<< Denison Forum

They're Taking to the Streets around the World Due to Loss of Faith in the Social Contract


Captain James T. Kirk is returning to the “final frontier.”

Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin announced this week that William Shatner, the ninety-year-old actor who played Kirk in the 1960s TV series Star Trek, will be on board its next flight launching on October 12.

The show began each week with a theme song over which a narrator said, “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

The show resonates more than fifty years later because it captures our innate drive to be more than we are and do more than we do. We all want to be Captain Kirk in some way—to achieve greatness, to earn a lasting legacy. In our souls, we agree with Theodore Roosevelt:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”

This fact explains much of the chaos dominating our political culture today.

“We were just there to overthrow the government”

Democratic senators Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin have been dealing with some remarkable rancor in recent days. Sen. Sinema was followed by immigration activists into a public restroom Sunday morning, where they demanded that she support President Biden’s $3.5 trillion domestic policy bill.

Sen. Manchin, like Sen. Sinema, has voiced concerns about the size of the bill and some of its contents. As a result, Rolling Stone published an article titled “Joe Manchin Just Cooked the Planet.” The author, passionate about the president’s climate change agenda included in the $3.5 trillion bill, writes that unless the senator changes his position, he will be remembered as the man who “chose to condemn virtually every living creature on Earth to a hellish future of suffering, hardship, and death.”

When you believe you are fighting for the future for immigrants and the planet, you’ll apparently say and do whatever it takes to win. The stakes are that high.

Many activists on the right are similarly convinced that they are fighting for the future of our country. One of the January 6 rioters said later, “We weren’t there to steal things. We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.” When President Trump asked his supporters to go home later, she felt confused and depressed: “We were supposed to be fighting until the end.”

Such protests are not unique to the US. Over the last eighteen months, according to the New York Times, people have taken to the streets in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, India, Yemen, Tunisia, Eswatini, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, and the US.

The Times explains these protests as “the loss of faith in the social contract that shapes relations between governments and their people. Put simply, the governments of today seem incapable of offering both representative and effective governance. And ordinary citizens have had enough” (their emphasis).

New insight from a longtime friend

I have read daily from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest since a friend first gave a copy of this classic in 1993. As a result, I must have seen the October 5 devotional dozens of times, but when I read it again yesterday, it struck me in a new way.

Chambers states: “The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, ‘I am my own god.'” This is a familiar fact hearkening back to Genesis 3:5 and the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. But note what Chambers says next: “This nature may exhibit itself in proper morality or in improper immorality, but it always has a common basis—my claim to my right to myself.”

He adds: “When our Lord faced either people with all the forces of evil in them, or people who were clean-living, moral, and upright, he paid no attention to the moral degradation of one, nor any attention to the moral attainment of the other. He looked at something we do not see, namely, the nature of man.”

Here’s what I took from Chambers’ insight: We can be moral for sinful reasons. We can pursue the highest of ends, from defending immigrants to protecting our planet to saving our nation, in self-dependent and self-justifying ways.

Like you, I am tempted to do this for several reasons:

  • If I consider myself to be a champion of morality on the critical issues we face, I can give myself a pass on the “lesser” sins I commit.
  • If you consider me to be moral based on my defense of issues you embrace, I can agree with you despite what I know to be true of myself.
  • If I pursue morality in my abilities, I get the accolades for all I accomplish.

Such self-reliant morality is especially attractive for evangelicals, since we are fighting not just for immigrants or the planet or the nation, but for eternal souls. As a result, we can easily justify all we do in this cause and justify ourselves despite all our other failings.

“The key to abundant life here on earth”

This week we’ve discussed divisions within the Democratic Partyrancor toward the Supreme Court, and now vitriolic attacks on political leaders. Is there any question that the solution to our problems does not lie within us?

What is true for our culture is true for you and me as well. The highest of aims pursued apart from the power of God will end in failure in his eyes.

This is why the highest of aims is not horizontal but vertical. Craig Denison is right: “The key to abundant life here on earth is the passionate pursuit of Jesus.” He cites God’s call to “seek the Lᴏʀᴅ while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6), God’s invitation to “seek my face” (Psalm 27:8), and God’s promise: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

The more we seek God’s “face”—his intimate daily presence—the more we experience his greatness and love, the more we then learn to trust his power over our own, and the more we are then empowered by his Spirit as catalysts for cultural transformation. No matter how high the causes for which we are fighting these days—abortion, religious liberty, and sexual morality among them—the highest cause is union with Jesus.

To cite C. S. Lewis’ well-known advice: “Aim at heaven and you get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

How high is your aim today?

Image credit: ©Getty Images / Ridofranz

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

The Daily Article Podcast is Here!

Click to Listen

More Denison Forum Articles