We see it mentioned with depressing regularity: New Orleans is a mess. Is there a way to revive what was once one of the leading cities of the South?
That depends on the solutions offered. A merely materialistic approach – good jobs with good pay, good housing, better policing, etc. – will not get us very far. It is part of the answer, but man is body and soul, not just a body. If we tend to the body but neglect the spiritual side of man, we will get an imbalance in society, which breeds societal illnesses – just like an imbalance in a single body breeds illness there. This is why, for instance, we see euthanasia increasing in wealthy American and European States/countries: Though they are awash in material comforts, they have no will to live because the Christian faith is collapsing.
We need to build with both hands, so to speak – the material and the spiritual. There are examples in Christian history we can look to for guidance and inspiration. One is the Holy Prince and Martyr Andrew of Russia (+1174), who not only built cities and defended them against enemies but also blessed them with many churches to strengthen the souls of the people:
A brave warrior [Andrew means “brave”], a participant in his military father’s many campaigns, more than once he came close to death in battle. But each time Divine Providence invisibly saved the princely man of prayer. Thus for example, on February 8, 1150, in a battle near Lutsk, Saint Andrew was saved from the spear of an enemy German by a prayer to the Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates, whose memory was celebrated that day.
And the layout of a city is also important for transmitting Christian ideals to her citizens. Father Andrew Phillips of England writes about the design of Bristol, to give but one example (this was how most cities in Christian lands were designed prior to the onset of Modernity, something touched upon also in this podcast):
Bristol provides a classic example of a later sacred town-plan. Built on untouched land on the north bank of the River Avon from the eighth century on, by the eleventh century it was the most important city in the West of England. To the south of Bristol ran the River Avon, to the north the River Frome. Bristol was built within an elliptical wall between these two natural features, with the north and south sides of the wall touching on the two rivers. It presented then the form of a circle. Within the circle, roads running north, south, east and west, formed the sign of the cross. Thus the whole plan was that of a cross within a circle, symbolising that the Cross triumphantly dominates the Universe.
Politicians often give lip-service to Christianity when campaigning for office: ‘I’m a Christian and a conservative.’ ‘I’ll fight for our Christian values.’ And so on. But they usually don’t get around to implementing truly Christian policies. For the sake of a brighter future for New Orleans, she needs someone like a Prince Andrew who will not only defeat the criminal element, not only restore essential infrastructure, not only build up private businesses; but also use the powers and finances of the city to build churches and monasteries (and otherwise adjust the fabric of the city into a Christian orientation), and encourage the folks of New Orleans to attend them – by word and example.
A good exemplar of this kind of leader in our own day is found in Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister. In a recent interview, he had the following to say, amongst other key things:
. . . Christianity, first of all, created the free man. Therefore, we must – first and foremost – protect human dignity. Then, Christianity created the Christian family. We must protect the concept of the Christian family. Next, Christianity has created nations in this part of the world. If we Hungarians had not followed Christianity for a thousand years, we would have disappeared; so we must also protect the nation. But we also have to protect religious communities and the Church. To summarize, our task is not to protect theological principles, that is the mission of the Church; but our mission is to protect the great Christian achievements of our civilization.…
Whether New Orleans thrives or continues in her slow agony of death depends on whether or not leaders with the vision, and the courage to implement it, of a Prince Andrew or a PM Orban step onto the scene. And even if they do, will the people of New Orleans welcome them or chase them away, preferring the sewer of rank materialism to the profound goodness and beauty of the Grace of God found in His Church? New Orleans already has good material to work with: St Louis Cathedral, the Ursuline nuns, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and so forth. Hopefully, God willing, they will choose the better part if given the opportunity.
Walt Garlington is a chemical engineer turned writer (and, when able, a planter). He makes his home in Louisiana and is editor of the 'Confiteri: A Southern Perspective' web site.