The Aftermath of a Burning Church
Updated: Jan 2
When Notre Dame went up in flames a few months ago, many bewailed the loss of that majestic and beautiful cultural icon. At that time, many pointed to the allegorical parallels between the image of a burning church and a burning and sick culture.
The prophet Isaiah affirmed this correlation when explaining the terrible state of the nation in his day by pointing to the burning of the temple:
Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. (Isaiah 64:11)
The destruction of the temple removed the unifying nucleus of the community and was seen as a certain indication of societal decay: when the temple collapsed, the structure and security of the Hebrew culture collapsed along with it. As it turns out, studies now affirm that the allegory with the burning Notre Dame Cathedral (that when the Church burns, society suffers) may be much closer to reality than was originally thought.
The roof and steeple of Notre Dame was composed of over 460 tons of lead. When it burned, the lead dust it created settled across the nearby area, including over many schools. More than 6,000 children under the age of six were exposed to lead concentrations up to 1,000 times more than what is considered safe. The aftermath of the burning church literally was a sick and hurting community.
Conversely, following the reverse of that allegory, when a church is healthy, the community benefits. Studies now show that societies with a strong and healthy church-going population have lower crime rates. This benefits not just those who attend church but the entire community. When the church is strong, so is the community; when it is sick and weak, so, too, is the community.
This principle was well understood by early America leaders such as George Washington, who declared in his famous Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
And Gouverneur Morris (a signer of the Constitution, and its penman) agreed, saying:
“There must be religion. When that ligament is torn, society is disjointed and its members perish…[T]he most important of all lessons is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion.”
And Daniel Webster, the great “Defender of the Constitution,” affirmed:
“[T]he Christian religion—its general principles—must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.”
Ultimately, it is the Church that holds the State together, and if the Church burns, the community fails.
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 George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States . . .Preparatory to His Declination (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keatinge, 1796), pp. 22-23.
 Gouvenrneur Morris, “An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris, (President,) 4th September, 1816,” Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), 32, 34.
 Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster’s Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry and in Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young. Delivered in the Supreme Court of the United States, February 10, 1844, in the Case of Stephen Girard’s Will (Washington: Printed by Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 41.