Now, here’s a thing I’ve begun to worry about. As I get older I am worried that I am in danger of turning into an old reactionary, which I think would be a terrible thing. Just to be clear, a reactionary is someone who not only opposes change but very much wants to see a return to the ‘good old days’.
In fact, I’ve never been someone who has a rose-tinted view of the past, although I do like some old things (movies, for example, as you may know). But generally, do I think things were better in the past? No, I do not. People were poorer, less healthy, died younger and often had more painful deaths. Childhood diseases were a scourge (whooping cough, anyone?). The social order was more regimented and divisions between different groups of people were greater. Also, we had a greater incidence of church-going but I am not sure that many more people were Christians seeking to live their lives serving Christ.
In the late 1930’s through to the early 1960 there was a massive study carried out of social behaviour called ‘Mass Observation’ that aimed to ‘record everyday life in Britain through a panel of around 500 untrained volunteer observers…. They also paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversation and behaviour at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings and sporting and religious events.’
I remember reading on description of a summer’s day in Blackpool in the late 40’s when it was ‘Wakes week’ for a northern town (later identified as Bolton, I think). Some people lay about the seafront dead drunk whilst other were retching and being sick. There were fights and knifings recorded as well as fumblings and gropings up back alleys The ‘good old days’, indeed.
But, back to today. There does seem to be a growing divide between the things I am concerned about in the world and the preoccupations that we see and hear about in the media and in social media (which often seems to set the media agenda today). Race and gender issues seem to be particularly prevalent these days and whilst I think they are important issues they do seem to loom large over everything at the present time. Views on history seem to be very different also with some people keen to see everything in the past interpreted though the lenses of imperialism, race and/or gender (again, not always a bad thing). My own view still tends to see faith and then class as the most important perspectives through which to view history. However, reading a book on the history of the British East India Company (which basically ran India through much of the 18th and 19th centuries) is a bit of an eye-opener!
There are also some other modern pre-occupations that sit less well with me. Veganism for example and extreme forms of animal rights. Also the focus on ‘celebrities’ and (we have to say it) the pervasiveness of pornography on their internet.
So, does that make me a boring old reactionary? I hope not. As we have seen in our study of the first part of Proverbs the scriptures contain God’s truth and that does not change. The modern approach does seem to be that ‘truth’ is a movable feast and that it can vary and alter from person to person, viewed through the prism of their experience. As Christians we cannot accept that, holding as we do to an eternal God and his eternal word.
What we have to do is to separate that truth not from our lives but from our own preferences, likes and dislikes. Not everything in the past was bad, and not everything modern is good, or vice versa. Mind in my top ten movie list, I think, are nine in black-and white!