Australian apologist JOHN SMITH suggests that a culture as sick as ours should remember the Wesleyan Revival.

John Smith
John Smith

I am strongly burdened by our violent culture. In the midst of a doctoral programme centring in cross-cultural studies, I am deeply involved in researching what the anthropologists call "revitalisation movements". We no longer believe cultures are static. Even so-called primitive cultures change - maybe very slowly, but they do change.

Cultures are like living organisms - every part somehow integrates and affects the other parts. While there is some valid debate about the universality of this principle, a pattern of apparently unrelated isolated acts in a society may well be symptoms of an overall condition when a society is in serious decline.

Richard Eckersley has proposed that marked changes in terms of youth suicide, increased mental disorders in adolescents, increased social lethargy and reduced political participation may well indicate a social decline, partly as a result of too much change too quickly.

It has been trendy to dismantle the social/moral contract and accept as normative a host of behaviour patterns our grandparents would never have countenanced.

Violence, unfaithfulness, cruel and insensitive treatment of people's faith, and extreme individualism are seen as fair sport in the entertainment world and in the not-so-private behaviour of those who are supposedly our leaders.

When a sense of restraint and generally accepted code of tribal behaviour is abandoned, the healthy probably survive, but many who live close to the edge just go over - the retaining wall, invisible though it might have seemed, was not there to prevent them.

Anthropologist Robert Edgerton wrote a well-argued case against the myth of sweetly-functioning primitive cultures. In his book Sick Societies, he implied that no societies are totally coherent, but some are much sicker than others.

I know political correctness has not entirely vanished, but I will take the risk. There are half a dozen well-researched signs of the disintegration of a society according to the secular theorists I have been recently reading. They are:-

- Widespread breakdown of communication between the youth and the eldership or parents.
- Increased divorce or family disintegration
- An increase in mental illness.
-The disappearance of mutual aid and the rise of individualism.
- The rise of sorcery or magic.
- An increased level of hostility, alienation and violence.

That does not speak well for our present social order.

The good news is this. Revitalisation movements are now a complicated but well documented reality in the history of societies. The revitalisation of Britain through the influence of the Wesleys was one such movement. British historian Trevelyan claimed this saved England from a bloody revolution such as that experienced in France. But such movements require widespread revolt against the decay and disintegration of the society. As I am concluding this article I find myself singing an old Dylan song - "How many times must a good man die before...." It doesn't have to continue the way it is. But we will have to care enough to reclaim those cultural compulsives - those beliefs and values that sustain and refrain and renew the life of the community. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.