Live Long & Prosper
S. M. Hutchens on the Fifth Commandment
When Mary and I were married more than twenty years ago, we decided that there would be no television in our home, mostly for the advantage of our children, whom we did not wish to be burdened with it. Several years ago we acquired a small set and keep it in the basement, connected to a videotape player, which gives us full control over what appears on the screen in our home. We still do not have television reception, either by air or over cable.
This means that when I do watch television, once or twice a year, what I see is more striking to me than to those who watch it regularly. I see the changes that have come gradually to most people as abrupt and rather shocking. One of the largest and most horrifying changes has been the portrayal of what is supposed to be normal family life, of the normal and expected behavior of parents and children. We have come a long way from “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best.”
The two things that have struck me most about what I have seen is the unspeakable arrogance and insubordination of television’s children, and the aimlessness, stupidity, and ineffectualness of television’s parents. Children are portrayed as wise about the real shape of the world, and as the people to whom their bewildered parents, caught in the tangle of outmoded ideas, must apply in order to understand how things really are. Parents who are “with it” ultimately do not resist the superior wisdom of their children, and end up confessing that really, they would be just like their own wild, free offspring if they didn’t have so many unreasonable inhibitions bred into them. If my own child said to me or her mother some of the things TV regards as cute, or did what it treats as normal teenage behavior, her life would be in danger (if her father survived his heart attack). If you allow your children to imitate this language and behavior, you are raising misfits and cultivating rebellion.
And this is only regular network television! In a hotel room several years ago, I was treated to what I think is called “rock video,” which looked like an attempt to make hell attractive. While I could only stomach a few minutes of it, the theme was clearly that violence is pleasurable, especially when it is carried out on the weak and helpless, and on authorities like teachers, judges, and ministers.
A Commandment of Honor & Love
All this is an attack on the most excellent and beautiful commandment of the Lord to
The commandment should not be viewed as a promise that all children who treat their parents with respect will magically be given a long and happy life in this world, for sometimes very good children are not, and they are rewarded in the next. (Our Lord is the best example of this.)
What it is is a commandment that every child is to regard and treat his parents with the respect due something that is important, something weighty. Parents are not to be tossed off as insignificant, but one is to give them the attention that one gives tot those from whom one draws his very being, for the begetting and nurturing of the child carries on far beyond the marriage bed and the nursery. It goes on all the rest of life, where the father and mother continue the work of making the child, and eventually leave him in the hands of other fathers and mothers, ultimately in the hands of the heavenly Father, the true Father for whom all good parents raise their children, and their Mother, the Church of Christ Jesus.
The bond that is created, not by the parents’ love alone, but by the child retuning that love in the form of honor and respect, is at the heart of what holds the race together, creating strong and secure social institutions, beginning with the family. This honor, carried on from generation to generation, each drawing by means of that honor the full strength and wisdom of those who have gone before, makes for the secure and orderly environment that brings peace and long life. It is something we have never realized to a very large degree in the modern West, because we have not followed the commandment.
Growth in Wisdom
More typically, each generation in its youth deems itself wiser than the one that went before, and the mistake is not recognized until it is too late. We are coming into a time in history when one of the most foolish and insubordinate generations that ever lived will become elderly. It, like every generation in its old age, will want to be admired for its wisdom and listened to by those who are younger, but it will be perhaps the most discarded and ignored generation in history, for it has spent its younger days teaching its own children that there is no authority they are bound to hear, least of all the putative authority of advanced years.
It was God’s will that mankind should become increasingly wise, each generation elevating itself in all ways by bowing to those that came before, by considering their father and mother as weighty, and therefore being able to take all the best from them as the parents had taken all the best from their own. But this can only be done when father and mother are honored. Say what you will about rigidity and stagnation, the remarkable social stability of many Far Eastern societies is a reward for their obedience to this divine command. This even goes a long way in explaining why Toyota makes a better car than General Motors. Lots of things hold together better when the family from which they come is constituted in honoring those who are further along.
Our Divine Parent
Now, someone might say, I have no parents, or may parents were fools, or one or both of those who begot me did not act toward me as parents should I have not real opportunity to honor them, and thus derive my rightful being from the. This in an increasing problem as our society disintegrates.
This, however, I would say to him: Your real Father is God. He is the one from whom you ultimately came and to whom you shall return. If you seek to honor him, he will most certainly honor you. If you honor him, he will give you wisdom and knowledge and satisfaction that goes beyond all riches. You will not be able to contain all he will give you of his fatherhood, so let us hear not foolish talk about your being disadvantaged, and of diminished responsibility because you have had a bad home life.
The promise of God is that all who seek him will most certainly find him, and he will make them fellow heirs of our Lord Jesus Christ in every good and perfect gift. If you whine and carry on about your disadvantages, you are like that miserable servant who complained to his lord that he had only been given one talent, so he took it and hid it, refusing even to put it to the work of drawing interest. Remember what happened to him? He was thrown out, and good riddance, too. I will also say “Nonsense!” to those who complain that they can’t know God as Father because their own fathers were defective. All fathers are defective—except God. So, go to him. What is keeping you from the prayer that will deliver you over to his infinite riches and wisdom in Christ Jesus other than your own ridiculous and contemptible rebellion and self-pity? Do you wish to be healed? Then quit feeling sorry for yourself. Rise up, my friend, and walk! For God is your Father and Christ is your brother. Isn’t this enough?
The Inevitability of Tradition
The honoring of father and mother, carried out consistently, generation after generation, gives rise to Tradition. This is something we Americans, and we Protestant Americans in particular, tend not to be very good at. Our coming to the New World subjected us to strong severing forces, cutting us off from the land in which our ancestors lived for many generations and which carried in it the signs of the honor we paid our parents. I can trace my own family back only to the shores of Virginia, to which Nicholas Hutchens came in the late 1600s. There is no question, of course, that we were English, but for now we can only pick up the thread in America. Grandfather Nicholas was a Quaker, itself a sign of deep alienation from the larger Christian tradition, once removed from Anglicanism, twice from Roman Catholicism, thrice from the undivided Church of primitive Christendom. Tradition, and with it the honor of father and mother it carries with it, dies easily upon these shores, whether we were brought here as slaves or came of our own will.
This may not be all bad, for, sinners that we are, we are all too apt to make the bad habits and attitudes we share with our parents, along with other weaknesses peculiar to our races, into Holy Tradition, when in fact they are better shed. Our Lord condemned the blindness that resulted when merely human traditions overcame the word and will of God, and we tend to be very fond of the passages where he does it. But he does not condemn Tradition itself, for Tradition is what inevitably happens when we honor our father and mother. It is what connects one generation and one family and one nation to another, and is meant to give unity to the human race, identity to each of its members, and stability to its institutions. Ultimately there can be no salvation without it, for we cannot be saved unless we accept something from other Christians, from our parents in God who have gone before us and have themselves preserved for us the saving word of God in their bodies and minds.
It is this very gift we help overthrow when we allow ourselves and our children to be influenced by the wretched, morally diseased world of which television is the most pervasive and subtle representative. What this medium has done remarkably well is carry to the common people the attitude toward honoring our parents that has been characteristic of the skeptical intelligentsia for centuries, but to which the average man—a creature of habit who mistrusts intellectuals—has been resistant.
But let us make no mistake about the command itself. It is the first command with a promise, full of life and health. The promise is that for those who honor their father and their mother, for those who give appropriate weight and attention to the past from which they have arisen, their futures shall go well. They shall not only find truth and goodness upon the earth, but shall also find their way back to the Father from whom all things come. This is as true today as it ever was. •
S. M. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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“Live Long & Prosper” first appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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