On consecutive days in the same commentary section column space this week, two of the Washington Post’s premier columnists devoted their efforts to pressing questions on religious faith issues. E.J. Dionne Jr.’s on Monday was entitled, “Faith’s Liberating Promise, A Reminder of This Season.” Michael Gerson’s Tuesday was entitled, “God Is Here, Even Amid the Horrors of War That Test Faith.”
Gerson, a former speechwriter for Former President G. W. Bush, has often touched on faith issues in his twice-weekly column, though not as totally devoted to the topic as this week, while Dionne seldom goes there. The confluence of them both this week corresponds to an observable up-tick of words on such things from reasonable voices, including the Falls Church News-Press editorial last week, “The Reality of Evil.”
Needless to say that’s in contrast to the usual Trumpian right wing snake oil charlatans and posers in the name of religion, the Franklin Grahams (not to be confused with his less disingenuous father, Billy Graham), “God Wants You to Be Rich” Joel Osteens of the land and their ilk.
Some argue that it is impolitic to criticize someone’s religion, no matter what it is. Does that standard apply to members of the Charles Manson cult? No, to the extent such matters are part of a person’s public profile, then it is fair game, a necessary game. The inspired early church’s St. Augustine built his whole massive corpus of works, addressing the final collapse of the Roman Empire by arming many with means to endure the centuries of the subsequent Dark Ages, on scathing critiques of “heretical” versions of faith.
The current spate of esteemed commentaries on faith issues comes in the face of the accelerated decline of interest or participation in organized religion. But it comes as a number of factors have arisen (not necessarily a reference to Easter) in the most recent period that, one might say, represents yet another opportunity for the faithful to advance their efforts.
It’s a formidable list of all the factors that call humanity’s fate into question in this period, not the least of which is the intimidating prospect of what the awesome James Webb telescope that, when it goes fully operational this summer, will reveal from our universe’s earliest days and many more clues on whether or not among intelligent species we are alone.
Other obvious factors include the impact of the blight on America’s purpose and morality by the most deeply foul U.S. presidential administration ever, the Covid-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic, the implications of the fact that the birthrate in the U.S. has now dipped into the negative, and the shocking display of pure evil represented by the current invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia.
If faith, in the manner of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ministry, will rise up to speak honestly and prophetically amid these factors, then it can quickly become truly relevant and forceful once again. Such faith does not fly in the face of scientific fact, but speaks to ongoing mysteries and the ultimate abiding purpose of our otherwise little lives within the cosmos.
Institutions, as being collective calls to action on behalf of a better, more just and compassionate world, are seen as indispensable not only to a wider culture overall but to each and every individual human life therein.
Prayer, for example, is to be seen more as collective comforting and visioning. Jesus’ most poignant prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, asks for nothing but “daily bread” except that the faithful also seek to “be delivered from evil,” a very timeless and contemporary wish.
Evil, that which strives for separation among loved ones, pain and death, does exist, as we see graphically in Ukraine today.
So the yearning for the good must necessarily also exist, with prayer as a heartfelt conviction that evil be vanquished and good prevail.
Where does God exist in a story cited by Gerson from the late Elie Wiesel’s “Night” about the Holocaust? A boy being hung, struggling as he dangled for a half hour, elicited cries from onlookers, “Where is God?” The answer is that God is in the asking of that question.