Secularism and the Absence of the Sublime

Secular society is the logical consequence of a predominantly materialistic society. By secular society, we do not wish to affirm that God is denied. Quite to the contrary, personal belief in God is allowed and even encouraged as long as it is confined to the personal realm.

A secular society in general is officially purged of all references to a reality beyond that of our naturalistic and materialistic world. There is an indifference to or confusion about what constitutes the meaning of life.

Secularism, affirms Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, is a curious form of atheism that “affirms that it is impossible to be certain of the existence of God and, consequently, that man should act in the temporal realm as if God did not exist; in other words, he should act like a person who has dethroned God.”

“Secularization is the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention away from other worlds and toward this one,” exults Harvey Cox, one of many modern “theologians” who celebrated this dethronement as a liberating experience.

This “liberating” secular society inevitably leaves a profound void inside the soul of modern man causing great frustration and desolation creating what many have termed a spiritual wasteland.

SubscribeSuch an attitude calls to mind the condition that Saint Thomas Aquinas calls acedia which he defines as the weariness for holy and spiritual things and a subsequent sadness of living. As a spiritual being, the man inflicted with acedia denies his spiritual appetites; “he does not want to be what God wants him to be,” notes Josef Pieper, “and that means that he does not want to be what he really, and in the ultimate sense, is.”

This refusal cannot help but bring sadness and even despair.

The modern version of acedia includes both a weariness and a wariness for all things spiritual. There is the conscious turning away from holy and spiritual things as well as a cultural regime where sublime goals or religious ideals are looked upon with suspicion and simply not considered an important part of our lives. The intensive feverish activity of modern life often is an attempt to hide acedia’s effects of listlessness, low spirits and lack of joy.