With humor and ease, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, deftly unlocks the 'one thing,' the key to the Church's wisdom, and the greatest mystery of the Catholic faith: the Most Holy Trinity... Read more
An Interview with the Culture of Death
To mark the annual 40 Days for Life pro-life campaign that began Sept. 25 and runs through Nov. 3, the following is the last of a four-part series that looks at the message of Divine Mercy and life issues. In part 4, we excerpt from Fr. Michael Gaitley's latest Marian Press title, The 'One Thing' Is Three.
THE CULTURE OF DEATH. Just as people are not morally equal — some are good and some are bad; some are very good and some are very bad — neither are cultures morally equal. For cultures are simply the reflection and expression of the people who create them. Now, if the people of a community know the truth and live it, they will have a good culture. If the people of a community know the truth but do not live it, they will have a bad culture. If the people of a community do not know the truth, then they cannot live it, and they'll fall back on their lower nature, live like animals, and have no culture to speak of. If the people of a community believe lies and live those lies, they will have a very bad culture, an anti-culture. Good cultures lead to morally good people, to peace, life, and happiness. Bad cultures lead to morally bad people, to war, death, and misery.
Of course, life is not so simple. Just as we ourselves are a mix of light and darkness, so are our cultures. Take the present situation of Western culture.
In many ways, our modern Western culture manifests profoundly true answers to the great questions. This is due to its foundation in the relatively virtuous pagan cultures of Greece and Rome and it's long Judeo-Christian history. At the same time, our modern Western culture currently manifests blatant lies in response to the great questions. This is especially due to the influence of the so-called "enlightened" ideas of the 17th century and to so many modern philosophies such as pragmatism, social Darwinism, and atheistic humanism. Therefore, as John Paul II pointed out in The Gospel of Life, we really are in the midst of a kind of war between cultures, between two conflicting sets of answers to the great questions. We're in a historic battle between a culture of life and a culture of death.
In the remainder of this section, we'll look at what answers to the great questions lie behind the culture of death. We'll do this by conducting an interview with the culture itself. In the section that follows this interview, we'll begin looking at the culture of life. Alright, now to the interview ...
Reporter: Hello, Culture of Death. I have some questions for you. Right up front, you should know that I'll be asking you some deep, philosophical questions — the big questions, the great questions. So get ready ...
Culture of Death: I'm sorry. I cannot answer such questions.
R: Why not?
C of D: Because you are seeking the truth. I mean, you think there is such a thing as truth. But to the great question, "What is truth?" I answer, "There is no truth — at least, there's no objective truth." You see, my teaching is that the truth is relative. For instance, I tell people that what they think is the truth is really just the truth for them. What you think is the truth is really just the truth for you. So it's all just opinion. I say there is no objective truth.
R: I see. So you say there is no truth. Is it true that there is no truth?
C of D: Point taken. So, I contradict myself. Look. I'll just cut to the chase. I'll tell you what I'm up to. I know there is truth — but I hate it. Rather, I hate Him. I'm a liar and the Father of Lies, and I hate the One who came to bear witness to the truth. I hate the One who is Truth. I hate the One who came to set people free by the truth. I don't want people to experience this freedom. I want them enslaved to their passions. So, I tell people there is no truth, that truth is relative. That's my message.
And here's how it works. Here's how my message enslaves. If I tell people there is no truth, then there's nothing to challenge them to be chaste, honest, temperate, faithful, and self-sacrificing. If there's no objective truth, then each person can do whatever he pleases. Each one can come up with his own "truth" that justifies his lifestyle and selfish desires. Each person can say to himself, "Oh, I really don't think there's anything wrong with being unchaste or intemperate. So, as long as I'm a nice person, that's all that really matters." It's amazing how often people, when told there is no objective truth, will conveniently believe exactly what justifies their own lifestyles. They'll say, "Well, I just feel that such and such can't be wrong. It may be wrong for you but it's right for me."
So, by convincing people that there's no such thing as objective truth, I open the door for them to choose their own truth. And when they choose their own truth, they inevitably become enslaved to their passions. For, if reason doesn't rule a person, the passions will. Cut off the head, and the belly is king. Kill the truth, and the appetites dominate. That's my game. I want to take out the truth so people will do whatever their lower desires dictate. In short, I want to turn men into animals, and the quickest route to the zoo is to do away with objective truth.
R: Well, for the Father of Lies, you sure are being honest. But your strategy can't work. I mean, the idea that there is no truth and that we can do what we want may work for a while, but if there's no truth, then there's no meaning. And people can't live without meaning. So, they'll turn back to the truth at least to find meaning for their lives.
C of D: What you say is not true. Just because I tell people there is no truth does not mean that they have to go without meaning. They'll still ask the great question, "What is the meaning of life?" And I have an answer for them. I tell them, "You get to pick! Just as you get to pick your own truth, you also get to pick your own meaning for life." I try to make it seem bold and exciting, "Hey, create your own meaning!" And what do people do? They do the very same thing as when I tell them to pick their own truth: They go for what is convenient, what justifies their lifestyles. They pick a "meaning of life" that caters to their egos. In other words, nine times out of ten, they choose selfishness as their meaning of life, even if they don't come right out and call it that. And to find this "meaning," people hardly need any goading from me. I simply present to them the allure of power, pleasure, and pride — and they fall right in. They feed themselves on these things, and they quickly become addicts, slaves to themselves and to me.
R: So it's all a trap. You tell people they're free to choose, but then they end up choosing slavery?
C of D: Yes, and so you have my answer to another one of the great questions, "What is freedom?" I'll tell you what I say freedom is: I say it's to do whatever you want. And yes, you're right to see the trap. This is obviously not true freedom, because it leads to slavery. It's the so-called freedom that chooses chains and prison. It's a false freedom that chooses bondage to one's lower nature.
Look, my job couldn't be easier. I simply tell people, "Hey, you're an adult. You're free to choose. So do whatever you want! Choose your own meaning!" And when it's all up to them, they almost always choose slavery. It's like giving a child a choice between a feast of steak, mashed potatoes, and vegetables on one table and a pile of candy, ice-cream sundaes, and pitchers of soda on the other. The kid is free to choose, but he's not free. He'll choose the sweets. He doesn't know any better. Of course, he'll feel sick after only eating sweets, and he'll become addicted to them. The key idea is that he doesn't know any better. So long as there's no truth to challenge people, their lower natures will rule them. The One I hate said, "The truth will set you free." He was right. So, I keep people far from the truth. They ask, "What's the truth?" I say, "It's all relative."
R: You just quoted Jesus, who said, "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). And Jesus is God. So what about God? Doesn't the love of God put a stop to your scheme? Or doesn't at least a healthy dose of the fear of God and the punishment of hell keep people from abandoning the truth?
C of D: I try my best to keep God out of it. Sure, people ask themselves, "Is there a God?" It's one of your so-called "great questions." But here's how I respond: "God? Where is God? Has God ever come down with thunderbolts when you've told a fib? No. Did he come down to stop that massacre you heard about on the news? No. So where is God?" I tell them, "Look. Have you ever seen God? No. So trust your senses. There is no God."
Unfortunately, most people are wise to me. The religious sense in them runs so deep that they don't usually flat out reject the existence of God. Fine. But then, my next move is to ask them, "Well, where is this God whom you believe in? I'll tell you where he is. He's up in heaven, the great clockmaker in the sky. He set everything in motion but stays far away. He's very respectful, you know. He leaves you alone." The scientifically minded often go for this one, but not the others who really want a God who is close to them. Well, to them I say, "Oh, yes, there is a God. He's a great power that moves through the universe. He's awesome. He's in everything, and he's especially in you. He's that inner light within you. You really are divine, you know." Lots of people fall for this one. I tell them, "Yeah, be spiritual but not religious. You don't need any of that institutional religion. You don't need other people. You can just commune with God in nature and in that inner light that is you."
I can't tell you how many people eat this stuff up. The great part of it is that this idea of God as an abstract power, an impersonal Great Spirit doesn't put any demands on anyone. There's no commitment. This kind of God is as imposing as Jell-O and demanding as a sunset. He doesn't challenge any lifestyle. And because he's just a silent, impotent energy, guess who gets to be the real God in this scenario. That's right. People do. They're the ones who get to play God as they conveniently choose their own truth and meaning.
R: I have no doubt that lots of people fall for this idea of God, as you said. But I also know there are plenty of other people who want a relationship with a personal God, and they won't accept these answers.
C of D: You're right. There are many, many people who hunger for a personal God and see through my smoke. After all, God is a person, and he calls everyone to relationship with him. But I really can't allow such a personal relationship. It ruins everything. So here's what I do. One option is that I tell people, "Sure, there's a personal God. And he is love and all that. Yeah. In fact, he's a great, big Grandpa God who gives you whatever you want. He's so kind and nice that he will never, never condemn or correct what you do."
Many people accept this idea. It's a God who reminds them of so many parents who never rock the boat, parents who say to their kids, "I'm not going to impose anything on you. Do whatever makes you happy. I just want you to be happy." So, echoing this, I tell people, "Hey, God just wants you to be happy!" Of course, they don't take this as the true happiness that comes from living the truth (a truth that often challenges). Rather, they take it as the "happiness" that's really just a catering to whatever their passions, appetites, and egos dictate, which, again, leads to slavery. And so, the jolly old Grandpa God happily sanctions and approves whatever they do. Of course, he sends everyone to heaven. And nobody goes to hell — except maybe those mean, intolerant people who say there's such a thing as objective truth.
R: Alright, I have no doubt some people fall for this idea of a Grandpa God, too. But I'm sure there are many who don't accept it.
C of D: Right again. And so, because many people don't accept it, I've got another option. It's what I call "the Ogre God approach." This is where I present the idea that God is really just a mean ogre who's always ready to smash people for the slightest infraction of his oppressive rules. He's the God who says everything is a sin, who is impossible to please, and who dangles people just above the fires of hell, ready to cut the rope.
With this God, love must be earned, and it's only earned through a miserable obstacle course of penances and deprivations that eventually leave people feeling exhausted, discouraged, and depressed. With this ogre God, love is really an illusion, and all you're left with is fear and eventually a secret hatred of God. People finally flee from this ogre God right into my arms, and they become my apostles, telling everyone about the "freedom" they've found in making their own rules, meaning, and truth. They don't realize they've never really known God, and the liberation they feel is just liberation from a false god. Of course, in the big picture, this is not true liberation. For, as usual, in choosing their own rules, truth, and meaning, they quickly become enslaved to their own selfish desires.
R: I have to admit that you're covering a lot of ground. You've got a false idea of God for almost everyone, and they all lead to the slavery that is your goal. But what do you do about those who, even after hearing all your lies, still persist in believing in a personal God who truly loves them?
C of D: Well, the hardest ones for me to pick off are the Evangelicals with their deep, personal relationship with God and the Catholics who have been given the fullness of the truth and who are nourished on the Eucharist. With the Evangelicals, because their pastors can preach more or less as they please, I tempt them to avoid the hard truths. But if they do teach these truths, then I tempt their listeners to go down the street to the other preacher who is more "up to date" — in other words, the one who won't challenge their lifestyle. So, if I can't take out the truth, I can at least try to water it down.
With the Catholics, my strategy is a bit different. I do everything I can to keep them from knowing the fullness of truth that they have. I tell them that being Catholic simply means going to Mass on Sundays — if you're in the mood for it, of course. Yet, if they do begin to discover the harder truths that threaten to free them from my grip, I simply say, "Well, you don't have to change your life. You can just be a cafeteria Catholic, like so many others, picking and choosing only what seems true to you, what works best for you." I tell them, "What does the Pope know? He's just a sinner and a man like any other." And so, I undermine the teaching authority given to the leaders of the Church by your Christ. In fact, I hammer Church leaders, pointing out their sins and imperfections. I say, "Well, they're just a bunch of out-of-touch old men. How can the Spirit work through them?" I do everything I can to hide the divine nature of the Church behind the sinful, human nature of its members. I keep the flock from finding the treasure of truth in earthen vessels by pointing out the cracks in the pots. That's my strategy.
R: Clever. Very clever. If you can't do away with God, then you distort the image people have of him and of his Church. But now, let's go back to how you distort people's image of God.
That part of your strategy, I must admit, is actually more than clever. It's brilliant. And when it works, when people fall for your lies about God, you're actually killing two birds with one stone. For when one's sense of God disappears, so also does his sense of man, the sense of his being made in the image of God. In one bold move, you basically destroy the great commandments to love God and love neighbor! For who can truly love some aloof clock-maker God in the sky, or an impersonal Great Spirit, or an Ogre God, or even the hollow, old Grandpa God? And if we can't love such images of God, then how can we love the creature made in God's own image?
C of D: Congratulations. You're really getting it. Now try to understand why I'm doing all this: I hate God, and I hate his image in man. Because I can't directly attack God, I attack the creature made in his image. I try to destroy God's image in man. I do this by trying to get man to live not as God intended (by reason, heart, and truth), but rather, I try to get men to live like beasts, who are dominated by passions, instincts, and animalistic desire.
At the same time, I try to destroy the image of God in man by convincing man not that he's made in the image of God but that he is god. I tell him, "Hey, you. Yes, you. You, my friend, are the center of the universe." The implication of this is the following: "Since you're the center of the universe, everyone else revolves around you. Everyone else is just an object for your gain, pleasure, and use."
There's a real irony in all this: When man makes himself a god, the center of the universe, the other things in the universe actually become his gods. For, as he uses them simply as objects for his pleasure and pride, he becomes addicted to them, and so they end up ruling him.
R: Well, now you've answered the last of the "great questions" I had for you, namely, "What is man?" Of course, you know that man is made in the image of God and that people are called to be his sons and daughters in Christ. But what you're actually telling people is not that they're made in the image of God but that they're really just animals ... and gods. They're animals, you tell them, because they can't help but follow their drives and appetites. They're gods, you tell them, because each one is the center of the universe.
Alright, but if people are gods, then are you saying they have great dignity? After all, who has more dignity than a god?
C of D: No, I'm not saying that at all. Think about it. If each individual is his own little god and he sees everyone else as an object, then nobody has dignity. If each person sees himself as the center of the universe, then everyone else is just an orbiting planet. If each person sees himself as the almighty "I," then everyone else is just an "it." But you can't love an "it." An "it" has no dignity and deserves nothing except the honor of serving the "I." In my scenario, in a world of selfish "I's," the "I's" don't see one another as "I's" but rather as "its." Effectively, then, the reign of the "I's" makes everyone into an it, creating a world of "its." And in this world, "its" only have worth insofar as they bring the "I's" profit, praise, and pleasure. This is a subjective, assigned, extrinsic worth but not an intrinsic, inherent, inalienable worth. Therefore, apart from the whim and will of the "I's," "its" can be trampled, discarded, ignored ...
R: ... and killed?
C of D: Sure. Why not? If some "it" stands in the way of the "I's" profit, plans, and pleasure, then sure. No problem.
R: Is that why you're called the Culture of Death?
C of D: Alright, I see where you're going. You want to talk abortion and euthanasia. Well, that's just a part of it, my friend. Yes, I'm deeply gratified by more than a billion abortions in the last 30 years, and I look forward to ramping up the killing of the sick and the elderly. But you have to understand that physical murder is not my greatest achievement. Spiritual murder is what I'm truly aiming at. That's the death I'm really all about. Now, don't get me wrong. While I do rejoice at the murder of the innocent, I'm overwhelmed with delight at the eternal death of the soul. Above all, that's my goal, and when people listen to my lies and put them into practice, then they quickly die a spiritual death. That's my desire. I lure them with pleasure, riches, and praise till they're puffed up little "I's" with hearts as cold and hard as ice. And when their hearts die, their souls die, and then they're mine. And unless the One I hate steals them from me by His mercy, their physical death simply seals the deal. This death of souls is the full flower and fruit of my lies, and it's my great glory.
Ah, but the masterpiece, the absolute masterpiece, is when I can bring entire families and communities to this spiritual death. This is when my lies become a culture, rather an anti-culture, a culture of death.
R: I see. Ideas truly have consequences. And so your master plan is really to bring spiritual death not only to individuals but to families. For as the family goes, so goes the society, so goes the culture.
C of D: Yes, but there's another reason why I focus on the family. Again, it's because I hate God. And again, because I can't directly attack Him, I attack His image, which is man, but especially man as family. You know that God is a family of love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Well, human families are meant to make the love and communion of the Trinity visible on earth. So, just as the Father gives Himself to the Son and the Son to the Father and there's the procession of the Holy Spirit, so God's plan for the family is for the husband to selflessly give himself to his wife and for the wife to give herself to her husband, and from this love there is the procession of children. Well, I hate that. I want to destroy that image of God, that communion of love. And I do destroy it through my lies.
R: So you destroy the family through your anti-Gospel of selfishness, and once that poison is taken, the family falls apart. Okay, yes, that's clear. Marital infidelity, sterilization, artificial contraception, divorce, abortion, and domestic abuse — these all flow from selfishness and work to destroy the love, life, and communion of the family. You've certainly been busy lately.
C of D: Very busy — and there's even more. You should know that I've recently opened up a second front against the family. As a mockery of marriage and the natural law, I've introduced the logical results of my message that there is no truth. For when there is no truth, when everything is relative, when the idea of truth gives way to "my truth" and "your truth," then it's easy to reshape even the basic foundations of society. For instance, marriage can be redefined as "my marriage" and "your marriage" and whatever I have in mind for marriage. It doesn't have to be between man and woman. It can be between man and man, or woman and woman, or man and woman and woman and woman. Or why not man and animal? You see, without objective truth and without God, everything and anything goes. Arguments suddenly are not based on truth but on feelings. And when men act on feelings and throw out the natural law, they behave as less than animals. I mean, even the animals know that the organ of life is not made for the organ of excrement. Yet when there is no truth, anything goes if it "feels right," and those who claim that there is truth become the enemies. Moreover, when we relativists hold the power and the means of mass communication, we can crush those who believe in objective truth. I think your Pope called it "the dictatorship of relativism." He was right, and the first things dictators do is silence voices that speak the truth.
R: Well, Culture of Death, you've just about left me speechless — but not completely. For the time being, those of us who hold that there is truth are still allowed some free speech. And while we still have it, I'm going to conclude with that last point you made about the means of mass communication.
It seems that the various means of mass communication are the base camp for building your culture. After all, you own Hollywood and Broadway, television and newspapers, and many politicians and artists. All these can be an effective army for building a culture, for getting out your answers to the great questions. But yours aren't the only answers out there. And while you can send out a message that fills the earth from a thousand talking heads, one voice that speaks the truth can cut through all the lies and win the war.
C of D: I know that. And that's what has me worried.
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, serves as the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, based in Stockbridge, Mass.