Many observers of Western culture see a pattern of quest taking shape. Young people, and now increasingly middle-age people, are turning to drugs in an effort to find meaning where there seemingly is no meaning. The basic units of society, such as the family, are continually being questioned. Instant intimacy is attempted in group marriages, encounter groups, and other forms of association. Our literature, particularly the theater of the absurd and the writings of the existentialists, holds forth the sense of the futility of existence. Western man is striving for something that is lacking in his life. What is the relation of the Church to this pattern? And what role does the Church have in future developments in Western culture?

What is occurring now in the developed countries has been predicted by sociologists for over a hundred years. Marx, de Tocqueville, Weber, and others have all cautioned that increasing individualization and materialism, coupled with the flourishing of the structures needed to control a mass society, would lead to the inevitable depersonalization of man. We see this today. What we are experiencing, then, is the culmination of ideas planted during the Renaissance, coming into full flower in the Enlightenment, and now bearing fruit as contemporary man becomes detached from the experience of community and from any system of clear moral purpose. Once man enjoyed a secure relation with others in a community, finding there some degree of emotional fulfillment and personal intimacy. Now he experiences shattering individualism. He exists as a transient, self-seeking individual, having shallow and ephemeral relations with other self-seeking individuals. He has little or no moral commitment.

The institutional ...

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