It says something — draw your own conclusions — when the president's attendance at church makes national headlines.
There was a time when the banner, "President and family attend Sunday services" would have been akin to "President eats jelly on toast." But as we know, this president doesn't go to church much.
The cynic in me would note on my trusty calendar that Labor Day has come and gone, and thus it's officially campaign season (kind of like Lent for politicians), which explains the president's renewed interest in all things religious.
The president claims that his security requirements create a circus atmosphere in church that isn't conducive to solemnity and prayer. But it's odd that he has never mentioned pursuing a regular, logistically friendly alternative, such as hosting a home church in his private quarters at the White House.
Instead, the Obamas seem to live the typical, secular lifestyle that increasingly marks our 21st-century American culture, even among people who profess a strong religious belief.
Sundays are for sleeping in, reading a stack of newspapers, long walks with the dog, going out for brunch, playing a round of golf. It's all the stuff the Lord intends for a day of rest, without the fussy clothes and sitting still and long sermons.
What concerns me more than his lack of regular church attendance is the fact that, like too many parents, the Obamas don't seem to make it a priority to get their children to church each week. Consequently, their daughters are among the millions of American children who are growing up without a solid connection to a spiritual, moral and religious identity that traditionally has been found in church — a connection that becomes more important as they navigate the rough waters of adolescence.
Without a foundation in faith, it's easy for our nation's children to absorb the secular values that permeate our media with respect to religion.
On TV, religious figures are either a joke (think "South Park" and "Family Guy," a show whose creator, Seth MacFarlane, believes the time for atheism has come), or else organized religion is depicted as outdated, bigoted or even evil. When religion is portrayed positively, it's in the form of a vague spirituality, especially one that comes from "believing in yourself."
In a 2007 study of teens and young adults, the Christian research firm Barna Group found that 16- to 29-year-olds were "more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago." There's no question that aggressive atheism — the kind that weeds prayer out of graduation ceremonies and mandates sex education curricula that fly in the face of religious traditions — is taking a toll on America's identity as a godly people.
It is undeniable that without a firm foundation of faith, our culture will falter — is faltering. Despite billboard campaigns about the inherent goodness of atheists, the fact is that God is the true source of morality. Without God, we're left with an endless, pointless search for the values and virtues that lead us toward the truth.
Last week while on his historic visit to Britain, Pope Benedict XVI warned about the effects of secularism in a society. "As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society," he said.
Something to chat about with the children over Sunday brunch, yes?
• Contact Marybeth Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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