Rebuilding a Faithful Society
COMMENTARY: What once was a broad cultural glue binding American society together has become the de facto turf of particular classes.
“Polarization.” Americans feel it. More and more of them have a palpable sense that our E pluribus unum land is turning into “us versus them.” Pundits decry social fragmentation. It’s a stock theme on op-ed pages.
Robert George isn’t just complaining. He’s doing something about it. He’s doing it through his initiative to make this June “Fidelity Month.”
The Princeton professor launched “Fidelity Month” June 1 in response to public concern about America’s social fragmentation. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a poll whose results point to precipitous declines in American belief in values like “patriotism,” “religion,” “family” and “community” — values that once upon a time held Americans together despite all their other differences. The observance seeks to “encourage fidelity to God, our spouses and families, our country and communities.”
He began “Fidelity Month” with a June 1 interfaith webinar that, along with George, assembled Lila Rose of Live Action, Ana Samuel of Cana Vox, Andrew Walker of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky, Bill McClay of Hillsdale College, Jacqueline Rivers of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies in Boston, and Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Four speakers focused on freedom as being “under God,” being accountable before a Divine and natural law that precedes and judges human action. Freedom is not separating from, but joining with, other people in relationships.
Other speakers drilled down, specifically in terms of marital fidelity, local community and national patriotism. Monogamy is not just another, merely socially privileged “alternative” lifestyle, but the “gold standard” that is a norm and not just an ideal. That message is especially critical for young people today, for whom awareness of that message is often censored. Patriotism — love of country — remains stronger in the United States than some other countries, but has grown anemic.
June 2023 “Fidelity Month” is the first of what the organizers hope will be an annual event across faith and religious lines to rekindle public commitment to values of family and community. They’ve even designed a symbolic logo: a golden myrtle wreath encircling the word “Fidelity.” Myrtle symbolizes fidelity. June is traditionally marked by Catholics to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and this initiative is not to detract from that, as it spans all faiths and creeds.
George’s approach to this Fidelity Month debut is to “let a thousand flowers bloom.” If you’re an organization, talk about the value of fidelity. If you’re a clergyman or other social influencer, speak to its importance. If you want to create a Fidelity T-shirt or flag to spread the message, go for it. If you’re in public office, showcase Fidelity Month, even proclaim it. (Professor George recognizes he has declared June “Fidelity Month” “by the authority invested in me by absolutely no one.”) If you’re on social media, spread the message.
While the program for “Fidelity Month” might seem a bit amorphous, it’s not. The organizers truly hope to ignite grassroots discussion among Americans about what fidelity means in terms of family and community today. The organizers are not looking for commentators to bemoan the divisions that have riven Americans or to be “against” anyone, but to get average, rank-and-file Americans — especially those animated by faith — to start talking to each other about these values and their increasingly tenuous hold on the broader society and culture.
In George’s words, “When I speak of Fidelity Month’s positive vision, I mean that we are not in the business of cursing the darkness. Rather, we are committed to lighting a candle — indeed thousands of candles.”
I could not agree more.
I recently was part of a discussion in the commentary section of a New York Times’ op-ed about patriotism today. In my remarks, I noted that while Americans might differ about the forms patriotism takes, it was imperative that patriotism and not virtue-signaling animate all those different forms because the necessity of patriotism was not debatable.
Well, I obviously engendered a debate, with no few respondents insisting that “true American” values make the individual commitment to patriotism a matter of personal choice. I parried that no society can hope to survive whose beneficiaries living in that society owe that community nothing back in justice. “American exceptionalism” does not ground neutral indifference to country absent one’s “choice.”
Questions of what it means to be faithful to one’s community — be it the family as the basic cell of any society or the larger sociopolitical community in which we live called the state — need to be engaged seriously by a broad cross-section of Americans. When we look at the erosion of the American family, where the fatherlessness and breakdown of binding values that once plagued discrete communities has now become “mainstream,” we recognize the importance of an all-American conversation about those values.
We pay lip service to those values, but without faithful personal commitments to them, they quickly become mere shards. Meantime, while elite opinion defends a lifestyle libertinism that has wreaked social havoc among broad swaths of Americans, they themselves follow rather traditional personal lifestyles. The result is that values like fidelity to family have degenerated from being a broad cultural glue binding American society together to become the de facto turf of particular classes; for example, what was once universally called “marriage and family,” turning ever more into an upper-class phenomenon and institution.
For too long, we have let attenuated attention spans and the sophist’s shriveled sound bites substitute for the hard work of social conversation essential to retaining and restoring a broader cultural consensus about what it means to be faithful in America today.
Robert George and his co-organizers want to jump-start those discussions. That’s why — despite the likelihood of some first-time hiccups — they don’t want to put off these vital conversations another year. It’s also probably why they’re more willing by subsidiarity to punt those conversations down to kindle lively discussion among rank-and-file Americans.
While the opening webinar was rather academic and philosophical, we need to translate its insights into the language of the man and woman in the street who need and unconsciously want a faithful society.
Let’s start rebuilding a faithful society.