Dear Friends in Christ:
One of the principles of theology is that theology is always reactive rather than proactive. Theology, by its nature, is responsive in its reflections. If you think about it, it is perfectly logical. God reveals and we reflect and respond. People act and theology reflects and responds. When we look at the history of salvation, we are always in a responsive role. By the time people get around to reflecting and formulating the proper response, the situation has often changed again. There is a growing body of literature announcing the ‘demise of Christendom’ and the rise of secularism. Pope Francis among many others has said that we are no longer in an era of change but in a change of eras. While this is true, it is not breaking news. For the better part of two centuries, philosophers, theologians, historians, and social and political scientists among others have been addressing this topic. One can say that Vatican I (1869-70) and Vatican II (1962-65) were a ‘response’ to this changing of eras.
We are currently experiencing the intensity of this ongoing transition. A German sociologist and political scientist, Hartmut Rosa and a Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor have been writing on this very topic. Taylor writes of the secular age and the faltering and mistrust of institutions. Along with this is a rise of individuality, the making of the modern self, and an accompanying malaise. Rosa, following Taylor’s lead, writes also of the malaise and isolation of modernity stemming from the accelerating of life in our technological age. Life and everything in it is faster, people are more connected through technology and yet lonelier, more tired, disconnected, and isolated. This can easily be seen in the collapse of marriages and families, the falling birth rates, and political and economic instability. People are running faster and faster only to fall further behind.
One of the keys in this new era is that the horizon is not marked by the presence of God. In this secular age, people live, act and carry on as though there is no God. This lack of faith has real and severe implications, not least among them is the dismissal of objective truth and meaning, or as Pope Benedict famously labeled it, the dictatorship of relativism. These shifting sands make it challenging, if not impossible in many instances to hold even the simplest conversation or to have meaningful and productive relationships (personal, spiritual, economic, political, social, and even sexual). The dismissal of reality and objective truth does not free people but isolates them in their own prison of self. The secular world is not a world without faith or belief, it is a world where everyone is their own god. In this secular world, all others must acknowledge and indeed worship and praise the choices of these ‘self gods’. There is no questioning, only acceptance and obedience are allowed. We have moved from Christendom to Oz, A Brave World, and Orwellian dystopia!
Today’s crisis of faith is not simply that people do not believe in the One True God, but they know the deity they do believe in, themselves, is a false god. This nagging, yet unspoken truth results in a doubling down on change! When life is unsatisfactory, the remedy in this religion of the secular age is to change; your job, your hair color, your partner, and your sexual identity.
Christianity too speaks of change but not in the same way. Jesus calls us not to change the externals of our lives, but our hearts. Jesus offers not a life of constant and ever-accelerating change but a new life of freedom and grace. In Jesus, we do not have to invent our own truth but are invited to embrace Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The truth, Jesus teaches us, does not enslave, but sets us free. God’s love for us is not a fluid, transitory condition. God’s love is the constant truth of our lives. God alone is our rock of safety. In an age of constant change, God and his love for us are perfect and eternal.
In Pace Christi,