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The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part I
A reflection by Fr Luis Garza, LC, on how Catholics can take an effective stand in the culture war today.

"Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul" (John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope).

August 22, 2011. The Catholic Church has been a builder of culture for over two millennia, and has faced different forms of “culture war” throughout its long and battle-scarred history. But perhaps never has the Church faced a challenge like the “battle for the soul of the world” in the 21st century.

For those with an interest in understanding the roots and consequences of the cultural battle underway in today’s world, we present The Battle for the Soul of the World, by Fr Luis Garza, LC. Originally presented as a series of lectures for university students attending a leadership conference, it is offered here as a formation resource for teams and individuals who will find the lecture notes to be thought-provoking material for reflection and discussion.

The complete text with study guide questions can be downloaded in PDF format here. Part I of the 10-part series is presented below, and the following parts will be published on the web site on Mondays.



In his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II writes,

Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul.  If in fact, on the one hand, the Gospel and evangelization are present in this world, on the other, there is also present a powerful anti-evangelization which is well organized and has the means to vigorously oppose the Gospel and evangelization.  The struggle for the soul of the contemporary world is at its height where the spirit of this world seems strongest.  In this sense the encyclical Redemptoris Missio speaks of modern Areopagi.  Today these Areopagi are the worlds of science, culture, and media; these are the worlds of writers and artists, the worlds where the intellectual elite are formed.
Culture is the modern Areopagus, the battleground for the world’s soul.  In this short book, we will explain what culture is, how it makes use of certain concepts to manipulate society, and what the current battle fronts in our culture are.  Finally, we will mention some urgent strategic guidelines to ensure that the Gospel is victorious in the struggle for the world’s soul.

The Battleground: Culture

1.  What is culture?

First, we must understand and describe what culture is.  We can say that culture is the set of actions, reactions, thoughts and ideas of a group of people that becomes a certain kind of collective subconscious.

Culture is not only what happens but also how people evaluate what happens.  It encompasses one’s philosophy of life, priorities, values and ethics:  how one views the family, human life, responsibility, sacrifice, one’s elders, authority, and so on.

Culture is also a system in which concepts are not isolated but interrelated.

2. The components of culture

Culture is concerned, therefore, with public consciousness:  a mentality, a way of thinking, judging, reacting and acting.  We may ask, “What are the factors that shape culture and influence it, for better or for worse?”   This is the battleground, the place where the culture war is fought.

The three components acting in culture are (1) media (2) education and examples, (3) and law.

(1) Media.  The media’s influence is very powerful but ultimately superficial (it has a broad scope but shallow penetration).  However, it clearly has a strong impact and is used to influence.  Just look at Hollywood, television and the press.  Michael Medved’s documentary “Hollywood vs. Religion” gives us an example of how the screen is used to mold culture.   At the same time, there is a kind of perversion, we might say, in the minds of many people working in mass media.  In their view, since financial income governs the industry, reaching the masses requires an appeal to the lowest common denominator.  They always translate this into sex and violence because these arouse passions.  One wonders, however, if the aspiration to goodness and transcendence is not something broader, as many studies of cultural anthropology have noted.

(2) Education.  Education forms the mind and body of the younger generations.  Through it, values and codes of conduct are passed down from generation to generation.  Therefore, it too is a battleground to control the world’s soul.  But education works through a primary agent:  a role model, a good example, a parent, an educator, and so on.  Today it is easy to see the attack waged on the role models children look to as they grow up.  They are left disoriented and without reference points.  When the image of their educators is devalued, the only remaining models are the “heroes” of films, pop singers, professional athletes, and so on.

(3) Law.  Culture (actions and ideas), trickling down through traditions and habits of behavior, often leads to law.  In other words, law is the crystallization of culture.  However, we find that it really is a circular process, since the law’s pedagogical power can also influence culture. .  Culture creates the law, and in turn, the law creates culture.

An analogy drawn from military language can help us understand the culture war.  Transforming culture requires two things:  spreading ideas (air combat) and getting people to repeat a series of actions in accordance with these ideas until it becomes a habit (land warfare).  The media would be like the air campaign that reaps destruction but does not take over the territory, whereas the infantry can take control and win the war.  To take a historical example, in the first Gulf War the Americans won in the air but never took over the territory, and Saddam Hussein’s government remained for over twelve years until the second Gulf War.

3. A cultural shift of vast proportions

The cultural changes we are experiencing are momentous, since we are going through a period which historians have called a “change of epoch,” a period of history in which old values and ideas, old mechanisms and technology, give way to entirely new foundations for society and culture.  What emerges from this period will shape our lives for generations.

Our ideas about essential aspects of human life (family, marriage, respect for elders, responsibility, personal fulfillment, etc.) have changed dramatically over the last forty years.  Pope John Paul II aptly defined this period as a time of “culture war.”

4. How did this change come about?

One could easily think that the transformations we observe today are the result of a completely natural process, but this is not the case.  Between 1920 and 1930, a man named Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist, analyzing the development of societies and the long-awaited dawn of the socialist revolution, realized that in order for the communist parties of modern and developed countries to take power, they would have to take an alternate route unknown to Lenin.  The proletarian revolution was never to be again because, for Gramsci, “culture is revolution.”  From then on, the communist parties around the world and many other groups, without understanding what they are doing, have launched an assault on Western culture.

Gramsci was fascinated with the way in which the Catholic Church took over culture since its founding—in art, music, architecture, popular culture, etc.  Indeed, the Church is a creator and transformer of culture.  In addition, the Church built civilizations based on Christian culture, motivated in part by the collapse of Roman civilization and the gradual birth of Europe as we know it today.  For many centuries, culture and Christianity were one and the same thing, which explains why Christianity has been so resistant to change, even against the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, persecution, and so on.  And from this identification arose the enormous difficulty of the distinction between Christianity and the state, but we do not intend to address that topic here.

Gramsci marveled at the work of the Church’s priests and lay leaders and at their far-reaching presence in society.  Out of that admiration grew his concept of the “organic intellectual,” that is, of a person who, due to his superior education, would be able to guide the work of groups in different fields, sectors and levels of society.

The ideas of Herbert Marcuse and thinkers of the Frankfurt School (“Frankfurt Schule”) constitute another major influence on contemporary culture.  Marcuse was a real cultural strategist, believing that agents of change had to penetrate social institutions.  He devised a way to use Gramsci’s “organic intellectual” to lead civil society to accept these ideas.  (Saul Alinski has made use of this strategy in an exemplary fashion in the United States.)

Marcuse’s action was decisive in the revolutions of 1968, and the changes in culture were evident thereafter.  Many institutions have changed tenor. The basic ideas of the new epoch we live in are the following:

1. atheism or agnosticism;
2. elimination or alteration of the concept of basic institutions such as the family and complete transformation of social behavior;
3. radical critique of society and, more specifically, of society based on progress;
4. freedom from any social tie or construct; this involves the promotion of the sexual revolution, homosexuality, etc.

Yet another ingredient used to bring about “cultural change” is the idea of keeping society in constant turmoil, called the “Continuous Revolution,” which was conceptualized by a philosopher named Gabriel Morin.  Thus, in Western countries we often see movements of one stripe or another leading the masses to take to the streets and squares in order to voice demands (ranging from union contracts to anti-globalization riots to the gay pride parade and anti-American peace marches).  This high-impact public presence brings the issues in question to the collective consciousness, making them seem more and more normal, so that somehow the authorities and legislators feel pressured to accept these views.

5. Are we talking about a conspiracy?

With all these processes so well thought out and set up to transform culture, can we say that we are dealing with a conspiracy?  No, it is not a conspiracy.  A conspiracy would need to have a strategy, executed by an organization or network of groups and agents.  But such is not the case.

The organization we see is what sociologists call a “meta-network”:  independent groups without any shared strategy which have, however, some common ground and act together tactically, united by the same goals in a particular time.  The action of the meta-network is simply the combination of these different networks, which share common goals in some of their actions.

An example of an operative meta-network is seen in population and birth control:  many groups of different backgrounds, not organized as a single group or network, strive after the same goal by various means.

History has always been a struggle of forces.  St. Augustine expressed the conflict in this way:  “Likewise, two cities have been formed by two loves, the worldly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.”

Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion:

1. In what ways have you seen media, education, and law shaping the course of culture?  What specific examples come to mind?
2. If you were to paint a more detailed picture of the culture shift in the past few decades, what would you highlight as some of the most significant changes?
3. How can the Church fulfill its role today as a transformer of culture? 
4. How do you, as a living cell of the Church, feel called to participate in the Church’s mission to transform culture from within? What values do you personally feel called to uphold? Is there a specific aspect of the mission that attracts you in a special way?
5. Many of the culture changes at work today seem to converge on the deconstruction of fundamental units of society, such as the family. What do you think will result from an increasingly atomized society?
6. What unites the different members of the “meta-networks” mentioned above?


The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part I - Artículo
The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part 2 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 3 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 4 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 5 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 6 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 7 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 8 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 9 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 10 - Artículo

Related articles
- The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part I
- The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part 2
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 3
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 4
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 5
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 6
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 7
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 8
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 9
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 10

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