Nostalgia: Living on a Memory
Bruce Edwards, Jr.
St. James, Missouri
"Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this" (Eccl. 7:10, NASB).
How is one to take the sudden fetish in society for the nostalgic? Movies like Summer of 42, The Way We Were and That's Entertainment as well as television programs like The Waltons and Happy Days which exploit the past become instant hits. Adults and teenagers alike are fawning for the "good old days;" commercials urge us to return to "basics;" aged "rock 'n roll" stars are making startling "comebacks;" and in the world of fashion there is an obvious throwback to earlier styles and tastes. What does it all mean? Is this just another quirk of a strange secular society? Can we cast it aside lightly as a temporary "fad?" Or is there a subtler, deeper meaning behind this phenomenon? Let us look a little closer at the present situation and perhaps uncover some surprising answers.
Author Francis Schaeffer has suggested that we are living in a "post-Christian" age. The implication is that those who hold the Bible to be a revelation from the Creator God and a binding pattern in one's life are no longer in the majority. There is no longer what we might accommodatively call a "Christian consensus" among politicians, educators, scientists - those making up the core of the leadership in a nation. Instead such ideologies as humanism, communism, atheism and existentialism now hold dominance in the major social institutions. No longer is there a consensus of majority that believes there are absolutes, that there are definite answers to ultimate questions, that God has something to say as to our conduct in this life. The traumatic experience of "Watergate" should alert us to the utter erosion of a moral sense among those in positions of authority. Our children are fed the evolutionist line so "matter-of-factly" that it seems seldom that anyone ever stops to consider that "evolution" is an unproven, faulty human hypothesis. The notion that there is a rational order of meaning behind the universe is rarely pondered by the majority. Hence, we are living in an age where God has been "phased out" by a self-righteous, arrogant society which sees itself too "sophisticated" to be bothered with the possibility of creation as a reasonable answer to the problem of origin.
The aftermath of two generations of persistent atheistic and hedonistic philosophy is that man has virtually cast off all restraints and is speeding headlong into perdition.(1) The most important questions of life, the most fundamental queries of day-to-day living are thought unanswerable by most. Young people have been reared in a skeptical academic atmosphere that affirms man is an animal and only an animal! To our "intelligensia" man is simply a machine, the result of the chance collision of a few molecules, the aftermath of a chemical reaction. No matter how one adds it up, if what today's "geniuses" say is true, man is a zero. If man be nothing but a domesticated mammal, soulless and Godless, then any appeal to - "rationality" or "common sense" is utter nonsense. And the logical dilemma that these learned men find themselves in is that; if man's thoughts and actions are merely biochemical accidents, who then can confidently affirm any .explanation for the origin of life or basis for existence-including their own?
In view of the above, let us make some observations regarding the phenomenon of the obsession with nostalgia. It is apparent that the past has an appeal that present circumstances do not; evidently it represents something substantial which the present lacks. The fact is: society is living on the memory of Christianity. Modern culture has systematically swept away all the foundations for a rational (i.e., Biblical) existence. According to modern ethics there is no reason why someone should not kidnap, steal, murder, rape or perform any of the other sinful deeds mankind is fond of committing; after all, if man is just an "animal" how can we hold him responsible for his conduct? Ironically, however, modern society still lives as if Christianity were true. Men still become outraged at death and pillage and plunder, though theoretically for them there is no reason to be outraged. They are living on a memory! Back there, somewhere there is a feeling among the nostalgic that there was a better or more simpler way that has been lost. Such are wistfully searching for that time - a salve for the deep emptiness and loneliness that fills their souls.. They seek that "Christian consensus" that prevailed over society in those earlier decades. No, not everyone was a New Testament Christian - BUT there was a majority that held the Bible was God's book and that what it said mattered! Back in "the good old days" more people believed that there were answers and that man did have meaning, being someone unique in creation. But now that belief has vanished from the public domain and three generations cry out in despair for meaning, seeking it in the past.
Now is the time for those who have some answers God's answers - to stand up and with a loud and clear voice proclaim them! There are many that are searching for truth and now is the golden opportunity to capture them for Christ. Let us have no "uncertain sound" uttered from our tongues, rather let us in unison direct men to the only shelter and antidote to despair that there is . . . Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. From this task we must not back down.
Truth Magazine XXI: 3, p. 7
1. For a perceptive critique of modern culture and counter-culture see Os Geinness' The Dust of Death (Inter-Varsity, 1973). Though he writes from the Reformed Presbyterian viewpoint, his insights into current conditions are most helpful.