Why Is God Missing from Contemporary Culture?

You may have seen the recent information about the falling numbers of Americans who consider themselves Christian. The younger the group, the less they consider themselves Christian, even if they were baptized in the Church. The figure below is from an April 3, 2024 article in The Pillar. The main reason Catholics are outperforming our Protestant counterparts, by the way, is the influx of Catholic Latino immigrants. 

Decline in faith

While we forever trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to carry forward the Church and enkindle the hearts of all humans, there is much to lament here. It’s time for us all to take a hard look at how we might be caught up in something deeper and darker than a “phase.” I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts to better grasp a historical perspective on why contemporary culture is the way it is in regards to faith, and a few pieces have begun to fall into place.

Here’s an unsurprising reality: Americans’ most deeply held belief is that we are “free” individuals, and the freedom to choose our destiny — politically, materially, spiritually — is a sacrosanct right that has become the ultimate “good.” To many, especially young people, this doesn’t sound out of whack at all. Isn’t that what enlightened civilization is? Freewill and uninhibited choice!

Actually, that’s very much NOT what perfection is, according to our Lord Jesus Christ. And, in fact, we can trace a history of anti-Catholic thought that brought us to this point. In Western Europe and America, there was a determined effort to get out from under the authority of the Church. Truly, the sentence in bold above is really about denying any authority over us except our own. Consider how unimaginable it is today to suggest that a single perspective of authority be applied to everyone equally. You’d be called a fascist and/or religious fanatic if you suggest that we use the teachings of Christ (or the Koran, or the Book of Deuteronomy, or the Hindu Vedas…) to inform our laws and public policies. Forget microaggressions — it would be a macroaggression to suggest that a non-believer be subject to rules put in place from any belief system! Since individual freedom is the highest good in our culture, we are left with the absurd position of letting everyone choose the rules that apply to them. It’s no wonder politics are so divisive today.

I’m going to call this greatest of American beliefs the sovereignty of the individual. In order for the sovereignty of the individual to come about, many authorities must be questioned and ultimately removed (pope, king, nobility, teachers, parents). Part and parcel of this centuries-long effort to get out from the yoke of external authorities is the removal of God — from political life first, and, naturally following this, from private life. 

 Contemporary philosophers like D.C. Schindler make the point that when we prioritize the power of the individual to choose what he or she wants, we necessarily embrace a counter-Christian imagining of the world, human nature, and society. When we pursue individual freedoms and choice, we have to imagine that those things are naturally owed to us, our “inalienable rights.” But in order to envision a world where the sovereignty of the individual is our guiding light, we can’t admit that all of Creation actually owes a debt to God. We can’t admit that Christ is the one sovereign. Those beliefs conflict with a world where our freedoms come first. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, our metaphysical worldview increasingly removed God as our source and Christ’s redemption as our guiding principle while pursuing individual choice under the garb of “freedoms.” 

Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate), 1890, Vincent Van Gogh | Wikimedia Commons.

That might seem too comprehensive — too black-and-white — but I think Schindler is right. In fact, the Church also thinks he’s right. Many times in the past few centuries, popes have condemned modernism and liberalism, both of which are strains of intellectual thought implicated in this establishment of the sovereignty of the individual. One papal passage, in particular, jumps out at me: it’s October, 1952, and Pope Pius XII just steered the faithful through the existential horrors of World War II (the populace already reeling in the fog of nihilism in the wake of World War I). “Where is God in this?” was a refrain easy to be heard. In a radio address to a group called Catholic Action, Pope Pius XII makes this incisive critique:

Oh, ask us not who the “enemy” is, nor what clothes he wears. It is found everywhere and among everyone; he can be violent and sneaky. In these last centuries he has attempted to bring about the intellectual, moral and social disintegration of the unity in the mysterious organism of Christ. He wanted nature without grace; reason without faith; freedom without authority; sometimes authority without freedom. It is an “enemy” that has become increasingly concrete, with an unscrupulousness that still leaves us astonished: Christ yes, Church no. Then: God yes, Christ no. Finally the impious cry: God is dead; indeed: God never existed. And here is the attempt to build the structure of the world on foundations that we do not hesitate to point out as mainly responsible for the threat that looms over humanity: an economy without God, a law without God, a politics without God. The “enemy” has used and is used so that Christ is a stranger in the University, in the school, in the family, in the administration of justice, in legislative activity, in the assembly of nations, wherever peace or war is determined.   [italics are mine]

Pope Pius XII places the work done to establish the sovereignty of the individual on the shoulders of the Devil. And well he should. But we have participated with the Devil to bring our culture to this point. We need to understand this, acknowledge this, and do something to return to God and the Catholic Church.

Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP, performs a nice unpacking of this quote from Pope Pius XII in his podcast, “Christ vs. Secularism: The Ethics of the Day.” In short, he shows how certain revolutionary moments in history line up with the pithy middle part of the quote:

  1. “Christ yes, Church no.” This is the theme of the Protestant Reformation. The first step for Western culture in elevating personal choice and the sovereignty of the individual was to assert that each person can better discern what the Bible means and what God is telling humanity than the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. What pride! Nonetheless, this crucial move to divorce the individual from the authority of the Church set the stage for more radical moves. The first external source of authority — the very one Christ established for our salvation — was done away with, at least for a vanguard of intellectual thinkers.
  2. “God yes, Christ no.” This is the theme of the Enlightenment and French Revolution. God was not denied, per se, but was relegated to the great watchmaker, the one who simply set the table then faded into watching mode. In this view, humanity was freed to exalt in our gifts and become the rulers of the world and our own destiny. There is no room for Christ to be King here, and the authority of his sacrifice on the Cross is superseded by a new blood sacrifice in the form of the guillotine. As Fr. Sullivan says, it was the beating heart of the revolution, spilling a new sacrifice of blood on the ground as the state asserted its authority over any suspected opposition, particularly in the form of religious and those representing the “old order.” Rule no longer needed to be ordained by God but instead was rationally agreed upon by men. God and Christ had been removed from the political and public sphere.
  3. “God is dead.” Friedrich Nietzsche published these words in 1882 as a way of marking the fact that Western culture had, for all intents and purposes, made God irrelevant to life. He actually didn’t believe in God at all — this was his poetic way of talking about the idea of God being worthless in the way modern humans governed their lives. But Nietzsche was much less thrilled with this state of affairs than people imagine. He understood the problem, “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole” (Twilight of the Idols). Truly, he saw things clearly, for the 20th century was to bring a complete collapse of morality, especially in the mode of state-sponsored killing. Nietzsche writes in The Will to Power: “What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism… For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe.” And Fr. Sullivan shows this theme being actualized in the Communist Revolution, where it was forbidden to practice Christianity or any religion. The state had to enforce the purely rational concept of humanity creating its own destiny. The removal of everything supernatural marked a new century of humanity’s erasure of God from relevance in our lives.
  4. “God never existed.” Fr. Sullivan equates this to the sexual revolution in the 1960s through today (prophetically, as it were, for Pope Pius XII). I see his point. Our understanding of our own reproductive biology, our tampering with that biology, our refusal to acknowledge the sacred purpose of creation at the heart of our reproductive biology — all of these are symptoms of a people imagining their own origin and purpose. We are perhaps made uncomfortable by the moral arguments the Church makes against contraception, sex outside of wedlock, homosexual sex, abortion, etc., but do we see how we are flailing about in end-stage God denial? Humans have always practiced these things, but there was a time in Western culture when the reality of God as our Creator who has laid out a definite plan for our perfection and salvation was evident and unquestioned. Those acts were not seen as our “right” but instead as a perversion of our good nature that God created. They were undeniably sins and removed us from reaching heaven (a truly frightening reality!), but now they are seen as normal practices in the life of a young adult achieving his or her sexual education and adulthood. The absurd extreme we are seeing today is our demand to create our own gender — to deny biology itself in the face of my internal choice, the full sovereignty of the individual. What’s more, we are all expected to support each other in this self-determination.
The Pillars of Society (1926), George Grosz | Image from time.com.

Well, I, for one, am ready to proclaim that the Emperor has no clothes. Or, better put, we all actually have a God despite the fact that we’re prancing around as if no one is watching. 

How the heck did we fall so far to deny our Catholic truth that has remained constant through the millennia? And why are Catholics, in particular, so weak in allowing God to form every aspect of our personal, social, and political lives? I think we have gullibly accepted a secular worldview, and even tried to make the Church (the very Bride of Christ!) try to conform to our prideful ideas of what is right and good rather than conforming ourselves to the Mystical Body of Christ that holds within itself all truth, goodness and beauty.

Knowing the history of Western intellectual thought, specifically how it has systematically removed God from the public, political and personal spheres in the pursuit of individual sovereignty, is extremely important in remembering what it means to be Catholic. Each sphere requires us to re-align ourselves, to actively return to the unchanging teaching of the Church rather than the perverse secular teachings of our culture. We accept far too many cultural values around the sovereignty of the individual that are anti-Christian in their substance and metaphysical justification.

Public: Are you weirded out by the thought of being openly Catholic in public? The priest says at the end of Mass “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” or “Go forth. The Mass has ended.” What does it mean to “Go forth” into the world, into the public space, consecrated to God and saved by the sacrifice of his Son? This forms who we are! Do we just put our entire Catholicity away like the sport coat we wore to Mass? Of course not. Instead, we bring our values and activity into the public sphere, advocating for and helping the poor and needy. Publicly asserting the teachings of the Church. Not affirming that every personal choice is ordered to the good. It’s not OK to tell people, “you do you,” or “whatever you choose will be right.” That’s just not Catholic. We must be guided by a well-formed faith, wisdom, and prudence. Another point here: the Church is never an individual thing, it’s found in community. This community is by definition public and cannot be sequestered away or separated from the rest of our lives. Our call is to be the Body of Christ in supporting, exhorting and even correcting our fellow humans.

Political: “Separation of Church and state” is part of what got us here in the first place and should not be something we blithely and wholeheartedly agree with. The Church (as in the Mystical Body of Christ, not the ecclesial ministers, per se) has much to bring to the state in terms of guiding moral decision making. The Church — that is, you and me — should be active in politics specifically in bringing Christ to our nation, not in any other way. Your strong feelings about private vs. public funding for education (or other purely fiscal concerns) matter little to achieving the Kingdom of God or the salvation of souls. The Church has a rich history of moral theology, teaching on attaining virtue, and practical recommendations for Catholics in the political zone. Do we know them? Do we advocate for them in our city, state, and nation?

Private: Each of us has specific challenges due to our personality, our material needs, our state in life, etc. There is one thing that is universal: God’s active presence and grace. Seriously, if we pray to God for his grace and recognize his hand in all that is said and done in a day, we will wonder how we ever got along thinking we were sovereign individuals. Praising God constantly throughout the day is a great practice to help us get out of the cultural lie that this life is all about us and the decisions we autonomously make.

So, to wrap up my mini-rant and reflection about why God is so absent from contemporary culture, I’d like to assert that it’s because we don’t think it’s a problem. But it is a problem, and we should be doing something about it for our own soul’s sake and for others. Forget grand campaigns of evangelization or sweeping reforms of church life. We can bring God back into culture by having him be the basis of each of our lives. Our example and very life will show the world that being a God-fearing Catholic is a viable — in fact, the only — way to be a great human being and uphold the dignity of all people. If we wake up each morning thanking him for our life and breath and all our blessings, if we ask for his help in making our daily decisions, if we strive to live like Christ, if we cede our accomplishments as well as our disappointments to him, we will not only find peace, we will show the world that being Catholic is a necessary and vital way to be human, regardless of the era.

Christ has transformed history. It’s time we acted like it.


I generally prefer to focus on Lectio Divina in this blog, so excuse me for posting a more wildly ranging reflection. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. There is much more to be said here, and I hope to post soon about the issue of tolerance, which is a great liberal ideal and something that is shared with Christianity but not in the way it manifests in society today.

Speaking of liberal, I do think that there are some great problems with the liberal intellectual tradition, and certainly people like D.C. Schindler take up this argument. Much of our contemporary worldview has come about through liberal political thinkers like John Locke, David Hume, Robespierre, Adam Smith, etc., and they were decidedly antagonistic to Catholicism. The point is that we’ve been fed an underlying animosity toward God and Christ while incorporating what we think of as positive ideals around freedom and democracy. This is dangerous and needs to be examined.

But, likewise, the conservative tradition is no great banner to fly, either. Riddled with reactionaryism, self-interest, and intolerance, the threads of conservativism have also embraced a Godless outlook, if not in name at least in practice. Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke were children of the Enlightenment as much as John Locke and Adam Smith were. Plus, we have disastrous forays in authoritarianism and fascism from conservatives.

In the end, the last generation’s liberals become the next generation’s conservatives. In other words, these categories are political in the worst sense — they have no lasting, absolute, or transcendent value. Why, then, are we so preoccupied with aligning ourselves with one or the other? They are manmade constructs, not the truth — which, by the way, we actually have access to!

We should be much more concerned with having everything flow from Christ, our fountainhead. Every time we partake of the sacrament of the Eucharist, our faithful hope is to become more like Christ, to allow him to transform us from the inside out into the very image of God. Lean into this! This is what it means to be Catholic. In this vein, Bishop Robert Barron speaks to this when explaining the most recent Vatican document, Dignitas Infinita. It is well worth the watch:


  1. Nina Siggia

    Michael, thanks be to God! I feel blessed and happy with our beliefs. On the other hand, I am saddened for many of our grandchildren, who are caught-up in thinking differently than we think. We must continue to pray for their return to the Catholic beliefs.

    I feel too the Catholic Church should give up their 503c status, so they can preach the way they should!

    Praise be to God.

    Thank you
    Nina Siggia

  2. Elaine Mozdy

    Your thoughts about God missing from contemporary culture I do believe are rooted in the ideas of freedom from authority and the urge for self-determination. However these factors have existed back to the beginning of time.
    Today’s culture has added narcissism in the extreme, pride, lust for power,and a plethora of followers who blindly follow without searching for the truth, the way …Christ!
    There is hope, there are faith communities, there are families teaching their children to love God and others, there are many legitimate charities who seek to follow the path of Christianity. We are part of this life, as you are, so it is up to all of us to pray, pray and pray.
    Perhaps this is a period of time that is like the dark ages of spirituality. I don’t know but the Holy Spirit will lead us out of this if we ask- and trust in Him.

    Always with love, Mom. ❣️

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