It is a bizarre age we live in. Just a few days ago, a woman I work with told me that questions such as "Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?" are questions that no one really cares about anymore. I was baffled at such a statement - how on earth can any human being be indifferent on any level as to their existence and the meaning of it? Here, we see the effects of the 20th century's chief exponents of secularism, atheism, and existentialism's thoughts reverberating throughout our own times.
"Religion today is considered an archaic relic to be left alone because, finally, it is thought to have nothing to do with the true greatness of progress. What religions say and do appears totally irrelevant; they are not even a part of the world of rationality, their contents ultimately count for nothing."1 (Pope Benedict XVI)
But to have a view like this seems to speak a kind of slow and systematic deadening of the soul in modern culture today. The search for truth is no longer embarked upon by many because they are taught that there is no such thing. However, I am not entirely sure if this is often the fault of many who lead lives of indifference to the universal questions, but the fault of the architects of a culture of indifference, who have bequeathed to the world nothing but meaningless living, rabid secularism and relativism, and empty "spiritualities" that offer nothing but security blankets for restless hearts.
The earnest search for truth and meaning in life is not an easy journey to undertake. In fact, it is quite the opposite. But as Thomas Merton once wrote of the men becoming monks in his day, "They have not come to the monastery to escape from the realities of life but to find those realities: they have felt the terrible insufficiency of life in a civilization that is entirely dedicated to the pursuit of shadows."2
This is exactly the crux of the issue - more and more each day, we are seeing a society and a culture that has divorced itself entirely from Truth, that offers nothing to the searching soul but materialism and hedonism, all culminating in an existence of "the absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knows he exists until, one fine morning, he wakes up to find himself dead."3 (William Barrett) In other words, "The dilemma of modern man is simple: he simply does not know why man has any meaning."4 (Francis Schaeffer)
This void of meaning, however, is why there are those who still search, as Thomas Merton said; why there are still those who climb out from under the wreckage of modern culture in order to seek the truth. And as Fr. Seraphim Rose once said, "Anyone who studies religion seriously comes up against this question: it is a question literally of life and death."5
1 - Let God's Light Shine Forth, pg. 138
2 - The Waters of Siloe, qtd. in A Thomas Merton Reader, pg. 182
3 - Irrational Man, I:1
4 - He Is There and He Is Not Silent, ch. 1
5 - God's Revelation to the Human Heart, pg. 20