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Hand in hand with the unfortunate “myth of modern man,” to which I have drawn attention in The Trojan Horse in the City of God and in Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith, goes the disastrous idea of the great progress man is supposed to have achieved in the present day. The illusion that our time represents progress in comparison with earlier times is an important factor in the devastation of the vineyard of the Lord. In The Trojan Horse, Chapter 17, we discussed the essence of true progress in detail. We spoke of progress in an absolute sense, such as progress in the sanctification of the soul of the individual person and in the spreading of the Kingdom of God on earth, i.e., the growth of the Mystical Body of Christ, the holy Church, and we distinguished this from progress for all human life and happiness. Finally, we spoke of immanent progress in a special area, such as natural science, technology, and medicine.
We have also discussed the erroneous character of the Hegelian theory of the development of the World Spirit, as well as that of the much farther-reaching evolutionary progress in Teilhard de Chardin.
Here we do not intend to go into these false theories again in detail; they have no objective foundations whatever. Rather, let us examine the blindness regarding the present state of the world, the conceit, “how marvelously far we have come,” to quote Famulus Wagner in Faust, the concretely false evaluation of our epoch and all its tendencies. We intend to try to elaborate briefly on the true situation of humanity today in comparison with former times, and to show how impossible it is to speak of progress on the whole.
Let us first of all consider forms of immanent progress within a particular realm. Thus we note without a doubt the enormous progress in the spheres of medicine and technology, and in many of the natural sciences. This kind of progress, which has an almost automatic character about it, and besides occurs in shorter and shorter periods of time, gives the present epoch a glorious appearance.
On the other hand, what price is being paid for this progress? This is quite another matter. Many of these advances, while they present numerous advantages and conveniences for human life, nevertheless entail great disadvantages as well. 12 Ecology speaks of these disadvantages; they are so great that they threaten to destroy the physical existence of mankind. To mention just one example: the pollution of the atmosphere by factories and automobiles, the killing of fish and other living creatures in lakes, in rivers, and on the seashore by all the chemical products in the sewage.
But from a human point of view, many of the achievements of modern technology bring both advantages and disadvantages at the same time. For example, the electric light undoubtedly makes life easier in comparison with illumination by petroleum lamps or candles. But on the other hand it considerably reduces the freedom of the individual. Countless people can be left in darkness if something goes wrong at the central power plant. As long as each person had his own petroleum lamp or candle, he was not dependent on a central power plant. The same is true of the water supply. Max Scheler has already drawn attention to the fact that the advances in technology make the life of the individual more comfortable, but they are simultaneously paid for by a reduction of freedom.
Then, too, valuable technical discoveries are coupled with disadvantages on the human level from a completely different point of view. The automobile is certainly a great gift for man, even apart from the advantages of comfort and practicality. By means of the automobile we are able to come to an intimate knowledge of countries with very beautiful landscapes. This, in comparison to what was afforded by the train, is a great gift for many, especially for those who have a deep sense of beauty in nature and architecture, for it makes possible a much more intimate contact with these things. But technical progress has killed much of the intimacy of this very contact; the traveler's separation from the living environment turns out to be just as great as it was with the train. In addition, the resulting temptation to drive with great speed on a freeway further reduces the intimacy of the contact with surrounding nature. It is the old conflict between utility and deep contact with values. If I must reach a certain goal, speed is a great advantage. But for the full life, for the experience of deep impressions, for being caught up by the reality which surrounds us, for the priceless gift of experiencing the present moment, a trip in the time of Goethe was of course incomparably more delightful and fruitful. There is an enormous difference between driving through an area at a speed which corresponds to our human structure and allows one, with many stops, to linger in an area with its special qualities, poetry, and reality, and, on the other hand, racing through an area, completely preoccupied by the destination one hopes to reach. It is the whole opposition between the principle of practical utility and the true, deep life, in which goods possessing a high value speak to us, where we truly live, where there is a present moment.
The airplane is certainly a great gift for mankind. In all situations where it is important to reach someone far away as fast as possible, it is, even from a purely human point of view, a priceless advantage. If a beloved person is mortally ill, it is possible, with the airplane, to reach his side while he is still alive. What an inconceivable gift! The airplane also affords many advantages from a cultural point of view. Great conductors, great violinists, and great actors can thus give joy to men in many places through their art.
And what an advantage to be able to reach by airplane distant lands which used to be accessible only to those who had unlimited time or who were sailors or naval doctors. Yet on the other hand, consider the “overdimensionalizing” of our human relationship to time, and the consequent spoiling of the experience of the reality of a completely different world, atmosphere, and culture. North America is a world in itself, completely different from the world of South America, and especially from that of Europe. We can no longer do justice to the richness of the world which is given through these different cultures if we have breakfast in New York and supper in Paris. The loss of the sense of the reality of one's surroundings which goes hand in hand with the “overdimensionalizing” of man's relationship to time and space is a very interesting problem. But we cannot go into all this here, for it does not belong specifically to the present theme, which is the illusion of progress. This problem belongs to a consideration of the “reverse side” of many positive advances, to an ecology of the spiritual-human realm.
Our theme is the radical decline and decadence of the human, spiritual, and cultural realm, an unprecedented disintegration, a dehumanization which no rational man can call progress unless he has closed his eyes and buried his head in the sand like an ostrich, or has repressed everything. It is sufficient for our purposes to show the apocalyptic process of dehumanization and the victory of collectivism and anarchy in our time. We therefore do not intend to go into the question of whether there is a relation between the advances which have a “reverse side,” and this catastrophic, clearly negative process of human disintegration.
It is not difficult to see that the phrases, “adaptation of the Church to the modern age,” impossibility of proclaiming the message of Christ to such an “advanced” era, in a word, aggiornamento, as the progressivists use this term, all have a different meaning, according to whether the present situation of the world represents true progress or terrible regress.
We have clearly shown in The Trojan Horse, as well as in Celibacy, that Divine Revelation, even in form, may not ever be changed to adapt it to the spirit of the age, 13 even if it really were an age of magnificent progress. But the enormous danger of mistaking regress for progress is nevertheless having disastrous consequences for the Church, as we shall see.
The present epoch is usually praised for the respect shown the human person, the dignity of man, and the freedom which he has achieved. But one sober glance at reality suffices to show that this is out of the question. For one thing, half of humanity is in the hands of the Communists. It is not necessary to prove that this means that the individual is enslaved in a way the world has never witnessed before. Present-day technology makes possible a degree of control over each individual person, over what he says and observes, and how he behaves in his private life, which the greatest tyrants of former times could not have enforced. All those in higher positions, moveover, who are not slave laborers, are even more enslaved spiritually; they are under continual supervision and are never out of the greatest danger. Only one loyalty still exists: loyalty to the state or party. Every other devotion, every other interest is already treason. A comparison with the very deplorable conditions of 150 years ago, in which serfdom certainly existed in Russia and China, and slavery in America, does not alter the fact that the disregard for the person and for human (as distinguished from political) rights has in one respect never reached such a degree as in the totalitarian states. 14 Here is the victory of collectivism, an utter devaluation of the individual, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
In addition to this is the continual “brainwashing,” the use of mechanical means of persuasion, working through the mass media, the press, and education in the schools. This mechanical form of influence on the mind, effective by means of continual repetition, is indeed an unprecedented high point of disdain for personal dignity.
Unfortunately this decline in respect for the dignity of the person is not limited to the Communist countries. Even in democratic countries the victory of collectivism and the totalitarian spirit is asserting itself more and more. One need only reflect on the role of the mass media, and on the subliminal kind of advertising which, though in itself less harmful than brainwashing, is nevertheless a mechanical form of influence which bypasses the spiritual center of man and excludes a rational attitude. This kind of influence already contains in its formal structure an element of disdain for the dignity of the person.
Here we must distinguish between two kinds of invasion of the dignity of the person. On the one hand there is the attitude of the state toward the individual person, the totalitarian invasion of the individual's most elementary human rights. Secondly, there are currents among the general public which are tolerated by the state and which include this disregard for the dignity of man. Let us turn our attention first to the invasion of the totalitarian spirit in to the relations between the state, the family, and the individual.
The legalization of abortion, which is slowly but surely making headway, is indeed the most dangerous expression of the disregard of the person. If one is allowed to take the life of a human being, not as a punishment for a crime, but from any consideration of practical utility whatever, then respect for human life has been destroyed. In this connection the words of Kierkegaard seem prophetic: “Our age proclaims as wisdom that which in reality is the mystery of iniquity.” 15 Man poses as lord over life and death. It is forgotten that there is a world of difference between the death penalty as punishment for a serious crime, and the destruction of a human life for reasons of utility. If life can be taken from a human being (and the child in the mother's womb is unquestionably a human being) for any utilitarian reason whatever, whether it be economic hardship or some other reason for which the new person is not wanted, then the way is clear for euthanasia carried out against the incurably ill and the mentally ill (as Hitler introduced it and partially carried it out), and also for the killing of men past a certain age, when they are no longer “useful” to society. Man thereby becomes a thing which can be thrown away when it no longer functions properly. 16 This depersonalization, which no longer sees the inviolable value of the individual person in himself but which treats him like a thing is, in itself, a spiritual collapse. Of course, abortion is not yet compulsory; it is only permitted, and sometimes financially supported by the state. But this permission says much about the decline in respect for human life.
Another horrible totalitarian advance is the introduction of sex education in the schools. With this the rights of parents in regard to the education of their children are trampled underfoot, and that is a shocking totalitarian invasion. But much more despicable is the invasion of the soul of the child, to whom one presents a realm, which belongs to the specifically intimate sphere of human life, in a neutralized form in the public class room. It is a realm which is bound up with the “secret” of each person, to whose essence it belongs that one cannot objectify it and teach it like other subjects, such as languages, natural science, or mathematics. Each individual person has to discover this realm in his own special way. A certain veil must be drawn over this sphere and remain over it until the child reaches the level of maturity at which he can understand that this sphere is ordered in a special way to the unique, mutual self-donation of spousal love. The “scientific” instruction already being given to children from the age of six, which treats the sexual sphere as a purely biological matter to be handled in a prosaic, matter-of-fact manner, distorts this sphere and the right relationship to it.
The damage is not only enormous from a moral point of view, but also disastrous from a purely human viewpoint. The neutralization of the sexual realm which is already present in virtue of the publicity of the classroom, and especially in virtue of treating this realm as an academic subject, is dehumanizing. And it is a shocking totalitarian invasion on the part of the state.
One of the most deplorable consequences of this dehumanization (and here we turn to the second kind of dehumanization — the one embodied in prevalent attitudes) is the fact that the feeling of shame is dying out. In my book In Defence of Purity, I spoke of the various kinds of shame: shame about something ugly, shame about something intimate, shame about something good. We should be ashamed of our errors and sins. We should experience shame when someone praises our virtue and brings it out into the open, or when we ourselves make public things which are by their very nature intimate. All kinds of being ashamed are deeply human, classical attitudes, especially the shame which encourages us to keep intimate things out of the public eye.
It is a stupid mistake to interpret this latter kind of shame, which is especially related to the sexual sphere, as prudery, as contempt of this sphere, as a sign that one views it as tabu. It is certainly true that prudery and a negative attitude toward the sensual sphere are attitudes which have been widespread among certain people, especially in the Victorian era. But genuine, noble shame is a fundamental human attitude which is radically different from these aberrations. We may never judge the essence and value of a thing on the basis of the fact that there are also perversions and falsifications of it. Plato's comment remains true, that “the greatest evil is the hatred of reason,” although rationalism is also a great evil. True and noble shame towards the sexual sphere, with which even the pagans were acquainted (just think of the gestures of the hands of many of the Venus figures, which covered the breasts and the pubic region), is a classical human characteristic, an adequate response to the mysterious intimacy of this sphere. A glance at the present suffices to bear witness to the unexampled shocking shamelessness in movies, the theater, on television, in the press, in advertisements for pornographic literature, and in many universities. Is this progress? Is it not rather a pitiful decline, a shocking sign of decay? Only a fool could, in the light of all this, still speak of the progress of our epoch. In comparison to this moral and human brutishness, what is the importance of the fact that man can now fly to the moon? Is man happier thereby? Or better on a human level?
A similar disrespect for the dignity of man is also present in the “sensitivity training” now being introduced in many places. Here one tries, through bodily contact, to create a community between men who do not know each other. This betrays an attempt from without to effect the mind mechanically by means of the body.
Social mores are also an important part of life. Of course, one should not overrate their importance, but they do have a legitimate place in the human sphere and their decline betrays an interior decay.
We need only think of the widespread outward disrespect of children for their parents, or of countless incidents such as that of a professor at an American university who was not fired, even though he spat in the dean's face during a disagreement, or of the student revolutions and their methods, or of the way in which some lawyers can berate and threaten judges with impunity! Just think of the political and public situation, where the kidnapping of innocent and uninvolved people is used as a pressure tactic to achieve a political goal, or of the hijacking of airplanes, endangering the lives of many totally innocent people. Or think of the lie of the United Nations, whose facade of justice and peace covers up the most infamous crimes, such as Biafra, or the expulsion of Taiwan from the U.N.; it pretends to be the unprejudiced last court of appeal, but at this court sit many who in principle do not acknowledge the principle of justice. When all this is seen, no rational man can overlook the fact that mankind is going downhill.
We have already spoken of the cowardice of those who make no use of their legitimate, God-willed authority.
One of the most doubtful phenomena of the alleged progress of our time is amoralism. There has always been immorality; men have committed sins from time immemorial. But the elimination of the fundamental categories of good and evil, which constitute the axis of the spiritual world, is a new development. This blindness to the fundamental reality of evil, reduces serious sins to something neutral (especially in the sexual realm, but in other areas as well) by interpreting them merely as psychologically interesting occurrences. In this, men believe themselves to be especially objective, because they have confused objectivity with neutrality.
And is the progressive disintegration of the family somehow to be considered “progress”? Is the increase of mental disease and suicide a symptom of how wonderfully far we have come? Ecology has already proved that technological advances have been bought at the price of weighty consequences for our biological existence and health. One of the things we need most today is a spiritual ecology which would demonstrate the disastrous consequences of so-called progress for man as a spiritual person, for his true human development.
Every unprejudiced glance at the state of culture in our time confirms the fact that we are now experiencing an enormous decay, a horrifying set-back, indeed, a disintegration.
I do not intend to go into the process of industrialization which began in the last century, around 1840. It cannot be denied that hand in hand with this industrialization went a loss of the sense of the poetry of nature and of life. It has brought the victory of utility, of comfort over beauty. The slowly increasing destruction of nature by railroads, telephone and electric lines, factories, advertisements of all kinds; the triumph of the machine and the mechanization of life which goes hand in hand with it: all this may be progress in civilization, but it is the ruin of culture.
And what can we say about architecture, which has produced no new and, more importantly, no beautiful style? The nineteenth century generated, for the most part, only poor imitations of the Gothic and other earlier styles. (This is in no sense to deny that great individual artists created magnificent individual edifices, especially fountains. Our concern here, however, is the decay of culture in the present era.) The so-called modern architecture is incomparably more catastrophic than the imitation characteristic of the nineteenth century. The anonymous, soulless, uniform rows of houses are a clear symptom of the dehumanization and desolation of a dull materialism. In order to see the decadence of modern architecture, we need only think of the tremendous treasure which has been produced in earlier times, of the magnificence of the architecture of the Greek temples in Paestum, of the Hagia Sophia, of San Marco in Venice, of Chartres Cathedral, of the Farnese Palace, of such baroque churches as Wies and Ottobeurcn in Bavaria, or the Church of St. Charles in Vienna.
And what man with an artistic sense could not see the decline in the realm of art, whether in the plastic arts or in music? Where can one find in contemporary plastic arts and painting anything which can even remotely be compared with that of earlier times? Throughout all ages there have been incredible materpieces, from Egyptian and Greek antiquity through the period of the magnificent sculptures in the cathedrals of Bamberg, Chartres, and Rheims, and the statues of Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Schlueter. Even in the nineteenth century, extending up through the beginnings of the twentieth, there were great individual sculptors whose works are filled with genuine poetry. Whoever is not blind, however, sees the sorry state of the contemporary plastic arts, especially painting. How great is the painting of men like Cézanne, Renoir, van Gogh, Hans von Marées, let alone the glory of a Piero della Francesca, Giorgione, Tiziano, Rafael, Rubens, and Rembrandt.
And who can find anything in contemporary music which could be compared with Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, and Bruckner? When I speak of contemporary music, I am thinking above all of atonal music, and not of musicians such as Richard Strauss, Pfitzner, Braunfels, etc.
That which calls itself “art” today is largely an artificial, desperate attempt to create original things. But true beauty, poetry, and depth have disappeared, 17 except in the field of literature, where we still find true art today, as in the grandiose work of Solzhenitsyn.
Let us not forget what a source of happiness for man dries up when he lives in a world without poetry. To ascribe great importance to beauty as a source of happiness is not aestheticism, as many banal people claim. A psychiatrist, Dr. Bettelheim in Chicago, has even proved that beauty is very important for spiritual health. He uses reproductions of the paintings of great masters of the past in therapy with his patients. True beauty is thus not only a great and deep source of happiness, but also an important nourishment for the health of our souls.
And what are we to say about many of the philosophies which are widespread today? Symbolic logic, which is no true philosophy, offers no analysis of the great and truly philosophical problems. Heideggerianism, materialism, and many forms of relativism and immanentism are taught by ninety per cent of the philosophy professors in Europe and America — they should rather be called the undertakers of philosophy. This kind of “philosophizing” systematically destroys common sense, and with the incredible increase in the number of students a stupidity becomes widespread which above all ruins a healthy contact with life. But philosophy in itself is much more independent of the ruling tendencies of the age, of course, and there is still plenty of room for true philosophy.
What we have said may suffice to show how bizarre it is to regard our age as one of progress in comparison with former times, unless one limits oneself to the immanent progress in certain spheres such as natural science, technology, and, above all, medicine. But nobody can overlook the awful decay from a human viewpoint: the shocking depersonalization, the victory of collectivism, the progressive dehumanization, the decline of true happiness, and the sealing off of the true sources of happiness. What is the importance of immanent progress in certain areas in comparison with the decay of human life, with the moral, spiritual, and human deterioration of mankind?
This process is certainly not irreversible: it is not an inescapable fate. On the contrary, because man has a free will, this process can be arrested, thus clearing the way for a new ascent. But this ascent presupposes, in the first place, that we recognize the fantastic nonsense of regarding our era, taken as a whole, in essential and decisive points, as one of progress in comparison with earlier eras. The first step towards overcoming the decay, towards a new flourishing, is to recognize the entire seriousness of the situation, the apocalyptic character of our epoch.
Pope John XXIII said that the Church must leave her mark on every epoch and every land — and not vice versa. But what do we see today? Aggiornamento is interpreted to mean that the Church must be reformed in order to do justice to the great progress of our times, and to speak the right language to modern man, who has “come of age.” Again and again, in sermons, pastoral letters, and lectures of “Catholic” theologians, we hear mention of progress. How enthusiastic was the response of even the highest levels in the Church to the technological progress making the flight to the moon possible, and how weak by comparison is the indignant disavowal of dehumanization. What is being done against the scandal of sex education in the schools? In many countries, the bishops themselves have introduced this criminal mutilation of children's souls into the Catholic schools. Where is collectivism clearly condemned? Can one find a syllabus such as that of the great Pius IX, in which present-day depersonalization in all areas, and the penetration of collectivism are unmasked and systematically opposed?
No, what we are seeing is not the struggle against the Prince of this world who is present in so-called “progress”: not the attempt to imprint the Church's image on the age. We are witnessing the very opposite: the poison of our epoch is slowly seeping into the Church herself, and many have failed to recognize the apocalyptic decline of our time.
The wonderful treasurer of art and architecture — these documents of a truly Christian culture — have gone in large part unprotected and unpreserved. A kind of art which is not merely de-Christianized, but actually de-humanized is being proclaimed as “Christian” in churches which no longer possess any sacral character whatever. This is not to assert that the churches in the false Gothic style of the nineteenth century, or those which were unfortunate imitations of Romanesque, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque churches, were adequate to their task. But they nevertheless testify to a well-meant, pious intention, even though the builders lacked a truly artistic talent. What we are experiencing today, on the other hand, is not, for the most part, the absence of artistic talent, but an intentional desacralization, a spirit of this-worldliness, a confusion of dull prose with holy simplicity. These things only give testimony to the penetration of the spirit of the age, with all its disastrous aspects, into the Church.
Instead of fighting against this spiritual decline, instead of giving support to the effort to conquer this apocalyptic decay, instead of letting the lumen Christi (light of Christ) shine forth without distortion, instead of holding fast to her glorious tradition, the Church is in too many instances letting herself be infected by this very spirit of the age.
One of the most hideous manifestations of dehumanization is artificial insemination. This belongs to the above-mentioned class of direct abuses, as distinguished from that negative “reverse side” of technological progress which is inevitable. We will limit ourselves here to a brief indication of the horror of artificial insemination, by pointing out the various awful disvalues which it contains. 18
The first disvalue is the separation of the process of conception from the conjugal act. To disdain the great and very wonderful mystery of the creation of a new person being entrusted to this act, itself the expression and the unique fulfillment of spousal love, signifies a most sordid dehumanization. In various publications I have written much about marriage, about the divinely ordained role of the sensual sphere, and the conjugal act. 19 There is a deep and high value in the fact that the becoming one flesh of two lovers is the origin of a new person, and even in the fact that this mutual self-donation is linked to great bodily pleasure. This value is destroyed by artificial insemination. This is a dehumanization of the worst kind: the creation of a new person even sinks below the level of the animal world: it descends to the level of the artificial, technological sphere.
The second disvalue lies in the fact that the child has nothing more to do with the man whom the woman loves. It is the child of a stranger, an unknown person. A hideous depersonalization lies not only in the fact that the woman is thus in such intimate contact with a stranger that his sperm unites with her ovum, and that she carries this new, individual human creature under her heart, but also in the fact that the unknown man becomes a mere instrument, a mere bearer of sperm, whereby he descends to the level of an antibiotic which one injects to combat a disease.
Third, the wish for a child, which both loving parents have, is something beautiful, noble, and pleasing to God. But a woman's desire to have a child at any price, not necessarily the child of her husband whom she loves and who loves her, but a child as such, is already of a very doubtful nature. But when the wish to become pregnant and give life to a child goes so far that she accepts the injection of the sperm of a stranger in order to become pregnant, then it is definitely a perversion.
There is an abyss between the case of a childless married couple who adopt a strange child together, and the case in which a woman submits herself to an artificial insemination because her wish to bear a child is so isolated that she consents to such a hideous degradation. At bottom, this wish entails not only the break-up of marriage, but also the breakup of the family.
This accursed — and still relatively infrequent — practice reveals an increasingly widespread mentality which is preparing the complete suicide of all human dignity and true humanity. But above all, it is an abomination before God. We are thinking of the plans according to which the permission of the state would have to be obtained for the purpose of begetting children; that is, the begetting of children without the permission of the state would be forbidden. The reason given for this is the danger of overpopulation. But these plans in reality go far beyond this. For instance, there are plans for a bank in which sperm would be prepared with the most promising genes of specialists. This alone — by means of artificial insemination — would be allowed for women seeking to conceive.
This plan, which thank God is still only a plan, reveals clearly the terrible spirit which is spreading more and more, and which brings the realization of such plans completely within the realm of possibility.
Here diabolical dehumanization becomes plain for all to see. First, artificial insemination, with all its horrible dehumanization, would be prescribed by law for all. That represents a totalitarian invasion into the intimate sphere of the life of the individual which even surpasses the totalitarianism of the Communists. Compared to this the Nazi regulation that an SS man was permitted to marry only a woman who was a certain number of centimeters shorter than he, was a harmless limitation of human freedom.
Secondly, in this plan everything is placed into the hands of “experts,” who are thus assigned the role of Providence. In my book, The New Tower of Babel, I discussed this modern spiritual tendency: to want to play God. It is especially important to see how two apparently contradictory tendencies go hand in hand: on the one hand the trampling on the dignity of man, a depersonalization; on the other, the boundless presumption of men wanting to play God, to suppose they know how to do everything better than the Creator. These two phenomena go hand in hand because they both stem from man's denial of his metaphysical situation and his relation to God, and because man has forgotten or repressed his awareness of his creaturehood and of his true nobility as imago Dei.
Thirdly, this plan reveals a crass materialism. These “experts” are inspired by the nonsensical materialistic notion that the character, the spirit, the personality of man is causally determined through his genes and chromosones. Apart from the fact that much research into the relation between genes and the spiritual person still needs to be done, a fundamental error of all materialism also presents itself: the confounding of a causal relation in the sense of causa efficiens, with the relation by which one thing is a condition for the unhindered development of something else. Color, for example, can only be realized on an extended surface, or on an extended, material something, but extension itself does not produce or cause the color.
Similarly, a spiritual process such as an act of knowledge, presupposes a physiological, chemical process in the brain. If a man has received a blow on the head and lost consciousness for a time, he is not able to know or recognize anything while in this condition. But to maintain that therefore knowledge is a product of a chemical process, that it is a phenomenon which is causally determined by a chemical process, is obviously complete nonsense and leads to an absolute contradiction. If our knowledge were not, as it is, the spiritual capacity to ascertain something, if it were nothing but a psychic process which is produced by the chemistry of our brains, as a pain in my leg is produced by a physiological process in the nervous system, then I could never even know that there are chemical processes in the brain, nor anything about their relation to our spiritual life.
But the error of materialism is not our theme here. 20 In this plan, which reveals a great deal of terrible dehumanization, the whole idolization of science becomes plain. In a very unscientific manner this idolization places into the hands of science problems which are of a purely philosophical character and lie beyond the reach of any science. But the downfall threatening humanity lies especially in the fact that it is no longer a question of false theories only, but rather of their horrible penetration into our practical lives, leading indeed to the worst kind of totalitarian enslavement.
The threat is not only the destruction of human life by false theories which exercise their influence in a spiritual or intellectual way, such as the unfortunate influence of Freud's theories on our practical attitude towards the sensual sphere. The false theories under discussion also have an influence on legislation and thus on the individual person when they lead to totalitarian violations of his private life and his inalienable human rights. What man with a modicum of understanding can here speak of progress? It is worse than a mere disintegration; it is truly a hell into which this “progress” is driving humanity.
One could object that it was claimed in the discussion of the myth of modern man that an epoch has no one uniform Zeitgeist which deeply moulds all the men of that epoch. But now that it is a matter of the illusion of progress, we do speak of a decline and a dehumanization of humanity.
This might admittedly appear contradictory at first glance, but if we look more closely, we see that this is not at all the case. We said before that the modern man, who has supposedly changed so much in his personality that he can no longer understand the language in which the holy Church has spoken to the individual for almost 2000 years, is an illusion, a myth. It may well be true that many false but fashionable philosophies present an obstacle to man's receptivity to the voice of the holy Church. But from that consideration we can only conclude that we cannot fight these false, fashionable philosophies enough. We must tirelessly refute them rationally, in order to eliminate them as obstacles. But we cannot at all conclude that the man who has been confused by these false, fashionable philosophies has thereby become another man, and that the proclamation of divine Truth must thus be adapted to him in a new form, as the religious instruction of a child must take a different form than that of an adult.
Moreover, it is not denied that there is a “spirit of the age,” and that it takes many forms. It is expressed in the style and “feeling of life” of an epoch, as well as in the ideologies which, though they may predominate in one epoch, nevertheless by no means encompass all men living in this period. The decisive thing, however, is that the differences between individual men within one and the same epoch are much greater and deeper than the differences between humanity as it exists in different epochs.
Furthermore, this “modern man” who has come of age is presented as a proof of progress. He is supposed to be a specimen of something “higher,” of a healthy, normal development. And with that we touch on the connection with the illusion of progress, for if there is no essentially new man, then the fact that the fictional modern man is treated as a higher state of evolution betrays the value blindness which is also characteristic of the general illusion of progress. Here a certain type of man is regarded as a normal development of man as such, and thus of humanity as a whole. It is believed that this “modern man,” who in reality does not even exist, is superior and more valuable than the man of former times.
Our discussion of the deformation, the decline, the decay, and the dehumanization of the present world situation is not intended to reintroduce the concept of “modern man,” but rather to unmask the terrible things which many people, unaware of their true nature, view as progress. We are not claiming that all men are deformed today, but rather that a deadly epidemic is widespread, threatening to infect countless men, and that some men, utilizing the enormous immanent advances of technology and natural science, are striving to produce an inhuman situation, a depersonalized and dehumanized world.
The recognition of the fact that an evil spirit rules the world to a large extent — this is of course a consequence of turning away from God — and is destroying the external freedom of man, his dignity, his true happiness, does not at all contradict our denial that a “modem” man exists as a consequence of a universal and essential change of the individual soul, which is moreover supposed to be the result of a normal evolution. The fact that today one half of humanity is in the hands of Communist dictators in no way proves that half of humanity is composed of Communists.
“Progress,” and that tendency which theatens an unheard-of enslavement of mankind, and which in reality aims at a hellish dehumanization and depersonalization, is in no way an irresistible process. It is not a “fate,” as represented by Karl Rahner in a lecture in St. Louis in 1970. We must here emphatically repeat what we stressed before when we were discussing the overall phenomenon of decay and apocalyptic dehumanization: all this horrible mechanization of life, playing God, the attempt by a group of “experts” to enslave every individual person, can be stopped if we struggle against it with all our strength. The clear recognition that the path we have trod leads into an abyss, can bring about a reversal, and a new flowering. Just as ecology fights against that destruction by technology of the external conditions of life, so a spiritual ecology must take up the battle against dehumanization. But we can only hope for victory through the conversion of individual men to God through Christ and to His holy Church. Only Christ can save mankind in this, perhaps its worst danger. The holy Church must take up the relentless battle against all plans for dehumanization and depersonalization.
But we must appeal to all men whose faculties of reason and common sense are still sound and natural, to join us in the battle. Our call extends to those truly cultivated men in whom there still lives a true ideal of humanity as opposed to those mere professors who are filled with intellectual pride.
In the lecture mentioned, Rahner declared that the Church takes a neutral position towards this development; she does not encourage it, but she does not fight it either. Thank God this is only Rahner‘s private assertion. There can be no question of a legitimate neutrality. But it is unfortunately true that the magnitude of this awful tendency is not seen clearly enough within the Church.
All the members of the “fifth column” within the Church, of whom I have already spoken, will naturally welcome this development. It fits in with their own efforts to destroy the holy Church. But all these people, whether they be laymen, priests, or bishops, in reality no longer belong to the holy Church, although they remain within the Church in order to reach their goal more effectively.
We have already mentioned that there are also many priests and bishops who do not belong to the “fifth column” at all, who are only blinded and overrun by these heresies, who want to swim with the times, who fear the judgment of the world more than they fear God. They are the ones who especially maintain that all the current, modern tendencies and developments are progress.
The situation is quite different with those who, in their desire to be positively attuned to the world and to do justice to the immanent progress in fields such as technology and medicine, do not recognize the magnitude of the decline, the true situation of humanity at the present moment. This circle in the Church will condemn the individual elements of decay, but they do not recognize the relation of these elements to the whole direction things are taking. Here we see an effect of the “this-worldiness” of which I will speak in greater detail later. This is, briefly, the emphasis on the improvement of the world, and on earthly progress in the sense of abolishing poverty, social injustice, and war, rather than on the salvation of the individual and the glorificatio of God; it is the emphasis on an earthly future rather than on eternity.
One hears a lot of drivel today about a new awareness of human qualities. One emphasizes that the Second Vatican Council has unmasked the dehumanization which has supposedly wrought havoc in the Church. But “awakened” man, who has come of age, is now supposedly restoring human values to their divinely ordained place in the Church.
But in reality the dehumanization of sinking down to the animal level is a specific sign of our times. Some of the very Catholics who accused the Church of dehumanization no longer want to be full, true men; their ideal is the animal. They let themselves be infected by the widespread fashion which presents a false image of full humanity, and which in reality represents a revolt against being an imago Dei. To see this, one need only read The Human Ape, in which this tendency is carried to its logical conclusions. 21 Here it is not a matter of men being governed by their animal instincts; there have always been men like this. Rather, it is a question of an idol which is being propagated by pseudo-intellectuals. It is a revolt against being the imago Dei, and a glorification of what is animalistic, wherein the animal is taken as a model. 22 This dehumanization goes hand in hand with a despiritualization. It is very indicative of the decline of culture and humanity that the sense of touch is placed in the foreground, ahead of the noble senses — sight and hearing. It is apparently assumed that the sense of touch mediates to us the reality of the world around us more than the eye and the ear. Therein lies a typical despiritualization, a descent to the animal level.
Although we in no sense want to minimize the great gift of all the senses, nor to deny the specific delight which the sense of touch conveys to us, still, the tremendous advantage and specific spirituality of sight and hearing must be pointed out. 23 Just let us think of the role of the eye, of sight, in our knowledge of the world around us, think of the distance to the object perceived with our eyes — of the distance to the object which is indispensable if we are to recognize it — of the spirituality of this sense. What a special role is played by sight in our relations with other people, and especially in art — architecture, painting, plastic arts — as well as in grasping the beauty of nature. The realm of the visible is an eminent “bearer” of beauty.
But think, too, of hearing: the ear possesses a spirituality analogous to that of the eye. Here also an analogous “distance” to the object can be found. Moreover, the audible is an eminent bearer of beauty. Just think of the realm of music! And what a role the hearing of words plays in the community of men! What meaning the hearing of their voices has! We need only think of the many-faceted role of speech in the spiritual contact with another person, and of all the poetry of the world of sounds.
It is a great error to believe that the sense of touch is more essential and plays a greater role in our knowledge of reality than the sense of sight. Of course, it conveys something which only it can convey, but to claim, as happens in sensitivity training groups, that the reality of another person is only fully grasped by us when we touch his body, is complete nonsense. The role of the sense of touch for human community is precisely one of expression, of an actualization, and in some cases, of a fulfillment of a bond which is already present. Shaking hands does not have the function of verifying the reality of the other person; rather it expresses our unity with him. The great and noble meaning of the kiss is only possible as an expression of an intimate bond; above all, a kiss on the lips and an embrace are a unique declaration of love. They not only presuppose a clear consciousness of the other person, but also a deep union of hearts — when they do not have a purely conventional character.
A typical symptom of despiritualization is contained in the present-day overemphasis of the sense of touch, in the attempt to ascribe a greater role to it than to sight and hearing. Perhaps one day we will give first place to the sense of smell — then we will truly have “gone to the dogs.”
We have already elucidated in earlier writings, especially in the New Tower of Babel, and much earlier in In Defence of Purity, the essence of the intimate sphere, as well as the great role which it plays in the life of the person. But here we must once again examine the essence and fundamental meaning of intimacy, since the destruction of intimacy is gaining more and more ground today and represents a special form of depersonalization. It belongs to the essence of the human person here on earth that many things which he feels, especially his deep experiences, should not be exposed to public view. For example, in relationships with certain persons (relationships of deep love, of whatever kind) there is always something which resists the neutralizing, curious, seeing-from-without attitude of the “general public.” The intimacy which is characteristic of every deep love in every category of love shields itself from neutral publicity, and indeed, from every violation by publicity, which is a desecration, and is radically opposed to the meaning and essence of this relationship.
It belongs to the full inner life of a person that he possesses an intimate sphere. This plays a central role both in his relation to God, in the commerce intime with Jesus — the most important and highest dimension of man — and in all deep relationships with other persons. The opening of our intimate sphere to another — in different measure, depending on the logos (specific nature) of the respective relationship — as well as our entrance into the intimate sphere of another, are essential components of deep relationships with other persons. When we say of a friend that we have come much closer to him, we mean precisely that we have become more intimate with him.
The highpoint of all intimacy within human relationships is found in spousal love and union. As we have discussed in other places (In Defence of Purity), the sexual or sensual sphere is the mystery of each person. It is specifically intimate and therefore the mutual disclosure of this mystery to the beloved is a unique fulfillment of the intentio unionis. Whenever one tries to strip the sexual sphere of its intimacy, one kills it; then the sexual union loses its character of a deep, mutual self-donation, and it is also robbed of all its deep charm. It is not difficult to see what a systematic battle is being waged against intimacy today, not only in the horrible sex education in the schools, but throughout man's personal life. This destruction goes hand in hand with the neutralization of this world and the elimination of its poetry. We repeat: without intimacy there is no true personal life.
Unfortunately, this destruction of intimacy has also penetrated the holy Church. The disastrous sex education introduced into many Catholic schools has been ordered by many bishops, and has not been strictly condemned and forbidden by Rome, at least not yet. The eruption of collectivism, of which we have already spoken and we will say more later, which has infiltrated into the liturgy under the title of the “communal,” is hard to deny. One confuses thereby the earthly and heavenly “public realm,” the supernatural community in Christ, with a bourgeois parish community, and the neighbor in the sense of love of neighbor (der Nächste) with neighbor in the sense of the person next door (der Nachbar).
Closely related to the destruction of intimacy is the systematic destruction of bashfulness. True bashfulness, also called modestia, and in English “modesty,” is sharply opposed to all prudery; it is an essential component of authentic personality and belongs to true personal life.
It consists precisely in the fact that intimate things are experienced as intimate, and are withdrawn from the public eye. That man is coarse and superficial, “hollowed out” as a person, who never experiences shame, whether one praises his virtues publicly in his presence, or makes his vices known, or above all drags into the public his intimate life, his deep feelings and especially that which is connected with the sensual or sexual sphere. He also loses all his charm, everything mysterious about himself, and forfeits all personal depth.
There is of course the sheer perversion of exhibitionism, wherein a public display is made of sexual things. The shamelessness is, in this case, limited to the sexual sphere; it does not have a dull, neutralized, and depersonalized character, but rather that of something disgusting and embarrassing. But this shamelessness is not the specific danger which we are speaking of here; it is not more widespread today than in former times. The exhibitionist wants to show himself precisely to a stranger, because he is conscious of the intimate nature of the sexual sphere and finds a perverse satisfaction precisely in the exposition of the intimate, as well as in the shock which he brings about in the other person with whom he has no inner relationship whatever. No, we are thinking of the general shamelessness of the man who never experiences shame, of the dull man who discusses intimate things in public as though they were neutral matters, of the man for whom life and the world have become a “laboratory.” He speaks about sexual things, even when they touch his own person, as one would talk in public about the weather; he neutralizes everything. This is the tendency of our time and an essential characteristic of depersonalization. How beautiful, how noble, how charming is the blushing of a young girl in certain situations!
It is inconceivable that so much of human life is being destroyed today under the title of “science.” Even some bishops are completely blind to the catastrophe of depersonalization and the destruction of the natural sources of human happiness, reaching all the way to supernatural life. They see those who fight against this abomination as prudish, reactionary, merely clinging to what is customary, what they are used to.
It is truly incomprehensible how much one hears of the progress of our time in sermons, pastoral letters, Catholic books, etc. — how the belief in our enormous superiority over former times has penetrated the consciousness of Catholics. Are the signs of the times perhaps not clear enough? Do they not speak plainly enough? Indeed it is inconceivable that our hastening towards destruction is regarded as progress, right when we ought to be crying out: “Inter vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes, ministri Domini et dicent: Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo!” “Between the forecourts and the altar the priests and ministers of God will weep and they will cry out: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people” (Joel 2:17).
12. Medicine is the only area in which progress is of a completely positive nature, and in which disadvantages do not, as in other areas, necessarily accompany the advantages, that is, do not appear as the shadow unavoidably cast by the advantages. But even in the progress of medicine we encounter great dangers today.
13. Hence we read in the recent pronouncement (June 24. 1973) of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an important document entitled “Declaration in Defense of Catholic Doctrine on the Church against Certain Errors of the Day”: “It must be stated that the dogmatic formulas of the Church's Magisterium were from the very beginning suitable for communicating revealed truth, and that as they are now so they remain forever suitable for communicating this truth to those who interpret them correctly” (par. 5).
14. When we say that in one respect the disregard for the person in the totalitarian states has reached a high point never before seen in history, we in no way intend to deny all the terrible things which appear in the history of former times. The status of a Roman slave as a res (thing), a possession of his master, having no rights at all, the torture of later times, the slave trade in the United States up to 1863 — all this is certainly terrible, and manifests a radical disrespect for the person, his dignity and rights.
But the great difference is, first, that in those days it was a matter of a particular group of men, whether it was the “pariahs” (untouchables) in India, the slaves as opposed to the citizens of Rome, in later times serfs as opposed to freemen, the Blacks in North America as opposed to the Whites. The sin at stake here was to disregard the equality of men, who are all persons and are created in the image of God. The totalitarian states, on the other hand, do not (in principle) rob a particular group of men but rather all citizens of their human rights. The individual person is thus disregarded by the impersonal structure of the state.
In addition to this first decisive difference there is a second one. This collective theft of all rights of the individual person has much more scientific underpinnings and is more a matter of principle than the earlier slavery. It appears as an idol, as a result of progress, while the other was much less systematic, having more the character of a primitive egotism. It was a sign of primitive barbarity, whereas the totalitarian suffocation of the personal life is a terrible symptom of decadence, a refined disintegration. The same thing is true of physical tortures. The cruelty of the racking and burning of men issued from a primitive brutality, from a barbaric and bestial attitude. The cruelty of the totalitarian concentration camps is much more cunning, ingenious, and scientifically planned. It is not a symptom of a barbarian unawakedness, but rather the fruit of a fundamental blindness to the dignity of man. It is in relation to barbaric cruelty, as the cruelty of man is to that of a beast of prey.
Third, this totalitarian disregard reaches completely new depths. It is not limited to the torture of the body, but is primarily ordered toward the destruction of the mind and soul. Brainwashing strives to enslave man in his thoughts, in his ability to judge, in his free will; in short, to destroy the essential gifts of God which man has as imago Dei. It is a systematic spiritual castration carried out with all scientific means. And this castration is being presented as the way to the preparation of the earthly paradise (cf. Brainwashed in Peking, by Father van Coillie).
15. He said this at a time when the process of depersonalization and of amoral pragmatism, which is fully developed today, had just begun. Kierkegaard, Point of View for My Work as an Author (New York: Harper Torchbooks), p. 44.
16. In the case of euthanasia carried out against men who are no longer useful to the state, there is also the arrogant presumption that the state or some commission chosen by the state can decide whether the continued survival of a man may still be of value to the state and to the community. This is an incomparable level of decadence: for there is ﬁrst the collectivist, totalitarian priority of utility over the right to life, and secondly the unheard-of presumption of granting a commission the competence to decide even on the question of utility.
17. The decay of contemporary art is especially shown by attempting artiﬁcial means for the realization of artistic beauty, in place of the unalterable means which God has entrusted to the senses. Also, men want to play God, and instead of inventing new things in the God-given ways, to substitute meaningless words for the true and only possible language. These “new” paths of art are not a natural, continuous development, or the result of weak talents, for there have always been mediocre and bad works of art. These are rather products of devilish pride, which seeks to replace God-given means by newly invented ones, to attempt invention where it is impossible.
18. We are excluding the case in which a doctor undertakes an operation, following the normal intercourse between a married couple, in order to convey the sperm more quickly to the womb, for this is quite a different matter. All our comments are directed toward the artificial insemination in which the sperm of another person is injected without any connection with the conjugal act.
19. In Defence of Purity, Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction, Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith, Marriage, Man and Women.
20. The true relation of body and soul has been investigated in a masterful way by Josef Seifert, in his book, Leib und Seele (Body and Soul), which has just been published by A. Pustet Verlag, Salzburg.
21. Desmond Morris, The Human Ape (New York: Dell Publ., 1967).
22. C. S. Lewis aptly characterized this idol as “the trousered ape.”
23. Hans Jonas has pointed out in a very beautiful way the unique nobility of sight in his essay, “Nobility of Sight.”