“[B]ut I guess she felt as I: that the weakness was not Government
but Man, one at a time….”
— Charles Bukowski
There are no political fixes for the dark night of the soul, only stories to be told and words to be heard. Only men, not laws, can wrestle with their own fate.
Yet, I suspect this wouldn’t stop an ambitious politician from appointing a blue-ribbon committee on the question of saving souls, especially if it helped him in the polls. What’s worse, he might sincerely believe his select committee will return a robust policy plan on solving a crisis of faith through collective political will, without the pesky need for individual salvation.
Some politicians have too much faith in the public institutions they marshal and not enough in God Himself. Look at Woodrow Wilson and the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century. Now, look at the fruits of their efforts a century hence. Replacing personal faith with a public Leviathan built in God’s name may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it doesn’t appear to have worked out.
Indeed, there is a crisis of faith in America today — and it appears no panel of political experts can fix it.
“Fewer Americans today than five years ago believe in God, and the percentage is down even more from the 1950s and 1960s when almost all Americans did,” a 2022 Gallup poll reported. “And while belief in God has declined in recent years, Gallup has documented steeper drops in church attendance, church membership and confidence in organized religion, suggesting that the practice of religious faith may be changing more than basic faith in God.”
It gets worse. Basic faith in U.S. institutions, religious or secular, has been falling for the last 15 years, and hit a new low in 2022 Gallup reports:
“The confidence crisis extends beyond political institutions at a time when a near record-low 13% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. Confidence in institutions is unlikely to improve until the economy gets better — but it is unclear if confidence will ever get back to the levels Gallup measured in decades past, even with an improved economy.”
Makes you wonder if the American people even trust themselves at this point.
Undoubtedly, Americans are justified in their distrust of the nation’s institutions, but it’s best to look in the mirror before pointing the finger. If the people do not trust themselves or their traditions, no law or institution can ever be fully trusted. Government does not make men, men make governments.
Yet, the laws men pass cannot save men from themselves. Public institutions and laws are the effects, not the cause of faithful men. In the end, the laws are only as good as the men who enforce them. Institutions are only as sound as the people who live under their rule. And without the organic and free exercise of religious faith, a free society cannot flourish or last long.
Is it any wonder then that a crisis of religious faith would be coterminous with a crisis of trust in the rest of America’s institutions? Putting too much faith in public institutions seems to have ultimately led to a loss of faith in those same institutions. Attempts to pull down God from the heavens and chain Him to earth with manmade laws have been made in vain.
A booming economy and material plenty can only help raise morale so much. Man does not live by bread alone, and the breadth and depth of the public’s distrust suggest a deep problem of basic individual faith.
Commission all the blue-ribbon committees you like, recommend policy proposals until you’re blue in the face, tweak the laws until the cows come home, but ultimately, it will all come back to the dark night of the soul. Forlorn spirits need something more than man’s own cleverness or a government program wrapped up in goodwill towards men.
Without personal trust in the highest place, every lower place will remain without that trust. Restore men’s individual trust in something higher than themselves — in something they themselves could never begin to create or truly understand — and they may again begin to instill confidence in institutions, those clever works of their own hands.
Our weakness is not government, but man. More than any law or institution, each man first needs a story to hear and a belief to embody, so he may possess an enduring fire to wrestle with his own fate.
As the apostle Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?”
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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