Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
I’ve asked the same question in this space half a dozen different ways—but here it is again: If, by merely snapping your fingers or waving a magic wand, you could take the society and culture you live in today back to some earlier point, what date would you choose? If you could rewind the video recorder we call “America’s History” and be awarded a second chance, what would you pick as your new starting point?
Or, to put it more succinctly—and more bluntly—where did we go so wrong?
That’s not really hard, many folks argue. Let’s just get back to the “traditional values” that made America so great.
For many Americans, just going back to the 1950s would give them most of what they think they’d like. After all, we prayed in the public schools. People used condoms in private but didn’t talk about them much even there. Drugs were mostly something to chase away an infection. And the worst musical lyrics you could think of were still quotable in mixed company. John F. Kennedy had not yet been assassinated; indeed, that was an event that, for many of us, even if he wasn’t our man in the White House, was a watershed entry to an unpredictable, unknown, and often grim future. For these folks, backing things up to a pre-Sputnik date just might help us get things right.
Just going back to some America-can-do-anything optimism isn’t enough.
Not many WORLD readers, I feel certain, are so naïve. They have already asked the question and then realized that just going back to some America-can-do-anything optimism isn’t enough. But even we too often look wistfully in the rearview mirror.
What did we hope to see? The era just before Woodrow Wilson began pushing his “one world” ideas with his League of Nations, diminishing the role of the United States? Or the period when science and God still seemed capable of coexistence, without either having to step aside in deference to the other? Was it the time before Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. so profoundly changed society’s concept of law, suggesting that there are no enduring principles but only what 51 percent of the voters say law ought to be?
Or should we go back to pre-Darwinian days, when most people believed everything and everyone had come from the creative hand of God rather than by evolving by chance? Or before that, to the writers of the Declaration of Independence, who found it advisable to refer in a public document to “Nature” and “Nature’s God,” but who deliberately and specifically refused any mention of Jesus Christ? Or do you want to go all the way back to the Puritans, much maligned but brimming over with vision and resolution?
Out of all those images, scattered along America’s timeline, whose “traditional values” are you going to claim as those that do the most effective job of redirecting our nation’s cultural traffic? What persons or movements, if we latched on to them again, might help rescue us from our present free fall and anchor us with stability for the future?
To the extent we talk only of “traditional values,” without bothering to say what we mean by them, we deserve the skepticism so many secularists hurl our way.
It’s not an easy assignment. And just sorting out a few great figures from our notable history will hardly cut it. There’s plenty of competition out there for the right to say which “tradition” we should return to.
For Christians, the task is especially tough. To what extent do some of our historic heroes really represent Biblical worldview thinking—and practice? And how much of what we call a Biblical worldview does God expect us to carry into public policy? Or into a political platform? Have we ever sat down with a group of fellow believers to explore thoughtful and Biblical answers to such basic questions?
I haven’t, and that embarrasses me. But with a serious election coming up in a bit less than nine months, I just may take on such an assignment.