Thursday, April 21, 2011

Survival Values

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. -- C.S. Lewis

I mentioned something along these lines a few posts back. We have to think of our survival as a method rather than a reason. Lack of purpose, lack of a reason for living will kill us quicker than hanging. If we need reminding, and oft we do, man cannot live on bread alone.

It seems to me that one of the ways we got into the mess in which we now are mired is that we forgot our history and lost our purpose. Somewhere along the way, our reason for existing has been reduced to accumulating the markers of worldly wealth and the symbols of power and status along with worldly and very temporary pleasures. We placed security, especially financial security, and ease above liberty and righteousness. We made this transit life the only thing that mattered. We decided that he who dies old, decrepit, rich, and drugged is the winner.

One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. -- Psalm 145:4

The living, the living, he thanks You, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children Your faithfulness. -- Isaiah 38:19

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done. – Psalm 78:2-4

Not only do we need to pass along to our children and our children’s children the skills and attitudes needed for a peaceful and prosperous physical existence, we must teach them the truths and necessity of honor and integrity, the values that make human life worthwhile.

A life without purpose is bad. A life with a false purpose is worse.

Sometimes we speculate what we would do if we were in charge, if we were president, or, better, king for a day. Let us think, instead -- not how we would mandate from the top down, but how we would build from the ground up.

…[ N]o one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid – that is, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Start with the basics, for even the most ardent atheist has to admit that western civilization has been built on a Judeo-Christian foundation. As a Christian, I don’t advocate sectarianism, intolerance or bigotry. I will accept truth where I find it. Nevertheless, Christ as seen in the New Testament gives us a plumb-line of attitude and behavior that allows us to build true and square. Without the perspective of the eternal and the absolute, I’m not sure how a culture can thrive.

Next is the family. Suppose a man works in a sawmill and one day gets his hand cut off such that it cannot be reattached. He is certainly still a man. He may learn new ways to do things, rebuild his skills and be perfectly functional -- which is good. However, no one in his right mind would suggest that a man with his hand cut off is the way a man should be – that is, an ideal man. A one-armed man can be noble, admirable, and honorable, but he would not advocate that everyone should be so disarmed.

So, too, a family should have a father and a mother. Things happen, and there are sometimes amputations, but we should avoid them if possible and certainly not encourage or idealize them. In building a community, a stable family unit is critical. If the family breaks down, the community must soon follow. Look at the Fifth Commandment from Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God does not simply lay down a rule, He says that this rule is necessary in order for us to live “long” in the land we have been given. Normally we think of living a long life, which is correct, but the phrase “in the land” carries the thought of "our place". It speaks of our traditions and our community.

The community, rather than some arbitrary political unit, is probably about as far up as we can go in rebuilding. Beyond the extended family, the neighborhood, the local church or the parish, we have to move into politics and managing the interactions and collisions of non-homogeneous groups that are related only geographically. The neighborhood can still be built up from family units. The extreme mobility of the last seventy years has sundered the extended family chains in most places, yet we can still work with people of shared interest and shared faith. There must be more to it than maintaining neighborhood property values (“until I can sell this dump”). We need community cooperation for mutual protection and mutual enrichment. What we want to avoid is excessive centralization and control by an external power. We can even tolerate a tyrant so long as the tyrant is local and limited in power and influence.

Think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The film pitches the conflict mostly between George Bailey and Potter, but in reality, George alone is unable to cope. Only when the community rallies behind him in defiance of Potter’s attempt to destroy him is George victorious. George is merely the Everyman of the good community. He representative of the men and women who look out for their family, friends, and neighbors, who curb their own ambitions and invest themselves and their talents, even reluctantly, in the village, the town, or the neighborhood. Like George, you and I probably can't have a direct impact on national and international political trends, but we can impact our locality.

One of the great losses of the 20th Century was the reorganization and centralization of schools. As long as schools were truly neighborhood schools -- built, funded, and controlled by people living in close proximity with similar long-term goals, they preserved the flavor and temperament of the locality. Now they are government schools, indoctrination centers designed to mass-produce good little statist puppets. Taking back the education process by home-schooling or sending kids to Christian schools is a good place to start recovering our families and our values.

Localism has been under attack for a long time. Words like “provincial” or “parochial” are said as sneering insults. A restoration of localism means that we restore a sense of cohesion and purpose based on local values. This is true and good regardless of whether a person lives in Halfway or Hoboken, New York or New South Wales, Oklahoma or Okinawa.

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