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In part one of this series, we examined the roots of the modern culture’s assault on and rejection of fatherhood. As Cultural Marxism began to take root in mid-twentieth century America, books and magazines employing the Marxist strategy of critical theory challenged and attempted to discredit (by casting doubt, not actually by building arguments) traditional beliefs of fatherhood and manhood. Over time, the culture developed a tendency to view male roles in society and the family with disdain, leading to the emergence of misguided attitudes and opinions about men.
But as Cardinal Sarah noted in his interview with Catholic Herald, rejection of fatherhood does not happen on its own but results primarily from rejection of God. The culture’s rejection of God and fatherhood, both so apparent today, are not independent of each other. Rejection of God was the precursor and predicate for rejecting fatherhood today, and for the consequent assault on manhood so prevalent in modern culture.
When and how did we reject God?
Rejection of God has become a cultural norm. It’s likely not unfamiliar to the reader’s own observations of society and cultural trends today. But it’s not uniquely a modern phenomenon. We can see this societal rejection of God across history, starting from biblical times. However there was a particular point in history that more directly laid the groundwork for the rejection of fatherhood and manhood we observe today. Let’s go through that history, starting with scripture and observe the domino effect that starts with rejecting our identity, proceeds to rejection of God, and culminates to rejection of fatherhood.
Rejection of Identity—>Rejection of God—>Rejection of Fatherhood
Rejection of Identity
What initially pries us away from the Heavenly Father is, as Cardinal Sarah mentions, a rejection of our identity as sons and daughters and replacing it with an ego-driven identity of self-reliance and agency separated from God, the creator, and provider of life and being (In Him we live, and move and have our being” Acts 17:28). When the Hebrews worshipped the golden calf (Exodus 32), choosing an idol in place of the true God, they rejected the true God for a false one. Pointing to the golden calf they cried out “This is our god…” (Exodus 32:4). In doing so, they were saying, “We are not children of the True God, but are children of an inanimate object—a ‘nothing.’ We inherit no identity from this ‘nothing,’ and so we take license to manufacture one for ourselves.”
God seems to acknowledge this rejection of identity and appears to cast off Israel when telling Moses that “Your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt,” had sinned by worshiping a false god. This framing contrasts with what God had, up to that point, repeatedly said of the Hebrews, “My people whom I have brought out of Egypt…” and how he identified Israel as “…my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22).
Rejection of God
We then see a rejection of God in more explicit terms in the book of Samuel, when the Israelites desire to have Kings to rule them rather than God directly. God even says to Samuel, “They are not rejecting you, they are rejecting me.” (1 Samuel 8)
Rejecting our identity as children of God and rejecting God as our father seems inherent to man’s fallen nature. The Israelites did it repeatedly. The method by which Israel rejected God mirrors that of modern man: the rejection of God’s Law and covenant.
2 Kings 17:7-13 “This came about because the Israelites sinned against the LORD, their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. They venerated other gods, they followed the rites of the nations whom the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites and those that the kings of Israel had practiced.
They adopted unlawful practices toward the LORD, their God…
They burned incense there, on all the high places, like the nations whom the LORD had sent into exile at their coming. They did evil things that provoked the LORD, and served idols, although the LORD had told them: You must not do this.
The LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and seer: Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statutes, in accordance with the entire law which I enjoined on your ancestors and which I sent you by my servants the prophets.”
Israel’s rejection of God took the form of rejection of God’s Law and covenant with them, as they chose instead to follow the precepts and practices of “other nations.” As the covenant between God and man makes us members of God’s family, rejecting that covenant is a rejection of our membership to God’s family. This mirrors Cardinal Sarah’s warning that we reject an inheritance (in this case, grace, and eternal life) by rejecting our identity as sons and daughters of God.
A rejection of God is not necessarily a denial of God’s existence but a rejection of our relationship to him as Heavenly Father and a rejection of what is required of us (and granted to us) as His children. It is a rejection that occurs by a betrayal of the living, active manifestation of God’s fatherhood and primacy which, for Israel, was the Law and the covenant. For Christians, it is, effectively, the Church, which is the the embodiment of the Law and the ratification of the covenant.
“By destroying, recharacterizing, redefining, or diminishing the Church, man rejects its identity as children of God”
The Church is the mystical body of the Son of God, and the “personage” of the Law of God, which, through the consecration of the Holy Eucharist at mass, ratifies (or re-ratifies) God’s covenant with man, consummated in the Cross of Christ. And so, the way Christians reject God and his fatherhood is similar in substance to Israel’s rejection of Him but also unique in form. The Church represents authority, law, and covenant. All of these are characteristics and expressions of God’s fatherhood. By destroying, re-characterizing, redefining, or diminishing the Church, man effectively rejects its identity as children of God and rejects God as our father and the first principal of reality.
Up to this point, an attentive reader will have connected these points to what they observe in the world and culture around them. Rejection of God has become cultural and even laudable. But, as we have seen, it’s not a modern phenomenon. It marks and mars all of human history.
But the most direct and proximate rejection of God, which set Western Culture on its present course, occurred not in biblical history but in Christian Western history—the Enlightenment and, later, the French Revolution. During those dark periods of our history, we canonized and elevated rejection of God in the culture and redefined the relationship between God and man.
The Enlightenment, and the Revolution:
The Enlightenment, also known as the “Age of Reason,” emerged during the early-to-mid-17th century in three main regions: France, Germany, and Britain. This intellectual movement brought about significant shifts in thinking, diverging greatly from the ideologies of previous Christian eras. Enlightenment thinkers rejected many religious, philosophical, and political beliefs of the past and paved the way for new ideas.
The Enlightenment is commonly associated with Descartes’ thought on Rationalism and is often considered to have reached its peak during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. This intellectual movement spanned approximately 150 years and left a profound impact on Western culture.
During the Enlightenment, there was a strong emphasis on rationalism and empiricism, which led to skepticism towards the supernatural. This skepticism extended to the Bible’s record of miracles. Philosophers like Spinoza and Hume critiqued the idea of miracles as impossible (and claims of them to be incredible) because they were in contradiction to the law of nature.
God – Deism over Theism
In contrast to theism (belief in a single, personal creator) deism is a belief system that teaches that the supreme intelligence that created the universe does not intervene in its workings. It is often compared to a watchmaker who winds up a watch and lets it run on its own. Deists do not believe in concepts such as prayer, special revelation, or a personal relationship with God.
Biblical criticism, which involves studying the biblical texts as ordinary historical literature, did not become prominent in academic work until the 19th century. But, the influence of the Enlightenment’s anti-supernatural foundation and skeptical thought played a significant role in shaping the lasting cultural impact of biblical criticism.
These flawed ideas culminate to philosophical catastrophe. If Jesus was just a man and there were no miracles to prove his divinity, then Christianity doen’st necessarily come from God, it cannot be Truth, and is simply a set of ideas. And ideas can be changed. If God is not a personal God, then he has no standard for us, and we are free to do as we wish. If the bible is merely a history book, then it has no authority or moral credibility to guide our lives, our laws, or our society.
“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!” -Mark 12:7
How does Man reject God? Through rejection of the Church. The Mystical Body of Christ is like the son of the landlord in the parable in Mark’s Gospel. Wanting to claim for themselves what they did not warrant, and not wanting to give what was owed to the landlord, the wicked tenants kill the landlord’s messenger’s, and plotted to kill his son, so that “the inheritance will be ours.” We see this play out in the periods of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
Enlightenment thinkers believed the Catholic Church’s power, being opposed to reason, motivated it to suppress the spread of “enlightened” ideas,
Enlightenment thinkers often viewed the Catholic Church as the embodiment of societal flaws. One major issue was the Church’s authority, both in spiritual and temporal matters, spanning centuries. The Enlightenment strongly opposed the exercise of power based on authority, considering it highly irrational and a promoter of ignorance. According to this flawed line of thinking, Enlightenment thinkers believed the Catholic Church’s power, being opposed to reason, motivated it to suppress the spread of “enlightened” ideas, especially those related to natural science. Supporters of the Enlightenment pointed to various instances of the Church’s wrongdoing in this regard, with the persecution of Galileo (most of the details of which were rumors, not fact) being the most infamous example.
Francois-Marie d’Arouet, better known by his pen name, Voltaire, was one of many prominent Enlightenment thinkers who berated religion in general, and Christianity and the Church specifically. They are still highly regarded and oft-quoted today, seen as free-thinkers who helped to bring Western Culture out of “darkness.”
The cultural shift in thought that started with the Enlightenment peaked with the French Revolution which had a significant impact on the Catholic Church in France. In a way, it provided the body that was animated by the spirit of the Enlightenment. (And body’s grow with time) During the revolution, the Church was targeted as an institution of the old Ancien Régime and faced widespread persecution. Revolutionaries sought to diminish the influence of the Church and promote secularism. Many church properties were confiscated, clergy members were forced to take oaths of loyalty to the state, and the Church’s power and authority were greatly diminished. The revolutionary government also implemented policies such as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which aimed to bring the Church under state control and reduce its autonomy. These measures led to divisions within the Church, with some clergy members supporting the revolution and others remaining loyal to the Pope. Overall, the French Revolution had a profound and lasting impact on the Catholic Church in France, reshaping its role and relationship with the state and the culture.
“Rejection of God and rejection of fatherhood are how a culture attempts to create itself in the image of its disfigured and errant members.”
The Enlightenment, and later the French Revolution, made rejection of God—by rejecting the Church, the embodiment of his Law and covenant—a norm in Western culture and it became part of the DNA of the West. But, as we observe throughout the story of human history, rejection of God isn’t a once-and-done event. Just as we have to repeatedly choose God, every day, rejection of God is a repeated and successive act. In contrast to the Church’s position in the culture during the Enlightenment and French Revolution, which was seen as oppressive and threatening, today the Church has no role in government, nor the power, or the influence it once enjoyed. Yet still, the world plots to undo her, redefine her (sometimes from within), and re-characterize her. They do this because the Church continues to represent God’s authority, His Law, his covenant, and even His voice. They murder the landowner’s messenger, and plot to murder his son, so that they mighty claim (manufacture) an inheritance of their own.
Rejection of God and rejection of fatherhood are how a culture attempts to create itself in the image of its disfigured and errant members. It’s how we redefine ourselves, and how this collective of “selfs” reconfigures a culture.