The Disease of Irreverence
A CULTURAL CANCER
Many sicknesses are contagious; health is not. It is regrettable but it is a fact. Since original sin, intellectual viruses have penetrated the human mind and have affected its reasoning power. This might explain why slogans have a powerful appeal to most men — in a couple of striking words they seem to offer a solution to problems that plague our society. One of the most overused slogan words in our day is change. Change, we are told, is inevitable. But is change for the sake of change necessarily a change for the better? Few seem to recall that Plato wrote that “any change except to eliminate an evil, is an evil.” To go from sickness to death is change, but rare are those who would welcome it.
Another overused slogan word is progress. This is a most anemic term; it literally means “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” Progress, we are told, must not be prevented. But this raises the question: Where is it leading us? To walk toward an abyss is progress, but it is not advisable; the only intelligent solution in such a case is to regress. Yet, human stupidity having no limit, many are those who proceed further and further until they meet their doom. Pascal remarked that we run toward an abyss after having carefully blinded ourselves so that we can no longer see the danger.
Slogans in the mouth of a charismatic speaker have a soporific effect on sluggish minds, and most men, while physically alert, live in a state of intellectual lethargy that prevents them from raising the right questions. We pay a lot of attention to small, insignificant things, such as saving money by clipping coupons, but fail to ask the crucial questions of human existence: Is there a God? Who is He? Who am I? What is good? What is evil? Is there an objective truth?
We are often urged to “get with the times.” But we would do well to recall the words of G.K. Chesterton. The Catholic Church, he said, “is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his own age.” This great man deserves to be quoted a second time: Commenting on Fr. Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy, he remarked that it is “precisely the spirit of the age that has made a shipwreck of mankind from the beginning.”
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