'The only palliative'
0 comment Friday, October 31, 2014 |
It seems to me that one of the sources of greatest division between the person who relies on public opinion or popular trends to determine his morality and the rest of us is that the former group of people believe in the 'evolution' of human beings in terms of morality and standards. What was good enough for our fathers: the eternal verities, the traditions, the old landmarks, none of these things is held in any regard by those we call 'liberals' or leftists or progressives. Their basic assumption is that WE (or at least the liberals of today) are the greatest generation; we have more understanding, are more enlightened, more true, more perceptive, and more 'sensitive' than our forebears, who were little better than the cavemen of popular lore, at least in matters of morality and practical matters. The older generations were sexist, narrow-minded, puritanical, repressed, judgmental, rigid, exclusivist, ''anal'' to use the hideous modern jargon. And it goes without saying, above all, that they were 'racist' and xenophobic and homophobic. And anti-Semitic.
I will offer just this one general piece of advice to those who believe that our generation is the last word on morality and enlightenment. Read old books; go to older sources for a needed balance or a corrective to today's popular morality and ideology.

C.S. Lewis wrote, in the Introduction to Athanasius on the Incarnation:
''Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook�even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united � united with each other and against earlier and later ages�by a great mass of common assumptions.
We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century � the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?" � lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth.
None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.
The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.''
I would make one small objection to one thing Lewis says. He says there is nothing magic about the past, and that people were 'no cleverer' than they are now. I would say, with a few reservations, that they were 'cleverer' than we are now; they were certainly better-educated and more well-read, more versed in the classics, including the Bible, at least in certain eras. Our generation has been shockingly dumbed down. And no, in some ways they of the past were not any better than we are; as a Christian, Lewis would agree that in every age, people are sinners, we are born fallen.
However the Bible clearly says that some generations are worse than others. Mankind takes one step forward occasionally, but then tends to take two (or three) steps back. We are in one of those eras which has taken several giant steps backward.
The Bible tells me, as does my own power of observation, that people are 'waxing worse and worse' as we move through history.
In any case, each age, as I've said before on this blog, has its particular blind spots, and we need the corrective of the witness of people in other ages, who perhaps saw certain things with more clarity than we.
We need to have a word from past generations in order to understand ourselves and our world. If we get all of our information from our equally confused peers, or from the dishonest media and the opinion-makers, we will be the blind being led by the blind.
Once in a while on this blog I delve into some old book from my shelves, or I find an obscure old book in a used book store that I like to share with you. I think it's essential food for not only our minds but our spirits. Let's not lock ourselves into a house of mirrors where we see nothing but our own reflection; it's better to seek a glimpse of the wider world, of other vistas, of that 'other country' that is the past.

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