In the last half of the 19th century, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche famously declared, “God is dead.” Not so, it turned out. By 1900, Nietzche, not God, was dead. Still, the 20th century tried to sustain the German philosopher by doing everything to banish God from public space, especially in the First World. The result was what the Catholic convert and brilliant editor of First Things, Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, has called, in his book of the same title, the “Naked Public Square.”
This was notably so in the United States where more than one hundred years ago Alexis de Tocqueville saw religion as “the first political institution.” There, public prayer was now banned in schools and other public institutions on constitutional grounds. For their part, the Europeans have decided that mentioning Europe’s Christian roots in the European Constitution was politically incorrect.
As the most violent of all centuries ended, many felt the movement against God had finally succeeded. In its millennium issue, The Economist of London, one of the most influential magazines in the Western world, was bold enough to run an obituary of God. But again, as Mark Twain would have said, the obit was grossly exaggerated.
Towards the end of 2007, the Economist admitted its mistake. In its Nov. 3, 2007 special review of religion and public life, the magazine reported that far from turning away from religion, more and more people had been turning to it. From 1900 to 2005, the magazine noted, the number of people identified with the world’s four biggest religions----Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism— had risen from 67 percent to 73 percent of world population.
Evidently, the number of believers continues to rise. But so also the intensity of the ideological attack on God and religious belief. Gone are the great religious wars, but the war against religion itself has arrived. Science and technology has become the bearer of the New Age, proclaiming a way of life without God, or with God totally on the outside.
With man now able to make another man (in test tubes), his relationship to himself has been fundamentally altered, so wrote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Post-modern man now looks upon himself as “his own product --- no longer a gift of nature, or of the Creator God.”
It is a crisis ---a world crisis--- of man’s truth. Men and women no longer seem to know what and who they are –whether in relation to themselves or in relation to others, most especially the Wholly Other, God. Whereas Christianity, according to Sheed, produced a civilization that listened to God while looking at man, post-modernity simply shattered its ear drums.
Filled with self-love, we seem, forsooth, to have left no space for anyone or anything else. In Eliot’s words, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, all our ignorance brings us nearer to death, but nearness to death no nearer to God.”
Examine our social discourse, our politics, our economics, etc. We seem to have replaced the first principle of practical reason (to do good and avoid evil) with the pleasure principle, the driving force behind the “sexual revolution” and its “dogma of hedonism,” which has sought to turn everything upside down.
American sitcoms, soap operas and movies, observes the philosopher Peter Kreeft, never glorify murder or rape or stealing or even lying. But they never fail to glorify fornication, adultery, sodomy, abortion, etc. They tell you to control your drug addictions, and your gun addictions, and your smoking addictions and even your overeating addictions, but never your sex addictions, he writes.
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Francisco Tatad is a writer and a former senator of the Philippines.