By Hilary White

  ROME, March 11, 2008 ( – The secularization that so characterizes many western societies has also found its way into the Church, Pope Benedict has warned. At a meeting March 8th with the Pontifical Council for Culture, the pope said that “the lofty values of existence” must be reintroduced to contemporary cultures. The media has spread a “hedonistic” and consumerist mentality that promotes the idea that “there is no longer any need for God, to think of Him or to return to Him.”

  The dangers of this way of living, he said, are “the risk of falling into spiritual atrophy and emptiness of heart”. Without God at the centre, human life and intellectual endeavour “gives way to a sterile worship of the individual”.

“In this cultural context, there is the risk of falling into spiritual atrophy and into an emptiness of heart, sometimes characterised by surrogate forms of religious membership and vague spiritualism.”

  Secularization, he said, “is not just an external threat to believers, but has for some time been evident in the bosom of the Church herself”. It “invades all aspects of daily life and causes the development of a mentality in which God is effectively absent, entirely or in part, from human life and conscience”.

  Benedict warned that this culture promotes, in both laity and clergy, “a drift towards superficiality and selfishness which damages ecclesial life”. The pope called on the faithful to fight these trends by re-introducing “the exalted values of existence which give meaning to life and can satisfy the disquiet of the human heart in its search for happiness.”

  These include “the dignity and freedom of the person, the equality of all mankind, and the sense of life and death and of what awaits us at the end of earthly existence”.

“The phrase ‘etsi Deus non daretur’ [as if there were no God] is becoming a way of life which has its roots in a kind of ‘arrogance’ of reason.”

  The pope warned that the exaltation of reason above God, a characteristic of the 18th century’s “Enlightenment” philosophies, is now pervasive in society. But, he said, the Enlightenment inverted the real order. Reason he said, “was actually created and loved by God.”

  Now, however, it is “held to be sufficient unto itself and closes itself off from contemplating and seeking a Truth that lies beyond it”.

  Pope Benedict concluded, “Above all, I exhort pastors of the flock of God to a tireless and generous mission to counteract – in the field of dialogue and meeting between cultures, of announcement and testimony of the Gospel – the worrying phenomenon of secularization which weakens man and hinders his innate longing for the entire Truth”.