Monday, April 4, 2011

Should We Really Want to Return to Mayberry?

I read a hopeful-sounding article today. It was called, "RIP: Girls Gone Wild?" I appreciated the news it shared; namely, that there are signs that Hollywood may be toning back on the level of filth it chooses to spew.

I celebrate the idea of a "cleaner Hollywood"...but with caution.

It is 100% good that Hollywood might clean up its act. The raunch and filth are a disgrace to our nation, and lend tragedy to the fact that we are still thought of (in some circles) as a "Christian" nation.

But oh, how deceptive sin is! And one of its favorite deceptions is called, "Playing dead" (link leads off-site). It doesn't mind lying low for a while, as long as its apparent absence lulls people into a false sense of security.

I cannot help noting how the debauchery of the '70's and its "Sexual Revolution" came out of the womb of the 50's and 60's, when TV was so good and clean, and not even Rob and Laura Petrie (The Dick Van Dyke Show) slept in the same bed. The adults watching the younger generation throwing virtue to the wind often asked themselves and others, "Where did we go wrong?"

I love the Dick Van Dyke Show, and other good clean oldies. They are a symptom, not a cause. Humanism began its takeover long before most homes even had televisions. I don't blame these shows for what happened. I enjoy watching them with my kids sometimes. But I see how Satan took a fairly benign thing and twisted it for evil, as he so loves to do.

You see, there was a loud, unspoken message in the good, moral oldies, a message that not only reflected its era, but reinforced that era's values.

We are fine without God...or at least with only the occasional tip of the hat to him.

The Petries didn't center their lives around Him, and they were good people. Same for the Ozzie and Harriet Nelsons, the Ward and June Cleavers, Andy Taylor and little Opie, and all the rest. They were all so very likeable, so very clean, certainly not sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Few viewers minded the relative absence of a holy God in their favorite characters' good lives.

Being "good people" was enough. Our TV favorites may have ignored God for the most part, but they certainly wouldn't have cursed Him. They were safely neutral, and we could safely amuse ourselves as we immersed ourselves in their neutrality. Except, of course, that we forgot the words of the Holy One:

Whoever is not with me is against me,

and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Matt. 12:30)

The church fell asleep on the job, smugly satisfied with the moral superiority of our modern American people. God was declared to be a figure of total benignity, without wrath for sin. The basic goodness of mankind, as preached from the grave by Ann Frank, on the screen by the best of TV, from the vaunted halls of the UN, and from countless other sources helped push God to the back burner even in the mainline denominations.

Again, the good old shows are merely symptoms, not root causes, though they did have strong power to reinforce the "spirit of the times." (If you doubt that power, just go to any show or article which tries to define the spirit of any decade in the era of film or television. Images from the entertainment media will figure prominently in that definition.) But perhaps nothing is more deadly to the spread of the Gospel than the spread of moralism. If we're fine without God, and we're basically good, then Calvary can be nothing but disgustingly offensive. "Sin" ceases to exist, or is re-defined as "a weakness to work on," or even just low self-esteem. Worse, churches jump on the "morality" bandwagon and work to create either a liberal man-centered theology (on the left), or a self-righteous pseudo-piety (on the right). In moralism, depravity finds a most fertile breeding ground.

"We're fine without God" is NOT a morally neutral position. It is total antagonism to God, and no matter how well-intentioned it might be, it leads inevitably to decadence. And so, while the Petries slept in separate beds, their viewers geared up for the time when they could take godlessness to its logical conclusion in the beds of total strangers any time they wanted to (while destroying any resulting offspring with impunity). And somehow, American Christendom largely failed to see the connection between the two.

How could an era of such harmlessly amusing godlessness have gone so wrong?

And what happened back in the '80's when "religious political conservatives" really got upset about the rampant moral decay happening all around them? They decided to try to use politics to force the culture to act like Christians even when the people were lost. They tried to use political clout to "redeem the culture," as if the culture were a force and not a collection of lost people who need Jesus. The Moral Majority might not have admitted it, but what the movement as a whole boiled down to was a desire to whitewash the lost more than to save them. Hollywood stars can go to Hell, as long as they don't flaunt the pleasures of their downward path before our innocent eyes. (That may not have been the attitude of everyone who sympathized with the Moral Majority, but as one who was coming of age in the late 70's and early 80's, I know how the wind was blowing, even in my own heart.)

And yet, what are whitewashed lost people, except precious souls who cannot see their eternal peril? And what are whitewash-painters, except Pharisees? If we could have "redeemed the culture" and forced them to act "just fine without God," would our children really have grown up in a safer world?

How safe were the Pharisees under Jesus' gaze?

What if Hollywood cleans up its act and the culture at large decides to "act better" for a while? Will we breathe a sigh of relief and get back to the business of happily entertaining ourselves in its neutrality? Will we teach our children to care more about behavior than about the eternal destinies of souls who reject Christ? Will we deceive them (and ourselves) that being "good people" is good enough? Will we forget the Gospel yet again in favor of moralism and/or legalism?

I hope that the entertainment industry cleans up its act. But I also hope the church does as well. I pray that the church will embrace the long-lost, long distorted Gospel in its full glory. The fact is, whether we're as squeaky-clean as the Petries or as decadent as Desperate Housewives, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And the wages of sin is still death. And the deadening power of sin doesn't wait for the grave. It kills all that is decent and good in people (regardless of external appearances). And there is NO answer for the problem of sin except the grace and mercy of God, extended through Christ's atoning death on the cross on our behalf, and received by faith in Jesus the Lord.

If we forget the Gospel, and fail to share it faithfully, the best we can hope for is a return to Mayberry. And Mayberry was just the calm before the storm.

(P.S. If you, like me, have a strong nostalgic bent, don't be discouraged by the fact that there never really has been an era of idyllic innocence since sin entered the world. God gave us nostalgia for a reason... a very beautiful reason. Like everything else, it's meant to point us to Him. Read about it here.)
The photo used in this article was taken by familylife.


WhiteStone said...

Interesting post. Made me realize how my thoughts are false about this. Thanks.

Laurie M. said...

Very good post Betsy.
A sad fact that folks don't like to remember is that in the days of Laura Petrie children were molested and it was hushed up. Men kept women in separate apartments from their wives. Wives were taught it was unladylike to question or discuss their husbands' nocturnal absences. Unwed mothers were shipped off to "summer camp" and their offspring to strangers rather than let people see the truth. Retarded, blind, and deaf children were institutionalized. Infants with cleft palates were sometimes quietly euthanized. Nice people didn't discuss these things. Image was everything.

In those days it really was about externals. My mothers generation was the first to resort to "nerve pills" to help them keep up a calm "Harriet" demeanor when inside they were dying and tormented with fear, guilt, or shame. Before my mother's generation, back in the Victorian era women suffered all sorts of "hysterical" illnesses - the then-common expressions of what we would call depression, or anxiety disorder. (My mother used to tell me about how her mother would faint dead-away if faced directly with conflict.) And then if you factor in such great "societal" evils as racism, and before that slavery...and through it all, war. There really were no "good-old days". As you so aptly point out, it's all an illusion and one that is very tempting to want to perpetuate.....After all, I'd really like to be able to go out to a crowded place and not hear profanity and see half-naked girls and men spitting on the ground everywhere I turn!

Oh, sorry for the length. You apparently opened my can of worms. Good job.

Ed said...

Hi Betsy:

Thanks for more great insights. After just reading 2 Samuel 11 it only reinforces the truth that self-righteousness and pride are simply a cover-up for our sinfulness which always leads to the need for a Savior. Blessings to you for keeping the compass pointed in the right direction. Ed

Betsy Markman said...

Your comments remind me of the following verse that I used to think "had to be wrong" (LOL!)

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecc 7:10).

Whenever I would read that verse, my mind would cast up a huge objection which always looked exactly like the Andy Griffith show. I would feel such longing as I looked at that fantasy. But what I really long for most doesn't even exist on this earth. But that was the subject of a much earlier post you also might enjoy.

In fact, I think I'll go back and edit the "Mayberry" post to include a link to it as well.

Thanks for the encouragement, guys!

Ariel Luciana said...

Wonderful post, right on the money. I just discovered it from a friend on Facebook and have linked it to my own blog's blogroll.

Sue Botchie said...

Great article! Reminds me of a testimony of someone who had been considered a nice person, even prior to her surrendering herself to Christ. This is what she said about her pre-regenerate days. "i wasn't that nice."

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