In the wake of the national election just past, most Christian leaders I know are feeling ill-at-ease. There is an inescapable sense that the nation has changed in some fundamental sense. It is true there are some that celebrate the results of the election, but they too sense the change, and I think if they analyze it properly they will also come to understand that the fundamental change is not necessarily good.
It is not just that the nation has “turned left” somehow. It’s not that same sex marriage prevailed in four states or that grass was decriminalized in two or even that Obama won reelection. It is what underlies all that and more. Consider the issues that are most important to Christians, and even some that are not so important.
Abortion – in the end it is about whose life matters more, the mother or the child. Spare me the distracting discussion about whether a fetus is really life or not, it’s a red herring. On the bottom line when there is an abortion a life, or potential life if you must, is ended so that another life will not be too inconvenienced. For the unborn an abortion is an ending. Were the pregnant woman to carry the child to term her life would be massively altered, and yet her life would continue. An unwanted pregnancy carried to term is a massive sacrifice, but it remains insignificant compared to the sacrifice made by the unborn in an abortion. At base, abortion is a grossly selfish act.
Same-sex marriage – this issue is most notable in the liberal side of things complete inability to compromise. Most states, and civil people, agreed to civil unions pretty easily and with a minimum of fuss. But that has not been enough to satisfy the LGBT community. They insist to the point of civil disobedience and violence the the entire world simply blind themselves to the fact that on some level that community are indeed different from most of us. (I carefully choose the word “different,” attempting to avoid any declaration of judgement.) They insist that a word, translated in many languages for millenia, be stretched beyond all historical understanding simply for the sake of their own private illusion of normalcy, when in fact none of us are truly and totally “normal.” Proponents of same-sex marriage wish to alter all of human history for the sake of their own desires – it is an ultimately selfish position.
What about the decriminalization of marijuana? At a time when the public health risks of tobacco products, which are not mind altering, are considered so high that billions in public money is spent to curtail their use, we chose to create a new class of legal, and higher, public health risk. When the health care “pool” is being massively expanded beyond voluntary association to include the entire populace some places decide to create hundreds if not thousands of new individuals that will be taking from, rather than contributing to, the pool. In a real sense this is those that enjoy marijuana demanding of the entire populace that they support their entertainment. Yet again, at the bottom of the issue lies selfishness.
When it comes to economic policy the nation seems to care more about the distribution of money than the earning of it through contribution to the common economy. In the realm of foreign policy we seek to withdraw from the world, leaving injustice both moral and economic – not to mention more extreme and deep than anything our nation has ever witnessed internally, to “work on issues at home.” Indeed we seem to worry about ourselves, individually, more than anything else, and regardless of the consequences to anyone else around us.
The fundamental change that has created the melancholy so prevalent amongst many today is that selfishness, not sacrifice, seems to have become the driving force in the nation.
This is a nation built on sacrifice. Until very recent time the mere act of immigrating here was sacrificial in terms of financial commitment and breaking of family and cultural ties. No longer is that the case with modern communication and travel technology and so no longer does the immigrant arrive having decided to sacrifice to join, they instead come merely to “get their share” and often send a significant portion of it home.
The sacrifice of the Founders was inordinate. It takes but the briefest of visits to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon to understand that. Despite the tremendous wealth that is apparent in that estate, Washington himself barely enjoyed it. He was able to spend but a handful of years there spending that vast majority of his adulthood either at war or as a vagrant politician, including his presidency since the buildings of government were still under construction. Washington gave up virtually every dream he had for himself and his family for the sake of the nation.
The nation rose to its ascendant position in world affairs on the ultimate sacrifices of the myriad soldiers of WWII. The sacrifice of those that survived were tremendous as well, as were those of the home front. Those that stayed home sacrificed in so many small ways to support the war effort and those they loved that were serving. In these times even in those rare instances when all agree the nation should be at war we expect it to have as little impact on all but the self-selected warrior class as possible. When war does come home to us, as it did in NYC now 11 years ago, we want to “move on” as rapidly as possible.
The ethos of sacrifice as an individual for the common good seems little heard of and hard to find in our nation today. We do hear of it when someone wants to take money from us, but even then money is the easiest sacrifice to make and enforced sacrifice is no sacrifice at all, its just brute force. Which proves that this ethos is not something that government can build – it must exist culturally. We cannot lay the lack of this sacrificial ethos at the feet of government.
Religion alone, and I will argue uniquely Christian religion in its various expressions, is the single best force for the construction and maintenance of this ethos in a culture. The founders realized this and thus protected it in the constitution. I will argue that it is this sacrificial ethos that defined this nation as “Christian” in some sense (certainly it was not theology) and that it is the church that is largely responsible for its loss.
But this is enough for one post. We have figured out what it is we have really lost that makes the mood in the wake of this election so moribund. In the next post in this series we will look at how we lost it and the church’s role in that loss.