I, along with most of the world, watched in horror Monday as the Notre Dame Cathedral erupted in flames. In mere hours, 850 years of history and art, and a testament to both God and mankind’s aspirations was damaged but thankfully not totally lost. As with historic monuments that hold important pieces of Western Civilization’s most treasured artifacts, there was a plan to protect that which is valued highest. 

Miraculously, most was saved.

Roofs can be replaced, pews can be rebuilt. The Oak Trees at Versailles are grown for just this task. But what about what that roof represents, what these great structures symbolize?

Imagine in the modern day working for 100 years, laboring on something so much bigger than any one individual. Working to build something not as a testament to man but to God. Something so beautiful, that almost 1,000 years later was still the most popular place to visit in Paris, welcoming anyone in need of spiritual reflection, solace or beauty.

Poet Christian Johann Heinrich Heine long ago said, “A friend asked me why we no longer build cathedrals like the famous Gothic constructions of old, and I said: in those times men had convictions; we modern men merely have opinions, and it takes more than an opinion to build a Gothic cathedral.”

In the modern age, a parallel can be drawn to the now hollowed-out Notre Dame. Not just to churches and cathedrals, though thousands have been destroyed and vandalized in the last few years all over the world. But also to government, culture, society and Western civilization. Our society has lost it ties to what came before.

Post-modernism tells us that history no longer matters, that the foundations of our shared story have no place in our fast-paced new world. But those foundations are necessary to give modern life context and meaning in a world that seems to have less of either with each passing day.

And it shows.

Corruption, greed and a belief in only ourselves has given us riches, technology and ease. It has also resulted in people unhappier with life, and a plethora of mood-altering drugs to try to counteract depression and anxiety.

We have a government that works for its own power at the expense of its citizens, a culture that rewards celebrity and a deep mistrust of everything outside of ourselves. Those elements are a recipe for disaster.

We reward those who do not take a stand; we create to keep for ourselves. Everything is about the here and now, because nothing matters.

These are the same cornerstones and history that enabled a group of men to band together and stand up to the King of England and say “no more” to create something wild and new.....the ideal of America.

The ties we held with Europe have slowly been erased, leaving behind people who yearn to belong to something bigger than themselves.

We are told everyone is the same, no different. 

But if everything and everyone are the same, to what do we aspire? We feel no need, certainly no urgency, to create lasting marvels or things of beauty. We are afraid to say something is wrong for fear of offending. We don’t build amazing structures for risk of lawsuit. We are afraid to speak unpopular opinions for fear of losing our voices and livelihoods.

We slowly and surely become widgets, interchangeable with any other.

We have lost our national character and our national spirit - that which once unified us with unbreakable bonds -  to the altar of diversity.

I am not saying diversity is bad. Our nation was founded on individualism. We share strength in understanding what is different from ourselves and celebrating those differences. But we also lack the common goals and convictions which, when shared, are the glue that binds a society.

When America unites against a common enemy, she is unstoppable. We defeated the British, Fascism and Communism in the last century alone. When we are divided, the results are disastrous. Just look at our 17-year excursion in the Middle East.

Some wonder why a person who has behaved like President Donald Trump is supported by many Christians and evangelicals. I understand completely. While he, like our country itself, is not perfect, he stands up for the cornerstones of faith. He is willing to be the rock that says stop. President Trump understands that while everyone may not be religious, Americans need something real to bind them. By removing God from the public realm, and increasingly from our homes and daily lives, the shared ties that once founded the nation no longer exist.

We require more than constitutional words, although those words created so much more than a government. There must be a shared belief in the principles and ideals those words represent. Otherwise the idea of America will be lost in the shuffle.

Staff columnist Toni Butero can be reached at tbutero@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 862-2222.