. There have been some evangelicals that have gotten in trouble for teaching their doctrine on homosexuality. It is a different doctrine than the Catholic church teaches. Still the fact that the courts have not thrown them out on freedom of religion grounds is disturbing.

  7. Applied "catholic" politics 101

    And you wonder why that, after all of these inevitable never-ending slaughters, "man" has declined?

    Please also checkout The Criminal History of the Papacy by Tony Bushby.

  8. I am not sure you are trying to make a point. Seems more of an attempt to throw mud than to make an argument. Whatever?

    The decline of man the pope was talking about was in the last 50 years. The one the article was talking about was over the last 700 years. Still the picture is more complex. From some viewpoints man is advancing. Certainly violence justified by Christians has decreased.