Missing a captivating religious leader
It was interesting to watch the state of Texas recently pass a law that allows anyone to say the greeting "Merry Christmas" in the state's public schools and buildings. Gov. Rick Perry signed the law saying he wished it wasn't necessary, but, in his opinion, protecting the words "Merry Christmas" has to be done because they are under fire from the freedom-from-religion crew.
America has been heading down the secular road for decades, and a new Gallup poll reinforces that. When asked whether religion is losing its influence on American life, 77 percent said yes. Just 20 percent disagreed.
But another question in the same poll was more instructive: "If more Americans were religious, would that be a positive or a negative for American society?" An astounding 75 percent said it would be positive. Only 17 percent believe it would be negative. Eight percent don't know.
Here's what I know. It is not easy to be religious in a culture that encourages individualism and materialism at the same time. Little children are by nature selfish; they want what they want. They must be taught to be generous and to think about the needs of others.
But many parents do not do that. They don't have time. They are too busy getting stuff for themselves. Thus, the urchins grow up to be selfish and insensitive.
More than 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as "Christian," a philosophy that demands self-sacrifice and loving others as yourself. But that message largely has been lost because it's not a moneymaker, and there is no charismatic Christian leader in sight.
I mean, when was the last time you saw an American religious leader capture the attention of the American public? Billy Graham was the last Christian preacher to have a national following.
My own religion, Roman Catholicism, is in steep decline in this country. Many churches are half-empty on Sundays, especially in the big cities. The priest scandals seriously damaged the moral authority of the church, but for the faithful, the problem goes far beyond that.
I recently took my two children to Mass, and we had a priest from Nigeria. He's a nice man, but you can't understand him unless you're from Nigeria, which my family is not. So we sat there for almost 20 minutes while the priest spoke about Jesus from the pulpit. I did recognize the name Jesus but little else. My kids slipped into comas.
Religious leaders have an obligation to spread the good word. How many of them are doing that effectively?
If you believe the Gallup poll, Americans want a religious nation because they know a strong moral foundation brings much more freedom than a free-fire zone of self-absorbed behavior. Once upon a time, most Americans did not have to lock their doors or watch their children every second of the day. Now, drug addiction and other destructive behaviors have driven crime and degeneracy into almost every American neighborhood. Religion opposes self-destruction and criminal activity. It is sinful. It does not lead to prosperity in this world or the next.
Communicated in the right way, Judeo-Christian philosophy and the religions that uphold it bind a citizenry together in pursuit of a just and generous society. That is the spirit that most Americans admire and want to reignite. But we need some leaders to light up the pathway.
Where are they?
Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor" and author of the book "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama."