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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Looking back at the past with honesty

Marvin Olasky of World Magazine has an insightful article about how folks, especially ones who are disenchanted with our present age, look at the past with sentimental wishing. Among other good points that caught my eye:
Sometimes, particularly as folks get older, we fall into "good old days" ways of thinking... But what happens if we view American history in a "happy days" way? We might believe that colonial days were filled with pious people—and yet, 18th-century clergymen such as Jonathan Edwards in Massachusetts and Samuel Davies in Virginia didn't see it that way. Davies wrote, "Family-Religion is a Rarity. . . . Vices of various Kinds are triumphant, and even a Form of Godliness is not common."

Fantasies about the past have consequences. If we think the prairies with their little houses were pure, maybe we think that clothes from a century or two ago will keep our daughters safe. If we think that abortion wasn't a problem before Roe v. Wade, maybe we think that if only we get a 5-4 Supreme Court originalist majority—which I hope we do—all will be well. But I demur again, because sin does not come from what we wear or who wears black judicial robes. It comes from within.
I think especially of those I've encountered who look back at the past, especially when watching videos of Little House on the Prairie, wishing they'd lived in "those days" instead of our days which are purportedly less wholesome and more corrupt. And the resulting life choices -- from diet to dress to vocational changes -- can be extreme. And not necessarily led of God. I think Olasky's article makes some good points to the contrary.