Loss of Supernatural is Causing the Decline of Civilization

Loss of Supernatural is Causing the Decline of Civilization


Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually devout people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religious people. Secular analysts seem to be doing back flips trying to explain away the simple reality that there is no other authentic and fulfilling way to live other than a supernatural life; the Divine Life.

The problem is that this number is declining at an alarming rate. And, so too is the desire to live holy, Godly lives. The unfortunate result is an epidemic of immoral and brute lifestyles that is leading to a rapid demise of our civilization. The British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee is known to have said, “Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.”

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle (394-322 B.C.) observed that no person deliberately chooses to be unhappy. The purpose and end of man, Aristotle argued, was happiness – for happiness is self-evidently what all men seek and strive for, it is what he directs all his powers towards. So this universal quest for happiness defines humanness. “Happiness” Aristotle pointed out is the only thing willed by man for its own sake. Everything else is willed for the sake of happiness.

The truth behind this insight is now confirmed by theology, philosophy, psychology, sociology and indeed many modern disciplines. These disciplines may use different terminology, but they are all basically talking about the same thing that Aristotle was talking about 2400 years ago. These four levels are summarised as follows (These levels were derived from an article by Graham Moorhouse) …

Happiness Level 1


Happiness level 1 is simply sensual gratification: enjoying a good meal, sexual gratification, owning the latest BMW or gadget, watching a good football match, etc. The pleasures of happiness level one are intense but short lived. There is nothing wrong with happiness level 1 unless one puts the little word ONLY in front of it. When you do this, you will sooner or later hit a crisis where life seems to be pretty shallow and empty.


Happiness Level 2


Happiness level 2 is ego gratification: being the best, the fastest, smartest, funniest, most liked and esteemed, admired, powerful etc. Again there is absolutely nothing wrong with happiness level 2, it’s what drives progress, makes us build the Sydney Opera House, etc., and it’s what makes the fundamentals of happiness level 1 healthy – we now eat and relax to perform better.


There is nothing wrong with happiness level 2, unless one again puts that little word ONLY in front of it. When we do this, others become competitors, a challenge, problems. Men locked into happiness level 2 may have several failed marriages. Friends and wives are for such people there to stroke their ego and tell them how wonderful they are. When they cease to do this, they are rejected for a new relationship. The worlds of politics and entertainment are filled with HL2 types.


Happiness level 3


Happiness level 3 is best summed up by the word “love”. It is reached when we genuinely move from the self to the other. That is, when we start to live to serve another, or others, or a cause that will be of benefit to others. HL3 involves commitment, giving, loyalty, care, concern, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and above all self-sacrifice. HL3 again makes HL2 healthy: we start to achieve, to serve. I want to be a good lawyer so that I may give my children a good education and represent the poor well, for example. Other people are now no longer mere competitors or ego-strokers. Others become partners with whom I can work in a much more noble enterprise than my own ego-gratification.


But HL3 also has its crisis when we again put ONLY in front of it. Why? Because human beings do not just want love, we want ultimate unconditional love. We do not just want truth, we want ultimate unconditional truth. We do not just want beauty, we want ultimate unconditional absolute beauty. We do not merely want being, we want absolute being.


But I cannot be an ultimate unconditional infinite anything for you, nor you for me. Why not? Because I’m a creature, finite, limited. The more deeply we know one another, the more apparent that becomes and the more disillusioned we become. The crisis in the HL3 person leads to cynicism, the feeling that whatever I commit myself to inevitably disappoints me in the end. The philosopher John Paul Sartre summed it up when he wrote: “I seek perfection, but perfection does not exist, therefore life is absurd.”


Happiness level 4


The happiness level 4 person simply acknowledges his human desire for the ultimate and consciously seeks a relationship with God, the ultimate truth, love, goodness, beauty and being. HL4 involves surrender. The kernel of HL4 is summed up in the prayer: “Thy will be done.” The true HL4 person enjoys a great inner peace. HL4 makes HL3 healthy, for you no longer need to be perfect for me and I no longer seek the ultimate in you. I’m easy and comfortable with the fact that we are deeply flawed and very finite. This liberates me to love unconditionally. One of the greatest examples of an HL3/4 personality in our own times would be Mother Teresa.


Where we, or more importantly, our culture, sits on the “staircase” of happiness affects every issue of life. It affects our view of success, quality of life, suffering, ethics, freedom, human rights, the common good, personhood and love.


“Personhood” is the real biggie. If the culture is built on happiness level 1 attitudes, then it is focused on things – eating things, consuming things, owning things. In such a culture we will tend to look upon other people as just things. And if you are a thing, I’m a thing. This is hardly likely to do much for our self-esteem and abortion and euthanasia are unlikely to cause us too much loss of sleep.


If we are in an happiness level 2 culture, i.e. ego gratification, where outstripping, performing, achieving, competitive advantage, is the name of the game, once I become weak and dependent then euthanasia makes perfect sense. “Persons” in such a culture are either winners or losers, and once nature has determined from here on you are going to be a loser in competitive terms, then self-murder makes perfect sense. And if a new baby is getting in the way of you winning a Wimbledon final, why not murder it by abortion. Winning is what life is all about. Winning is what makes you happy and all human beings seek happiness don’t they?


For the happiness level 3/4 person and culture all this is just too shallow to contemplate. To the happiness level 4 person human beings are mystery, with the potential for infinite love, beauty, justice, goodness and being. Before such a mystery the only appropriate response is to genuflect. And this is as true for the one cell zygote in a woman’s fallopian tubes as it is for you and me – for all three of us are defined by the same potential thirst and capacity for the infinite, the same potential perfection of our powers.

“St. Thomas Aquinas believed that man is more than a composite of body and soul, that his is nothing less than elevated to a supernatural order which participates, as far as a creature can, in the very nature of God. Accordingly a person in the state of grace, or divine friendship, possesses certain enduring powers, the infused virtues and gifts, that raise him to an orbit of existence as far above nature as heaven is above earth, and that give him abilities of thought and operation that are literally born, not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Fr. John Hardon).

“The spiritual man” according to the Navarre Bible, “is the Christian reborn by the grace of God; grace elevates his faculties to enable him to perform actions which have a supernatural value — acts of faith, hope, and charity. A person who is in the state of grace is able to perceive the things of God, because he carries with him the Spirit in his soul in grace, and he has Christ’s mind, Christ’s attitude. ‘We have no alternative,’ St. Josemaria Escriva teaches, ‘there are only two possible ways of living on this earth: either we live a supernatural life, or we live an animal life. And you and I can only live the life of God, a supernatural life’ (Friends of God).”


What Has Been Lost?

As I wrote in an earlier article, I’ve come to understand that over the past 50 years we have, by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. I happen to agree with Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:

“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).

As you can see, the entry point is “Fear of the Lord (or Awe and Wonder).”

What is Fear of the Lord? According to Fr. John Hardon, Fear of the Lord …

“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God.”

Fear of the Lord (or Awe and Wonder) is the entry point into HL4; this is the trigger that ignites all of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Without this “trigger,” we are prone to reduce our faith/religion to merely another organization that has a sense of social responsibility; Jesus is then reduced to an historic figure to emulate; Mass is just a social gathering. We are stuck in the lower levels of happiness.

In speaking of the need for a New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God’, the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity.” Before the destructive post-Vatican II trend of stripping out of all things sacred, Catholicism led the way in preparing the souls to be open to receive this first and most necessary “trigger” Gift of Awe and Wonder through sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music and special attention to the sacred offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Man should tremble, the world should quake, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.” Is this the experience in many of our Catholic churches on Sunday morning?

I count myself among those, priests and lay faithful alike, who are exceedingly concerned with the trajectory of the Catholic Church in America – the actual loss of souls – in this post-Vatican II era.

According to the 2002 Index of Leading Catholic Indicators,

“In 1965, only one percent of U.S. parishes were without a priest. Today, there are 3,000 priestless parishes, 15 percent of all U.S. parishes. Between 1965 and 2002, the number of seminarians dropped from 49,000 to 4,700, a decline of over 90 percent. In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200, a decline of 94 percent. A 1958 Gallup Poll reported that three in four Catholics attended church on Sundays. A recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that only one in four now attend. Only 10 percent of lay religious teachers now accept Church teaching on contraception. Fifty-three percent believe a Catholic can have an abortion and remain a good Catholic. Sixty-five percent believe that Catholics may divorce and remarry. Seventy-seven percent believe one can be a good Catholic without going to Mass on Sundays. By one New York Times poll, 70 percent of all Catholics in the age group 18 to 44 believe the Eucharist is merely a ‘symbolic reminder’ of Jesus.”

And, if we hoped things were getting any better since this 2002 study, a recent CARA study found that, just since AD 2000, 14 million more Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, infant baptism has dropped by 28%, adult baptism has dropped by 31%, and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%.

Setting aside any debate on the value of the documents of Vatican II, it is clear to any reasonable person that a trend was set in motion, after the council, by so-called leading experts, to make drastic changes in the Church and, most especially, in the Mass. This trend is known by many as the “Spirit of Vatican II,” since these so-called experts could not point to actual writings from the council to justify their innovations and eradications, but simply proclaimed it was implied by a spirit of the documents.

For the most part, the post-Vatican II trend was one that sought to demythologize the faith; to root out any sense of the supernatural or the sacred (most especially, in the Mass). Many see the devastation of the past 50 years as the coup de grâce of a Deism that finds it’s roots in the period of the Enlightenment (see here).

Pope St. Pius V summed it up, “All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics.” If the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity established the Church, and infused it (us) with the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the world, then an epidemic of lukewarm, unspiritual Catholics would have no power to turn back the darkness of evil. In fact, they are prone to conform to the world.

In a recent talk given by George Weigel, he briefly described the work of Rod Stark, the historian of the classical era. Stark asks the question,

“How is it that Christianity converted practically the entire Mediterranean basin in just a few centuries when it was a poor, rag-tag group of nobodies from the dregs of the Empire? The power of Rome was brutal – everyone under its thumb was at its mercy. Christians looked very different. They treated women with dignity and not as property. They cared for the sick, elderly, and widowed. Most of all, they lived joyful, decent lives. Christianity did not “win” through military conquest but through its love of neighbor. It did not win by argument but by example. This is the key to the year of mercy: we must live mercy so that it radiates out from us and spills over into the world. It must touch others and lead them to the truth that our destiny is eternal friendship with God.”

What Professor Stark is referring to is a people literally “lit up” by the power of supernatural grace. These supernaturally illuminated souls cause others to question the darkness of their own souls, and compels them to seek whatever source these Christians have found for living life to the fullest; to live life “for God.”

Albert Einstein is often attributed as once saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” How much longer are we going to embrace the failed anti-supernatural experiment of the past 50 years?

Let’s fight to restore the sense of the supernatural in our Church again. If we do this, civilization has a chance to survive.


(For those who read my articles, you will notice segments of previous articles interwoven here. Every once in a while, I reflect on pieces I have written in the past, and discover a new angle for making the point. That makes a piece like this, in a sense, a rewrite)

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