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Will There Be Another Great Awakening?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Aaron Favila

The coronavirus pandemic and its fallout will usher in countless trends. The neoliberal consensus, already battered since the transformative populist 2016 phenomena of Brexit and Donald Trump's presidential election, will come under even greater scrutiny as we navigate the deepest global recession since the Great Depression. Nations the world over will grow more skeptical of the Davos class's peddling of free trade and free travel as unalloyed goods, preferring instead the comparative safety of self-sufficient critical supply chains and secure borders. Overall, the New World Order of President George H.W. Bush may have finally met its demise in Wuhan, China.

But the virus will shape our lives far beyond the realm of geopolitics. On a more profound level, a worldwide catastrophe of this nature ought to cause us all to step back from the flashy distractions of everyday life, reconsider the importance of bedrock values and first principles and reprioritize how those values imbue our lives.

Specifically, the collective weight of a true pandemic -- one of the oldest scourges of mankind -- ought to remind us of man's innate fragility and inability to control either his environs or destiny. In short, the pandemic should lead more Americans back to God.

As a Millennial, I, all too frequently, see the materialism, shallowness and lethargy of my self-centered generation. In an age without military conflicts necessitating conscription, our ethos of national service has dwindled. Popular culture, corrupting the impressionable, has disseminated the destructive lie that shiny objects, sleek cars and plastic surgery can supplant more traditional religious values as sources of comfort and meaning. The cult of scientism, which risibly conflates the scientific discipline with claims of transcendental truth, has given rise to a purportedly "enlightened" atheism. Every year, a larger percentage of younger Americans identify as irreligious.

As horrific as the coronavirus is, a religious revival could be the most meaningful and longest-lasting silver lining. Hurricanes and other natural disasters aside, no one alive today has experienced the existential wakeup call of a true pandemic. But there is some historical precedent for possible effects. The Black Death of 14th-century Europe, the most lethal recorded pandemic, precipitated widespread religious fervor (zealotry and destructive fanaticism in its most extreme forms, to be sure). Overall, more Europeans reacted to the plague not by questioning the church's authority but by aggressively expiating the sins that they believed brought about the epidemic.

American history, furthermore, has been marked by numerous Great Awakenings. There is no better time to expect a new Great Awakening than in the aftermath of an all-encompassing worldwide crisis of meaning. There can be no starker reminder to the partisans of scientism and radical environmentalism that Mother Nature is not necessarily our friend. Earth-worship, which has ancestral pagan roots even before the Greeks sang the praises of the goddess Gaia, is incapable of providing meaning to the human condition. Rather, genuine meaning can only be found by dedication to pursuing permanent truth, discerning permanent truth, and, ultimately, living in accordance with permanent truth.

The solution, in short, is religion. The solution is the need for a revival of America's distinct Judeo-Christian heritage, whose substantive underpinnings have chastened our excesses of intemperance, inculcated virtue across generations and permitted Americans to freely engage in the most fundamental pursuit known to man: seeking and abiding by truth according to the dictates of one's own conscience.

Religion in America is an instrumental good -- for example, religious people generally give more to charity and claim to be happier than the irreligious -- but it is, first and foremost, an intrinsic good. Religion gives meaning to our lives.

In his Farewell Address, President George Washington said, "(L)et us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The post-coronavirus recovery would be a perfect time to make Washington proud.

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