The United States and its citizens
French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said, "I
sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers,
her fertile fields, and boundless forests--and it was not there. I sought for it in her
rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of
higher learning--and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her
matchless Constitution--and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of
America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her
genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to
be good, America will cease to be great!"
Alexis de Tocqueville.
Last year I compiled the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a statistical portrait
of American behavioral trends of the past three decades. Among the findings: Since 1960,
while the gross domestic product has nearly tripled, violent crime has increased at least
560%. Divorces have more than doubled. The percentage of children in single-parent homes
had tripled. And by the end of the decade 40% of all American births and 80% of minority
births will occur out of wedlock. These are not good things to get used to.
In 1940 teachers identified the top problems in America's schools as: Talking out of
turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs,
alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape and assault. These are not good things to get used to,
There is a coarseness, a callousness and a cynicism to our era. The worst of it has to
do with our children. Our culture seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young.
We have become inured to the cultural rot that is setting in. People are losing their
capacity for shock, disgust and outrage...
The ancients called our problem acedia, an aversion to spiritual things and an undue
concern for the external and the worldly. Acedia also is the seventh capital
sin--sloth--but it does not mean mere laziness. The slothful heart is stepped in the
worldly and carnal, hates the spiritual and wants to be free of its demands.
When the novelist Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about America's
future, he answered, "Probably the fear of seeing America, with all its great
strength and beauty and freedom...gradually subside into decay through default and be
defeated, not by the communist movement, but from within, from weariness, boredom,
cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems."
I realize this is a tough indictment. If my diagnosis is wrong, then why, amid our
economic prosperity and military security, do almost 70% of the public say we are off
track? I submit that only when we turn to the right things--enduring, noble, spiritual
things--will life get better.
Most important, we must return religion to its proper place. Religion provides us with
moral bearings, and the solution to our chief problem of spiritual impoverishment depends
on spiritual renewal. The surrendering of strong beliefs, in our private and public lives,
has demoralized society.
Today, much of society ridicules and mocks those who are serious about their faith.
America's only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry against religious people. And the
only reason for hatred of religion is that it forces us to confront matters many would
prefer to ignore.
Today we must carry on a new struggle for the country we love. We must push hard
against an age that is pushing hard against us. If we have full employment and greater
economic growth--if we have cities of gold and alabaster--but our children have not
learned how to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then the American experiment, no
matter how gilded, will have failed.
Do not surrender. Get mad. Get in the fight.
Excerpts from What Really Ails America,
condensed from a speech by William J. Bennett, delivered December 7, 1993 at the Heritage
Foundation, Washington, D.C., reprinted in Reader's Digest, April, 1994.
"Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends" (John 15:13).
"When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son"
When nations are engaged in deadly strife, it is common for patriots to declare that he
who gives his life for defense of his country may be certain of a home in heaven because
of having made the supreme sacrifice. This teaching is in accord with the principles of
the Moslem religion and not with true Christianity. Mahomet promised his fanatical
followers a place in Paradise if they died for the faith in conflict with the
"infidels" who rejected his teachings. Patriotism is a virtue of which any man
may well be proud.
But patriotism, praiseworthy as it is from the human standpoint, will never fit the
soul for the presence of God. It can never wash away the guilt of sin. The testimony of
Edith Cavell, the brave British nurse who was killed by the Germans during the former
world war, is well worth considering in this connection.
This noble woman was born in Swardeston, Norfold, on December 4, 1865. She entered the
London Hospital for nurses' training in 1895. In 1907 she was appointed first matron of
the Berkendael Medical Institute at Brussels, Belgium. This became the Red Cross Hospital
in Belgium at the outbreak of the conflict in 1914. From August of that year, until
August, 1915, Nurse Cavell helped to care for wounded French, Belgian, English and German
soldiers alike. She ministered faithfully even to those who had fallen while fighting
against her own nation. Naturally, her sympathies were with the Allies, and in cooperation
with the efforts of Prince Reginald de Croy, she aided many derelict English and French
soldiers who had fled from the Germans. These escaped by "underground" methods
to the Dutch frontier, where, with the aid of guides, they were conveyed across to
Britain. When some of these fugitives were traced to her house in Brussels, she was
immediately arrested and after a court-martial was sentenced to face a firing-squad. All
her kindness to the German wounded was forgotten. Her captors considered her a spy and
treated her accordingly.
Just before the bandage was placed over her eyes, as she stood fearlessly facing the
solders who were about to take her life, she gave a last message to the world. "I am
glad," she said, "to die for my country. But as I stand here I realize as never
before that patriotism is not enough." Then she went on to give a clear, definite
testimony to her personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and her assurance of salvation,
not through laying down her life for others, but because He laid down His life for her. In
perfect composure, she submitted to the bandaging of her eyes and, in a few moments fell,
pierced by many German bullets.
Her words, patriotism is not enough! have spoken loudly to may in the years that have
gone since she died a martyr to her convictions.
"What more is needed?" you may ask. The answer is "Christ!" It is
through faith in Him alone that the soul is saved and heaven assured.
H.A. Ironside, Illustrations
of Bible Truth, Moody Press, 1945, pp. 60-61.
I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to have a moral community or nation
without faith in God, because without it everything rapidly comes down to "me,"
and "me" alone is meaningless. Today Americans have stopped acting in terms of
their own moral, ethical and religious beliefs and principles. They've stopped acting on
what they knew was right -- and the "me" has become the measure of everything.
However, moral societies are the only ones that work. If anyone thinks there is not a
direct and invaluable relationship between personal integrity in a society and that
society's prosperity, that person has simply not studied history. And this should not
surprise us. Great moral societies, built upon faith in God, honor, trust, and the law
blossom because they are harmonious; because people love or at least respect their
fellowman; because, finally, they have a common belief in something beyond themselves. It
simplifies life immensely; you do not waste and spend your days fighting for turf, for
privilege, for money and power over your fellowman.
Alexis de Tocqueville said it best when he realized even at the very beginning of our
national life, "America is great because America is good. If America ceases to be
good, she will cease to be great."
Georgia Anne Geyer, Bits & Pieces, September
17, 1992, pp. 23-24.