Beneath the soil of every continent lie buried the ruins of fallen civilizations. The Sumerians, Akkadians, Mayans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Minoans, Romans: all of them, faded memories of past grandeur and glory. History records the collapse of at least thirty-two major civilizations that once thrived and prospered before our time.
No great civilization is built in a day. No great civilization disappears in a single instant. Historians try to explain how these civilizations once so great have slowly vanished into the dustbin of history. Weather, economics, population decline, wars, politics are some of the reasons that they offer. But, ultimately, a civilization disappears when it loses its identity, forfeits its unity and jettisons its commitment to the common good.
Today’s relentless front-page news reports of scandal and sin (many times, stale news served up as current), the incessant discord of our politicians, the unending string of acrimonious tweets, and the rage of angry voices make one wonder whether or not we are facing the decline of our own civilization. Has our unity as a nation become so fragmented that it cannot be repaired?
The TV sitcoms, the talk shows, the din of warring cable news channels do little to promote serious discourse. Rather, they seem at times to make us despair of receiving unbiased reporting. They hardly inspire us to respond to the gospel’s clarion call for truth, justice, compassion and charity. Have we lost our commitment to the common good? Are we in the midst of an unstoppable decline of our nation?
Some say this is the age of tolerance. As a result, good and evil, right and wrong, vice and virtue, truth and error are accepted as equally valid. But, this is not the age of tolerance. Those who are pro-life are marginalized. Those who cherish and protect the life of the child waiting-to-be-born, the elderly and the terminally ill are branded as bigots, unwilling to show compassion to those suffering. Those who accept the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality as designed by the Creator are vilified. We live at a time when some are not only intolerant to our basic Christian values, but are actively engaged to silence Christians, target the Church and reduce her to ruins.
In an age of relativism, has it become almost impossible to dialogue rationally on the major issues that face us, such as poverty, migration, and the sanctity of life itself ? “Relativism is the order of the day. Good and evil, right and wrong, innocence and guilt – all these binaries are deliberately confused as antipodal extremes are brought into artificial congruence. Moral clarity is muddled and logical cogency diluted. All inherent preference is suspended out of a misguided attempt to achieve balance where there is none” (Brandon Marlon, “The Decline and Fall of Modern Civilization: 8 Simple Steps to Squandering It All,” The Algemeiner, January 22, 2015).
From the Church, we receive a rich heritage of truth, morality and charity. We have solid and clear moral principles given to us by Jesus. These are the solid building blocks with which to construct a just and peaceful society. Could it be that we ourselves are slowly abandoning these principles? How is it possible that those trained in the Catholic faith assume leadership roles in government and then jettison their Catholic morals? How is it that any one of us can remain complacent to the slow moral deterioration of our country?
Our country will not collapse if we refuse to hand over our future to those who deny the existence of God and live as if this world is all that there is. Our society will not collapse if we are courageous enough to draw on our moral and spiritual heritage to solve the issues that divide us. Our nation will not collapse if we remain true to our identity given to us by our Founding Fathers as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Our courage as moral individuals to stand for justice, truth and compassion is the antidote to the collapse of our country.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson in northern New Jersey.