We are at an interesting point in American history. We have now seen the collapse of our public institutions and our traditional values. It used to be that the function of government was agreed to be the establishment of justice and protection from violence. This is no longer the case since government is apparently unwilling or unable to provide that justice and protection. Rioters are given free rein to destroy and terrorize at will in places like Portland and Seattle. All this began in the 1960s and has reached full development in recent days. Over the same period our churches, which used to inform our public conscience, have collapsed as well. They are no longer the center of our civic and social life, but have become the interest of just a few and less than a curiosity to the majority of citizens. The evidence of this collapse is the surplus of space in our churches on Sunday morning and the average age of those who still show up. In another 15 years this effect will be greatly magnified if the trend continues.
Our churches provided a source of mercy for the needy and a conscience which informed our values, and these are critical functions. Witness the hospitals and orphanages that were built in days past. Since human nature does not change, the functions of the church are still critical in our time. But let’s be honest: the collapse of our churches is already a matter of historical fact as we wait for the culmination of a trend that has been in motion for some time.
Since the collapse is for the most part behind us, we need to be thinking about what an authentic restoration of this critical institution would look like. That is the task that lies ahead. What could restore the church if it has fallen into disuse? It seems that a return to primitive and authentic Christianity and a genuine reverence for a living, powerful and loving God is the only way back. As a society we have forgotten Him but there is still time to remember. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn summarized the tragedy that befell Russia with the words “We had forgotten God.” Holding on to our religious traditions will not do. Our primary passion will need to be the relentless pursuit of the living one.