Culture: The Battleground for the American Soul

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I don't know if anyone cares how I feel after Election Day. In case you do, here's the scoop; I'm happy, with some reservation.

I'm happy to live in a democracy where my vote counts, and no more than the next guy's. I'm happy to be able to trust government workers to tally the ballots. I'm happy there are winners and losers, and happy to hear concession speeches peppered with “I'll be back” and “Don't lose hope.” Yes, today I'm happy — I'm very happy to be an American.

My reservation is deeply seeded. My concern has little to do with partisan politics, with house or Senate control. I could care less about red or blue or right or left. And for goodness sake, I'm rather indifferent to the emotional pull of a clunky elephant or a rickety donkey.

Having followed the major issues and the hottest campaigns of this midterm election, I'm concerned that Americans — on both sides of the aisle — are losing the ability to know what they are fighting for, and why it matters. I'm concerned we are losing the battle for the American soul.

“A Battle for the American Soul?” To some, the phrase itself may sound like simplistic punditry — mouth-candy, cliché, and passé, altogether juvenile.

If I didn't live in Europe, I might agree. But a few years on this side of the Atlantic, combined with regular glances back at the history books, I am convinced America has possessed and still possesses a unique, positive and powerful soul, carried in the hearts of her citizens. In this century alone, it has saved the world more than once.

I am also convinced that now, as never before, the American soul is the target of heavy and deadly fire. The sharpshooters, this time, come primarily from within.

Sordid politics can't take the full blame for our predicament. The real battleground for the American soul is CULTURE.

The word is not easy to define. I think it is a nation's portfolio of values — her priorities, ethics, conceptions, and traditions. It is the common philosophy of life, a mindset, and mentality, a way of judging, acting, and reacting. Culture, we can say, creates in us a collective understanding of who we are and what we are about.

While culture is bigger than politics, in a representative democracy like ours, the quality of politics is a cultural bellwether, a group bill of health. From the sight of all things political these days, I would say our culture is sick.

Some have said the outcome of this election was all about Iraq. I don't think it is so simple. Large numbers of Republicans have proven themselves untrustworthy in character and policy. In their tenure as majority leaders in Congress, they have done some good things, but they have vacillated in their stated priorities. They have failed to push forward the confirmation of important judgeships, truncated integral immigration reform, and most recently, were weak on social ballot initiatives like the Missouri stem cell research amendment and mandatory parental consent for minors seeking abortions.

The deeper problem is not policy. It is the superficial nature of political discourse. Republicans have set themselves up as the pro-life, pro-family party, and its platform promises to protect both. But much like the Democrats, its members have been unconvincing in explaining why they believe what they do. When is the last time you have heard a politician explain why life is precious, and why it is sacred? When is the last time you heard a politician give a discourse on the origin and foundation of human rights? When have you heard a Congressman or Senator lay out a reasoned explanation of a just war, given the new type of unconventional enemies?

This dumbing-down of politics is both a consequence and cause of cultural decline.

Democrats are now in the spotlight and we are watching. On Wednesday, new House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed to a painting behind her, hanging on the wall of the Library of Congress. She signaled a figure burning a scroll of learning and trampling on the Bible. The title of the painting was “Corrupt Government.” She explained:

“It is a harsh image to see a Bible underfoot, but it makes a powerful point: corrupt government undermines our values. We come here today to support those values, and to lay out an agenda for a new era of honest, open, and transparent government.”

It would seem Nancy Pelosi is saying the values of America can be found in the Bible. I am impressed. Maybe she knows America was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and plans on entering the battle to save the American soul. To do this, she will have to hold Democratic policy up to that very high standard. I'm not holding my breath.

If there is one thing to remember, it is this: culture, not politics alone, determines our national identity, and building culture is the responsibility of us all. We can do it in our homes, schools, and places of work, even as politicians fumble around on Capitol Hill. If you need a guidebook, ask Nancy Pelosi. She just might point to the Bible.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. Here is a link where you can find information on the event in Kentucky where I will be speaking this weekend.

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