|"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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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?
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?