Reverse Chronological Snobbery

By Scott Keith

I think that I suffer from a condition. This situation severely influences the way that I interact with the world around me and the people that I encounter in that world. The condition from which I suffer is Reverse Chronological Snobbery. Some of you may be more familiar with my condition’s close cousin, Chronological Snobbery, which, C.S. Lewis claimed he labored under for many years. Chronological Snobbery, as defined by Lewis, is “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.”

Simply put, Chronological Snobbery assumes that everything we believe to be true now is better, more scientifically valid, and truer than those ideas held to in the past. We engage Chronological Snobbery in almost every area of the modern life. Everything from our thoughts regarding the makeup of the current home-life to global warming, and even in regards to gender, are greatly influenced by the view that we know more now and are certainly more enlightened than the people who lived before us.

Rather than having “chronological snobbery,” Lewis advocated letting the “breezes of the centuries” blow through our minds. How do we do this? The most efficient way is to engage the ideas of the past. We can do this by reading old books and allowing those authors to speak to us and inform our conceptions of right and wrong, good and bad, and truth and falsity. On this, G.K. Chesterton said, “Real development is not leaving things (or ideas) behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root.”

But what of my ailment? What is Reverse Chronological Snobbery? Reverse Chronological Snobbery believes that everything from the past––ideas, ways of life, ethics, and morality––are better than everything now. And man, I suffer! I get so tired of our seemingly inane conversations over modern “politics,” sexual identity, and the importance of being constantly entertained, that I find myself always reminiscing about days gone by.

good old days

Last night, after giving a presentation on Being Dad in Klamath Falls Oregon, I was enjoying dinner and an adult beverage with many of the kind people who had attended the lecture. During our conversation, we began to discuss one of the ideas implicit in my work in Being Dad, which is that our culture seems to be not only at war with the notion of fatherhood but also with the concept of gender roles and family.

Before I knew what was happening to me, my Reverse Chronological Snobbery kicked in with a vengeance, and I began to bemoan our culture at every turn as if every culture which came before ours was perfect in this regard. I constantly need to remind myself those fateful words from Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Left to my own devices, I will inevitably convince myself that if I could just hop into a time machine and go back to––hell, I don’t even really know when––some perfect age in the past, where everything would be better than it is now. This type of thinking on my part is as fallacious as those who think we know it all now and that those who lived before us were ignorant boobs. Although we may be disregarded as a specimen of an earlier age, a dinosaur, it is not necessarily safer or better to march in step with the latest or newest trends in philosophy or culture.

Both ways of thinking are dangerous to our understanding of our callings in the here and now. We are called to interact with our world in the here and now using our vocations. We freely serve God by serving our neighbor through the seemingly mundane motions of our various callings. Christ has set us free through His death and resurrection, and now we live as free people in that freedom. It is precisely this freedom which allows us to serve those God has put into our care with love. It is that love, first shown on us in Christ and then shown on our neighbor because of Christ, that makes all the difference.

sands-of-time

If you or I go through our lives believing that the world was better when or is better now, one of two things will happen. We will either: 1) think that there is no way to fulfill virtuously our vocations in such a broken world, which leads to despair or 2) believe that those who lived out their vocations in the past in service to neighbor did so in a substandard fashion because they didn’t know what we are aware of now, which leads to hypocrisy.

We live in the time which God has desired us to live. He calls us each to our various vocation: mother, father, husband, wife, child, student, worker, and citizen. We fulfill those vocations according to His will and certainly imperfectly in this time. It is no good looking to the past and saying “if they only knew,” or even “they knew so much better.” The reality is that God has saved us in Christ! He prepares a place for us in His kingdom on account of Christ! He calls us to walk in “good works,” which are the motions of our life lived fulfilling our everyday vocation in the Here and Now!

So pray for me as I struggle against my tendency to be nostalgic for days gone by that I would rather fulfill my vocation in the present. I pray that God grants me the wisdom and fortitude to do just that, and I know that He forgives me on account of Christ when I fail, which is often.

For now, I daily mediate on Paul’s words from Ephesians to govern and guide the rhythm of my everyday life. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

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