View Full Version : Our Society is Crumbling. What can be done?

Taras Bulba
Tuesday, October 16th, 2007, 10:07 PM
Excellent article from Simple Catholic Living :) :


Our Society is Crumbling. What can be done? by John Hoerig

Our society is crumbling. Our culture is the Culture of Death and its decay is accelerating. This is not news to us, we’ve all been putting out an “SOS” for quite some time, but how do we avoid going down with the ship? In our rapidly sinking society, we desperately long for an escape hatch to “Save Our Souls.”

How we got to this sorry state is a question with many answers. There is one thing however which I believe underlies the disintegration inherent in our modern way of life that has been universally overlooked - almost.

What we have lost

Throughout history, until recent times, 90% of the world’s population lived on small farms in small communities where the family was the central unit of society. As the Industrial Revolution got into full swing, and particularly into the twentieth century, people began flooding into the cities. The men then had to spend their long days toiling, not on the farm or in the workshop at home, but in a factory or office, isolated from their families. Soon children too left the home and were herded into the artificial environment of the school. Is it any wonder then that women would eventually leave the home as well?

Now we call our neighborhoods “bedroom communities” - places families spend the night after they have been separated from each other in their daily work and activity. We have become alienated both from our neighbors and from the members of our own families. Yet we wish it were otherwise.

We admire the Amish and envy their faith-centered, communal lifestyle. Nostalgically we look back to a time when folks knew by name the postman, the grocer, and the butcher, not to mention their neighbors and fellow parishioners; when life had fewer demands and simpler rewards.

Two false solutions

In our frustration with the state of our society, we are tempted to chuck it all in and head to the hills or back woods to build our ivory towers. We are weary of fighting the good fight. We want a place where we don’t have to stand up for our Faith, where everyone just believes like we do. We wish to surround ourselves with a close knit community with whom we can gather, proudly pat each other on the back, and just let the world go to Hell, quite literally, hand-basket or not.

On the other hand we know we cannot neglect our Christian responsibility to be a light in this dark world. As our Lord points out, a lamp must be placed on a stand; a light hidden away serves Him no good purpose. We may not limit our concerns to ourselves and our own families. Self-centered individualism may be very American (though I would argue it is not) but it is certainly not Catholic.

Seeing that running away is not the answer, there are those who go to the other extreme and just stay put and do nothing. “Tight-knit communities are relics of the past,” goes their argument, “they just won’t work any more.” This attitude will take us nowhere on its own, but it does reveal an important truth. Yes, building community in our day is a monumental task, but rather than letting the obstacles paralyze us, we must identify them and then do whatever is necessary to overcome them.

Facing the problem

The most basic problem facing any potential community is the extreme complexity our modern culture has ingrained in us, the depth and subtlety of which we are largely unaware. Pardon me for quoting myself here, but in my article, Toward Successful Catholic Communities, in the April 2003 issue of Full of Grace, I said something which, by the grace of God, I believe explains the nature of the difficulty:

"A couple of hundred years ago you had people with so much more in common with each other than we do today. The folks in some little German village didn't have to decide if they wanted Chinese or Italian or Cajun food, they just ate food. They didn't call it German food, it was just food. Everyone raised basically the same foods using the same techniques, preserving and preparing their foods in much the same way as everyone else. That's just how it was done. The same with music. They didn't have all kinds of styles, they just had music; or at least the varieties were limited to a song to dance to, a dirge to mourn to, and a hymn to worship with. People didn't have neighborhoods where every house on the block was a different style, they all were pretty much the same. And not because of zoning ordinances or because they were put up by the same contractor. They built houses the same because that was how they built houses. It applies to clothing styles, hair styles, art, education and raising of children, farming techniques, holidays, spiritual devotions, literature, entertainment, everything."

"Everyone was on the same wave length. That made it very easy to get along and help each other. People didn't have to try to agree on so many things because virtually everything they believed in or knew about or did they held in common."

These examples are tiny snowflakes, not sufficient in themselves to cause big problems. But when people’s images of their ideal community start to clash with the deeply held dreams of others, minor differences of opinion can snowball into major disagreements. Yet we must not be intimidated into giving up, thinking there is no way out of the rat race.

A change of attitude

Okay, so now that we see that running away from the world is not the solution, and that sitting on the side lines is no better, what exactly are we to do? The answer is not to run FROM something but to run TO something. For community to work, its members must not be fleeing from the world, but to the community. If our motivation to build a community is limited to self-centered, idyllic dreams then we will fail. Community life will not be idyllic. It will entail compromise and sacrifice. It must be seen as an opportunity to give rather than to get. But where are we to find the right motivation?

The vision

I propose a lofty ideal. Actually it has been proposed long before I, and by voices far more profound and articulate. And ultimately, I believe, it is rooted in an aspect of the will of God that has been all but forgotten in modern times.

Recently Dale Ahlquist, of the American Chesterton Society (www.chesterton.org), was on EWTN Live. The answer to a question about Chesterton’s ideas concerning Distributism and the Agrarian Movement lays it all out for us:

"The Agrarian Movement, (another term for it is the "back to the land movement"), says that people should be as self sufficient as possible and live off the land to the greatest extent possible rather than depending on outside sources of support. So, if you are self sufficient you have as much freedom as possible; you are not dependent on the whims of the economy, on what government is doing. You are in control of your own world if you are living off the land and are self sufficient.’

That fits right in with Chesterton's idea of Distributism where people should, to the greatest extent possible, own their own means of production, own their own business, not work for someone else, try to avoid being a wage slave. Now, the Agrarian Movement works only if there is a community (emphasis added) so that not everybody is doing everything. There can be some specialization, but the community should be helping each other out. It is the classic medieval village. Sure, there is a blacksmith and a baker and a candlestick maker, and all that. The idea is that the community supports itself and they don't need any outside support. It's all centered on family.'

"You know, we talk about the mother going out of the home to work and how that has been devastating on the family, but the father going outside of the home to work and going way off far away and being gone almost the whole day and coming back, he's not much of a presence in the house either. He becomes a stranger too.’

"In the Agrarian Movement and the Distributist ideal, the family is all working together, the family is always together, and that's how you care for souls."


This puts a whole new light on the idea of self sufficiency. It is not limited to ones own person or family. That is self-centeredness. Here self sufficiency is tied to the community and therefore it becomes unselfish. I would call it “community-sufficiency.”

This is not to be confused with isolationism. Isolationism says to exclude outsiders. Distributism says simply to support your own community and to be content with that. In the first case the attitude is negative and adversarial, in the second case the attitude is one of love and cooperation. That love and cooperation must begin in the family, and then extend out into the community. That is the way peace works. God actually designed us to be members, not only of families, but also of small communities. And the proof of that is in an unlikely place.

No mistake

While it sounds clever that God foiled the designs of men by confusing their language, the story of the Tower of Babel presents us with a difficulty. Look at all the problems we have today because we cannot communicate in a common tongue! God may have fixed the situation at Babel but His solution there has caused tremendous difficulties right down to this very day. Didn’t God foresee all this? Well of course God foresaw it, and more importantly, He intended it.

Most people see the sin of Babel in the building of the tower, but I believe the tower is only an outward manifestation of their real sin. As you recall, this whole incident occurs within a few generations after the Great Flood. The race of man is once again growing. God has commanded them to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.” They have their own ideas however. Instead of disbursing (or “distributing,” you might say) and filling the earth, as God commanded, they prefer to consolidate themselves in a few cities, of which Babel is the chief. This is the opposite of what God told them to do, and it is also where modern society is at today.

Babel’s return

The worldwide trend throughout the twentieth century, has been toward consolidating in urban areas. We have built our own towers of Babel. We have Big Government, and Big Business, (although we may name them Socialism and Capitalism, or other names as well.) Whether we look to the government to solve our problems or to the mega corporations with the latest technologies, they are the towers of human pride in the world today.

By sundering the language of man at Babel, God thwarted mankind’s collaborative immorality, but through modern technologies, we have sought to reverse the effects, and hence the benefits, of our Father’s providential chastisement.

Sticking together

Despite all this, there are still examples of small communities in our society today. Immigrant groups are successful because they stick together, support each other and patronize each others’ businesses. In fact, if there is something they cannot get from within their own community, they are content to do without. Their people matter more to them than their things.

Immigrant communities generally form in the midst of large cities and are proof that community can exist in urban centers. So we should not be afraid to begin living this ideal no matter where we happen to be. If you aren’t interested in who your neighbors are now, or if you prefer to shop at the Wal-Market for price, selection, convenience, or whatever, don’t think you will suddenly convert when you find your idyllic community. Most of us don’t give a second thought to supporting Mom and Pop businesses, so it’s no surprise that Mom and Pop are fading fast.

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, in a fantastic article for Catholic Answer’s Be magazine, July-August 2001, explains this very point:

“But you have to eat and clothe yourself. In our absolute dependency on the individuals who produce them, you could pray and hope that they will be very high-minded and concerned about the common good. But that is not normally the way it works. The bottom line concern of big business is the bottom line…’

“The whole point about the family farm is that you have people from the local community who have children themselves, who feel a close bond to their neighbors, and so are deeply concerned to produce a product that's really good for their own children, and for their neighbors. They take pride in doing that.”

The Archbishop is speaking specifically of small farmers rather than small business in general, but as our U.S. bishops point out in their recent document, “For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food”, food production is of unique importance:

“Agriculture is different because it touches all our lives, wherever we live or whatever we do. It is about how we feed our own families, and the whole human family. It is about how we treat those who put food on our table and those who do not have enough food. It is about what is happening to food and farming, rural communities and villages, in the face of increasing concentration, new technology, and growing globalization in agriculture. For believers, and especially for Catholics, who turn to the Scripture and church teaching for guidance, these questions and choices in the world of agriculture have fundamental ethical and human dimensions.”

Rural or urban?

If food production is the single most important aspect of commerce, as our bishops explain, and if community is necessary to the degree I have tried to demonstrate, then the most logical place to begin to rebuild communities would be in rural areas.

As stated earlier, immigrant groups are good examples of successful communities in large urban areas, but it seems that immigrants change over the course of a couple of generations. They become assimilated in the larger culture. After a while they are no longer identifiable as a community and a new ethnic group moves in to take their place. American history is a revolving cycle of new immigrant communities. So while it is possible, and as an interim even necessary, to establish the important ties of community both among people themselves and also between people and the fruit of the land, in the midst of our cities, it is certainly very difficult to maintain in that environment.

As we saw with Babel and her sister cities, the cities of man are not conducive to virtue. In the country, people still wave to each other in passing, even to total strangers, but you can’t wave to everyone you see on a crowded city street. When your community is small, loving your neighbor is a manageable task, but “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is overwhelming when thy neighbor outnumbers thyself by the tens of thousands.

“Seek first the kingdom of God”

Of course, above loving thy neighbor, the first and greatest commandment is to love God. Above all the other considerations mentioned so far, the single most important ingredient for a strong community is a deeply shared faith. That will be difficult today when even we Catholics go “church shopping” like our Protestant brethren, searching for a parish that suits our particular preferences. But fleeing our neighborhood parish will work no better than running from the world.

Our ancestors did not have the luxury of jumping in their car and driving all over the county or state to find a church they happened to like. Their parish was their parish - there was no other choice. And, as is always the case when there is a lack of alternatives, they did what they had to do to make it work.

Just as the mother is the heart of the home and family, so Holy Mother Church needs to be the focus of any successful community. Humble submission to Her, through the Pope and Bishop, will be the only viable bond we will have.

So what’s the point?

So what have I been trying to say in all this? The point is not that community would merely be “a nice thing.” Likewise, community is neither a nostalgic fantasy, nor an escape from our everyday trials. What it is, in fact, is a way of life designed and commanded by God, the loss of which is the number one cause for the problems of our culture today. Until we, who have been given the grace to recognize these truths, start living as examples to the world around us, our culture will continue its decline. And ultimately it is we who will have to answer for that more than anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say we must sell the house and move off to the country this minute, but we should be working toward that goal. And already there are those who are blazing the trail for us.

Today, more and more women are opting to stay at home with their young children rather than abandoning them to daycare. Likewise, the growing tide of homeschooling has brought millions of children back to the home and family. And, as radical as it may seem, there are a new breed of families making the great sacrifices necessary to bring dad home full-time as well. So there is hope. The pieces are coming together and community is the final element needed.

Start now!

If you were looking for a beginner’s guide to starting a community where you just follow along, step by step and end up with “and they lived happily ever after,” I’m sorry to have disappointed you.

This much I can start you out with. The first steps shouldn’t be restricted to material concerns. The principles most vital to a community are contentment and mutual support. Cut back on your consumption now, it will do your soul and your pocket book a lot of good, while at the same time preparing you for the sacrifices of community life. Forsake the big chain stores in favor of the small neighborhood shops, irregardless of inconvenience, higher prices and poorer selection. Pass by the chain restaurants and take a chance on a local establishment, even if it turns out to be a greasy spoon. Get to know, by name, your neighbors, your fellow parishioners, and the proprietors of the businesses you support. Before you even consider switching parishes, make sure you have done everything you can to improve the parish community you are in now. When you get to the point where you feel you just have to leave, find a way to stick it out anyway.

Remember in all this, at some point we have to take a hard look at our own hearts and see where WE need to change. We must learn to be content. WE have lost that.

So start living these principles now. Don’t wait until it’s easy - it never will be. Do all this now because it is right. Do this now because it is how God has designed us. And most importantly, do all this because,quoting Mr. Ahlquist one last time, “that’s how you care for souls.”

Thank you, Brother John! This article is copyright 2004 by John Hoerig