Category Archives: american history

Distinctly Christian

(Ryan Mayo, Programming Director at the Oread Center, is responsible for the opinions in this essay)

GK Chesterton once described the novel Robinson Crusoe as a wild romance of prudence and limits. In the book, Crusoe has been shipwrecked and left adrift before finally reaching an isolated island. Curiously, Chesterton concludes that the most significant passage in Defoe’s entire story is a list.

This list is an inventory of all of the items Crusoe managed to retrieve from the sinking ship, and Chesterton declares it to be “the greatest of poems.” His gladdest thoughts were of an axe, book, compass, coat, and rope – with the realization that they could have been destroyed in the wreck but weren’t. Unfortunately, his most troubling thoughts were of the wonderful items that had been ruined or lost. Several times Crusoe weeps at losing pictures, matches, blankets, and other objects of utility or sentimentality.

So Crusoe endures until rescue, simultaneously giddy with his found inventory and sober-minded about his lost items. For Christians, Crusoe’s state is ours also. We are tasked with making sense of the loss, forging ahead with what survives, and considering the rescue.  For Crusoe, the rescue was a future hope rooted only in his wishes. For us, the rescue has already been initiated, and yet much of its effects are still anticipated and not felt.

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Read With Us: “The Decline of the Natural Family” and the Fickle Nature of Social Justice

Note – This piece is meant to be read alongside Allan Carlson’s article on the decline of the natural family. We are using Carlson’s writing to make some quick conclusions about the unstable nature of social activism throughout American history.

Public opinion is a squirrely guide. With respect to the sentiments of Isaac Newton, “standing on the shoulders of giants” may help us to innovate and achieve, but it also helps us see the fickle and transitory nature of public consensus on ethical and moral issues. Great reversals within a few generations are not uncommon, and the memories of activism in the opposite direction are often either forgotten or glossed over with a brush of condescending words like “old-fashioned” or “stagnant.” Through the language of liberation, safety, and health, America has changed its mind on slavery, same-sex orientation, same-sex marriage, women in the workforce, women voting, and immigration, to name a few.

The question at hand is this: can public opinion be trusted for the long haul? For one case study, let’s look together at a piece by Allan Carlson, a historian and Catholic apologist who teaches at Cornell University. In it, he tracks the changes in the American concept of the family unit and its relation to economic and social shifts.

Finished? Let’s move forward together.

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