We must persuade our fellow citizens to return to the understanding that moral order is framed in relation to creation order, that God ordains political authority, that law and justice are rooted in an objective moral order founded by God. That truth is objective and rooted in God’s revelation of himself.
America has always been more religiously devout than other Western democracies. But now, like them, it has begun to secularize rapidly. And, as religion has declined, political ideology has intensified, society has fragmented, and cultural common ground has disintegrated. As a result, politics is increasingly divisive and existentially fraught.
For over three decades, debates about politics and about what it means to be American have been undertaken with a sweated anxiety and with the zeal of a religious fundamentalist.
Make no mistake: politics is inherently religious. As the great bishop, Augustine of Hippo averred, deeply felt political conviction should be understood as redirected religion. Similarly, over a century ago, Dutch theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper sought throughout his career to show that ideologies are essentially faith-based.
That faith and politics are inherently conjoined is not all bad. In fact, religious commonality has often helped societies gain and maintain a certain amount of political cohesion. If most people in a society adhere to roughly the same religious beliefs, the odds are better that the political common ground among its members is broader than it would be otherwise.
For this very reason, Americans now have much less common ground than we did before. However, we might find temporary common ground when under attack by an enemy such as Al-Qaeda, we have very little in common when it comes to deeply-held beliefs and values. Whereas in the past, most Americans assented to significant components of the Judeo-Christian moral framework, today no such consensus can be found. Members of various ideological tribes are less able to understand each other or extend goodwill to one another and thus tend to view each other’s members with suspicion and, often, hostility.
As Shadi Hamid recently noted, “the newly ascendant American ideologies, having to fill the vacuum where religion once was…are meant to be divisive.” By way of example, he offers the Left’s “wokeness” movement, which takes “religious notions such as original sin, atonement, ritual, and excommunication and repurpose(s) them for secular ends.” Likewise, certain strands of nationalism on the right coopt religious language and sentiment to bolster a vision of ethnic or cultural hegemony.
This was not always true of American society. In the past, Christianity provided significant existential commonality among America’s citizens and a common culture within which to live.