One of the recurring themes in the Gospel is how people can be scrupulous about ritual display while living lives devoted to cutting moral corners.
The key concern is integrity.
Do we actually live as we claim to be living? In other words, are our lives truthful?
Just as with individuals, a nation must live out the truth of what it proclaims itself to be. Its practices must reflect the principles held up as cherished ideals. When practice diverges from principle, it is not living in truth.
The events of the past few days raise doubts about our national integrity. The manner in which we’ve pursued our withdrawal from Afghanistan has made the world question how seriously we take those principles we trumpet so proudly.
I’ve always felt a certain pride in being an American, perhaps too unquestioningly so. We haven’t consistently lived up to our highest ideals. That’s undeniable.
The shameful withdrawal from Vietnam was one failure. Those images of helicopters on the embassy roof will forever symbolize my generation’s national disgrace.
Overall, though, I believe we’ve tried to fulfill an honorable destiny. And we’ve tried to make our children understand the importance of America’s principles. That’s even been so in our popular culture.
I can recall the opening sequence of a much-loved 1950s TV series, “The Adventures of Superman,” which described how this “strange visitor from another planet” fought a never-ending battle for “truth, justice, and the American Way.” Like so many kids my age, I ran around the house with a towel draped down my back in imitation of Superman’s cape.
Are we still committed to "truth, justice, and the American Way?”
These days we find ourselves constantly asking Pontius Pilate’s haunting question, “What is truth?”
We hear different stories about what happened in Afghanistan, and how our 20-year effort to free that troubled land from tyranny and terrorism collapsed so quickly.
Who is responsible? How could we have witnessed such ineptitude? Was it ineptitude?
God help us — I hope it was ineptitude. I don’t want to consider the alternative: that it was all planned.
And anyway, who are we to believe? The President? The Pentagon? General Milley? The media?
Then too, where is the justice in this debacle? We’ve been able to extract several thousand people who supported and assisted us in our fight against the Taliban. But how many more — including American citizens, including Afghan Christians — have been left behind merely because they couldn’t reach the airport on our arbitrary and rigid timetable?
We don’t know how many; nobody seems to. But they’re there. And what is their fate now, as the Taliban and their confreres, ISIS and Al-Qaeda, consolidate power, eliminate all opposition, and indulge their lust for revenge?
Why did we commit ourselves so firmly to a certain exit date? Why did we conduct a withdrawal under that kind of arbitrary pressure? And how did the opposition have such thorough knowledge of our plans?
I don’t say we should have remained in Afghanistan forever. We’ve long exceeded our original mandate, which was to crush the plotters behind the 9/11 attacks and keep Afghanistan from being a terrorist haven.
What is our obligation to all those who helped us? Where’s the justice in how we’ve abandoned them?
Finally, what is the American Way at this point in our history? Surely not this.
Can we ever get back to some understanding of our country as place where there’s a commitment to the rule of law and the biblical principles on which it was founded, as well as loyalty to those who have sacrificed on our behalf, and (at the very least) an intention to treat people fairly?
Will we ever again be a land Superman would have recognized?
It would take a lot. We’ve got quite a bit of lost ground to recover. Two small indicators: a recent commentary in The New York Times proclaiming "a more secular America” and a newly appointed chief chaplain of Harvard University who is a self-identified atheist.
Think of it. Our secular nation with a Harvard atheist chief chaplain has just experienced one of the most shameful failures in its history.
What is left for us to do?
Well, we can do what we’ve always done in moments of crisis. We can pray. And that’s no small thing. It’s brought us through conflict and national self-doubt before.
Pray for those we’ve left behind. Pray for the tortured people of Afghanistan, who are now reliving the nightmare from which they thought they had awakened.
Pray for repentance and conversion — for our own personal sins, for the sins of our leaders, for the sins of the nation. In fact, declaring a national day of repentance and conversion might be a timely idea.
And while we’re at it, pray for integrity.
Pray for truth, justice, and the American Way.
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed online here.