People make their own selfish use of the earth, subjecting it unrestrainedly to their will, not acknowledging in it, its “prior God-given purpose;” betraying, rather than developing in adherence to this divine purpose. Instead of being participators in God’s plan, human beings have put themselves in God’s place.
In doing so, people have developed an impoverished view of reality. They have forgotten that “unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of the wonder in the presence of being, of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them.”
Forgetting about being, our materialistic outlook gives us a fragmented view of reality. It is broken down into unfeeling parts; we are no longer conscious of its underlying unity in being. The sense of the human person as dignified and personal disintegrates. Our very definition of who we are is reduced to a string of meaningless sensations to which we endlessly pursue. We become distracted by the noise of the material, of ipods, TV, smart phones, drinking, smoking and sex. Our senses are so completely seduced by these noisy pursuits that we close ourselves off from the silent wonder of being, of God; slowly but surely cutting ourselves off from His grace, until we become empty.
This emptiness gnaws at our soul, loneliness and depression and a sense of complete meaningless rises. We try to fill this void, this despair, with all those pleasurable pursuits, but they can never truly fill it, so we are never truly satisfied, and we consume more and more and more. Addiction sets in. Materialism and consumerism become society’s only reality.
A catastrophic effect
Society becomes distorted, its free economy developing into a one sided and inadequate domain, where the human person is no longer valued as a dignified and precious individual life, but as a producer/consumer of goods. “Economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him.”
John Paul II tells us that each individual is endowed with an essential dignity as well as the “capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness.” However each of us is still determined to a certain extent by the environment in which we grow, learn and live. He writes: “The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them.”
The solution he says, is to eradicate these distorted structures of society and set “authentic forms of living” in their place. However this is not so easy to achieve. He explains that it “is a task which demands courage and patience.”
There’s no place like home.
So how can it be done? John Paul II says that the family is the fundamental structure for human ecology, where the person “receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.”
When he talks about family he intends it in the proper and traditional sense, i.e. one founded on marriage between a man and woman, where “the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny.”
However in our broken society where life is about the immediate satisfaction of desires of the flesh, there is no longer an appropriate environment for the family to flourish. People have been “discouraged from creating the proper conditions for human reproduction.” There is no sense of responsibility or duty involved in the act, but only sensations to be experienced and taken advantage of. The consequence is a lack of freedom: people have become slaves to their own desires.