Thursday, April 11, 2013

As If!

The attempt, carried to extremes, to shape human affairs to the total exclusion of God leads us more and more to the brink of the abyss, toward the utter annihilation of man. We must therefore reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment [to live by only those truths that would be true even if God did not exist] and say: even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God did indeed exist.

This is the advice Pascal gave to his non-believing friends, and it is the advice that I should like to give to our friends today who do not believe.

Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 51-2

Reflection – OK, let’s have some vintage ‘Benedict blogging’ today. Ratzinger here offers a conclusion to what has been a fairly lengthy argument. He is not simply making a bald assertion here; he has argued his way towards this rather dramatic statement of the need to live ‘as if God did indeed exist.’

What does he mean by the total annihilation of man coming from the exclusion of God from human affairs? A few obvious things pop to mind. Nuclear devastation is back in the forefront of our minds these days, for example, with the threats emerging from Pyongyang of late. Environmental degradation is a reality, even if specifics around anthropogenic global warming are hotly disputed.

Abortion and contraception have pushed a great deal of the developed world into a demographic spiral that, in some countries at least, seems irreversible. To annihilate the human race does not require a hydrogen bomb; it simply requires one generation to refuse to produce the next one.

Well, those are the big three, the actual human choices made in a context of godlessness (I speak here not polemically but with precise objectivity) that lead us to annihilation. There are other, more attenuated forms of annihilation that afflict us. Consumerism and materialism drive our economies into increasingly unreal contortions, ensuring the steady flow of cheap consumer goods today at the expense of our children and grandchildren’s future poverty.

Creeping socialism refers more and more control of daily human life to an increasingly powerful central government and hosts of petty regulations that curb initiative and freedom of action. Moral anomie afflicts us more each year, as each generation is increasingly educated to have no moral standard whatsoever except non-judgmentalism and a pseudo-tolerance of vice. The fruits of this are evident in such tragedies as the recent rape case in Steubenville, which is far from being an isolated incident.

And in that light sexual license continues to detach the genitive acts of the human body from any context of commitment, procreation, or indeed anything except the immediate exigencies of the pleasure principle.

All of these bear witness to a great hegemony of acedia – that terrible haunting thought bedeviling humanity that says monotonously, droningly, repetively, ‘What’s the use? What’s the use? What’s the use?’ There is no point, no larger reality, no grand destination to human life except the rot of the grave, so what’s the use? Grab what you can and make your own life as pleasant and trouble-free as possible, because you will be a moldering corpse soon.

This is the deep affliction of our modern world, all of which traces immediately to the loss of a sense of God. Ratzinger realizes and understands well this loss of God in the modern world, and so contents himself with pointing out that godlessness is dragging us all down into a tragic state of civilizational collapse. To put it in gloriously non-technical language, acedia, besides being a lie, is also a bummer, dude. It brings us down and makes everything suck.

So, to act as if God exists, to act as if there is indeed a point to life and a direction and a coherent world that comes from a coherent World Maker—all of this is conducive to human happiness and human survival. Frankly, practical atheism is not showing itself to be a great path towards human flourishing, while Christian civilization, though always marked and marred by human sin, produced art, music, philosophy, architecture, poetry, literature, philosophy, science and technology that has enriched the whole of humanity.
Acedia can do none of that, and indeed has never tried. So… today, act as if God exists, OK?


  1. wow, thank you for this post. I appreciate how you explain things in a way that relates to what we can see all around us. I am still struggling with some Catholic teachings and some of the 'politically correct' things that 'seem' right but I am now questioning, in light of my further journey into Catholic doctrine.

    As an elementary school teacher, I see kids hooked on electronics (DS, Xbox, etc) to an alarming degree - perhaps to sedate away the acedia.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. Actually I have a book coming out soon (keep watching this blog space!) precisely on the whole issue of technology and its uses and misuses today. Acedia is not mentioned per se, but it is an underlying current throughout the book.


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