Thomas Griffin (7/9/20)
From television to cinema, from politics to newspapers, and from family dinner tables to the water cooler in office spaces, it has been spoken of for decades. Our world has consistently echoed the cries of the Enlightenment: keep God away from us, life will be exponentially happier, intellectually more advanced and incredibly safer without the ancient and out-of-date idea that the elderly bearded man in the sky is real. Faith has been viewed as a joke, and as an insignificant matter for generations, and now we are seeing the results recorded on every news channel for people of all ages to see.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 1968 masterpiece entitled The Introduction to Christianity noted, “It is certainly true that anyone who tries to preach the faith amid people involved in modern life and thought can really feel like a clown, or rather perhaps like someone who, rising from an ancient sarcophagus, walks into the midst of the world today.” Now, there are some cases where the Church shot itself in the foot by creating liturgy focused on folk tunes, religious education which was an exercise of coloring in the lines, and a witness that was at times hypocritical. However, the true fault of the events of the current days falls on the destruction of objective truth as the result of the radicalization of a modern philosophical notion.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher made famous for his phrase, cogito, ergo sum which is translated as, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes, viewed as the first modern philosopher, used the understanding of discovery as a way to encourage philosophical inquiry. A tremendous number of ideas may be doubted, but one fact that we can know for sure is that we think. His ideas regarding the difficulty in obtaining knowledge, and the reliance of knowledge solely on scientific dialogue opened the door for Enlightenment (1715-1789) theories to explode through. The enlightened ones are those who “know” that the only data that can be verified to be true are those that can be empirically viewed and confirmed in a laboratory.
Reality is completely trapped inside of the five senses of sight, touch, hear, smell, and taste. God is outside of the senses, and therefore, he is at best to be doubted and at worst to be condemned. What we have seen over the course of the last fifty years or so, is the radicalization of Descartes and the Enlightenment. Our country and world is currently choosing to no longer tolerate God which leads to no longer tolerating the Truth.
The irony of the Enlightenment philosophies winning the day is abundantly clear to the keen observer. Humanity desperately desires to know things beyond a reason of a doubt, which lead to empiricism (we can only know what we can observe with our senses), scientism (we can only know what science can show us to be true), and the denial of the importance of the sphere of faith. These facts concerning the history of the last few hundred years led directly to the circumstances we find ourselves in today. If nothing can be known to be true outside of the senses and the natural sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, etc.), then all realms outside of these two categories (political thought, morality, religion, etc.) are confined to the sphere of mere opinion.
Capitalism versus Marxism, Buddhism versus Catholicism, and theism versus atheism along with all other constructions of human thought beyond the physical matter of this world are held captive to the eye of the beholder. Modern thought preached that two people can hold contradictory beliefs on the same exact subject and society tells us they can both be correct at the same time because, well, that is your opinion. This understanding concerning knowledge, reality, and truth are dangerous enough. However, now we have entered a new epoch; we have entered the time and space where the powers that be tell us that you can hold whatever opinion you’d like unless you hold the “opinion” that your religion or your morality is true, and not just your opinion.
Benedict XVI was right, those who hold religion on its rightly ordered pedestal are viewed as fools, as clowns by the world because they hold divinely revealed truths to be true forever, for always, and for everyone. Orthodoxy demands that Christians confine the Truth to that which “is”, not that which “I make it to be.” Descartes and the Enlightenment led to the discovery that we need reason to hold its proper place, which it should, but it has transformed it into a beast that devours any rational dialogue that seeks true wisdom, and not mere opinion.
We need equality and we need fair treatment of all peoples which uplifts the human dignity of everyone, no matter their social class, color or creed. Even more so, we need justice and we need a true peace that can only come from the sight that God gives us. A view which is never hatred and violence; a view which is not foolishness but true wisdom. What we need more than anything though, is a rediscovery of the fact (not opinion), that there is a God, there is a truth, and there is good out there in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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