Enthusiasm is in decline

Elise T.Chisolm

September 17, 1991|By Elise T.Chisolm

THE CHURCH is full of beauty and peace. But I'm not. I am attending a Protestant service in a downtown historic church.

But there aren't many worshipers. Where are they? Oh, sure, it's still hot and there are a lot of people on vacation. Attendance in this city church has been going down for years, they say.

The organist is playing the lovely ''Ode To Joy.''

And I am wondering why I'm not more joyous. Perhaps it is because I talked with a Russian friend just back from Vilnius, Lithuania, where she attended a church service. She told me the place was jammed with people: ''In fact, there is a whole new feeling in the city, one of joy. Although there are shortages, there is hope, and I saw many smiling faces that I didn't see last time I was there. They talk of democracy and voting.''

The Monday after my church service I saw television pictures of temples in Moscow filled to capacity, and people lined up in the streets -- the Jewish faithful celebrating Rosh Hashana, and the jubilation was evident.

How wonderful, I thought, after years of oppression. How wonderful for them. How different it is with us.

This is one of the greatest dichotomies of my time: Communism dies, religion is now open over there, and here where religion has long been a free choice, we don't use it fully.

We Americans take everything for granted. Religion is free, we don't want to pay for it.

A Gallup poll conducted in October 1988 found that 88 percent of Americans said they sometimes prayed to God, but the church rolls don't show it. In March of 1991 the poll asked how many people had attended a church or synagogue in the last seven days, and only 43 percent said they had. Church attendance went up during the Persian Gulf war, and some say it will remain up. Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

Certainly freedom of religion is something we fought for long ago. Can we keep it?

Voting is open here, but we don't want to take the time to go to the polls. Less than 35 percent of the voting public went to the polls in Baltimore's primary election Thursday. In the last national election, 1988, only 50.2 percent of the voting population voted.

We won our great freedoms when our country was young, but now we don't hold them dear enough. We seem to lack power in our own beliefs. We talk of helping the Soviets, but we need to help ourselves before we disintegrate as did Soviet communism. They will set up democracies, hopefully, while we are floundering.

Will we become what they were -- oppressed for generations? Or will they become like us, in love with new-found freedom, and then let it slide into the great crevasse of apathy?

While the Baltic and Russian people are celebrating, we seem to be declining and splintering, socially, economically, politically and morally.

During the last decade our nation has been mostly motivated by greed. We were content to allow the administration to multiply the national debt, to mortgage the future rather than pay our bills. We are worried about the infrastructure of our cities, our environment, crime, health care, poverty and drugs. Our savings and loan institutions, banks and insurance companies have been subjected to fraud. But there is very little national indignation.

As a nation we have lost our passion. We seem to be content to drift with little direction or purpose.

Perhaps we can learn from the revival of freedoms in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that we need our own renaissance lest we lose our grip on the concepts we hold so dear.

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