“In a post-Christian culture the dominant worldview is not longer founded on Christian principles. . . The Church no longer shapes the culture. . . . In a very real sense, this ‘post-Christian’ world is coming full circle to resemble the pre-Christian world.” From Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, Aquilina and Papandrea, 23.
In the 1950s and 60s we made room for Daddy and Father knew best, but Donna Reed’s version of Mom held her own as did Lucille Ball’s.
Entertainment mirrors society. As the family is the foundation of a Christian culture, so it was in the land of television more than half a century ago. But in the late ’60s and into the ’70s, as America turned away from devotion to God, television lost its devotion to family.
In the 1970s Archie Bunker was a cartoonish father who did not know best. Television celebrated the single woman with Marlo Thomas’s That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore’s self-named series. Men were accessories, not necessities.
In the late ’70s came One Day at a Time, celebrating the woman emancipated by divorce. In the 1990s, Seinfeld was a show about nothing and Friends brought us the sexual escapades of six friends who sometimes came with benefits. Slowly, the television family had been distorted.
Television has become a primary conduit of culture with the average child viewing 28 to 32 hours a week of programming. Television provides much of the information we receive and shapes our ideas. It is an influence on par with the Church and family of the past.
A child growing up on a steady diet of typical network programming would think friendship to be the foundational life relationship, not marriage or a family connection. That sounds like a strange idea. But it’s an idea the world has embraced before.
The Ancient Greek Achilles spent most of the Trojan War upset that he had lost his “prize”–a woman/sex slave he had won through his feats. He only reentered the fight to avenge the death of his friend Patroclus.
Achilles’ fellow soldier Odysseus spent 20 years yearning to get home to his wife. The war consumed 10 years as Odysseus fought beside male counterparts. He spent the next 10 years trying to get home to his faithful Penelope, but enjoying some dalliances along the way. Odysseus retired to marriage; he did not invest his life in it. His son grew to manhood with his father absent.
The Trojan survivor Aeneas left his lover Dido to achieve his greater destiny–founding Rome. Aeneas later married Lavinia after brokering the deal with her father. “The Roman gentlemen we meet in literature were more likely to reserve ‘love’ for the exalted philosophical relationship between equals [other men of their social standing] that they theoretically prized” (Aquilina and Papandrea 71).
Ancient Greeks and Romans reserved affection for friends; marriage was about deal making. American feminism in the 1970s asserted that marriage was a financial arrangement, detrimental to women. Now unmarried couples cohabitate to save money. And prenuptial agreements and no fault divorce laws do not seem to have contributed greatly to the romance or longevity of marriage.
For some people today, friendship does supersede marriage as the primary relationship. It’s not just that some friendships outlast some marriages. That can happen in any age. It’s that many Americans have come to expect more from their friendships and less from their marriages, just as ancient pagans did.
“From the point of view of Roman tradition, the single most revolutionary thing in Christianity was Paul’s startling instruction “Husbands, love your wives” (71). The more America rejects traditional marriage and the family, the more like the pagan world America becomes. And the more pagan our nation becomes, the more clearly Christianity should stand out in contrast.
But “the truth is that many self-proclaimed Christians are joining the paganization of the culture, not to mention the criticism of Christianity itself” (23).
To embrace true Christianity today means becoming revolutionary. People will only hear us if we are willing to recognize the “challenges to traditional faith, call them out, and resist them. We will also need to support one another . . . speaking up for our brothers and sisters when they are ridiculed.”
Unity among Christians who embrace orthodoxy in faith and tradition in marriage and family will be crucial to our effectiveness in once more turning the world upside down.
“In this way, the Church of the twenty-first century can overcome the new paganism the way the Church of the pre-Christian world overcame the old paganism . . . by refusing to deny the faith and by being willing to risk our lives (or the comfort of our lifestyles) for something bigger than ourselves” (32).
Refuse to deny. Be willing to risk.
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