By PETER T. TOMARAS
This is still the greatest country on earth, but if our elected leaders persist in undermining its precepts — Constitutional and ideological — America will unquestionably surrender her preeminence. Our economic predicament is an outgrowth of a cultural decline that began long ago.
Some claim the Constitution is not in sync with today's rhythms. But with its Bill of Rights, it remains the world's model, providing a moral foundation and a structure of law as relevant today as in 1789. Too many simply want to live unfettered by the strictures of Constitutional government, or of any moral code.
A century and a half after European immigrants sailed west seeking religious freedom, the framers of our Declaration of Independence affirmed their aspirations while invoking God five times. The "unalienable rights" insisted upon today by godless citizens were declared an endowment from The Creator. The "separation of church and state" appeared in an 1802 Thomas Jefferson letter, and has been repeatedly cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. This "wall of separation" was intended primarily to prevent government from hindering the free practice of religious choice by the citizenry, but also to prevent proponents of any particular faith from attempting to influence governmental processes. The idea that it requires separation of state FROM religion is a later invention.
Since WWII, atheists have endeavored to erase all vestiges of religion from government and public schools. We have fall, winter and spring breaks — Easter and Christmas can't be referenced.Thanksgiving is still around, but one wonders to whom we are allowed to render thanks.
We have "holiday" trees, but children can experience the joy of Christmas carols — and learn the meaning of Christmas — only in homes or churches.
I have friends, mostly from academia (from astrophysicists to professors of Humanities), who dismiss religion as mythology. Other scholarly friends are believers who recognize that neither religion nor science answers all questions, but that humans need to place faith in something. Faith, not science, encourages us to keep plugging when beset by adversity. In my most challenging days, neither effort nor fairness nor luck helped, only prayer brought comfort and strength. Equally important, faith in God motivates us to do what is right — especially for others. This is the greatest power of spirituality.
All Christians (I am Eastern Orthodox) should acknowledge that the essence of our Western concept of morality derives from Judaic scripture and law, not least the Ten Commandments.The New Testament repeatedly evokes the canons and prophecies of the Old Testament.
The teachings of Jesus re-emphasized these precepts and energized his followers to spread the doctrine of doing good, rather than evil, in the service of God.Rome crumbled, only to later become (with Constantinople) a bastion of Christian Faith.Late in the 20th century, Communist regimes that banned religion fell like dominoes.Are today's leaders really blind to the link between moral decay and societal decline?
Too many young people grow up in dysfunctional families and attend schools scrubbed of God.Families forego worship services for weekend athletic competitions.
Lacking religious foundation, young folks worship icons of our celebrity culture; their minds focus on electronic devices with easy access to depravity and violence. Their role models are dissolute performers and dishonest athletes. While 70 percent of Americans profess some monotheistic faith, far fewer practice any, and all religions are losing significant numbers of young people.
Wake up, America. The culture that abandons spiritual roots is a dying culture. Centers of worship — church, synagogue, mosque, temple — are communities of faith that engender a sense of belonging to something larger than self, something worth upholding. Faith cannot be confined within walls; its highest expression is to share love and kindness with the less fortunate without seeking reward. Faith provides a moral sense that empowers us to do "the right thing."
Here and in Europe, elected leaders lack the political will (or the inner faith) to do what is right for their nations. We yearn for the civility in government that could foster collaboration. Corporate CEOs and shareholders value current profits over long-term stability. Top business schools, including Harvard, now require courses in ethics because so many students have no grounding in moral principles of truth, fairness and the common good.
Our youth know too little history of their country, of the world — even less of Holy Scriptures. Ignorant of how we came to our present status, they have no moral compass to guide them into their futures. To learn honor and morality, children need the powerful example of principled parents, reinforced by teachings of faith. Spirituality can rekindle optimism and drive prudent decisions.
Religious leaders, schools and families all have responsibilities for our youth. Our faltering K12 schools teach precious little history or civics. Challenged by disruptive classrooms, earnest teachers can't even persuade texting-steeped students to write complete sentences. But the responsibility for teaching children right from wrong rests with parents. Religion — not science — is their strongest ally.
This planet is plagued by earthquake, fire, flood and destructive storms. As they construe explanations, scientists disregard any link to our increasingly corrupt, pleasure-seeking societies. Government leaders, teachers, and even parents are free to deny God, but nothing should stop them from embracing the principle of doing what is morally right. We all need the selflessness to see beyond our personal comfort zones. We all need to really consider, if not humanity, our grandchildren.
While I am pessimistic about America's future, I have hope. Ours is the most altruistic nation on earth, and wealthy business leaders, persistently demonized by the current administration, drive the world's major charitable initiatives. I am truly encouraged by the achievements and volunteerism of hundreds of bright, energetic young people.Outstanding examples are the members of Interact Clubs at local high schools — serious scholars, deeply involved in public service, and committed to alleviate suffering as they pursue personal goals.
These future leaders grasp the concepts of Judeo-Christian values — of truth, empathy and love for others. Where there is love, there is hope. And with God, all things are possible.
Peter T. Tomaras is a Champaign-based writer and hotel consultant.