Editor’s Note: Shikha Patel is a student at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ont., and was second in the Fr. Ted Colleton Scholarship contest.
Canada, the land of the free. We live in a country fundamentally envisioned as a society of diversity, equality, and tolerance. However, upon closer observation, it becomes evident that in order to maintain this equality and prevent certain ideologies from dominating others, religion and morality are relegated to the realm of the private. Unveiling the implications of this makes it shockingly clear how far we have drifted into a culture of spiritual death.
The culture of death is characterized by the rejection of human beings as persons, and the depersonalization of life and death. We’ve taken these functions as our own: it is now we who define good and evil; we who define birth, life, and death; and we who shall create ourselves according to the image we happen to desire. There is no guiding notion of universal truth and common good, since what is good is considered a private and opinionated matter. This individualistic notion of freedom influences a huge part of our lives today, whether we realize it or not. There are widespread social and moral consequences, ranging from the legalization and popularization of abortion, to declining marriage rates, to increased demand for euthanasia. If society continues to feed the culture of death, these consequences can only continue to worsen. As Mother Teresa says, “if we can accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
Our society has noticeably lost sight of earlier Judeo-Christian principles and values. However, the changing of a culture is a work requiring great complexity and subtlety. The framework of today’s culture of death was laid out in the popularized philosophies of Frederick Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, which claim the nonexistence of moral law.
Nietzsche’s philosophy begins with the premise that reality is inherently impermanent; that is to say, it is in a constant state of “becoming.” According to him, the idea of stability or purely “being” is simply an illusion. Because nothing at all is permanent, this ideology renders knowledge impossible. Reality becomes unintelligible because there is only “becoming” but no “being” to know. A number of consequences follow from this. The nonexistence of permanence equates to the nonexistence of the underlying natural essence of things. In other words, there is no objective, enduring, and universal truth to maintain. This concept applies especially to matters of morality and ethics. There are no universal standards of right or wrong in light of which certain human choices can be deemed morally good or bad.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical views claim the similar nonexistence of a definite human nature. According to Sartre, existence precedes essence. Because man’s existence takes precedence, there is no prior human nature he must live in accordance with. Instead, man is completely free to determine his essence by the free choices he makes. Traditionally, a morally good act is one that promotes the fullness of one’s nature, but according to Sartre, there is no underlying human nature. By extension, there is no moral or natural law.
Sartre’s philosophical system concludes that each person has the right to determine his own nature, giving rise to radical individualism. Under the mentality of individualism, when someone instructs me on what is good or evil, he is only imposing on me the values he determined for himself through individual choices. There is no reason for me to think or choose in the same way as him or anybody else. This is because, as stated above, there are no pre-existing precepts or obligations rooted in humanity, a person simply has the right to make himself into whomever he chooses. Thus, individualism has an evident focus on rights and freedoms without responsibility.
Individualism, living for oneself, and hedonism, living for one’s enjoyment, took root in North American culture in the late 1960s. Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Liberal Pierre Elliot Trudeau, sparked controversy when he famously said “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” This caused issues like abortion, homosexuality and divorce law to be reconsidered in light of new individualistic mindsets. The new mentality of the people, sparked by liberal leaders, was that morality was no more than a construction of subjective personal opinion and cultural consensus. The groundwork laid by Nietzsche and Sartre’s philosophies is prominent here. The mentality was essentially that everyone had the right to seek one’s own enjoyment without universal moral obligations to observe. Creating dramatic contrast from previous ways of life, a cultural revolution took place in the sixties. There was a newly accepted principle of human freedom.
From 1982 to modern day, this individualistic notion of freedom has also been present as part of Canada’s constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The outlook of the Charter is that people are free to do as they please because of a lacking emphasis on the duties and responsibilities of the people. The idea of having rights without responsibilities begets a poor moral attitude. Although true freedom is of universal importance, the Charter is an oversimplified representation of the freedom people seek.
Genuine human freedom comes from knowing goodness and pursuing it through grace and virtue. From this perspective, the right to freedom implies the duty to pursue truth and virtue. Though we come from different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs, we are all united by this basic human nature. We have the same basic struggle to live and natural inclinations to pursue the fullness of the good. Owing to the spawning of the culture of death, many of us fail to realize that there is no fullness of human goodness without moral goods. Given the deep-set framework by which its vices are built, is there still hope for a culture of life? In short, the answer is yes.
The key to fostering a culture of life is the empowerment of today’s younger generation, which will carry the foundations of a culture of life into the future. If we can promote life issues as a fundamental value deserving of attention, the culture of death will undoubtedly be abolished over time. In the same way the social issues of racial discrimination and bullying have been advocated against, it is also necessary to educate people about issues of morality in society. The success of youth activism lies in not only educating youth, however, but in truly convincing them of the value of these issues. We must convey that the culture of death impacts everyone by stemming into multitudes of social justice issues. Those affected by abortion, euthanasia, and other manifestations of moral negligence are none other than young people themselves. It is their family, their friends, and their community which suffers.
When the opportunity to act out against moral depravity is presented, all supporters of the culture of life must provide each other with strength. It can be intimidating to stand up for what is right when so many believe in what is wrong; hence, supporting the youth is very crucial. In order to foster the culture of life, it is necessary to be courageous and enthusiastic in spreading the message of goodness and morality.