My First Things column today will offend some, I know, but I hope it’s a net-uplift for many, that it helps others feel as relieved as I do that last week’s election was a clarifying move against what has become a stagnated impotency. It is not the move I would like, but those who think we just voted for the “status quo” have it all wrong. Quite the opposite, America is about to transition away from what she has been:
As the president might say, “make no mistake”: We do not come back from this election, and by “we” I mean America as we have known it; not with the present culture.
At National Review Online, Charles C. W. Cooke writes eloquently of this truth, but where he feels despair, I feel set free. This election has shattered, finally the illusion that if “good conservatives just keep fighting,” somehow “another Reagan” was going to come along and restore the “shining city on a hill”. For too long I have watched friends remain enthralled to the notion that a single man or woman equipped with rhetorical skills, a bit of spine, and right-thinking would be able to resurrect what is remembered by some modern conservatives as a golden age.
It’s not coming back because half the country didn’t want it, or didn’t even recognize what it had and therefore won’t miss it, and because for young adults and the generations coming up the backbone of conservative theory—rugged individualism, privacy, minimal government—is a complete non-sequitur; it does not compute. Their parents hovered and arranged play-dates and videotaped their every move; they went through public schools working on group projects rather than writing individual reports; they are less acquainted with an omniscient God than previous generations, and comfortable instead with the omnipresent camera and interfaces—the strange god of All Media, Interactive.
Quite unlike their parents, in other words, this is a generation less interested in their personal consciences; one tailor-made for living under authority, and with built-in limits to their liberties.
I hope you’ll stick with it and read the whole thing and maybe even pray about it. I’ve been praying for it for a long time, and it seems to me we’re about to enter a season of penance that, like the old Israelites, we have partly earned through pride and idolatry, and partly comes to us because the princes of the world continue to do what they always do.
I know some say “America cannot end.” But that is the first illusion we must put away, because it is all about pride — all about idolatry. It says America is eternal, when nothing is but God. Some say “we just need the right message,” but who had the right-er message than Christ, and the crowd still called for Barabbas. Who was more blessed than the apostles and saints, but they still were set upon and slain. Who was given a greater commission than Moses? And what kept him from entering the Promised Land?
God’s blessing, if it is truly upon America, does not mean she survives forever, the Dudley Do-right of Nations. In fact, if she is truly blessed, it means she gets to suffer for the sake of clarity — to spend some time in the crucible, in order to be refined.
Perhaps part of that refinement means we must rid ourselves of the impurities of our own fascinations with all that is false, or fantastic or merely distracting. I have mostly divested myself of television and pop culture, which keeps all of us both attuned to and somewhat vulnerable to the movement of conventional wisdom (read: sentimentalism) that runs the mob.
Now, with this election over, and the writing on the wall, I believe it is time to divest myself of my too-enthralled-attention to politics, which just a glance at Drudge will tell you is all-illusions, and has been for a very long time. I’m done giving attention and credence to the princes of the air, and the daily theater. I’m setting my attention and my eyes where they must go to prepare for what is coming; what I am feeling called to at this point has nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with helping to prepare and mature our spirits for what lies ahead.
Read the First Letter of Peter — the baptismal letter: “There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears.” (1 Peter. 1:6-7)
People of faith, take a good hard look at the new landscape and do not be afraid; do NOT be afraid.
Changes are going to come, and they’re going to come quickly, so now is the time to work on strengthening the atrophied muscles of our spiritual lives — to make them stronger and healthier through the exercises of prayer, fasting, lectio and service and by divesting ourselves of the world and all of its things, its glamor its empty promises. Good heavens, look at that election in Massachusetts and see the emptiness, the aching void that the masses have unwittingly invited in to lead them.
We must be ready to help them; the remnant must be ready when the people who have invited the void into their lives become (as Pope Benedict prophesied back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) “unspeakably lonely.” And they will. “If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
I reject that idea that this is a time to rend garments and howl about our loss. I want to Cher-smack the world and say “snap out of it!”
Yes, it’s going to be very hard. But remember the words, “there is cause for rejoicing here.”
I am excited. I am energized. I’m taking God at his word, which he invites us to do, over and over again. Do not be afraid. Do not.
“End of the World photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com