As America begins to get serious about the national debt crisis, we have an opportunity to look at and reconsider our shameful moral crisis: these two crises are inseparable, like two edges of a single sword. Our economic crisis is clear: we perpetually overspend using borrowed money, producing an ever-deepening chasm of debt. Our moral crisis seems to have been “tabled” for now, so that we can deal with the “important” problem of the economy. Any separation of the two, however, is superficial and artificial.
The analogy that comes to mind is the common caricature of the drunken sailor. (My apologies to every real sailor: I was a sailor myself, once!) Every weekend ashore he went out on a drinking binge, and spent every dime he had earned and could borrow on loose living. His problem had an obvious economic side, and an obvious moral side, but the two problems had a single root: no recognition of, no faith in God. He lived only for himself, even though in the most nearsighted, immature, carnal and immediately gratifying ways he could find. He pictures for us, I suggest, America.
American government has continued to believe in and hold to an economic model of constant borrowing that requires constant economic growth to eventually repay. Thus we need ever more businesses, more business activity, more jobs, more tax revenues to enable more benefits (more tax expenditures per person) – a system constantly requiring more people to financially support. All the while, however, the American people have been embracing an immoral (and becoming amoral) life-style that requires and that results in fewer people: fewer children means less responsibility for ME, more stuff for ME, more time for ME. America for decades now has been clinging to moral adolescence, to a refusal to grow up, to a denial of personal responsibility, to an obsession with self – and thus to the abandonment of true love, of authentic marriage, and of generous responsible parenthood. We see the progressing triumph of this Peter Pan refusal to mature in the culture: within decades, contraception was made “Christian”, abortion was made “legal”, homosexuality was made “moral” – and thus children were made “optional”.
Washington, however, has continued legislating and spending under a model of growing population, while America has continued producing an ever shrinking and ever more-self-obsessed one. That’s the prescription for a national train-wreck; one that could and should have been foreseen if we had enough adults around who could do the math. Immoral or amoral living has economic consequences.
“It’s the economy stupid” is far too nearsighted a proverb. The human soul is more valuable than mere money, and is made for far grander and more noble things, but God will get our attention one way or the other. Unbridled hedonism has two downsides, economic and spiritual. The sins of man have one solution! And thus the Church has one overriding responsibility – and it is not to meet its annual budget, or to provide more meeting spaces or reorganize or have an annual “mission” with an even more “inspirational” preacher than last year. We don’t need guest motivational speakers who come and go; we need the abiding and life-changing presence of God here among us. We need to meet Christ; we need to become alive in the Holy Spirit; we need renewal.
The Church exists to evangelize! We have spent decades now in our parishes and dioceses with mostly “in-house” concerns: in shallow attempts at spiritual and moral introspection, in canned programs of formation, in paper-thin episcopal pronouncements, plans and policies. In spite of all this apparent activity, we have failed seriously to commit to what is essential, what Christ formed and sent us to do. Granted there are exceptions by the grace of God, though relatively few. What has become “normal”, however, is not good: the Church has failed to throw her heart and soul and being into the mission He gave us, to make disciples.
America is in her shiny brand-new bought-on-credit-with-no-down-payment car, cruising at 80, on a paved road to a radical humiliation. Maybe such a humiliation can usher in an authentic humility before God. And maybe the Church will begin to see her failure to be Church and to be His Light for this dark culture. May He have mercy on us, and give us His grace still. Maybe yet we will turn to Him.