Rising Above the Decadence
All human endeavor is temporal, and in clinging to this temporality we have become mortal and subject to all the biological properties of the earthly plane—one of the most prominent of which is decay.
All matter decays, and though we are, in truth, eternal beings, to the degree that we associate and identify ourselves with the earth’s temporal materialistic properties, we take on the tendencies of these properties. In other words, we too become subject to decay—the ultimate expression of which is death. Moreover, it also follows that the more any particular temporal manifestation of human civilization identifies itself with the earthly plane’s materialistic properties, the more it will be defined by its degree of decadence.
It is no secret that our present westernized world civilization is one of the most materialistic societies of man ever to arise on our planet. Any serious student of history will invariably arrive at this conclusion. This rise in materialistic values has been in the works for a very long time. It has not happened over night. And it has not been a totally negative development. On the plus side, it has translated into greater material opulence for many—more abundance, more comfort, more leisure time, an overall elevated lifestyle for all, etc. But on the negative side, it has clearly resulted in a proliferation of decadence.
This proliferation of decadence in our midst takes many forms. For one thing, it has resulted in a collective obsession with death—an obsession that has literally crippled many world citizens with fear throughout the duration of their lifetimes. In our present society the fear of death is so rampant that it has largely come to define our culture. We fear disease; we fear lack and an insufficiency of supply; we fear loneliness and social isolation, etc. Why? Because all of these strike us as being harbingers of death. And so our culture has become committed to providing a mind-boggling array of distractions intended to inundate people’s minds with stimulation and thereby alleviate their fears. In addition to this we have developed and promoted our health care industry almost to the point of absurdity. These efforts and agendas may be well enough intended, but they have not had any impact upon the scourge of death. Therefore the terrible mental preoccupation with fear has gone unabated and has actually gotten worse.
Decadence also takes the form of societal untidiness. We see this not only in the slum-ridden neighborhoods of our urban centers, but also in the prevalent proliferation of homelessness, mental derangement, opportunism, and violence. It seems that anywhere one goes these days these “fringe elements” of societal untidiness are inescapably in one’s face. Moreover, all of our efforts to address and find a solution to this predicament have proven to be in vain. Clearly, the problem of societal untidiness is also getting worse instead of better.
Of course, the vast majority of world citizenry is not prone to fall through the cracks of normal societal endeavor and thereby become a part of this growing problem. Most people have not succumbed to the pressures of modern life to that degree. They have retained their integrity and become upstanding citizens. However, this is not to say that they are unaffected. On the contrary, the present level of decadence in western civilization with its constant glaring reminders of the have-nots in our midst has become a social issue of magnanimous proportions. People are so disturbed by it that it is not uncommon for some to respond by moving from one place to another. And some have sought to change not only locations but even nationalities. What are these changelings looking for? An escape from having to be incessantly confronted with the current decadent state of human society.
Unfortunately, finding such a place and situation can be an extremely elusive pursuit. It may work for a while, but eventually the decadence of our world catches up to them. This has led many to come to the painful conclusion that in today’s modern materialistic world this problem of glaring untidiness is inescapable and here to stay.
No matter where we go or what we do in today’s world we will be confronted with some element of societal untidiness, which will, in turn, serve as a reminder of our general state of decadence. The reason for this has nothing to do with the failure of our politicians and decision-makers. Rather it goes back to the maxim that all strictly human endeavor is temporal and vain and therefore subject to decay. This is a law of the earthly plane—a perfectly natural outworking, such as the changing of the seasons. If there has been any failure on our part, it is that we have neglected to accept the truth of this simple maxim. For, had we done so, we would not be so shocked by the current state of things.
Jesus once said, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:28). Thus he plainly delineated this aspect of law: when human society becomes thoroughly associated with matter and temporality, it becomes a dead body and that dead body, like any dead body, will eventually be subject to decay. As it decays it emits a terrible stench (metaphorically speaking)—one that repels most creatures from even coming near. Only the vultures can be found thriving in that situation. In human terms these represent the lowly strata of society that readily resort to opportunism, deceit, and mental manipulation of others in order to have their needs met.
In our day the vultures have not only gathered; they have proliferated. And this proliferation is what troubles decent people most, when they consider our decadent plight. It is a very disturbing trend to be sure, and few are unaffected by it. Furthermore, most people are simply not able to make the circumstantial adjustments that might afford them some relief from these disturbing perceptions. They cannot just pull up stakes and move to the Bahamas (where, of course, they would eventually be confronted with the problem again anyway). Thus the question arises: What can we do?
In my own experience I have found only two things that work: one is circumstantial and the other is inward. Circumstantially, though we may not be able to permanently settle in a beach resort and spend the rest of our lives hiding our heads in the sand, there are some simple measures we can take to help assuage the onslaught of decadence. One is that we prioritize our lives in such a way that we personally have as little as possible to do with these troubling dynamics. If there are “vultures” stalking us on our current daily routine, we can make it a priority to rearrange our routine and thereby avoid such encounters. This may mean disassociating ourselves from certain people, some of whom may turn out to be former friends or even family members. Also we can pull the plug on the amount of time spent tuned into the media. Modern media is a vehicle for cultural dissemination, nothing more. And if our culture is given over to decadence, then allowing the media to have free rein with our psyches is really just a kind of self-abuse.
But by far, the more efficacious of these two solutions for rising above the decadence is inward. Isaiah the Prophet once counseled: “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while. . . .” (Isaiah 26:20). There are very few of us who would be circumstantially unable to heed this counsel. And its meaning is plain: take some time out of each day to go inward and reconnect with the eternal aspect of your being. Why? Because in so doing we will leave the assault of decadence outside the door to our consciousness and focus on a realm where it cannot come. The eternal essence of our being knows no decadence. Therefore the time we spend in quiet communion of this sort is time that strengthens us and brings us peace. Go inward, shut the door of your consciousness, and leave the world’s decadence outside for a while. No one else needs to know what you are about. It can be your little secret. Only you will experience the efficacy of this method, and only you will reap its benefits.
The decadence of human civilization currently assailing each and every one of us is real. It is not just our imagination. Plus, there is nowhere we can go in this entire world to escape it and nothing we can do to change it. The best we can do is to privately look to our own salvation by employing these strategies for keeping it at a distance. In this way we can rise above the “dead body” of man’s current materialistic attachment and insulate ourselves from its stench. Instead of circling overhead like vultures looking for opportunity and spoilage, we can learn to soar like eagles—proud, strong, and free.