Over the last month First Things has been blessed by an outpouring of support. Many readers have generously responded to our solicitations. This is a great encouragement.
And we all need encouragement. A young friend recently told me, “I’m done with all the doomerism going around these days.” Doomerism! It’s just the right moniker for our temptations.
I assure you that doomerism has no role to play at First Things.
We have reason to be sanguine on some fronts. On Tuesday the Supreme Court handed down a decision that put a knife into more than a century of religious discrimination. In 1889, Montana adopted an amendment to its state constitution that prohibits state funding of religious education. This so-called Blaine Amendment was part of a nationwide anti-Catholic campaign. Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue effectively strikes down that prohibition. This is an important victory for religious freedom.
Other good news: Earlier in June, the United States organized an international coalition to defend the freedom of Hong Kong. These efforts were successful. Beijing is trying new tactics, and perhaps the Communist Party will succeed in trampling on the rights of those living in Hong Kong. But the fact remains: That brave city remains determined to shape its own destiny.
We need to be determined as well. Yes, we face headwinds. To a degree I could not have imagined when I was in college, a good portion (perhaps a majority) of the rising generation of leaders in our society lacks religious knowledge, exposure, and even interest. This crimps their moral vision.
But there are opportunities in this loss of the transcendent. I find nothing to support in Black Lives Matter. It is a top-down creation of elite progressive ideology (and money), not a bottom-up movement. Its goals are aligned with Ivy League activism, not the interests and needs of the poor and marginalized BLM purports to represent. Nevertheless, the recent protests indicate a powerful moral, even spiritual hunger. Man cannot live by bread alone. It is up to us to feed our fellow citizens with the words that come from the mouth of God.
Good and bad, setbacks and advances—these are extraordinarily volatile times. The foundations of our society are shaking. It’s tempting to recoil from this uncertainty and see in it only dark possibilities. But we must not underestimate God’s providence. Plowing a field breaks the calm surface of clover and turns over the soil.
I am reminded of the poem “Patmos” by Friedrich Hölderlin, a German romantic who influenced Hegel and other philosophers of his generation. Martin Heidegger often cited the opening lines. After evoking the nearness and mystery of God, Hölderlin writes, “But where there is danger, waxes / the saving as well.”
My thoughts, however, go to a stanza toward the end of the poem. The poet evokes Christ’s departure and the anguish of Christian witness, which must struggle against the oblivion of forgetfulness. What, he asks, are we to see in our feeble, ineffective efforts to bring Christ to the world?
It is the cast of the sower, as he graspsThrows into the clear.
Wheat with the shovel,
And swinging it across the threshing floor,
The chaff falls to his feet, but
The grain reaches its purpose.
And it’s not an evil, if some gets lost
And the speech of living sound fades away.
For God’s work is like our own:
The Highest does not seek all at once.
Join First Things and set doomerism aside. Our present tribulations have turned over the soil. The shovel is at hand. Much will be scattered to no good effect. But some seeds will take root.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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