Americans do not live in a culture with an overall idea. One might object by saying that we have freedom and the Constitution as causes worthy of our united respect. But, neither is any longer compelling in our society. The organs of government must make great efforts to keep the rickety system working. Among the elites a disenchantment with the American experiment has set in. Socialism and critical race theory have carried the day, indicating a powerful repudiation of fundamental American ideas and institutions. Religion is unfavored among the ‘intelligent and cultured.’ Powerful segments of our society, Hollywood, professional sports, and the universities among the most outstanding, have aligned with the deconstructive forces at work in America. We have become a society that fails at synthesis, that is, at an overall idea that makes sense of our national life and our existence on this planet. We live with a highly diminished meaning structure. The powerful symbols of yore have greatly declined in significance for large numbers of people.
We have not learned that we can be critical of our weaknesses while upholding America’s strengths. Today it is mostly either/or, an unreflective belief in waning symbols or a contempt for them. We must restore a love of country without unthinking allegiance or approval of those beliefs and actions that are unworthy of our respect.
The question for us is, how do Christians respond to these circumstances? While we should respect the diversity that exists in our nation, we should also proclaim the overall idea that truly would unite the country at a deep level. It would be the profound (profundus–deep) idea that only God can explain our existence and make sense of it. Not God in general, but God revealed in Jesus Christ is the compelling idea that unites people into a community that seeks the welfare of all people, even those who differ from us in belief.
We could be more closely united to non-Christians by a mutual respect for our national institutions and for the good our nation has done along with a rejection of all that does harm to our people. We must praise and criticize America at the same time. There is no room for hatred. We are in the American project together and should work for what is best for all. The elites must understand that they should work not only for their own welfare but also for everybody’s.
One might say that we can not have diversity and this sort of unity at the same time. Moreover, the Church in its history has shown plenty of division and disunity. All of this is true, yet she is the only hope for a truly cohesive society that also maintains diversity among its people. The Church is compelled again and again to return to the Shepherd who unites the sheep with His compassion.
We are people from many nations. This diversity is true to the American idea. Many conflicts have occurred in our history, the most prominent being the Civil War. But, we have also had success in our diversity with working together.
We must remember also that the Church has united people of many nations throughout its history. The church is catholic (universal) in part because of its inclusion of anyone who believes in Christ as Lord. The people confess a common faith either in creed or, especially in the free church tradition, in prayer and preaching of those fundamental creedal elements.
No other institution in society is more capable of bringing people together with one overall idea, in this case, a most profound idea, the faith of the Christian Church. When we evangelize, we are promoting such unity without squelching a diversity of customs, political opinions, and so on. We should leave bigotry where it belongs–autocratic societies as expressed in ideologies such as Communism. The Twentieth Century is a testimony to its intolerance and bloodletting.
When we witness to the message of the Gospel, we speak not on behalf of ourselves but on behalf of Christ and His Church. We speak a message that counters all toxic ideas that would enslave people in a false unity. We call for a unity based on compassion and love for the neighbor, even for the enemy, as Christ so clearly taught.
Michael G. Tavella
Holy Innocents, December 28, 2021