Movements that transform cultures historically come from larger spiritual renewal.
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This is the fifth installment from our interview with Dr. Jay Richards; click the links below to read the previous ones:
- Law, Liberty, and Freedom (July 4)
- Morality and Economics (July 11)
- Natural Law and Reason (July 18)
- Right to Life and Social Justice (July 25)
- Personal Holiness and Public Witness (August 1)
We can easily become apathetic in the current cultural and political climate with all the attacks on organized religion and human dignity. Today, we publish an excerpt from our conversation with Dr. Richards in which he cited several historical examples that should give us hope.
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The Practicing Catholic: You mentioned that the Religious Right movement in the 1980s was successful to a degree but ultimately wasn’t transformative to American culture. However, there are movements historically that have done precisely what that wasn’t able to do. Can you cite some examples?
Dr. Jay Richards: Oh yeah. The American Revolution, for instance, which we think of as political, was very much part of the first great awakening. If you look at the historical documents, say in the early 1770s, many of the ideas the American founders appealed to in their case against the king were found in arguments from sermons in pulpits all along the eastern seaboard. Whatever you think of the American Revolution, it’s clear that it emerged from a larger spiritual reality. If we just look at the founders, they were a very diverse lot theologically, but there’s no doubt it was part of a larger spiritual movement.
You can see that simply contrasting the American Revolution with the French Revolution. We wouldn’t call the American Revolution a religious revolution, but it was inspired by fundamentally Judeo-Christian ideas about individual freedom, individual rights and value versus the French Revolution, which ended up very violently anti-Christian and led to the terror ant the guillotine as opposed to individual rights and limited government. It’s important for us as Americans to realize that.
The abolition of the slave trade both in the British Empire and in the United States was also an outpouring of the second great awakening, which is absolutely crucial because if it was just a matter of people making prudential or pragmatic judgments, we probably never would have abolished the slave trade. Rather, it was the result of people like William Wilberforce in England who was a very well-placed person but also a deeply passionate Christian. I think if it had not been for that, the abolition of slavery would not have happened. It led to the official abolition of slavery around the world, even among those who certainly weren’t Christians. Folks don’t know that the last country to officially abolish slavery was Saudi Arabia just as late as 1970. That should remind us how tenacious the institution of slavery was and what it took.
The final one I’d say would be the Civil Rights movement, which you could argue wasn’t exactly an outpouring of a spiritual awakening, but it’s clear that Christians, the thinking of Christians, and the arguments that came from the Christian narrative were very important to the Civil Rights movement. Many of the people who were involved in it were involved for precisely theological reasons.
That’s why we think the focus on Jesus’s prayer in John 17 where he prays for his followers to be one as he and the Father are one are very important for us as Christians. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be institutionally unified anytime soon; it doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything doctrinally. But certainly the principles we talk about at the conclusion of the book, these are things we think that serious people of faith can agree on, and certainly Evangelicals and orthodox Catholics. We don’t just have to come together in the marriage of convenience, but in fact we have these fundamental theological and philosophical principles that bring us together and we should really focus on that at this time.
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