The Seven Greatest Threats to the Catholic Church in Modern America

 This is the second part of an eight-part editorial series on the errors of Modernism and Post-modernism.  Both terms are used loosely and interchangeably in this article because post-modernism is the end result of the modernist cancer.  In general however, modernism is defined as the world-view that grew out of Enlightenment philosophy in the 18th century and lead to the rise of empiricism.  Post-modernism refers to the state of affairs in the late 20th century that declares Truth irrelevant and unattainable.  Post-modernism ignores religion whereas modernism actively attacks religious philosophy.

 Part II—First Error of Modernism: Relativity of Knowledge and the philosophy of Empiricism

 Relativity is indeed the stillborn child of modern skepticism.  It is a distinct worldview that claims that no man can be sure his worldview is absolutely correct because no worldview is absolutely correct.  The relativist believes that there is no eternal, absolute truth; he believes that all opinions and propositions given are in fact only true in relation to the adherent of the view.  For example, a relativist might say that the belief in God is true for some people (because of their internal convictions, sociological upbringing, and psychological conditioning) but not true for other people for similar reasons.  In effect, a pure relativist reduces facts to opinion rather than outright defending or denying a proposition. He claims the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.  It is a dangerous error that leads to a lost sense of right and wrong, a conviction that religious truth is unattainable, and ultimately leads to moral and religious apathy.  The end result of relativity is the deadly sin of spiritual sloth.

The philosophy of relativity is a direct reaction to the skepticism of the Enlightenment philosophers (such as David Hume). These philosophers questioned all modes of knowledge and debated how it is possible for a person to know anything (especially the role of faith and divine knowledge).  Skeptics often attempt to reduce epistemology into one of two camps: empiricism, the belief that knowledge can be attained only through the senses (the way of modern science), and rationalism, the belief that reason is the ultimate starting point for all knowledge. 

Skepticism’s withering attack on epistemology has lead the masses to believe that truth is impossible to attain. As a result, a generation of Americans has appeared who no longer believe that anything can be known for sure.  In reaction to skepticism, the general public will often take one of two solutions. One solution to this dilemma is to abandon all hope in the existence of truth and embrace agnosticism.  The other more common reaction to skepticism is to adopt a pragmatic empiricist philosophy that will only accept wisdom from the senses (by way of science) that yield immediate workable results.  Both reactions have become embedded in mainstream America and have led to a gradual deterioration of faith.  A loss of faith occurs because empiricism seeks to replace religious truths (both natural and revealed religion) with materialistic science.  Agnosticism is the end result of relativism and is ultimately responsible for the public’s erroneous perception of a battle between religion and science.  Since the adverse impact of agnosticism on religion is immediately obvious, this article will treat only on the second solution to skepticism.

One effect of adopting pragmatic empiricism as a solution to skepticism is the wholesale assault on rationalism and its subsequent abandonment.  The general public, who has unwittingly bought into the epistemology of empiricism, is no longer aware that rationalism is an avenue to truth.  Nowhere is this more obvious then in the demand, “Prove to me that God exists.”  Unfortunately, no general answer can be given to the satisfaction of the modernist because no empirical evidence exists to prove God’s existence.  God’s existence cannot be seen with a telescope, microscope or any scientific instrument.  No one will ever see God as an old venerable man smiling down from the clouds.  For the modernist, this lack of physical evidence is enough to discredit organized religion.  The modernist, confronted by lack of empirical evidence, will then either accept religious agnosticism or reduce faith to the realm of emotion.  Since God’s existence cannot be proven, argues the skeptic, that must mean religion can only be validated by “faith”.  And what is faith for the modernist?  Faith is a “feeling”; an encounter with the spiritually sublime that is an intimate private affair.   Since God can only be known by this quasi-faith, the modernist will reject the proposition that knowledge of God is an absolute truth.   God becomes a relative truth that cannot be defined and pressed on others to believe.  As a result, worship of God deteriorates into a vague personal experience.     Organized religion’s demand that the community worship God in a public union (such as at mass) begins to look silly and unnecessary to the modernist.  Dogma and religious doctrines become laughable. Evangelization of non-believers looses all of its force and credibility to the modernist.  After all, why force your personal “faith” on someone else, who has a right to believe what ever they want to believe?  It is this overzealous use of pragmatic empiricism at the expense of rationalism that has strangled the life out of the Catholic Church in Europe and now threatens to spill into America and the rest of Western society.  God is no longer our beloved creator and redeemer: he is now an experience to be claimed by the spiritually inclined.            

A second effect of pragmatic skepticism is a declining sense of morals.  This occurs because pragmatism answers skepticism’s incessant howl by declaring that knowledge is found by adopting whatever works.  On the surface, pragmatism seems like an ideal solution to skepticism.  When challenged to explain why we believe anything, the pragmatist simply says, “I believe this because it works”.  No other justification is necessary.  For example, science works so that must mean it is true.  An unfortunate byproduct of pragmatism and empiricism is that it fails in application to rational questions such as, “how should a man act to be morally good?”   Pragmatism will often answer this question by focusing on society at large.  Pragmatic empiricists will say that morals are defined by whatever allows society to continue to exist and function properly.  For example, uncontrolled homicide would cause irreparable damage the social structure; therefore homicide must be immoral.  Unfortunately, many of the Judeo-Christian morals suffer under application of pragmatic morality.  Sex is a good example.  What are the effects of sexual actions on society?  Sex causes pregnancies, spreads disease, and intensifies interpersonal relationships.  Sex is also incredibly pleasing for most people.  The harm that sex does cause can seemingly be controlled by birth-control, abortion, and medicine.  As a result, a modernist who adopts the pragmatic-empirical philosophy has little moral justification for taming the sexual appetite of the individual. Every type of perversion and moral incongruity can be justified as long as it does not hurt anyone else in the process.  The spread of modernism explains why morals are decaying rapidly in the west.  Homosexuality, artificial birth-control, and abortion were once unthinkable evils in the Christianized Western world.  These practices are now largely supported in the American Church and are thoroughly impregnated throughout Europe.  Lust is not the only vice that is gaining public acceptance. Pride and avarice are rooted throughout the business world.  Since these vices work well on a financial level, they are now tolerated by the masses.  The twin forces of pragmatism and human concupiscence discredit religious moral convictions.  The corrosion of morals is one of the fruits of the modernist reaction to skepticism.      

Adherents of modernism have commented that rationalism is the driving force against religious belief.  Ultimately, this is untrue because it is the force of empiricist philosophy manifested in nominalism and pragmatism that provides the bulwark of modernist human beliefs.  The evidence to support this hypothesis is manifest in the modern deification of science.  Science, a materialist access to knowledge, is often touted as the only true way to rationally understand the world.  The use of the word “rational” in this statement is simply a modernist synonym for intelligent.  The definition of rational is divorced from its true meaning: the access of knowledge through reason.   For a modernist, the only reasonable way to view the world is thorough scientific empiricism; hence he calls his approach reasonable and rational.  In truth however, the modernist philosophy is not rational; it is explicitly empirical.

The error of empiricism latent in the modernist heresy is troubling because it attempts to cast religious belief as irrational (an ironic twist of words) and unintelligent.  The modernist reaction to relativism manifested in empiricism seeks to discredit religion as a fantasy at best and psychological delusion at its worst.  The only cure for the error of modernism is a healthy dose of rationalism.  In order to combat this error, a Catholic evangelist must first understand that relativity has its place in matters of opinion; but one must understand that not all propositions are matters of point of view.  Rational thought, manifested in philosophical proofs, is a reflection of the truth in the world.  The world is what it is; either our various beliefs about it are right or they are wrong.  Either light exists or it doesn’t.  There is no in-between; light doesn’t exist for one person and not exist for another simply because one person refuses to believe in it.  If a Catholic can press the point on the difficulties of relativism, the evangelist should be able to turn the tide on empiricism as well.  For if truth exists, surely our rational thought process plays some role in finding that truth.  Rational proofs are a way to truth; provided they are logical and the propositions true.  It is imperative for a modern Christian’s evangelization strategy to be familiar with the merits of unified rational thought and empirical observation.  Catholicism’s strength has always been its utmost respect of the total human: both body and soul.   For the soul is manifest with rationalism and intelligence, and the body with empirical materialism.  It is this unity that must drive our search for truth.        

The next editorial will focus on the second error of modernism: tolerance of error.

 --S.M. Miranda

[ Back to the Main Page ]