In 1943 at the height of the Second World War, Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) published Philosophies at War. The book gave Sheen’s perspective on the real source of the conflict. A thematic follow-up to such earlier works as Religion Without God (1928), and Freedom Under God (1940), the work is not well known, and is very rare.
|Sheen: Trying to make heaven on earth creates hell.|
It is simply impossible to have millions of men in the world living according to their pagan principles, and not produce the modern chaotic world in which we live. This idea of a “Heaven here below” is the surest way to make a hell upon earth. The universe thus becomes a multiplicity of self-centered little deities; the coat of arms of each is a big letter “I,” and when they talk their “I”’s are always getting closer together.
In the light of the foregoing explanation of man the choice before the world is this: Will we build a New Order on the totalitarian assumption that man is a tool of the State? Or will we retain the Old Order of the secularist culture of the last two hundred years, that man is only an economic animal? Or will we build a New Order on the Christian assumption, that man is a creature made to the image and likeness of God and therefore one for whom economics, politics, and society exist as a means to an eternal destiny beyond the historical perspective of planets, space, and time? (Fulton J. Sheen, Philosophies at War. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943, 94-95.)
As Sheen saw it, the great struggle is not the economic, social, or political conflict between capitalism and socialism. Rather, it is between two competing philosophies.
The first is one in which man, collective or individual, is the be-all and end-all of creation and the whole meaning of life. In this philosophy, individuals end up as tools of the State or of the strongest individual or group. The second is one in which God is the center, and the State is a tool of man.
|Hobbes: The State is a "Mortall God."|
Given the errant impulses, the frustrated selfish existences, the distorted human goals which these partial views of man engender, there is only one way to arrest that chaos, and that is by organizing it, and the organization of chaos is Socialism. The individualism and egotism which a distorted concept of man begets leave him alone and isolated, and to overcome this isolation there is only one non-Christian solution possible: the subordination of these rebellious atoms to a compulsory principle in the hands of the State. Socialism is the secularized, atheized version of a community and a fraternity of man which Christian love alone can engender. It is the new form into which man will bring his tortured and isolated personality, in vain quest for peace. By abusing his freedom under Liberalism, man, unless he returns to a knowledge of his true nature, will fall under the compulsion of Socialism. He will think less and less of freedom, though he may talk much about it, for a man talks about his health when he is unhealthy. His end will be the trading of his freedom for a false security from the wet-nurse of the State. (Ibid., 96-97.)
This is no more than what Sheen had been saying since the publication of his doctoral thesis, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925). Modern man, by attempting to create Heaven on Earth, has succeeded only in creating a living Hell.
|The Heaven you want to create may be everyone else's Hell.|
Creating one’s own God enables each person to condemn all others for any disagreement by declaring, “My God wouldn’t do that.” Of course someone’s private God “wouldn’t do that.” The speaker is to all intents and purposes God. He or She rules over His or Her own personal heaven, which rapidly turns into everyone else’s hell.
But is the creation of a personal or collective heaven here on earth the meaning and purpose of life? Sheen would say no.
Sheen, a Catholic priest, necessarily expressed himself in Christian terms. The point, however, is equally valid for everyone, Christian or non-Christian, believer, agnostic, or atheist.
This in part explains Sheen’s universal appeal and immense popularity among people of other faiths and those with no faith. He was able to help them understand the meaning and purpose of life.
“Life,” as Sheen constantly reminded his listeners, “is worth living.”