Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Cut Flower Society

One of the most memorable analogies used to describe modern Western culture is the description, "the cut flower society." I'm not sure who first used the metaphor, but it is a brilliantly accurate description of our civilization. The West took mankind down a path toward freedom of opportunity, racial and gender equality, and economic prosperity that is unprecedented in human history. It shouldn't be overstated, our societies were not perfect, but our core values and our record of moral and social progress was very impressive when compared to previous civilizations.

The strength and vitality of our society was connected to the values and worldview of its people and its worldview and values were shaped by the Judeo-Christian faiths. As we passed through the Enlightenment we rejected the rationale of the Judeo-Christian faith and we cut off the the strength and vitality of those core values. The result has been the fading of the glory of our civilization.

For example, we blame the high dropout rate and poor performance of students in our public education system on either inadequate funding (Liberal) or poor performing teachers protected by the teacher's unions (conservative). To be honest, the problem is way more complicated than either of those political slogans. The decay of our educational system is part of the moral and personal degeneration afflicting our popular culture, which can be directly attributed to our rejection of many of the Judeo-Christian values that shaped our civilization. Moral relativism doesn't go very far in encouraging our children to pay attention to their teachers and work hard on their studies. What we see in much of the youth culture of today is a rejection of any serious pursuit in life and thought. We are instead immersed in the world of "Jackass the Movie," Brittany Spears, and Lady Gaga. We can trace the decreasing vitality of our culture by the steady decline in SAT scores in the past 50 years.

We can trace a similar degeneration in the percentage of marriages that end in divorce or in the percentage of children born to unwed mothers. We are quite simply, as a society, moving in the wrong direction.

One of the central principles of the Enlightenment was the belief in progress. This belief was based on the marked improvement in social conditions that had taken place in the past 200 years in Europe. These improvements included the outlawing of slavery, prison reform, universal education, and the beginnings of women's sufferage. The process was appropriately described as "moral progress." What the people of the Enlightenment didn't understand is that all of those advances were the result of Christian influence and leadership. William Wilberforce and other English Evangelicals were the driving force behind the outlawing of slavery in Great Britain, as Charles Finney was a leader in the abolitionist movement in America. Prison reform in England was a direct consequence of the Wesleyan Revival, and Women's Sufferage in America was led by Evangelical women.

After the devastation of the two world wars and the rejection of Enlightenment optimism by most modern philosophers, the idea of moral progess was largely abandoned. This abandonment is part of the cut flower phenomenon, and today we see a steady decline in moral values and behavior.

Which brings me to the issue that inspired this post. The New Yorker magazine had an article some weeks ago now, on delayed adulthood. They cited studies that reveal that young adults today are having a hard time making the shift from adolescence to full adult responsibility. They have toyed with creating a new "life-stage." (Just as "adolescence" was added to our vocabulary in the late twentieth century.) This article wanted to call it "emerging adulthood," and implied it could consume much of a person's 20's.

But what is it, really, I see it as the prolonging of adolescence (which was a prolonging of childhood), both were part of the moral decline that is part of the "cut flower" phenomenon. In other words, our society has become increasingly bad at preparing our children for adult responsibility. We are prolonging childhood (Bar Mitzvah is at 13, that is when a Jewish boy was considered a man.), first from the early teens to the early 20's and now all the way out to the early 30's. This reality is most pronounced in men and it does not bode well for the future of our society.

While this makes another case for the need for a spiritual awakening in America and the West, it also calls us to "Seek the Lord while He may be found." We need to re-connect our own lives into the Vine so that He can work out His grace in our lives. Society may be a dying flower, but we can be new and fresh and blooming as we discover the life and joy that are found in living close to Jesus.

1 comment:

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