I recently read a meditation by a 9th-10th-century saint. Doing so, it came to me how different this saint’s thoughts and perspectives were from today’s popular notion of the “dark ages” from the fall of Rome to The Enlightenment—about a millennium that most believe were exclusively defined by ignorance, brutality, superstition, and misery.
This saint wasn’t unique, as I’ve read many other letters, meditations, and reflections from every century during those “dark ages”, men and women expressing lucid, profound, hopeful thoughts, expressed in theological, rational, poetic, mystical, or fraternal language.
For Catholics, the deposit of faith is front and center, but the Church also has a rich tradition in the sciences, arts, philosophy, and all areas of intellectual inquiry. Too often, the disparagement of religious believers as narrow-minded by media and cultural guides causes Catholics to think they must cede science, history, reason, and the arts to secular champions.But this thinking has it exactly backwards.
That’s easy enough to say, but where’s the evidence?
Consider that today’s cultural guides commonly ascribe America’s social ills to the bigotry of privileged classes. While Catholics acknowledge that bigotry is real (and often sinful), they are willing to entertain other explanations for social ills that modern culture neglects or rejects: spiritual (including sin), cultural (dismissal of the importance of the family), and ideological (moral relativism) explanations. The popular culture’s narrowness also extends to the arts, where Catholic poetry, visual art, music, and literature is often broader in scope, depth, and richness than the secular culture, where “serious” art increasingly must conform to approved ideologies.
Since the beginning, and proceeding from its Founder’s and Father’s example and commands, the Church has proclaimed the equality before God of men and women, of every race, rich and poor, high and low, even as it recognized the recalcitrance of men.
So why, when modern genetics confirms that practically none of us are of a single race/ethnicity, is the secular culture so obsessed with racial identity?
Though we continue to be fixated on creating man-made utopias, the historical evidence tells a vastly different story. Whether theocracies, or states grounded in atheism, or cultures steeped in relativism, none has delivered what was promised, and most have descended to brutality. Catholics understand that man is incapable of establishing earthly utopias, even as Catholics strive to make societies as virtuous as humanly possible.
New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, is a demanding read, chiefly because of the deep-dive astrophysics. But Fr. Spitzer and others who contributed to this book are willing to look boldly at the Big Bang and at statistical improbabilities in this universe. I love space science, and the message I took away from Fr. Spitzer’s book is that never in history have we had so much scientific evidence suggesting a Creator.
In fact, the evidence is so compelling that many scientists have accepted that empirical physics—meaning physical phenomena we can actually measure—is not adequate to explain this universe. Thus, they have pursued what’s called mathematical physics; that is, explanations for the Big Bang and the statistical improbability of an anthropic universe (one that will allow the emergence of any life form) that are mathematically possible (or mathematically consistent) but cannot be measured today—the multiverse and other speculative pre-Big Bang physical “states” preceding this universe—nor are they likely to be able to be measured in the future.
Closer to home, the climate change elephant in the room and the media drumbeat that our environment is deteriorating obscures the balanced scorecard (the preponderance of the evidence) proving America’s water, air, and habitats are cleaner than in well over 100 years: wastewater treated to higher standards than ever before, very few fatalities or serious illnesses from drinking water, increasingly robust wildlife in most habitats, no more coal soot from furnaces, cleaner cars, countless stormwater retention ponds to reduce impacts on lakes and rivers, far less smog in vulnerable cities like Los Angeles, far fewer large-storm sewage overflows, the vast majority of Superfund sites cleaned up, industrial wastes pretreated before being conveyed to sewage plants.
Why then, in a culture that professes to esteem science (“Science is real”), isn’t such a balanced scorecard widely recognized? Certainly, we can do better, but we should start with the evidence.
The Church not only possesses the deposit of faith but has also leavened cultures worldwide from top to bottom, from art to science to philosophy and beyond. That saint I recently read wasn’t unique, and if this world’s culture is to be redeemed it will be Christ and his Church that redeems it.
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