For most of human history, religious faith has been central to the life, economy, and government of virtually all societies. Babylon, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome: all of these empires explicitly traced their authority from heaven, the gods, or other transcendent concepts that can only be described as religious. Religious acts were political acts, and vice versa. To challenge the status quo of the ruling authorities was to call into question the religious authorities, as well. Expressions of faith were serious business.
For more than a thousand years, Western Christianity was the theological glue that held European society together. We can still observe remnants of these former times in the civil religion of the United States. Even today, presidents invoke the name of God during speeches. Prayers are spoken before sessions of legislative bodies. New citizens and government employees are required to swear oaths of loyalty to the state. Our civil structures still bear traces of a time when Christian religious concepts were deeply intertwined with government.
For the most part, however, theistic religion is being pushed steadily out of our civic life.
At Europe Through the Back Door, our tour program just sold its 11,782nd seat for our 2011 season -- topping our best tour sales year ever (2007). Despite our antsy stock market and doom-and-gloom news stories, it seems that our economy is gaining some confidence. And yet, at the same time, our local symphony and arts center are in financial crisis.
As a way to celebrate, to give back to my beautiful hometown of Edmonds, and to spark a little conversation about why a society as affluent as the USA is cutting education, neglecting our environment, and defunding the arts while our wealthy class is doing better than ever, I've decided to make a donation of $1 million (in $100,000-a-year payments over the next decade) to our local symphony and arts center. This sum represents the money I've gained in the 10 years since the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans (those of us earning over $250,000 a year) took effect.
To work is to pray.
It's a Latin phrase that the Order of St. Benedict adopted as its motto.
St. Benedict, the founder of the order, recognized the sacred value of hard work, the notion that through the sweat of our brows and the strength of our arms and backs, we can worship the Creator.