Years ago I read a study asking people to list their earliest memories of world news. The results were fascinating, but I wanted to test them for myself. So I asked about a hundred people to think back to early childhood and then describe to me what they first remembered as “earthshattering” news.
Try it yourself. Jot down your earliest memories of significant world events, and try to recall where you were at the time. I wrote down:
- The assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was in my first-grade class at school.
- The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I was about to eat dinner with my family.
- The landing on the moon. I was at home, watching it on TV with my grandfather.
My mother, and many of her friends, remembered the Depression, Pearl Harbor, and the day we beat Germany (VE day). I also asked a younger generation, and they remembered the crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Desert Storm war, and the horrors of 9/11.
The study I read first asked people their earliest “world event” memories, and then asked each person to choose one word to describe the ideal outcome of a church’s teaching. They had to choose one of the following three words: Behave, Believe, or Belong.
In my own small study, 80% of my mother’s (WWII) generation preferred, Behave; about 65% of my (boomer) generation said, Believe; and all but one of the younger (millennial) generation chose, Belong.
The people I polled: (a) lived in the greater Ann Arbor, Michigan area, (b) were all middle class, and (c) all had similar spiritual leanings. It was not the most diverse group.
But that’s the point. The factor that determined values was generational history, not location, income, or theology.
It’s Not Just World News
I befriended two brothers born in the mid-fifties. One was a social worker who lived a Spartan lifestyle (despite living in Ann Arbor), drove a beat-up Chevy Cavalier, and invested in safe government bonds. The other brother was a business tycoon; he saved nothing, drove a Maserati, and spent his earnings on multiple annual trips to China, India, Africa, and Europe.
Their parents had lost the family farm in the depression, and both men attributed their money-habits to their childhood experiences. One of them remembered the pain of loss and saved every cent in sheltered investments to avoid a similar fate. The other remembered the pain of deprivation and spent every cent for lost pleasures.
Both agreed that their poor childhood fifty years ago controlled their spending habits today.
How Well Do We Know Ourselves?
If we don’t know our histories, we really don’t know ourselves The “modern” world was really birthed in the Middle Ages, and was nurtured and reared in the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, and it has come to full adulthood … Today.
- Our fixation on technology comes from the many inventions of medieval monks (yes!) who felt “work” was a gift of God, but “toil” was part of the curse;
- Romantic love as the basis of marriage was created by the culture of chivalrous knights;
- The market economy began around 1000 AD along with the rise of the feudal system.
All these ideas and practices—as well our legal systems, nation-states, and even fashion—seem second-nature to us. But in other cultures and times, they would be repulsive and abhorrent.
Why am I writing this article on this topic? I don’t know! (It probably has something to do with my parents.) But as I look at the cultural creep of the modern values into God’s people, I realize that many things which we consider completely spiritually normal are only “normal” for us. Past Christian cultures would find our rejection of God’s values as repulsive.
I don’t want to go back to arranged marriages (and my kids are glad of it), but I want (as much as I can) to examine my life in the light of past Christian thinkers.
I used to think cultural creep was mostly contemporary influences on behavior, like the sexual freedom of the sixties. Now I wonder if these modern practices are merely a leaf hanging onto the twigs, branches, trunks, and roots of our past. That the sixties wouldn’t have happened without the Enlightenment and Romantic eras.
The study I read said my mother’s generation worked hard to dig out of the depression and to sacrifice in WWII, so they valued, “Behave.” My generation saw the moon landing and great civil rights reforms (despite the assassinations) and we hoped in, “Believe.” The next generation felt the fruitless suffering of disasters, so they prioritized community and chose “Belong.”
Which simply says: We are controlled by our past until we examine it.