On August 24, 1926, more than 100,000 people lined up in my neighborhood right outside of the Frank Campbell funeral home here in Manhattan. Actually, "lined up" is too formal and orderly a word to describe what was happening: Windows were smashed, and some of the "mourners" reportedly committed suicide. "Never before," in the words of the funeral director, "have so many people tried to see a body."
It wasn't just any old body: It was the remains of silent film star Rudolph Valentino. A silent legend in life, he became a kind of silent god in death.
My friend Joe Loconte cites this by way of illustrating the fact that every society contains people who long to be in touch with the divine and transcendent. Loconte calls these people the "God Seekers." And while they don't always look in the right places, there's no doubt that they are seeking.
We've all heard countless times that we're living in a "secular age." We've seen the statistics saying that the number of people who don't identify with any religion is growing rapidly.
While the statistics are true up to a point, we need to put them in context. What makes our age "secular," according to philosopher Charles Taylor, is that people today treat belief in God as optional in ways that were literally unimaginable to people 500 or even 200 years ago. Ideas and cultural changes made this optional belief possible and, in turn, relegated religion to the private sphere.
But none of this changes the fact that, as St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Our age may tell us that belief is optional, (especially belief in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ), but that does nothing for our restlessness.
Joe Loconte's fabulous new book, "The Searchers," is a kind of field guide to that restlessness. In Loconte's telling, many of us are in a situation similar to the travelers on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Our expectations have been, as the cliché goes, overtaken by events. The story we have invested in isn't likely to turn out the way we hoped that it would.
For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, disillusionment came from a failure to understand how God intended to redeem Israel. They literally could not see the risen Christ until Jesus had "explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" and broke bread with them.
For our contemporaries, making faith in God optional made faith in a series of illusions possible. Loconte ticks them off one-by-one in a chapter entitled, aptly enough, "The End of Illusions."
Politics, ideology, our careers and kids, and even romantic love - all of these have failed to quell our restlessness. But, like the Emmaus-bound travelers, something we've been told gives us a basis for hope, a reason to keep seeking! The question is: Do we dare believe again?
Loconte's answer is, of course, a resounding "yes." Belief may have become optional nowadays, but reasons for that belief are as valid today as they were on the road to Emmaus nearly two thousand years ago. Those reasons are the subject of tomorrow's broadcast.
In the meantime, I simply cannot recommend Joe Loconte's book "The Searchers" more highly. I love it. If you'd like a copy for yourself or for the searchers in your life, please go to our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org.