Nothing has revealed the parlous state of religion in America today more than the two crises we have experienced this year. When you consider the symbolic value of what we have gone through we can see the state of America’s soul.
First we were hit with the coronavirus. Panic, uncertainty, confusion and fear was everywhere. Our response was to go into lockdown. We hid ourselves away. Putting aside the medical advisability of this action, I’m considering the symbolic impact. We closed down and shut down. Symbolically we hunkered down. What interests me is that this is what most of us will do when faced with any crisis. We go on defense. We rely on denial. We close ourselves off. We choose flight over fight.
Second we were hit with potential financial ruin. We had genuine sympathy for those who were losing their livelihoods, but there was also a sense of our world crashing in as the stock market crashed. Boo hoo. Our goodies were being taken away from us. The golden god of our economy was crumbling. We were going to face financial meltdown.
Third we were hit with police brutality, public protests and race riots. Now we were not in flight mode, but fight mode. Suddenly the cornered animal started snarling and snapping. All reason and rationality was gone. Pure emotion and pure rage hit the streets not only running, but smashing and grabbing. Careful social distancing was thrown to the wind, the plague dogs were replaced by the dogs of war.
In the midst of the symbol of hiding away and the opposite symbol of mass protests and action we’ve seen the upsurge of another powerful symbol: kneeling. Squadrons of policeman kneeling before the protestors. How extraordinary is that? Celebrity athletes kneeling to show their resistance to racism. Bizarre.
Symbols arise naturally within the human heart and mind as we seek to make sense of the world around us, and these symbols speak powerfully of a society in meltdown and if a society in meltdown, then individual lives in meltdown. They don’t know it, but the action of kneeling is more important than just a token gesture to show opposition to racism.
Kneeling is essentially a humbling of the heart and an act of repentance. It is a physical manifestation of a person trying to say they are sorry. This is a beautiful thing and even if it is marred by fear or mixed motives or peer pressure, it is still a beautiful thing. More beautiful than hiding away and more beautiful than angry protests.
What is more bizarre about the manifestations of a society in meltdown is the tepid response from church leaders. Now is the time for a passionate prophet to stand up and call a country to repentance. Now is the time for us to call from the housetops, “Repent of your greed and materialism that leads you to oppress the poor! Repent of your materialism that is a mask of atheism! Repent of your materialism by which you worship the golden calf of a bull market! Repent of the selfishness that leads you to neglect the poor! Repent of the anger and resentment in your hearts that leads to murder! Repent of the greed that leads you to smash and grab your neighbor’s goods! Repent of your fear of death and dying, your cowardice and complacency! Repent of the brutality with which you attack your neighbor! Repent of the pride of Cain which causes you to hate, mock and kill your brother!
Why are we hearing no calls for repentance? “Oh my!” say the little kittens in copes, “We might make someone feel guilty and that wouldn’t be nice!” Instead let us talk about peace and justice in vague, vanilla terms which will offend nobody.
The huge irony in all this is that the sight of crowds of people kneeling is a sign that their hearts are crying out for repentance and forgiveness. They actually want to be sorry for the sin of the world. They actually WANT to repent but the church leaders are not showing them the way. Why? Because for decades now we have defused sin and refused repentance. We’ve sold a sweet feel good religion which is no more than a sentimental mix of therapy, introspection and social action. That isn’t religion. It’s the Girl Scouts.
The fact of the matter is, the crises of the first half of 2020 have brought America to her knees, and is that a bad thing?
I explore these themes in more detail in my new book Immortal Combat-Confronting the Heart of Darkness.