Rural Scene. Looking almost due west. One of t...

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This side of eternity, change is a constant in life. Some change is for the better–I think of the wonderful advance in medicine, advances that saved both my parents‘ lives. The computer on which I am typing has been a useful tool, speeding communication, research, and writing–I remember the days when I typed on a manual typewriter, then moved up to an electric–and stayed up all night two times in my undergrad days typing term papers. With a computer I might have gotten eight hours of sleep.

Change, however, can be for the worst. Despite recent drops in violent crime, the overall trend since the 1950s has been upward. Religion plays less and less a role in American society, and it seems that the U. S. is moving toward a European style secularism with a few New Age attempts to rescue some measure of spirituality from the maelstrom of materialism. The South used to be one of the few areas (outside Italian-American communities in cities) in which people lived together in extended families. The system was imperfect, but overall there was less loneliness and more social support in times of trouble–and the grandparents could babysit the children in case the parents had to work to make ends meet. When I was a child, the legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage, and (in three states) physician assisted suicide was in the future. A person was attacked for defending immoral practices, not attacked for criticizing them. Discipline was practiced, both in homes and in schools. Of course the world in which I was a child was imperfect–I was happily oblivious to the destruction of society from 1964-70, although I felt the effects in my teenaged years in the mid and late 1970s. I remember my childhood as a happy one–but I remember what happened in detail, I can discover some unhappy times–but I choose not to dwell on them. Overall I was blessed, and memories of a childhood that was filled with the joy of exploring new worlds every day outweigh memories of spankings and being picked on by other children. If those memories of the “good ole days” are unrealistic, I will live in their unreality to help give me a picture of Paradise–a world in which people live without the flaws that mar life today.

The “good ole’ days,” like all times in human history, were marred by sickness, death, and mourning–the universals of humanity before the eschaton. People sinned in the past just as they sin in the present, and usually in the same ways. There were murders, assaults, rapes, and robberies fifty years ago just as there are today. The difference is that Christianity was respected then and was part of the public square, and today it has been removed from the public square, as if Christians live in a two-tiered world, one totally secular and the other sacred, and never the twain shall meet. Basic Christian morality was respected–in 1960, both Jews and Christians understood that abortion is not the kind a thing a person should do. Abstinence until marriage was the standard position before the Pill changed everything in and after the early 1960s. If a child screamed, “Shut up!” to his parents (as I heard one scream in a store), the parents would remove the child from any place of business and discipline that child. Today bad behavior by children in public is tolerated by many parents, to the chagrin of other people who must put up with hearing unruly children.

It may be that the eighteenth century Enlightenment, with its radical secularism and denial of tradition, helped lead to the present poor state of society. While history reveals periods of chaos and moral turpitude in society, what is unique about the current age is the combination of such bad behavior with a denial of the transcendent. I do not believe that I am an “old fogey” in saying these things–in some significant ways, apart from technological advances, earlier times really are “the good ‘ole days.”

What can be done to restore society? A blind nostalgia will not do. Restoration of community begins not only with encouraging families to remain together, but with encouraging people to understand that there is transcendent meaning in life. When people render aid to others who are in need and establish a personal relationship with them, this draws them out of themselves to understand that their needs are not the only ones important in life. A relationship with the Transcendent also draws a person out of the self–and it is only in this way that the radical individualism of the last fifty years can be overcome and society can start to recover from its moral and religious lapses.