Catholic Understanding of the Difference Between a Civilization of Love and a Civilization of Death

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  • "This article is a part of The Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy to be published by the Polish Society of Thomas Aquinas. It is a revised and translated version of the encyclopedia entry originally published in Polish as: Paweł Skrzydlewski, “Cywilizacja,” in Powszechna encyklopedia filozofii, vol. 2, ed. Andrzej Maryniarczyk (Lublin: PTTA, 2001)." [1]


Paweł Skrzydlewski

"Considering that man and his society must be protected from various threats, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II appealed for the creation of a civilization of love in defiance of a spreading civilization of death. The image of two opposing types of civilizations in rivalry, a civilization of death and a civilization of love, sank deeply into culture and although the image was shaped in a religious context, it became an inspiration and object for philosophical inquiries. The civilization of death, otherwise called materialistic or utilitarian civilization (or consumer civilization), is in the most general terms a civilization of things (rather than a civilization of persons), a civilization in which persons become objects of use like things. In such a culture, man is in fact a slave of his weaknesses or a tool exploited against his nature and his innate dignity. This culture, which grows from a false understanding of man and the world, poses a threat to man, his life, integrity, and development. By locking man in the world of things and reducing him to finite goods, the civilization of death prefers technology at the cost of the moral goods; it prefers things rather than human persons, “to have” over “to be.” The result of this is man’s enslavement. While maintaining the appearances of justice, it kills human friendship, benevolence, and love, which are the natural modes of relations between people, and without which there is no human society friendly to man. The civilization of death manifests itself in the violation of inviolable and natural human rights, in murders, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicides, torments, slavery, every kind of injustice and violations of human dignity.8 The civilization of death is a “culture of death” that brings destruction to man by the destruction and perversion of the intellectual, volitional, affective, and religious life, and ultimately, the ruin of material life. Pope John Paul II emphasizes that such a state of affairs is fostered when man rejects the truth and lacks a reference to reality; this is followed by false creative and moral actions, ultimately leading to agnosticism and nihilism.


The civilization of love is a form of community life in which persons have primacy over things, where ethics (moral conduct) has primacy over technology, where being has primacy over possession, and love has primacy over justice. While in a culture of death, man appears in the role of a thing and lives for things and in the world of things, in the context of the culture of love, man lives the life of a person, and civilization itself serves the full development of man, who is conceived as a personal being, and so as rational and free. "