- Friday, November 24, 2023

In the early history of Western movies, directors often put the hero in a white hat and the bad guy in a black hat. This contrast marked a stark distinction between the protagonist and the antagonist. There was a clear separation between good and evil. Young men aspired to be the cowboy in white. He was the textbook definition of what it meant to be a good man. He was the example of “how the West was won.” Many a household was an extension of his character and integrity. Or, at the very least, that’s what they aspired to.

Now, I understand that the old-time Western was more an ideal than a reality and that tales of Gun Smoke and Bonanza smack more of a cultural symbol than a description of real life. I get it that the squeaky-clean hero is an archetype and that the Lone Ranger and John Wayne represent more of a dream of what could be than a portrayal of what is.

But isn’t that what good art is supposed to do? Shouldn’t literature inspire us to be better? Shouldn’t movies tug on our souls and prompt us to reach for what is possible rather than settle for what’s petty? As C. S. Lewis asked, why would you ever be satisfied with the muddy back alleys of your slums when you could enjoy a vacation at the beach? Doesn’t every culture need dreams that inspire rather than nightmares that depress?

This Thanksgiving weekend, as you’re constantly bombarded by the establishment media’s denial of America’s goodness and, by inference, all Western values, ask yourself a few questions: Can any culture survive that spends so much energy highlighting its mistakes? Is our fixation on our nation’s sins rather than its saints bearing good or bad consequences? And finally, as you watch the nightly news, do you ever have the haunting feeling that we are getting exactly what we deserve—the dirt and grime of the back alley—because we mock the idea that beaches and oceans are even real?

In his book How God Saved Civilization, Dr. Jim Garlow quotes Martin E. Marty: “[The march of Western Civilization] bore much good that we now tend to ignore. It gave birth to all the great universities of the world, from Oxford and Cambridge to Leipzig to Mainz; it oversaw the establishment of all the great hospitals of the world, from St. Bartholomew’s and Bedlam in London to St. Bernard’s and Voixanne in Switzerland; it brought forth the worlds most celebrated artists from Michelangelo, Buonarroti, and Albrecht Durer, to Leonardo da Vinci and Jan van Eyck; it gave the splendor of gothic architecture - unmatched and unmatchable to this day - from Notre Dame and Chartres to Winchester and Cologne; it thrust out into the howling wilderness and storm-tossed seas the most accomplished explorers from Amerigo Vespucci and Marco Polo to Vasco da Gama and John Cabot; it produced some of the greatest minds and most fascinating lives mankind has yet known - were the list not so sterling it might begin to be tedious. Copernicus, Dante, Giotto, Becket, Guttenberg, Chaucer, Charlemagne, Wycliffe, Magellan, Botticelli, Donatello, Petrarch, and Aquinas.”

“[Western] culture,” says Dr. Garlow, “was first and foremost Christian culture. Its life was shaped almost entirely by Christian concerns. Virtually all its achievements were submitted to the cause of the gospel. From great cathedrals and gracious chivalry to … beautiful cloisters, every manifestation of its presence was somehow tied to its utter and complete obeisance to Christ’s kingdom and [the] pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

Naysayers will quickly dispute all the above by pointing to Western Civilization’s obvious failures. “What about the Inquisition?” they cry. “What about slavery and the Trail of Tears?”

Did some compromise the cause of Christ during civilization’s march West? Yes, there is no doubt. But the interesting thing is this: Do these ardent antagonists not realize that it is they who always assume the soap of Christianity and Western morality in their attempts to wash our nation of its cultural sins?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her recent essay, Why I Am Now a Christian, says it best: “In this nihilistic vacuum, the challenge before us becomes civilizational. We can’t withstand China, Russia, and Iran if we can’t explain to our populations why it matters that we do. We can’t fight woke ideology if we can’t defend the civilization that it is determined to destroy.”

The advance of Western civilization and its concurrent Christianity has given us so much for which we should be thankful. We paint the white hat of Americana with a black brush to our own demise.

• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.

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