Destruction of the Sacred

If the world taking shape around us today seems to make us strangers in a strange land—strangers in our own land—that’s because it does. If, while preaching freedom, the world seems filled with cynicism, ugliness, blasphemies big and small, and sadness, that’s because (too often) it is. What the modern world really wants, wrote Josef Pieper, “is flattery, and it does not matter how much of it is a lie.” But since every lie is an act of violence against reality and a deforming of the the truth, the world also wants the right to disguise the lying, so “the fact of being lied to can be easily ignored.” The result is predictable: “The common element in all of this is the degeneration of language into an instrument of rape.”1

And that rape is carried out not just against the dignity of the human spirit, but against the the beauty of the earth itself. Just as the face of a beloved shines with the inner light of the person’s soul, so the world as a sacrament shines with the face of God. The atheist culture of our age, says Roger Scruton, has a number of motives—but one of them is the desire to escape from the eye of judgment. And we escape from the eye of God’s judgment by mutilating the face of his world.

Thus the spoiling of the earth with waste and brutalizing of our human habitats with ugly art and buildings are not clumsy mistakes of progress, but desecrations. As Scruton notes, “Sacred places [like a sacramentally understood natural world] are the first places to be destroyed by invaders and iconoclasts, for whom nothing is more offensive than the enemy’s gods.” We should recognize “that much of the destruction of our environment today is deliberate, the result of a willed assault on old and despised forms of tranquility.”2

–Archbishop Charles Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, pg 226

1Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, 26, 32.
2Roger Scruton, Face of God, 123-24.

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