“Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, and robes the mountain in its azure hue.” – Thomas Campbell, Scottish Poet, 1777-1844
At the writing of this article, tomorrow is July 4th, the day we celebrate our declared independence and sovereign nationality. I find it interesting that we celebrate the day we vowed to be an independent union of states and not the day we actually won the Revolutionary War, though I suppose it makes the most sense. By honoring the initial act, we include the days that came afterwards. The bold and daring act of men and pens, in secret, is bound up with the boldness of the men who stood with muskets in the open fields of the land they called their own. And so, I find myself reflecting more than merely celebrating on the 4th, and asking the question: How well are we living up to the ideals of our founders?
The recent rulings on same-sex marriage and Obamacare are fresh reminders of just how far we have strayed from the path of limited government, and personal freedom and responsibility. Where the high office and court rooms of our nation used to invite wisdom and reason from religious and non-religious thoughts, we now shun the religious in favor of the secular. I suppose it is allowed to reference the poetry of Shakespeare but not of the Psalms in our decision making. In a nation which was founded on a “Can Do!” attitude and the dignity of self-sufficiency, we find ourselves looking to a few men in robes or slick talking politicians to tell us what kind of light bulb we are allowed to put in our home.
While there are always ebbs and flows with society and politics, I have heard more doom and gloom, defeatist talk in the last two weeks than any time I can remember. And it’s not just conservatives or Christians that feel this way. Across the ideological board, and for several administrations, the approval ratings of those in office have been awful. A 2012 Gallup Poll shows that only 52% of Americans believe this still to be the “Land of Opportunity”, down from 81% in 1998. If you combine the obvious political division with increasing debt and expansion of government it does start to look like this great experiment is soon to be called a failure. But, what if there is another age for America yet to come? I believe and hope there is.
Talking About Bicycles
I prefer to let C.S. Lewis bear the weight of this argument, since it was he — or rather his friend — who came upon it. It does seem to apply to many things in life and certainly the state of a nation as well.
“Talking about bicycles,” said my friend, “I have been through the four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on. Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one’s own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding–more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element–that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy. But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedaling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley slave.”
“But what was the fourth age?” I [Lewis] asked.
“I am in it now, or rather I am frequently in it. I have had to go back to cycling lately now that there’s no car. And the jobs I use it for are often dull enough. But again and again the mere fact of riding brings back a delicious whiff of memory. I recover the feelings of the second age. What’s more, I see how true they were–how philosophical, even. For it really is a remarkably pleasant motion. To be sure, it is not a recipe for happiness as I then thought. In that sense the second age was a mirage. But a mirage of something.” – C.S. Lewis, Talking About Bicycles
America’s Age of Disenchantment
Lewis’ friend describes four ages that appear to apply to so many areas in life it may be considered a universal truth.
The Unenchanted Age – The time before we know or care for a thing. As in, the time before America was discovered.
The Enchanted Age – The time during which a thing holds all of its hopes and purity. We are drawn to this age with little effort of our own volition. This may be the time of America’s discovery on through the industrial age and possibly into the late 50’s.
The Disenchanted Age – The time in which the challenges appear to overshadow the good. I believe America is in this age now.
The Re-enchanted Age – The final age where all of the others are folded up and are looked back upon with a mature mind and a clearer understanding of providence in each.
Because the ages are experiential, every person may not be strictly in one age or another. Certainly the proponents of same-sex marriage may be feeling a bit of the second age at the moment, but as a whole Americans are disenchanted. We see ourselves pulling from the past, drawing on the accomplishments and spirit of what has been, rather than expecting it for our children or ourselves. Once again, I am applying this to whole lot of us, not individual groups who may have skipped forward or are stuck in another age.
If this is true, then the question becomes, how do we move forward, into the 4th age? I have some thoughts, but the thing is, just as we are all in the 3rd age, so we will have to move into the 4th age together.
The Age of Re-enchantment
As mentioned above, the age of re-enchantment comes with maturity. As individuals, I think it is fair to say that we can reach a level of maturity more quickly when we apply ourselves to purposeful and manful living, engaging our minds in what is true rather than what is popular. As a nation, this same rule applies, but of course it depends on the collection of individuals to desire a manful life over an easy one. Currently, this is not in fashion, but there are signs that it is gaining momentum.
The 4th age also requires the acknowledgement of Providence; that a Guiding Hand has been at work and that the value of certain lessons can only be appreciated in light of our own foolishness. Obviously this requires a great deal of humility. It will also require a great many examples of manliness, slowly and steadily pressing upon the indurated conscience of a nation, until at last there is a breakthrough.
I think it fair to say there are scores of men who have quit their marriages in the 3rd age of Disenchantment and never knew of nor experienced the 4th. I imagine the same is true with friendships, careers, hobbies, diets, and so many other things to which this analogy so well applies. Maybe, in some instances we need to quit so that we can come back to the thing at the 4th age, but I don’t believe in quitting on America.
Although I go into this 4th of July disappointed in recent events, I am not surprised. I am also encouraged by the many fine men and families I meet through my efforts with Wolf & Iron and those I come across simply because I am looking for them. The good news is that while many are stuck in the age of disenchantment, others are running towards the promised 4th age with enthusiasm. They will reach it before the rest.