Twenty years ago, the renowned sociologist Robert Bellah wrote the book The Good Society which identified the growing distance from and distrust in the institutions – churches, synagogues, schools and government – which had provided a foundation and a framework for our culture for so long. I found myself thinking about that book again today as I read David Brooks Op-Ed piece entitled Where Are the Liberals? in today’s New York Times. (http://nyti.ms/yvveGL) Brooks, once again, names the distrust of government that Bellah first called our attention to twenty years ago.
Not being a sociologist at all:
And, only being an amateur political analyst;
I am going to risk plunging into the discussion with a wild speculation.
It is curious to me that the decline in trust in institutions coincides with the decline of influence of what had been the traditional religious structures of the day which played a significant role in shaping not only individual values, but broader societal values as well. At the same time there was the corresponding rise of a much more conservative religious influence which focused primarily on the individual. In Christian terms salvation was personal, Jesus was personal, faith was about my personal relationship with God. I think that shift, to our detriment, is now playing out in spades across the political and cultural landscape.
And, with that shift…
And, maybe because of that shift…
I think we have left a significant part of the witness of the Bible behind.
Both Jewish Scripture and Christian scripture, it seems to me, stand as a counterbalance to our selfishness and our sense of rugged individualism. Over and over again it asks the question of who is in and who is out and answers by pointing at those who are out and challenging us to draw the circle bigger. The prophets of Judaism wrote about God being with the nation when the nation cared for the forgotten and most vulnerable. And, when asked to define “neighbor” Jesus tells the story that we know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan. A story which plays on the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans which rivals the animosity we see in the Middle East today.
I am not sure where that leaves us.
Certainly there is reason for distrust of the institutions around us.
Particularly churches and governments have done much to deserve the distrust and criticism that has come there way. But, those same institutions have done a world of good and have saved more lives than can be named. Somehow, I hope, we can rediscover a better balance than what we have right now.