This Zeitgeist of Modernism

Uncle Sam
The American mascot for all things political.
I used to get very caught up into politics.  I was raised by Democrat parents.  My father was a huge supporter of John F. Kennedy.  My mother came from a blue-collar family in the South.  There was perhaps no family more Democratic than mine during the 1970s.  That's why, as a ten-year old child, I cried when the television reporter announced that President Jimmy Carter just lost his 1980 bid for re-election.  My parents were just heading out the door to vote, as the polls hadn't closed in California yet.  My mother started to put her purse away.  My father asked "What are you doing?"  She said, "What's the point?  He already lost!"  My father picked up her purse, handed it back to her, and said: "we can still go vote against Reagan as a protest."  They left the house and returned about thirty minutes later.  By that time my tears had dried, but I still had the awful pit in my stomach.  The thought of going back to school the next day was horrible.  I was one of the few in my class who voted for Jimmy Carter in the public school polling done the week before.  I remember the other children laughing at us as we raised our hands to vote for the peanut farmer from Georgia.  I was having a difficult enough time in public school already.  Being mocked for my family's voting habits only added insult to injury.  I was relieved upon going to school the next day.  The thrill of Ronald Reagan's election swept the campus.  Everyone seemed to have forgotten about my arm-raised vote for Jimmy Carter.  I can honestly say, this was my very first experience with democracy.  It's only gone downhill from there.

By 1984 my parents were "Reagan Democrats."  He had won them over as he did with millions of others.  Of course, I too was a "Reagan Democrat" at this time, just as my parents were, just as most fourteen year-old teenagers follow their parents in politics.  Like most people of my generation, I still have fond memories of the 1980s, and why shouldn't I?  It was the best economic growth our nation had seen since the 1950s.  These were good times to be an American.  However, we shouldn't fool ourselves into the mindset that all was good during the 1980s.  During this time, seeds were being sown that would eventually become our economic demise in the twenty-first century.  By 1988 I could legally vote, and my first ballot was cast for George H. Bush in a Republican straight ticket.  So there you have it.  It was the eight year transformation of a young mind full of mush; from the crying ten-year old over a Democratic loss, to a young man casting his vote to ensure a Republican victory.  How does something like that happen?

The truth is, it's happened lots of times, millions upon millions of times, not just in America, but around the world.  If you've ever voted, it's probably happened to you.  People behave essentially like herd animals.  They're easily manipulated and controlled by those with money and power.  Democracy is the best political vehicle available to make that happen.  The modern media is just the oil that greases the machine.

Through the 1990s, as a young man, I was a die-hard Republican.  I flirted with Libertarianism for a brief period of time, but when it came to voting, I was pretty much straight-ticket Republican.  I think the last presidential election I was ever exited about was in 2000, wherein I voted for then Governor George W. Bush over then Vice President Albert Gore.  What I thought would be a decisive victory of a Republican candidate over the corruption of the Clinton administration turned out to be an electoral nightmare.  The election was stalled in Florida, and ultimately decided by a few thousand votes and the electoral college process.  Let's not forget the roles of the Florida and United States supreme courts in that whole fiasco.  G.W. Bush won by a hair, but I'm afraid that's when the reality of American politics, and democracy in general, started to set in with me.  

I'm ashamed to admit it.  Yes, I am truly ashamed, and consider this a sort of public confession, but while President G.W. Bush was ramping up forces to invade Iraq, I like many Americans, believed his rhetoric.  In fact, when Pope John Paul II warned us of the folly of this military exercise, I believed my president over my pope.  I said to myself that the president has information the pope is obviously not privy to, and the president knows what is best in these situations.  The pope is a nice old man, so I thought, who's job it is to promote peace, but really doesn't understand the situation.  I know the truth now.  I WAS A FOOL!  Pope John Paul II was right, and the president was wrong.  Bush couldn't even produce these so-called "weapons of mass destruction" he got us all so worries about.  By 2005 that was obvious.  I, and millions of other Catholic Americans who supported him, were left with egg on our faces.  We were played.  I am ashamed of not listening to my pope over my president, and I can assure the current pope, and all future popes, that will NEVER happen again.  So in 2005 my eyes were beginning to open to this zeitgeist we call Modernism.

The German word "zeitgeist" is often attributed to the philosopher Georg Hegel (b.1770 -- d.1831).  It is transliterated into English as "time-spirit," and it simply means the "spirit of the age," or the dominant way of thinking during a certain period of history.  The word "modernism" has many attributions, but it is particularly the religious-philosophical one I am interested in here.  By that I mean the definition condemned by Blessed Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1864 in his "Syllabus of Errors."  Modernism is the mindset or philosophy that pervades our modern times.  It is the zeitgeist of our age.  It consists of many things; atheism, pantheism, communism, socialism, relativism, and the like.  More specifically to the United States, it pertains to the errors of our nation's Founding Fathers, who advocated a "wall of separation" between church and state, which eventually led to the creation of government-run secular schools that are completely separated from (even opposed to in some cases) all things religious.  By extension, it leads to the notion that issues of family and morality can be subject to a popular vote, or even a secular court decision, in such a way that redefines them apart from religion.  These things Blessed Pope Pius IX condemned as heretical "errors" in his Syllabus, which Catholics cannot believe, but unfortunately, they are the very things that define our modern civilisation, which includes the United States of America as one of modernism's chief proponents throughout the world.

So people ask me today if I'm a Republican, Democrat or Independent.  I answer: "none of the above."  I am a Catholic -- period.  For the most part, Catholics are unrepresented in American politics, even by so-called "Catholic politicians" on both sides of the political isle.  The social teaching of the Church transcends everything the United States government represents, and it is something American politics cannot even hope to measure up to.  I look at the political field of candidates and ideas.  I am disgusted by what I see.  Of the two major parties, this is our choice, as I see it.  Democrats offer us a centrally-planned economy (socialism-lite), with moral relativism to underpin it.  The Catholic Church has condemned both ideologies.  Republicans offer us an economy of rugged-individualism (libertarian capitalism) with promises to restore Christian values that are never delivered and often compromise with the zeitgeist of moral relativism (i.e. "homosexual civil unions" instead of "gay marriage").  Again, the Catholic Church has condemned both ideologies.  What does the Catholic Church teach insofar as American politics go?  Well, let's list some issues to help define that...
  1. 100% Pro-Life: that means no abortions, no Plan B morning after pill, no artificial contraception, no in-vitro fertilisation, no euthanasia or "mercy killings," no executions (capital punishment), no human cloning, no embryonic stem-cell research, no unnecessary wars.  Life is sacred.  Get the picture?
  2. 100% Pro-Family: that means no gay "marriage" and no "same-sex civil unions," no easy divorce, no turning marriage into a mere legal contract.  Marriage means one man, plus one women, open to the possibility of creating human life.  Period.
  3. Solidarity with immigrants: while this doesn't mean open wide the doors and allow a nation to be overrun by undocumented aliens, it does mean showing mercy to those people who are already here and otherwise living as peaceful law-abiding workers.  It means making a path for these people to enjoy basic human rights and possibly even a path to citizenship.
  4. Solidarity with the poor: this means helping those in the greatest need, providing for food, clothing, medicine and shelter.
  5. Universal healthcare: this means all people have a right to medicine when needed, without having to worry about losing their homes, or becoming indentured servants to obtain it.
  6. Government Subsidiarity: this means socialism is out!  It means that people have to find solutions at the local level, and that larger government entities must find ways of supporting local solutions rather than centrally planning them.
  7. Economic Subsidiarity: this means big business must change.  People have a right to productive property and to own their means of labour.  Monopolies must be broken up at all levels to make way for small family-owned businesses, and large corporations should consider transforming themselves into worker-owned cooperatives. 
  8. School Choice: this means parents have the absolute RIGHT to determine what form of education is best for their children, while governments, communities and churches have the absolute RESPONSIBILITY to provide for this choice and make it economically possible.
So there you have it in a nutshell.  This is what American Catholic politics should look like based on the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church going back over a hundred years.  Now which American political party represents this?


That's right, none!  Neither political party represents Catholic social teaching, not even in a small way.  They are both woefully insufficient.  They are both sorrowfully bankrupt.  They are both pitiful.  Neither major political party deserves the Catholic vote, and yes, they know it.  That's why they work so feverishly to divide the American people along single-issues and demonise each other with the most inflammatory language.  When all else fails, they start a war (or some international crisis) to rally their supporters and keep the nation divided along the terms they have predetermined.  

On the outskirts of American politics are the marginalised "third parties," and again, nothing represents Catholic teaching among them.  If they affirm one aspect, they deny another.  It's the same trap, just reformulated a different way.  It is the zeitgeist of modernism played out again under smaller banners.  These do not deserve the Catholic vote either.  It doesn't really matter though.  American politics is so clearly dominated by the two main parties that the rise of a third political party is all but impossible. So this is the situation we live in, but it's not just limited to the United States.  Canada, Australia, Europe, and indeed the whole Western world is caught up in the modernist zeitgeist.  

What of democracy itself?  What do we say of that?  I think anyone who follows national or international events can tell you that democracy is controlled by labour unions and big business.  This is true not only for capitalist nations but for socialist nations too.  What has emerged in our lifetime is a strange kind of marriage between big business, big unions and big government.  The three are wedded together in the most queer way.  In the end they rely on each other.  They depend on each other.  They literally need one another, and they know it.  The common man is more impoverished because of it.  No, for all this talk about conspiracy theories and "dark smoke-filled rooms," there is really nothing to hide.  It's all just business you see, and it's been business all along.  Look, large political campaigns, such as the presidential and senatorial campaigns, are very expensive to finance, and every political campaign needs money.  There is a small handful of very large businesses and labour unions that are willing to foot the bill.  The people who run these operations are just businessmen, and they're usually very eager to pay.  As good businessmen however, they only expect a good return on their investments.  So there you have it.  Politicians, by nature of the expensive campaign process, are bought and paid for before they're ever sworn into office.  It doesn't matter which party they belong to, or how many churches they visited during the campaign.  It doesn't even matter what political, social, religious or philosophical persuasion they cling to.  In the end they have to make promises to their biggest campaign donors, and if they break those promises, they cannot expect such "generosity" from those big donors again.  This is why many large donors contribute to the campaigns of opposing political candidates.  That way, it doesn't matter who wins the election, because the large donor wins the favours.  That is modern democracy in a nutshell, and that is why everything seems so "screwed up."   In the end, whoever you vote for in big national campaigns, is likely somebody who is already bought and paid for by a large business and/or labour entity that does not necessarily have your best interests in mind.  The same is true for democracy on all levels, but the problem becomes more manageable as you get into smaller state and local governments.  At the lower levels of government there can be more accountability to the people, because campaigns are less expensive to finance.  When it comes to democracy, I highly recommend it at the city and county levels.  The state level is a little sketchy.  As for the federal and national level, I am now of the opinion that it's pretty much a farce. 

Is it "unpatriotic" for me to say these things?  I suppose it is only if you believe observation of the truth is unpatriotic.  I really don't believe there is a political solution to the problems that now face our civilisation.  I think the ideas and tools offered by America's Founding Fathers are woefully inadequate for what has now become of our world.  The solutions offered by both political parties in the United States, when you really stop and think about it, are just more of the same thing, repackaged to look pretty for another generation.  I don't worship political candidates, nor do I shed tears for them any more.  I'm tired of being suckered.  I'm afraid that what is needed is some kind of a great social "reset," but I don't know what that would be or how that would play out.  What I do know is this zeitgeist of Modernism cannot last forever.  It is already beginning to crumble all around us.  The Syllabus of Blessed Pope Pius IX will be vindicated, and in many ways, it already has been.  There will come a new global order someday.  I don't know exactly what it will be, or how it will play out, but I do know that this zeitgeist of modernism will at that time be relegated to history's ash heap of failed ideas.  I suspect people will eventually default back to something they know works.  I imagine that will be something from our Christian past.  No, I don't have any predictions or details.


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Pair O' Dimes said…
Bravo to you for being brave enough to admit to your story and your current conclusions! I went through something similar myself. When I was first old enough to vote I was a Democrat and voted for John Kerry, and then for Barack Obama the first time. It was after that that I returned to the Church, and come 2012 I briefly went Republican after I realized the truth about the Democratic Party, but after voting in the primaries I went Independent and voted for Virgil Goode. Now I even regret that decision.

I agree with just about everything you've said, to be honest. I am now a monarchist, which means I'm not voting anymore--quite frankly I don't even like voting on the non-negotiable issues because to me a real, honest election is one where I can accept the outcome even if my way loses. Therefore I'm not comfortable voting on abortion, not even to vote against it, because morally I cannot accept the other outcome.

Actually I believe that, based on Catholic prophecy, democracies and republics will soon be gone and monarchies will return, starting with a Great Catholic Monarch who might come within our lifetimes. I don't pretend to know that for sure--I've had no direct supernatural encounter telling me so--but it's something to think about, and it helps me to have hope.
MarijaD said…
Agree with every word you wrote. Very similar experience and thus the same conclusions.
Leo Downey said…
Jesus had little concern for politics or laws, I wonder why so many Catholics seem to concern themselves so greatly with the politics of the lands. Jesus told Pilate "My kingdom is not of this world." and even warned Peter "for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" and of course their is the infamous "render unto caesar". Jesus was much more interested in our souls rather than our civil laws. It is not surprising that no political party or system can come close to the ideals of our Church because an imperfect human system cannot hope to compare. The world will not be rid of sin through laws or politics.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Leo, I believe you are quite correct in your observation that Jesus said to Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world." And ultimately, I think it is just a matter of time before the Catholic Church completely divests herself of this modern civilisation. When that happens, she will be much better off, but her involvement in the affairs of this world will not be over. On the contrary, they will just start anew in a different way.

You see, the culture wars were not about stamping out sin, any more than previous decency laws were about creating moral people. Nobody believed that decency laws made people more moral, and nobody believes the culture wars are going to stamp out sin.

No, the culture wars are about preventing suffering. That's it. Plain and simple. They serve the same role as the decency laws in previous generations going all the way back to the Middle Ages. You see, Catholics saw the horrors of what the Roman Empire became in the last centuries of its existence. Its laws, religion, culture and morality brought great suffering upon the world -- needless suffering.

Paganism, in the final analysis, is just a highly structured form of moral relativism. The sexual deviancy it created brought about the horrible victimisation of women and children. In the end, Rome's lack of decency cost it the ultimate price. It fell from within. This brought famine, crime and political unrest for a number of years -- i.e. needless suffering.

In the early years of the Church (100 - 400 AD), Christians tried to prevent the inevitable, warning their Pagan neighbours of the dire consequences of their actions. This resulted in their persecutions, arrests, and in some cases martyrdom. In the end (400 - 500 AD), the Church just gave up on the Roman Empire, and instead concentrated on converting her people. Thus, when the empire finally fell, the people were already conditioned to turn to the Church for assistance and guidance. Thus began the glorious Middle Ages.

This is what the Catholic Church needs to do today. Let the culture go to hell in a hand-basket, and just concentrate on converting people. In the end, after America and Europe collapse, if the Church has done her job, the people will be conditioned to turn to the pope and bishops for assistance and guidance. When this happens, the Catholic Church will simply do what she did 1,500 years ago. She will rebuild civilisation in her own image, creating laws that will bring about STABILITY, and ease suffering to a minimum.

This is what the Church does because it is charity. By her compassion upon people, she uses the gospel to guide their laws in such a way that reduces needless pain and misery.

What the Church is doing right now is throwing herself in the path of a people hell bent on jumping off a moral cliff. This is what the culture wars are really about. She will fail of course, because if somebody is hell bent on sinning, nobody is going to stop him. It won't be for lack of trying though. Gay Marriage will be the last stand of the Church. When she loses that battle, and she WILL lose, the culture wars will be over. It is at that point cultural divestment should begin, as the Church prepares for the fall of this civilisation, and the creation of a new one.
Leo Downey said…

I have never heard as the beginning of the Middle Ages being described as glorious. 500 to 1000 is usually referred to as the Dark Ages for good reason, but like everything it all depends on your point of view.

I am also surprised that you draw your line in the sand for the precipice of civilization on gay marriage. There are many things just as important or even more so. I am especially surprised because you earlier touched on what I believe the true cause of decline in society is which stems from greed and corruption and such. Everyone looks out for only themselves and that will be the downfall.

Though the sources remained unconfirmed and often debated the sentiment of the following apocryphal quote often attributed to Alexander Tyler (Tytler, or Woodehouse, or whomever) is fitting "A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury." It also goes on to suggest the cycle for democracy as "From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance, From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy, From apathy to dependence, From dependence back into bondage." Whether this came from some Scottish historian or some 1950's speech writer it does seem apropos.

I do agree with you that people should find solutions at the local level, though I do not think the solutions on the local level should involve law or politics. I always say start at home through your own example and your own moral convicitons and through the teaching of our children and those closest to us. I no longer expect our society to be fixed through our government or law but rather through prayer and love and teaching and understanding. The irony of it all is during the recent Easter sermons, I am reminded of another group that asked the government to solve their problems for what they perceived was a challenge to their moral teachings. They were members of the Sanhedrin.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Indeed, there were parts of the Middle Ages that were dark, but there were other parts that were actually an improvement over what existed under the Roman Empire. In the end, the Middle Ages gave rise to Christian Europe, and that was by all measures a vast improvement over the Roman Empire. So like all periods of history, it's a mixed bag. However, as far as Christianity goes, the fall of the Roman Empire was the best thing that could happen to it, as it freed the Church from the trappings of an obsolete Pagan system, and allowed her to refashion Europe according to a different model in which peasants had more rights.

As for the gay "marriage" thing, it is not the cause of our modern civilisation's fall, but rather a marker of it. It's rise to the centre of public debate indicates that people are more selfish, and that after all is said and done, they really do only care about themselves. It is the natural conclusion of a decadent society that is narcissist. The people no longer care, nor even consider, the good of children, the family and humanity in general. "Liberty" and "equality" have now been enshrined as the gods of our age, and the expense of everything else.

Only a society that has already deprived the poor of their rights could entertain itself with such novelties as gay "marriage." I see our treatment of the poor, and our entertainment of such novelties as two sides of the exact same coin.
MarijaD said…
We hear a lot about "gay marriage" destroying the foundations. I certainly agree. But what about usury? It used to be a mortal sin and now it is not even a venial sin. Perhaps exacting "too much" might be a venial sin. Some Catholics believe that until the Church stops condoning usury, she will not be strong. Some believe the sin of usury is more devastating than homosexual marriage, and actually produced the current obsession for homosexual marriage. Would be interested to hear comments on usury and the Church.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Usury is a cancer on American politics and economics. Indeed, it's a cancer on the world. I would say it's all tied into Capitalism really. No, I am not a Capitalist, but I am not a Socialist either. The teachings of the Church basically condemn both, but contrary to popular belief, they do not advocate something in between either. Whatever it is the Church is trying to convey about politics and economics, I think Distributism is the closest ideology to fit. That's why I am a Distributist, and as a Distributist, I would have to say that usury is an anathema. There should be limits on the amount of interest that can be charged in ANY and ALL loans. Yes, the Church does need to speak out loudly and clearly about this. I have a feeling that Pope Francis may have something up his sleeve on this one. We will just have to wait and see.