I read two things today that, taken together, provide considerable food for thought. I would really love to hear some reader discussion on the topic.
Item one: this Baltimore Sun story about John Paul II’s home town, Wadowice. The current parish priest where Wojtyla was baptized laments the state of Poland after Communism: "We in Poland have opened up to Western culture, and it is destroying the church."
Item two: this National Review Online piece by John Derbyshire, a retrospective and evaluation of the late Pope’s life and times. Those of you who can’t abide NR (if any are present), please hold your fire, and don’t react too hastily without reading the whole piece. Derbyshire is a non-Catholic, a sort of old-school Anglican, but sympathetic to the Pope and most of that for which he stood–what I think of as a temperamental conservative. Here is his key idea: "..the real culprit [in the decline of orthodox religion] is the irresistible appeal of secular hedonism to healthy, busy, well-educated populations."
This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Those of us who are more or less traditionalist Catholics argue a lot about the baleful influence of various philosophical and political parties: "It’s the liberals." "No, it’s the conservatives." "No, it’s the neo-cons." "It’s the Enlightenment." "It’s Protestantism." "It’s Darwin." "It’s Europe." "It’s the USA." "It’s Marx." "It’s capitalism." "It’s Thomism." "It’s Vatican II." Etc.
But I am more and more inclined to believe that we are up against something more fundamental, and Derbyshire is onto it: if people have wealth and freedom, they will abuse it. Like those (legendary?) rats who dosed themselves with cocaine till they died, they will most likely abuse it until it is taken from them.
(Now I’m being pessimistic.) Of course it’s possible in principle for more than a minority to turn away from decadence when it’s freely available, but is it likely to happen?
Like I said, I would really love to hear what other people think about this.