Harvard University’s newest chief chaplain is an atheist. Let that sink in.

A school founded explicitly to ensure America’s clergy were well educated has an atheist leading the charge on spiritual matters. This was the inevitable consequence of years of active compromises and passive ignorance.

When a ho-hum report of this news came out, I shared it with a friend whose correct response was, “I would say I am surprised, but Harvard…”

We all know exactly what “but Harvard…” means. That institution has spent at least a century drifting from its foundational mooring. Each small shift was greeted with a version of “but Harvard,” resigned to a devolution in morals and principles.

We make the same excuses about Hollywood, about public education, about the news industry, and about the operations of our government. We offer the mild “but” as though we are merely passive observers of, rather than active participants in, the culture around us.

Every little step away from our foundational values is insignificant. Those first few steps in a journey of a thousand miles are as insignificant as the approximately two million steps that will follow. Yet added together they represent radical shifts.

We tolerate each little cultural step away from what we know to be true as an “easy” accommodation. This is no different in our personal lives. Driving five miles over the speed limit makes it easier to drive 20 miles over. Stealing grapes from the grocery store can become a habit leading to breaking into homes. Sneaking a glance at pornography makes it easier to engage in abusive relationships and adultery.

If we are to govern our republic, we must first govern ourselves.

We know all the negative examples in the world around us. We throw our hands in the air and say “but Harvard…’ in surrender. We sniffle at the latest excess, resigned to the downward spiral of culture.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As a self-governing people, we can curse the coming darkness or we can get busy lighting fires of truth. Francis of Assisi described it this way: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

It is a fool who, after walking a thousand miles in one direction, expects to be told how to get back home in two easy strides.

Government is downstream from culture, which is itself downstream from art and education, which themselves arise from faith. A reformation of our governing institutions starts with seeking reformation in ourselves. We cannot hope to change culture until we have had necessary, honest, and heart-changing conversations with our neighbors and friends.

There are no shortcuts. There are no easy answers, as Ronald Reagan said, “but there are simple answers.” Rather than resign ourselves to cultural decline, we must commit ourselves to daily engagement.

We must each be committed to the long journey, willing to courageously take the small, insignificant steps that will allow us to reclaim our republic.