No trophy, no flowers, no flashbulbs, no wine
He’s haunted by something he cannot define
Cake, “The Distance”
A common conservative refrain is that we can see farther than our ancestors only because we are standing on their shoulders. Thankfully, each successive generation does not start with a blank slate. The frameworks of the past exist in the subconsciousness of our culture and institutions. Each life lived passes on more than genes and instincts.
For every American, a key support beam is orthodox Christianity. We are haunted by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Jesus Christ, and Paul.
Take Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s second inaugural address, of course, is full of doctrine and theology. Yet, Lincoln neither made a public profession of faith nor joined a church. Leading Lincoln scholar Dr. Allen Guelzo argues that Lincoln was haunted by his “Calvinist Baptist” upbringing even as he consciously disavowed basic practices of orthodox Christianity.
Many of us are like Lincoln. We may have attended church occasionally as a young person, or we may hear grandma talk about Jesus from time to time. We may even pray before family meals at home. Almost everyone in the United States has some connection to Christianity. We remain haunted by the stories and general themes of the Bible even if we disavow basic tenets, such as the divinity and exclusivity of Christ.
Our minds are bound by invisible shackles, and we see the world through biblically tinged lenses. This is especially true in cities away from the coasts. Grand Rapids is certainly more haunted than Los Angeles to give one example. In Grand Rapids, you can’t escape the churches or their influence.
It is good that we are haunted by the Bible. It gives us a culture, a language, and a common sense of decency. Americans, Christians and non-Christians, tend to use the same language when talking about justice and mercy. Though we do lament the decline in organized religion, faith and spirituality abound. Praise God for that.
There are plenty of modern ghostbusters who fight to eradicate or at least confine the spirits of the past. To these types, the old religion, like Indiana Jones, is meant for a museum. At the very least, they want religion shackled to a free speech zone on Sunday morning. Like Jeroboam son of Nebat, the modern ghostbusters offer a new materialist religion and appoint their own priests.
We do not know what life would be like if we slayed the giants or if we removed the support beams. Russell Kirk warned that “civilizations that reject or abandon the religious imagination must end, as did Gerontion, in fractured atoms.”
The Christian clears the lens. He reveals the support beams. He returns to the original sources. He is sent to offer seemingly foolish worship in a strange land and to enchant the house. All of this is required maintenance.