Americans appear to be losing faith in God and in our cultural institutions. Is the loss of confidence in one related to a loss of confidence in the other? The answer is unequivocally yes.
How we view God inevitably determines how we view our fellow man. And how we view our fellow man, in turn, determines how we treat him. Created in God’s image or creature of chance? The answer makes a difference because what we believe determines how we behave.
Historically, most Americans have believed that God exists and that He created mankind in his image. They, therefore, concluded that human beings were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and, as the "image bearer of God," people were entitled to be treated with a measure of dignity and respect. Those shared beliefs produced shared cultural norms which, in turn, contributed to stability and order in our society.
America’s Founders recognized the important role that a shared belief in God contributed to the stability of our society. Our second President, John Adams, said, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Adams' son, John Quincy Adams (our sixth President), declared, "This form of government... is productive of everything which is great and excellent among men. But its principles are as easily destroyed, as human nature is corrupted.... A government is only to be supported by pure religion or austere morals. Private and public virtue is the only foundation of republics." Both presidents—father and son—understood that a shared belief in God is necessary to produce the shared values required for a stable society. Belief in God was the foundation of the republic. The very freedoms and republican form of government we embrace today require society’s acknowledgment of "the laws of nature and of nature's God" acknowledged by the Founders in our Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately, shared belief in a transcendent God—the cornerstone of our stable society—seems to be eroding in America today. The recently-released American Religious Identification Survey is an overview of religious demographics in America. Preliminary results show an America rapidly losing its religious faith. Since the survey began in 1990, the number of self-identified Christians has dropped from 86.2% to 76%, and the number of people claiming no religion has risen from 8.2% to 15%. People are losing faith in God at a rapid rate.
As our shared belief in a transcendent God disappears, our shared moral values inevitably give way to a pervasive relativism. We no longer believe in common moral values, so social norms begin to disappear. Every man is a law unto himself. Radical individualism reigns. We should, therefore, not be surprised when our cultural abandonment of shared values manifests itself in the caveat-emptor business practices which have produced our current financial crisis or the forked-tongued politicking of politicians who will spin any lie or reverse any position in order to pass the buck and keep their jobs. Without shared moral values, every person makes their own morality.
Likewise, we should not be surprised to find that Americans' faith in our cultural institutions is also faltering. Without shared belief in God, social values disappear, social norms are abandoned, and we no longer know what to expect from institutions like the family, church, or state. According to the General Social Survey of 2008, Americans have lost trust in nearly every single major American institution. The recent poll asked Americans whether or not they have confidence in several cultural and political institutions. The preliminary results have just been released, and the picture is not pretty. Since 1976, Americans have lost confidence in every major cultural institution except for the military. This list includes the scientific community, financial institutions, organized religion, the federal government, the media, medicine, education, and major companies. The percentage of Americans expressing a "great deal" of confidence in organized religion has dropped from 32% in 1976 to 20% in 2008. Over that same period, confidence in the media fell from 29% to 9%. Confidence in Congress fell from a dismal 14% to an even more dismal 11%. Clearly we Americans are losing faith in our cultural institutions.
If we hope to regain a stable, virtuous society, we must first regain a shared belief in a transcendent God. Such belief is the cornerstone upon which common values, social norms, and confidence in our culture are built. Reverend Robert Sirico of The Acton Institute explains this well in his 2001 article "Solidarity: The Fundamental Social Virtue." He states that social solidarity has died because faith in God has shriveled. Sirico writes, "[S]olidarity's surest foundation is faith. A true humanism implies love and respect for each and every individual human person. In a fallen world, however, it is only the recognition of the common fatherhood of God and brotherhood in Christ that will ensure the realization of this important principle." Our lack of faith in God leads to a lack of solidarity with our fellow man.
A shared belief in a transcendent God produces shared moral values which provide people with social norms that give them confidence in their culture. Without this core belief, the structure of society is undermined by man-centered relativism. An increasingly unbelieving people also suffer from a loss of confidence in one another. Having replaced faith in a transcendent God with faith in flawed human beings, they inevitably set themselves for disappointment and abandon the only moral basis for a stable society.
Only by regaining our shared faith in a transcendent Law Giver will Americans be able to recover our faith in our society.