Beltway insiders Timothy Goeglein and Craig Osten collaborate in American Restoration: How Faith and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation to stimulate not just Christian thought but especially Christian action toward change in American culture, and they do so with a spirit of energizing optimism amidst what they describe as the “battle for our civilization” (xxi).
Goeglein is the vice president for External and Governmental Relations at Focus on the Family, with experiences ranging from senatorial press secretary to special assistant to President George W. Bush, and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Osten has collaborated with several best-selling authors, bringing his years as a political reporter and student of history into this project with Goeglein.
So far from hand-wringing over the mega-shift away from American’s original Judeo-Christian values that grounded principles of freedom, justice, and human dignity in a transcendent and divine framework, Goeglein and Osten believe something can be done about halting and correcting America’s trajectory of ideological and moral decay. American Restoration is their call to action that cuts across denominational lines. It is not, however, to be mistaken as directive to churches, much less material that constitutes the message of the church (that, they are clear to say, is the holy gospel), but rather a plea to individual Christians who are American citizens to better our country now, for our neighbors, ourselves, and generations to come.
So while philosopher Charles Taylor argues in A Secular Age that secularism is here to stay, Goeglein and Osten say that may be so, but it doesn’t mean any more ground need be surrendered to secularism and consumerism and the dehumanizing, liberty-eviscerating values that come with them. They also believe that taking Ron Dreher’s ideals in The Benedict Option the wrong way (that is, contrary to Dreher’s intent) to “circle the wagons” into isolated Christian communities (ghettoized Christianity) buffered from contemporary culture strikes a chord contrary to the missional mandate of the church and the doctrine of vocation to serve one’s neighbor, which was developed at the time of the Reformation by Martin Luther. To be sure, Christian retreats and consolidation of resources at both community and institutional levels have their place. Be that as it may, the authors’ principle summons entail sacrifice, personal sacrifice. Such sacrifice means no longer taking the easy route of capitulation or passivity or, indeed, apathy, but asserting oneself into those domains of influence that can effect change. That may and likely will come with some sacrificial cost. Positively, Goeglein and Osten believe Christians have civic obligations concomitant to their various God-given vocations, which includes virtuous citizenry. Christians, stated plainly, have a duty to be patriots and exemplary citizens that influence society for the good and toward the good.
The authors set forth a model for change originating with eighteenth-century British parliamentarian and philosopher Edmund Burke, who advocated for “little platoons” as opposed to courting legislators. “Little platoons” begin, foremost, with strong marriages and loving families, then increase in spheres of influence and numbers with vibrant churches, fraternal groups, various neighborhood and community associations, through which all Christians, indeed, all citizens can participate in various specific acts to make possible the renewal of America.
Each of the fifteen chapters open with a series of quotes from luminaries ranging from T.S. Eliot to Russell Kirk, setting the stage for the topic of each chapter. Kirk’s quote in chapter one, “If a culture is to survive and flourish, it must not be severed from the religious vision out of which it arose”, launches the theme of the book: “There can be no liberty without virtue, and faith is the source from which virtue springs” (5). This theme plays out in focused chapters headed by the repetition of “Restoring”: “Restoring America’s Founding Principles”; “Restoring Religious Liberty”; “Restoring Medicine and Medical Ethics”; “Restoring a Culture of Life”; “Restoring Marriage, Family, and Social Capital”; “Restoring the Concept of the Gentlemen”; “Restoring Virtue”; “Restoring Education”; “Restoring Civility”; “Restoring Citizenship and Duty”; “Restoring Community”; “Restoring the Balance between Politics and Culture”; “Restoring the Constitution”; “Restoring Patriotism and Sacrifice”: “Restoring America”.
The authors know American history and our constitutional government and use stories and examples from both, with personal vignettes, reports from culture, and reliable statistical research, to make their case—a compelling case that comports well with the theology of the Conservative Reformation and biblical teaching on Christian citizenship.
While not employing the term or category, the authors have identified humanitarianism as the habituating force competing against Christianity and the Christian as a political subject in Western civilization. Humanitarianism can be described as the prevailing way secularists, atheists, progressives, and liberals understand, engage and interpret the world in which “humanity” is its own paramount theme, “humanity” and “self-fulfillment” as self-evident truths, set over-against supernaturalism or the transcendent. In its anti-theological, anti-metaphysical aggressiveness, it posits an alternative anthropology in which humanity evolved and evolves (paving the way for posthumanism via transhumanism). It rejects the biblical teaching of imago dei and human fallenness. Consequently, for humanitarianism the greatest power in the world is not divine but the human will, with the right to choose virtually anything in one’s own pursuit of happiness as the highest good. A calculus of value is built around humanitarianism that values consumerism and devalues “defective” human life (and, so, one’s responsibility to abort defective babies and the normalization of suicide). A host of public policies and societal norms follow humanitarian thinking that appear humane and liberating, all the while actually subverting morality, dehumanizing, and nullifying liberty.
The political mechanisms of humanitarianism are globalization (devaluing specified humanity—Americans: hence border and immigration issues); secularism, multiculturalism (devaluing religious and ethnic specificity), identity-politics (to dismantle established cultures from which people derive their specific history and morals), and political correctness (rendering outmoded and distasteful traditional religious and family values). The result is the erosion of civic life at every level through the mechanisms of media, education, legislation, and permissive culture.
Goeglein and Osten recognize that American civilization shorn of any recognizable transcendental dimension and given to humanitarianism becomes a culture that necessarily promotes egalitarian social justice (instead of equal justice) based on consumeristic (economic) reasoning. In other words, the deceptive ethic of humanitarianism facilitates a cult of self-justifying works-righteousness while at the same time never being morally demanding and with no accountability, except of course to ever-shifting humanitarianism itself. Christianity, where tolerated, can only be an ethical system, but only insofar as it yields to the ideals of humanitarianism. When this is the case, the authors say, America is not a free nation and we are not a liberated people, politically and culturally speaking.
These things make humanitarianism—a totalizing worldview—the foremost threat to and challenge for Christianity and Western Christian culture. But, according to Goeglein and Osten, even though humanitarianism has altered Europe and Canada perhaps irremediably, it’s not too late for the United States. “Little platoons” are needed now.
Humanitarianism isn’t the only problem, and the authors make no pretentions by suggesting that the ills are merely ideological and political. If there is going to anything that approximates an American restoration, then matters concerning marriage, family and the art of gentlemanliness must rise to the forefront of values that need rehabilitation and enculturation. But the engine that fires the restoration of virtue, family, ethics, civility, and even properly placed patriotism and community is faith (specifically the Christian faith), yet of course with requite room for religious liberty, such that our nation has enjoyed until the legal challenges of recent decades. Faith in the Creator God is the core value that gives semblance and propels the little platoon.
American Restoration should be read by the widest possible audience, including high school students and collegians. At a minimum, it promises to dispel revisionist histories about America’s founding principles and Constitutional Law, along with the place of faith and religion in the public forum. And, having gleaned Goeglein and Osten’s message of needful hope and encouragements for action, the same readers should resolve to engage culture afresh through their own uncompromising “little platoons”.
John Bombaro (Ph.D.) is a Programs Manager at the USMC Headquarters. He lives in Virginia with his wife and children.