I don’t think many 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:
- Many historians place the number of children born or conceived out of wedlock in the 1700′s at approximately one out of three. (1)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be willing to question the wisdom of the past as we struggle with some of the today’s questions.