Why is society in trouble? Here is the simple one-word answer

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Everywhere I go these days, the question I seem to hear most often is, “What’s wrong today? Why the violence, the shootings, the divisions, the vitriol in our nation, our cities, our society?” I’m hardly the only one getting such questions: other spiritual leaders, teachers, politicians, parents and pundits tell me that they ask and get asked the same all the time. 

I listen intently to the answers given to that plea by so many respected voices in the country. Most will rattle off the usual suspects: it’s the lousy economy, some opine; it’s all the political strife that drives us apart, others might suggest. Still others point at the lingering effects of the isolation and loneliness brought on by COVID, or the rise in drug abuse, as being at the root of our difficulties. However, as troubling as this litany might be, these are simply more symptoms of the problem, not the cause.  

Let me attempt an answer, not starting with politics, the economy, or COVID, but starting with … God!  

VIOLENT THREATS AGAINST PEOPLE OF FAITH ARE THE OPPOSITE OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Simply put, we’re in trouble because we as a people have forgotten God. More troubling, we break the first Commandment of the Decalogue we Jews and Christians cherish as normative for a civil society by making ourselves gods

As Billy Graham observed on more than one occasion, “When we forget, ignore or deny God, we end up forgetting, ignoring and denying what is most noble, enlightened and decent in ourselves.”  

Why is society in trouble? Here is the simple one-word answer

Not that we as people of faith consider the economic, the political, the injustices of culture unimportant. Hardly. God, and the behavior true belief in Him inspires, compels us to consider such issues crucial. 

It just that, as the prophets of Israel and Jesus Himself often reminded, “Seek ye first…” and the first is God. A nation that dares to print “In God we trust” on its currency and then ignores, denies and forgets the divine in daily living is a hypocrite.  

People in effective 12-step programs tell us that the first step is the most important: to admit that we are helpless over certain things that threaten to wreck us, and that recovery and healing can’t come until we submit to a “higher power.” 

Why is society in trouble? Here is the simple one-word answer

While faith is certainly very personal, it can never be just private, or else it becomes meaningless, Cardinal Dolan writes.
(Courtesy Common Ground Church)

Whether we call this higher power Yahweh, Lord, Jesus or Allah, without this divine, we’re in a mess.  

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As Rabbi Joshua Heschel pointed out, “God’s revelation can be summed up like this: there is a God … and it’s sure not me!” 

When faith is snickered at, mocked, stored in Grandma’s attic, eliminated from the public square, or reduced to some silly, outmoded superstition, we – and the community we cherish – are in jeopardy. While faith is certainly very personal, it can never be just private, or else it becomes meaningless.  

Why is society in trouble? Here is the simple one-word answer

Churchgoers sing during a prayer meeting at Southern Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles on Aug. 31, 2011.

So, a decline in belief, worship, creedal loyalty, prayer, and an ethic based on what God has taught in the Bible is hardly to be applauded. The toxic results are raw, destructive, and all around us, prompting that haunting question, “What’s wrong today?” 

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We celebrated Independence Day earlier this month. While our enlightened founders celebrated independence from earthly tyrants, they were convinced that a common dependence upon the heavenly sovereign, freely expressed and practiced, was essential for this noble experiment in ordered and virtuous democracy to thrive.

For, when we declare independence from the Lord, we turn into tyrants. That’s what’s wrong! 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN

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