It may appear as if the world now belongs mostly to the younger generations, with their idiosyncratic mindsets and technological gadgetry, yet in truth, the age as a whole, whether wittingly or not, deprives the young of what youth needs most if it hopes to flourish. It deprives them of idleness, shelter, and solitude, which are the generative sources of identity formation, not to mention the creative imagination. It deprives them of spontaneity, wonder, and the freedom to fail. It deprives them of the ability to form images with their eyes closed, hence to think beyond the sorcery of the movie, television, or computer screen. It deprives them of an expansive and embodied relation to nature, without which a sense of connection to the universe is impossible and life remains essentially meaningless. It deprives them of continuity with the past, whose future they will soon be called on to forge.
We do not promote the cause of youth when we infantilize rather than educate desire, and then capitalize on its bad infinity; nor when we shatter the relative stability of the world, on which cultural identity depends; nor when we oblige the young to inhabit a present without historical depth or density. The greatest blessing a society can confer on its young is to turn them into the heirs, rather than the orphans, of history. It is also the greatest blessing a society can confer on itself, for heirs rejuvenate the heritage by creatively renewing its legacies. Orphans, by contrast, relate to the past as an alien, unapproachable continent – if they relate to it at all. Our age seems intent on turning the world as a whole into an orphanage, for reasons that no one . . . truly understands.
(Robert Pogue Harrison, Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age, pp. xi–xii)
Category: The Way of All the Earth
“Of what does the nature of kingship consist? What are its qualities in itself; what the qualities it inspires in those who attend it? . . . I will tell His Majesty what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him. . . . That is a king, Your Majesty. A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”
(Xeones to Xerxes, in Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae)
Early in his recent work, The Great and Holy War, Philip Jenkins explores the religious apocalyptic and millenarian expectations that swirled around World War I, on both sides of the conflict. His analysis of what happened when these expectations were dashed is extremely sobering. While some, he says, simply renounced their hopes, “others found grounds for rededication, as expectations were transferred into the secular realm.” Disillusionment with the dreams of the mainline churches led to fresh pursuit of those dreams through political channels:
Wartime dreams and expectations found new forms of expression that often bypassed the mainline churches. In Europe, this spiritual meltdown led directly to the interwar rise of extremist and totalitarian movements, as the shifting role of churches in national affairs opened the way to pseudo religions and secular political cults. These movements freely exploited supernatural hopes and fears to justify totalitarianism and state worship, aggression, and scapegoating. They offered a new world, to be achieved by whatever means proved necessary. . . . Both Nazis and Communists drew freely on popular millenarian traditions, and mimicked the rituals and iconography of the discredited churches. The two nations with the most aggressive ideologies of holy nationhood and holy struggle in 1914 were Germany and Russia, both of which would by the 1930s claim a vanguard role in new messianic movements seeking global dominance.
The sleep of religion brings forth monsters.
(Jenkins, pp. 19–20)
If we are to use the words childish or infantile as terms of disapproval, we must make sure that they refer only to those characteristics of childhood which we become better and happier by outgrowing; not to those which every sane man would keep if he could and which some are fortunate for keeping. On the bodily level this is sufficiently obvious. We are glad to have outgrown the muscular weakness of childhood; but we envy those who retain its energy, its well-thatched scalp, its easily won sleeps, and its power of rapid recuperation. But surely the same is true on another level? The sooner we cease to be as fickle, as boastful, as jealous, as cruel, as ignorant, and as easily frightened as most children are, the better for us and for our neighbours. But who in his senses would not keep, if he could, that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief, that unspoiled appetite, that readiness to wonder, to pity, and to admire? The process of growing up is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose. Not to acquire a taste for the realistic is childish in a bad sense; to have lost the taste for marvels and adventures is no more a matter for congratulation than losing our teeth, our hair, our palate, and finally, our hopes. Why do we hear so much about the defects of immaturity and so little about those of senility? (C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, pp. 71–72)
In the eighteenth century, a commitment to reason denoted a willingness to pursue the truth and to follow the argument wherever it leads, with the confidence that reason will ultimately lead people to converge on the truth. In contemporary political liberalism, in stark contrast, “reasonableness” denotes a willingness not to pursue or invoke for vital public purposes what one believes to be the ultimate truth – a willingness based on the judgment that reason will not lead to convergence but will instead subvert a civic peace that can be maintained only if people agree not to make important public decisions on the basis of arguing about what is ultimately true. (Steven D. Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, p. 15)
Historicism, with its incapacity to distinguish natural from historical teleology, will always tend to confuse the goodness of natural structures with sin and disorder. For if all teleology is historical teleology, and the natural structures have no integrity as totalities within themselves, then actual good and evil alike stand together under the judgment of historical fulfilment, as ‘imperfect’. With creation cut loose from its beginnings and treated merely as another name for history, the beginnings are left without positive characterization; they are merely the unfinishedness from which the end calls us forward. And with sin no longer defined against the criterion of a good natural order, and with only the future as its judge, evil has no definite characterization either. It, too, is merely the historical imperfection from which we are to advance. But one type of imperfection is very much like another. Thus historicism betrays resemblances, both to the old gnostic dualism which called creation evil, and to the idealism which denied the reality of evil altogether. The characterization of history as process replaces the categories of good and evil with those of past and future. Instead of the Christian threefold metaphysic of a good creation, an evil fall and an end of history which negates the evil and transcends the created good, we have in historicism a dualist opposition between a historical ‘from’ and ‘towards’, in accordance with which all the traditional language of good and evil is reinterpreted. (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 63)
Would-be reformers are known by the broken trail of people they’ve alienated. True reformers are found in quiet leadership and patient teaching by example.
“The past is dangerous, not least because it cannot go away. It is simply there, never to change, and in its constancy it reflects the eternity of God. It presents to the young mind a vast field of fascination, of war and peace, loyalty and treason, invention and folly, bitter twists of fate and sweet poetic justice. When that past is the past of one’s people or country or church, then the danger is terrible indeed, because then the past makes claims upon our honor and allegiance. Then it knocks at the door, saying softly, ‘I am still here.’ And then our plans for social control – for inducing the kind of amnesia that has people always hankering after what is supposed to be new, without asking inconvenient questions about where the desirable thing has come from and where it will take us – must fail. For a man with a past may be free; but a man without a past, never.” (Esolen, Ten Ways, p. 123)
Marsden again (p. 64):
“Despite its overall similarities to older Christian views of history, dispensationalism has a number of peculiarities that identify it as a product of nineteenth-century thought. These have to do especially with its explanation of how dramatic historical change takes place, a common preoccupation of the thought of the era. In the prevailing naturalistic explanations of change the principal model was development through conflict. This is apparent in the work of the two most influential theorists of mid-century, Darwin and Marx. Marxism in fact has some formal similarities to the nearly contemporary development of dispensationalism. History is divided into distinct periods, each dominated by a prevailing principle or characteristic. Each age ends in failure, conflict, judgment on those who rule, and the violent introduction of a wholly new era. History thus proceeds in dramatic steps toward a final age of peace. The crucial difference is that in the Marxist scheme the scientific approach to history assumes that the laws of change are governed by wholly natural factors of human behavior; in dispensationalism science discovers revealed principles of supernatural laws that have guided historical change.”
I’m creeping my way through Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture; creeping, because it’s one of those books I have to set down every few pages so I can think for awhile.
He makes connections where I’m too dull-witted to readily see one. Here’s an example (p. 54):
“Ironically, the dispensationalists [in the 19th century] were responding to some of the very same problems in Biblical interpretation that were troubling theological liberals in the nineteenth century. If the Biblical statements were taken at face value and subjected to scientific analysis, major anomalies seemed to appear. Among these were that many Old Testament prophecies did not seem to refer precisely to the church, that Jesus and his disciples seemed to expect his return and the establishment of the kingdom very shortly, and that much of the teaching of Jesus seemed to conflict with the theology of Paul. Liberals resolved such problems by greatly broadening the standards for interpreting Biblical language. Dispensationalists did the opposite. They held more strictly than ever to a literal interpretation but introduced a new historical scheme whose key was the interpretation of the church age as a parenthesis. Once the key step was accepted, the rest of Scripture could be fit into the scheme, and aspects that others viewed as inconsistencies could be explained as simply referring to different dispensations.”