Katherine Kersten’s column in the Aug. 27 Sunday Strib, Riots show that the West needs religion, got my attention. I’ve been to the UK a few times in recent years and have seen the evidence of the unraveling of Britain’s social fabric—the pervasiveness of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in even the most rural areas being one example.
She references an article by Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathon Sacks, in this WSJ essay, Reversing the Decay of London Undone.
This was the bursting of a dam of potential trouble that has been building for years. The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people, deprived of parental care, who on average—and yes, there are exceptions—do worse than their peers at school, are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more likely to land up in jail.
The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.
David Brooks addressed this in a column last spring titled Creed or Chaos:
But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.
Brooks’ Sept. 12 column, If It Feels Right…, sounds the alarm about America’s youth:
What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues. The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so…
Smith and company are stunned, for example, that the interviewees were so completely untroubled by rabid consumerism…
In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.
I grew up Catholic, spent 7 years in the seminary, and still have fond feelings for the Catholic Church, especially when I think of how many elements of Catholic social teaching have impacted my life in positive ways. Still, I disagree with Kersten’s asserting that religion and active church participation are the only ways to address this problem of a decaying social fabric. I think there are a variety of ways to inculcate moral and social values; religion isn’t required. That’s a subject for another blog post.
But as an atheist and a frequent critic of some religious practices, let me clear: I do think that the leaders and members of Northfield’s faith community, including Rejoice! Church, are doing "enormous good" in our community for the ways in which they help to strengthen our social fabric and teach moral values.