Today (Editor: July 20, 2016) we mark two anniversaries. Though divided by an ocean and more than a century, these two events remind us of the importance of religion in public life.
On 20 July 1775, the Continental Congress called upon our young nation to undertake a day of prayer and fasting, seeking the mercy and aid of the Almighty God. To further make the point, Congress attended Anglican services that morning and Presbyterian services in the afternoon. These men understood the danger of losing the rightful autonomy of religion and politics; they had studied history and knew of the horrors caused by the wars of religion in Europe. And thus they promoted religious pluralism, refusing to endorse one denomination or another. But they also knew that religion is not only permissible, but necessary in our public life. They understood that, most especially in moments of great need, mankind must submit itself to the wisdom and mercy of God.
On 20 July 1944, members of the German Army attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, evict the Nazis from power, and enter into a negotiated peace with the Western Allies. It was a close run thing, but the attempt failed and everyone connected with the plot was arrested. Among them was a Catholic priest, Alfred Delp (pictured left). He had not been involved with the plot itself, but had spoken with some members of the Kreisau Circle, a loose organization whose primary crime was to imagine what a post-Nazi Germany might look like. Delp had provided some perspectives based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Because some members of the Kreisau Circle were involved in the plot, virtually all were arrested and most executed. While in jail awaiting his fate, Delp wrote:
Spiritually we seem to be in an enormous vacuum. Humanly speaking there is the same burning question – what is the point of it all?… Scarcely anyone can see, or even guess at, the connection between the corpse-strewn battlefields, the heaps of rubble we live in and the collapse of the spiritual cosmos of our views and principles, the tattered residue of our moral and religious convictions as revealed by our behavior…. The social problem has been overlooked… and also the problem of youth and the problem… of spiritual questions which can all too easily masquerade as cultural or political questions.
Without the insight that religion brings, we lose sight of the deeper issues with which our nation struggles. Do we have a problem with violence? Yes. With racism? Yes. With poverty? Yes. But at the root of all of these is a problem with sin, with pride, with a rejection of God and the dignity He has given to all men.
At its recent national convention, the American Solidarity Party approved an amendment to the platform, stating, “We advocate for laws that allow people of all faiths to practice their religion without intimidation and deplore aggressive secularism that seeks to remove religion from the public sphere.” The platform goes on to state, “We deplore the reduction of the ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed by the First Amendment to ‘freedom of worship’ that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. The right to follow what the Declaration of Independence called ‘the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God’ must be respected.”
Religion is about far more than what you do at a mosque on Friday, in a synagogue on Saturday, or in a church on Sunday. Religion is a way of life, one that America has long valued, and one that we continue to need in our public discussions as much as we ever have.
Today’s image comes from the website of author Mary Frances Coady.