May 5, 2010
In his treatise, The Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, Francis Schaeffer suggests that the gradual shift away from a Judeo-Christian (or at least a Creationist) worldview towards a materialistic view of reality has broad sociological and governmental implications for western society. His is an interesting thesis to ponder in light of a recent article in USA Today discussing religion and the Millennial Generation.
The article cites a recent survey conducted by Lifeway Christian Resources, which reveals that Millennials (defined as Americans born approximately between 1980 and 1995) are distancing themselves from traditional religious forms in favor of a personally-defined, nebulous kind of "spirituality." These individuals are less likely to pray, they don't read the Bible, and they don't go to church. Among the 65% who identify themselves as Christian, "many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only. . . . Most are just indifferent." Theological indifference may seem like no big deal in an age where moral relativism and the cult of the individual reign, but it's worth considering Schaeffer's argument that - whether we realize it or not - our understanding of religion and its role in society has a direct impact on our politics.
As the Founding Fathers laid the foundations for the unprecedented political experiment known as the United States of America, this relationship was foremost in their minds. The Judeo-Christian understanding of man as a fallen and sinful creature is reflected in James Madison's famous observation that "if men were angels, government wouldn't be necessary." The recognition of our innate dignity as creatures created in God's own image is reflected in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. America's political tradition rests squarely upon this conception of human nature: We are fallen, yet still bear the mark of our divine inheritance. Our Constitution, consequently, addresses the human need for a robust rule of law while respecting the liberty and dignity of the individual. As Schaeffer rightly observed, a society's predominant worldview shapes its form/freedom balance: It shapes the form of government the citizens adopt and the freedoms they enjoy.
The problem is, fewer and fewer Americans recognize this fact, either because we are unwilling or unable to conceive of a reality in which we are not in ultimate control. If anything, we regard the move from religion to "spirituality" as one more step up the ladder of progress - a natural evolution from the silly superstitions of our ancestors to a more enlightened understanding of reality in which everyone is his own god. Ideas, however, have consequences, and the consequences of denying God may well prove detrimental to the future of the American experiment.
When we decide as a society that God doesn't exist, all we are left with to account for what we are and why we exist is the idea that we are nothing more than an accident of nature. This denial of purpose and design in Creation goes hand in hand with a denial of absolute Truth and, subsequently, the embrace of moral relativism. Such a view of man and of the nature of truth is completely at odds with the Founders' views.
A view of man that denies our divine origins gives us little reason to respect our fellow men or to strive for virtue and justice in society. Furthermore, it threatens our human dignity and undercuts our claim to those "unalienable rights" we so cherish as Americans. As each of us withdraws deeper and deeper into our own individually-crafted bubbles of "spirituality," we are finding ourselves less and less able to reach even a basic societal consensus on questions of justice and morality. The result? We end up with a legal system that defends the due process rights of convicted felons and would-be terrorists while denying those same rights to the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly.
The one entity that does not object to a God-less society, however, is government - which may explain why the promotion of atheism has been central to some of the world's most brutal totalitarian regimes. A government seeking absolute authority over its citizens, after all, is not well served by competition with God. When we refuse to embrace both the blessings and the responsibilities of our divine inheritance, the power-hungry politicians and entrenched bureaucrats that manage the modern welfare state are more than happy to step in and do it for us - for a price that often comes in the form of higher taxes, less liberty, and less protection for the weak and vulnerable.
As our own government senses its power and authority growing stronger in direct proportion to our increasing religious apathy, social irresponsibility, and historical ignorance, we can be sure that it will do what it can to prevent the American people from reversing the tide. The Obama Administration's response to the Tea Party movement is a perfect example.
Americans must decide the future they want for their country. If we wish to preserve the unique tradition begun by our Founders, we must rediscover the importance of religion and put God back in the foreground of our social and political consciousness.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty" He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society.