The sign of an old book that’s great is that we forget how old it is as we read it. I’ve experienced that repeatedly as I’ve finally read Augustine’s “Confessions”1, written around 1600 years ago. One such section comes in Book 3, chapter 16, as Augustine processes through his own past, youthful rebellion. His thoughts still apply today, because he so closely tracks with Scripture itself.
And because he so closely tracks with the inner “logic” of our present culture’s lurch away from a God-centered view of sexuality and gender identity. Some things - like human nature - never change.
Augustine observes that we don’t realize how valuable, how costly we are, and therefore when we “treat [our] own souls with irreverence”, deceived “by our wickedness”, we humans therefore invite God’s punishment. We twist our God-given nature, which God “made and regulated”; we “make excessive use of things allowed them” (what could that refer to, sexually?); we allow our passions to carry us beyond His boundaries. He sees that some just kick against God in their minds, while others “shatter the confines of human society and impudently delight in their own little cliques and feuds, according to whether any particular thing thrills them or gets in their way”. Yep.
Why is humanity this way? Here Augustine may instruct us, particularly those of us who are prone to argue and tweet against the culture’s declension: “These things happen when they leave you, the flowing spring of life, you who are the one true creator and regulator of the universe; when, in a fragmented manner and out of a private pride, they value a false oneness.” Augustine sees that we want oneness - and that’s not the problem. Our Maker designed us that way. But we want oneness our way, thus we seek false forms of the real thing. But only oneness with God will do, because He HIMSELF is the flowing spring of life.
Our culture’s biggest problem is simple, and was once ours: “leaving you.” As we leave God we dissolve; we become “fragmented”. This our culture does what it loves, and what it loves is deceptively, proudly suicidal. What’s the way back? Only through “humble reverence.” How does anyone get this? Only if God would “free us from the chains we’ve made for ourselves.”
Only the sight of God will bring this “humble reverence”. Our children, our neighbors, they don’t need a different worldview. Worldview follows something more basic and profound: seeing and loving God. Where, in whom, will our world see Him?
1 I’m reading the recent translation by Sarah Ruden.