In our secular age the battle rages not only over the question of religion in our public life. The very concept of faith is under attack. Cynicism and unbelief mock faith and the sacrifices it brings forth. Yet no nation can long survive if it does not have among its people a deep reservoir of faith in all its forms. This is especially true for democracies where the will of the people prevails.
In a purely secular sense, faith that things will get better (if not now, then later, and if not for you then for your children) is what motivates millions of people to make countless sacrifices. Faith is the force behind the worker who holds down two jobs so that a son or daughter can be the first in the family to go on to college. It is faith in the notion that hard work and right behavior will be rewarded (in the next life, if not always in this one) that causes us to continue to strive and toil.
Religious faith permits a nation to overcome adversity and to deal with the exigencies of life that cause both individuals and countries to suffer. Faith teaches that life is more than a mad rush for wealth, that sacrifice matters, that some of the most important things men do often cannot be completed in one generation.
It is seldom reported that Stalin, when faced by the onslaught of the Nazi invasion, reopened the churches in Russia and brought the imprisoned bishops and clerics back from Siberia in order to restore faith and hope and passionate resolve in the people. Despite his avowed hatred for Christianity, Stalin knew that only faith in God could give the Russian people hope and courage under adversity. Once Hitler was defeated, however, the church bells were silenced again, because faith also can inspire people to rise up against totalitarian governments!
Faith stands at the other end of the continuum from the highest value of American intellectuals—an open mind. Faith speaks of certainty, but America’s leadership class is never certain about anything that matters. Concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, are a puzzle for most of them. All things are forever questioned—the best minds are believed to be those that never “close” on anything.
Intellectual snobs ridicule the simple faith of common people. Having no faith themselves, they attempt to debunk it when they see it in anyone else.
But faith lives on, comes back from a thousand disappointments, mends broken hearts, holds nations together. True faith will not bend before all the professors, politicians and intellectuals that can be massed against it.
On this issue of faith in American life, we are finally and admittedly optimists. Americans remain a very deeply religious people. When compared with the citizens of any other Western nation, the religious commitment which remains—which is actually growing in America—is astonishing.
G. K. Chesterton’s observation that “America is a nation with the soul of a church” is still true today, even if opinion leaders and the cultural elite seems embarrassed by the assertion.
Each summer I have been intrigued when the influx of tourists come to Washington, D.C. Literally millions of Americans leave their homes in every state and travel to the nation’s capital to show their children this center of the free world. I love to watch them, wide-eyed, with pride on their faces as they visit the great monuments and statues that dot this historical city.
Often you will notice them with their heads tilted far back, pointing to the top of one monument or another. One day my own eyes followed theirs and I saw what attracted their attention. At the top of nearly every historic building in Washington, from the Supreme Court to the Lincoln Memorial, are stirring words, etched in stone, that pay tribute to the religious heritage so deeply believed by our founding fathers.
Engraved on the cap on the top of the Washington Monument are the words: “Praise be to God.” As a tourist climbs the winding stairs inside they see such phrases as “Search the Scriptures,” and “Holiness to the Lord.”
At the Lincoln memorial the President’s words are chiseled into granite: “…That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” On the south bank of the Tidal Basin sits the magnificent Jefferson Memorial with Jefferson’s words, “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
If the militant secularists are going to win the battle over faith in America, they will ultimately have to sandblast half the walls of official Washington. But even then what is etched on the hearts of the great majority of the American people will remain and be passed on to the next generation: the simple belief that we are “One Nation Under God.”