With all of the moral confusion in our society these days it’s hard to imagine what the future will look like. We seem to have an increasingly wide divide between those that “cling” to a traditional morality and those anxious to be free from it. And being on the eve of an Obama White House seems to have emboldened the secular Left like never before in pushing their agenda while prompting the rest of us to dig in our heels even deeper.
Eventually, something’s got to give. Either our society will correct itself or the empire will fall (i.e. the easy way or the hard way). After losing its morality, the Roman Empire fell – as have many other empires. But America, like no other country in history, has shown a resilience for self-correction in the past. Will it continue to do so?
The kind of moral tug-o-war going on right now in our culture forces us to choose between two ends. And the two choices are not simply two different trains going the same direction. The trains are headed entirely different directions and to opposing towns – both called “progress.” Eventually, one side must win out.
On one hand we have a world view that believes there is no absolute Truth in life – at least none that we can know – and therefore we have no right to prefer one type of conduct over another. We must be tolerant of all. It is this kind of extreme permissiveness that creates a culture where we sell sex as if it were a commodity, kill millions of unborn babies every year, and believe we can redefine the natural, God created order (the family) without negative consequences.
The only absolute truth in this world view is that there is no absolute truth. Therefore tolerance of everyone’s own perceived truth (relativism) becomes the only dogma – unless of course you disagree with this dogma. That is intolerable. The self-contradictions evident in this type of thinking may be obvious to us, but they are far from harmless. And it is not so obvious to many of the people raised in such a culture. That’s the danger we find ourselves in today.
On the other hand we have a traditional world view that says our very existence is evidence of a creator – the great First Cause. And that the focus of our life should be that First Cause, not our self-cause. That we are given life as a gift to be respected at every level – not destroyed at our convenience. That we have the privilege – not the burden – of playing a role in the creation of new life. And that this Creator, reflected in His creation, has given us an ideal to aspire to – not a perverse imagination to indulge at the whim of our immediate happiness.
Some people see this view as archaic, unenlightened, and oppressive. Many of us think they have it backwards. So it is between these two world views that our culture war is waged.
One of the difficulties in this battle is that the battle lines are not all that clear. But that is not because the truth is not clear. It’s because we muddy it with our sin. Every choice we make and action we take as individuals pushes the whole in one direction or the other. And I’m willing to bet that each of us are guilty of helping the other side at one time or another.
Will we be strong enough to stand together and fight the moral decline in our society? Or are we too often tempted to participate in that decline?
The other significant difficulty in this battle is that many of us who hold this traditional world view don’t understand why we hold it. And when challenged to explain it we give insufficient answers.
Even worse, many divisions of Christianity, in casting off traditional Christian teaching, have found themselves ill-equipped to fully explain themselves. And as a consequence have developed their own independent interpretations and theologies that ultimately result in inconsistency, further division, and loss of credibility. Our American culture – dominated by a “sola scriptura” tradition of its own – breeds further misunderstanding and illogic.
It’s no wonder that those challenging our world view believe it to be archaic. Not only do we often contradict it in the way we live, but nobody has given them answers that explain it in the first place. That’s not their fault. That’s our fault.
The problem is that many on both sides seem to think the traditional world view is based solely on a scripture passage in a book or a cultural closed-mindedness. That is far from the truth. But as a result, we have a large percentage of our society (including Christians) who have rejected it in favor of indulging their own conveniences. And now we’ve got so much garbage piled on top that it’s hard for anyone to recognize any logic or reason in the midst of all of it. So people simply assume there is no truth and that we are stuck tolerating everyone’s garbage.
And with seemingly less and less of us digging in our heals against this wave of moral relativism, the future looks grim. However, there is hope. Buried within our garbage heap is a time bomb. It is a time bomb that has the power to change the game.
This time bomb is the Catholic teaching on the Theology of the Body. This bomb was planted by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences from 1979-1984. It was a series of 129 talks that articulated the Catholic teaching of the human body in a more beautiful and complete way than ever before. It is only now that the wisdom and timing of such a gift is truly coming to light.
George Weigel said this about it:
“These 129 catechetical addresses, taken together, constitute a kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.”
Well it appears we might need them earlier in the third millennium than he perhaps had thought!
But this is no magical shot in the arm that will change everything in an instant. That is all too often what our “now generation” requires. It’s more like an entire multi-course meal with the family that takes time, patience, and conversation to fully complete and appreciate. So it is hard to predict exactly how this time bomb will explode.
And this is not new teaching of the Church. It is simply old teaching presented in a more fully understood way. It helps us answer modern challenges with a consistency and wisdom capable of winning the argument. More than ever before in history, it presents a clear and integrated vision of what it truly means to be a human person.
“It is an illusion to think we can build a true culture of human life if we do not . . . accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and their close inter-connection.” – John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (n. 97).
Catholics are only just starting to realize what we have in the Theology of the Body. And people of all faiths and denominations are beginning to embrace it because of the truth they find in it. This time bomb is ticking. It is only a matter of time before it fully explodes.
In the meantime, I’m going to take the next couple of posts to examine exactly what is the Theology of the Body and how it can help us all. Please feel free to share your thoughts as we go along.