by Mike Pyatt
Stunned Americans grapple once again to make sense of the six minute shooting carnage in Parkland, Florida, perpetrated by a “troubled” 19 year old, who had operated under law enforcement’s radar. Stoneman Douglas high school students anticipated this tragic event that has sparked the ensuing debate as how to end these senseless massacres. We’ve seen this rerun before. Once the pain, anger, speculation and viscerally charged comments subside, perhaps a precious few will peer beyond the beguiling symptoms that we’ve seen since Columbine, and explore the underlying roots of this upheaval.
The blame game persists-guns, mental health, NRA, social media, President Trump, Congress, FBI, Fox News-everyone but the trigger puller. Immediately social and political pundits rushed to shame our “gun happy” Republic, comparing it to other nations, like genteel Japan, who reported only ten gun deaths a year. They’ll use swords and knives. A simple, yet farcical comparison, for a variety of reasons, lost by mistranslating the disparity of vastly different cultures and moral history. The Empire of Japan killed, tortured, pillaged and raped millions of Chinese civilians from 1937 to 1945.
Knee-jerk reactions underscore the fatuity of our glaring generational loss of “permanent things.” The erosion of the dominant Judeo-Christian worldview, the lynchpin of our Founders dream, that stood up conspicuously as a defender of values, that bolstered our foundations of religious liberty, civil and social order, and common ground of understanding that permitted us to resolve issues that threatened to unravel the fiber that once protected individuals, and ultimately institutions, is no accident. When “permanent things” are impoverished and supplanted by values inimical to that end, we’re left to battle symptoms, that are detached from those edifices that were once the cornerstone of our Republic. Symptomatic of this loss was cameoed across the airwaves, when pundits and protestors ranted, they no longer wanted to hear anymore regarding “thoughts and prayers” expressed for those ravaged by the massacre. Should one conclude that prayer, offered in the public square for those experiencing inexplicable loss, be summarily dismissed as unnecessary-no longer efficacious? Contrastingly, forty-eight hours after the shooting, approximately eight-thousand community members assembled for a candlelight and prayer vigil to comfort the afflicted. Rightly directed, fervent prayer, has for millennia, been a staple of “permanent things.”
T.S. Eliot, American born, Brit by choice, one of the 20th Centuries major poets and essayists, in 1939, in The Idea of a Christian Society, wrote the struggle to uphold “the permanent things” has no surcease. What are those permanent things? Lamentably, recent generations haven’t a clue what they are, or if they exist. We who know must act vicariously as their memory. Once these ideas are no longer inculcated into national memory, we’ve discovered that osmosis is a miserable substitute for conscious assimilation. Anglican Eliot stressed that the “permanent things”not be politicized, and their intellectual guardian was theological. He understood that a more secularized world was largely intolerant of a Christian worldview, or dismiss it altogether. He proved to be prophetic. Eliot was concerned that his culture “appeared to be drunk on the politics of conservation of the wrong things.” The permanence that one can uphold could only be found in theological understanding. Evangelicals would call it Biblical absolutes. He understood the sophistry of sociology, progressive education and economics may steer them to mere expediency, or utopianism, with no claim on permanence, and no understanding of the theological realm. “Permanent things” defy convention and transcend time.
Eliot’s contemporary, C.S. Lewis, warned of the creeping destruction of values through progressive education designed to eliminate traditional concepts of objectivity. Lewis noted in such combat, “For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.” In his writings Lewis demonstrated the pervasive flippancy that secularism has for serious subjects like “permanent things.” In our time one who’s solemn about issues that vex one’s soul, the dominant secular culture has a default instinct to make light of anything virtuous. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis masterfully diagnosed flippancy as one of the great tactics the devil uses to dull one to Godly things. Flippancy is laughter at the expense of permanency. “It’s a thousand miles from joy,” Lewis noted. We who challenge issues like same sex marriage, abortion and transgenderism, should anticipate targeted flippancy and unbridled derision.
Chief among “permanent things” is what Russell Kirk, in his seminal work, The Conservative Mind, identified as, “Belief in a transcendent order, or a body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.” Kirk described a conservative political canon. Theologically, evangelicals might frame it as one’s resolute conviction and reliance on the Infinite, Personal God of the Old and New Testament, who rules Sovereignly and Righteously in the affairs of mankind. A “guiding hand” upon our lives. Another “permanent thing,” though culturally repugnant, is the doctrine of Fallen Man, soiled to the soul, defined in Genesis, and undisguised in our quotidian existence. It explains man’s history of inhumanity to man. Under extreme provocations anyone’s capable of the most heinous act-public and private. Our natural armor is perilously penetrable. That’s in stark contrast to the secularist view. Post WWI, humanism insisted that man is perfectible through education, legislation, or an altered environment. Little has changed. Despite unspeakable acts, our culture recoils at the hint of absolute evil, or man’s natural proclivity toward sin and violence. Depravity’s arcane.
“Permanent things” extol veracity, virtue and oppose evil. Nudges us toward heaven. Escorts joy to our being. Dispels fear. Illuminates a world that’s still “East of Eden.” They embrace the sacred. Navigates us through the fog of relativism and moral ambiguity. Distinguishes between intellectual and sophistry. Look down the corridor of eternity, beyond the temporal, and beckons us thence. Time touches eternity while the community of Parkland bury their deceased. Soaring rhetoric and importunate student marches can’t replace “permanent things.” The loss is irreparable. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org