I am told in some of my email that when writing about the future of the church or about the future of America, I tend toward the cynical and the pessimistic, and that these qualities are unhelpful to and unwanted by readers who—for reasons that defy comprehension—log on to the internet expecting to be soothed, reassured, and entertained. While reading the news.
The news is not good, and it is not good on any front. Europe is, to put it mildly, in disarray. The United States looks increasingly like a funhouse mirror of itself, its government gone feckless, its people stricken with uncertainty and its cities occupied by a “movement” that is all appetite for chaos.
Chaos is the three-engined vehicle forging this transitional path: economic chaos, social chaos, and spiritual chaos have already cleared the brush; electoral chaos will bring the asphalt. Homosexual couples are marrying, but heterosexual couples are not (fully 40% of all live births in America last year involved unmarried women) and the whole concept of marriage is being reduced to its material parts—the “right” (not Rite), the ring, the dress, the party. There are numerous television networks dedicated to the “things” of weddings but a woeful lack of teaching or understanding about why marriage matters or what it even is. Forget about proposing that marriage reflects the covenants forged between heaven and earth, Creator and creation.
No one conceived and raised in the vapor of celebrity-obsession, “reality” TV and short-attention-span marriages can understand the language.
Last week Mark Steyn wrote, “America is seizing up before our eyes,” and that is a spot-on image. She is like a brilliantly conceived machine that, poorly maintained for more years than any of us cares to admit, has gone too long untuned; the oil of her invention has thinned out and broken down and now bit-by-bit, gear-by-gear—economically, socially, spiritually—she is making an ungodly noise and grinding to a halt.
And yet people want optimism. They crave it, especially when a president is telling one half of the country that it is “time to eat your peas” while simultaneously encouraging another half to take to the streets and demand more dessert. “Where is our Ronald Reagan,” is a phrase that rises with alarming frequency, in some comboxes, and it always unsettles me to see it, because it seems so determinedly obtuse; if we can just find someone exactly like the president from thirty years ago, we will be alright. If only someone will smile and tell us it is morning in America, again, and the city has not slid down the hill!
There are probably ten thousand articles to be found on the Internet all fleshing out their theories of what is behind America’s swift collapse. Curiously, most of them will touch—all without realizing it—on the seven deadly sins; Capitalist Greed; Spiritual Sloth; Physical Lust; Nationalist/Military Pride; Consumer Gluttony; Partisan Wrath; Class Envy. Good arguments can be made blaming some are all of these sins for our current dire straits and for the sense that we are standing upon a precipice.
But I wonder if it is not the first and greatest sin named by Yahweh and given to Moses, that is most at fault: the sin of idolatry. We have loved ourselves so well; we have denied ourselves nothing and placed too much of what we love between ourselves and God; we have cherished mere things or other people; over-identified with ideas or ideologies and made an afterthought of God, who will not be mocked.
Make no mistake, America is not only on a precipice, she is watching the supporting ground below as it shifts and cracks and bits of edging break loose and fall—and a nation tumbles quickly once the foundations are fragmented. Nations fall all the time, of course, but America was supposed to be special—the “exceptional nation” or, as Madeleine Albright called it, “the indispensable nation”—the “last best hope” for the world.
But the last best hope for the world was always the Triune God of Creation. And even some religiously minded Americans seem to have forgotten that.
Perhaps God is tired of the idolatry that has snuck into some hearts disguised as patriotism—where the pledge is nearly equated with prayer and an excellent but earthbound document written by men is treated like the word from on high. Maybe he is tired of the idolatry of the parents whose darlings were over-indulged into stupidity, or the idolatry of the consumer who will stand in line overnight for the latest “must-have/already-obsolete” iToy, or the idolatry of mere ideas that trend and pass and carry off with them our charity and our clarity, leaving us more confused and distanced from God and each other, than we were before. Maybe it is the idolatry of our own earthly “power,” that has brought us to this shaky place.
Contemplating the drop from our trembling heights is dizzying. We are safer on our knees. Even so, if we are going to survive what is before us, we’ll have to cast off our idols and cling to something else, without despair. And it will have to be something that can bear us up when all about us goes into collapse. Something like a rock; something that has managed to continue even as one government after another, one nation after another, one trend after another, has been swept away. Something that is promised to prevail.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Levin speaking at Americans for Prosperity
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