As we look at the state of things in America today, one cannot but lament how many things of promise have become embarrassing or scandalous issues of conflict. At the last election, many were frustrated that the choices before the voter were the only choices -- could we not have found better standard bearers for political parties? Yet it is not so much the parties that have failed us as we have failed ourselves. We get the leaders we deserve and the leaders we choose.
Absent moral unity and shared values, we can see what happens to our grand experiment. From early on there were voices warning us that this democratic endeavor was fragile -- it required a people with shared moral foundations, common virtue, and both interest and involvement in the process. As we survey those institutions that once were part of our fortress of unity, it is easy to see not only how they have failed us but how they have contributed to our current polarization and conflict. Mainline Protestantism was once the universal face of America but it has been powerless to provide any bulwark against the relativism and individualism that has become our undoing. In fact, too much of American religion has fully embraced this relative truth and emphasis on the individual person and his or her preferences as a replacement for the creeds and confession of old. In place of certainty, they have provided us with more doctrinal and moral uncertainty and confusion. They are part of the problem and seem not to have a hint of their complicity in this problem, much less offer any solutions.
Absent religion, you might think that our oft heralded educational institutions might have offered us something of a firm foundation for our unity. But, alas, not only have the prestigious universities let us down, they have been joined with nearly every other institution of higher education to undermine and question the ordinary values and truth that were once the hallmark of our national unity and conscience. They have abandoned the very classical philosophical and moral traditions that gave them birth and have settled into whatever works must be good and whatever is good must be practical. They have not encouraged or even asked their students to consider the cause of righteousness or sacrifice but have given up on the whole idea of the good or the cause. So protest ends up in riot and the people who have enjoyed the very privilege of their hard working parents and grandparents have criticized their very generosity. Without a notion of sin or wrong, every individual is left to do what is right in his or her own eyes. Freedom has become a self-serving cause and unhitched from a greater good than self it has become license to do what you please when you please. And the protesters are outraged when it should be the founding fathers and those who in every generation have preserved our liberty at great cost. We have encouraged everyone to remain ever the child -- willful, selfish, impatient, and angry. So we should not be surprised when those we elect look like us and reflect back to us our faults.
I am not without hope but I have learned that the once reliable bastions of conscience and authority can no longer be relied upon. We must, as citizens and individuals, step up to the plate and intervene where our institutions have betrayed us. In the end, that is what every age has had to face. Ours is no different. In the Church this means being true to the creeds we confess and the confessions now relegated to an indifferent status as historical documents. It means not only reading Scripture but listening. In the neighborhoods, this means remembering that we are not neighbors because we like those around us but because this is our community. In the political realm, we must be willing to hear the voices of those who tell us what we do not want to hear because this is the truth and we need to be willing to risk electing those who will not promise us everything. It is time to grow up and be an adult.
Adulting has become a meme. It ought to be the goal of every child, youth, and adult. Prolonging and giving into our childish ways cannot help us or solve any of our problems. Reason, faith, hope, and cooperation may. If we can get over our partisan self-interest. In the end, this is the beating heart of the conservative cause. I hope that we will remember this and give it a chance. We do not need to be encouraged to be youthful. We need to balance the indulgence of youth with the responsibility, sacrifice, and service that mark adulthood. Before it is too late.