This is where we are in America. We have privatized religion to such an extent that it has become sidelined; to suggest that we ought to be free to let it infuse life, in an integrated way, at work and at play, is an increasingly foreign proposition. We have been so overtaken by secularism and by arrogance laced with a hopelessness — by the belief that we really are the ones we have been waiting for — that we fail to see truly religious people as integral to a flourishing society.
Five years ago, William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review and one of the great public intellectuals of the past century, died. He spoke of “What Americanism Seeks to Be” in a speech in 1979. He spoke of the totalitarianism of China and the Soviet Union. “In the Soviet Union,” he said,” “there is an infinitely long list of that which one is forbidden to do. In China, it works the other way. One may do nothing — except those things which one is explicitly permitted to do.” The American difference should be clear. “The Constitution of the United States, and in particular the Bill of Rights,” Bill said, is “essentially a list of prohibitions,” but “a list of things that the government cannot do to the people.”
“What a huge distinction: a majestic distinction. It grew out of a long, empirical journey, the eternal spark of which, of course, traces to Bethlehem,” he said, “to that star that magnified man beyond any power of the emperors and gold seekers and legions of soldiers and slaves: a star that implanted in each one of us that essence that separates us from the beasts, and tells us that . . . we were meant to be free. America cannot presume to offer itself up, in a frenzy of moral vanity, as the secular reflection of the Incarnation.”
In his last public Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI, whose whole papacy and life have centered on the Incarnation, said, “Jesus is very clear that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, of humility and of love.”
It’s people aflame with that understanding, seeking to live in its reality, who see every man and woman as made in the image and likeness of God. The kind of people who are the ballasts of a flourishing civil society.
Our secular sequester hurts. Rosa Parks was not a savior, but a servant. All our impenetrable debates of the day might benefit from the humility on display at the front of the bus, and from a renewed acknowledgment and confidence in its Source.