“By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being.
The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28). The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions-interpersonal, spiritual and religious-of existence.
In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is "censored", rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to claim the right to suppress it.
Within this same cultural climate, the body is no longer perceived as a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with others, with God and with the world. It is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized and exploited: from being the sign, place and language of love, that is, of the gift of self and acceptance of another, in all the other's richness as a person, it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated: in this way the marriage union is betrayed and its fruitfulness is subjected to the caprice of the couple. Procreation then becomes the "enemy" to be avoided in sexual activity: if it is welcomed, this is only because it expresses a desire, or indeed the intention, to have a child "at all costs", and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the other and therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents.
In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity-which demands respect, generosity and service-is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are", but for what they "have, do and produce". This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, Section 22-23).
While there were many noteworthy sections I found Section 23 of Evangelium Vitae most haunting, perhaps because it describes our decaying “Western” culture both presciently as well as historically. One of John Paul II’s unique positions in history is that of living under the oppression of German and Soviet socialism, an experience that provides an historical base from which to teach about “the culture of life” and “the culture of death”. And one of his fundamental themes is the connection between “the mystery of God”, “the mystery of the world”, and “the mystery of his [man’s] own being”. Mystery here means more than a lack of knowledge, rather the complexity and fullness of relationships that precludes the inability to take and fully comprehend them. The “safe” way to handle mystery is to ignore it, to pretend it does not exist, so that one can possess the illusion of control over one’s life and avoid the inherent suffering of love present in relationships.
Since we exist in the context of relationships this retreat from mystery deprives one of humanity and personal relationships. The cost of focusing on personal control leads inevitably to the utilitarianism: “There are in life but two things, love and power, and no one has both” (Malcolm Muggeridge, The Infernal Grove, page 67). The pursuit of power that leads to the use of others in utilitarianism is paradoxical since the pursuit of pleasure is expected to lead to a vigorous life of enjoyment. However, through utilitarianism one loses the capacity for personal relationships (cf. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Chapter 1) and, thus, the possibility of practicing the communio personarum in which life has meaning and true pleasure.
This loss of pleasure, and the mistaking of sensation for it, is compounded by the loss of “personal reality”, of the matrix of relationships that include physical and sexual relationships which lead to joy. As such, the rejection of communio personarum leads to a rejection of fecundity since the addictive use and pursuit of sensation are the only end desired: “Procreation then becomes the ‘enemy’ to be avoided in sexual activity”. This deprivation of happiness, which is the fruit of relationship, leaves a person angry and bitter at their unintended loneliness, leaving them recourse only to rage and hatred as the means to attempt relationship with others. The good news of life is no longer available and the pursuit of power through “the culture of death” leads to the natural endpoint of depression and emptiness.