What follows is a note I sent to a group of friends who I suspect felt a profound sense of sadness after the presidential election. I share it with you to offer a perspective that will help you see the very real blessing that God has given us, how He has answered our deepest prayers in permitting our disappointment. I do not write this in pessimism or cynicism, but rather in honesty, knowing that denial of reality and truth only leads to prolonged suffering and a missed opportunity for wonderful growth. This may be hard to accept at times, but in the end it is a message of the greatest hope. Here goes.
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When I was a young teenager, I started to become aware of a contradiction between my faith and the society where I lived. I suspect that a big part of that realization was provoked by my reading of a book in high school. It was called Abortion, The Silent Holocaust, and it was written by a Jesuit priest. Until that time, I didn’t really know what abortion was.
See, I was born in 1965, which means that my social awareness didn’t come about until after the sixties were long over. In 1973, when our nation’s highest court decided that the life of an unborn child was no longer sacred, I was just seven years old. At that point, and in the years to follow, I was convinced that the nation into which I was born was a special one. I was patriotic like most of us. I rooted hard for our Olympic teams, sang the Star Spangled Banner, and wondered how I had been so lucky to be born in America, which was clearly the greatest country in the world.
And then, at age 13 or 14, I read that book about abortion. I was stunned. How could I be living in a nation that rejected the most basic human right of all? As Blessed Mother Teresa would later remind us on a visit to the U.S., there are no human rights without the right to life. I struggled to come to terms with the reality of abortion on demand, and how it fit within my view of the country where I lived. So I decided it was an aberration, one that we needed to fight. I was outspoken with my peers about what I perceived as a great moral evil in our midst, and was often demeaned because of it. Which was okay. People just needed to understand the problem and we would be able to change the law some day, and prevent America from losing its soul.
As I grew older, I started to realize that quite a few people in society didn’t see life as I did. I don’t just mean life as it relates to abortion, but all aspects of it. More and more people rejected the idea of faith in God, the Divinity of Christ, the notion that there is Truth, and that there is good and bad in the world, that hard work is a good thing.
As I entered into young adulthood, I became increasingly concerned that the nation into which I had been born wasn’t exactly the society I thought it was. Still, I rooted for our Olympic teams and considered myself patriotic. By and large, I reasoned, we were still a country that believed in freedom and faith and doing what was right and standing up to what was wrong. We simply needed to remind ourselves of who we were and what we were founded upon. But I can’t deny that I sometimes wondered if my patriotism was misplaced, or even inappropriate. How did it line up with my faith in God? At what point does a person recognize that allegiance to one entity contradicts allegiance to another if one of those entities changes? Certainly there must be some point where that occurs. But I remained hopeful that we hadn’t reached that point in America.
Thanks be to God, I experienced a resurgence in m faith as I became a middle-aged adult. I received one of the greatest gifts from God, an understanding of His complete primacy in my life. Faith was not merely a part of who I was, but rather the core of who I was. No worldly pursuit, no earthly concern, held lasting importance, not when considered in the light of God’s Truth and eternity. But like all of us, I struggled with that. I found myself distracted by the cares of the world, and constantly battling with distractions about wealth, achievement and comfort, which often robbed me of my peace, which is rooted in faith in God alone.
One of the distractions that I struggled with was my concern about politics and culture in America. I became more and more worried about the future of the nation, and the nation my children would live in during their lives. As hard as I tried, I could not deny that the world around me was sliding further and further away from me and my growing faith. Fewer people were going to church, sexual promiscuity was being promoted in every public forum, most children were being born outside of marriage, more and more were being aborted, every avenue of media and popular culture was clamoring for the redefinition of marriage, faith was presented in almost every movie, television show and popular form of fiction as a pursuit of the loony. What exactly was going on? Where did I fit within this country? Was I becoming a minority? What was the object of my patriotism? What were its limits? And again, how did that fit with my growing faith?
And then there was the election campaign. For most people who are like me, it seemed to present the country with a chance to right the ship, to turn the nation around, and away from the policies of socialism, secularism and, well, “upside-downism”. Many people saw the current president as the problem, and changing leadership would be our answer.
As the election grew nearer, I became more and more depressed. I prayed hard that the nation would choose wisely according to principles of faith and virtue and Truth, but I knew that what I really wanted and needed to pray for was God’s Will to be done. And though I really hoped that His Will was not to allow our nation to continue down the path that it has been headed, I also knew that He gives us a free will, and that if a nation or a family or a person wants to reject Him, it is free to do so. God will never abandon us as His children, but He isn’t going to bless a nation if that nation thumbs it’s nose at Him. I was hoping that He would ignore those who thumbed their noses, and answered the prayers of those who sought His forgiveness, mercy and intervention.
The election itself was like nothing else our nation has ever experienced. There has never, ever been a greater contrast between the messages and intentions of the candidates. One of those candidates, like none before him, unapologetically lined himself up with abortion, non-traditional marriage, and the curtailment of freedom of religion. He didn’t even try to couch his stances with nuance. Heck, at his party’s convention, people actually booed when God was mentioned, in the hope of keeping His name out of the platform. Anyone with even a limited understanding of American history knows that we have never had such a clear and blatant cultural divide in an election, and such a bold promotion of ideas that fly in the face of Christian faith.
To make matters worse, that candidate who was promoting those ideas was running with a remarkably bad record on economics, and a very sketchy one on foreign policy. It is not as though he were riding the winds of growth, prosperity and international success. He was, by all measurable accounts, a struggling and unsuccessful president. And so, he was not going to be re-elected by people who were simply glad to have high paying jobs. Even the most secular people would not vote for him if they were putting their checkbooks first.
And yet he won. You know that.
And, if you believe as I do, you felt worse than you’ve felt after any election you can remember. This one was different. It wasn’t that sting of loss that comes after losing a contest, even a normal election, merely because your guy or your party lost. You felt a new sense of despair and hopelessness, or at least the great temptation to feel those things. And here’s why. I promise this isn’t meant to be cynical. It’s just that I believe denial will keep us from healing, and more importantly, from seeing the great gift that God has given us here.
Last Tuesday night, the American experiment died. Yes, it did.
But here’s the thing. It had been suffering and struggling for survival for a long time, since those days during the 60s when people decided that “feelings” and convenience and short-term satisfaction trumped wisdom and discipline, and yes, faith. Throughout my life, the America we thought we knew had been fighting for its life, like a patient battling a slow but steady cancer, losing one battle after another. Tuesday night was not the beginning of the end, it was the end of the end. It was our last blast of radiation, hoping to slow the growth of the cancer, and knowing that even if it worked, the road to recovery was a long and uncertain one.
But the radiation didn’t work. The fact is, the American ideals of faith, freedom and family are not valued by most Americans anymore. Not even by 49% of them, because quite a few of the people who voted like we did were motivated by economics alone. Most likely, the percentage of people who share our values and our ideals for America is closer to 20% or 30%. And so, when a friend or family member dies, we must acknowledge that reality. The America that we idealized, the one that we imagined when we sang the national anthem, does not exist. Most Americans today see their nation as an entity that provides them with services and things, that never questions or limits their moral decisions, and that allows them to consume as much entertainment as possible. If that sounds cynical, I’m sorry. It is a stark reality. We have become a nation of American Idol viewers.
So where is God’s gift in this? His gift is the permission to accept the end, and to move on from what we have been distracting ourselves from for as long as I’ve lived. Our hope is not in a nation, or a national ideal. It is in God. Him alone. Not a version of Him that is shaped by our ever-changing and increasingly empty culture. But God as He is, as He made clear to us, and as He manifests Himself to us in beauty and nature and reason and truth and revelation and scripture and His Church and His son, Jesus Christ.
We now can finally acknowledge that God is not American, that we are not His chosen nation, and that any stock we put in our government or our history or our international “brand” was a distraction. Perhaps it was even an idol. That is not to say that God didn’t bless America. He did. Our very existence was inspired by Him and dedicated to Him. We were, for a long time, a nation founded upon God’s truth. Regardless of what revisionist historians say, we were a Christian nation, one founded upon freedom of religion, but based on our dependence on the Triune God’s providence.
But today that is no longer true, and that is because a majority of Americans, a large majority of them, do not want to acknowledge God anymore. That is their choice. We cannot deny that. As much as we wanted God to cut out our cancer and heal us, in His Wisdom He chose not to. And that is to be praised, because God’s Will is always to be praised.
So where does that leave us, as children of God and as Americans? Well, it does not leave us in despair, or depression or hopelessness. No way. It leaves us to rededicate ourselves to God, to reorder our priorities the way they should have been prioritized long ago. There is no longer any reason to compromise our faith, we never should have but we did so to be relevant. For us, political correctness has died. Fear has been greatly diminished. Bitterness can fade. Now we can joyfully, courageously, and single-mindedly pursue Him without the distraction of culture. What a gift that is!
Yes, there will be suffering and rejection. A lot of it. Jesus told us that. But now we will not entertain the idea that we can avoid it. We are strangers in a foreign land (we always have been) but we were lured into thinking that the world around us embraced us. Now we understand the reality. Our nation doesn’t welcome our understanding of life, and they think we are foolish. They have made that clear. And so we will feel a sense of rejection like never before. And so we must ask God for the courage to love them and share with them the truth, knowing that we are not risking their approval or their vote or their support. That approval and support has been gone for quite a while now.
We will fight, yes we will. But we will fight the right fight. For Truth. Against a culture of death and self-destruction and lies and hatred. It will not be the subtle political or cultural fight that we have engaged in for so many years, but the real one for the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters who don’t know or seem to want to know their Lord. We must never forget that they are God’s children, and that, as St. Augustine said, their hearts will not rest until they rest in Him. But for now, they reject Him. And we stand with Him, rejected. And thankful, knowing that true glory and peace can only be found in Him. And we can begin to experience some of that glory and peace now. But only if we let go of the idols that distract us. And it is time to let go of one of those idols, the one we called America.
There is a final irony in all of this, one that can give us hope as long as we don’t let it lead us back into denial. If we bring God’s love and Truth to our families, our neighbors, our schools our companies and our communities, perhaps God will bless us with a new nation, one that recognizes His essential role in all things that are good. But that is not our goal, it will only be a by-product of our goal. And that goal is, and has always been, to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we may join Him in Heaven for eternity, and help as many of our brothers and sisters do the same.
Patrick Lencioni is the author of several best-selling books with over three million copies sold. After nine years in print, his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, continues to be a weekly fixture on national best-seller lists.
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