[Under Judeo-Christianity] your place is not determined by worldly accomplishments, but simply through an acceptance of God’s grace. As Paul Tillich put it in a passage recently quoted on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, “Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.”This inverse hierarchy took secular form. Proletarian novels and movies made the working class the moral bedrock of the nation. In Frank Capra movies like “Meet John Doe,” the common man is the salt of the earth, while the rich are suspect. It wasn’t as if Americans renounced worldly success (this is America!), but there were rival status hierarchies: the biblical hierarchy, the working man’s hierarchy, the artist’s hierarchy, the intellectual’s hierarchy, all of which questioned success and denounced those who climbed and sold out.
We have covered the crisis facing Western Christianity, and various attempts by spiritual entrepreneurs to make Christianity speak to the next generation. Brooks’s column points to a reason why all Americans should care about this, no matter how single-mindedly secular they might be: a church in crisis also often means a civil society in crisis. Inequality is growing in America, and Brooks highlights one way religious teaching could help counterbalance this trend. Religion, in a sense, is losing its vitality at the moment when America could use it the most. And that’s bad news for all of us.Read the whole thing to see how the waning of religion means that “the successful are less haunted by their own status and the less successful have nowhere to hide.”[St. Patrick’s Cathedral image courtesy of Shutterstock]