Last time, we spoke about the need to see persons as persons, not as parts. Because our encounter with other persons begins at the physical level and the way we dress is an integral part of physical presentation, dress is therefore integral to our encounter with other persons. For this reason, it should not be taken lightly. It becomes a concrete way of presenting ourselves to others, so we should present ourselves in such a way that it highlights and respects the hierarchy of our being as body and soul and authentically communicates our dignity as human persons.
Continuing the presentation of that original discussion, one of the challenges, which should more accurately be described as hamstringing of ourselves, we face in our practice of modesty as well as any number of issues is a rejection of the wisdom and tradition that is handed down from generation to generation. If we are honest, the Sexual Revolution certainly has roots going back to the national revolutions of the 1800’s and 1900’s. These national revolutions, in turn, have roots in the thoughts of men like Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, to name a few. In each of these cases, there has been a rejection of what G.K. Chesterton calls the “democracy of the dead.” By this, Chesterton means that there is a wisdom in past generations that should not be regarded lightly. Unfortunately, however, in each of the cultural examples listed above, that’s exactly what has happened. There was a deep suspicion of traditions, the “wisdom of the ancients,” a suspicion of institutes, and especially of religion, which is blamed as the cause of all these troubles.
As I spoke in the last post, this is the reason that we’ve become like a ship adrift at sea without an anchor: we’ve cut the anchor because we didn’t think it was important, and now it’s gone! All those moral and religious traditions of the past, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition with its moral standards, were seen as “the enemy” against which one ought to revolt. If we pause to think about many things that a Christian would define as “problems” in our modern world, we’ll find that this rejection is exactly what’s happening. As one of my professors explained it, our culture is guilty of a certain patricide: we don’t like the worldview of our “ancestors” and so we have silenced them, practically speaking. All of this is what is often described as “Modernity” or even “Post-Modernity.” In short, “old is bad”, and we Christians must recognize that we, too, can unknowingly get sucked into that line of thinking. For example, parents find themselves in ways big and small not wanting to “force” something like religion or morality on their children , so we let them decide. This likewise can take place in our homes, our workplaces, and the public square. Consider, for example, the current trend to keep religion and morality out of the public square and the politicians who say, “I’m opposed to X, but I won’t tell others that it’s wrong.”
On the contrary, there needs to be a handing on of wisdom and morality from generation to generation; just as children need to be taught the “right way” to read and write, and do math and science, so too they need to be taught the “right way” to live. There’s a wisdom that is the legacy of humanity that has been learned over the course of centuries and millennia that only a fool would reject. We need to be formed by the best things that our parents, our religious leaders, our schools, and our cultures have to offer. We likewise can be formed by our friendships and by the media. Any of these sources of formation can be good or bad, can lead us to think, speak, and act according to what is true, good, and right or according to what is false, bad, and wrong.
Thus, if we want our young people to understand what it means to have human dignity, which is rooted in our being in the image and likeness of God, and to respect not only their own dignity, but also the dignity of others in all that we think, say, and do, then there has to be an active formation on the part of parents, priests, teachers, and the like. Further, while being aware of this recent rejection of the wisdom of past generations, we need to know that it’s precisely wisdom that has been handed down to us about what is true and false, good and bad, right and wrong. Our humanity did not magically change 40 or 50 years ago, and consequently, that wisdom and experience endures, whether someone says so or not.
With regard to this forming of future generations, there is a natural order established by God, Who is the Source of Wisdom and Goodness, from which we severe ourselves only at the risk our own temporal and eternal misery. In that order, parents, for better or worse, are the first and also the most influential “formators” of their children, as history has proven time and again both positively and negatively. Schools can also have a powerful impact; this is why the Church warns parents to be discerning in the way that they choose schools for their children as well as the people their children spend time with, whether it be in sports, extra-curricular, or school because more often than not, these will also be their friends, who can also have an influence on this formation process.
Perhaps, one of the things I most wish to do in this post is to remind parents that they should not be afraid to be “up in their kids’ business”; it’s an integral part of the formation process. Unfortunately, the popular thing in so many circles is to “let my children” decide for themselves in everything from meals, playtime, toys, and sports to religion, morality, and even sexual identity. Even in my few short years as a priest, I’ve seen many good parents who have taken their role as “formators” of their children seriously, having to doing what their kids might not like, but what has their children’s best interest in mind! I think, for example, a mother who, while I was at dinner with the family, picked up the high-school-aged daughter’s cell phone and proceed to scroll through the text messages because the mom saw this, too, as a part of the guiding influence that parents should have on their children. I think of several fathers who would kiss their daughters good-night, even into high school, to make sure they hadn’t been up to anything they shouldn’t be while out with their friends OR to let them know there’s a man in their life who loves them unconditionally, and to give her expectations for any boy who would seek to show her love. This is authentic, active, personal engagement in the life of one’s children, starting from the earliest days of one’s childhood precisely because parents have a wisdom which children don’t have and which parents should hand on to their children. It means that parents dictate what is done with the goal of teaching children to make choices which are truly good, and this takes persistence, patience, and a whole LOT of grace!
As I said, there are countless “formators” (parents, the Church, teachers, coaches, friends, and the culture) involved in this process, and this process works best when everyone’s on the same page, but our culture is drifting further and further, and there may be times when we need to cut that cord (metaphorically and physically). I think of many parents who don’t have the TV in prominent places or who have opted to not have cable at all, or parents who have limited kids to having “dumb-phones” until after high school. Don’t worry; these children do not grow up scared mentally, emotionally, or psychologically. In fact, these are some of the children and families who would be widely-recognized as “good” (because one knows a tree by the fruit…I heard that somewhere…)
If you are still reading at this point, and if you can tolerate any more, there’s still one part left to go regarding the impact on culture, but I’ll leave that for next time…