I recently read Peter J. Kreeft’s new book, How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas From the Cultural Abyss (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2021). From the title alone one might think it is a “how-to” book giving ideas on how to destroy western civilization. I read it as more of an analysis of how we have already being destroying our civilization.
Kreeft starts with the following statement:
“The single most necessary thing we can possibly do to save our civilization – the single most necessary thing citizens can ever do to save their civilization, at all times and all places and in all cultures, whether they are good or evil, religious or irreligious, ancient or modern – is to have children” (7).
One might look at this and think it (“to have children”) is about birth control and having as many children as possible. This is not Kreeft’s point here. He goes on to say, “Having children is the most heroic thing we can do because nothing changes your life more than having children. Martyrdom is easy; it’s over quickly. Children are never over” (7). As we enter into adulthood, we may see ourselves as the center of our own world. We act for our own self-interest. Having children, when we understand parenthood not as something we do to continue our gene line but as a vocation, changes us. We move from being the center of our own world to making sacrifices for our children, building our lives around them.
When Kreeft speaks of having children, he does not simply mean the biological act of children. He is referring to “the act of self-giving” (8). Having children involves the way we raise them, forming their worldview as one based on our Catholic faith and morals.
When we see ourselves as the center of the world, we can become focused on the accumulation of wealth and a high standard of living. Those who seek a high standard of living think it is wrong to have several children because it stands in the way of that high standard of living (see Kreeft, 8-9). Our greatest joy, in fact the purpose of our existence is not found in material things but in living in faith and in God’s love.
Kreeft says, “As Aquinas said (also very simply), when a man is deprived of true, spiritual joy, he must become addicted to carnal pleasures to fill the vacuum” (14). I hope to write more about what Kreeft says about sexual liberty in another article in a few days. For now, I will simply say when we think happiness comes in carnal pleasures, we are looking for fulfillment in a way that misses the very purpose of our sexuality. It misses the meaning of our existence. Kreeft cites a study that shows “the percentage of Americans who thought getting rich was very important rose from 42 percent in 1967 to 75 percent in 2005, while the percentage who thought “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” was very important fell from 85 percent to 46 percent” (65). At the same time, we see more violence and division in the world. Why? Because people are losing sight of what is truly important.
Citing another poll, Kreeft writes, “only 15 percent of regular churchgoers, who themselves make up only about 50 percent of Americans, give their relation to God as their first priority, and only 35 percent of regular churchgoers believe that God expects people to be holy” (65). It is not easy to be holy. It requires sacrifice. However, I can’t help but wonder what people are looking for from God if not to be holy. Rather than see Jesus as the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), do they seek their own way? They seem to expect to get into Heaven on their own terms.
Following God is not easy. Being holy is not easy. As Kreeft says, “Sanctity comes only by struggle” (71). It is worth the struggle. It is worth the effort. Part of the effort is to have a regular prayer life. Prayer is not something we do only when we need God’s help. Prayer is something we need to do without ceasing so that we might be in an ongoing relationship with God.
It is in a personal relationship with God that we find a purpose (see Kreeft, 115, on having a Tao). We need something to believe in. Kreeft writes about heroes in chapter 10 (111-121). Heroes are heroes in part because they believe in something. They stand for something. What do you stand for? Do you stand for Jesus?
We need to pray that we become not what we want but what God wants. We need to pray that we follow God’s Truth (see Kreeft, 153). We pray thy will be done.