I wrote before about “9 Reasons To Be Thankful for Modern American Secularists” because I truly believe that Catholics can and should embrace what is good in our culture and build on it.
But the need to “build on it” could not be more urgent, and the consequences of inaction could not be more dire.
Several features of modern America will be judged harshly by history as the true picture of our society emerges more clearly when seen at a distance.
1. Men Abandoning Their Families
The family was the greatest invention in history for bringing peace, stability and prosperity to human beings. Before Christianity appeared on the scene, the model of two parents faithful to each other and to their children was by no means the norm, as Father John Hardon, S.J., has pointed out. Christianity brought the family and the family brought rights for children and women and a stable, loving unit from which civilization could develop and flourish.
As families have declined, poverty has increased — and civilization has suffered. Families are caught in a vicious circle in which men abandon their responsibilities and in doing so convince the next generation to follow in their footsteps. When men abandon their families, their children wind up with less education, more crime and more violence — as Obama pointed out in 2008.
Will history mark us as the culture that finally destroyed the institution of the family?
2. The Destruction of the Helpless
“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members,” said Pope John Paul II, and he is absolutely right. We are horrified by the sins of past societies: torture, frightening punishments and racial persecution. Past cultures were far more brutal than us, if you don’t count abortion.
But why wouldn’t you count abortion? Future historians will be horrified that the very people who made so many exciting advances in the medical understanding and treatment of unborn human life also killed a million unborn children each year.
Through the tireless efforts of Catholics and other Christians, we have slowly worked away at reversing this epic fail, but we haven’t solved it yet.
3. The Suicide Epidemic
Suicide rates have been steadily rising throughout the 21st century. Today, the third leading cause of death for young people in the United States is suicide. In 2012, suicide overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death by injury. That was also the year suicide became the leading cause of death for active military personnel.
There are many theories about why this is happening. Increased social isolation means that fewer Americans report having a confidant, or a regular group of friends, or neighbors they can count on, than ever before. Loneliness leads to desperation.
The words of St. Peter have long been a kind of mission statement of Christian apologetics: “Be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you.” The world needs those reasons now more than ever.
4. The Sexualization of Children
The more children use modern media, the more they are convinced that their sexuality is the most important thing about them. Girls get this message from a very young age, from the clothing marketed to them, popular toys like Barbie and Baby Bratz, and from sexually charged television programs and online videos available 24/7. An APA task force linked the phenomenon to mental and physical health issues.
Sexual abuse of children is just a short step away from sexualizing children. Mary Eberstadt has pointed out that, ironically, the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church helped slow down a trend toward acceptance of sex with children.