Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who lived four centuries before Christ, proposed the scientific theory of horror vacui. Based on his observations, he concluded that nature fills every empty space with something, even if it is only air. In his works Gargantua and Pantagruel, the Renaissance priest, doctor and scientist Rabelais popularized this idea with the phrase Natura abhorret vacuum (“nature abhors a vacuum”). Where there is a void, either mass or energy rushes in to occupy the empty space. In truth, this theory applies not merely to physics, but to life.
For the last 30 years, the secularization of culture and the banishing of God from the public forum have created a great religious void. More and more Americans have been abandoning the practice of religion. Since 1990, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has tripled from eight percent to twenty-two percent.
Spiritual dimension of human life
Today there are about five million fewer mainline Protestants and three million fewer Catholics than there were 10 years ago. For every new convert to Catholicism, six others leave the Church. Young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much less interested in religion than their parents. As Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, has observed, “the country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board.”
Nonetheless, the human person is innately religious. More than just being a material creature on the same level as irrational animals, the human person has reason and is always in search of meaning. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And, so into the void created by abandoning religion as a source of meaning, other forms of discovering meaning have rushed in.
In an attempt to respond to the spiritual dimension of human life, some people are turning to New Age beliefs. New Age adherents, now nearly one-fourth of the population, have replaced the personal God of revelation with a spiritual energy that animates the cosmos. They are making use of crystals, tarot cards, astrology, psychics, and even yoga as a spiritual exercise to tap into this impersonal energy in order to manage their lives and find self-fulfillment.
For New Age adherents, there is no absolute truth. All beliefs are of equal value. And, since they deny the existence of sin, they do not accept the need for a Redeemer. At best, New Age adherents trade the transcendental for the immanent, the spiritual for the physical. At worse, they reject God and unwittingly fall into the hands of the Adversary.
God more powerful than witchcraft and worse
And, then there are others who reject God and consciously choose to turn to one form or another of the occult. It is astounding to realize that there are almost 1.5 million people who are involved in Wicca, a pagan form of witchcraft. Ever since the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ sin of attempting to be like God, people have been looking for ways to have the same knowledge and power as God himself. Today there are more witches than Presbyterians, more people involved in the occult than there are Muslims in the United States.
The more individuals extol themselves as self-sufficient and exalt reason over faith, they turn from God and enthrone Satan. Attempting to control their lives through the use of the occult, they hand themselves over to Satan who uses them to destroy the peace and harmony God plans for us. Satan is the great deceiver. He makes people believe that they have absolute control of their lives. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “[Satan’s] logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.”
It would be foolish to close our eyes to the unmistakable increase of the devil’s activity in our society. Lack of civility. Hate speech. The tearing down of people’s good name. The blood shed on our streets. The breakdown of family life. The widespread extolling of vices contrary to the gospel. The delight in exposing the sins of others. Abuse in all its forms. Abortion. The persecution of the Church. All these are born of anger, hatred, envy, pride, greed and lust. They cause division and are the fingerprints of the Evil One.
On the day after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis shocked the cardinals who had placed him on the Chair of Peter. He said, “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.”
The Pope courageously acknowledged the reality of Satan that day and many other times thereafter. And the Pope provided the only way to banish the devil from our midst: professing faith in Jesus. Professing our faith means quite simply staying close to Jesus within the Church, attending Mass at least each Sunday and Holy Day, receiving the sacraments and practicing charity. In other words, the only permanent antidote to evil in the world is the presence of God who leaves in us no room for evil.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.