What is wrong with our nation? It seems we can hardly go a day without asking ourselves this question. Every time we turn on the television or open a newspaper or scan social-media sites, we are hit with more evidence that our society is rapidly unraveling.
Election seasons are always a bit tense, but none in my memory has precipitated this level of apocalyptic despair.
How did we end up with such vicious and corrupt candidates? Can we really not find anyone better suited to leadership?
What is happening to our nation?
With these gloomy thoughts drifting through my mind, I found it especially satisfying when our Sunday Mass featured the song To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King. This is always a fun hymn to sing. But it is a particular comfort right now to be reminded that, whatever the vicissitudes of politics and temporal affairs, Jesus Christ will always be our King.
It may be that our nation suffers precisely because it has forgotten this all-important fact. Half a century ago, religiosity was still strong in the United States. We exulted in being an exceptional nation, “uniquely capable” (as Alexis de Tocqueville had noted a century before) of allowing faith to flourish in a modern society.
The sexual revolution, feminism, accommodationism, Roe v. Wade, the divorce revolution, expressive individualism and same-sex “marriage” all began their assault on traditional religion and traditional family. Even as our social fabric frays, our politicians adapt by promising hard liquor to the drunks. They celebrate abortion and promise government day care, free contraceptives, sex-neutral bathrooms and more. Today our political debates regularly include topics that would have been deemed unsuitable for family television just a few decades ago.
When it becomes too much to take, just remind yourself: We are subject to felons and frauds only provisionally, and for a brief time. Jesus Christ is our real King.
Naturally, the almighty dollar plays its role in social decline. Since World War II, the United States has led the world economically, and we’ve come to enjoy the material dividends that follow on that productivity. We expect our standards of living to go up, and up, and still further up. One consequence of this is a general erosion of discipline.
Our young people often now consider it a hardship if they can’t have their daily $5 coffee drink. But the young aren’t the only ones who are fixated on material comforts. What was once whispered in back rooms is now becoming conventional wisdom: Our nation has overcommitted itself in terms of pension and entitlement benefits. Now we’re steeped in debt even as the burden to the system is about to increase massively, and it’s hard to see how our (less-numerous) younger generations can possibly be expected to shoulder this full burden.
Of course, this mess reflects, among other things, the short-term view of many candidates for elected office. Nothing is more pleasant to today’s politician than promising benefits that won’t come due until long after his or her term of office has expired. Our politicians rarely think about tomorrow, because they are fixated on the pleasures and satisfactions of the moment. Jesus also advises us not to think about the morrow, but for a very different reason. Infinitely wise and prescient, he has already filled our eternal retirement accounts. No elected official can pillage the treasures that King Jesus has in store for us.
In times of great anxiety, it can be shocking to watch as social solidarity erodes and different groups of people turn on each other. Ten years ago, it seemed we were entering a mostly-post-racial age in which ethnic differences would no longer be a significant source of social tension. Suddenly, people are having flashbacks to the race riots of the ’60s and ’70s.
Electoral politics has also given rise to riots, with participants from across the political spectrum. Class warfare is also heating to a fever pitch, with appalling stereotypes being flung in all directions.
As Catholics, we know that all human beings are precious in the sight of God.
None of our differences of physiology, temperament or family history are nearly as important as our shared human nature.
We are all rational beings, made in the image and likeness of our Creator. Even so, in tense times, even we may find ourselves looking defensively for “our kind of people,” hoping for the comforts of solidarity and refuge from the brewing storm.
Noting this regular human tendency, our politicians seize upon these group loyalties and exploit them, driving us further apart. It has been quite shocking these past few months to witness the extent to which politicians on both sides are willing to openly denigrate whole swaths of society, in the interests of rallying their own bases.
The phrase “last acceptable prejudice” has become almost bitterly ironic. Would that we could see the day!
Except, we will see the day, if we persevere. It won’t happen in this lifetime, but if Jesus can unite lion and lamb, he can surely bring political parties, ethnic groups, men and women, and rich and poor together into one eternal family.
We should recall that Jesus also stepped into a world that was riven by political anxiety, class conflict and ethnic tension.
Without dispelling politics, he transcended politics, assuring the kings and governors of his day that “all who are of the truth will hear my voice.”
Across the centuries, Christians have soldiered on through every kind of political corruption and tyranny, but have kept hope alive, knowing that Jesus was their true leader.
In the world we have many troubles.
Our society is racked with anxieties, and decline may well be in our future. Things that were good and beautiful may well pass away.
Let’s try not to be too anxious about it, however.
In the end, all will be well, because Jesus Christ is our True King.