How did we develop our vision about life?
“This is what really matters!” is a phrase I used often jokingly, for instance during the traditional Christmas Night Risiko (board game) with friends, when I and Mario (truly a character, but not the Nintendo one) let the dice decide who will have the privilege to use the red plastic army… then who cares about winning, the important thing is – i say to myself- being the Red!
My “over thirty” generation has a natural sense of humor, a perception of the disjunction, breaking traditional schemes: so the player fakes a disproportionate interest in trivial things, precisely because he can taste the momentary reversal of values. “We are a bunch of idiots!” laughing out loud with complacence after a night playing with the pc steering wheel.
Nice warm memories. But they wouldn’t taste the same if in 1980 I hadn’t been prohibited from watching a detective tv movie because it aired at 22.30.
Transgression… feeling alive… taking life not so seriously. Others (not me) lived the obsession of the discotheque and the urge of getting laid with as much women as they could.
Shall we bring to the table the acts of bravado, like car speeding? And so on. Most of my friends are now cooling off and making babies.
The point is that we lived the before and the after of the transgression. Now we are entering the third phase, rethinking choices.
But I’m asking myself how a teenager half my age is going to perceive the same experiences, for the breaking with traditions and mores happened before he was born. Staying awake till very late, eating junk food, bragging about downloading pr0n are just normal things. The exception has become the rule.
In many life experiences there are no universally recognized moral values, and the myths are disorderly geeks like John Carmack, able to become rich and famous developing videogames, living on pizza and diet coke, sleeping on a couch, wearing a t-shirt with a hole in it, but with a 1000HP modified Ferrari in the garage. Obviously, an atheist. Superior to all those antiquated beliefs.
If you don’t have a normality to escape from, where is your transgression? Do you get the meaning of what you are doing, or instead you just live the moment? There is a gap between generations, we take for granted that the world we know and the common mindset are the only possible ones, yet we ourselves change without noticing.
We can find many little turning points, details telling us what world we were part of. Did Mom forbid you to eat unhealthy, artificial food you craved so much, or did you see her spending entire afternoons staring at a tv screen with a Nutella or Haagen-Dasz pail by her side? When grandpa died, did you recall days of ritualized mourning, or was he already buried at the retirement home? Is it commonplace in your household to buy pre-washed vegetables? Your father is first and foremost the guy who says no, or just taking you to amusement parks and restaurants in the weekends?
An immature, shattered culture
Some years ago, talking with catechism pupils, I discovered they all ever watched just a single religious movie, and it was a bad one. I don’t recall the title, there was this Italian comedy actor portraying a nonsensical Saint Joseph, one who didn’t understand this Mary but respected her, he had no problem abstaining because he was relieving himself with prostitutes anyway… Really shallow.
But one thing is watching that movie with an adult mind: having a significant store of knowledge and experience, you can judge it dispassionately and avoid being trapped in such a dull, decadent atmosphere, coming from someone who really has nothing to teach.
Another thing is letting children know Jesus through such a post-christian view. Giving them a mutilated culture? It’s like telling only the closing part of a dirty joke. You don’t even laugh because you don’t understand it.
So. I believe we should ask ourselves “what really matters”, and today’s man can hardly come up with an answer, because indifference and incredulity are commonplace but not reasoned or motivated, there is no awareness of how we got here.
In the very minutes when John Paul II was dying, I felt the urge to write down, in the Unreal Tournament forum, a (insane) description of this great Pope as if he were an Unreal player.
I believe it was a pretty accurate description, only unintelligible to those who didn’t know both JPII and Unreal. Reactions were essentially only negative (some were cancelled by moderators, the thread hastily closed to avoid flames).
You can find in the same forum the typical 14 years old guy who is smart, educated, but can easily declare himself an atheist. He breathes atheism all around him.
Then there’s this all-Italian phenomenon: you just need half an hour of multiplayer gaming to get to hear someone swearing against God.
Others are just happy to use some transgressive i.e. conformist nicknames, how we can forget those clever 666-Something guys…
Why in the world a multiplayer sci-fi community must be naturally hostile to religion?
Atheism through time
Let’s put things straight: of course skepticism always existed. Moreover, saying no to God in a truly conscious way is possible only if God is not a given, an idea, but someone who comes to us: for this reason, atheism is a byproduct of the Christian society.
The urge of wanting to make the difference, being original and more enlightened than others… many brilliant men jumped at the occasion of denying God and creating a showy skeptic culture.
Think of scientists like Albert Einstein who, having known only orthodox Jewish taboos and eating prescriptions, decided to abandon religion when he was 12, so he kept a negative view of Christianity despite the fact that he formed his judgment of it through the same Hebraism he determined wasn’t a credible source.
What about another genius like John Von Neumann, a formidable mathematician who took part in the construction of the atomic bomb without remorse, lived in a world made of lessons, blackboards and brilliant conversations. Then all of a sudden, at the end of his life, seeing his mind was also failing, he was tormented by anguish, facing death. He couldn’t ignore life anymore.
Any age of history had its share of intellectual élites who had the luxury of being incredulous because they were above the mass, they were winners. But what about the man of the street?
We shall not fall for the naive concept that in the medieval times people were all very religious, obedient to authority and pious. Humanity is always the same, after all. Yet there’s something that changed radically.
Many centuries ago there was a common perception about the necessity of getting to Heaven being the first priority of men, and this implied a different vision of life. (Before you judge them with contempt, ask yourself what you’ll have in hand when you will be facing death… and the next time someone comes to your home to repair the washing machine, ask yourself what’s better for you: that the technician thinks he’s there to love God and his neighbor, or that he wants t0 get from you as much money he can possibly get…)
Then many intellectual movements tried to substitute God with something earthly. Living and maybe having to die in the name of Reason, or Liberty, or Nation, Race, Communism…
So is this what really matters?
Nowadays nearly no one believes that; ideologies are dead, reason is the most precious tool, not a deity; freedom is fundamental but we feel we already have it and we are annoyed by that rhetoric. The 1968 is long gone and free love did not create a new world without chains: war is always there, on the other hand we obtained venereal diseases epidemics, tens of millions of abortions every year and a generation of fatherless children.
Modernity without perspectives
As a consequence today’s humans, especially those born after the fall of communism, do not believe in anything. Therefore they only care about living well, mating (…), filling their stomach, maybe becoming rich and famous.
They don’t even know the ideals they scoff at.
So, what’s “the meaning of life”? The Monty Python in their movie, among some ill-conceived deformations and many really brilliant gags, give us precisely the answer of a decadent civilization: they have nothing to say, so they sidestep the issue.
To cope with the problem of death, the movie ends with a guy who is given the choice of how to leave this cruel life, and he chooses to fall from a cliff while chased by a bunch of topless girls. Immature to the point of being pathetic. (In the ending credits we are given the final answer: a mechanical universe, where nothing makes sense, it’s just atoms and molecules and stars and galaxies.)
Modernity is an implacable bulldozer, able to destroy any primitive or naive religious attitude. Really, what is going to impress us nowadays? Repeating stupid rites, observing nonsensical taboos… very few are those still inclined to follow that path.
It’s a challenge to all religions. Will they survive, albeit entirely transformed?
When I was a child my parochial church was mainly filled with old ladies who used to go to mass every day, wearing a foulard (headscarf) to cover their heads. Today the same church is either half empty or invaded by children, depending on the school calendar: encountering Jesus seems to be considered just another of those activities integrating school education… say: today it’s judo time, tomorrow I’ll take you to the soccer match or to mass, Monday is for the guitar lesson… (Of course this is just an example, other regions experience different forms of decadence. If you are already recovering, congrats).
Nevertheless Christianity, the foundation of modernity itself, has the ability to survive and prosper because it can sustain criticism and come out stronger. Other religions instead are based on wishful thinking and are bound to lose the battle with modern culture. Am I controversial enough?
There is already a conflict underway between this “what really matters is my pleasure” postmodern mindset and religious cultures where the meaning of life has to be the submission to a God who is impossible to understand but also absolutely not to be denied.
Let’s prepare the ground for a positive, liberating proposal for those who will come out of the ruins of this cultural clash: there’s only one correct answer. What really matters is God. But not a generic God. The only one deserving our commitment is a God who chose to become man and share our sufferings.
The answer, the only answer, is Jesus Christ. What really matters.
Many may just smile at this proposal.
Let them live in their frags filled world, in a while they’ll understand.
Others are already recovering. Christians have always seen the outside world as a ground for Mission: too many populations haven’t received the Gospel yet, even today. So let’s not be impeded by politically correctness and prejudices of a Western world where they say one religion is worth the other. Let’s not be scared by the impenetrable nature of the Islamic Umma: it’s a priority to let Muslims finally know the true Jesus, for they have been offered a caricature instead.
But the Mission is also internal to Christendom. No more confusing messages. Ecumenism cannot be a call to somehow get together; a call to everyone, in every possible way, maintaining any conflicting tenets and yet pretending to be a single, united group.
I dare to say that I am more Catholic than Christian, in the sense that I believe there is no use for a generic Christian faith where everything and its opposite is deemed true, we need instead to return to the Only Faith, the Complete one, that of the original Church.
The mission towards the interior has been for centuries the act of encouraging naturally Christian populations to actually follow the Gospel with their works.
Particularly in the last 2 centuries the mission became to counter the attacks of ideologies and powers who want to obliterate the very idea of God.
Today instead the problem is basically about communication, because indifference to religion is only second to the widespread ignorance. (Of course if you are from the USA you can perceive a different picture; yet a lot can be said about the damages caused by anti-intellectualism, and about the a-religious attitude of the young.)
Let’s start again. From the basics. We need to educate ourselves, without wasting time in rearguard battles with the sons of the revolutions. But keeping in mind that they still retain a control of mainstream media, so we also need to debunk the pile of misinformation they built.
It is well worth the effort to study the sources and the critical analysis of religions, and of Christianity in particular, to determine if, after all, those crazy bigots who say that Jesus is the answer are right, or on the contrary nothing in the Universe makes sense.
Have you got a third option? Then show me. Face the challenge. It’s time to dig deeper, and to make good use of our rational mind.