Throughout most of my life, I've lived in a reasonably civil society, a society grounded in Judeo-Christian religious values and guided by its imperfect understanding of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. The vast majority of Americans understood and accepted this. One could even state this belief publicly without much fear of contradiction or ridicule. This is no longer true. Indeed, our civil society has given way to a most uncivil society guided only by an unholy alliance of pragmatism and narcissism. The rule of relativism has created a society in which anything, or almost anything, goes. In the prophetic words of the great G. K. Chesterton, "When men choose not to believe in God, they do not therefore believe in nothing, they become capable of believing in anything."
The fragility of our civilization has become apparent. The world's barbarians are at the gate and we, unlike those who came before us, seem oblivious to the fact. While we sacrifice the lives of many of the best among us in a "war on terror" -- or as the current administration prefers to call it: a war on "man-caused disasters" -- we ignore the cultural disintegration taking place all around us. We experience a national trauma when 20 young children are savagely murdered in their classroom, but we celebrate as freedom the far greater but equally savage slaughter of 50 million innocent children in the womb...and we apparently do not see the connection between the two. Today I read of three young men, all in their teens, who shot and killed a young jogger. After their arrest one of them told the police that they were bored and decided to kill someone. Yes, once they believe in nothing, they will believe in anything.
As a nation our response to all the chaos is to attack the symptoms. We "stop and frisk." We build up our swat teams and turn our police forces into small (and some not so small) armies. We take real-time video of everything and everybody. We send drones into our skies to watch ourselves living our lives below. We allow strangers at airports to treat us with disdain, to violate our persons, and to do virtually anything they want...all because of our cowardice.
We worry so much about our security and safety that we willingly allow a government on steroids to trample on our freedoms. As one of our parishioners said to me the other day, "I don't really care what the government does so long as it keeps the terrorists away." I hope he does not awaken one morning and discover there is little difference between the two.
Ben Stein, a man I have long admired even though I do not always agree with him, addressed the NSA's invasions of privacy in his latest online diary entry by writing:
My wife said it well tonight. “I have nothing to hide,” she said. “I’m not afraid of the NSA.”
I actually am nowhere near the person Big Wifey is, but I am not afraid of the NSA either. I am very afraid of the terrorists. It’s that simple.Yes, Mr. Stein, it is that simple: we have become a nation of cowards. At least you are honest about your cowardice. Most are not. As a nation we have shown ourselves to be far more concerned with our personal safety than with the loss of our liberty. I wore the uniform of this nation for almost 30 years and willingly placed myself in harm's way. My brother, father and grandfather did the same. And I believe I can honestly say that each of us would have given his life for this nation, for the Constitution we were sworn to defend, and for the freedoms it guarantees for all of us. Now I'm the only one left, but believe me, I have never considered my life as important as those freedoms.
This is why I am so disturbed to hear Americans, when asked about the NSA's intrusive spying, say, "If you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about." Hanging on the wall in front of me is a framed but dirty and slightly tattered armband. It contains a roughly sewn Star of David with "Sachsenhausen" stenciled beneath it. A Jewish friend gave it to me because it caused him too much pain. It had belonged to his great uncle who had survived several camps and managed to stay alive until he was liberated. I keep it on my wall to remind me of what humanity is capable of, to remind me of the existence of original sin. The people forced to wear such armbands in such horrible places as Sachsenhausen also believed they had nothing to hide, nothing to worry about.They were wrong.
The solution to the problem we face is not to be found in the symptoms. It's buried deep within the cause. We are a nation that has rejected its Judeo-Christian roots. We have ceased to live our faith, to preach it openly, to pray in the public square. Too many today have turned their backs on God not realizing that the only road to salvation for this nation is to turn back to God.