Over and over I hear the lament from older Catholics that their children seem to have lost the faith. Not only do they not even think of going to Church, but they don’t want their kids baptized (so they can make up their own minds about God). They don’t want to be married in church but prefer a garden, a gazebo or even the beach. In addition, they don’t want a traditional Mass for their funeral but opt for cremation and a Memorial Service by their family and friends, their ashes often scattered somewhere or left at the undertaker’s office, unclaimed. These sons and daughters often went to Catholic elementary schools, Catholic High Schools and even prestigious Catholic Universities. Parents look at their investment of a small fortune and find that their children have become pagans! What is going on?
One can even see the progress of this spiritual malaise when we deal with immigrant communities. Many of our people that come from Hispanic countries arrive with a deep sense of religion in their life. They are often ardent Catholics, fed by devotions that are part of the cultural landscape in their countries of origin; but once they are here, their children become imbued by the new language and social mores of the American Experience which (particularly in New York City) causes them to begin to lose their moorings in that sense of religious reality that has sustained their families in the old country. This is more than the confrontation of two cultures. For even when there is a concern for the culture of the country of origin (that happens usually in a subsequent generation) this does not normally extend to the religious faith of their families nor the moral underpinnings of their tradition.
This process of ‘disenchantment’ with religion is the subject of a major work by the philosopher Charles Taylor, entitled “The Secular Age”. His thesis is that Secularism has progressed (in three stages, so he says) so that it puts forth a completely new context of how our world works and what our place is in this strange new cosmos. While his thought is too complex to faithfully portray in a short essay, what strikes me as very telling is what it does to the spiritual senses of life. The supernatural is gone completely. Only the material and the measurable count. There are no absolutes. Salvation language has been replaced by therapeutic categories of thought. Choice is paramount and there are no moral absolutes except what works in certain cases. Death is death and there are no two ways of seeing it. Worship may be good for the soul and even the body but whether it is actually true is unimportant. In this configuration, one tries to live a comfortable life and avoid pain as much as possible; but there is no meaning out there and so we have left the equation of success that the pagan world found: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die!
This tendency is accompanied by a major philosophical movement that has had the Western world in its thrall and that is the centrality of the individual person. Taylor speaks about the ‘buffered self’ who is at the heart of our concerns. All of creation with its cosmic order and hierarchy from God downward is a thing of the past. Most people today see life only through the prism of what is good or bad for me. Hence, getting back to the young of today, we see why what happens after death is irrelevant to my health today, and how what I want for my wedding or my funeral does not depend on what God wants but what I want.
This shift has caused great change in how we live our lives and how our government thinks and how our universities teach; but an analysis of how things work today and the perspective of our age does not answer the ultimate question: What is the truth? What actually is the state of things? For that we must go to theology and speak about Faith in God and what God wills for us. No matter what the concepts of the modern era are, something cannot be true and false at the same time. It is still a matter of faith. And while faith in God may be a harder sell today it does not necessarily invalidate its truth.