True, There Never Was a Golden Age, but….

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Small town Arizona

I enjoy looking through the books other faculty require as reading at the university where I teach–it gives me a sense of the focus of their classes and the gist of the material taught in a particular class. One day I found a book on the 1950s, arguing that it was not a “golden age” for family life, and that families had severe problems then as they do now. My first response was to say to myself, “No kidding.” Only a fool would think that the 1950s or any other decade was some kind of “Golden Age” that bypassed human frailties. Marriages had problems in the 1950s, some spouses were abused as well as some children, and some families were dysfunctional. However, apart from these obvious facts, and apart from useful advances in technology and medicine since the 1950s, it does appear that, despite its flaws, that decade was the last true “Era of Good Feeling” in the United States. It was also the last decade in which a generally Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic was dominant in American thought, even among most Roman Catholics and Jews. Although divorce was sometimes necessary in extreme circumstances of physical and/or emotional abuse or serial adultery, in most cases divorce was frowned upon. Although the Hollywood set would get abortions as well as others, abortion was recognized as a grave moral evil. Only a small minority disagreed. Premarital sex occurred, of course, and the hypocritical aspects of 1950s sexual mores are well known, but at least there was an ideal that the wedding night would be a special beginning of  a new life between two people that is sealed by their first act of sexual intercourse. More extended families existed, especially in the South, the Midwest, and (as is still the case today) in the Italian-American community. Although people moved, outside of the military or of upper business management, extensive moving was rare. The new suburbs, for a time, retained the notion of a “neighorhood” with cookouts and regular visits between neighbors. Small town life, though declining, still flourished in many parts of the country. Alcoholism was a problem, as was always the case, but extensive use of hard drugs such as heroin was rare outside some inner city neighborhoods. There was a growing problem with juvenile crime, but most teenaged social life was tame by today’s “standards.” Although conformity was sometimes taken to an extreme, there was a strong sense that the older generation felt a responsibility to rear a virtuous younger generation. Perhaps the “greatest generation” did not understand the degree to which easy access to material things would create the spoiled and self-serving whiners of the mid-1960s onward, but most tried to rear their children with high moral values. My parents told me that at least in the 1950s a person knew whom he could trust. Today, they said, it is difficult to trust anyone.

The “Great Society” and the destruction of underclass society which arose through their dependency on federal aid, was in the future. The vast majority of children, white and black, were born in stable two-parent homes. A strong work ethic permeated most of American society.

This is not to say that the 1950s did not have deep flaws–struggles over race and the threat of nuclear war, for example. However, I would have rather lived in that kind of culture rather than the upside down world of 2012, in which people “call evil good and good evil” and Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” took place, though not in the direction of the Homeric virtues as Nietzsche desired. Christian culture is rapidly declining in influence, with a new breed of young secularists coming into view who, as Rush Limbaugh (who is right on this point) notes are both desirous of a government “nanny state” to take care of their physical needs while at the same time desiring that the government let them “do their thing” regarding gay marriage, abortion, and other “choices” they deem “personal.” The rapidity of the decline in American character since the 1950s has been astounding. In my own lifetime the world has turned upside down, to the delight of the anti-Christian left and to the chagrin of the few traditionalists standing against the plague of barbarism overwhelming the country.

No generation is unfallen. Yet most members of the 1950s generation would admit when they did wrong. They might do bad things anyway, but they understood them to be morally wrong. Today people strut immoral activity without believing it to be immoral. Academia has been part of the fuel for the fire of relativism, but it is, ironically, an absolutist relativism that denies traditionalists their right to express their views. The universities have become cesspools of relativism, Marxism, and a stifling politically correct orthodoxy. At least in the 1950s, faculty had academic freedom to express their views. Traditional conservatives may have been a small minority, but they were not censored. The university was generally a place of open discussion of ideas rather than the cesspool of radical orthodoxy it has become now.

It is too late to go back–the United States as I knew it as a child is dying. The sense of anomie I and other traditionalists feel has driven some to emigrate from the country and others to retreat to enclaves of like-minded people. In the 1950s I would have felt at home. Even in the 1980s there seemed to be hope for the future. Now I feel like a stranger in a strange land, and I am sure many other people do as well. There are times I want to go back to my grandparents’ house where my parents lived with my sister and I from 1965-1969 and enjoy the simplicity of it all before the madness of the 1960s froze into place in the 1970s. It may be a good thing for Christians, for it forces us to focus on God as the only One who is eternal, the only One who does not change. Going back to the past is pointless–traditionalists have lost the culture. We can trust in God, try to live good moral lives and be good examples to others, be active in church, and enjoy visits with like-minded people without isolating ourselves from the larger society. We know that God will triumph in the end, but until then, we wait “with earnest expectation” for Christ to come.

 

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Fewer Video Games, Less Organized Sports, More Spontaneous Play

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Rural scene.

Image via Wikipedia

As a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I often played outside. A limestone rock became a space ship, or an outcropping of rocks a mysterious planet. Sometimes some neighbors would come over and we’d play kickball, and I would go to their house and play football in their large front yard. Sure, there were the usual fights and shouts of “You cheated!” But overall, it was a wonderful experience.

Playing outside did not mean there was no time for television. I watched the Big Show on Channel 5 in Nashville at 4 p.m. many afternoons, especially when the old Frankenstein and Dracula movies were playing. And I’d watch Red Skelton with Granddaddy or To Tell the Truth with Garry Moore hosting. The world of my childhood was a world of wonder. But television was limited, and I was required to go outside–and I wanted to play outside, ride my bike, swing under the maple tree, walk through the field to a thicket of trees, hide in dark spaces where trees and bushes had filled in, forming leafy roofs.

Another part of that world of wonder was reading. I remember ninth grade—my parents would go to Fred’s on the square in Murfreesboro every Wednesday night. There was a shelf of paperback classics for a quarter each—Journey to the Center of the Earth, The First Men in the Moon, Treasure Island, The Prisoner of Zenda, King Solomon’s Mines. These adventures riveted me into  other lands and other times, both past and future. I wonder if many children today know the joy of getting lost in a book.

I am glad I am not a child today, in this world of video games and structured recreation. Video games shorten a child’s attention span and keep the child away from books. The games are in addition to constant television. And when a child plays outside, it is structured play—soccer moms and soccer dads take soccer kids to practice, play, and the child has little time for spontaneous play. It is not organized sports for children that is the problem—it is that taking away all time for spontaneous play stifles their creativity. By the time I see these children in college, they have great hand-eye coordination but many of them lack basic reading and writing skills. Very few students go outside to the picnic tables under shade trees even when the weather is beautiful. They are often holed up in their dorms or in bars. I’m sure that some college students did have a childhood with spontaneous play and adventures with reading. I’m afraid that they are not the majority. Will they realize what they have missed? Or will the new parenting become a cycle, with kids growing less imaginative and more ignorant every generation. If I could do my small part to recreate a sense of wonder in even one student in my class, teaching would be worth the effort. But I hope and pray that parents and school systems will understand the need for open play, for reading, for a sense of adventure and exploration that goes beyond a computer monitor or big screen television or soccer field.