Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Our country needs us. . .
The heart of America's success was not never a homogenized culture but a common sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, of morality and ethics, of virtue and vice. People who came here did not quickly abandon their ethnic or racial identities but retained them along with a strong sense of the very things that hallmark America: equal access to the marketplace, equal status before the law, the great freedoms of speech, religion, and property with the freedoms from want or fear. Implicit in this was also the goal of hard work, personal improvement, and personal responsibility.
But America has lost its soul. It has become a largely secular culture in which suspicion of religion and the celebration of conflicting diversity and unrestrained desire have left us without a common sense of values and without a foundation upon which our culture and political system can build. More than anything else, this has resulted in the mind bending success of a Donald Trump in the face of so many other Republican challengers and a Bernie Sanders in the face of Hillary Clinton assuming the primaries would be a coronation.
It is conviction that has the power to establish and sustain a free society. Diversity, pluralism, tolerance, and respect for rights are not enough to established a culture, to frame enduring political structures, and maintain a free society. America was once bound together in the fabric of faith -- faith that has more and more been marginalized to the confines of a sanctuary and from the sphere of the public square. Yet without this fabric of faith, we face the confusion of conflicting moralities in which pleasure pursuits reign over personal responsibility, fidelity, and family.
David Brooks lamented once that when we no longer framed things in terms of righteousness and virtue against sin and evil, we lost something of our national soul. He maintained that even when people were not religious, they still held to the “biblical metaphysic.” They had the categories of Christianity and Judaism in their heads. Categories like sin, redemption, the soul, virtue, and grace. They knew the words. This was key to American identity and our success as a nation. He complains that we have today a false and narcissistic sense of self that too easily claims the role of victim, blames others for his or her own flaws, and does not value or desire the path of self-improvement or see the value in humility.
Robert Reno has more recently taken up the call, rehearsing the life and role of Richard John Neuhaus, but also making the point again. I recognize the fact that in our pluralistic society, many questions are open, and I cherish aspects of the culture of freedom our age has encouraged. All the more reason to emphasize the upward thrust of transcendence and its commanding power. True liberality in the conversation that is public life requires a spirit of humility before God, which is quite different from a humility that stems from relativism or the conviction that there are not moral truths to be loyal to. It also requires a willingness to be surprised, even to the point of being converted. There are surely some special people who come by these qualities naturally. But for most of us, they are nurtured by the life of faith.
For survival, those of us who claim orthodox Christianity may be tempted to depart the public square and to hide from the encroachment of a illiberal liberalism that threatens not only the freedom of our religion but the very possibility of being religious. Yet for the sake of this country, we cannot simply run and hide and hope that we can sneak under the radar. The very fabric of our culture depends upon people of faith and good will. If not for our sakes, at least for the sake of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren we must have the courage of our convictions. Europe has almost completely lost its soul with a secularism and an amoral identity that cannot withstand the onslaught of Muslims who are not so shy about their convictions. Even more so, this shallow and eroding religious identity cannot sustain the culture or the political structures even without the press of an alien faith.
We cannot cut our losses and run. We must stand and fight through the ballot box and by adding our voices to the public square but most of all by a personal witness of humility, a strong sense of right and wrong, mercy to redeem the sinner and love the neighbor, and the desire to amend the sinful life. These remain the most effective tools in our arsenal as we effectively resist the tearing down of a once great culture and society by its aversion to religion and faith and its celebration of the idea of me.