We've inherited a nation, a civilization, a society, and a culture that is easy to both love and hate. Since America became a country almost 250 years ago, we've made a decent society for ourselves. The American Experiment, which set out to build a nation on the paradigm of liberty, has produced a higher standard of living for the common person. It has given the world the light bulb, the airplane, plastic, movies, the telephone and the internet---an invention many would say is the best thing since sliced bread, which was also an American innovation.
I start with that commendation because I don't want people to think I don't like our nation. I love America, and that's why I hate what it has become. We live in a culture of death, and the signs of it are beginning to show. Our communities are falling apart because very few are engaged in the life of their local area. Buildings, neighborhoods, and entire districts are being abandoned because we've lost the thread that kept communities together. We've lost the plot that gave us purpose. In the name of liberty, we're leaving Christianity in the past. This country was built on Christianity, and without it our society has no nucleus, no basis for activity or growth.
As a result, our society is dying. The majority, 61 percent, of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal. Abortion has no place among civilized people heading into the twenty-second century. That's right, I'm looking that far ahead because our myopia is one of the most detrimental symptoms ailing us in Western Civilization, and it makes us slaves to our carnal passions.
There are many reasons to oppose abortion. I'm not going to tackle them all here. Here, I just want to discuss the demographic problem it presents. It takes a large number of engaged citizens to keep a civilization alive. I don't want to sound utilitarian, but I have to say our children are our greatest resource. We need to have more children in order to survive as a nation, and as a civilization. I see the effects of our dying nation in every abandoned building I pass.
(Distinctions are in store here. When I say "nation", "civilization", "culture", and "society", I mean something different by each. By "nation", I mean the land of our birth, the place that raised us, a place we should be proud to be a part of and support through our actions. By "civilization", I mean the entire West, which includes all of the Americas and Europe---because this entire part of the world has a common foundation in Christianity. Culture is the most evasive word among these four, but generally by "culture" I mean our media, our lifestyles, sports, music, and other forms of leisure. By "society" I mean the institutions, economic sectors, and organizations that allow our nation to function as a unit; our governments, our academia, our infrastructure.)
We are told by media and academia to not even care if Western civilization dies. The greatest influencers of our day don't see anything worth keeping. They think our past is filled with unprecedented sins against humanity. As Wall Street Journal columnist Gerard Baker wrote,
It's hard to find a positive vision for the future of Western civilization, because most visions of our future today leave behind the way we've done things in our past. Therefore, in the minds of many, we have to tear down everything from our past in order to build a better future. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most Westerners want the West to die so they could build something better on top of its carcass. This is just foolish and naive. Any positive future must include standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us.
Who we are today
Today, our demographic trajectory, at least in the West, shows that we won't even replace ourselves in future generations. Birth rates are under 2.0 per person. And, despite what new paradigms may suggest, we need two people to reproduce one person. The world will reach its highest population in the 2080s, and then begin to decline if we continue hating life.
I admit, there are many aspects of life that I despise. But I don't hate life. What do I mean? In many ways, life just sucks and then we die. It sucks everything out of us---our energy, our dreams, ambitions, our hard-earned money, our emotions, our well-being---until we just can't take anymore and then it ends.
But life is also amazing. Every day is a chance to make life better for someone, and we do succeed in doing that in little ways whether we notice it or not. So, in a way it is worth the struggle, even if it is just one big struggle most of the time. Life is what we make of it. It is horrible and wonderful. But the worse we think it is the worse it gets. The better we think it is the more art we produce, the more smiles we share, the more love we make, and the more life we get.
And there are many ways to make love. We make love whenever we produce something beautiful. We make God's presence more apparent in the world when we selflessly give, when we sing from the heart, when we build, draw, or write something inspiring. But all of these expressions of love have one thing in common: We need someone who has life in them to make them. We need to produce life in order to make love more present in the world. Animals can't know love as profoundly as we do. Artificial intelligence will never comprehend our God-given ability to know love and give love. The miracle of life and its most essential component---love---need us human beings to realize it in the world. So why is our civilization so opposed to producing more of it?
The Overpopulation Alarmists
The sad thing is, the future decline of the earth's population is seen as a good thing by many people. Okay, let's go with that, being the short-sighted humans we are these days. When a species becomes extinct, it isn't exactly a pleasant experience. I think the dystopian overpopulation alarmists forget the basics of biological evolution. They picture a future where there are less crowded highways and cities, less pollution and litter---but they fail to see that if a species is not growing and expanding, that means it is not healthy. If it's not thriving it won't survive. Our current age is a testimony to that. We are shrinking because we are not well. The weaker we get as human beings, the easier it will be for the forces of nature to overcome us.
Alarmists don't seem to acknowledge the fact that if we are not the dominant species on the planet, some other species will be. If we could talk to them, our pre-historic ancestors would tell us stories about when they had to live in constant fear of being killed by something stronger and/or deadlier than they were. We still feel vestiges of that reality today when a large carnivore approaches: That's our instincts telling us that big cats, canines, reptiles and carnivorous fish used to be our predators, and we're actually not far from becoming such all over again. We live in a world where we have to thrive to survive, dominate or be dominated. Humans dominate animals by domesticating them. I don't know of any other species that is so humane. Can we improve upon our domestication techniques? Sure. But if there was ever a vote for which species should dominate the earth, I would choose humans every time.
This isn't complicated. Different ideologies that propose unnatural visions for humanity have confused us and set us off-course. It's time to get back on the road to prosperity where we are many and one. Otherwise, the forces of nature will cause us to become extinct. We need all cultures to become Christian while maintaining all of what they are that is not contrary to the Faith. Christianity is the only way for any civilization, nation, society, or culture to reach its full potential. We need Christianity to avoid extinction, because there are forces beyond our control that will overcome us if we don't live by the vision of humanity revealed to us by God. To combat these forces, we have to grow bigger and stronger, not smaller and thus weaker.
"But wait," you may be thinking, "We were talking about the West, not the whole human race." They go hand in hand. The West has been blessed with the Christian vision, which is the best for humanity because it proposes an eternal end with God in heaven and gives the most practical way to get there: a divine way, not a human way.
Diversity in God's Design
We may think there's nothing wrong with another civilization like Islam overtaking the West, but the problem is no single culture is enough to sustain the human race. The more diversity we have the better. Humanity has always survived due to its diversity. I think we're all in general agreement that it isn't good for any culture to become extinct. The more diverse we are the better, because our diversity galvanizes us against outside threats. As long as we remain a diverse species, we will have no common weakness to exploit and no common strength for threats to surmount. Our diversity allows us to adapt, as we learn from other cultures and they learn from us.
Christianity allows for diversity, and that's why we see such a variety of worship among Christians. I want to see the entire world convert to Christianity; but only because it is the only worldview that allows us to be who we are and become one at the same time. All believers are members of the Body of Christ, but we all play different parts (1 Corinthians 12-28).
Striking a balance between diversity and unity is God's idea, and a Christian paradigm. Too much diversity is just chaos. Too much unity is too mechanical. Just look at the differences between a forest and a cornfield. The former is a diverse environment, but interfere with any species or element within it and you interrupt the way it functions as a unit. A cornfield, on the other hand, is designed to be cut down and reseeded. It serves one manmade purpose. While there is nothing inherently bad about this, it does not conform with nature. As a Christian, I don't want the entire world to become one monotonous crop of believers who all believe and practice the same thing in the same ways. I don't believe God wants it that way either. There are certain fundamental truths we all must live by, but all other aspects of life should be open for a wide variety of cultural expressions. For guidance on what fundamental truths I am referring to, see the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Their guidance lead us to true freedom because they are clear on defining sin.
Who do we want to be?
Many great civilizations fell due to their decision to favor pleasure over wisdom. The Persians and Romans immediately come to mind. The citizens and leaders became too comfortable, and thought they could conquer the world or didn't think the world could conquer them. Wisdom is not myopic. It has foresight. Wisdom teaches us to look generations into the future, to follow our present lifestyle to its logical projected consequences. The current lifestyle of Americans favors pleasure and wealth over wisdom. Such a lifestyle is not only unwise but selfish. We are not thinking of the ones who will come after us. We need to look ahead, and favor what lasts because that is what will save us.
The Traditional Latin Mass, for example, is coming back in unexpected numbers---despite being suppressed---because it lasts. In towns like Carmel, Indiana and Cayalá, Guatemala, classic architecture is making a comeback as well because it has durable qualities. These things endure amid adversity because they provide a sturdy foundation upon an eternal hope. They are not ephemeral things. They are things rooted in an undefeated Christian resilience.
These are bastions of Western culture from a time when we had a positive and eternal vision of humanity. I use these examples to give a clearer picture of what I mean by life-giving foresight. Mass, for instance, used to be like a nucleus for Catholic communities. It's where the laity received the grace to live their life full of purpose, and that purpose subsequently led to a flourishing of all aspects of life from the trades to the arts.
Similarly, classic architecture provided a place people wanted to be, and made them proud of being from there or inspired them to go there. This pride of place or inspiration from travel subsequently brought deeper meaning to the rest of their lives. These things make life worth living and give more life to the world. People long for a deeper, more enduring sense of purpose, and we can usher that in so future generations can benefit from it. It's happening in some areas, but not in enough. We just need to believe it. We need to believe in the things that endure in order for them to prevail.
Life will always win. If we are not producing life, our way of life will die not long after we do. If we do not work toward rebuilding our civilization with the qualities that made it great, life will go on, but not as we know it. I don't know about you, but that's not what I want. As I started out saying, I believe we've done quite well for ourselves as a society, as a nation, and as a civilization. I'd hate to see all that we built go to waste, and just become a footnote in the annals of history.
American Backroom on Flickr (creative commons license)
Church and street scene, as well as man and lion scene images designed with Microsoft Designer