Quo Vadis, America?

Photo of actors in a dramatic Roman scene

In classical Latin, “Quo vadis?” means “Where are you marching?” In more modern usage, it often is used to pose the question, “Where are you going?” That is, what is your intention, your purpose, in what you are writing, or perhaps doing? I now find myself asking, has there ever in the history of these United States of America been a time when that was a more appropriate question, than it is for today?

In his Gettysburg Address, in 1864, President Lincoln introduced his speech with these two claims: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

One could offer those two lines—and that great Civil War to which Lincoln referred—as a response to my question. In a sense, President Lincoln was asking the same question of America, at the time of that Civil War. At this time, of what I would deem an “uncivil” war, I would posit that we are being asked that same question: can this nation, so conceived and so dedicated, long endure?

My mind, perhaps my subconscious, always lets me know when it has a message for me, something that has to get out, to be released, by the way in which it haunts my early waking moments. And so it is now, with this question. Where are we going, where are we marching, we the people of this grand experiment called the USA?

Soon after the recent presidential election, I had to intentionally disconnect from the public square of opinion, as I attempted to let the swirling, conflicting thoughts and reactions have a chance to form a precipitate, for something to settle out of the mixture, that comes closest to my most deep-seated beliefs, that keep wanting to rise up in rebellion.

A few mornings ago, as I sipped a first cup of coffee while lying in bed, staring out at a black pre-dawn that seemed reluctant to wake up, a couple of quotes kept swirling in my mind. The first is attributed to John Adams, a comment he made soon after the signing of our newly-established Constitution. In that comment, Adams gave this prescient warning to the nation that was to be governed by this document, 

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And the second quote, long remembered and just as recently floating around in my mind, is the famous observation by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America:

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Then, a few mornings after these quotes began to haunt me, I sat at my desk, my bowl of oatmeal cooling before me, and simply stared at a blank screen, unable to look at any of my usual daily “reads” while eating. And for some reason, the verses from the Gospel of Luke came to mind, telling of how Jesus, while riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, people lined along the way praising him and tossing palm branches on the ground, broke down and openly wept over the beloved city.

Looking down from the vantage point of eighty-four years of loving my country, my “shining city on the hill,” that morning, I found myself choking, forcing back tears, just as Jesus wept over the City of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, knowing what it was doing to itself. What, I had to wonder, are we doing to ourselves? Where are we marching?

The essence of those two quotes has floated around the back rooms of my mind these past few weeks, and in some fashion the past several years. It has required two-and-a-third centuries, but those two warnings by Adams and de Tocqueville are now being demonstrated in all their undeniable truth from sea to shining sea.

Caught in a Lie

Cover of Scott Peck book People of  the Lie

Then, M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, suddenly came to mind. I had bought that book, years ago, after devouring his The Road Less Traveled. And that, I realized, is the essence of it. This nation, in far too many ways to even attempt to enumerate, has become The People of the Lie.

How it was taught to me, in such a way as to become a fundamental element of my nature, I do not remember. But however done, I knew that in the Hayes household, and in much of the public that surrounded me as I grew, lying was beyond simply being a bad thing to do. It was evil, it broke one of the Ten Commandments of the Bible, and only evil things could come from it.

We, as a nation, lie. We lie to each other. We lie on television. We lie in the newspapers. We lie in the schools, in our great corporations, and even in some churches. We have become the People of the Lie. And as I was taught, only evil can, and will, come from it.

With the Revolution of 1917, Lenin, Marx, Stalin and others introduced communism to the world. And little time was required before its siren song enthralled some of the intellectuals, and others, in America, and with that, their desire to bring it to our shores. By 1936, when I was born, the Socialists of America had an office on the town square, in my home town of Iola, Kansas. And like kudzu, it steadily spread its roots across the nation.

However, “The Left” long ago recognized that to ultimately succeed in transforming America from its original inception, they could not do so unless and until God was taken out of the public square. No matter how it was to be done, God had to go. And to a very large degree, these several generations later, they have succeeded. God is gone from the public arena.

To an extent that would have been incomprehensible to me as a youth, we are no longer a religious nation. We’ve taken God out of our schools, out of our universities, out of our public discourse, and some would argue, even out of our churches. And for far too many, out of our lives. 

David Berlinski, in his book The Devil’s Delusion, makes reference to a claim made by Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov: “…if God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Berlinski used that quote to then introduce a two-plus pages-long list—totaling well over 100 million—of people killed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and other Communist dictators in the 20th century. To those evil tyrants, God did not exist and everything was permitted.

Photo of communist Khmer Route troops entering Phnom Penh
The Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh, April 17, 1975

Using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse, now in this 21st  century, churches have been closed, ministers put in jail, while bars remain open. Worship is banned while burning and looting of cities, the destruction of people’s businesses and lives, was featured nightly on television and praised by many. If God is not KIA, certainly He is AWOL in this nation.

And when God does not exist, then everything is permitted. I have to ask, now, what in America is no longer permitted? As a nation, we are no longer “a religious people,” and based on the foul crudeness of language rampant in public messaging, on the pervasive public lying, and the coarseness of much public entertainment, we are also no longer “a moral people.” What would President John Adams, and Mr. de Tocqueville, have to say about our future as a constitutional republic, I have to wonder.

I read of the hymns of praise now being poured out daily in the nation’s leading newspapers and on national television for congressional leaders who vow to “transform America,” who openly support communist governments, and espouse socialist principles for what they would include in laws to be passed for our country. And all I can think of is the pictures of the people of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, lining the streets in praise of Khmer Rouge troops as they entered the city the morning after its fall on April 17, 1975, those same Khmer Rouge troops later exposed for their evil nature in the movie The Killing Fields.

Quo vadis, America?

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