Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Seeds of Totalitarianism

I’m away this week doing ministry at a family camp not affiliated with Madonna House. As I did when I was at Cana Colony, I am re-posting some good old posts from my first month of blogging, before anyone knew I was here. Hope you enjoy these voices from the distant past of July 2011.

The scientific façade [of totalitarianism] hides a dogmatic intolerance that views spirit as produced by matter and morals as produced by circumstances. According to its dictates, morality should be defined and practiced on the basis of society’s purposes, and everything is deemed moral that helps to usher in the final state of happiness.

This dogmatism completely subverts the values that build Europe. It also breaks with the entire moral tradition of humankind by rejecting the existence of values independent of the goals of material progress. Depending on the circumstances, anything can become legitimate and even necessary; anything can become moral in the new sense of the term. Even humankind itself can be treated as an instrument, since the individual does not matter, only the future, the cruel deity adjudicating over one and all… the greatest catastrophe encountered by such systems was not economic. It was the starvation of souls and the destruction of the moral conscience.

“The Spiritual Roots of Europe: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” In Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, and Islam, 72-3

Reflection – Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a country ravaged by totalitarian Nazism, and lived the great part of his life as a cleric confronted by the Iron Curtain bisecting this same country, and all of Europe. Understandably, he has written quite a bit over the decades about the confrontation of Christianity with totalitarian ideologies.

Totalitarianism outside of China, North Korea, and a handful of other states, is in abeyance in the last decades. But he points out here that the underlying spiritual impulse of these ideologies is far from absent among us. When we determine that  nothing, but nothing, matters except material happiness and prosperity, that there is no moral rule we will even acknowledge, let alone keep, if it will lessen our immediate prospects of these, that everything, every standard, law, right, must be sacrificed for the immediate good of the individual or society as a whole—well, when this is afoot in our lands, then totalitarianism is not so much in abeyance, at least in prospect.

Can we torture to obtain information to make ourselves secure from attack? Can we kill human embryos to harvest their stem cells for medical research that may cure this or that disease? Can we silence dissenting voices on contentious social matters such as same-sex marriage with threats of fines and costly legal actions? Is society, represented by the power of the state, of course, allowed to do just about anything to advance whatever goals it sets before itself?

It seems to me that many in our own societies would answer yes to these questions—certainly, if they were being honest. Behind that ‘yes’, however, is a view that the universe is essentially amoral, that moral rules or laws are some added and optional feature to reality. Also behind that ‘yes’ is an attitude to suffering that sees it as intolerable, as utterly unacceptable. Better to massacre embryonic human beings by the million, better to torture everyone, better to do anything, than to have to endure suffering.

There is a deep spiritual crisis in all this. We are made by God to live in conformity to his will and being; suffering is a necessary presence in every human life in our current situation. To reject these propositions places us on a road that terminates in the Gulag, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the camps of the Third Reich. We are a long, long way from the terminus of that road, but we must be clear that that’s where it leads.

And if we are that road, there is only one human course open to us. Repent, and believe the good news.

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