With the economy slowing and the stock market falling, it’s easy to lapse into a spirit of pessimism around the holidays. But I will have none of that. Not personally, not economically, not spiritually, and certainly not as a citizen of the greatest country of the world.
The past two decades have witnessed a tremendous upturn in moral, spiritual, and economic abundance. I wrote about this in my book, American Abundance, published two years ago by Forbes American Heritage. Today I hold to the same view — the future has never looked brighter.
Surfing through the web this morning, I came upon a Christmas poll conducted by Scott Rasmussen and the Portrait of America. Here are some interesting findings from a sample of 1,100 adults: 86% believe Jesus Christ is the son of God, and 83% believe he was actually born in Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago; 66% say that Christmas is the most important holiday; 91% plan to celebrate it; and even 45% consider themselves to be “born again.”
From my standpoint, these are great numbers. They tell a great story. And there’s more.
University of Chicago social scientist and Nobel Prize winner Robert W. Fogel, has chronicled the rise of what he terms America’s Fourth Great Awakening. He writes of the religious revival in the U.S. over the past couple of decades, where the membership of enthusiastic churches has doubled and one-third of the U.S. adult population self-identifies as evangelical, or believers in enthusiastic religions. Even while membership in the mainline Protestant churches has dropped by one-fourth, the evangelical population has surged.
“The upsurge in religiosity is seen not so much in an increase in the number of church goers as in an intensification of religious beliefs,” Fogel writes.
One of the people in our great nation who has experienced this upsurge in religious conviction is president-elect George W. Bush, a humble, restrained, down-to-earth, straight-forward person who is married to a church-going Methodist librarian, and who himself has undergone a personal and spiritual transformation through his commitment to sober living. During the primaries last winter, Bush told us that Jesus is his favorite philosopher, and this week he spoke at a Texas church about his commitment to faith-based programs and spiritual fellowships to solve numerous social problems. That George Bush is very much a part of the Fourth Great Awakening bodes well for the future of the U.S. The awakening in religious life and the rallying behind traditional values and virtues is an ever-lengthening tail that is wagging the American political dog. And, I would add, American economic policy as well.
Numerous studies have shown that the religious movement is made up of free enterprisers — owners, investors, and small-business people. They are pro-life, pro-family, tax-reform, values-driven, school-reformers who believe in free-market choice and personal responsibility — not big-government entitling. Self-improvement for this group results from spiritual faith in God, not government. Their mantra is equality of opportunity, not income redistribution or soak-the-rich equality of results.
This is exactly the right kind of thinking for a healthy and prosperous America. It augers well for the free-enterprise economic policies that will be necessary to nurture and expand economic opportunities and wealth creation in the years ahead. It suggests that W.’s social and economic policies are far more popular throughout the country than so many pundits would have us believe, and that Bush will be a far more successful president than the banal beltway wisdom is now putting out.
I have always believed that the U.S. stock market is a bellweather barometer of both the spiritual and economic health of the nation. When stocks declined steadily from the mid ’60s through the early ’80s, they signified the moral, spiritual, and economic decay that temporarily overtook the U.S. But the improvements in our economic and moral lives of the past two decades have been accurately captured by the phenomenal rise of the stock market over the past 18 years. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Ben Wattenberg’s new book, The First Measured Century, actually shows that church attendance in America declined between 1965 and 1980, and has been rising gradually ever since. Attending church and temple on the weekend leads to a stronger market opening on Monday. Think of it.
In our great country, people overwhelmingly believe that we are God’s servants, and that we derive our natural liberty from him. The government, meanwhile, works for us — we the people, under God, as Ronald Reagan so frequently reminded us. During the holidays, this thought makes me very optimistic about the future.
From my own personal experience, I have learned how important it is to keep the faith. Faith is always the best spirit.