The Stumbling of Our Country Recalls Us to the Cross

By John Zmirak Published on August 25, 2021

Let’s confess it: America has been humbled. First during Trump’s presidency, when our elites abandoned any pretense of patriotism and high-minded civic concern. Instead, they treated our duly elected president like some foreign-imposed dictator, the fruit of “Russian collusion.” Then our media and social media decided that half of their fellow citizens were reckless, hate-mongering rubes. After that, our cities erupted with carefully coordinated, Marxist-led riots. Then a blatantly stolen election, and a vicious crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators of January 6. The only fair word to describe our political system right now is not “Democracy” but “Anarcho-Tyranny.”

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Our borders are out of control, just like those of some failed state. Our economy is staggering, under the lingering impact of superstitious, quasi-medieval reactions to a biowarfare attack. Our liberties hang by a thread, as powerful global corporations ally with Deep State actors to silence and shame us. Our travel’s getting restricted. Some of us might lose our jobs or get kicked out of school for making our own medical decisions.

We Want to Escape

At a time like this, empathy can be in pretty short supply. Even for Christians. We of all people should have learned in the school of the Cross that our place is at its foot, consoling the suffering innocents as St. John did Our Lady. But it’s hard to stay there. We’d flee, if we could, the smell of blood and excrement, the shame of this-worldly failure, the mockery of the mob and the sneers of the Pilates and Sadducees. We’d rather be off with the mass of apostles, quietly hiding till things blow over.

But that’s not what God calls us to do. Here we stand, at America’s lowest point since the Iranian hostage crisis, knowing that God still calls us to love Him and love our neighbor. To keep our promises, help our friends, stand firm on our principles and hold our battered heads high. It’s in a moment of crisis that you can really know someone’s character. Does he start kicking his dog? Threatening women and children? Stiffing his creditors and telling lies?

The Impossible Dream

But enough about Andrew Cuomo. I’m talking about real Americans now, who believe in our founding documents and the God whose image of man they firmly enshrined. That image of man, hobbled by sin but shimmering with dignity and rights, must glow in our hearts. We need it, if only to keep our respect for ourselves at a moment of global contempt. I’m reminded of a musical my parents loved, whose record I wore out playing when I was kid, The Man of La Mancha: 

And the world will be better for this
Oh, that one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strong with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.

By that I certainly don’t mean the American empire, the neocon daydream of a Middle East full of Planned Parenthoods, transgender clinics, and high-priced rental homes, each with 2.5 children of secular helicopter parents. No, the “impossible dream” that should move us is this: a world where human beings get treated as images of God, in accord with the Natural Law. That should be the central principle of our politics, and the goal of our private activism, on any given issue.

The Rat in the Punchbowl

Why is this goal “unreachable,” to treat man as God really made him? Why have so few governments over millennia in fact respected human dignity and accorded man true freedom? What’s behind the collapse of dignity and freedom today — not in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in New Zealand and California, in academia and suburbia? What drives the relentless decay of America’s ordered liberty, and our Christian-founded culture?

The answer lies in what G.K. Chesterton called the one Christian dogma you can confirm each day by reading the newspaper: Original Sin. It’s easy for us to forget, when events are going our way, that we each of us were born under the sign of catastrophe. But it’s undeniably true, and the proof that we need Jesus Christ — not as an advisor, role model, or inspirational figure. We need Him the way Americans stranded in Kabul need a seat on an outgoing airplane. The way a drunk guy lying prone in a burning bar needs a fireman, to come in out of safety and suffer to save him.

“I Did It My Way”

But we don’t want to admit it. We want to think we’re “basically good” people, with a few flaws here and there. (Just enough so that we’re not “boring,” “self-righteous” or “bland.”) We expect the divine physician to run a few tests and tell us we’re healthy — though we might want to lose a few pounds — then pat us on the back and wish us well till our visit next year.

But we’re not fine. Not fine at all. Principalities and powers really are gunning for us, and they’ve somehow captured the high ground. Our own flaws are tragic ones, like cancerous organs, which require high-risk surgery. That feeling we had of chugging along, doing fine, on top of the world? It was an illusion, a happy dream for a young country, from which we just awoke.

We are not exempt from the fallen human condition, and our civic religion saves no one. Now it can’t even save itself. If we must return to that “old-time religion” it won’t be the comfortable services we remember from our childhoods. Not even the revivals or retreats we enjoyed in our youth. It will be the religion of Christianity’s formative years, which sometimes was practiced in catacombs, sometimes in the Colosseum.


John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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