Yet what is emerging in our culture is an opposition to traditional religion and the prayer that accompanies it. Great changes are afloat in Western culture. The world as we know it is becoming a markedly different place, and a more dangerous one, where the very basis of our civilization is increasingly challenged.
Some contend the secularist creed of multiculturalism, cultural relativism, economic egalitarianism and scientific rationality are the arbiters of human value. As each day passes, it is clear that these features of the secular creed underwrite a view ill-equipped to meet the political and existential challenges of the twenty-first century.
The historical truth is that our way of life; including the liberty ensconced in liberalism, emerged and is sustained by Judeo-Christian principles. In 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower, not typically remembered for his Christian observance said, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on deeply religious faith”
That faith takes many forms. But it is not coincidental that the Jefferson-authored Declaration of Independence relies on words in the Book of Genesis, e.g. “all men are created equal.” Moreover, the idea that rights are granted by God, not by men or governments, is also a concept conceived by Jews in the Old Testament.
The U.S. Constitution is a tableau of reflections on Jewish law which concedes that evil must be addressed by countervailing impulses, the very essence of the vision embodied by Hamilton, Madison and Jay in the Federalist Papers.
Hence I pray. I pray for something beyond the self. I pray for a nation whose foundation is rooted in religious tradition. I pray that God will look favorably on a nation that occasionally loses it way.
Despite the campaign for secularism, a relentless campaign against religious observance, most Americans profess belief in God and most still pray. However, that prayer is increasingly a private matter, so as not to give offense to nonbelievers. This limitation transforms religion and alters the public square into a newly established “safe zone” where prayer is prohibited. In my judgment this is a shameful concession.
Ours is a nation founded by men who understood that religion, far from being an embarrassment, is a valuable and sustaining aspect of individual and national character. In a nation obsessed with “me,” prayer is a potent antidote to solipsism. It is a moment beyond the self. Any society whose members are interested only in their own self-actualization, be it through personal gratification or the pursuit of some nebulous “revolution,” cannot really be called a society at all. Prayer gives perspective because it is a union of souls.
As I see it, the time has come for the United States to speak a language our adversaries can understand, one found in biblical principles. It may be too much to say America should be sacralized, but at the very least this nation should recognize and defend its religious heritage starting with the prayer: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu” (Listen Israel, God is One). God is the unifier and it is to this God that we owe our prayers.
As citizens of this great land, it is time to ask whether the Judeo-Christian beliefs that have been vouchsafed to this generation can be mobilized in prayer so that the spiritual fight that awaits us can be confronted effectively. Ours is the most liberating tradition the world has yet known. And it is that tradition we must defend through spiritual resilience and prayer. Prayer is our offense and defense. It offers strength and a shield against barbarism. That is why I bow my head in prayer each day.
Dr. Herbert London is president or the London Center for Policy Research at King’s College in New York. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he was formerly president of the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.
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