America Doesn’t Face a Crisis of Faith, but a Crisis of Religion

According to recent surveys, some 87 percent of American say they believe in God, but trust in religious institutions is at an all-time low, and regular attendance at religious services has been steadily decreasing. Yuval Levin sees these data as suggestive of a broader collapse of faith in institutions, to which he in turn attributes many of our political and social ills. And while many churches and synagogues have tried to fix the problem by “making their religious orders less demanding,” and “emphasizing broad commitments to justice and deemphasizing specific strictures on personal behavior”—thus rendering themselves more attractive—Levin believes that by doing so they only aggravate the problems they hope to solve.

What Americans . . . have trouble believing . . . is that our institutions—our churches, seminaries, religious schools, and charities—remain capable of forming trustworthy people who actually exhibit the integrity they preach. To overcome such doubts, and to appeal to persuadable younger Americans, our religious institutions need to show not that they are continuous with the larger culture but that they are capable of addressing its deficiencies—that they can speak with legitimate authority and be counted on to do the work of molding souls and shaping character. The problem, in other words, may be that our pews have grown too soft, not too hard.

What stands out about our era is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction—a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.

In many prominent establishments of American religion today, we find institutions intended to change hearts and save souls used instead as stages for political theater—not so much forming those within as giving them an outlet. This has made religious institutions harder to trust, and it has also made it more difficult for them to effectively perform their crucial educational, civic, social, and charitable functions. But most important, it has made it difficult for them to speak with authority about the truth.

This is the ironic truth at the heart of America’s social crisis: we have become disillusioned and alienated from our institutions not because they are too demanding but because they are not demanding enough. We want to be called to acts of devotion, not just affirmed in acts of expression. Our religious institutions are best positioned to make such demands, since they speak for a truth that stands outside the expressive individualism that has come to dominate our culture.

Read more at Deseret News

More about: American politics, American Religion, American society

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict