Jim Geraghty did a fine job this morning of breaking down three discussions happening in the wake of yesterday’s heinous attack in Alexandria. The arguments are about free speech, double standards and policing – all good things that need to be discussed. But I resonate far more this morning with Victor Davis Hanson, who without mentioning Alexandria, speaks right to the heart of the matter:
The two Americas watch different news. They read very different books, listen to different music and watch different television shows. Increasingly, they now live lives according to two widely different traditions.
America barely survived the Civil War of 1861-65, the Great Depression of 1929-39, and the rioting and protests of the 1960s. But today’s growing divides are additionally supercharged by instant internet and social media communications, 24/7 cable news, partisan media and the denigration of America’s past traditions.
All Americans need to take a deep breath, step back and rein in their anger — and find more ways to connect rather than divide themselves.
They should assume their opponents are not all sinners, and that their supporters are not all saints.
Things are bad now. But our own history suggests that if we are not careful, they can get even worse. [emphasis added]
The problems that currently confront the nation lie in that phrase Hanson used “different traditions.” Elsewhere in the piece he puts it well when he says, “History is not very kind to multicultural chaos — as opposed to a multiracial society united by a single national culture.” Our problems are not political, legal or constitutional – they are cultural. Rather than there being an American culture there is now a “gun culture,” an “academic culture,” an “urban culture, and a “rural culture.” This phenomena is driven in part by a media and its advertising underwriters that seek to divide us into easy-to-handle and marketable groupings. But that is succeeding in dividing in this fashion based on the regression from our culture of the string that has always bound us – religion. No, the nation has never had a common faith expression but it has always had a common faith, and a belief in its accountability to the Almighty. But nowadays even the faithful fear to mention it lest they be ridiculed for simpletons and dismissed as divisive. Our single national culture was forged in the furnace of something greater than ourselves, even if we have never really agreed on just what that is or what it looks like.
And if our problems are cultural the things Geraghty discusses may help push the culture in one direction or the other, but it is ultimately up to cultural actors to solve the problem. I see three things that need to happen right away.
One – churches need to stop cowering on the real issues. I have seen way too many churches divide on political lines and end up choosing sides. Yes churches are often confronted with difficult decisions that flow from the political environment, but in the midst of those difficulties I have seen way too many that made decisions based on member and giving retention rather than on God’s expectations and preaching about love and sin and redemption into the mess. Those are the issues. If the congregation is not hearing it, figure out how to speak to them, but don’t succumb to the temptation to go along to get along.
Two – evangelism and spiritual development changes lives, it may or may not add to the church’s rolls – act like it. Changed lives are the game here – the whole game, more even than theological agreement. Never lose that focus.
Three – churches need to build schools. Education is the other great cultural actor and public education is now so steeped in the mess that I am not sure it can be reformed in a term short enough to meet the nations immediate needs. I have never been a part of a church big enough to sustain a school on its own. But why is that needed? Within walking distance of my home are 5 churches that combined could build a fine school – if we add in the foreign language churches two more churches with their own facilities add to the number. The walking distance means combining facilities is possible. Yes, between those churches are vast theological divisions, but that just means each church will have to hold its own religion course for the students – the rest of it can be held in common. This is doable if there is will and there needs to be will.
I said yesterday in the wake of this tragedy that we were going to point fingers everywhere but at ourselves. So far that is most of what I am seeing. Yes, we are talking about toning down rhetoric but it always seems to be the other guys rhetoric that needs toning down. Let’s stop talking about this and start doing something about it. You can control your own rhetoric and action even if you cannot control someone else’s.