A week or so ago, I struck up a friendly conversation with a cleaning lady upon entering a hotel.
She right away asked me, "Did you hear the news of the statue of Christ being struck with lightning in Ohio?"
How could I avoid it? For some inexplicable reason, the news of this "act of God" had attracted a great deal of attention. Why, I began to wonder, did this relatively marginal story gain so much press attention?
"Do you think it was a sign?" the lady asked. "A sign of what?" I replied.
I thought of our conversation for the rest of the morning. I am not one given to "signs and wonders" to discern some kind of mystical revelation, though I grant there is plenty of historical precedent for such epiphanies. Yet, I could not get the image out of my mind and the fascination it held for so many. It does not take the training of a professional sociologist to realize that a major cultural shift regarding faith, morals and the place of Christianity is under way in Western Civilization. And this has nothing, really, to do with some haphazard lightning strike in Ohio.
Consider the following, which is a mere sampling of recent efforts to undermine the place of faith in the public life of Western democracies:
- The European Union's insistence that neither God nor the Christian Church be mentioned in its Constitution, despite the clear historical role that belief in the form and the institution of the latter played in the formation of Europe.
- The litany (if you will excuse the pun) of coarse jokes, cheap shots and outright viciousness directed specifically at the person of Christ or the Christian faith on TV and which are passed over by the same people who would readily file hate crime charges against their promoters if addressed to any other religion.
- The subtle but clear shift in language away from "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship" on the part of the current administration, retaining only one dimension of religion (worship) while setting the stage to curtail its public witness. It is freedom of religion, not merely worship that has been venerated since the American founding.
This is not mere paranoia. Numerous other examples exist, but these should be sufficient evidence of a trend that is attempting to foster an entire cultural shift which would reject Christian revelation's role in the forming of American and Western civilization. For secularists and some non-Christians, this might seem a worthy undertaking. After all, they might reason, why do we need a religion to be telling us how to live our lives, much less a religion that makes a claim to truth? And what is truth anyway, they might ask, not even realizing they are echoing Pilate's own question to Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion?
Yet, aside from the historical amnesia this would represent, there are several significant ramifications which might well ensue, were a complete repudiation of Christianity achieved.
The very idea of limited government and hence tolerance (yes, tolerance, which is not to be confused with the relativism offered as a substitute) emerge from the Judeo-Christian view of the sovereignty of God in personal and social life, rather than the sovereignty of political elites. The very juridical systems we have grown accustomed to -- and have been the envy of the world -- did not just appear; they unfolded from the logic of the biblical faith. So, too, with the scientific method which followed from the knowledge that, if things are ordered by a divine plan and we are made in the image of God, then the truth of the physical world is knowable to reason.
Christianity has endowed Western Civilization with a priceless heritage. To lose this to a mass amnesia in the culture would be an inestimable loss to the sense of who we are as a people and to any real hope we might have of building a just and tolerant future.
This column first appeared in The Detroit News.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.