OP-ED: Here’s hoping Notre Dame, and Christianity, rise again
It is so awful, the fire that destroyed huge parts of the inspiring, beautiful, historically significant and spiritually riveting 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. No one died, but France mourns, millions around the world mourn and tens of thousands must right now find a new place to worship.
It was especially disheartening somehow that the calamity occurred during Holy Week, right before Easter, the holiest of Christian holy days, but what then leaped to my mind was something even more calamitous. The Christian faith is itself burning up right now, at least in some of the world, in America, for instance, a faith that has meant everything to Western Civilization and millions of souls.
Start with the cathedral itself, and ponder something that some students of the subject say, that this and so many other medieval cathedrals are architecturally greater than possibly any the buildings that have followed. This is a consequence in part of medieval genius in art and structural technology, I suppose, but I think there is something else powerfully at work: the Christian heart reveling in the glory of God.
What you had, it seems to me, was an instructive swelling of high emotion, imaginative thought and magnificent vision that still speaks to us. I myself have been inside Notre Dame and other cathedrals in France, England and Italy, and while standing there, have often experienced something powerful beyond even the overwhelming beauty, a sense of uplift and grace, of a divine presence.
Maybe others feel no such thing, but what we can all contemplate is a better understanding of the Middle Ages than once was taught. Rome did not do half as much to advance science as medieval societies marching their way to the 18th century Enlightenment. Christianity did not say no to this, but encouraged the view that a rational God gave us a rational universe that could and should be understood by rational minds trying to understand Him better.
Christianity also gave us universities, not just then but later. Churches helped build America and the founding fathers believed faith helped impart virtue vital for the maintenance of the idea of liberty that itself owes so much to Christianity. The founders gave us a needed separation of church and state, but did not forget a Bill of Rights that includes protection of faith.
So does it matter that the faith is fading here, that fewer and fewer people go to church regularly, that fewer identify with a denomination, that preachers and priests are ever harder to find, that millennials largely say boo to the sacred and that many heavy-handed atheists see only superstition?
Yes, and there are scholars who may surprise you with the news that it’s the upper 20 percent in education and wealth who mostly remain loyal to religion and the bottom 30 percent who are most of the deserters. Some will tell you as well that here is a factor in such societal malfunctions as the opioid crisis: a separation from church community, fewer helping hands, less hope and moral encouragement.
Regular churchgoers are healthier than most people, live longer and are more charitable in both giving and volunteer work. Some of us would say, too, that faith gives us meaning, strength and courage, and no, I am not saying religious people are better than everyone else. Christians see themselves as sinners and know how religion itself has promulgated major evils.
In none of this do I mean to write off other religions, but this is Easter time when we look at how the tragedy of the crucifixion was followed by ascension, how we ourselves can die to sin and rise to newness of life, how we can be redeemed. And just as Notre Dame will be rebuilt, I hope Christianity will be rebuilt in the West, that it will rise again.