If anyone thinks that the U.S. in 2001 is just more of the same from the last century and that fundamental thinking has not rapidly moved in a new direction, they have just plain failed to be alive to what has happened. Our life styles, motives, activities, and relationships within and without the family, at work, and in the community are rapidly being driven in directions unknown fifty years ago- a mere wink in time.
This chapter starts with a letter to an author Robert D. Putnam of Harvard University who wrote "Bowling Alone". It is a scholarly discourse on the subject of this series of chapters.
Review of Robert D. Putnam “Bowling Alone”
Dear Prof. Putnam,
Thanks to our son-in-law in Colorado, I came upon your book that has answered a lot of questions for a man of 69! However, a few may have escaped your thoughtful and prodigious volume that makes my efforts as a Kenyon College student in economics look pitiful- but then your work should do that!
However, as an author interested in many of the same subjects as you have studied and considered in this book, I wonder if I have thought of any questions or comments that may be of use or interest to you?
With my strong interest in developing a better reading program to teach the human brain the fundamental skill needed to learn almost all, and as a writer to finish my father’s book, “You Can’t Escape God”, you can already see why I wanted to read your book.
Following Alfie Kohn’s book “The Schools our Children Deserve” a '99 Houghton-Mifflin book which gets into the debated of phonics vs whole language, along with one by Leonard Shlain entitled “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” or The conflict between Word and Image, I think that I have been exposed to more than one or more of the matters you have considered.
Dr. Scott Peck’s book "Further Along The Road Less Traveled" is another source of my focus to be directed to you that deals in a more qualitative way about religion than does your study, which tends to examine quantitative factors like church attendance and giving.
One other relevant source for me relates to the work of John Whitehead’s 7 part series “Grasping for the Wind” which shows very well that the culture of the Western world has evolved in the last 200 years away from the faith of our fathers to acceptance of a quest for personal freedom in terms of the “New Left”. It is a form of life that was accepted in many ways by the former utopians of the communist era. Those who found in Marx the roots of a new order may have conceded that they killed several hundred millions trying to make it work, but that is no reason to abandon the quest for greater power for the freedom of the individual.
I came upon your scholarly effort to trace changes in the professional manner of a sociologist! As a parent and grand parent I certainly can cite many examples to fit into your many charts that reflect how times have changed over the generations or perhaps just decades of living.
Now to my questions:
I wonder if you would like to comment on the effect of the shift towards a hedonistic life style which parallels a fall in attraction to religion and a swing toward a culture that is designed to look for pleasure in music, drugs, sex, and away from interest in politics and community?
In my opinion the age of high technology has generated some of the skepticism of youth and adults towards the age in which mankind acknowledged a respect for and belief in the mystical notions of spirituality that gave us the Christian Era. In my opinion, the modern church has not been able to respond in any meaningful way to combat the appeals now in fashion. As a result I believe that man, without a strong attachment to God, is ready for some new direction.
When combined with the American experiment with “situation ethics” and a president who successfully has shown that immorality in many of his activities is irrelevant to those who only think in terms of personal gratification. Such persons move away from community involvement and toward a lifestyle that is mostly passive. That works out well for the sport and entertainment industries control of TV, and against bowling, club meetings, and community involvement as you point out so well.
I did not see in your book anything of the culture of fear? Many now are afraid to venture out into the community for fear of physical attack, and with the law of the land appearing to be skewed to defend the rights of the criminal in the name of civil liberties, many find the risk to be excessive. Road rage is real and it is even found in the air.
I wonder if you feel that you gave much consideration of the impact of the two wage earner family that is driven by the materialistic goals of such couples? When I read of couples with a combined income in excess of $450,000 per year who can’t meet an unexected $2,500 expense, I wonder what drove them to such material accumulation as a goal in life? Driven to acquire leaves no time for community service even if such persons were disposed to provide it. But, why give when you are so busy getting? Again the quality of life shows that we are missing the factor of religion that is not appealing to many.
My Easter message published in the San Juan Star offers the idea that the Christian Church is failing because it lacks a meaningful way to cope with the appeals of the high tech age. Here is what I wrote:
“I offer today a hopefully interesting response to a fine Viewpoint feature by George R. Plagenz of the Newspaper Enterprise Association, which you featured today as “Jesus lives- for real”. You may run it, of course.
Yes, Jesus is for real, but when will we really know it?
by Richard R. Tryon
When George R. Plagenz of the Newspaper Enterprise Association, wrote the Good Friday feature story under the headline “Jesus lives- for real”, he put his finger on the major problem in the failure of Christianity to win converts to its faith. The problem of faith vs fact in life is no greater than that represented by those who have labored for almost 2,000 years to try to determine just what we do know about a man called Jesus. Unfortunately, they can not unravel the mystery, because the answers are not to be found in the Bible for the simple reason that God knew that man was not ready or needing yet the full knowledge to explain the three essentials of Christian origins. They are that He transformed his son into a earthly body with a mission to bring the New Testament to us; that Christ would have to die ignominiously on the Cross to prove his love for mankind, and then be brought back to life by a process also not available or to be understood by mere mortals; and that he would then bodily ascend and return to Heaven. The power of this story is no longer as compelling as it once was because mankind is much more sophisticated now and many find that the Church no longer can just command faith on fear of damnation. Worse, it seems to be willing to give up trying to call attention to this story except to call it a myth or mystical truth.
The story is clearly marked in the Bible, but the writers could not have known any of the process needed for God to achieve His Will as noted above. Scholars since have failed to find any missing clues that were lost in translations, because there are none to be found! Nobody of that age could have know anywhere close to enough to be able to comprehend even a plausible explanation. Further it was not needed, for the illiterate masses, craving the need for a faith, were willing to let the scholarly priesthood ‘own’ the limited knowledge available in a way that let them command the loyalty of the masses to the Church hierarchy. More man than one has enjoyed perks because of it.
Plagenz points out that most Roman Catholic seminary teachers of theology no longer adhere to teaching the primary tenants of Christianity except in a mythical way! In short, they have given up trying to teach the priests to try to sell ‘goodness’ to the would be faithful flocks. So, at Easter, it is better to recite a sermon about Springtime- at least in the Northern half of the world!
Plagenz cites Episcopal priest the Rev. Fleming Rutledge of Port Clinton, NY as one who runs against the grain and speaks out strongly to remind the faithful and ‘fence-sitters’ alike of the truth of what happened on that first Easter morning. Those who learn how to read, think and decide to have the Christian faith can only do so, if they come to recognize that life without the central truths of Christianity is not really meaningful. Without such understanding, the New Testament lessons of love and forgiveness, as the controlling features of our living together, are based on a weaker premise.
If our modern society, full of high technology and great skills to explore the universe puts us far ahead of our forefathers 2,000 years ago in understanding how, and why God chose that time to send his son to live and die for us, only to be resurrected and returned to Heaven, then how can we find new truth to support the old ones? This question has bedeviled thinkers, theologians and priests forever. My own father spent forty years writing “You Can’t Escape God” and died before it was finished, convinced that he had failed to offer an iron-clad proof, which everyone in his reporting profession coveted for their writing.
At www.gratisbooks.com you can read his chapters that offer a new way to more scientifically come to faith by letting yourself ask the right questions, while applying modern logic and science to the understanding of the Bible’s essential truths. Alas, if he helps you to faith, it is a conundrum because his logic is not driven by scholarly discovery of new meaning in the original words. But, if it helps you and others comprehend new meaning and have a new faith in the truth of the three essential facts of Christianity- Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension- you will have perhaps found a new way to recognize that there is something in life that is more important than we ourselves. And you may come to know that Jesus really is alive in Heaven.”
Another point that sociologists can make about our society is the apparent increase in the gap between rich and poor. But, is it meaningful to point out that the gap is driven by those couples with the above noted $450,000 income, who are really poor? Or by those that have only a $15,000 income, food stamps, a new car and two TVs and 4 cell phones like our domestic house cleaner who works four hours a week for us? How does she and her family compare with her grandparents who lived here in P.R. with <$3,000 annual income vs those that averaged >$8,000? The numeric ratio shows a bigger gap now, but the human suffering ratio is a different story!
By the way, in your text you make the common error of labeling some of the greatest philanthropists as “Robber Barons”, a pejorative term invented by socialists that apparently thought that the government could have invented all the jobs that made the great American industrial age able to feed the world’s most profound immigration to the new world. But, I submit that in terms of community involvement, you would agree that both rich and poor fifty years ago had more time for other people. As great as were men like Carnegie, they pale by comparison with MacArthur or Bill Gates in terms of philanthropy.
When it comes to restoring volunteerism, have you properly noted how the legal profession has made liability such an issue that organizations can not afford to let the volunteer expose it to legal suit? We now must license all who get close to children or serve adults where one misstep brings costly litigation. So, we discourage active community activity. Federal and state license intervention also rules out the volunteer.
It is appreciated that you tried to give your book a positive or hopeful ending. Among the ideas that give you and me some hope for the future, I would list:
a. The Rotary Interact and its international exchange programs, including students, have long set it apart as an exceptional service club. Yet, these programs are suffering from the shift in generations. The human appeal seems to continue, but in some places it is harder to find host families and time for such activity except as a selfish notion of exchange for one’s own children.
b. The current president’s call for inclusiveness of Church related social help activity in federal funding programs could unlock a lot of the volunteer spirit that is disabled not by lack of will to help, but by lack of capital to support expenses.
c. You point out that the internet has given all a chance for instant poll taking and for chat room comments and dialogue. I have looked at and participated in a number. The polls tend to be overly simplistic in the framing of questions and they are designed to force choices that are frequently getting answers to the wrong questions. The ‘chat-room’ or bulletin boards are characterized as massive collections of words that only display the ignorance and simplistic thinking of those taking the time to key random thoughts. If this medium is to give an opportunity for more advanced, dispassionate learning through dialogue, then it will take refinement of something like my
section for community posting of various intellectual positions.
d. One of my personal hopes for the web is a kind of mentoring program between older and younger heads. One failure or success, I do not know which, involved an exchange with an unknown lad of 13 from Urbana, IL who had recently achieved his ‘bar-mitzva’ and this left him able to write that he was now free to declare that he did not believe in God! By contrast, I have enjoyed opportunity to interact with one of my own four grandsons of the same age. Confronted with nothing to do, he engaged me in the Instant Mail scheme of AOL. It led us to a 15 minute independent search of the British Museum web site so he could study mummies while I did pyramids; and then we exchanged reports and got back to the IM routine to discuss what we had learned more or less together! Can we encourage this to multiply?
e. Our eldest daughter and husband are building educational programs to teach young musicians how to get beyond Sousa marches into the world of teaching theory that under pins the ability for musical dialogue in jazz. Success will certainly breed the kind of community involvement and interaction that your book shows we need, if we are to avoid the terrible effect of our current malaise.
So, I conclude this review with the hope that it gives you a chance to either encourage more thought on any of the ideas or subjects raised; or a chance to characterize my thinking to help show me that I am perhaps part of the problem rather than the solution?
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