I just returned from an extraordinary trip to Paris. As I stared up at the Eiffel Tower and stood at the Museum D’Orsay awestruck by the beauty of Van Gough’s Starry Night, I felt the romanticism that Parisians boast about. I understand now why millions of people spend thousands of dollars each year just to experience its magnificence. But as I walked the streets, a gnawing haunted me. At first, I couldn’t identify its source. When Sunday morning came, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
God was visibly absent from the culture.
The Louvre houses magnificent paintings of Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist and the majesty of Notre Dame illuminates miles of the night. So why, I wondered, did so many thousands of Parisians through the centuries jettison the foundations of their faith and take up the worship of the buildings, the history of the city, the art and the literature? Slowly, secularism has replaced Christian faith, and cathedrals and churches across the city are left only half full on Sunday mornings. At least, that’s the appearance.
So what’s the big deal?, we wonder. What’s so wrong with a city “softening” religious rules and traditions and becoming more accepting of those who don’t espouse Christianity? Nothing and everything. Yes, we should accept people for who they are and embrace our differences. But throwing God out proves to be a deathblow to our culture, our kids, and mankind.
First of all, we need God. He teaches us about love and grace. He prods us to love when we don’t feel like it and to find a moral compass and take a stand for what we believe is right and what is wrong, regardless of who agrees with us. Take as many trips to the Louvre as you like, and you won’t find those things there.
And our kids need God. Studies show that kids who have a belief in God do better in life. They have less depression, are less likely to get involved in all the high risk activities like drugs, sex, and alcohol; do better in school; and live with better balance. And that’s just the beginning. God gives kids a sense of purpose and value. Believing that they were designed for a specific reason and that they aren’t an accident gives kids a strong sense of self. They belong to someone and they fit somewhere. Every child craves those things.
Look at kids in gangs—they fabricate families to believe that they belong to someone. Young girls who roll around in the backseats of their pimple-faced boyfriends’ cars do so because they want to believe—even for a few moments—that someone thinks they’re wonderful. Girls who know God have that and more. They know deep in their souls that God is crazy about them, so why bother to get in the car in the first place?
I fear that America is heading in the direction of cities like Paris who have chosen to adore history, literature, and art over God. The real danger is that when we supplant a love for God with love for created arts, history and literature, we come to admire the creators as well as the created. God quietly fades into the background and all order in life begins to unravel.
Who will show us what real love is? Starry Night won’t. Who will teach us what virtues are? Not the Eiffel Tower. That is testimony to great architectural talent. Period.
Good parenting is the business of teaching our kids the best way to live. And this absolutely cannot happen if we leave God out of the picture. Rather, God must be the center from which we start. We can surround our kids with beautiful things; but if we neglect their souls, have we given our kids anything at all?