Do you remember the golden age of TV journalism when a Yes meant Yes and a No meant No? Do you remember what it was like to appreciate the truth and to trust those on TV who were telling you the truth? Do you remember the icons of TV journalism like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, David Brinkely and Chet Huntley? We believed them. You could count on the truth of what they said.
Contrast that with today’s cable news phenomenon. In so many cases, we are tortured with a drum beat of propaganda, not actual news. The search for greater and greater market share drives each and every news cycle. Opinion has displaced fact as the most important news commodity. Truth is truly in the eye of the teller. It is whatever the commentator wants it to be.
America’s trust in the most fundamental pillars of society has been shaken to the core. Confidence in and approval of the office of President, the Congress and even the Supreme Court have reached an all-time low. Few trust what is now called “fake news.” Organized religion has suffered a similar fate. Church attendance hasn’t been this low in centuries. The only major institution that still enjoys the confidence of a majority of the public is the military, and even there, some of our top military leaders have been publicly ridiculed, mocked and maligned without cause.
The root cause of this distrust and cynicism is not just cultural or political. It’s primarily spiritual in nature. We as a nation have lost our center. We’ve lost the spiritual strength which bound us together throughout every national crisis. We’ve lost the zeal and zest to put virtue over vice, the needs of all over the needs of a few, the needs of the poor over the wants of the wealthy.
And what was the glue which held us together, the force which prevented us from splitting apart? It was our unwavering trust in God, the belief that He was always at our side, that He could always be trusted, that His ways led to life and freedom and hope and happiness. As a nation, we’ve lost that faith. Emotionally, we feel as if we are on a ship caught in a violent storm, rudderless, tossed around helplessly, without a captain to save us.
Thomas Merton spoke of this phenomenon nearly 60 years ago: “How true it is that the great obligation of the Christian, especially now, is to prove himself a disciple of Christ by hating no one, that is to say, by condemning no one, rejecting no one. And how true that the impatience that fumes at others and damns them (especially whole classes, races, nations) is a sign of the weakness that is still un-liberated, still not tracked by the Blood of Christ, and is still a stranger to the Cross.”
Climate change is bad enough. But the erosion of our spiritual values is far worse. After all, if the sea rises, you can always move to higher ground; but if the soul of the Nation is mortally wounded, who can fix it but God alone?
This past week the daily readings came from the Book of Kings and they featured King Solomon. God Himself declared him to be the wisest monarch who ever lived — that is, until he wasn’t. In his final years, his wives persuaded him to build altars to foreign gods and to abandon his faith in the one true God. The result was inevitable: His Kingdom was torn apart, forever divided. The lesson of Solomon is a lesson for us all.
In today’s first reading, Sirach puts the issue to us squarely and bluntly: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. *** If you trust in God, you shall live.”
This weekend we as a nation celebrate the lives of two of our most famous presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Presidents’ Day is more than an excuse to sleep late and go shopping. It’s a needed reminder of what these two giants stood for and how their faith transformed our Nation.
Last month, we recalled the wisdom of Dr. King. Today, we are reminded of the wisdom of Washington and Lincoln, lest we ever forget. Listen first to what George Washington said:
I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.
Labor to keep alive in your breast the little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.
Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that natural morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Abraham Lincoln left us the gift of his own wisdom:
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God/s side, for God is always right. How few today even ask what God wants.
I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light I have (from God). I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.
And then he added these prophetic words, not just for his age, or ours, but for every age. Listen carefully:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul said, “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature. Not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather we speak of God’s wisdom, mysterious and hidden.”
Let me ask you a dumb question: when you turn on your TV or computer, do you hear or see a “mature” wisdom? Do you hear the mysterious wisdom of God? Or, rather, the din and clatter of a world in love with itself?
At a recent meeting of the Stratford Clergy Association, representing most of the Christian denominations of the land, every single one of us decried the nature of the national dialogue and the breath-taking decline of spiritual values in America.
What can we possibly do to reverse that trend? It’s actually not hard at all. First and foremost, bear witness to the Truth, no matter what violent the push back. May your Yes to God be a firm Yes, and may your No to the world be a firm No. Pray for the conversion of our leaders, both secular and religious, that they might be filled with the wisdom of God. Pray for our beloved Nation that she returns to God with her whole heart; and finally, let us pray for ourselves that the good Lord will give us the strength and fortitude to persevere, no matter what, to never lose hope no matter how dark it becomes and to place our trust in Him for everything. I am sure George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would heartily agree. The question for us today is: do we?
Deacon Paul Kurmay serves at St. Mark Parish in Stratford