Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Your Grandmother Extremely Lively, You A Paralytic

"A 6000-year-old Egyptian tomb bears this inscription: 'We live in a decadent age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They inhabit taverns and have no self-control.'"

-Robert J. Morgan in Then Sings My Soul, p. 151.

Sound familiar? The cliche "Somethings never change" comes to mind, but it seems to me the more nuanced understanding brings to mind that civilizations and societies go through different stages and phases. The Egyptian may be quite right in his observation.

This brings to mind the following:

"Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked.... It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal, and that you are a paralytic.
-G.K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying.

"How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom the spreading laurel tree."
-W.B. Yeats, "A Prayer For My Daughter"

(Quotes taken from Robert Kimball's splendid essay, "The Fortunes of Permanence", available on the web.)

William Wilberforce in a pivotal night of prayer, wrote that Almighty God had laid on his heart the goals of abolishing the slave trade and of reforming English manners, and he then devoted the next fifty some years of his life to these ends, effectively. Manners in the sense of civility and humane and humble deference are essential for civil discourse and fruitful dialogue. The "New Atheists" of late have been distinguishing themselves by their willingness to forgo the "ceremonies" of civil dialogue, Sam Hall, for instance, suggesting that people should be killed for holding certain beliefs. This is the kind of thing Yeats decried when he wrote "The center can not hold. Things fall apart..." The theme of humaneness and honoring of parents and faithfulness to friends was huge for Confucius and other wisemen like Plato who, whatever their faults, both helped to establish civilizations which had admirable and noble aspects to them as well as the blameworthy. Tongues of disorder in ascendance and pervasive shock trooper mentalities don't bode well for a particular society or civilization.

No comments: