Sanctity in a Dysfunctional Society
… we [in modern society] make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful… [C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Ch. 1]
We exist as individuals, but live within the context of a family and a community. Our personal role, position and success are functions of the health, stability and prosperity of our society. In other words, we are limited in our potential and our accomplishments by the conditions prevailing in the community surrounding us.
… there is a cultural malaise that touches us all to one extent or another. I am referring to how completely we have become accustomed to the normality of dysfunction. The constant media stream of scandals and broken lives and mayhem of every sort elicits from us hardly more than a yawn. We have come to expect little else – even from our religious leaders … perhaps especially from our religious leaders. This overall life dysfunction is so pervasive in our culture that it is nearly impossible for us to have a clear vision of spiritual progress. Shining models of holiness are so rare today. [Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, Richard J Foster, Gayle D. Beebe].
The Culture of God
Religious precepts undergird the family and the society by teaching the virtues of cooperation, friendship, justice, and public-mindedness. Universal ideals of righteousness, justice and piety fortify the spirit of harmony and order by which we communicate, cooperate and unite.
But [when] two sit together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, The Divine Presence [Shekinah] rests with them … [Mishnah, Avot 3:2].
Just as an infant requires the nurturing touch and caress of the mother, so does a society require the touch of God. The Divine Presence in society provides the subconscious security necessary for stability and harmonious interaction.
A society without a sacred component suffers from communal psychoses. Human interactions deteriorate, relationships become dysfunctional, and enmity, hostility and disorder prevail.
Hold fast, all together, to God’s rope, and be not divided among yourselves. Remember with gratitude God’s favor on you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became brethren. You were on the brink of the fiery Pit, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make His signs clear to you, that you may be guided. [Quran 3:103].
The counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, with its political and intellectual radicalism, produced unprecedented upheavals in the perceived reality of many Americans. During this period, the society was unable to function effectively in most of its major components.
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [Matthew 12.25].
Significant components of the American society of that time were being challenged: academia, (Berkeley, Kent State, Columbia); religion (Scientology, Nation of Islam, Hare Krishna); the military (Vietnam War); politics (assassinations, Watergate); and, of course, personal values (“Turn on, tune in, drop out“).
In modern society, people are increasingly experiencing a new need for meaning…. It is difficult to meet the demands of building the future in a new context of an even more complex and interdependent international relations that are also less and less ordered and peaceful. [Compendium of the Social Doctrine Of the Church, 575].
Young people developing their life skills during this period saw the prevailing reality as purposeless, worthless and hopeless. Some adopted anarchistic attitudes from experiencing prolonged depressive conditions.
[They] who break their bond with God after it has been established [in their nature], and cut asunder what God has bidden to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: these it is that shall be the losers. [Quran 2:27].
Ironically, the youth who maligned that society became its elders — professors, clergy, generals, politicians and celebrities. Many of today’s values, ethics and morality reflect the dysfunctional attitudes of an earlier generation.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)].
Most societies consist of several subcultures simultaneously interacting, some growing, developing, other effete and degenerating. The Roman Empire illustrates this. As it declined, the Christian civilization was rising out of its ashes. While the old values, customs and religions of the Empire were dying, the new Christian community was developing and establishing itself.
The dying pagan society was materially prosperous but spiritual degenerate, while the rising Christians were persecuted but spiritually strong. Anyone with insight could have recognized which was dying and which was succeeding.
Today, a detached perspective is difficult from within our own subculture. We may have to be far removed in time and space to recognize who is winning and who is losing. Nevertheless, no one doubts that there will be losers and winners.
The integrity of the upright shall guide them, but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them, [Proverbs 11:3].
Spiritual health requires awareness and acceptance of a Divine Reality that transcends human understanding. Such a transcendent reality provides a perspective that incorporates timeless traditions common to all cultures. Without healthy ideals upon which to focus, our thoughts become disoriented and unable to format proper behavior.
If we grow up in a society devoid of wholesome standards against which to measure ourselves, personally and in reference to others, our social perspective is easily distorted. No one is available to represent optimum behavior. Our memories and our surroundings lack essential keys for healthy conduct.
O YOU who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to those who are bent on denying the truth, they will cause you to turn back on your heels, and you will be the losers. [Quran 3:149]
Consciousness continues into an apparently infinite journey. It seeks to extend into the entire universe. However, we cannot consciously perceive Ultimate Reality. All we can do is submit to its harmonious enshrouding. This is the mystical condition that dissolves individuality, perceiving only unity within a Divine Reality.
Nor is peace “simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men”. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence. [Pope Francis, The joy of the gospel, 219].
O Lord, we cannot understand our social condition without embracing Your all-encompassing Reality. Dissolve our illusions and delusions. Remove our arrogance, free us from the bondage of pride, and open our hearts to Your Eternal, Divine healing.
In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! [Quran 3:103-5].