"Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV
When I get into discussions about “economic issues” with fellow Christians, sometimes it seems that nostalgia has taken the place of reason and ethics.
A provocative claim, I realize. But, as Steven Crowder would say, change my mind.
Recently, I got into a discussion with an almost-nonagenarian who bought his father’s bakery as a young man. He ran it for about a year before giving up. Why? The local economy in St. Louis was changing, he said. “The supermarkets” were coming into the city and they contained bakeries. The efficiency of getting one’s bread at the same place one purchased other groceries was too attractive to consumers. He named traditional grocery store chains that are widely considered fixtures in Saint Louis. They are fixtures now, but at one time they were entrepreneurial ventures that drove smaller family bakeries out of business.
As he told me about this, I couldn’t help noticing the irony of contemporary “politics” surrounding Walmart and “big box” stores. These bigger stores are regarded by some as a threat to these older, smaller supermarkets. The possibility that they might replace them is treated as an attack on the local community. The smaller family businesses that were vanquished by the supermarkets are long forgotten.
Many small towns in America, if you research their histories, were developed around some particular form of manufacturing. What that means is that “American small town life” wasn’t a tradition for very long. It was an innovation. People learned that these new factories were more efficient than the cottage industries that had preceded it. Products could be made more cheaply by using technology and the division of labor. Since then, many small towns have dwindled because of the same economic forces that at first caused them to thrive.
Why don’t we pine for the era of family-bakeries and cottage industries? Because no one remembers that way of life. We only remember the world of our childhood and assume that our memories are the standard for the way things ought to be.
My book, Solomon Says (Athanasius), is devoted mostly to Proverbs. But I also talk about the basic message of Solomon’s book, Ecclesiastes, and how that message is fundamentally similar to the message of Proverbs. Solomon says that life is “vapor” (not vanity) and that trying to control it is like trying to “shepherd the wind.”
So it makes sense that Solomon would casually mention that nostalgia is unwise. We can’t turn back time. We can’t make time stop. Any attempt to do so is merely an attempt to take hold of mist.
“If every age is an age of transition, the transition of the immediate present will always seems so difficult that every age in the past will be remembered as an age of stability. For one thing, other people dealt with past transitions. We the living are dealing with our own perceived disruptions. Actual experience and stress is always more vivid than records of the trials of other people who have long departed. Also, the perceived heritage of the past is viewed as a given that we are accustomed to, while the future is indeterminate and therefore threatening.
“Egypt is always remembered as easy.”
The Bible does give us commands to obey. Most of those commands are regarding things our culture doesn’t accept, like restricting sex to marriage or restraining one’s speech. It says almost nothing about using political power to establish and maintain economic arrangements that no longer serve people’s needs.
We would be wise to follow the Bible.
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.