Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” from this Friday just past, the prelude to his family vacation, was a deep and important newsletter for such an occasion – an occasion when most of us would do the minimum possible to get by, anticipating the joyous relaxation to come. For example this sentence, “One of the periodic complaints I find myself expressing about American society as I get older is the fear that the search for novelty and ‘edginess’ has driven too many voices to celebrate our villains and demonize our heroes,” is something that should be considered at length and carefully analyzed in light of popular culture. But he moves quickly to considering that idea in deeper and more realistic terms, focusing on David Brooks widely praised column on the Google firing. Within his discussion, Geraghty says something even more profound:
I suspect the social justice mobs target a random Google programmer, or Lena Dunham publicly indicts random American Airlines employees for “transphobic talk” she claims to have overheard, because these are very easy targets and very easy “problems” to solve. Society has no shortage of real problems: drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of economic opportunity, those who need counseling or mental health treatment, angry young men lashing out with random violence at strangers, radicalized groups plotting violence on a mass scale.
Experience has taught us that all of those problems are difficult to solve, and many are intertwined. Oftentimes our efforts to solve those problems take two steps forward and then one step back, or they solve one problem but create another.
This easy approach reflects an age where appearance matters more than action. Having a story to look good in the media is the key thing, not necessary having a serious accomplishment.
Interestingly, on the same Friday the host’s Hillsdale hour with Larry Arnn (Hughniverse subscription required) featured a marvelous discussion by Arnn of the “bureaucratic state” as opposed to the legislative state the founders intended. In the discussion Arnn made a case, evident to anyone that deals with government, that the legislators had taken an easy path – punting their law making power to the faceless bureaucracies and taking for themselves the role of influence peddler. This is another place where much deeper exploration is warranted. But I am headed in a different direction so I will simply recommend Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson for deep insight into how we got into this state of affairs. (Researching Richard Nixon’s founding of the EPA would be another place to look into this phenomena.)
My theme is the common strain in both of these outstanding observations – the fact that people tend to take the easy way out.
Last Thursday I wrote, “The church needs to relearn and begin to teach that it is not a straight line from the love of Christ to healthy self-regard. Healthy self-regard comes from allowing the love of Christ to remove the evil we are born to. Put more practically, we do not need to feel good about ourselves to give up the booze, rather if we give up the booze we will feel better about ourselves.” If you have a problem with alcohol, it is hard, very hard, to stop drinking. It is easy to whine about feeling bad about ourselves and thus we drink, but to just stop drinking – that is difficult. Back in July I wrote about controlling body weight, trying to explain, as I have learned the very hard way, that it involves self-denial – there is no easy way to lose weight. Thus America, and the church, have a weight problem.
I am reminded of perhaps my favorite quote from G.K. Chesterton:
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
Could it be that the with our technology making so much in life so much easier than it used to be, we have simply become lazier than ever? We have just seen several deep cultural and personal examples of increasing laziness and keeping Chesterton in mind perhaps this also accounts for Christianity’s decreasing influence. But upon deep reflection, I think that to blame Christianity’s decline as a social force on technology, or anything else outside of the church, is being guilty of the same laziness. The problem is not non-Christians finding Christianity difficult, but Christians.
What’s sad is this refusal to undertake apparent difficulty prevents us from ever getting to a point where we can overcome the difficulty. In his letter to the church he founded in the Greek city of Phillipi, the Apostle Paul thanks them for recent donations to his ministry. He carries on at some length about how it is not about his need, but theirs – that to give is good of itself. To illustrate his point he talks of his ability to be content in all circumstances and says this most amazing thing:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
If this is true, the answer to Christianity’s difficulties is not less Christianity, but more of it. This means that if we are finding Christianity difficult we have not surrendered ourselves to Christ sufficiently, for if we have we can overcome the difficulty.
The implications for our personal lives should be obvious. The key to overcoming your bad habit is more Christ. But this is also something that illustrates just how far the nation has strayed from its roots. This is a nation founded on hard work and overcoming difficulty. From settling the wild land to building our industries, to winning World Wars we have been hard working people. That came in no small part from a stated devotion to things Christian on the part of most people – certainly a commitment to Christian ethics and values. That commitment and devotion created a desire and ability to work hard. With more Christ “social justice warriors” would tackle real problems rather than whine about small ones. With more Christ legislators would legislate, even though it is tremendously difficult.
But the bottom line problem is with the church itself. We choose the easy path – to entertain and attract rather than engage and change lives. We punt to the pastor and programs to do evangelism rather than reach out to our neighbor. We satisfy ourselves with Sunday morning worship when we should be about Monday morning mission. We tell ourselves our divorce is understandable, but divorce is still bad. We choose the easy path which means we, the church, need much more Christ. Is it any wonder the nation as a whole slides into this laziness when we have?
This Sunday morning I pray for more Christ, and the overcoming of difficulty that comes with it.