All of history's strongest empires are no more.
- Mongol Empire? — Gone ✅
- Roman Empire? — Fell ✅
- Ottoman Empire? — Finished ✅
- British Empire? — Dissolved ✅
- America? — Not down... yet. ⭕
“Well, we’re not TECHNICALLY an empire Glenn.”
Okay, Karen. The point is that every society that has ever led the world has diminished or collapsed.
America is not the unsinkable ship we thought she was, and the iceberg is REALLY close. If you think the currency is unstable, you should see our kids. Child suicide doubled between 2007 and 2017 and self-harm among preteen girls is up 189% since 2010. Americans can’t afford family vacations, but it’s fine because the family fell apart a while ago. Every woman of the year is a man, and every man is told he’s an oppressor. Our Ivy League students want more censorship and our government wants more surveillance, all while we grow more and more isolated, depressed, and unstable. We have lost our unum and we don't know how to get it back.
Meanwhile, the Brave New World is accelerating towards us at incredible speed.
Futurists, dreamers, and innovators foretell a future where man and machine are one. A world more virtual than physical. A world where technology extends life beyond death, and intelligence beyond our universe. Some say we will colonize Mars, others say we will link to computers, but one thing is certain, life as we know it will change forever.
But are we ready?
If we don’t enter into this brave new technological era with some collective moral agreements, then our advancements will quickly overtake us.
America is not the unsinkable ship we thought she was.
If we can’t define the difference between man and woman, can we know the difference between man and machine?
What are the ethics of this new world? What is life? How do you live in a virtual world? What will give us meaning?
Are we big pieces of meat being driven around by machine brains? Are we a dwelling place for God? Are we immortal souls trapped in mortal bodies, or are we finite?
If all of the data of who I am can be downloaded, does that mean I will live forever? Is that me? Or is there something more to me, something that could never be downloaded, reproduced, or preserved?
If a machine can deduce, communicate, abstract out ideas, imitate, and infer patterns — if they can write poetry and tell us they love us, are they human? If they respond to touch and seem to make friends, what could make us any different?
If a car is driving itself and there’s no time for the car to stop and Elon musk is on its right, the president is on its left, and Mother Teresa is in front — who should the car hit?
MIT is already working on that. What moral standard are they using? Ours? Do we even have a moral standard?
According to NIH, artificial intelligence will be used “more extensively” in healthcare in just ten years. But don’t fear the machine, fear the programmer. Someone somewhere in the world of Big Tech will be developing technology that could literally be making life and death decisions. Do you trust that guy? Who even is he? Where does he get his values? Are they the same as ours?
Also in the NIH website is a report that scientists in China using CRISPR technology for “human enhancement.” They are genetically modifying babies in test tubes, and it’s WORKING. This will open the door for “genetically tailored humans.” What could possibly go wrong?
If all of the data of who I am can be downloaded, does that mean I will live forever?
Oh, and the Pentagon went ahead and admitted we have seen UFO’s. If aliens come down with a higher level of intelligence, are they our master now like we are over animals? Is this OUR planet?
Who decides? Well God does, but do we believe in God anymore?
According to Pew Research Center, we don’t believe in God as much as we used to. They found:
“The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing.”
Pew’s religious landscape study breaks the data down by age group. They found that each new generation cares about God less and less.
There are generational declines in:
- Belief in God
- Frequency of prayer
- Importance of religion in one's life
- And even frequency of feeling spiritual peace and well-being.
Our nation is abandoning the God of our founding, so where do we go to answer these HUGE questions about right and wrong, life and death, meaning, and values? Without a God to order our society, who is stepping up to fill that gap?
As we have tried to shake off our religious foundation, we have not freed ourselves from dogma or religious strictures, far from it, we have simply introduced new dogmas, and new strictures. It is accepted wisdom that you cannot serve two masters, but it should be equally regarded that everyone serves someone, or something.
So, as we enter into this new era — an era rife with ethical debates, a crisis of meaning, and the last-ditch efforts to maintain our place in the world, the real question is — Who is America’s God now?
We aren’t the first country to attempt national de-christianization.
There really is nothing new under the sun. And although we sometimes remember the problems of the past, we tell ourselves that it will never happen here or that this time will be different — so we rarely remember any of the solutions. And it that way, we doom ourselves to repeat our failures over and over again throughout history.
But we CAN stop the cycle, IF we can recognize the pattern.
Let me take you back to the French Revolution in the 1790’s.
The French Revolution was a result of many things, but religious unrest was undeniably one of them. When the Cathedral of Notre Dame was stormed by angry revolutionaries, they decapitated 20 statues. They thought they were beheading French kings, but these were actually statues of the Kings of Judah.
It was a clever irony. The Cathedral of Notre Dame represented everything the revolutionaries hated. Not only was it religiously significant, but the cathedral was a symbol of the monarchy. (Henry the 6th of England was crowned the King of France there.) Religion and politics had corrupted each other in the pursuit of power, and the people could hardly tell the two apart. In the revolutionaries' rage against the establishment, they were eager to destroy all connections to Catholicism. This would prove to be a real challenge considering most French citizens were Catholic, Catholicism was the state religion, and the church owned a lot of the property.
Religion and politics had corrupted each other... and the people could hardly tell the two apart.
Yet, many had grown tired of the Catholic church’s guiding hand in the nation, and a vision of a de-Christianized France captured the minds of revolutionaries. They massacred and jailed priests, made public worship illegal, and rushed to destroy every symbol of religion left standing.
The Cathedral itself became the site of the anti-religious festival —The Festival of Reason — which mocked Catholicism and suggested Parisians worship the principles of the Enlightenment instead. This festival was the opening ceremony for the first state-sponsored atheistic religion — the Culte de la Raison. The Cult of Reason. The new atheistic religion held its launch party at the Cathedral of Notre Dame to send a clear message that reason WOULD replace traditional religion, by any means necessary. The Bishop of Paris and the Clergy were forced to attend the festival and publicly renounce their religion and promise to henceforth only recognize the public worship of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
What Constantine had done in the name of Christianity, the French did in the name of reason.
The great irony in the fall-out of the French Revolution was that the revolutionaries thought they were freeing themselves from religion, but in reality, they just swapped oppressors. Absent the Catholic church, new and still quite demanding, secular religions quickly stepped in to fill the gaps.
Maximilien Robespierre, a prominent leader of the French Revolution, was wholly unimpressed with the Cult of Reason and proposed instead: The Cult of the Supreme Being. Where the Cult of Reason insisted on a world without a god, the Cult of the Supreme Being accepted the existence of a supernatural deity, but professed that this deity didn’t interfere with men’s lives.
There was a god to stir the people, but only men to tell them what to do (how wonderfully convenient for the men in charge).
This new cult organized the ordinary people, and instilled in them “proper morals'' and patriotism. It was the transitory ideology between a worship of God and a worship of Country, or worse, the country's leadership. Robspierre doubted the Cult of Reason could really handle the work of organizing society, so he peppered his new “cult” with recognizable religious undertones in the hopes of inspiring the masses. This new “religion” came with rituals, virtues, commandments, and holidays, including the festival of the Supreme Being–where Robspieere gallantly climbed up a paper mache mountain and sang revolutionary songs while the ordinary people looked on from below.
One of Robespierre’s critics said of him:
“It is not enough for him to be in charge, he has to be god.”
Considering he advocated for the existence of a disinterested supreme being, Robspierre may have considered himself the next best option. (Know any leaders like that today?)
So why did the French leap from one religious order to the next?
Is it possible that in their zeal for de-Christianization, they took for granted the role religion plays in ordering society?
They removed the spiritual order of the Catholic church, but it appears they had no plans of what to replace it with. So the opportunistic ideologies of men stepped in as an alternative.
Maybe the Catholic church was too heavy-handed in the lives of everyday people, but the French, in their fervor, swung too far in the opposite direction.
Are we facing that same problem in America today?
“Nature abhors a vacuum.”
He meant this as a physical principle, but it has aged into an idiom that basically means, “if there is a hole, it will be filled.”
We see this in practice when someone tries to quit smoking. The smoker doesn’t usually quit the habit without forming a new habit. That is because we humans are more motivated by positive actions, rather than negative ones.
“When I want to smoke, I will chew gum instead” is more powerful than “when I want to smoke, I won’t.”
In religious circles, there is a concept that inside every person is a “God-shaped hole” and if God doesn’t fill that hole, something else will, usually something nefarious.
...inside every person is a God-shaped hole.
In Matthew: 43, Jesus warned of this in a cautionary tale he told his disciples:
An unclean spirit came out of a man and then traveled around looking for somewhere else to live. It didn’t find anywhere, so it went back to the man and found that the hole he was living in before was still totally empty. So he grabbed seven more unclean spirits and they all moved back in together. In the end, the man was worse off than before.
The man in the parable neglected to fill the hole and his life was much worse because of it. It’s a lot like what happened during the French Revolution. The French Revolutionaries destroyed institutions without understanding the role those institutions played in holding their nation together, and, in the end, they were no better off.
I am going to bring up someone you may not expect — Friedrich Nietzsche. Yes. Friedrich Nietzche, the man who wrote The Antichrist. The man who railed against Christinaity–that Friedrich Nietzche. He is well remembered for his work The Madman in which he wrote:
“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers!”
Most of us know that line, but the line that comes just a sentence later is just as important:
"Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"
Nietzche, in that sentence, asked the questions we are wrestling with today. Absent God, how will we atone for our sins? Must we become gods ourselves?
In our society, we still don’t know the answer to those questions! Who CAN take our guilt away? Do we go to the mob on Twitter to absolve our guilt when we sin?
If you look at modern culture, you see that we are trying EVERY WAY we can to absolve ourselves of guilt. We do land acknowledgments to every native American tribe, hoping that will make us feel better about even existing. We apologize for assuming that someone who looks like a man, is a man. We have started to say things like, “As a cis, white, male, I feel it is best for me to make space for other, more marginalized voices.” We atone for our skin color, our sex, our families, our friends, our ancestors, and even our old Facebook photos. We will confirm even the most outrageous ideologies if that means we can separate ourselves from guilt.
When Nietzsche said God is dead, I don’t interpret that as God is dead and all is well, no need to give that any more thought. No, he meant that belief in God was dead, and it was our fault. And that without God, everything about humanity must change.
Throughout our history, we have organized ourselves around the belief in God. Belief comforted us in death, it gave us hope despite oppression, and it inspired us in battle, including the battles within ourselves. God gave us the ideal model for our lives. Who do we model after now? As we have reasoned God out of our lives, we have incidentally diminished a crucial part of what holds us together as human beings — the part that looks upward and works to align itself with holiness. I see what Nietzche wrote as a warning to us about the vacuum left when we remove God from a god-shaped hole. I worry about what is filling that gap in America today?
...we are trying EVERY WAY we can to absolve ourselves of guilt.
Absent the discussion of whether or not God is real, is the discussion of whether or not cultures need faith to bind them together morally.
Regardless of a person's belief in God, if you ask them if there are things they could do to make their life worse, they could rattle off a list of things almost instantly. Murdering someone comes to mind. That would make life much worse. So would abandoning a child or abusing an elderly person. These actions we almost universally agree make life worse. On the reverse, there must be things that we can do that make life better. And those things must be universal. They must conform to, as our founders put it, a natural law. And we already know these things. They are the actions we point to when saying someone is a good person.
But where do we derive good from? Is it something we are born with? Or do we need to be taught what good is?
Why is murder wrong? Why is it acceptable to put your dog down, but not your mom? We still have some national morals that bind us together that prioritize human life, but those are quickly dwindling. Last month we may have universally agreed that teaching kindergartners about sex is wrong, but this month we don’t know anymore. We used to agree that a man should not be allowed to bunk with women in a women's prison, but we don’t agree on that anymore. Colorado just passed a law saying that unborn babies have no rights and can be aborted at any time without restrictions. We are so far from ‘safe, legal, and rare”–the slippery slope is real. It’s happening. We have taken moral agreements for granted. We have not paid attention to our national values but expected them to just naturally sustain themselves. It hasn't worked.
So, can we count on knowing right and wrong innately? Or do we need something that guides us?
Is right and wrong decided individually or do we need to agree on it?
For example, if I believe that murder is wrong, but my neighbor who wants to kill me does not,, than we will struggle to live together in a society.
Morality is received from the wisdom of others throughout history.
A nation requires at least a minimum level of moral order, or else the system collapses. The question of our time is actually how much order we actually need. Terrible things have been done under the umbrella of god-less systems like Nazism and Communism — Communism alone is estimated to have killed up to 100 million people. But terrible things have also been done in the name of God and religion. Perhaps that is what has led us to the crisis we face today.
Yet, I argue that our ideas of morality are not conceived of independently. Morality is received from the wisdom of others throughout history. In America, our morality has a Judeo-Christian framework (a framework many of us take for granted). This morality is baked into our system of government through the protection of natural rights, the freedom of religion, the value placed on human life, equal justice, and so on.
America was special not because every single American believed in God, although many did. But Americans agreed to participate in a culture that was formed by those who did believe in God and expected to behave as if there were a God. I have known many people who don’t explicitly believe in God but who hate when the government encroaches on their personal liberty.
“The government doesn’t have the right,” they say. Says who? Atheism does not provide a quality justification for individual liberty, yet, in America, atheists are equally protected by it because God rights equally to ALL of us.
America needs to consider again the role of God and moral order in our nation.
Catch up with the rest of the "Who is America's God now?" series here: