Monday, May 30, 2011

Theological Rant #10: It ain't "the culture of bothersome unpleasantness" and Satan ain't a "gentleman caller"

Gentle readers, I haven't had a clean-out-the-gaskets rant against mediocrity in a long time, for which you are grateful. However, the time is nigh. Buckle your seatbelts.

I am utterly convinced that any divisions we have in the Catholic Church (and probably the larger Christian Church as well) are 3% on doctrine, and 97% about our differing readings of culture. (That's a rant, you think? No, that's academic prolegomena. I'm getting warmed up.) Last week I mentioned that I knew a lot of people who claimed they wanted to know theology or catechetics but really wanted missiology, a way to think about how to be Church amidst the culture of death.

My friends (and they are friends) smirked. Because I used that phrase: culture of death.

I am flummoxed by people who dismiss this idea, that we are afloat in a culture of death. Of course good things happen, and there are good people out there, but that isn't culture! Culture is the way human beings come together to make sense of the world through concrete policies, practices, and values. And this culture does not consistently value all human life. Period.

Let me put it this way: I live a pretty charmed existence, (lower) middle class in the sedate Upper Midwest, with a lovely family and work I love. But I am also surrounded by people interested in slashing human dignity at every turn: hospitals that ask me with every pregnancy (for over two hours at the mandatory genetic questioning intake) are you sure you don't want to kill your child, part of a Church where a majority of practitioners support torture, a country that increasingly encourages assisted suicide over being human and holding that person's hand, a nation at war for reasons I *still* cannot understand, a neighborhood where a mother of a child with Down Syndrome had an acquaintance tell her (IN FRONT OF THE CHILD) "why didn't you just abort him?", a town where there are homeless families facing the "slow kill" of living on the street, and more. If this isn't the culture of death, well, what the ^%(&%)# is?

Really, where is this denial coming from? I'm all for applauding the potential of human cultures, but to do that at the expense of misdiagnosing the culture we participate in seems almost diabolical. It is, at minimum, ridiculous.

I wish I had the presence of mind at the time to throw in some quip about Satan. I can't quite make the explicit connection, but I think people with a dismissive attitude about spiritual warfare tend to pooh-pooh the culture of death diagnosis. I don't know anyone (who's Catholic, anyway) who denies the existence of Satan. But I do think most people think of him as a kind of generalized way to talk about evil.

Here's the thing: Satan is no generalized concept. Satan is a hyena. He is an opportunist. He is not a planner; he can't plan, because God is the Master Planner of the Universe, and God has won the ultimate victory over his designs. We're dealing with Satan sniping at the flanks here (Rev 12). But plan or not, he can look for weaknesses and chinks in our armor, and can and will ruthlessly exploit them. To be human is to be wounded, at least past a certain age--it comes with vulnerability. But people who have suffered major trauma (go back and see the list that makes the culture of death argument above, and more)--Satan can and will try to go in for the kill.

What, you think that isn't very sporting of him? Not very gentlemanly?

People!!! This is Satan we're talking about, not the opposing football team! Satan is the father of lies and a thief from the beginning! Why would he abide by any rules of fair play? Hurt people are bleeding meat to him! And as the father of lies, he can plant all kinds of supposedly soothing bromides into a hurt person who allows him in: I had no real choice, I had to do that. My country, right or wrong. I hated seeing that/doing that/supporting that, but who wouldn't? Of course that was awful, but I'll get over it if I put my mind to something else. They didn't really want to live like that, right? In any case, there was no choice. I just had to. Everybody says so. And I'll make sure everyone else gets the support I didn't feel when I was wavering in that decision....

And that "making sure everyone else gets the 'support' to choose to end life" is called the culture of death.

Name it for what it is, people. And maybe a little missiology is exactly what American Catholics need right now. That, and the courage to say God has overcome the Evil One, and the revealed venue of the grace to cling to God is most fully held in the Catholic Church.

Live in reality, people. Over and out.



Paul Cat said...

We don't talk enough about the reality of evil. Preach it!

Babs said...

Haven't commented in a long time, but, thank you.

Amanda said...


Dcn Scott Dodge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I agree very much with what you write here. I share both your frustration and your anger. Let's not forget another aspect of the culture of death, how we treat the mentally ill. I minister in an urban parish and I cannot begin to tell you how many mentally ill people I encounter. They're just out on the streets with nothing and nobody.

As my wife and I await the birth of our sixth child any day, it's funny how many people, including almost all the Catholics we know, think we're insane and, since we're saying things plainly, look down their noses at us.

Yes, we live in a culture that shapes our view of the world, and the shape it is taking is about as anti-thetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as can be; all this despite being a "Christian nation." The fact that we frequently deceive ourselves into believing we are a Christian nation is the work of the devil. In some ways it is far more insidious to make God over in our own image than to reject God outright.

I am currently re-reading Jeremiah. Frankly, I get scared, not so much about divine punishment from God raining down from the skies, but the consequences of what you describe.

catechesisinthethirdmillennium said...

This was a great "rant"! I also liked your definition of culture. I think we are often too accepting of what the culture is and often presume that it's just the way its going to be. Great encouragement!

SherryTex said...

We also live in a culture that denies the reality of shame but lives to damn/condemn/shame anyone who tries to acknowlege that there is such a thing as right and wrong behavior and that there are proper contexts for behaviors and things which are sacred. Premarital sex? How dare we think it wrong? Ubiquitious use of artificial birth control? How dare we say it hurts a marriage? Nearly automatic reflexive desire for abortion when things are not as planned? How insensitive of us! Mariage as not a trial or a test or a social construct but as a sacrament? How dare we utter or believe such things! We are being schooled to never speak truth and to show good manners by never offending by acknolwedging sin.

SherryTex said...

Guess you hit a nerve. heh.

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Please, rant some more! In fact, go on the lecture circuit and rant your guts out! I would pay to come hear some truth for a change.

allison Welch said...

I knew we (our "culture") was in trouble when I started seeing the ubiquitous skull-and-crossbones on baby clothes! Ugh. One of my students had this to say about the state of us: "There can be no civilization when the past is euthanized, the present is suicidal and the future is aborted."

The Ironic Catholic said...

@ Scott--
"The fact that we frequently deceive ourselves into believing we are a Christian nation is the work of the devil. In some ways it is far more insidious to make God over in our own image than to reject God outright."
And how did I miss that you and your wife are expecting??? Congrats!

Everyone, thanks. We've got to start calling the culture what it is, specifically and in detail. Maybe not by ranting, but by serious truth telling in love.

Dave said...

Amen!! I'm becoming more and more concerned about what I see. Moral relativism, lack of belief in such a thing as objective truth. "Don't force your beliefs on me." As if it were all just a question of vanilla vs. chocolate ice cream--a matter of taste or opinion. Little by little we keep slipping away from Him.

The president of the Episcopal seminary in New Haven proclaims abortion as a blessing! She even has audiences cheering "Abortion is a blessing. Abortion is a blessing!" If you can't see Satan in the midst of this, you're blind.

Dianne said...

I have to say I almost didn't read this, fearing a typical right-wing culture-war rant. But went ahead because I've read you enough to think you were likely to do better than that, and you did. All I want to say is that I'm glad you condemn torture, endless pointless war, and the neglect and abuse of the poor and homeless as well as abortion and euthanasia. It's all evil. I can't stand any more being told that to be a Christian I must go on a rampage against just a few of our culture's sins while ignoring the assumptions and policies that promote other terrible sins, or, God forbid, even affirming them. Thank you for being an equal-opportunity ranter.

Anonymous said...

"There can be no civilization when the past is euthanized, the present is suicidal and the future is aborted."

Great quote! Unfortunately of the three, only suicide seems to be the tragedy everyone agrees on. Because euthanasia is different from suicide and murder and abortion is different from murder. Yeah right!

smkelly8 said...

Thanks! Especially since I can't find a church nearby that does little to prepare and strengthen me. All I got yesterday (again) was a few cute anecdotes on how good families, and the priest's mother in particular are. (Hey, I know that. That's not a big problem for most people I know in the congregation.)

Satan is real and he's attacking the church as best he can nowadays and if you went to the churches I've been to, you'd think evil didn't exist. I can't remember the last time sexual impropriety was even brought up by a priest.

Again, thanks.

Aubrey said...

To not believe in Satan is to believe that we can believe in our own reasoning and as such fail to see the rightousness of what our Catholic faith teaches. More of this 'Rant' should be emphasized from the pulput to make all aware that these culture of death ideas are not our own but only our acceptance and actions.
Great post!

Judy@Learningtoletgo said...

Darn straight!

Deacon Bob Yerhot said...

Splendidly said. I especially am able to resonate with your experience in the medical center. My family and friends' eyes glaze over at times when I begin to voice my concern about the encroaching culture of death in our medical facilities. It is growing and insidious.

Denial is a very difficult thing to change. There is too much anxiety/fear behind it. When it does break, all that pain comes forth. It will be experienced by more and more families as time passes, I suspect, especially when it becomes very personal and immediate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Just today I heard the phrase "diabolical disorientation" for the first time. Apparently, Sr. Lucia used the phrase to describe what Our Lady of Fatima was predicting for the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. The phrase does seem to fit our current cultural state, where good is seen as evil, and evil as good.