Virtuous liberty — ordered liberty — is the only kind of liberty for which the American republic was designed. And it cannot be sustained without religious belief. Unlike in France, this was the settled conviction of the founding generation. More than that, it was a doctrine considered axiomatic for political and civic life. “Every just principle that is to be found in the writings of Voltaire,” concluded Benjamin Rush, “is borrowed from the Bible.” Nevertheless, many ignore our debt to biblical religion. The result is liberty without wisdom, the path of folly and madness. Many Americans, indeed, are discarding the duties and the blessings of revealed religion for the empty promises of a counterfeit and degraded freedom.
…What path will we take? Perhaps the welfare of the City of Man really does depend, after all, on our belief in the City of God. Perhaps no political society can survive for long when it excludes those spiritual truths that alone can judge, inspire, and transform our earthly politics. Maybe, more than anything, we need a recovery of faith in what C. S. Lewis called the “far-off country,” a renewed quest for the virtues and ideals of that bright Kingdom that lies beyond the Sea. “Because we love something else more than this world,” Lewis wrote, “we love even this world better than those who know no other.”
And yet, and yet. The fact remains that increasing numbers of people simply don’t believe in the literal truth of Christianity. Their pursuit of truth has led them to the conclusion that the Christian story is not true, however useful it may be. What is to be done about that? Countless essays like this one never attempt an answer. They simply reassert that it sure would be good if they did believe. Can people be compelled to believe for the greater good? Is it good enough to make an outward show of faking piety? I dare say that I’m indistinguishable in my behavior from my Christian friends and neighbors, so what does that signify? That unbelief is not quite the slippery slope to the French Revolution as those like Loconte would have us believe? Or that social norms aren’t nearly as dependent on intellectual axioms as intellectuals would have us believe? Perhaps traditional behaviors endure long after the rationales have become outdated and forgotten. Perhaps there is some middle ground between devout Christianity and bloodthirsty paganism. Perhaps many of us are simply getting on with it, making sense of things as best we can, like people have always done and always will do.