I realize from the vantage of contemporary church culture awash in themes like Christian hedonism, libertarianism, and Arminianism, what I’m about to say will be seen as elitist. Hoity-toity, even.
And though I’m a believer in saving our fire for the enemy and being as gracious as possible to our brothers in arms, I have to ask, regardless: what has happened to our manners?
The ways of heathen races and post-Christians aside, there has plainly been a shift with respect to our hearthside culture. Our once corporate sense of decorum has fractured in such a way that we are not only losing those folkways we once held in common, but also in such a way that that alienation is going more or less unnoticed. Strange as that is.
I’m not talking about macro changes like no-fault divorce, the proliferation of bastards, tattoos, bod-mod, and the like, which invite more sociological scrutiny. Nor am I speaking of things like the folding of napkins at high tea. I’m talking about all the little norms of courtesy on which we all once agreed. Whether English, Dutch, German, Scot, etc., all the kindred tribes of Europe shared in a certain civilizational hauskultur, if you will.
Of course, it is a sensitive subject, as no one really wants to critique the household cultures of Christian kinsmen. None of us want to overstep our own jurisdictions. We typically console ourselves by dismissing the divergences in family-crafted norms as adiaphora. Because mostly, it doesn’t rise to the level of actual sinfulness. Or, where it does, certainly not as matters of commission, but little omissions at most.
But even this gnaws at us as we realize the old hauskultur is derivative of biblical laws, not least of which is the golden rule. And if we acknowledge etiquette to be biblical law applied, it does matter.
- It was once universally assumed amongst us that in the presence of adults, children should not speak until spoken to, otherwise stated as “seen and not heard.” Since the dawn of “developmental experts,” however, this has been portrayed as oppressive Patriarchy talk. (This from the same demoniacs who performed all manner of sensory deprivation experiments on children, not to mention who give hearty approval of abortion, euthanasia, etc.) But from the Christian frame of reference, isn’t it consonant with federal theology that adults lead children? If so, how could that not apply to conversation? Even for basic utility’s sake, important topics between adults shouldn’t be drowned out by the chatter of ebullient children. And those who deign not to instill this deferential sentiment in their bairns on the rationale that it “represses personhood,” or some such drivel, by default seed vanity, foster indiscretion, and submerge any sense of natural hierarchy – things which in no way serve the interest of little souls, let alone the covenant civilization beyond them.
- Neither ought children speak to adults as peers, calling them by first names – least of all their own parents. Sir, ma’am, mister, missus, miss — these are the honorifics cultivated by our people to maintain godly hierarchy and respect for the domestic jurisdictions of others. Thoroughly Christian observances, all. Sarah called Abraham master (our mister) and it was counted righteousness (1 Pet.3:6).
- Men should doff hats at the reading of Scripture, at prayer, upon entry of church (St. Paul has much to say on this) or any home (especially that of another man), and at the introduction of a lady, or anyone deserving honors. The hat, like the helm, is a symbol of field, battle, and subjection to some other authority. The removal of such in the jurisdictions of others and in the presence of dignities is to recognize the authority or honor of others. It proclaims one the servant of his neighbor, giving symbolic assent to the second table of the Law.
- So, too, ought men to rise at the entry of one grey-headed, a lady, or others deserving of honors (Lev. 19:32).
- The fact that I should have to make this next point is frankly ridiculous, but testifies to the seriousness of our crisis of manners: in conversation, none should speak over one another, but in turn. And if this sounds especially absurd to you, it may be that you haven’t experienced much of the alternative. I assure you, though, when you have two people talking to you about entirely different subjects simultaneously, and completely oblivious of each other, you will see the value in what I’m saying here. Or, conversely, you may be oblivious to this issue because you are one of the felons in question. Either way, speaking in turn is only orderly and right, for doing otherwise is to spurn the golden rule, promoting chaos and strife (1 Cor. 14:40).
- When sharing a common table or small space, breakaway conversations should be avoided if possible. If necessary, those diverting off into a separate discussion from the group should excuse themselves so as not to devolve the whole into a confused din of chatter, staging, as it were, a party separate from the one to which they were invited.
- Be it in church or in our homes, the gathering of our clans should be as clans. Though men, women, and children have legitimate occasions to self-segregate, there is something deeply subversive in turning that liberty into a categorical mandate. For if every gathering of our people ritually shuffles children off to the rumpus room away from adult eyes, and flocks the women off to the breakfast nook, leaving the men to themselves, and isolating all for the duration, it strips the community of its essential comity. Concession to this dynamic breaks what should be one community into three or more. It is the dynamic of ‘kids’ church’, VBS, and ‘women’s groups’, which, on the pretext of strengthening community, only undermines it.
This list could no doubt be much expanded, but it suffices to make my point, I think: that the expression of Christianity in our social compunctions, once assumed by the fishmonger no less than than the preacher’s wife, is more or less lost to the body of our folk now. Or, if not entirely lost, much confused.
So much so that the contemporary church would regard it either a non-issue, or pretentiousness to the point of sin. For me to even raise the issue in most churches would no doubt earn me condemnation as a “Pharisee.” Which only the more bespeaks the cultural shift beneath our collective feet. What we used to call “social graces” are now deemed damnable legalism.
We could wax long on the subversive streams of theology that plotted this course, and it goes without saying that feminism has cast the entire moral economy of Patriarchy as oppressive and evil, but the actual discorporation of this social rubric is a recent thing. Even if it has gone mostly unnoticed, it has happened rather quickly. No doubt there has been some synergy between contemporary ideas like Christian hedonism, Barbarians for Christ, and altar calls to the droning earworm “Come Just as You Are,” but it is also apparent that national tragedies like war and depression have seeded a resentment for the man ‘with hat in hand.’ So much so that this show of deference and respect became at some point a byword for the pathetic.
This unfortunate stigma is further cemented by the fact that when you meet a man today who answers every question with a “yes, sir” or “no, sir,” it identifies him not as a properly raised Christian, but as an institutionalized man, either by way of military or prison. Which is a travesty.
Depending as it does on the dominion of Christ permeating our culture, the restoration of our people will not come until these Christian forms are reprised. We cannot take the wall until we win the hearth.