I had a very depressing thought today in Church History class. We were reviewing the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that marked the end of the Thirty Years War. After this 'peace,' it was agreed that a state's ruler would decide if the area would be Reformed, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran. Many historians use this point in history as the beginning of the "Modern Era."
I began to think that at this time in history, religion pretty much dictated the identity of the people. Almost every nation in history has been a sort of theocracy in which the ruler was either a god, or was mandated to rule by God. This functioned to keep the people loyal, and to give the nation a sense of identity. After the Reformation, the loyalties and nationalistic pride tended to center around the particular country's monarchy.
With the rise of the secular world and the disenfranchisement of the Western monarchs, a sort of democratic form of government stepped in to fill the void in most places. Implicitly, these countries were morally held together by the Christian fabric woven into the society by previous generations.
This was predominantly true in the United States. Though many of the founders of the United States were "Deists," Christian morals and a common descent held the society together.
My quandry today in class was that I could see nothing currently holding the cultural fabric of the United States together. Christianity has been, for the most part, eclipsed by a secular worldview. We have no real moral authority that is agreed upon by the citizens of our country. Further, we have a revolving door King...er President. That is, we have a new President at least every eight years, if not sooner, and one President may be Democrat and the next Republican. Between those two parties there is rarely any sort of agreement upon any issue.
We can't agree on what "freedom" means, the role of government, the religion of the society, the morals that should govern life, nor even if one religion is better than another. We have no king to rally behind, and no religion to dictate our morality. We have a beautiful flag, but what does it symbolize? Truth? Freedom? The American Way? Can we even tell what these things mean anymore?
How can the United States wage war, any war, against a foe if we cannot reach a consensus on what it is that we are fighting for, and the things that are worth killing folks over? I heard a joke on the radio the other day that stated that after "hundreds of years of shootin' and killin'", the United States has decided to give the Southwest to Mexico. They're just trying to make a living, right? Why mess with a man trying to provide for his family? It is a strange world in which we a living, and the fragmentation of our society into a plethra of sub-cultures is the strangest thing of all. (Hello, blogworld!)
My deep thought in all of this is to wonder how in the world a nation without an identity can continue to exist. What is the glue that holds us together? Religion? Politics? Leadership? Or is it our mutual skepticism of the world? That is, we know that this system is flawed, but we cling together out of fear of "something else."
Finally, I will end with this final question. When planes slammed into the World Trade center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, we went to war with Afghanistan. We, exactly, did we go to war to protect? Democracy? Our citizens? Or was it simply a reflexive jab because someone hit us in the mouth? I don't know, but if history is any guide, some of these questions need an answer and soon. And if the church is not actively involved in providing some of these answers, then we may be headed for a new tyranny of the "Big Brother" sort.
We Must Do the Impossible
4 years ago