We are told about tipping points in the environment, that at any moment an increase in CO2 or a decrease in the number of species will have catastrophic consequences. This could be so, as there are many things in life that are slow, slow, slow, then sudden and irreversible. Yet I wonder if this is such a familiar concept to us, why we don't apply it to other phenomena. Is there a tipping point for national debt, or for the economy in general? Is there a tipping point for political violence?
Is there a tipping point for culture? I have been envisioning it as a game of Jenga, with piece after piece removed, the structure still standing, until one piece too many is taken away and the whole structure falls. I think we all tend to picture it this way. Even anti-traditionalists, who want the current status quo to fall, smuggle in the pieces to assemble a new structure (using many pulled from the old). We think of a culture as a set thing, or perhaps have some awareness that it does change slowly.
I have decided this is a false analogy. Culture changes quickly on an historical scale, and is not only perceptible but noticeable in the scale of a single lifetime. What we call Old Time Religion is quite new, just beyond our grandparents' time, perhaps.
I am very conscious of the founders effect of my Puritan ancestors on my region and can detect them in my personality even at this distance - so also the Swedish Lutherans (that even into my lifetime) and my Scots Presbyterians that came via a short stay in Ireland in the 18th C. Yet I would have found their church services and their daily habits unendurable, I am quite sure. In imagining this I recalled that I had done an adult Sunday School class years ago on the changes in the lyrics of Christian Hymnody over the ages. I located it under The Best of February 2007.* For those who like such things, the classes are summarised here:
Hymns Get Ridiculously Complicated - 16th-18th C
19th C Hymnody - Jesus as Cosmic Pal
The People's Hymns - Spirituals, Camp Meeting, and a Little Bluegrass
There is a great deal to say about Christian music since 1950, but I am not the one to comment. I am not in an mainstream on this subject, and so will lead you astray. Perhaps The Devil's Music, which I have on my wishlist for someone-or-other, would be the place to check.
The point is, it all changes, even for the Catholics and the Orthodox, though more slowly and unevenly. This is true of every other part of the culture we wish to preserve. It is dynamic, not static. I am strongly on the side of slower change, as it allows our ancestors to speak with us. As CS Lewis notes in his admonition on the reading of old books "To be sure, the books of the future
would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but
unfortunately we cannot get at them."
How then, shall we live? We cannot keep the good of the past, yet we must. We cannot prevent change, but we must take the Jenga sticks carefully and assemble them quickly, so there is a new structure before the old one falls.
Most of all, we must bear testimony to what has changed, and point out that even the brand new is quickly out of fashion, yet clung to. I was intrigued by this article that compared academia to a cult. In the Washington Post, no less.
The culture is dead. Long live the culture.
*In my early blogging I had a lifetime of interesting ideas I was eager to share, enough so that in every month a short summary of the high points was not out of place even a few years later. I fear that is no longer so. I have fewer new ideas now, though perhaps I have refined them and state them more clearly.