Wrong Track Blues

By at least a two-to-one margin, Americans think that the country is headed in the wrong direction. To put these numbers into perspective, in the aftermath of September 11, Americans, by a six-to-one margin, thought that we were headed in the right direction. What’s behind this extreme shift? Nobody likes the war much—I understand that. But in many respects, it has gone very well, and we have had no major terrorist attack in America since September 11. It’s fair to say that something’s going right in the war on terrorism. The same can be said about the economy: Unemployment is at 5 percent, and inflation is under 3 percent. During the Nixon years, when I was in the White House, we would have stood on our heads for hours on end for those kinds of numbers. While gas prices have been very high, they have begun to come back down. In many respects, the economic news is better than it was four years ago. The gloom and doom can’t be the product of political scandal and corruption, either. Without meaning to sound cynical, none of these things is particularly new to Washington. So why are people so unhappy and dissatisfied? The answer lies in something that not even peace and prosperity can provide: a sense of meaning and purpose in life. If you look at the research, you will see that spiritual hunger and spiritual searching are at an all-time high. The problem is that the dominant postmodern and naturalistic worldviews can’t provide answers to what people need most. A world in which every autonomous self is free to do what he or she wants may be fun for a season, but it can’t satisfy over the long or even medium haul. For starters, other people’s ideas of “fun” may interfere with yours. In a world where nearly everything is permitted, strife and conflict are inevitable. The postmodern worldview leaves us with no satisfying way to resolve conflicts. On the contrary, it drives us further apart by denying that a shared sense of meaning and purpose are possible. But what it can’t deny is that people are “wired to connect” with one another. Studies like those I have used in my new book, The Good Life, show that we are at our very best, both personally and collectively, when we share more than office space and parking lots. Which brings me back to the post-September 11 polling results. For a time after the attacks, we overcame our isolation, and we shared a common purpose, one that prompted many people to connect with other people. We have since returned to business as usual, and the result is a profound discontent in the midst of plenty. While this discontent is bad news for the country, it ought to be very good news for the Church. If we can escape our self-absorbed isolation, we have something we can offer people: It is a better way to live—one that has meaning and purpose. That’s why I wrote the book The Good Life, in fact. The unease reflected in the polls does not come from politics; it comes from being told that there is no meaning or purpose in life. People know better, and they are searching for it, and they are not finding answers in our culture. That’s what’s making them uneasy, but it’s up to the Church—you and I—to point them in the right direction, to a worldview that is true and livable.


Chuck Colson


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