Even in the worst of times, human beings have a knack for discovering the gold beneath the coal.
Not long ago a priest from the United Kingdom smiled as he told me how his older parishioners in London remembered World War II as "the lovely war." They didn’t dwell on the death, destruction and deprivation. They instead chose to remember the community spirit, camaraderie and sharing.
They took inspiration from those tragic times.
Similarly, I remember my grandparents telling some pretty beautiful stories about the Great Depression. They had that same theme: neighbors helping neighbors, people refusing to give up and faith in the face of suffering.
The painful events didn’t matter so much anymore. Like the Londoners, they had come to find the best while living through the worst.
It is hard to believe the radical changes that have occurred in our country during the last 50-60 years. No one could have imagined, much less predicted, the amoral state of the world in which we live.
Who would have dreamed of a secular society with "on demand" abortion, "life partners" and gay marriage, fashion lacking any semblance of modesty, widespread pornography, sex education (sometimes beginning in first grade), rampant sexual diseases, the media promoting recreational sex and "right to death" advocacy?
I grew up in an age when divorce was frowned upon and uncommon. Most families were intact, and the begetting of eight or nine children was not unusual. Cohabitation prior to marriage was never a consideration.
"Advances" in medicine brought us the "pill" and promiscuity and put us on the slippery slope down to the moral abyss of the sexual revolution. People thought they were free to practice sex with abandonment and without commitment, and, supposedly, the female was "liberated."
Think about many families, many homes within many subdivisions. Likely there are two or three newer model cars in the driveway. There is probably some combination of a country club membership, name brand athletic equipment and workouts at an elaborate fitness facility. Children play on numerous teams and take private lessons to improve their talents.
Multiple computers, digital cameras, iPods and a full complement of cable channels are necessities. Then there are high school and college tuition, annual vacations, home renovation and 401K contributions. Somehow spurred on by credit cards, house appreciation/refinancing and a steadily advancing stock market, we thrived in this environment for more than two decades.
Through all of this, we found our religious comfort zone. Our children were baptized and were raised Catholic. We contributed to the Church without real sacrifice. Our practice of the faith was somewhere above the mandatory minimum but far short of the zealousness asked for by Christ.
Now suddenly the music has stopped. What started as the bursting of a West, East and Gulf Coast housing bubble has spread nationwide and been followed by a national and, in fact, global financial crisis of unequalled magnitude. I used to wonder why our life was one of steadily improving living standards. Now I know I confused years of relative ease with a continued life of prosperity.
The bottom line is we have no idea what the next year will bring. Maybe international leaders will save a teetering global economic community without immense suffering. Regardless, we are in for an extended recession and, at best, only a very gradual return to personal financial well-being. There will be no tide of good times to raise all boats. There will be hardship on the long road to recovery.
George F. Will calls Mary Eberstadt "intimidatingly intelligent." George must be easily intimidated these days, because Mary is one of the nicest (and funniest) people I know.
She’s also our premier analyst of American cultural foibles and follies, with a keen eye for oddities that illuminate just how strange the country’s moral culture has become.
In mid-2008, Mary penned the "The Vindication of Humanae Vitae," the best defense of the encyclical written on its 40th anniversary. (You can read it at www.firstthings.com.)
Now, in Policy Review, she’s written "Is Food the New Sex?" a brilliant dissection of culinary puritanism and bedroom libertinism that includes the greatest subhead in recent magazine history: "Broccoli, Pornography and Kant." But don’t let the invocation of the Sage of Koenigsberg put you off your feed, so to speak; the article is quite accessible to those who last encountered The Critique of Pure Reason via Cliff Notes.
Mary Eberstadt’s argument is neatly conveyed by her fictitious, but telling, tale of two women. Betty is 30-year-old Jennifer’s grandmother.