As a mother of five, there have been times when I was pretty sure “civilized” meant a dinner where no one called a sibling a name, everyone ate with utensils, and whoever got assigned dish duty did it without grumbling. Maybe I was setting my sights a tad low.
Joseph Pearce thoughtfully and concisely tackles the rather large question, “What is civilization?” While Pearce does the obvious (heads to Wikipedia for an answer), it’s clear that “civilization” is more than a complex state that communicates, domesticates both animal and human, and has nice buildings that also have some sort of function. If this is all civilization is, why fight for it? Why bother defending it? Why try to save it?
If those heady thinkers of the Enlightenment had their way, we wouldn’t. You see, even Wikipedia “knows” that “civilization” is simply a construct of the Enlightenment.
It is not a reality in itself but an idea by which an irreligious and irrational “rationalism” can explain and explain away, to its own prejudiced satisfaction, the history of human culture. Amongst those cited by Wikipedia as crucial to the definition of “civilization” are the social Darwinists, on the one side, and the followers of Rousseau, on the other. Civilization is, therefore, defined either by those who advocate a secularist understanding of “progress” or those who call for its rejection through the secularist idealization of so-called noble savagery.
Pearce does not wish us to be fooled: the Christian view of civilization is far more than language, architecture and a dog curled up at your feet in the evening.
True civilization is a culture animated by the transcendental trinity of the good, the true, and the beautiful. The authentic presence of goodness is love and its manifestation in virtue; the authentic presence of truth is to be seen in the culture’s conformity to reason, properly understood as an engagement with the objective reality beyond the confines of egocentric subjectivism; the authentic presence of the beautiful is a reverence for the beauty of Creation and creativity, properly perceived in the outpouring of gratitude which is the fruit of humility. A society informed and animated by such a culture is truly civilized.
Thus, civilization must always be rooted in God, who is the source of all that is good, true and beautiful. Now, the question becomes, “Is what we are living in now, here, a civilization?”