PART 3: WHAT MAKES THIS AGE DIFFERENT?
Yesterday someone asked me, “Didn’t every age think they were in the End Times? What makes this age different from every other age?” I thought that was a very good question – one that deserved a response.
I do think that there are fundamental differences between life as we see it now in the twenty-first century versus life throughout history. It’s not simply a matter of “more sin” or different kinds of sin – there was always lust, greed, violence, and even drugs throughout history. Various cultures have been equally depraved; atheism has been around for a long time; the devaluation of human life dates back to Cain and Abel. So it’s not just a matter of the “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” being the defining factor of our age.
No, I think there are philosophical and anthropological trends which are far more prevalent that makes this a profoundly unique time in human history. Here are some of the differences:
1. Globalization. Never before in human history has the world been as small as it is today. I can send an email to someone in India in a matter of seconds. An event that happened in Australia might be posted online in minutes, for the rest of the world to see. For the first time in human history we truly live in a global village. This is important because it means the exportation of ideologies can happen at a rapid rate. Popes Benedict and Francis both warned against an “ideological colonization” – first-world countries that are sending out their ideologies to developing and third-world countries (for a humorous take on this, see the music video by Rammstein called “Amerika”).
2. Technology and Mass Media. Never before in human history has mass media been able to so thoroughly shape and form a culture. From radio to television to the internet, the ability to form minds and souls has been concentrated in the hands of a few elite. For millennia prior, cultures were passed down through communities – one grew up listening to the stories of grandparents, to witnessing the histories of your town, to being a part of celebrations and grieving rituals and the whole gamut of human life filtered through a community. Now, however, culture is self-defined through one’s media consumption. One chooses what culture to imbibe. This becomes problematic when cultural values are exported through the mass media (this ideological colonization again). Never before could a person, born and raised in a certain culture, seek out a completely different set of ideals through the mass media. This is why parents find that, despite raising their kids in the Catholic Faith, watch their children jettison the Faith – because the young have often willingly chosen a culture through the technological mass media that is at odds with how they have been raised. No longer are parents and other adults the main influential factors on a young person’s cultural, intellectual, and moral development, as had been the case for the vast majority of human history – now souls are formed through technology and mass media. In addition, we view the world through the lens of the screen – there is a dearth of interaction with the “stuff” of the world (dirt, plants, humans, tools, etc) – now most interaction is through a device. This has fundamentally changed the way we relate, the way we receive and form culture, the way we interact with the world.
3. Scientism & Secular Humanism. Closely related to technology is the undying belief that science holds the answers to all of life’s problems, and that scientific truth is the only truth that exists. Very few people examine the philosophical, anthropological, and spiritual implications of suffering or problems – they just want it gone, through science. There is a belief that there is no need to turn to a deity but to turn, instead, to human beings for answers and solutions. This is the first time in human history that man has been so exalted.
4. Relativism. Throughout human history, truth has been seen as something worth fighting for and dying for. I think of the bitter fights – which sometimes ended in bloodshed, exile, and imprisonment – during the Arian controversy, which debated whether or not Jesus was truly divine. There has always, in every culture, been a belief that truth was knowable, that is was important, and that one should seek it. For the first time in human history, however, truth is seen by many as a subjective experience. “Live your truth,” as one member of the transgender community put it. No longer is there any idea that truth exists in reality; rather, all truth is subjective and therefore cannot be scrutinized by others as to its actual correspondence with reality.
5. Irreligion/Thorough Secularism. The tribesmen of the Amazon, the aborigines in the desert, the high Anglican in the cathedral, the barbarian in the Norse lands – all cultures of all times have always had some sort of religion. Whether it was the polytheism of the Greeks and Romans or the Persian Zoroastrians or the ancestor-worship of ancient China, every culture (from the Latin “cultus” meaning “worship”) was based upon adoration of a transcendent deity/deities. But for the first time in history, we are forming a culture that is purposely irreligious. Religion is often scorned, seen as illogical or superstitious, and viewed as something passé. There is a concerted effort to build a world that is completely secular, which has never been done in human history before.
6. Sheer Magnitude of Sin. Even in the most barbaric days of the ancient Mayan empire, they were still not able to slaughter the 600,000+ babies killed each year in America alone through abortion. A teenage boy can see more sexually explicit images in one hour than even the most hedonistic Roman emperor would see in his lifetime. There is a sense in which those sins which have always existed have now reached such vast proportions that we have become numb to their horror.
I believe that our modern age is one that is indeed different from every other age. We have abandoned the idea of God and instead replaced Man in His stead. This expresses itself in the way we see Truth (subjective to man’s perception), the way we solve problems (Man’s power through science can end all suffering), the way in which we have crafted a society without God. Indeed, the seeds of this have been planted all the way back centuries ago, from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution to Communism. But in the past 70-100 years we have seen a rapid growth and a full flowering of these seeds. For this reason, I believe that we truly are living in unprecedented times. Where will this end? Where will this lead? I do not know – but God knows, and my trust is in Him.