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5 Reasons I Don’t Believe in the Good Old Days

Jesse Washington lynch mob

Jesse Washington lynch mob

No one would argue that we live in perfect times. There are many social and political ills that need to be fixed—so many injustices that need to be made right.

On the other hand, I refuse to believe that there was a magic era where things were so much better.

We tend to fear the future, resent the present, and romanticize the past. But the truth is that every generation is subject to unique challenges and perspectives that bring out their best and worst collective characteristics.

When you’re tempted to pine for some better, holier bygone era, consider these facts:

  1. Many historians place the number of children born or conceived out of wedlock in the 1700’s at approximately one out of three. (1)
  2. In many states in the 1800’s, the age of consent for young girls was nine or ten. In Delaware, the legal age at which a girl could consent to sexual relations was seven. This means there was no way to criminally prosecute men who had sex with girls of this age. (2)
  3. Christian historian Marvin Olasky asserts that, “There were roughly 160,000 abortions in 1860 in a non-slave population of 27 million. (The numbers among slaves are unknown.) This was almost the equivalent of our current figure of 1.6 million abortions in a population of close to 250 million.” (3)
  4. Due to poverty issues in the early seventeenth century, the rise of gang activity in New York was through the roof. As an anxiety-ridden populace sought solace in religious revivals, they also blamed other groups for the America’s troubles: Catholics, foreigners, bankers, etc. This tension erupted often. In 1834 there were 16 urban riots—this number jumped to 37 in 1835. (4)
  5. In 1916 Jesse Washington, a teenage African American field hand, was convicted of rape in Waco, TX (there are a number of questions about the fairness of this trial.). He was drug from the court room, tortured, and burned alive. A professional photographer snapped pictures of this lynching and sold the photos as postcards in Waco. There were thousands (including children) present the Jesse’s death. These kinds of lynchings continued with varying frequency through the 50’s.

America doesn’t have a golden age, and that’s good news. It means that we don’t have to struggle to recreate some imaginary and pre-existing era, we can embrace today and make an even better tomorrow.

Just remember, the “good old days” were once difficult and trying times, too.

(1) The Whole Truth Behind the Dream 50’s Stephanie Coontz
(2) The Campaign to Raise the Age of Consent
(3) Victorian Secret Marvin Olasky
(4) The Way We Weren’t Cecelia Goodnow

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree that we are far too prone to romanticize the past, and I don’t necessarily think we are any more failed morally than we’ve been throughout history.
    What I fear is something a little different. It’s our speed of life that concerns me, as well as the social disease we are breeding with our over-abundance of electronic media. Our tech has far outdistanced our own human capacity to process the amount of data we attempt to cram into our minds. This, it seems to me, is fairly unprecedented in human history.
    It may be that one day we will be stripped of our technology, and this may save our lives.
    Great post!

    December 15, 2013
    • I don’t necessarily disagree Lucas, but I am not sure too much information is worse than periods of epic levels of illiteracy.

      Every generation has its unique challenges.

      December 15, 2013
    • alwilson158 #

      Well, there was better days without all of the tech stuff we have now. These days everything is so unforgiving.

      January 10, 2014
  2. Dan #

    Excellent post. Christian escapism is rooted in willful ignorance of the past in order to hold onto selfish hopes for the future. Christianity is about living selflessly in the here and now.

    December 16, 2013
  3. Any one who is privy to history and the experiences of parents and grandparents knows ” the good old days” were mediocre at best and horrible at worst. I believe the ethical standing of man has been bettered, in many ways, with the passage of time.

    December 18, 2013
  4. Thank you for your insightful post. I have always cringed when I have heard Christian leaders/teachers allude to this mythical past where people practiced better morals. As a descendant of slaves in this nation biting my tongue has been part of my Christian experience in many churches that push this concept. I am reminded that love covers a multitude of sins.because not only is this perspective misleading, it can prove to be divisive for those whose experience in this nation is less glorious than the ruling majority. God bless.

    December 26, 2013
  5. I’m a historic preservationist by profession so part of my livelihood revolves around perpetuating the ideal of bygone eras–I often find myself wishing to see how the built environment looked prior to the urban renewal and interstate construction of the 1950s and 60s. I might even sigh and wish I had been born in a different era. Then I remember the kinds of things you point out and I’m happy to remain here in the present, fighting the good battle to preserve the parts of our history that are worth preserving–the beautiful and the humble, and even the “ugly” reminders of our less-than-glorious past.

    January 10, 2014

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