America isn’t the country it was less than a generation ago.
News reports in the media and chatter on social media paint a picture of a society in turmoil — anarchy, crime, abortion, mass shootings, gun control, illegal immigrants, hedonism, disinformation and falsehoods, character assassination, political warfare, racial and gender conflict, and more.
American culture is changing rapidly and there seems to be an unwillingness to learn from the lessons of history.
George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past.”
Schools and universities have become propaganda mills for political and social agendas rather than bastions of learning, critical analysis and intellectual discourse.
American poet-philosopher George Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Hitler invaded Russia and suffered the consequences because he didn’t pay attention to what the Russians and Russia’s weather did to Napoleon.
Even on a personal level, couples who don’t learn from their fights allow their marriages to be ruined, they don’t mature as individuals, and their children suffer.
So what happened to American culture?
The answer begins in 1620 when the tiny ship Mayflower with 130 on board landed near Cape Cod to escape religious persecution and start a new colony.
Forty-one of the passengers were Pilgrims — or “Separatists” — who had abandoned the Church of England.
They’d fled England and lived in Holland for 11 years, unsuccessfully trying to cope with Dutch secular life.
Then they returned to England and boarded the Mayflower for a new life in America.
After dropping anchor, the Pilgrims remained on board to draft and sign a set of rules for government in the colony.
The result was The Mayflower Compact, the first document to establish self-government in the New World.
Part of it read, “Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country … do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic …”
That was the Christian foundation of American culture.
Ten years later, the Puritans arrived and brought a different Christian footprint.
They were followed by Baptists, Quakers and others.
Among the core beliefs of those early Americans were dependence on Divine Providence, freedom of worship, liberty, self-government, education and responsible stewardship over the land.
Historical records show they did a good job of that — but it didn’t last.
The Age of Reason (or “Age of Enlightenment”) flourishing in Europe during those times brought new influences to the New World, and over the next 100 years after the Pilgrims arrived church influence began to decline while materialism increased.
Reason and science replaced faith; religion, monarchies and hereditary aristocracy were viewed with skepticism; public schooling became more secular, church and state were deemed separate, with no state-sponsored religion imposed.
Then a religious “Great Awakening” happened in the 1730s, giving rise to evangelical Protestantism that emphasized “the outpourings of the Holy Spirit” and “converted sinners experiencing God’s love personally.”
Spiritual lethargy changed to renewed enthusiasm.
There were five Great Awakenings, that along with the Jesus Movement from the late 1960s to the late 1980s “shaped our nation more than most historians are willing to admit,” said the Huffington Post. “They’ve deepened the soul of America, laid moral foundation for happiness and inflamed successive generations of young people into lifelong ministries.”
Devastating to the culture of America was slavery. It was not uncommon in the world in those times — and it took political upheaval in western attitudes to bring it down.
Sadly, its effects are still a big part of the nation’s fabric to this day.
Human bondage has always been part of the human condition, manifested in many forms — from shackles to taxation and government or corporate tyranny.
Since early in America’s history, immigrants from around the world, as well as from Native Americans have contributed their cultural influences to create today’s American culture.
The Civil War was a clash of cultures mostly over the issue of slavery, but beyond that, Northerners saw Southerners as backward and uncivilized, while southerners called northerners “cold, controlling and money-hungry.”
Part of the moral decline in America may be attributed to Horace Mann from Massachusetts, who is considered the founder of our public education system, starting in the late 1830s.
He believed that universal public education was the best way “to turn unruly American children into disciplined, judicious republican (not GOP) citizens.”
To achieve that goal, he laid the groundwork for government takeover of education that shifted traditional religious teachings to secular, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“The emphasis of the education reformers shifted from voluntary initiatives for improving the techniques and resources available for instruction to state action promoting a uniform system of education,” Mackinac continued.
“Voluntary efforts lost ground to state coercion as the diversity among local schools was defined as a problem; and schools not accountable to the political process were condemned as a threat to the best interests of society.”
It was a turning point in American education and culture.
By the end of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private schools. The Bible was no longer the primary text in schoolrooms and America’s Christian cultural roots were withering.
On Sept. 12, 1905, a little known sinister meeting took place above Peck’s Restaurant on 140 Fulton St. in lower Manhattan:
Five young men plotted to overthrow the prevalent Christian world-view in America.
They were socialist and writer Upton Sinclair, western fiction writer Jack London, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Unitarian minister, J.G. Phelps Stokes, husband of a socialist leader, and famed trial attorney Clarence Darrow (who is part of Idaho history.)
The plotters called their group “The Intercollegiate Socialist Society,” whose aim was to “promote an intelligent interest in socialism among college men and women,” based on the works of Karl Marx.
Gradually and patiently, they successfully inculcated those ideas into college campuses and the public school system, according to historian and lecturer Marshall Foster in his book “The American Covenant: the Untold Story.”
Those five men helped build the foundation for the liberal complexion of American colleges today.
Teachers unions also play a huge role in American education and “exert great power over political decisions at all levels,” according to the Hoover Institute quoting a Brookings Institute publication.
World War I made America a world power and another cultural change began.
During the Roaring Twenties, women finally got to vote, the economy was booming, cars, appliances and radios brought more mobility and communication — also freedom from household drudgery.
Flapper styles replaced long dresses and towering hats, young adults thumbed their noses at Prohibition and filled the speakeasies while enjoying The Jazz Age, dancing and material goods — all horrifying the older generations steeped in earlier cultural norms.
On the dark side, mobsters like Al Capone ran amok, traditional morality gave way to hedonism, the Ku Klux Klan rampaged to reassert pre-Civil War cultural values, and the American Dream was blocked for many by anti-immigrant sentiments.
The fun part of the ’20s ended with the Great Depression. The gloom and economic misery of the ’30s was eased only somewhat by soup kitchens, the Golden Age of Hollywood, the blossoming of the arts and New Deal government work projects.
World War II quickly put people back to work and there emerged a remarkable sense of patriotism, uniting Americans in a common cause.
Then after the war and into the 1950s, a degree of cultural conformity of earlier times returned:
Men were the breadwinners, while women returned to traditional roles in the home.
Non-conforming however was the “Beat Generation” — the “Hippies” aggressively having their say in politics, while “Beatniks” pursued artistic interests.
Television was revolutionizing communications, the McCarthy hearings made everyone jittery about communism, and the African-American world began a huge cultural shift when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Then the 1960s changed America forever.
It was an era of Pop Culture, drugs, anger, violence, Flower Children, long hair, sex, love, rock-and-roll, the Great Society, civil rights, the Beatles, the “Generation Gap,” Watts Riots and death — JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Manson murders, Vietnam, body bags and flag-draped coffins.
How America’s cultural landscape has changed since then can be seen every night on television news.
So what’s next?
Huffington Post says maybe another Great Awakening.
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
Slavery by the numbers…
“Of the 10 to 16 million Africans who survived the voyage to the New World, over one-third landed in Brazil and between 60 and 70 percent ended up in Brazil or the sugar colonies of the Caribbean. Only 6 percent arrived in what is now the United States. Yet by 1860, approximately two thirds of all New World slaves lived in the American South.”
— Steven Mintz, History Now
Fair and balanced…
Education is a key part of culture. An informative article on teachers unions and the role they play in today’s education system can be found at:
The article is from the conservative Hoover Institute, based on information in a book published by the liberal-centrist Brookings Institution.
The Civil War…
“Some events so pervasively condition the life of a culture that they retain the power to fascinate permanently. They become the focus of myth and the anchor of meaning for a whole society.”
— Ken and Ric Burns, introduction to “The Civil War”
Age of Reason beliefs…
Enlightenment thinkers wanted to improve human conditions on Earth rather than concern themselves with religion and the after-life. These thinkers valued reason, science, religious tolerance and what they called ‘natural rights’ — life, liberty and property.
Enlightenment philosophers John Locke, Charles Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all developed theories of government in which some or even all the people would govern. These thinkers had a profound effect on the American and French revolutions and the democratic governments that they produced.
— Constitutional Rights Foundation
“Christianity played a vital role in everyday life and the political direction of the colonies and the early United States.”
— Answers in Genesis
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Invitation to readers…
Everyone has a story. Press readers are invited to submit their Popcorn History stories (“Tasty little morsels of personal history”) for possible publication. Keep them 600 words or less. The stories may be edited if required. Submission of stories automatically grants permission to publish. Send to Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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