I am convinced that the damage that we have incurred in these twenty years is due [this statement was made in the eighties], not to the 'true' Council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces; and outside the Church it is due to the confrontation with a cultural revolution in the West: the success of the upper middle class, the new 'tertiary bourgeoisie', with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic stamp.
Ratzinger Report, p. 30 (original emphasis).
Today, if you press and question many people in the U.S. about their beliefs, you will find beneath all the exterior adornments the life philosophy of hedonism: get as much as you can get, as fast as you can get it, before you die. This "getting" includes as much money, sexual activity, luxuries, power, and perks that you can obtain. What is gotten are objects, not instruments for a greater good: money, sexual activity, luxuries, and perks become ends in themselves, not means to a good. Given this philosophy, the consequences that fill the news and our anecdotes are not surprising: financial dishonesty from the petty to major corporate scandals, politicians who are deformities of human integrity, indiscriminate sexual activity with minors, with acquaintances, with strangers, adultery, and the use of shopping as a narcotic. Add to all of this the never-ending abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. What we have in the U.S. today is a frenetic and desperate attempt to squeeze as much short-term pleasure from as many sources as possible.
The irony is that, as many discover, the "pleasure" secured is a peculiar kind of pleasure whose apparent benefits evaporate quite quickly, leading to further ratcheting of consumption and pursuit of the same "pleasure." Thus, there is a perpetual lack of satisfaction that engenders further manic consumption. In the end, life has passed without vocation, without mission, and without meaning. And death cannot be bribed or bought off. Death approaches inevitably, solemnly, sometimes early and by surprise and sometimes in agony prolonged by excessive and extraordinary medical interventions.
Of course, our economy has no problems with this irrational philosophy of life because it produces compulsive consumers who are never satisfied and therefore have an insatiable appetite for new products and services, however unnecessary or foolish. Our society then becomes a vast "pleasure" machine in which we are the cogs. But, we have become cogs voluntarily and freely. And, on the outside, we feign happiness and vigor. We have created and freely chosen our own "hell on earth."
The greatest rebuke to this irrational and ultimately painful hedonism is the Catholic Church. That is why she is the villain in the minds of so many, some of whom are still present within her in body but certainly not in heart. The ultimate irony is that the so-called pleasures of the hedonistic philosophy are in the end not so pleasing. The proof is our perpetual lack of satisfaction and peace. The curse of hedonism is the pain of hedonism.