The Spirit of truth will unmask secularism

In a recent review of Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, Mr Caldecott says that the book is frustrating because “it refuses, in the end, to simplify an immensely complex situation. Reading it feels a bit like crossing Lake Michigan from end to end in a canoe.” (Second Spring vol. 10, p. 73) As a former resident of the great state of Michigan, I commend Mr. Caldecott of Oxford for the fine metaphor. A canoe will not get you to the other side, you will no doubt be capsized. So we need the sturdiness of a Solzhenitsyn to say, truly and simply, “Men have forgotten God.” Or Pope John Paul II to say “at the root of human sin is the lie which is a radical rejection of the truth contained in the Word of the Father, through whom is expressed the loving omnipotence of the Creator: the omnipotence and also the love of God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.” §33

In an earlier blog we discussed the core problem of secularism, the rejection of God and the diminishment of man, as explained by Benedict XV and Solzhenitysn. Pope John Paul II identifies this same rejection of God as the core of our woes today. In the gospel reading today Jesus speaks about sending the “Spirit of truth” – “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me” (Jn 15.26). In 1986 Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical on The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et vivificantem). It is a very rich and challenging document. John Paul II developed at some length the role of the Spirit in teaching human beings about the reality of sin. He said “the Council has made the Spirit newly ‘present’ in our difficult age. In the light of this conviction one grasps more clearly the great importance of all the initiatives aimed at implementing the Second Vatican Council, its teaching and its pastoral and ecumenical thrust. . . . [The] work being done by the Church for the testing and bringing together of the salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed in the Council is something indispensable. For this purpose one must learn how to ‘discern’ them carefully from everything that may instead come originally from the ‘prince of this world’. This discernment in implementing the Council’s work is especially necessary in view of the fact that the Council opened itself widely to the contemporary world, as is clearly seen from the important Conciliar Constitutions Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium.” §26

Pope John Paul II helped us to find our way through the post-conciliar age through his articulation of standards for careful discernment. As we sadly know, many jumped on a secular band-wagon or got caught up with the spirit of the age – to their own self-destruction or subversion of faith. Higher education was especially prone to the spirit of the age. What is the standard or test for discernment in the post-Vatican II era? It is to maintain a proper sense of religion, of man’s relationship to God. The core of sin is the rejection of God as a reality in the world.

“The analysis of sin in its original dimension indicates that, through the influence of the ‘father of lies,’ throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating him: ‘Love of self to the point of contempt for God,’ as Saint Augustine puts it. Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and the fullness of good. We see this confirmed in the modern age, when the atheistic ideologies seek to root out religion on the grounds that religion causes the radical ‘alienation’ of man, as if man were dispossessed of his own humanity when, accepting the idea of God, he attributes to God what belongs to man, and exclusively to man! Hence a process of thought and historico-sociological practice in which the rejection of God has reached the point of declaring his ‘death.’ An absurdity, both in concept and expression! But the ideology of the ‘death of God’ is more a threat to man, as the Second Vatican Council indicates when it analyzes the question of the ‘independence of earthly affairs’ and writes: ‘For without the Creator the creature would disappear… when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.’ The ideology of the death of God easily demonstrates in its effects that on the ‘theoretical and practical’ levels it is the ideology of the ‘death of man.’ §38

If we back up we find that there is a denial of a fundamental truth at the core which Pope John Paul II calls an “anti-word” and sounds surprisingly similar to the ideology of most universities today:

“Here we find ourselves at the very center of what could be called the ‘anti-Word,’ that is to say ‘the anti-truth.’ For the truth about man becomes falsified: who man is and what are the impassable limits of his being and freedom. This ‘anti-truth’ is possible because at the same time there is a complete falsification of the truth about who God is. God the Creator is placed in a state of suspicion, indeed of accusation, in the mind of the creature. For the first time in human history there appears the perverse ‘genius of suspicion.’ He seeks to ‘falsify’ Good itself, the absolute Good, which precisely in the work of creation has manifested itself as the Good which gives in an inexpressible way: as creative love. Who can completely ‘convince concerning sin,’ or concerning this motivation of man’s original disobedience, except the one who alone is the gift and the source of all giving of gifts, except the Spirit, who ‘searches the depths of God’ and is the love of the Father and the Son.” §37

Pope John Paul II named the demons that ravished Catholic higher education, including philosophy and theology — a hermeneutic of suspicion, deconstruction, and a secularism that simply ignored the truth of God.

On Pentecost we must pray for the renewal of Catholic higher education, that its professors and administrators be permeated by the Spirit of truth and be convinced of the sin of secularism. Quite simply, there needs to be an act of repentance. Surely we can pray for this. C. S. Lewis once said that modern scientists need to repent for the will to conquer nature, which amounts to the will to conquer some human beings by means of nature (Abolition of Man, chap. 3). So too Catholic educators speak about “excellence” and service to students, but they have simply “forgotten God” and the historic faith of the Church appears to have very little bearing upon the curriculum and scholarship promoted by them.

Its affirmation about the truth about God and man is one reason that the thought of Thomas Aquinas is so strongly endorsed by the Pope in Fides et ratio..

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