Confronting the Secular Mentality in the Post-Soviet Era
by Alberto M. Piedra
Historical changes do not just happen. They are brought about by the decisions of men and women who have developed and put their ideas into practice. History is replete with cases in which powerful ideas have influenced and, to a certain extent, determined the cultural framework of various societies.1 For example, the influence of Christianity on Europe’s brilliant cultural heritage is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike. European culture cannot be understood without reference to Christianity, for it is the very soul of Europe.2
The cultural transformations that have taken place in society over the centuries are mainly the result of the ideas of men and women who, with a definite goal in mind, have been instrumental in creating new patterns of human behavior. Nothing gives greater credibility to a political or moral value than an idea or belief that is considered essential for the improvement of mankind.3 The close functional relationship between the promotion of a given set of ideas and human behavior is too evident to be denied.
Human behavior does not function in a vacuum. Most often, it is related to a specific concept of man, that is to say, to an idea about who man is or should be. These ideas concerning man and his goals on earth, in their turn, foster changes in codes of behavior that are mainly responsible for those cultural revolutions that affect society. As was noted by Rafael Gomez Perez, professor of philosophy in Madrid, a cultural revolution, in the least ideological sense possible, begins when the tradition received is altered or modified in its central ideas, the ideas by which man is governed—e.g., the meaning of life, the concept of the family, the transmission of life, the concrete significance of happiness, and the goals and forms of education.4 These changes are always propagated by professionals in the field of ideas, i.e., intellectuals in the broad sense of the term.
The British historian Paul Johnson reminds us in his book Intellectuals that with the decline of clerical power in the eighteenth century a new kind of mentor emerged, the secular intellectual, who might be deist, skeptic, or atheist, but who “was just as ready as any pontiff or presbyter to tell mankind how to conduct his affairs.”5 The liberal ideas of the secular intellectuals came to fruition with the Enlightenment and have permeated political and economic thinking ever since.
We shall limit ourselves here to a brief analysis of the secular intellectuals and how the diffusion of their ideas, inherited from the Enlightenment, have fostered the cultural revolution that is gradually undermining the basic values of our Judeo-Christian civilization.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discredit into which Marxist-Leninist ideas and policies have fallen, it might seem as though Christianity and the basic notions of freedom and the dignity of the human person are no longer in danger. It is true that most of the ideological variations of Marxism and its philosophical roots have been disqualified, having been demonstrated not only to be economically inefficient but also to constitute a threat to freedom and the basic rights of the human person.6
But it is likewise true that there are other ideological currents of thought that, though rejecting Marxism-Leninism, are also resistant to religion and the concept of a providential God.7 Among these, perhaps the most dangerous are the ones that have their roots in what can be called a deviation from historical liberalism but that, because of their subtlety, represent an even greater threat to the fundamental principles of Christianity.8
The secular mentality was a European phenomenon later exported to America. Its roots, as is well known, can be traced to the era of the Enlightenment. Although the Enlightenment was deist in origin, many of its representatives and followers later became outright atheists. Economic liberalism, with its materialistic and hedonistic approach to the science of economics, is not exempt from this same trend toward atheism. The same can be said to an even greater extent, and more blatantly, of the Marxist and neo-Marxist interpretation of history.
Thus, it can truthfully be said that historical liberalism, with its secular trend, has left as its heritage two main currents of thought that are expressed in different forms: one on the right, liberal democracy and economic liberalism (direct followers of liberalism); and another on the left, Marxism, neo-Marxism, and different variations of socialism (indirect followers of liberalism). Both forms are descendents of philosophical liberalism and, to different degrees, have had among their early sponsors Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke, and Hume.
Among the main mentors of the radical left, the most aggressive of all have been Marx, the critical School of Frankfurt, and the many revisionists who broke away from Marxism-Leninism.9 Little needs to be said about Marx, for his secular theories are well known. However, more dangerous in this post-Soviet era are the revisionists, because their tactics are much more subtle and can have devastating effects on an unprepared public.
Roger Garaudy in France and Antonio Gramsci in Italy are among the more prominent revisionists or neo-Marxist theoreticians, whose ideas have had a tremendous influence in shaping the cultural framework of Western societies.10 They both rejected the philosophy of Marx and Lenin, who identified society with economic relations and preached that culture, being part of the superstructure, depended on the prevailing economic structure. Contrary to Marx, both Garaudy and Gramsci were convinced that culture can play a definitive role in the revolutionary process and the final establishment of a Communist state. They believed that revolutions, and cultural revolutions in particular, can occur either with or independently of economic changes; in fact, they contended that revolutionary ideas can bring about changes in the economic structure that will help accelerate the final triumph of socialism. Furthermore, socialism should not aspire to the “dictatorship” of the “proletariat” but to a “socialist democracy,” within which there exists a plurality of visions of the world and of political parties, that is to say, pluralism.11
The Secular Mentality
As previously indicated, both the secular left and the secular right have a common origin: a misguided interpretation of liberalism and freedom. They both argue for the absolute power of reason to discover the truth and the rejection of the transcendent. Each claims to foster freedom, but it is a freedom that does not accept any type of authority except its own.
In the economic arena, the secular right manifests itself in the theories and policies of a capitalism based on an unrestrained, hedonistic self-interest, subject only to the laws of the market. Its materialistic approach to life tends to sacrifice the human person on the altar of a remorseless utilitarian individualism.
A secular mentality rejects any authority that is above reason. Obviously, this implies that religion is also rejected or, if accepted, only tolerated as a personal feeling. Radical secularism, as in the case of Comte’s positivism or Marxist socialism, denies the transcendence of man. To the secularist mentality, history is simply history, not a path towards eternity. Thus, an intellectual with a secular mentality rejects religion in any of its forms because religion affirms that matter does not explain everything and that there is a supernatural life beyond the limits of this earthly life.12 The secular intellectual defends a relative concept of truth. For him, absolute truth is nonexistent.
The secular intellectual is basically interested in everyday events and in diffusing ideas and opinions that run counter to what he calls the “traditional,” which, in essence, represents the fundamental principles of Christianity. These traditional Christian beliefs are directly or indirectly in conflict with the materialistic concept of life held by the secular intellectual. If the “traditional” religious beliefs persist, then there is no alternative other than to affirm that they are simply mythical vestiges of a historical stage already extinct.13
The secular intellectual cannot conceal his tremendous dislike for authority, whether coming from the State or the Church. He rejects any authority that stands above the power of reason, his reason. Thus, although theoretically the radical intellectual vehemently defends the independent and rational vision of man, he never loses the opportunity to criticize religion—either directly or indirectly—in any of its forms, or anyone who, from his point of view, threatens his philosophy of life. But this does not mean that by the mere fact of being an intellectual he has a creative mind and knows what is best for society and the common man. As Eric Hoffer once said about the intellectuals of our age:
[W]here the intellectuals are in charge they do not usually create a milieu conducive to genuine creativeness. The reason for this is to be found in the role of the noncreative pseudo-intellectual. The genuinely creative person lacks, as a rule, the temperament requisite for the seizure, the exercise, and, above all, the retention of power. Hence, when the intellectuals come into their own, it is usually the pseudo-intellectual who rules the roost, and he is likely to imprint his mediocrity and meagerness on every phase of cultural activity.14
The Liberal Intellectual & Religion
Ironically, his dislike of authority does not mean that the radical intellectual opposes all authority in every sense. This is especially true of the liberal intellectual of the right, who recognizes the need for and defends stability, security, and social, political, and economic order, but who wants to replace the “old” moral standards of Christianity with a new civil ethics, an ethics devoid of any religious foundation. This civil ethics must be “liberal.” Thus, the liberal intellectual becomes the standard bearer of all sorts of “reasonable liberalizations,” whether feminist, homosexual, or of other movements seeking similar objectives.
The concepts of “liberalization,” “self-realization,” and so forth, have become popular slogans in the media and among secular intellectuals of different political and social views. In their defense of “liberalization,” they may stress the need for civic responsibility, and they may not support unquestionably the more offensive activities of various feminist or homosexual groups. If they write in their favor, their arguments are presented with “scientific” rigor and nearly always make reference to the traditional or “reactionary” mentality of those who oppose them.15
But the fact remains that, even though his dislike of religion and metaphysics may appear less pronounced when the religious idea or principle is presented in an appealing literary or artistic fashion, the secular intellectual is a materialist and a relativist. In other words, these religious principles are tolerated or even perhaps accepted, but only as sophisticated cultural expressions, never as the basis for an objective moral order that recognizes the reality of absolute truth.16
The secular intellectual is basically democratic and anti-totalitarian, a firm defender of all freedoms, but he often forgets the distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom for.” It is not enough to be “free from.” It is also necessary to use that freedom for a purpose, which, according to Christian principles, means that it must be used responsibly, keeping in mind the transcendental nature of man. Otherwise, that freedom easily turns into license, resulting in chaos. To the dismay of the secular intellectual who ignores the transcendent nature of man and the existence of a natural law, the final fruit of this lack of “freedom for” is totalitarianism and the loss of that “freedom from” that he so adamantly engaged in supporting.
It is ironic that the secular intellectual, so enamored with the concept of freedom, is at the same time very much opposed to any type of platform that could be used efficiently to propagate the Christian way of life. The best example of this irony is in the field of education. Freedom of education is the right of every citizen to establish educational centers without discrimination of any kind, whether political, racial, or religious. Truly, it is one of man’s most fundamental human rights. The secular intellectual who so passionately defends human rights can hardly deny this particular human right without being accused of paying mere lip service to the concept.
Freedom of education, however, implies the possibility of giving each family or person the right to choose his school of preference. Nonetheless, when it comes to Christian education, which stresses the transcendent values of man, the secular intellectual cannot hide his disappointment, if not outright disapproval. As he cannot prohibit the right of every Christian to establish and attend the school of his choice—something that would go against the very “freedom from,” in this case, freedom from tyranny, that he so vehemently defends—the secular intellectual takes a more indirect but not less harmful approach to Christian education. He will not cease to be critical of what he calls “conservative Christians of the far right,” using this and other epithets (retrogrades, etc.) without differentiating the true Christian believer from a very small minority of religious fanatics.
The Strategy of Cultural Penetration
Within the neo-Marxist or revisionist camp it was Antonio Gramsci, the founder and principal ideologue of the Italian Communist party, who stressed the importance of the intellectual as the major contributor to the formation of a new conscience among the populace that would undermine Christian culture and eventually lead to the Communist state. The objective was to replace traditional Christian culture by a new Marxist culture.
The elites of the past who controlled government and business must be overthrown as an abusive and dominant class. To accomplish this, the masses must be manipulated through education and other cultural means, so that they voluntarily give up their traditional values. In this way, the revisionists tried to accomplish through cultural means what Lenin had attempted by cruder means. Thus, seeing clearly the important relevance of culture and the propagation of ideas for the success of communism, Gramsci made cultural penetration, particularly through the education of the masses, the key to power.
For this purpose, he proposed the establishment, for the young, of a preparatory school of general culture, humanistic and formative in nature, that would develop the capacity for intellectual work. Only after having completed this formative type of schooling would the young student pass on to more specialized schools or join the work force. For Gramsci this unified type of education had to be state-run and financed. All education would thus pass from private to government hands. A unified cultural education along Marxist lines had to be established even at the cost of a loss of freedom—in this case, the loss of choice of education.
One of the questions Gramsci asked was: “Why and how can the new [Marxist] concepts of the world be divulged and made popular?” For example, religious organizations keep the faithful within their ranks as long as they sustain their faith permanently and in an organized fashion, repeating in an insistent and apologetic way their basic beliefs while, at the same time, maintaining a hierarchy of intellectuals who accept and defend the church’s point of view on doctrinal matters. With reference to the Catholic Church, which he respected and feared as a human institution, Gramsci specifically said that her strength lay in her strong support of doctrinal unity and her concern that her intellectual elites keep in close contact with the common folk. The Roman Church, as he called the Catholic Church, has always been very tenacious in her efforts to avoid the official formation of two religions: one of intellectuals and another of simple souls.
Similarly, Gramsci claimed, Communists should follow the example of the Catholic Church and prepare cadres of intellectual elites who would be more in touch with the masses and try to raise their cultural and intellectual levels. Of course, Gramsci discards the possibility that the Catholic Church will surrender her doctrinal unity. Her strength and success rely precisely on that doctrinal unity that she has been able to maintain at all levels of society. The Catholic Church, knowing that she is in possession of the truth concerning the origin and destiny of man, will not permit any deviation from that truth in questions related to faith and morals.
As a strategy for any new cultural movement that tries to impose its own ideas so as to replace the existing order, Gramsci proposed two tactics: (1) Never tire of repeating the same arguments, changing only the literary style; and (2) work incessantly to try to raise the intellectual level of the popular masses; that is to say, give personality to the amorphous element of the masses. This means that the party leaders must work toward the formation of a new type of intellectual elite that arises directly from the masses, and with whom close contact must be maintained so that they may become the spearheads of the new socialist order. If this condition is fulfilled, the entire ideological panorama of an era will be modified.
The importance of the secular intellectuals in the formation of ideas and habits of behavior cannot be underestimated. Whether of the left or the right, they reject the Christian theology of history and deny the Christian teachings on man’s origin and final end. They do not accept the Christian belief that history is not an end in itself and that reality will continue when history comes to an end. Finally, the secular mentality rejects the notion that both God and man—who is endowed with the gift of freedom—play a role in history. Neither the right nor the left accepts that the origin and destiny of man is divine, that is, that he is a creature destined to know God eternally.
The Role of Education
In any process leading toward the transformation of society, education is doubtless not the only factor to be taken into account. But a cultural revolution can only be successful if the educational system is firmly committed to the transmission of the new forms of behavior that the revolutionaries endorse.
The secular intellectual is very much interested in controlling or at least influencing the educational system because he realizes that it is through education that ideas and attitudes are transmitted and developed, especially among the young. According to him, the “old-fashioned” ideas that stressed the transcendent nature of man and his dependence on a providential God must be replaced by more “modern,” relativistic, and materialistic concepts of the world, where immanence takes the place of transcendence and the quest for “maximum” earthly happiness becomes the norm, following utilitarian concepts of freedom.
And this can be done only through education. To carry out this mission, the secular intellectual—Gramsci being an excellent example—knows perfectly well that the best way to do this is primarily through the control of the family, the school, and the media. They are the natural means that will bring about the cultural revolution that, in its turn, will give birth to the new society.
Gramsci in most of his writings insists that the first and almost exclusive role of the Marxist intellectual lies in education. The revolution, he believed, must be prepared with time, patience, and a calculating mind. This involves dismantling or destroying the values of the past by slowly infiltrating the “old” institutions and changing the mentality of the masses, a process that applies in a very special way to the Catholic Church and other religious organizations.
Gramsci tried to separate the transcendent nature of religion from its purely immanent aspect in order to attract the faithful to the teachings of Marx and Lenin. Instead of attacking religion directly, Gramsci favored a more gradual approach by accepting the more “human” aspects of religion but rejecting the supernatural. Thus, the concepts “Christians for socialism,” “Christian,” and many aspects of the so-called liberation theology can be traced to Gramsci’s and Garaudy’s ideas. To achieve this end, the principal targets are the family, the schools, and the means of communication.17
There is hardly any doubt about the transformation that the very concept of the family has experienced during the last decades. The secular intellectual knows quite well that the best place to create an environment propitious for the propagation of his “humanistic” approach to life is in the midst of the family. It is in the families and in the schools that the young are formed and Christian virtues developed. The discrediting of the traditional Christian family gradually alienates man from a system of values based on natural law and an objective moral order and paves the way for a permissiveness that can only be harmful to the integral development of man.
That is why the traditional concept of the family is being persistently attacked and has become the subject of constant ridicule. The value system undergirding the family structure, as traditionally understood, is continuously being undermined, and a new concept of the family is being gradually propagated. Relationships of all kinds—once considered immoral according to Judeo-Christian standards—are not only being accepted as normal but even supported by certain state authorities. This cultural revolution in the sphere of traditional values is setting the stage for new patterns of behavior that will bring about the destruction of the family. And this is all done under the guise of the rights of the human person or at least as the inevitable consequence of social evolution, if not human progress.
In the light of recent trends that are taking place in the name of modernism, John Paul II in his Letter to Families (1994) reminded the world community that “No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family.”18 Unfortunately, it is precisely in these areas that the attacks on the family are most prevalent. Once again, it is ironic that such moral permissiveness, so prevalent in our consumer societies, will be the determining factor in the destruction of the authentic requirements for peace and communion among people. To avoid such an outcome, the identity of the family must be defended, while individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, must be encouraged not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity.
John Paul II warned Christians and non-Christians alike about the dangers of a false humanism and its effects on the stability of the family. He reminded the faithful that
It is no exaggeration to reaffirm that the life of nations, of states and of international organizations passes through the family and is based on the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue. The age in which we live, notwithstanding the many juridical declarations that have been drafted, is still threatened to a great extent by alienation. This is the result of Enlightenment premises according to which a man is more human if he is only human. It is not difficult to notice how alienation from everything belonging in various ways to the full richness of man threatens our time. And this affects the family.19
During many centuries, the Church was the principal transmitter of culture in Europe. Religious unity prevailed, and religion-sponsored schools and universities proliferated all over the continent, creating a common but highly variant pattern of culture throughout Western Europe. As the British historian Christopher Dawson has so expertly stated, “this medieval culture was the matrix in which the Western type was formed and the ultimate source of the new forces that have moved and transformed the world.” No matter how much the secular mentality of the rationalist historians has tried to denigrate the thousand years of medieval history, calling it an age of intellectual darkness and social stagnation, it cannot be denied that Europe produced some of the most enlightened minds that the world has ever known. The theological basis and spiritual dynamism of Western thought during those critical years of history were the most significant factors in the development and growth of the social and intellectual movements of Europe, including the secular ones.20
Today, this rich cultural heritage is not only being challenged but also rejected in many schools and universities, where it has become popular to consider it outmoded or even obsolete. According to the new trends, such a heritage goes against a more modernistic approach to life, which, by being exclusively humanistic, minimizes the religious aspect of education. According to this view, students should be informed about different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs so they can decide for themselves which one of them is best fitted for their own personal interests and goals in life. Truth, after all, a secular modernist would say, is a relative thing; there is no culture or religion that has a monopoly on truth.
The American author Dinesh D’Souza brings out in his book Illiberal Education the dilemma facing American liberal education. He discusses the problem faced by the administration of Stanford University over a dispute concerning the undergraduate curriculum. The students stridently demanded that certain changes be made in the curriculum, but as D’Souza writes, the real targets of the protest were Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, and other “white males” who, they complained, had been dead for hundreds of years. As D’Souza writes, “The students resented the fact that the ideas of these men still dominated Stanford’s ‘core curriculum.’ They shouted slogans and carried placards demanding that the Stanford faculty and administration make major changes in the course offerings.”21
Unfortunately, the events that took place at Stanford University were not an isolated case. Similar protests took place at other campuses around the United States, and the criticism of the traditional teaching of the classical authors continued unabated. Even at the high-school level, new experiments in teaching methods and curricula were introduced that did away with or reduced to a minimum the basic values of our Christian heritage. As a result, the following statement of Irving Kristol should surprise no one: “Is it any wonder that America’s parents, trying to evade this establishment and its political allies, are showing an ever keener interest in home schooling, as well as in private schools and religious schools? Schools where schooling takes place—that’s what parents want.”22
The Media & the Arts
The media, television in particular, can and do play a significant role in the formation of values and in transmitting these “new” values to the masses. Most of the programs that are aired on television stations across the United States and other major countries are presented with a relativistic criterion of truth. Television today has probably become the most important instrument for the diffusion of “culture,” a “culture” that often fosters gross material values at the expense of virtue and the higher spiritual values of man.
This is a serious problem because people are being “educated” through televised images, which are easily assimilated and often put into practice by the younger generation. As the youth of our society become “addicted” to television, little time is left for serious thought. Their minds are easily influenced by the “new” concepts concerning man and his place in history. The latest vedette or rock singer becomes a model to be imitated and is considered a hero by his peers. In other words, the old Christian values of prudence, fortitude, and temperance, to mention only a few, have disappeared from the lexicon of the TV producers, and the term “virtue” is no longer popular or even used.
The press and other media often join in the chorus of praise for these new trends, which, they claim, have finally liberated man from the restraints of past fanaticisms. “Freedom from” is exalted, but very little, if anything, is said about “freedom for.” This trend applies also to the arts, where the new chefs d’oeuvres often reflect the lack of respect for virtue and the sacred.
Perhaps it is in the influential area of communication where there is the greatest need for truth to prevail and not be sacrificed for the sake of expediency. As St. Thomas More once said about statesmen, when men and women forsake their own private consciences or their public duties, they lead their country to disaster.
A Mind Divided
The Communist empire has collapsed and with it the rigidity of Marxism-Leninism and the gulags of the Stalinist period. The euphoria of the West over its victory in the so-called Cold War and the renewal of faith in liberalism, in both its political and economic expressions, have created a sense of false security and optimism that could have dangerous consequences for the future of humanity.
The upheavals and conflicts that have occurred in several parts of the world, exacerbated by irrational nationalisms, together with the rise of criminality and terrorism, and an obvious decline in ethical standards, are ominous signs indicating that the path toward peace and prosperity is far from clear. If technology is given priority over ethics, the accumulation of material goods over the dignity of the human person, and matter over spirit, the future of our civilization remains uncertain. For real and sustained progress to take place, it is imperative that humanity turn away from an exclusively humanistic approach to life and accept the transcendent nature of man.
The renewal of the Christian belief in the transcendent nature of man and in the existence of an objective moral law is indispensable if peace with justice is to prevail in our contemporary society. The false concept of the autonomy of earthly realities and their independence from a Creator produces baneful results and eventually leads to the destruction of society. To create moral norms on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures will only lead to an ever-increasing deterioration of the moral fiber of society with all of its evil results. To avoid such an outcome, man must understand that reason must draw its own truth and authority from the eternal law, which is none other than divine wisdom itself.23
In the last instance, the Kulturkampf that is taking place in our contemporary society is none other than a struggle between those who believe in the transcendent nature of man and those who, whether of the right or left, consider man as purely a creature of history. Both education and the “intellectual elites,” because of their influence on the family, the schools, and the media, will undoubtedly play a significant role in the final outcome of this struggle.
Like Garaudy and Gramsci, John Cardinal Newman knew well the power of ideas. He respected the power of the intellect and wished it to reign with the utmost freedom. But he also was aware that the intellect, although capable of apprehending truth, could not, at the same time, avoid duty and reject the transcendent. He states this unequivocally when he says:
The human mind may be regarded from two principal points of view, as intellectual and as moral. As intellectual, it apprehends truth; as moral, it apprehends duty. The perfection of the intellect is called ability and talent; the perfection of our moral nature is virtue. And it is our great misfortune here, and our trial, that, as things are found in the world, the two are separated, and independent of each other; that where power of intellect is, there need not be virtue; and that where right and goodness, and moral greatness are, there may not be talent.24
The existing trend towards increased secularization that is taking place in the world today, and that owes its origin to the two currents of thought emanating from the misguided liberalism of the Enlightenment, must be reversed. Any society that denies the transcendent and embraces materialism and relativism as its only guiding principles is setting the stage for its own destruction, and this truth applies just as much to a political and economic liberalism void of an ethical foundation as it does to atheistic socialism or communism. The very concept of “freedom from,” so much cherished by the secular intellectuals of both the left and the right, runs the danger of being eroded and finally lost, unless there is a clear picture of what “freedom for” is supposed to be.
Human freedom does not create values, because it does not have primacy over truth. Man, by the use of reason, participates in God’s eternal law, but he has no authority to establish his own rules of moral conduct. Otherwise, they would have a moral authority over truth. And we are all aware of what the consequences for humanity are when a merely “human” morality takes the place of a morality that is based on a God-given natural moral law. Immanence cannot take precedence over transcendence because man has a destiny higher than a purely human existence. Here lies the importance of what is meant by “freedom for.” In other words, man must seek what is true and good, and it is for that purpose that he must use his freedom. Only then will he be truly free.
The Promise of Christianity
A return to Christian principles remains the only and last recourse of civilized society against the mounting anarchy brought about by the “new morality” that is now so much in vogue. If modern society wants to escape from the dire consequences of relativism, crass materialism, and a humanism devoid of the transcendent, it must restore to our communities the basic principles that are part of our Christian cultural heritage. Freedom, in order to last, must be based on truth.
Let us not be fooled by the utopian ideals of the secular intellectuals of either the left or the right that, as history has proven, have brought about the ravages of the most recent centuries. Their ideas are bankrupt, in spite of the efforts of their major exponents to restore their credibility among the masses.
Even though Marxism-Leninism in the former Soviet Union may have collapsed, the seed of secularism in its various subtle forms is still very much alive. As we enter a new century, men and women of good faith must realize the dangers that such a secularist current represents for our Judeo-Christian heritage. People must become more conscious of the values that Christianity represents, principles that have elevated the human spirit and preserved whatever was good and noble in any culture. Only in this way will we be able to build the “civilization of love” of which John Paul II is so fond of preaching.
Let me conclude with a quote from the British historian Paul Johnson taken from his book A History of Christianity:
We know that Christian insistence on man’s potentiality for good is often disappointed; but we are also learning that man’s capacity for evil is almost limitless—is limited, indeed, only by his own expanding reach. Man is imperfect with God. Without God, what is he? As Francis Bacon put it: “They that deny God destroy man’s nobility: for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body; and, if he be not kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature.” We are less base and ignoble by virtue of divine example and by the desire for the form of apotheosis which Christianity offers.
Johnson’s final words are full of faith and hope: “Our history over the last two millennia has reflected the efforts to rise above our human frailties. And to that extent, the chronicle of Christianity is an edifying one.”25 Let us hope that the Gramscis of this world, both of the right and the left, will have a better understanding of the message of Christianity and its rich cultural heritage.
1. According to Robert Nisbet, “The genius, the maniac, and the prophet have been responsible for more history than the multitudes have or ever will. And the power of these beings rests upon revolutions in ideas and idea systems.” Robert Nisbet, The Present Age, Progress and Anarchy in Modern America (New York: Harper & Row, Perennial Library, 1988), p. l35.
2. See the speech of John Paul II at the closing of a symposium on culture in Europe celebrated at the Vatican, in Christianisme et Culture en Europe, Colloque presynodal, Vatican, 28–31 octobre’ 1991, Editions Mame, Lonrai (Orne), 1992, pp. 239–240.
3. Cf. the sage remarks of Robert Nisbet, History of the Ideas of Progress (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1980), p. 4.
4. Rafael Gomez Perez, E1 Desafio Cultural (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1983), p. 10.
5. Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), pp. 1–2. See also Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), ch. II, pp. 73–142.
6. Recent events in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe should be sufficient to demonstrate the failure of Marxist ideology. See also: Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Originally published in French at Paris by Robert Laffont, 1997).
7. It is highly probable that Marx abandoned his early “humanism” after 1845. However, it seems quite certain that Marx, after his youth, was always an atheist. With Marx the philosophy of radical immanence (rejection of anything transcendental) reached a theoretical zenith. See Rafael Gomez Perez, E1 Humanismo Marxista (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp. S.A., 1977), p. 15.
8. During the sixties, various congresses organized by the Paulus-Gesellshaft took place in Herrenchiemsee (1966) and in Marienbad (1967) in which anthropological, philosophical, and social problems were discussed by Marxist, Christian, and other experts, ostensibly to establish a better mutual understanding. The real objective was to portray the Christian faith as a catalyst for the establishment of socialism. See Roger Garaudy, Le Grand tournant du socialisme (Paris, 1969) and L’Alternative (Paris, 1972). In the case of Antonio Gramsci, see “Gli intellettuali e l’organizzazione della cultura,” in Quaderni dal carcere (Turin, Instituto Gramsci, Einaudi, 1975).
9. Manfred Spieker, Los Herejes de Marx: De Bernstein a Garaudy (Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, EUNSA, 1974), p. 20.
10. Gomez Perez, op. cit., p. 110.
11. Rafael Gomez Perez, Gramsci: El Comunismo Latino (Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Pamplona, EUNSA, 1977), p. 166.
12. Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change (New York: Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row, 1963), p. 57.
13. See Gomez Perez, El Desafio Cultural, op. cit., ch. V, pp. 74–92, and ch. VII, pp. 109–154.
14. Hoffer, op. cit., p. l47.
15. See the comments of Pope John Paul II on the relationship between freedom and truth in Veritatis Splendor, 35.
16. See Jacques Maritain, La Educacion en este Momento Crucial (Buenos Aires: Club de Lectores, 1981), pp. 11–12.
17. Gomez Perez, El Desafio Intelectual, op. cit., pp. l31–151.
18. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 17.
19. Ibid., 15.
20. Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (New York: Image Books, 1958), p. l8.
21. Dinesh D’Souza, Illiberal Education (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p. 60.
22. Irving Kristol, “The Inevitable Outcome of ‘Outcomes,’” The New York Times, April 18, 1994.
23. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 39–40.
24. John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training,” in A Newman Reader, edited with an introduction by Francis X. Connolly (New York: Image Books, 1964), p. 227.
25. Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 517.
Alberto M. Piedra is Professor of Economics at the Catholic University of America. He received a Doctorate in Political Economics at the Universidad Computense de Madrid and a Ph.D. in Economics at Georgetown University. He was US Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the Organization of American States from 1982–1984, and US Ambassador to Guatemala from 1984–1987. He was also Special Assistant on Latin American Affairs to the US Mission to the United Nations (1987–1988). He has published extensively and received the 1997 Pope Pius XI Award from the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. This essay is taken from a lecture given by Dr. Piedra at the International Institute for Culture’s 1999 summer seminar on faith and culture in Eichstätt, Germany.
Not a subscriber? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of content!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access for only $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!
Transactions will be processed on the secure server of The Fellowship of St. James website, the publisher of Touchstone.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the touchstone online archives