Our nation, at its best, really is a nation of the people. We have accomplished things unprecedented in history when this nation has put its mind to it. The trick for a nation like ours is to build the national will to do that.
Religion, a force in society separate from government, is one of the ways national will has been built. Traditionally when the nation set out to do things good and just, religion could be relied upon to promote the goodness and the justice, which was the base upon which the national will could form. Historically in the United States religious power rested in the Protestant mainlines. As they have liberalized in recent decades they are no longer useful at this task. Rising in the void has been Evangelicalism, but it is both so fractured and so ghettoized as to be ineffective in building a base upon which national will can be formed.
No national endeavor takes full national will like war.
Two things collided yesterday to make this obvious to me. One, I saw “American Sniper.” A great movie. In that movie, on his first return from a tour in Iraq, Chris Kyle is deeply troubled by the fact that while he has fought hard and has many friends that are fighting and dying, the nation is taking little or no notice. The war is not predominantly in the news nor widely discussed outside of military circles. It seems clear to me that the troubles Kyle suffers whenever he returns home are related to the isolation from the general populace that he feels and the lack of a sense of mission that comes with life in America today. One cannot help but ponder if such is not an important factor in thousands of PTSD cases amongst our returning military. The isolation and lack of a sense of mission that Kyle experienced both lie in our government’s efforts to wage war without building national will.
The other thing that collided yesterday was this column from Hugh Hewitt:
So what’s a Congress to do?
Use this moment to educate the American public about the enemies we face and the nature of the conflict we are in.
Convene a Joint Select Committee for the consideration of the president’s request, hold hearings with the very best minds on the ongoing conflict testifying, and then more hearings with witnesses drawn from the very best authorities on war and the Constitution’s requirements regarding how to authorize the necessary and many uses of forces in and over the many places where the conflict is likely to carry –from Syria and Iraq, to Yemen and other parts of the Arab world where Islamist extremism spreads, to the parts of Lebanon where Hezbollah holds sway, to Nigeria and Somalia, and of course to Afghanistan and the ungoverned areas of Pakistan, and –if necessary– to Iran where the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror is pretending to dance with America while working away at its terror network spread through Syria, Lebanon and beyond even as it sprints towards nuclear breakout.
What Hewitt is calling for here is the use of Congressional hearings to educate the public and build the national will for the war we fight with Islamic extremism and terror. He is asking the government to step into the void that the church has abandoned. That is absolutely necessary, but it is frightening in terms of balancing the nation. While our war with terror and Islamic extremism, is just and good, once the government has appropriated such authority to itself it will not give it back and it could be used to build national will for something unjust and evil. At least the church, when it exercised such sway, could be counted on to check the goodness and justice of something before it acted. The government has not such checks.
One of the reasons Evangelicalism has failed to fill this void in building national will left behind by the Mainlines is becasue of its focus on individual salvation and fulfillment. These are not bad things of themselves, but unless they are coupled with an examination of and action for the greater good they can produce very bad results. These unhappy results happen on the individual level as we see in the case of our returning military and they happen on the grandest of scales as we see in the Hewitt piece.
America has never been a perfect nation – no nation can be because we are, after all, all sinners. But The United States of America has been, far and away, the best nation history has ever seen. This is in no small part doe to the role religion has played in forming our national will. With the church in hurried retreat from that role, the nation stands poised to sacrifice all the good it has accomplished in its history and to experience its demise in shame. The church can prevent both that demise and that shame if it will but reverse its retreat. It is time those of us that call on the name of Christ stop worrying about our own salvation and start worrying about the nations.