Culture Without God

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Proverbs 29:18


As the above video indicates, a bad culture does not lead to brutal regimes.  The sick culture, like the brutal regime, are merely symptoms of a vast illness that was diagnosed by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn three decades ago:


More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

One can have a healthy culture only when there is an atmosphere of hope.  In the absence of a belief in God despair grows in the human heart like fat on a pig.  To escape from that despair the usual culprits are called upon:  alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, all in an ultimately futile attempt to fill the God sized hole in one’s soul. 

Nihilism becomes the default philosophy of elites and seeps downward.  Relief is sought in political ideologies, the more violent the better, as meaning is sought in upheaval, a building of Heaven on Earth by the use of the methods of Hell.  All of this is merely an elaborate death wish for a society as the last century graphically demonstrated.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil I have always found to be an interesting phrase.  We are finding out in our time that with this unholy trinity there is no joy but only ennui.  Unless God is firmly in the picture there is no enjoyment of either the World or the Flesh, merely a weary repetition of sins that lose their shock value and become boring matters of habit.  Weimar Germany was merely a precursor of the spiritual emptiness that is the hallmark of our age, and what a sad hallmark it is.  Until we return to our religious roots as a people, the culture will remain a tiresome cesspool, and a sign of darker days to come.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Many who cry “Lord come quickly”, I suspect, will be unpleasantly surprised when He does come, but that is a subject for another post.

    Culture is always a mixed bag. However, since atheism, at least functional atheism, became popular among elites we have been on a downward spiral and I discern no bottoming out in the search for shock.

  2. Quite right, Don. Though I do grow tired of having to say goodbye to so many fine folks. We may not morn as the pagans do, but we still morn.

    Though it does seem one starts to understand more the reasoning behind Deut 9:4 with “[I]t is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.”

  3. “If the wicked refuse to join in the blessed endeavor, they should be loved as enemies are loved in Christian charity, since, as long as they live, there is the possibility that they may come to a better mind.” St. Augustine

    Do not fear that which only can kill the body. Fear God who can kill the body and soul in Hell.

    Not everyone who calls to Christ “Lord, Lord!” will enter the Kingdom, but only those that do what God wants them to do.

    On Judgment Day many will say, “Lord, Lord! In your name we drove out demons and performed mircales.” But, Christ will say, “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 13:25-27)

    No one is good except God. (Matt. 19:16-30; Mark: 10:17-31; Luke 18:19).

    Then, how can anyone be saved? With God all things are possible. We cannot be saved on our own.

  4. Question for the historians: Anyone with a fallen soul can understand how culture slides. How does it get better? I can only think of two endings for a slide: a revival, or a societal collapse and slow rebuilding. Revivals have come in different forms, as have collapses. (Tangent: the collapses happen in a way that future generations can blame them on something else, like inflation or military failure. It’s too bad.) Are there any other ways out? Can you predict which end a society is headed for? Broad questions, I know, but I’m curious to hear anyone’s answers.

  5. A good example of a revival was Victorian England. Eighteen century British culture tended to be pretty gin-soaked grotesque. The Methodist Movement and its spreading among the urban poor helped lead to a striving for moral improvement.

    Another example was after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire which led to the banning of gladiatorial duels, improvements in the status of women, amelioration of the condition of slaves, etc.

  6. Another good example is Ars, France after the prayerful warriorship, leadership, door to door work, and sacraments offered up by Father Jean Marie Vianney.

  7. Men have forgotten God, and women are looking for love in all the wrong places.

    Looking out at the pulverization of the family ideal in America today, I thank God we have in His Word an original owner’s manual that we can consult to repair ourselves, as circumstances may allow.

  8. Anyone with a fallen soul can understand how culture slides. How does it get better?

    It’s always easier to see how to destroy something nice than how to make it.

    I think that improving what you can, when you can, builds it back up.

  9. At the center of every culture is a “cult”, the power source that is “source” of the culture, empowers it to continue to live, breathe and grow and protects the culture in order to preserve it. Those ” in charge” of the “cult” are ” the priests” ( careful- do not understandd this term in only Catholic ways) every culture has a cult with priests in charge of it and therefore fulfilling a leadership role in the culture.

    One can immediately bring to mind the entertainment culture with movie an TV programs being the main form of the cultures. Who are the “priests”? The celebrity actors and actresses who often go beyond their field, feeling totally empowered to speak on this or that cultural, moral or political issue. They feel entitled, are empowered and followed by many in the world. I certainly could go on with examples.

    Let me get more specific however. The academic and ruling elites ( the priests ) of the new American culture have ordained that our culture is to be secularist ( totally acting, deciding etc as ifvGodvdoes not exist) multicultural ( don’t be fooled.by this. Multiculturalism is the ONE authorized culture which states on paper there is no one culture but really is saying that there is no room for the traditional American Judaeo-Christian culture) This new culture is based basically on a pragmatic value system (I do not want to call it a morality) with certain ‘absolutes’ such as freedom from any exterior or cultural authority-except of course the state ( thus Cchurch authority cannot apply its teaching or Evangelicals cannot quote Scripture). This new culture seeks a very vague “equality” by which women have the right to choose abortion, people of the same gender may marry, and a growing thrust to achieve a utopian economic equality- just to name a few “absolutes”

    As for the Catholic Church’s response, it is important to note that one of the fundamental underlying issues of the Council of Trent was the relationship between grace and nature; one of the fundamental underlying issues of Vatican II was/is the relationship between grace/the Church and culture. The Church,bsince Trent had been in a somewhat defensive position. ThebChurch re achieved a certain synthesis in the post Tridentine era in what is commonly called the Baroque. This effect went beyond the Church and Catholic countries into the wider Western world-so much so that most people do not even realize that at the center of the Baroque culture in all of its levels and manifestations was the Tridentine Church and cult, the Tridentine Mass. The Baaroque culture and era did not last that long however. The Enlightenment. Raised new challenges which the Church found very difficult to cope with never mind transform with a new synthesis. The Ninteenth century found the Church more defensive ( after the French Revolution understandably) and more ” combative and condemnatory”. While the Church was fundamentally correct in preserving its teaching, it failed, miserably in trains forming the culture. In fact the greatest heresy of the day, Modernism, stated that the Church and her tewching needed to conform to the culture. See how much the Church had failed in her mission to be light, salt and leaven, transforming the culture.

    Vatican II set out to counter this slide. It sought to.both avoid the old condemnations and defensive postures while putting forth the Church’s teaching in a positive way. Instead of culture wars, VII sought the traditional way of the Church- not the apocalyptic clash of cultures but the slow but steady sacramental transformation of the culture. Vatican II can be best understood as it was presented by the Extraordinary a synod of 1985: “The Church as communion isvthevsacrament of salvation for the world”. This gives a very deep, traditional vision of the relationship of grace/Church with then world.

    At the center of every culture is the cult. It is the same with the Church in the world. The Eucharist, the Mass, is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. It is in the Eucharist, with the people of God gathered with their bishop ( in the parish through the priest) that the Church is manifested (Lumen Gentium). The Mass itself has two integral parts which empower the cult of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word (Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Sacrosanctum Concilium- on the Divine Liturgy). The People of God are fed ( empowered) at both the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist. The Liturgy is the cult of the Church and the Church as communion ( with God an with one another) is the sacrament of salvation ( union with God and ultimately seeking the unity of all mankind) for the world. Thus the final fundamental document of VII, the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)

    This ” sacramental” way gets less press but it is both the traditional and most sure way of transforming our culture-from within

  10. Botolph, I agree that at the center of every culture lies belief and that religion is the ‘soul’ of a civilization. Humans are homo liturgicus. First and foremost we are worshipping creatures, whether we worship creation or the Creator. I would contend that we continue to woship as secularists. We have a cult, a liturgy, rituals, etc., even if they are self-directed. When I was in San Diego I saw a church-like building dedicated to humankind in one of their parks. So this is something we simply can’t get away from. During the French revolution humanistic pageantry and theatrical displays placed man at the center of ‘the city.’

  11. Thank you Botolph – Great joy and hope! The teachings of Vatican II are blessed and ordered by God and can help reclaim the “cult-ure”. The last paragraph you wrote laid it out for me as if you were a grammar teacher, the teaching are a sentence and you showed me how to diagram the sentence

    Mystery continues- even when the people think they are sans God, they are not. He is present and working. And yes he is still working through the perhaps misunderstood Council, to redeem us not only as individuals, but to redeem human society. The call is to holiness. …and God’s word won’t return to him void. (Isaiah 55:11 happens to be a favorite verse)

  12. 🙂 I love it when people take my given name, Anzlyne, to be an internet moniker “Analyze” ! I am analytical to an extent, given enough time, but my quick way of looking at things would make “Intuit” a better moniker for me!
    I have been told that Anzlyne was the name of the country school teacher from Wales who taught my grandfather.

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