In the midst of an ongoing mental health crisis that is especially affecting children and youth, I found this headline interesting: “Conservative teenagers are generally happier than their liberal peers, study finds.” A group of Columbia University researchers studied the depressive attitudes of twelfth-graders from 2005 to 2018, comparing those aligned with conservatism and those with liberalism. They concluded that “conservatives reported lower average depressive effect, self-derogation, and loneliness scores and higher self-esteem scores than all other groups.”
In an extensive and deeply sourced article for American Affairs, Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi adds that “conservatives do not just report higher levels of happiness, they also report higher levels of meaning in their lives.” He writes that this pattern is “ubiquitous, not just in the contemporary United States but also historically (virtually as far back as the record goes) and in most other geographical contexts as well.”
He also notes that conservatives “are more likely to be patriotic and religious. They are more likely to be (happily) married and less likely to divorce. Religiosity, in turn, correlates with greater subjective and objective well-being.” Other studies have documented similar conclusions that “religious individuals are on average happier and more satisfied with life than non-religious individuals” and even live longer on average.
“Remember only that I was innocent”
Reading such reports is obviously encouraging for those of us who are religious enough to get up early to write and read articles like this one. It’s also tempting to feel sorry for “non-religious individuals” who are missing the boat.
But far more is at stake than their personal happiness.
I am writing today from Jerusalem as our Holy Land study tour continues. On Sunday, we toured Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum here. Every time I visit I am reminded of something my friend John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview says: “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.”
The “bad idea” of anti-Semitism and Aryan supremacy led the Third Reich to seek the extermination of the Jewish people. The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem contains the names of 4.8 million of the six million victims of these murderous atrocities. On its wall is a statement from the lawyer and writer Abel Herzberg: “It’s not that six million Jews were murdered; rather there were six million murdered, and in each case one Jew was murdered.”
Abramek Koplowicz was one of them, murdered at Auschwitz at the age of fourteen. I stood before his handwritten notebook in which he recorded: “When I grow up and get to be twenty I’ll travel and see this world of plenty. In a bird with an engine I will sit myself down, take off and fly into space, far above the ground. I’ll fly, I’ll cruise and soar up high above a world so lovely, into the sky.”
Benjamin Fontane, another victim of Auschwitz, wrote: “Remember only that I was innocent and, just like you, mortal on that day. I, too, had a face marked by rage, but joy and pity, quite simply, a human face!”
“A country is not just what it does”
There is ultimately only one cure for the sickness of sin and the depravity of the human condition.
Being religious is not enough—many churches and church leaders in Germany tragically and heretically supported Hitler’s regime. Trying harder to do better is not enough—despite the laudatory and courageous fight against anti-Semitism being waged by Yad Vashem and many others, this scourge continues to grow in America and Europe.
But when Christ rules our heart, we love everyone he loves and hate everything he hates. He loves the Jewish people (of whom he was one) and calls us to do the same (cf. Romans 9:1–3). And he hates prejudice (cf. Galatians 3:28) and violence (Matthew 5:38–39), calling us to love everyone we meet (vv. 40–47) as does our Heavenly Father (v. 48).
Consequently, I left Yad Vashem with a renewed commitment to doing all I can to share Christ with everyone I can. Not just for the sake of their eternal souls, but for the sake of our broken culture as well.
This statement by the journalist Kurt Tucholsky displayed in the museum convicts me every time I see it: “A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.” If America is what it tolerates and you and I are the only salt and light in our country (Matthew 5:13–16), what does this say about us?
Standing before the gates of hell
Earlier in our tour, our group visited Caesarea Philippi, where we stood before a massive cave. In Jesus’ day a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar stood alongside shrines to Greek and Roman pagan gods and temples to Baal. Horrific sexual immorality was practiced there on a level I will not describe.
One of the headwaters of the Jordan River flows from beneath the cave today. In Jesus’ time, however, it flowed through a deep cavern through the cave and down the side of the mountain. This cavern was so deep that the ancients could never determine its depth, so they called it the “gates of hades” or the “gates of hell.”
It was here that Jesus made his epochal pronouncement: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). He founded his church not at the temple in Jerusalem or the synagogue in Capernaum but at the most horrifically immoral place in his culture. Then, in the literal Greek, he said, “and the gates of hell will not withstand its assault.”
We are the church to the degree that we are attacking the gates of hell. If we are not taking Christ to our culture, using our gifts and influence to share our Lord and persuade everyone we can to make him their Lord and king, we are not the church. We can be a religious organization or a denomination, but we are the church only when we attack the gates of hell.
What “gates” will you attack today?