September 1, 2016
We Forget God at Our Own Peril
The mood of our beloved country is not good, is it? As I listen to people, I hear more and more observe, “Something is deeply wrong with the world, and with America.”
Disenchantment over the current campaign and the two presidential candidates seems only to intensify the pessimism everyone apparently senses.
What’s wrong? Your answer, and the remedy you might prepare, would be as valuable and worthwhile as mine.
Some of you might diagnose this woe from an economic point of view; others, maybe, from a political one. Many commentators blame “culture,” by which they usually mean education, entertainment, public morality, art. Then there are those who fault the media, or the global fear from terrorism. Everybody has a particular analysis and antibiotic.
You would not be surprised at all that I come at it from a religious perspective. Simply put, if we forget God, all hell breaks loose. And, without getting apocalyptic here, I fear we have forgotten God.
Historian that I am, I must observe that this spiritual amnesia is hardly unique to our times. Our readings from the Old Testament at Mass constantly remind us that God’s Chosen People, Israel, continually stumbled. As long as they grounded their lives in God, kept their covenant with Him, and remembered His call, mercy, and grace, they were on the right path. But, sadly, they rarely stayed on track! They, way back then, were continually tempted to forget Him, ignore Him, even deny Him for other false gods...and then comes tragedy.
So, if I’m on to something—that the almost universal sentiment that something is severely awry in our country is because we have forgotten the Lord—we’re in good company.
Nor is this high anxiety for our nation a 2016 phenomenon. It seems rather “American” to consider each era as dramatically perilous. I grew up in the so-called “good old days” of the 50s and early 60s, yet we wrung hands worrying about nuclear annihilation.
During my recent couple weeks of vacation, I read David McCullough’s splendid John Adams. Talk about gloom and doom! The launch of independence and the long war that won it was traumatic indeed. Adams lamented, “Unfaithfulness...is rampant. Virtue is not in fashion, vice is not infamous.”
And his remedy? When Benjamin Bush asked him, during the most dreary and pessimistic weeks of the fight for independence, if America had a chance, the patriot whispered, “Yes, but only if we fear God and repent of our sins.”
Once again, those of us who propose that a revival of faith is the tonic we need to heal today’s oppressive frustrations in the Republic are in good company.
To be sure, debate about the role of religion in our national life is always a bit contentious. However, a cherished part of American wisdom is that faith, religion, virtue, worship, and biblical morality are essential to a civil society. In fact, as the Father of our country observed, democracy itself cannot survive without it.
My apprehension today is that even this wisdom is being questioned, and that an America “free of religion” is now what’s promoted instead of a “freedom of religion.” But experience teaches us that’s only the cause of deeper division and national turmoil.
I was inspired by Katie Ledecky, the celebrated gold medalist at this month’s Olympics, and, more importantly to her, a young lady of sincere Catholic faith. “While my goals in the pool change, my faith remains something that’s consistent, that I can always rely on.”
America can say the same: while our goals—and worries, challenges, and fears—as a nation may change, our faith does not.
We are “one nation under God.”
We are a country which claims, “in God we trust.”
As we dread loss of memory, dementia, as we get older, or care for family members that do, so do we as a nation rightly fear forgetting God...
For, when we do, “all hell breaks loose!”