By Patrick Pierce, Traditius
“ And be not conformed to this world: but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God.”
– St. Paul, The Epistle to the Romans, 12:2 (DR)
“For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?”
– Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Saint Matthew 16:26-27 (DR)
The modern point of view seems to be that there is the Now, the things being done and discussed around us, and there is the Unimportant—history, tradition, and anything else generally found outside the scope of our immediate ambitions. This view is bolstered by the undeniable fact that by the time we’ve worked through our day and returned home we have maybe two hours to do whatever it is that relaxes us, and that combined with whatever we need to do to prepare for the next workday. Turning our attention to history, tradition, and away from the topics of the public square–entertainment, sports, gossip–is simply a luxury most would rightly claim they don’t have time for.
What this viewpoint misses, though, is that history informs every moment of the now, tradition suggests views of life that can help you wisely through the day. More than that, the ideas we discuss have a genealogy we might not even know, our presumptions about life are for the most part borrowed or suggested from the outside world more often than from our faith or family. Our way of looking at things is largely dictated by our education, by the media and by the contemporary culture if we don’t make the time to become better grounded.
Every age, in a way, has a worldview, and the worldview of our age is identifiable. Some might label it postmodern, or modernity or even, as we will do here, modernism. But whatever the label, it is all around us, it can be witnessed and, if you know enough about it, actually stepped back from to take an objective look at it. And, at that pivotal point, you are free to do something quite remarkable—you can reject it.
The modern worldview, whether you realize it yet or not, is basically that everything should be separate. That is, it takes things apart and “atomizes” them, sealing everyone into their own little bubble world. In this age there is, few are to believe, no objective truth. There is only your truth, the things you alone in your experience have decided to be true based on your thoughts and experiences. Entertainment, media, academia all suggest it, spin it, enforce it: Your truth is to be kept separate, that is, it should not interfere with anyone else’s version of the truth, and you certainly shouldn’t go around declaring that there is one truth that applies to everyone. It is very important that your truth become separate, because the modern age seeks to keep the peace by making certain there is no judgment–that is, that you do not impose your truth on the next person, since they are also entitled to live in their own bubble world. To force them to consider truths beyond it is a dangerous business because it can tempt you to commit the cardinal sin of the modern age: judgment. By asserting that your truth is more correct, you are telling someone else that theirs is less so, and this can make them feel bad.
If you are able to see it clearly you’ll see that we’ve constructed a whole society on this idea. Saying what you believe, if indeed you dare to really believe anything at all because believe nothing is quite cool as well, can harm you at school, at your job and sometimes even in your home. So, to keep the peace, the pursuit of truth has become subjective in our time, something you consider in your own little atom of a universe, your own private truth bubble where you can believe things as a personal hobby, like stamp collecting, as long as you don’t try to press the matter and start blathering on about what is universally true.
On a grand scale this attitude towards the world feeds into many other modern philosophies, for example, multiculturalism and its core idea that no culture has better truths than any other, that they are all just different and equal, or moral relativism, that no set of moral beliefs is any better than another. The key to the modernist view, the “liberal” view, is that everything should be kept quite separate, and to accomplish that we all need to reduce our beliefs to a pastime, or to keep them to ourselves no matter the cost.
This was not always the case, and even modernists will eagerly tell you so. They will tell you that in ages past people killed each other because they had different religious beliefs they thought were true, and that this even caused wars. The worst actor in this drama they speak of is often the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to assert its truth everywhere, causing division and violence until the glorious Enlightenment which led to modern governments that were themselves atomized in that they weren’t to deal at all with religion or faith either. Government should be separate from all of this, in more ways than one. (A reasonable study of history will of course show that communist atheists killed far more than noble rulers of the past, and that the corrupt rulers of the past cause violence on neighbors because of their own ambitions, politics or inclination toward evil. But that kind of thinking just doesn’t fit the current age. It’s too judgmental.)
This separateness of modernity in each aspect of life, where everything is a choice and judgment is bad form, has created a slippery slope. If nothing is true then nothing is right or wrong. If judging is the ultimate sin, then one man’s virtue is another man’s vice and we all slowly slide down the slope toward doing precisely what we want, whether it has implications for the culture or not, whether it degrades society or not. Slowly, then, you get what we see in the culture today: perversion, vice, freakishness on every channel and front page. And regardless of your own personal belief system, you likely deep down know this truth: without being held to virtue, people will lean toward vice, what feels good, what’s easy, and they will create a world in their head where everything they want to do is justified. This little trick is much easier to accomplish, of course, if there is no objective truth around to judge your actions against.
We all long to be a part of something, we all long to know our part in the whole, and the fact is that these human longings are a part of our very soul, and that beginning to address them is simply a matter of looking at things differently. Jesus and his apostles called us to step out of our age, to follow Him. He not only claimed that there was truth, he claimed to be that truth.
You do not have to take my word for any of this. But as you watch television, or listen to the media, look for these presumptions that try to separate you from others, from a world that we are all in together, that we must keep out of the sewers together. Imagine that we all are in this together, aimed at the truth that is our salvation and ponder it at the back of your mind. Gather evidence for or against the idea that we all might be better off in a world where everyone’s bubble is popped and we are out in the open once again, left to wrestle with ideas and truths again, a society aimed at creating a world aware of the great good of salvation, which can even be discussed without shame in public, at work, or even in our homes.
It is my hope that this column provides you with a simple pin, and that you will one day, after some reflection and consideration, reach out with it, pop your bubble, and let the truth rush in. As uncomfortable as the idea might be at first, as all of your personal justifications and ego defenses float out and away, you will I think discover, perhaps for the first time, that you are not so separate after all.