Modernity, which is the worldview of the Enlightenment, and postmodernity, which is the monster made in its image, are the controlling thought patterns of our Western world. Modernity can be described as the loss of the sacramental character of creation.
With man’s reason enthroned over all, modernity sees the physical world as merely the effect of a prior cause in the material processes that began with the Big Bang and continues with celestial expansion and survival of the fittest and chemical chain reactions, of which you and I are a small but meaningless part. So we are just another part of the physical world; we are a bunch of colliding atoms living in the middle of a bunch of other colliding atoms, with nothing really special about those atoms. They are just the random collocation of physical processes fizzing and bubbling on a blue marble in an empty void. However we moderns see ourselves in relation to the physical world, we have to make it up for ourselves. We are just blobs of protoplasm on the evolutionary scale at the whim of big natural forces, so make life whatcha can.
C.S. Lewis described modernity as “the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law.” That “ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism” is the result of the secularism that arises from the godless world out of which Enlightened man kicked God with his almighty reason. If there is no Creator, then the universe is all there is, and the universe is a pretty bleak place. We are up against scientific processes a lot bigger than us, as we have to try to make the most of it and maximize what we have. That’s pragmatism: ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism, or what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death.”
In a world of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism, if a pregnancy keeps a woman from fulfilling her dreams, kill the baby. If the people demand cheaper products, rape the countryside to give them what they want. If the world craves more and more power and more and more stuff, light the fires of industry to give the stuff to them as efficiently as possible with no regard for beauty or the good life. Whatever works best for making life as efficient and technologically advanced for man as possible is what we should do. Of course we should; who would think otherwise? In the modern world what matters is the free market economy creating material wealth; what matters is efficiency that makes way for consumerism and renders everything as cheap as possible; what matters is having it all. And the Christian church has been complicit in creating this world gone mad.
But Christians should be telling a different story, the story of Christ and the good life in Him.
The good life of the Christian vision sees the whole world as having a sacramental character. Nature, food, fishing, lovemaking, wine, sunsets, shopping, art, laboring, cleaning, building, a dirty bathtub after bathing four dirty children, melted ice cream dribbling down the chin, a sweaty brow with the smell of freshly cut grass, the crisp smell and stiff spine of a new book – it all has the sacramental character of a gracious gift and a means for knowing the blessing of God and fellowship with God in Christ. Architecture, economy, government, performing art, agriculture, education, publishing – all of it is a gift from God for the beautifying of His world, for the transforming of the world into a place of communion with the Lord of life, in which everything is received as a gift from Him and everything is a means of offering worship to the Living God.
To quote Alexander Schmemann:
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.