Religion Returns: No Longer Are Politicians Jeered For Invoking God
One consequence of Sept. 11 is the revival of religion. This is an inevitable response to not only the need for spiritual solace but also the search for answers to the question of evil, which suddenly seems all-consuming.
The ultimate answer to the question of evil is a mystery. But that does not mean there are no proximate answers.
Among the proximate answers is human freedom. To see the Heart of Darkness as the world saw it on Sept.11 is to understand that mere men, for certain twisted reasons, choose to exercise their free will to destroy the freedom and lives of others.
Thus, freedom by itself is not sufficient for constructing the quality of society and culture appropriate to man, his dignity and his capacity. Freedom must be oriented beyond itself to truth: the truth of man's origin, the truth of man's nature and the truth of man's destiny.
We have rediscovered recently that America is a profoundly religious nation, and that faith is not a source of division among Americans but rather the foundation of our unity on shared principles.
Americans have also discovered that when we all speak openly about our faith, it doesn't violate anyone's conscience, much less shred the Constitution, as so many have argued in the past.
Rather, it gives rise to reflection on America's highest and noblest aspirations and reveals that the love of freedom and the embrace of faith are not incompatible, but bound to each other.
There wasn't a public figure who addressed the attack on the nation without a plea for prayer for the victims. Many referred to the religious roots of the Western idea of human rights.
Many public spokesmen, including the president, sought God's blessing on our people and the aspirations of our nation.
In a moving meditation, President Bush expressed a vigorous faith, quoting from the New Testament: “As we've been assured: Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth can separate us from God's love.”
Prayer vigils have been continuous. Indeed, we can't even imagine dealing with a crisis on this scale without our faith.
But I wonder. Had the president made these remarks one week earlier, would there have been an outcry, as there was during the election, when he shared his faith experience with some prayer groups? Might he have been called a theocrat and worse?
From the Declaration of Independence through the civil rights movement, faith has been at the core of every event of any magnitude. Usually, that faith is invoked in defense of the sanctity and dignity of the human person and against those who would violate it. This is as it should be.
As for those who hate us and modern life, these are the irrational cries of the forces of repression and bondage that hate and fear liberty, human enterprise, modernity – ultimately, human life itself.
Thankfully, such forces are doomed to failure because the logic of their culture of death leads to self-immolation and destruction, whereas the logic of a rich and healthy culture of life leads to replenishment, creativity and growth.
This, then, becomes the challenge of the post-Sept. 11 world: Will we come to see our success, prosperity, creativity and liberty as all being a means to a higher end? Will the awareness of our transcendent reality form our day-to-day decisions and our path as a nation?
We know from our own experience that we are more likely to turn to God in difficult times than easy ones. God speaks to us with a megaphone in our pain, the author CS. Lewis said, because it is when we reach the end of the rope that we are most likely to fall on our knees in supplication.
At the same time, it is an error, perhaps the fundamental error of the terrorists, to believe that faith and prosperity are always inversely related.
Part of the challenge of living a life of faith is to maintain a certain spiritual equilibrium in good times and bad, not to be tossed about by the winds of circumstance, flitting between bouts of depravity and sanctity, but rather seeking devotion as a daily practice.
May we continue to regard faith as the source of our freedom, even once our sense of security returns.