Suffering in an Age Without God
By Carrie Gress
ROME, 25 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)
The type of secularization facing the world
today is making it increasingly difficult to believe in anything beyond
the human mind while emptying suffering of meaning, said theologian
A professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America in
Washington, D.C., Capizzi said this today at the two-day international
congress of the Pontifical Academy for Life titled "Close By the
Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects."
Capizzi spoke of the challenges that Christian believers face when
encountering a secular vision of suffering and death formed by the
primacy of the human mind in the cosmos.
In his lecture, Capizzi drew from the recent work of philosopher Charles
Taylor in his new book "The Secular Age," by outlining two very
different worlds and the way that the people of them view the ultimate
questions of life, death and suffering.
The first, the "disenchanted world," Capizzi described as the
contemporary western world, which he characterized as "a world where the
locus of thoughts and feelings are in what philosophers call 'minds,'
and the only minds in the cosmos are those of humans."
All thoughts and feelings, he continued, "are located within human
minds. This means all our thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs about the
world emerge from within us, and indeed whatever is outside of us is
merely the consequence of particular thoughts and beliefs we have."
The other world, the "enchanted world," Capizzi said, can be found in
the past, such as Christendom. He defined it as a place where "meanings
are not located in the human mind; instead, there was abundant life
independent of any human thinking."
"Thus," he continued, "ordinary folk lived in a world of good and bad
spirits. Of course there was God, residing above all and intervening as
necessary, but in addition there were saints to whom one prayed for
relief and protection. … Mortality was made explicable by the notion of
an age beyond ours; of living eternally with God and the saints. This
made of death simply a stage of life."
Mind over divine
"Over time," the American theologian explained, "the enchanted worldview
was inverted by disenchantment, and accompanying this was the move from
external sources of meaning to the ascendancy of the self, the sole
source of all meaning. The human mind triumphs at the expense of the
So today, Capizzi continued, "belief is almost unthinkable; the
practices of belief
such as belief in the real presence of Christ in the Host, fasting,
denial, the acceptance of suffering
seem not merely unreasonable but mad."
As a result, Capizzi emphasized, "much of the complaint of today from
believers is precisely the felt alienation from all that enchantment. In
fact, one cannot at times help but hear a tinge of resentment in
believers who complain that our age is hostile to religious belief and
practice. We live at a time when we're told increasingly that belief
itself is a problem."
"When the foundations of belief have been so challenged that it is apt
to speak of the death of God, how can moral doctrines that depend upon
God themselves have and give life? At this point," Capizzi concluded,
"one understands Viktor Frankl's comment that 'Man is not destroyed by
suffering but by suffering without meaning': A secularized age fears
death and marshals many of its resources against it because death has
After the lecture, Capizzi told ZENIT that he hopes "people took away
from this lecture that a key issue is that the current secular
conditions make it very difficult to believe in God. Such an outlook
also changes the nature of what people consider to be rational.
Rationality now excludes belief, making a recovery of the enchanted
world more and more difficult."
"Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II both has emphasized the link between
faith and reason," he added. "This, though, is nothing new, as scholars
in the past, such as [St. Thomas] Aquinas and [Cardinal John Henry]
Newman, understood well that rationality requires belief."