Can Modernity Tolerate a Righteous Catholic Life?

The Facts of Life Series: A Righteous Lifestyle

Trying to live a righteous Catholic life can be an act of provocation and revolution in our contemporary culture. For our modern world objects to almost every facet and feature of a truly Catholic, Catholic lifestyle. And, with a mere moment’s reflection, this modern toxic reality and adversarial attitude to the moral and factual certainty of our Catholic worldview is not only strikingly certain, but insidiously invasive to everything we hold dear.

Our modern Western culture and its many institutions and individuals not only disagree with Catholic morality and virtue, Catholic theology and philosophy, but they judge our worldview and its many moral implications as bigoted, judgmental and aggressive, ignorant, arrogant and intolerant. And, they do so in what is an essentially a two-pronged assault on our Catholic worldview generally and on our Catholic morality more specifically. For they reject the Catholic worldview and its inherent morality because of its implicit philosophical premises about truth and goodness and because of its explicit moral and ethical assertions.  

Not only does the modern world reject Catholic morality and philosophy, but their primary objections arise from a variety of presuppositions and assumptions that require acceptance without any rational justification or detailed explication. Their ideas often appear intuitive rather than deductive, emotional rather than rational. And these ideas are expected to be accepted, as if they were so self-evident as to deny the need for critical evaluation and the necessity for rational explanation and justification.

And, even when the irrational and emotional bases of these ideas are pointed out, they feel no great need to justify their views because reason and rationality play no real part in the development or justification of their views. For their hostile philosophy, morality and worldview is more a matter of their patent belief that all these ideas are innately self-evident, matters of a truly real and righteous mind and heart, which alleviates the necessity for rational justification and moral grounding in the “natural law” and more revelatory religious sources. 

This is all a sorrowful state of affairs, given the Catholic and Christian history and morality of Western culture from the time of the Roman Empire. For until the last century or so, these modern immoral ideas and erroneous worldviews were perceived as deeply evil and patently peripheral to a fringe group of dystopian agnostic and atheistic intellectuals. Yet now, they have become the dominant ideas of modern Western culture, as a quick perusal of news and analysis will reveal.  

And, in order to understand and live a truly Catholic, a truly righteous life style in our modern moment, it is crucial to know the truth and morality of our faith to provide clear goals and principles for living and to discern the distortions and omissions inherent in our modern world and its culture.  The clearer we understand our Catholic faith and its implications and our modern world’s many mistakes and manipulations, the more consistently and rigorously we can live a truly righteous lifestyle.

The first crucial place where the Catholic worldview deviates from and conflicts with our modern world is over the very idea of truth. The modern world asserts that truth is merely personal, subjective, a matter of preference, perception. For them, belief establishes truth. Believing things are true, makes them true for each of us, according to the dominant modern paradigm. This is the essence of relativism, where truth is a matter of personal perception, not a matter of fact. For them, perception is fact.  Perception is truth. 

But, the Catholic idea of truth is the polar opposite. For us, truth is factual, objective, demonstrably and provably so.  For us truth precedes belief. Things must be true before we believe. Our perceptions are grounded in factual reality, rather than in our personal opinion and preference.   Catholic truth is truth in the traditional sense.  Truth is, and can only ever be, a matter of fact, not a matter of belief or perception.  For beliefs and perceptions, if they are grounded in reality, are built on truth and derive from it.

So, there is an irreconcilable difference between the Catholic idea of truth and that of our Western culture. We believe the nature of truth is always a matter of fact, rational, scientific fact, whereas the modern West believes truth is a matter of belief, perception, preference. And these differences in the worldviews of the Catholic and modern world preclude any concession or compromise. On this sweeping philosophical level, these differences leave us only deep divisions, only conflicts and confrontations.  

Just look at two of the more provocative modern moral issues. Take abortion and homosexuality. The modern world sees both of these as matters of personal freedom and preference, whose sole moral justification is a matter of individual sovereignty.  Reasoned or religious appeals to “natural law (inherent morality)” or revelatory imperatives are dismissed as impositions on personal freedom, as highhanded acts of intolerance, as heinous acts of judgmental tyranny. For these same invectives leveled against Catholics for our stances on abortion or homosexuality extend to many of our other moral judgements and virtues, as well.

Just think about the differences between how the Catholic and modern world differ when it comes to things that you might not anticipate there would be such differences.  Just think about love and all its many manifestations. For instance, love “does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” This is an aspect of love our modern world is apt to deny and reject because they not only reject the idea of truth and many forms of wrongdoing, but their default idea of love is often conceived of as approval, support, acceptance, which implicitly omits the moral components of real and robust love.  

And, think about the virtues and the vices and the panoramic picture of true righteousness and human failing they paint. Even with a passing reflection about our daily lives, we see acts and attitudes that embody faith, hope and charity, just as we see prudence, justice, temperance and courage in all their many major and minor manifestations. So too do we see, the acts and attitudes of human moral failings such as lust, greed and envy, sloth, gluttony and wrath and the pervasive human pride. These are things we see each and every day in ourselves and in our loved ones, at our work and in our leisure activities, in the news, in our culture, in our politics.

Even think about our human weaknesses, our inconsistencies, our degrees of error and sin that don’t reach a grievous level or are endemic parts of our personality and character with which we each struggle every day. Think of our fallen nature, our iniquity and our need for redemption; our broad and narrow, our intense and irritating imperfections that may never meet the serious nature or regularity of vices, but are a testament to our imperfection and to the standards of true perfection.   

Remember Jesus taught many moral things that were familiar to the simple and sophisticated, to the ignorant and the learned, to the young, the old, the righteous and the prideful with parables and with direct simplicity and clarity which most people clearly understood. And many times, He assumed his audience already knew this inherent, intrinsic, implicit morality that we call “natural law.” 

So, given these foundational moral and philosophical differences Catholics have with the modern world and all the others of a more subtle, insidious and pervasive nature, Catholics trying to live a righteous lifestyle should expect to be rejected, even reviled for our many moral injunctions and imperatives. As Jesus reminded us two millennia ago, living righteously, virtuously, spiritually will lead to persecution. For “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

But, we should remember Jesus’ exhortations to “love one another as I have loved you.” And, “to be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” For we know, to a great degree, what true goodness, true love, true perfection is.  But we must each strive to live righteously every day. And with His help, with His grace, with His intimate relationship with us, we will succeed in uncommon and unanticipated ways that only we may notice and attribute to His vision, His grace, His love. For that is His hope and His promise to each of us as we seek to live righteously and intimately with Him as His true disciples for all the world to see. 

This article is the seventeenth part in an extended series on the “The Facts of Life” by F. X. Cronin. You can start with part one by clicking here and see previous entries by clicking here.

We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.

image: John_Silver / Shutterstock.com

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Mr. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism.

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