You don’t have to be an expert observer to notice the social deviations clearly taking place in today’s Europe. The parameters are being changed in central areas of our life and boundaries are being torn down which have shown themselves meaningful in European history and other high cultures. Christian principles, established by faith and reason, were implemented in Europe over time through much work and sacrifice. Today they are labelled as old-fashioned or pushed aside through impertinent demagogues. The silent majority’s ignorance, passivity or simply misunderstood tolerance often propels these trends.
We know that non-judgmental politics or value-free public debates are a myth. Yet we Christians have the duty to contribute our values in a very efficient way, as the others are constantly doing the same! The following notes by a young German theologian and theatre scholar should help us to better understand how we can bring forward our arguments and how urgent it is to overcome the relativism prevalent today.
Where arbitrariness reigns, the outcome is very often contradictory not only to the Gospel, but also to our common sense! Plato already knew that a democracy reigned by relativism is bound for immanent death.
That is why we must pray for Europe – “Our Father” – and advocate our Christian values in little and big ways.
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The Zeitgeist and Christianity: some critical notes
by Fr. Alcuin Schachenmayr, O.Cist.
The image of the Christian in the media
- The secular criticism of Christian values is preoccupied with sexual morals. The critics have meanwhile recognized divisions among Christian camps, so they no longer present Christian morals as simply old-fashioned or prude: it is common today to cite theologians, working within the Church, who argue for the abandonment of moral principles. Sadly, the division among Christians is still doing damage to Jesus’ cause.
- In discussions about Christian morality, the newspaper reader quickly draws the conclusion; ‘Where there are morals there is judgmental rejection of innocent people who are presented as sinners.’ The aspect of Jesus’ mercy and that he has come for sinners – that he loves them most of all – gets lost in the media.
- Another criticism of Christianity is that it glorifies suffering. It is not understood as an inescapable matter that forms character. Our sufferings are the wounds of Christ on our body. The poor and the sick are privileged in the body of Christ and they will always be with us. A world preoccupied with ‘feeling good’ has little appreciation for the value of suffering as redemption.
- Contemporary European societies don’t value the sacrifices necessary for living in a chaste way. Although sexual purity was classically understood as an ideal of beauty, chastity has been out for decades. Self-control is no longer evidence of a strong character. Contemporary role models are popular precisely they don’t worry about self-control. The pseudo-scientific apology for homosexuality portrays men as victims of their own temptations. They have no choice but to surrender. The Christian alternative is called sublimation. Self-control leads to higher creativity because energy is redirected toward the intellect, work, and creativity. As for priestly celibacy: if people can’t appreciate sublimation, then they won’t understand celibacy.
- Current society hardly understands the religious meaning of sacrifice. A Christian doesn’t sacrifice for its own sake, but because he knows his spiritual sacrifices will be accepted by God and transformed. It will never be in vain.
- The old feminist pro-abortion slogan, ‘My belly is mine’, which at least appealed to the dignity of the adult person’s body (if not the fetus), has now been outdated by Gender Mainstreaming. When we look at it from a historical point of view the Post-Gender-Discussion shows us that feminism has emptied itself of meaning. The liberation of women has lost its subject. ‘Gender-Scholars’ argue for the arbitrary roles of man and woman; men and women don’t really exist as solid identities. They seek to disconnect gender from personal identity. Instead, self-creation is in: ‘My body is my art’. Therefore, the body can no longer be understood as God’s image. The body has become a technological field of production, no longer revered as God’s creation. It’s being banalized, manipulated and in the extreme case cloned. In the end, such thinking is a consequence of the gradual disconnection of love, sexuality and reproduction. It is a ‘mentality of contraception’, the logical result of widespread artificial birth control.
- The human character, with its respectively unique personality, is not received gratefully as a grace and charisma, but it is being ‘ordered’. Christians understand charisma as a gift that increases by giving itself away to others. We can’t order charisma, we receive it from God and others, often in unexpected situations.
High culture versus postmodern arbitrariness
- Today the word culture is being neutralized. The pre-stages to higher culture such as mutual support, prayer, traditions and social efforts have been forgotten. When the tastes, desires and customs of any group are already considered to constitute a culture, soon this group will claim the moral imperative that their ‘culture’ be protected, even if their way of living is morally unacceptable. This leads to a confusing relativism. What should be part of a high culture (literacy, social behaviour, mutual accountability) isn’t self-evident anymore. Currently, the “Great Ape Project” is an extreme example: it seeks to abolish what it calls the “barriers between human and non-human animals”. In Spain, we are seeing attempts to grant some human rights to apes. And due to a widespread attitude of passivity and misconceived tolerance, the dissenting majority keeps silent.
P. DDr. Alcuin Schachenmayr, O.Cist. is Professor for Church History at the Pontifical Philosophical-Theological Academy at Heiligenkreuz Abbey just outside of Vienna.