Today at Mass we heard the famous challenge that God set before the people of Israel, from the Book of Deuteronomy (30: 19-20)
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days…
Just two days earlier, the Office of Readings offered a similar message, from Proverbs (8:36), when Wisdom gives us a stark warning that “he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
St. John Paul II did us all a great service (one of many) when he portrayed the great moral battles of our day as a struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death.” It is easiest to see this battle played out in the public debates on abortion and euthanasia, but as the great Polish Pontiff taught us, the “culture of death” is also visible in the many and varied attempts to sever the link between human love and procreation, the demands for acceptance of various forms of what previous generations recognized as perversion.
The “culture of life” hears and embraces the Wisdom that is portrayed in Proverbs: the plan of life set forth by God, indelibly written into human nature, as a recipe for long and happy life. The “culture of death” ignores this Wisdom, and soon enough falls in love with death.
Can we not see this happening all around us? Our society no longer accepts the blessings- the blessing of human life, the blessing of marital love- and consequently we injure ourselves. Quite literally. We live in a society marked by misery (check the explosion in use of anti-depressants), and anxiety (ditto the use of other, calming prescriptions). The rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births continue to climb among the poor and the emotionally needy, virtually ensuring that they will become poorer and needier. The opioid epidemic testifies to a frightening emptiness in people’s lives: an emptiness that prompts them to dance along the boundaries of suicidal behavior- and, sadly, often to cross over.
What’s going on here? Why do so many people make choices that are so obviously self-destructive? Then another mass shooting occurs- this time in Florida- and the picture snaps into focus. We are looking at a culture that loves death.
This picture does not capture all of our society, by any means. America, taken as a whole, does not love death. As Charles Murray has pointed out, the self-destructive behavior is mostly confined to one class of Americans, while another, healthier class has preserved itself from the carnage. But that perspective is not terribly reassuring, because the rootless class is growing, the social whirlwind is accelerating, and no one can remain forever safely immune from the effects of the destruction.
So we, as a people, face a challenge: the same challenge set forth in Deuteronomy. There is only one healthy option: to choose life, and persuade others to do the same.