The 60’s. You either lived them or heard about them. A whole culture grew up amidst them. But our country has never philosophically or morally recovered. There are however some significant lessons that fifty years of hindsight can teach us. If you wrote a book on the 60’s you could call it, “The Little Engine That Thought It Could But Didn’t.” The 60’s were the wrong answers to the right questions, wrong solutions to right longings. It’s good to learn its frustrations and longings as they were valid and still are today. It’s good also to learn why it failed. It wasn’t for a lack of confidence, optimism, or sincerity. It was from a lack of truth.
The 60’s were a cry for change and that wasn’t bad. Twenty years had passed from WWI until WWII. Twenty more years then passed and by the 60’s nuclear holocaust loomed between the U.S. and Russia. Democracy vs. Communism. Time had not brought peace. Time had only escalated man’s ability to destroy. Our much hallowed “science” was only making us more skilled in death. Western thought was consistently arranging rational ideologies at gunpoint. Allegedly Christian nations – Germany, England, France, the U.S., and the formerly Russian Orthodox (until 1917) Russia – had done nothing for centuries but kill each other. The recent Cuban Missile Crisis had sent us all scurrying to build fallout shelters and to practice in grade school our Duck and Cover drills. (Does anyone else remember those? I do.)
But the thought began to grow – “Something isn’t working!” Fundamental change was needed.
There was also the tension that other great issues were not being addressed: race, equality for women employees, the superficial nature of capitalism, i.e. the American dream of personal peace and affluence, questions on sexuality that were previously verboten to speak about, the superficiality of the church that was much affected by liberalism, struggles with adolescents (“delinquents”), the gathering dysfunction of the home, and most of all, the “generation gap”. Meaning, the post WWII generation, the “Boomers” growing up with an opposite world view from their parents. Not the classical Christian worldview that had prevailed but the post-modern worldview wrought by Darwin, existentialism, and theological liberalism which all said, “There is no God, no final truth.” The assumptions of the parents concerning man’s origins, meaning, and morality were not the assumptions that had been systematically drilled into their children through science, education, and especially the arts. There was also the frustration that there was a sense of censorship and silence by society. What was presented was the world as we’d like it to be rather than the world that was really there. “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” somehow did not quite deal with the issues. But failure, silence, and cover-up did not satisfy the coming generation. The stakes were too high. And something is to be said for this. Something about the little engine that couldn’t and didn’t. The little engine who said, “I think I can” and failed. The 60’s did well to say, “Hey, stop children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down.”
What should have happened was what happened in the period before the Reformation. The Middle Ages had collapsed into its own corruption. The response was the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a protest against the errors, abuses, and shallow solutions of the Middle Ages. It was a breaking free of Medieval stagnation into the more “human friendly,” “this life is more than just a preparation for death.”
The difference however is what followed. The revolt of the Renaissance was followed by the Protestant Reformation, while the dissatisfaction of the 60’s brought on the Beatniks, then drugs, the sexual revolution and the abandonment of marriage. The dissatisfaction of the Renaissance brought a “Protest” and thus a “Re-forming.” The Reformation went back to the Bible, uncorrupted by philosophy, human reason, and dead tradition. The 60’s however did not go back – it went on into uncharted, untried territory contrary to the Western Christian tradition.
Imagine two men traveling who have wandered from their previous path and arrived at the edge of a cliff. One says he’s going back to where he departed from the path. He reforms. The other says, “No. The path led us to the brink of this cliff.” Instead of going back he goes on. He decides that his problem is being confined to “rules” of direction. Instead of going back he decides to leap off the cliff and fly. He will experience a brave new world. He will experience a novel change of rules and “freedom,” no longer bound by his past. One returns. One leaps into the abyss. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”
This was the Reformation versus the 60’s. One went back to the tried and tested. One went on to what had never worked. One said, “We were wrong.” Another said, “They were wrong.” The Reformation looked to the past. The 60’s looked to the future. One produced the foundation to the greatest culture of all time. The other began a movement of a rootless, humanistic culture that fizzled. The Reformation felt its foundation of the Bible was true. The problem was that the culture had departed. The 60’s felt that the foundation itself was flawed.
Imagine standing on a precipice and believing that somehow you are Peter Pan and all the rules of nature are suspended – you can fly! You leap out in complete confidence and for just an instant there is a brief euphoric moment of weightlessness. All rules you thought were absolute are just myth and you now experience a reality you only dreamed of. You are supreme. You are God. And then the dream dissipates as reality kicks into its brutal gear. You descend. And you die. You are a man.
The 60’s depicted this scenario exactly. Instead of as in the 16th century where there was a “Re-forming” to the forsaken truth, the 60’s perched upon the ledge and leaped into an untested abyss – that of post-modernism. Where man does not seek the truth but creates it. For just a moment there was the elation of the backbeat, the tie-dyed, the frenzied dancing, the hallucinogens creating a new reality, the mind expansion, free sex, the unburdening from possessions, the attempt of peace with no absolutes, and the embracing of Eastern religion and thought. But then the reality of life as God ordained caught up to the decade and the ugly reality of its façade and emptiness was unveiled. The 60’s were a Christian heresy just as much as Communism – meaning that both movements longed for moral change without God. It can’t be done. Had they just gone back! But the Reformation was led by Christians; the 60’s by artists and philosophers. One went back. One went on.
Is there something to be learned? Certainly. You can’t fool Mother Nature nor can you fool Father Time. Both operate by divine law. History will chasten its rebels. Always. Two glaring maxims arise:
- It’s good for a generation to sense the need for change; to better the status quo, to repent of its parents’ shortcomings.
- But the solution is to return to the revealed body of truth given by God. Not by embracing the imaginations of men.
We never learned though. We gave up on the 60’s (except for various enclaves in the woods in Oregon) and slipped into the 70’s and 80’s. The 70’s saw the split off from society of fundamentalism and the rise of the Moral Majority. It saw a momentary reaction back to morality. The Brady Bunch, Cosby, The Carpenters, Disco (it had order), Bee Gees, etc…..But there was no recognition among the Movers and Shakers clientele that humanism itself was a dead end. We simply lapsed into the individualism and personal peace and affluence of the Reagan years. As in the book of Judges, I pray a new generation of the young arises after viewing the failure of the West’s humanism. And, as in Judges, the new generation will turn back to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Repent that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord….” (Acts 3:19)
There must be the most fundamental change that can ever be imagined. One that is even more fundamental than the Reformation. The Reformation assumed the Bible was true. The tension was exactly what did it preach? Protestant or Catholic ideas. But to have Reformation in our day would be over the issue as to whether there IS truth at all, as well as, the God who gave it. There would have to be an enlightened view of history – that the problems of modern man began with the corruption of the Bible from Descartes on (the beginning of rationalism and modern philosophy). That rend in the philosophic garment grew more and more pronounced and bizarre until it consumed us. That Nature by itself with no governing by God will slowly but inevitably consume everything “good” and then ultimately consume man himself. A generation must see that the beginning of the authority of human reason over revealed truth will ultimately lead to the Holocaust.
Thus the modernism beginning from the late 1500’s ran its course to the dead end of the 60’s. Leaping to non-reason, to existentialism, Eastern thought, drugs and mind expansion offered no hope. The only novel path left to us now is Socialism (which still requires absolute morality) and then upon its ashes a more autocratic government. Or a return.
O arise young scholars!