Americans are not ready to live by bread alone. That’s the overwhelming conclusion of three recent polls.
The surveys were independently conducted by the Times-Mirror Center, by Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, and by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. All three found that while the economy is turning up, the spirit of the American people is turning down.
Pessimism is spreading like a dark cloud.
Wirthlin found that 62 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. The Times-Mirror survey found that 71 percent are “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today.”
What’s striking is that this gloominess is infecting our spirits at a time when the economy is thriving—in terms of unemployment, job creation, and low inflation. In the past presidential election, we were told that people’s chief concern was the economy. But today the economy is humming along—and yet people are unhappier than ever.
The polls also reveal the reason for this puzzling pessimism: People are deeply disturbed about a decline in moral values. When asked to identify the top problem facing the country, half the people in the Wirthlin study cited crime and other social issues. Similarly, in the Times-Mirror survey half cited crime, drugs, or lack of family values.
The numbers tell a dark story—and the theme of the story is America’s disastrous experiment with secularism. Secularism cuts off our mental horizon at the edge of our earthly existence. It denies the reality of any transcendent world, and as a result it forces people to seek their entire happiness in this world—in making money and buying things.
But the unhappiness brooding in so many people’s hearts today proves that this limited vision of life does not satisfy. By denying any transcendent realm, secularism gives no basis for abstract ideals like morality and ethics, love and commitment.
Secularism leaves us wandering in the desert of our own desires. And unchecked desires lead straight to family breakdown, social disarray, and crime.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus warned that if we limit our sights to this world, we will be consumed by worldly concerns, such as “What shall I eat?” and “What shall I wear?” His words were prophetic of consumerist, secular America over the past few decades.
But Jesus also pointed out the way to escape the limits of secularism. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, Jesus said. And then, He promised, all the rest of life falls into proper perspective.
So we can be thankful for a flourishing economy that puts a chicken in every pot. But Americans are realizing that a full belly is not enough when the spirit is starving.
And as that realization sinks in, Christians have an unprecedented opportunity. Only a few years ago those who broached moral issues in the public square were attacked as meddlesome bigots. But today it is precisely what Americans crave.
We need to seize this opportunity to offer people the heavenly bread of the Gospel—the only thing that can satisfy their spiritual hunger.