If the Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams is accurate, part of the appeal of the first film in George Lucas’ space saga was that America was a depressed nation in 1977. The Jimmy Carter “malaise” was
in full effect, and there was real anxiety regarding our relationship to the Soviet Union, the price of oil, the revolution in Iran, etc. Well, not much changes, I guess…only these days the price of oil is too low for those of us in Houston!
The point is that (spoiler alert!) seeing the Death Star explode at the hands of our hero, whose previous exploits were innocently shooting womp rats back home, gave America hope. For a moment, we could lay aside all the negativity and pretend that Luke had taken care of all the bad guys and better days were ahead. (Ha! Wait until The Empire Strikes Back!)
I wasn’t born until the end of the 1970s, so I can’t speak to the national mood of America in 1977. But I can say that our mood seems especially sour today. Even before this election, our trust in government, people, institutions and the media was tanking. Polls indicated that Americans believed the next generation would have it worse than we. That is a seismic shift in the otherwise optimistic spirit of Americans.
And so long as our society continues to rid itself of that pesky God and the religious rites and life He established for His creation, I’m not really sure I know how to reverse these trends. For once God Himself can be discounted as our final authority, how can we expect to be at peace with other authorities? The reason Paul could be at peace under Roman arrest is because he trusted in the final authority in all things.
So is there any hope for positivity? Well, I’d certainly like to think so: that through continued proclamation of the Good News of God, we can always offer a word of true positivity to a negative world. We can offer the hope of resurrection in the midst of death. We can offer the forgiveness of sins when we are enslaved to our sins, and desire to be free of them. We can offer actual and real grounding for our morality, purpose, and meaning in life, far better options than the circular and ultimately worldly replacements offered by New Age-ism and its derivatives. And I guess when we’re firing on all cylinders, we can offer the Bride that is the Church that has as its charter the call to be a loving, forgiving and hopeful community of joy. Even the trendiest coffeehouse or pub can’t offer that.
Still, is that it? Transcendence with a little bit of community? Surely the transcendence can be replaced with a dollop of wishful thinking and ecstatic experiences (think Hollywood, video games, drugs, etc.)! And some kind of community can be found most anywhere. (Isn’t that what Facebook is for?) So if we are to offer positivity to a negative world, we should be bold in declaring that Christianity is, in fact, more than an eternal message (as if that isn’t enough!). We should also argue and defend the reality that Christianity is our best hope for a better world here and now as well.
If modern Christianity falls short in any area, it has been its systematic retreat from the public square. We have been shamed into our small corner, and instead of having the courage to call on the world to repent and change, we more often allow the world to tell us to change. It’s true that Christianity was not established merely to offer a better option when choosing how to organize society. But particular pillars of Christian thought simply lead to human flourishing in a way that nothing else can or has. Which makes sense if Christianity is the revelation of the one true God who has created and ordered all things.
Within Christianity, you find the inherent dignity of all people as image-bearers of God. That alone establishes a society that has over-arching reasons to value others as more than mere flesh. It makes explicit what I believe we all implicitly know: that all human people are transcendentally valuable. Related to that is the great commandment to love God and love neighbor. This rightly orders our vertical relationship to God and our horizontal relationships with our neighbors. Who benefits when we follow the second tablet of the Ten Commandments? First and foremost, our neighbor does! This leads to trust and honor and virtue, all pivotal in forming a lasting, flourishing society. And within Christianity, there is a real concern for “the least of these.” Troublesome, wounded, weak and different people are often the first to be ostracized or even killed in totalitarian states, and Christianity offers protection for them.
Much more could be said about the positive social impact of Christianity: the imperative to be honest and to honor contracts; living with a healthy fear of judgment (instead of being one’s own judge); the promotion of faithfulness in marriage and chastity in singleness; the quest for the Truth. Haven’t I offered what sounds like a healthy, sane and prosperous society, one in which we would like to live? So why shouldn’t we promote Christianity as a positive answer to our world’s negativity, not only for things eternal, but for things very real and present as well?