We often engage in disputes about how events from the past should be remembered. Whether we’ve had an argument with a child, a quarrel with a spouse or a debate about national history, the truth about the past seems to matter a great deal. And yet there are powerful voices in our culture that tell us that we should let go of this interest.
Every year around this time, the fescue pastures surrounding my home become suddenly colorful, as the purple heads of nodding thistles (Carduus nutans) break through the waves of green. As lovely as they are—and as much as the goldfinches love them—this is not good news, since it means that next fall’s hay will be full of thorns.
In these days of extraordinary terror and ordinary routine, the future seems at once darker and more open than we had expected. It may be that in the face of war or want, future generations will answer the call to Christian heroism with renewed vigor, and take refuge in Christian hope from failed utopias. It may be that such a change has already begun, though few observers mark it.
In Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, Jayber is a barber in Port William, Kentucky, who interacts with a variety of people as they come to his barbershop. He struggles to get along with Troy Chatham, an acquisitive agribusinessman whom Jayber thinks is destroying the land in their county.
Many intellectuals associate religion—and Christianity in particular—with violence. Hence they argue that the less religion we have the better off we will be. In an article in the Atlantic, for example, Jonathan Rauch argues that the greatest development in modern religion is “apatheism”—a sense of not caring one way or the other whether God exists.
The focus of geriatric doctors on testing for memory loss, which leads to possible diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is part of a war against the old, according to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University. She likens it to educators being preoccupied with testing schoolchildren. “‘Dementia’ is a label that dehumanizes,” she says. What aging people need is social support, which itself can enhance a sense of well-being that contributes to better memory. “In thinking about memory loss, we do well to remember two simple precepts,” she says. “Do not panic about your own. Be gentle toward other people’s” (Interpretation, April).