Editor’s Note: Anselm Ragetli is a student at St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg. He finished first in the Fr. Ted Colleton Scholarship contest out of 69 entrants. The second and third place finishers will appear in a forthcoming edition of the paper. The Fr. Ted Colleton Scholarship is co-sponsored by The Interim and Niagara Region Right to Life.
Western Civilization is currently in a state of profound crisis. In order to examine at least some of the causes of this crisis, as well as propose genuine solutions, it is important to understand what this crisis is: a reality in which humanity has essentially divorced himself from God. This is not a recent development, but rather began to develop several hundred years ago, with the gradual breakdown of Christendom. This deterioration exhibited itself in several drastic shifts within Western culture: the Industrial Revolution, the Sexual Revolution, and finally, in current times, the Technological Revolution. These revolutions, combined with humanity’s widespread loss of the sense of God, are significant factors which have spawned the culture of death.
The Industrial Revolution, originating in England, ultimately brought about drastic and degenerative societal shifts within Europe. The destabilization of the centuries-old historic way of life, and the effective slavery of the working class caused by this revolution, reduced common people to objects. In response to the devastating effects of the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII promulgated the encyclical Rerum Novarum: “…justice demands that, in dealing with the working man, religion and the good of his soul must be kept in mind. Hence, the employer is bound to see that the worker has time for his religious duties; that he be not exposed to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions; and that he be not led away to neglect his home and family, or to squander his earnings.” While working conditions did ultimately improve, a moral vacuum was created in which religion, to a great degree, was no longer a part of all aspects of people’s lives, nor at the centre of society. The changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution set in motion the gradual breakdown of Western Christian Society.
A materialistic mentality, originating in the Industrial Revolution, contributed to the development of a society ready to accept the selfish ideology of the Sexual Revolution. In a society whose primary concern had become the fulfillment of individualistic desires, western culture, by the mid-1900s had become a materialistic, albeit well-ordered, society. With the focus now solidly on the comforts of this life, Pope Leo XIII, in Rerum Novarum, warned against the development of a culture in which humanity no longer looked to eternity, but instead to creating its ultimate happiness in this life: “The things of earth cannot be understood or valued aright without taking into consideration the life to come … exclude the idea of futurity, and forthwith the very notion of what is good and right would perish.” A great dilemma was created for the youth of the 1960s: what now constituted the meaning and depth of life? The sexual revolution entered into this moral void, leading to great insult towards the inherent dignity of the human person.
With artificial contraception generally accepted, including by many Catholics, the Church through the words of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae proved to be entirely prophetic in its insistence on authentic marital relations and family life: “Let (us) consider … how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” Pope Paul VI also said he “feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-contraceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman … considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” Pope Paul VI was largely ignored, leading to the death of millions of unborn babies, the contraceptive society of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, no longer seeing procreation and the unborn child as a precious gift, and accepting the legalization of abortion on demand. In recent times, euthanasia and infanticide are openly discussed and often practiced. These, along with abortion, are the most terrible manifestations of the culture of death today.
Approximately 20 years after the Sexual Revolution, another very different development began to occur; the Technological Revolution, which gained momentum in the 1980s and ‘90s. Specifically, biomedical technology began to pose a major threat to the dignity and protection of human life. Pope Benedict XVI warned: “Entranced by an exclusive reliance on technology, reason without faith is doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence.” Biomedical technology can be extremely dangerous and destructive of human life if not guided by authentic moral and ethical principles, safeguarding humanity’s inherent freedom, and right to life. In vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and surrogate motherhood create significant moral and ethical issues. “We must not underestimate the disturbing scenarios that threaten our future, or the powerful new instruments that the ‘culture of death’ has at its disposal.” Biomedical technology, while having the capacity to do great good, instead often contributes, in grave error, to the culture of death.
In viewing the prevailing systemic cultural crisis, the words of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae express, at the most profound level, the state of humanity in western society: “In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death’ … we have to go to the heart of the tragedy … the eclipse of the sense of God and of man … when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life.” Faith provides man with a moral code by which to govern his actions, and it is faith, therefore, which is most needed by modern man.
In fostering a culture of life, it is important to understand humanity’s deep and profound need for God. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, calls the faithful to engage the culture on every level: “As signs of courage and intellectual creativity … in places of culture … education … scientific and technological research … artistic creativity and work in the humanities.” Actively building a culture of life, rather than fighting the culture of death, will ultimately bring about a more permanent and authentic change.
It is crucial to propose a culture of life to all spheres of society, including the economic, cultural, and political arenas. One of the more effective means of transforming the culture of our time, is by having Catholic schools embrace the culture of life. This must be done first through education of staff, and then by the use of organized groups, involving and teaching students about the culture of life. In doing this, it is possible to effectively reach a vast portion of society, at an age where the students are open to new ideas, and receptive to the message of a culture for life. By doing this, students would become aware of the conflict between the culture of life, and the culture of death in our modern society, and the critical need for them to engage this struggle. Upon their graduation, these students who would have been exposed to, and educated in, a culture of life will have a significant effect on society. While greed, selfishness, and a profound lack of moral integrity contributed to the spawning of the culture of death, it will be the charity, selflessness, and truth of today’s youth, which can cultivate and spread a strong culture of life.