Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Silent Majority

I seek, like Thoreau, to ‘read not the Times; read the eternities.’ If this sounds snobbish, it shouldn’t; it is the opposite of snobbery. The merely avant-garde thinker is the real snob.

The object of his snobbery is not the living but the dead, the great ‘silent majority’ of pre-contemporary thinkers who are disenfranchised not by accident of birth but by accident of death.

~ Peter Kreeft, Love is Stronger Than Death (Introduction)
Recently my father and I discussed the qualities of postmodernism afflicting our generation and infecting our churches. The more I interact with Christians who have not been exposed to great literature, past philosophers (both Christians and atheists), and an historical context for Scripture, the more I see a gaping disconnect between their beliefs and their lifestyle.

I am shamefully aware of the reason the media labels Christians as uneducated. A whole subset of persons believe that 'Christian fiction' and films like 'Facing the Giants' or 'Fireproof' are real art, and 'safe' to absorb. I am more terrified to hear that a person's most influential book list includes The Purpose Driven Life, The Left Behind series, 'Christian' romance novels, and the like than if it included Nietzsche, Thoreau, Hemingway, or Wilde. At least the latter authors wrote about the great questions of life, death, and existence and did not give pat[hetic] answers.

Many Christians view life, and its ultimate questions, in bits and pieces. This is echoed in the poor writing, mediocre art, and empty answers given under the guise of 'Christian' psychology. Fragmented thinking stems from lack of discipline and the aforementioned postmodern mindset that has driven both the world and the church mad. There is a popular belief that this generation is the first of its kind. Thus, history is not too important, and dead white European males are hardly worth listening to. How would one of those know what this generation faces? Yet 'this generation' does not know what the elementary diagnostic questions are, let alone how to answer them.

Perhaps I should lay out some of these questions: What is a good life? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is a good death? What good is death? Why do I exist? What is a human being? What is love? What is a good love? Is there a God, and is He good? Are we alone, drifting through a meaningless, void universe? Is matter all there is?

In our world of ceaseless noise and unending images, we rarely even go to sleep or drive in silence. If one takes long walks, they are spent talking on the phone or listening to an iPod, rather than in silent reflection. Without solitude and reflection on what God is saying through His Spirit, Scripture, literature, philosophy, and wise men, one splinters under the pressure of outside confusion and noise. When would one have time to ask the above questions? When would they have the mental silence to think through even one of those questions, or to seek its answer?

There is another set of questions that I have not yet raised. Questions every member of humanity ought to ask, but especially those in the Church. Queries like, "How did our forefathers face such-and-such moral dilemma?" or "What has been previously written on this subject?" What did Erasmus, Cranmer, Luther, Kirkegaard, Kant, and Lewis write on issues of when or if there is ever a time when lying is acceptable, or of love, death, or the meaning of life? The current era is not the first generation of Christians. Thus, it is wise to gain knowledge from (and pursue it further than) our Godly ancestors.

The Church has stepped away from the Silent Majority, those who penned timeless truth in the creeds and confession. The Church no longer repeats daily the Lord's Prayer, nunc dimittis, te deum laudamus, or magnificat. Yet this goes directly against Scripture, where God constantly tells the people to remember the things past, or to do something (a feast or festival) as a memorial. A 'memorial' means partaking in the feast or fast to remember God's work on one's behalf. Why celebrate things like Christmas (the Incarnation) or Easter (the Resurrection) if one is not centred on the event commemorated? In like manner, why set aside the prayer book and the likes of Erasmus and Cranmer, for the pabulum of far too many evangelical sermons?

The Church ought to look like Christ, not every wind of doctrine breathed out by the world. The Church ought not copy slogans, chant cute-but-trite sayings, or make facsimiles of popular culture icons to share the already compelling message of the Incarnation, the good life, a good love, the purpose of death, or the Resurrection.

The Church ought to have the best writers, film-makers, artists, businessmen, congressmen, mail carriers, clerks, rubbish collectors, historians, professors, mothers, fathers, etcetera, that the world has ever seen. Those in the Church ought to be well-educated, reasonable, logical, well-read, teachable, humble, wise, and honest. They ought to be the farmer-statesman - unafraid to till the soil, yet able to speak intelligently upon a host of worthy subjects from philosophy and history, to the arts and politics. Above all, the Church must not forget that many wise voices still speak from the past, and that she must leave a wise and prudent voice (and world) to those who are yet to come.

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.

I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

~ G. K. Chesterton; Orthodoxy, 'The Ethics of Elfland' (pg 48)

~ Johanna


  1. #1 - I think you need to be an English teacher. In college.
    #2 - I cannot agree with you enough. I do not necessarily condone all "the classics" yet I believe reading and understanding works from a previous generation is the only way to keep history from repeating itself.

  2. Abby, thank you for your feedback (and compliment)! I do not love, nor condone, every last 'classic' work, nor do I mean to shun every book written in the last 50 years.

    I think it is important to read and discuss newer things, too (with guidance, if it is a young person). For example: The Giver, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, etc. Even if one disagrees with some portion of the content, there is much to be gleaned in discussing the ideas and characters in books like these.

    I hope things are going well for you this semester - keep those kiddos in line! ;)
    ~ j

  3. Since you asked for some thoughts... ^_^  To me it seems just a little bit on the short side, considering how many topics it includes. =)  (Personally, I would love to hear you expound more on all of them!)  Though in particular, I think it would increase the persuasive effect of the whole if you went further into detail on why the diagnostic questions are so important to contemplate, and also offer up a method on how to best inculcate a love for better art and theology into people who currently lack good sense in those areas!

    Hmm, I also think that Thoreau was wrong, in that one must read *both* the times and the eternities in order to be effective for either...

  4. Andrew, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and constructive criticism. I edited the above piece just now for topic continuity.

    The theme of listening to the silent majority must include thoughts on fragmentation/postmodernism because that is why our culture has stopped listening to those in the past. The diagnostic questions were included to show that our current generation doesn't even know the questions to ask, let alone where to seek answers. I will endeavour to write more on some of those questions at a later date.

    The Thoreau quotation referred to 'The Times' - as in the newspaper, not an era. But perhaps you would still disagree with him? Personally, I shy away from newspapers because they have just become news-mongers and rhetoric/propaganda machines.

    Thanks again for your thoughts, they were much appreciated!

    ~ J