Eric Cohen’s thoughtful, provocative reflection in Mosaic on Attorney General William Barr’s Notre Dame lecture analyzing America’s contemporary cultural and social challenges is especially welcome in light of the caterwauling that followed Barr’s address. Much of the howling came perilously close to “the fascists are coming!” brand of hysteria-mongering that now seems the default reaction, in the progressive/mainstream-media/secularist commentariat, and on the American left in general, to any effort to reconnect American democracy to its religious, cultural, and moral foundations.
Attorney General Barr’s analysis and Cohen’s outline in his essay of a cure for what ails us run parallel to arguments I have made over the past decade, most recently in a 2017 lecture in which I suggested that healing the cultural fractures in our republic and recreating a civil debate about public policy would likely require a religious revival on the scale of a new Great Awakening (the fourth or fifth in American history, depending on who’s counting). Cohen proposes that seeds of such an awakening can be discerned in the enthusiasm many American Christians feel for the state of Israel.
Of course, that enthusiasm has multiple sources, some of which lead us into quicksand pits of biblical interpretation that must be avoided lest the Bible be reduced to a movie trailer. But at a much deeper level, Cohen suggests, the Zionist experience and the affirmation of it by many Christians demonstrate, against all secularist expectations, the continuing truth and real-world potency of the “Hebraic vision” of the human condition: both in that vision’s moral realism about the here-and-now of history and in its eschatological hope for the promised renovation of all things.