Essay / Culture

We Must Act

John Mark Reynolds, 2005.

Read Part II here.

Private Virtues Are Not Enough

The basement room was crowded. Children were shoved up against the wall with the few faithful servants who had followed them into exile. The father and mother requested a chair for their son, who was seriously ill.

Just a few years ago, their family had been the wealthiest and most powerful in the world. They were now reduced to asking for small favors from their jailers. The new order had reduced them to mere citizens. Stripped of everything, they still waited for their beloved people to rise up and save them. It was a vain hope. They had been abandoned by their allies, forgotten, subjects of the first modern smear campaign, living anachronisms that a few revolutionaries still considered dangerous.

Booted men, servants of Lenin, came into the room. They read a brief proclamation in the new language of the age: political, bureaucratic, double speak. Then the first communists butchered his children, his servants, his wife, and the last Roman Caesar.

What brought Nicholas II, heir to the 300 year old throne of the House of Romanov to this end? At least partly, it was his inability to comprehend or even wish to comprehend the changing world around him. He was pre-modern. The New Age was modern and rushing rapidly towards post-modernity and nihilism. His last word summed up his failure. He said, “What?” Even at the end, he could not comprehend what was happening to his family, to Russia, and to the world.

Nicholas Romanov was a superior parent and a loving husband. His family life was the sort that most people can only look at and envy. What went wrong? His spectacular public failure proves that private virtue is not enough. Public incompetence is dangerous, even in the presence of private saintliness. Of course, most modern people are not personal rulers of the world’s largest Empire. We do not face firing squads for making wrong public choices or for having beliefs not deemed “fit” for the modern age. All humans, however, have some role to play in creating the future culture. A failure to understand the changes that are taking place may not lead to the fall of a kingdom, but it can often lead to the loss of friends, family, and colleagues to the Kingdom of God. How can a person act as a responsible citizen in a democracy if he or she does not understand the spirit of the times?

A Father’s Advice

When I was a little boy, my father walked my brother and me home from church. Dad was and is a fine preacher, but it was his honesty and wisdom that made us respect him. We knew that when he talked to us, he meant what he said. It would also be something worth hearing. I will never forget that walk, where he pointed out that the world was changing. When he was little, Christian morality and religious beliefs could almost be taken for granted. In the mid-seventies, Dan and I were not able to take such things as givens.

The gap would be even wider for our children. Dad saw that secular culture was moving away from what we believed at an ever faster rate. He explained why that was happening in simple terms. He helped us make sense of our times. Whenever my own life has drifted, or the rapid moral and cultural decay of the times seemed overwhelming, my father’s words would come back to me. He gave Daniel and me a sense of history and of where Christianity fit into that history. Instead of being confused or impotent in the face of culture change, my father was a man of action. He was like the Biblical men of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel needed to do.”

What did Dad see? He saw that naturalism, which teaches that nature is “all there is,” leads in the end to nihilism and despair. Humans, cut off from any divine source for truth, can no longer answer the most basic questions: “What is good?” “What is true?” “What is beautiful?” Modern people wanted to know everything, and now they find that they know almost nothing except how to manipulate matter through technology. This decline, which has been a long time coming, has finally struck the very roots of culture.

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